The Pharisee and the Tax Collector

Why Jesus Is My Hero #31 of 52

Jesus was the master storyteller. He knew exactly how to get under people’s radar, and his stories frequently shocked and deeply challenged his hearers, as indeed they still do today. One such parable that contains a glorious surprise is that of the Pharisee and the Tax Collector:

“[Jesus] also told this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and treated others with contempt: “Two men went up into the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee, standing by himself, prayed thus: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I get.’ But the tax collector, standing far off, would not even lift up his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, ‘God, be merciful to me, a sinner!’ I tell you, this man went down to his house justified, rather than the other. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but the one who humbles himself will be exalted.” (Luke 18:9-14)

The Pharisee looks like exactly the sort of person you would imagine to be right with God: he’s a morally upright man who seems to be deeply religious, giving generously of his resources. It’s understandable that he should approach God with a sense of confidence. The Tax Collector, on the other hand, is utterly empty-handed before God: as a traitor to his country and his people, a collaborator with the Romans, he was no doubt precisely the kind of “unjust extortioner” that the Pharisee was so quick to distance himself from. He has no assurance at all as he feebly approaches God – not even daring to lift his head towards heaven. It’s all he can do to utter a few simple words begging for mercy.

Yet look what Jesus says of this ungodly tax collector: “I tell you, this man went down to his house justified, rather than the other“.

What a glorious gospel message of hope! The death of Jesus in the place of needy sinners means that the way of salvation is entirely opposite to what we would expect. People like the Pharisee who “trust in themselves that they were righteous” fail to enter the Kingdom of Heaven, whilst the most unlikely of candidates get right with God, because they are the ones who recognise their need and cry for mercy.


The Good Shepherd

Why Jesus is My Hero #30 of 52

“I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. He who is a hired hand and not a shepherd, who does not own the sheep, sees the wolf coming and leaves the sheep and flees, and the wolf snatches them and scatters them. He flees because he is a hired hand and cares nothing for the sheep. I am the good shepherd. I know my own and my own know me, just as the Father knows me and I know the Father; and I lay down my life for the sheep. And I have other sheep that are not of this fold. I must bring them also, and they will listen to my voice. So there will be one flock, one shepherd.” (John 10:11-16)

We are dirty, mangy, stupid sheep. But Jesus is a kind and gentle shepherd. He always leads us and cares for us for our good. Sometimes he leads us places we don’t really want to go, but only because he knows more fully than we do. We make silly choices and settle for second best because in our sinfulness and idolatry we cannot conceive of the fulness God has in store for us. But mercifully, our shepherd Jesus loves us too much just to let us wander off- in his grace he leads us to find good pasture, even when we’re not really looking for it. Many a time does he spare his sheep from the misery of getting what they want. He graciously restrains sin and stirs up our hearts to love him when by nature they are cold and dead. Supremely, he demonstrated his love for his sheep by laying down his life at the cross, throwing himself in harm’s way so that we might escape the clutches of death. The life of a wonderful shepherd for the life of a few mangy sheep.

Utterly glorious.

The Perfect Man

Why Jesus Is My Hero #29 of 52

due south.jpg

I absolutely loveDue South“, the classic TV show about a Canadian mountie who ends up in Chicago following the trail of his father’s killer. Without doubt, one of the most compelling features of the show is the mountie himself, Benton Fraser – a true gentleman, a man of integrity and kindness who has little regard for his own concerns and who is constantly risking his own life for the sake of others. And he has a cute wolf, too.

Maybe it’s just me, but I find characters like Fraser inspiring because they paint a little picture of what I know humanity was supposed to be. I should be that man of integrity, I should care more for others than I do for myself, I should be above reproach in the way that I relate to women such that they feel safe in my presence. Maybe I should start wearing bright red mountie uniforms out in public too. But though humanity was created in the image of God, designed to reflect his perfect nature, that image has been marred and spoilt by sin. We still catch glimpses of the character of God reflected in our lives from time to time, but so often we see selfishness and jealousy and ugliness instead.

Ultimately, I love Benton Fraser because he reminds me of Jesus. Hebrews 1:3 tells us that “He [Jesus] is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature, and he upholds the universe by the word of his power.” Jesus is the true man, the true picture of what humanity was designed to be. He is the perfect image of God (Colossians 1:15) without flaw and without blemish. And what a sight to behold he is!

Gloriously, graciously, in the gospel we have the promise that God is at work to conform us to the likeness of Christ. Romans 8:28 reminds us that God is using all of the circumstances of life to mould us and shape us to be more like him – perhaps especially through our suffering. And day by day, as we meditate on the perfect humanity of Jesus, God will change us – so says Paul in 2 Corinthians 3:18:

“And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit.”

So next time you’re tempted to despair at all the ways in which you fail to live up to the ideal, turn your gaze away from yourself and towards Jesus – and ask that God will make you just a little bit more like him each day.

Thank you kindly.

P.S. As an added bonus, let me direct your attention to this awesome song by Canadian band The Crash Test Dummies which was featured in the pilot episode of Due South and which, let’s face it, is ultimately all about Jesus: