Polishing or being renewed.

Luke 18_9-14 Polishing or being renewed.

Who loves shiny chrome?  I went to the “Show and shine” car show here in Dubbo yesterday, and yes, there was plenty of chrome on display.  Here are two ornaments that used to look shiny and bright, but are now tarnished. 
Their appeal and beauty have faded as the metal beneath the chrome breaks down due to the effects of rust.  It is simply dying from the inside out.  Being the precious objects they are, we want to save don’t we?  There are two options we have.  Firstly, we could polish the outer chrome like this (polish), there!  To everyone this now looks great.  I can even see my face beaming in the Holden badge!  But is polishing the outside chrome really the solution?  What is going on underneath?  Yes, the metal is still being eaten away by the rust.  It looks good, but underneath, it is rotten.

The other option is to strip off the chrome, rub back the metal, so that all the rust is taken out (rub the metal back to reveal the new metal).  This is a more difficult solution, its messy, it looks like we are wrecking the ornament, but it is the best option.  We are removing the source of the rot, and we can then resurface the metal and it will last a lifetime. 

Luke writes, Jesus observed people “were confident of their own righteousness and looked down on everybody else.”  We are not told by Luke where Jesus saw such displays, but going by his parable, he most likely witnessed it within the context of worship.  Jesus must have observed how some, when gathered together for worship, treated this time in the presence of God, as an opportunity to show and shine; to parade their polished religious lives for all to see and admire; to show and shine before God and others, just how morally good religion has made them.  Jesus is angered by such polished behaviour, particularly in the temple, for it is his Father’s house, and as Jesus said a little later, while overturning the tables of the money changers, “It is written, ‘My house will be a house of prayer.’ ” 

He begins a spiritual cleansing of his temple by telling a parable about a polished Pharisee praying in the temple for all to see.  Note the amount of references to himself “God, I thank you that I am not like other men– robbers, evildoers, adulterers– or even like this tax collector.  I fast twice a week and give a tenth of all I get.”  Yes, he was a super shiny, sleek religious man, so much so, he could see himself reflected in everything he did.

Then Jesus turns the parable away from the bright and shiny, to a dull looking man, a tax collector, a sinner, whose life was far from polished, in fact you could say it was very religiously rusty.  “The tax collector stood at a distance. He would not even look up to heaven, but beat his breast and said, ‘God, have mercy on me, a sinner.”  Yet, Jesus concludes that this man went away from God’s presence forgiven, while the Pharisee, even though he led a good life, went away unforgiven.

Both men desired to be accepted by God, but only one man, the rusty sinner, went away forgiven; Why?  Why was Abel’s offering to God accepted, yet Cain’s wasn’t?  Why was Peter forgiven for denying Jesus, but Judas wasn’t?  Is God at fault for this abnormality, or does God simply arbitrarily predestine some to eternal damnation and others to eternal life?  No, the problem is not with God, it is with us.  Jesus tells this parable to show that being religiously nice and shiny, well-polished on the outside does not cover the rot that is going on in the inside; it is the rot that needs to be dealt with, and that can only happen by God’s doing.   

The problem lies with us because we confuse law and gospel.  We make the law into something that can save us and the gospel, that Christ died for our sins, into something we must do.  Jesus’ depiction of the Pharisee praying about his polished obedience to God’s commandments, as something that would earn him favour before God, is a good example of how we wrongly use God’s commandments.  He uses the commandments, particularly “you shall not steal, you shall not murder” and the sixth commandment “you shall not commit adultery”, to polish himself up, to make himself look squeaky clean before God and other worshippers. Like me polishing the outside of this ornament, it looks good, but underneath is where the problem really lies; it is the rusting metal causing the tarnish. 

We are the same, we can look good by polishing ourselves with keeping the commandments, doing good and holy things, but underneath, our sinful nature taints all we do; everything, we do apart from Christ, God still sees as sinful, as King David declares “Surely I was sinful at birth, sinful from the time my mother conceived me.”  And as Jesus says, “For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false testimony, slander.”  Simply using the commandments to polish up on our morals, thinking our religious life merits God’s approval, only exacerbates our problem, only causes our sin to rage all the more under the guise of good deeds.

Had the Pharisee used the commandments as a tool to reveal the rot of sin underneath, like the tax collector obviously did, then he would have joined him, beating his breast, pleading ‘‘God, have mercy on me, a sinner.”  He would have known that underneath his polished life was a robber, an evil doer and an adulterer.  Had he have been humbled by the law, like the tax collector, he would have realised he was really the robber.  What was he robbing?  By boasting in his own glory, he was robbing God of all the glory that is due to him!

Jesus, in the Sermon on the Mount, shows us the right way to use the commandment, not to polish our works, but to reveal sin.  Jesus applies the commandments in such a way that none of us could ever keep them. “”You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbour and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you: Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, “You have heard that it was said, ‘Do not commit adultery.’ But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart.”

Luther called the unachievable demands of God, the proper use of the law, or the spiritual use and taught that rather than making us shining Christians, the law always accuses us.  Applying the commandments to ourselves in this way, is the right way, because it cuts back our glossy exterior to reveal the rot inside; it causes us to cry out, as we do in the liturgy “Lord have mercy.”  We should feel more sinful than ever before, and that’s good!  Luther in his commentary on Galatians writes “But you say ‘How can I be holy when I have sin and am aware of it?’  “That you feel and acknowledge sin – this is good.  Thank God, and do not despair.  It is one step toward health when a sick man admits and confesses his disease.”  “But how will I be liberated from sin?”  Run to Christ, the Physician, who heals the contrite heart and saves sinners.”

The tax collector, beating his chest, ashamed of his sin, is the one who went home justified that day.  He placed all hope on Christ who said “Today salvation has come to this house, because this man, too, is a son of Abraham. For the Son of Man came to seek and to save what was lost.”  He knew that only the gospel of Jesus can save, the law has no place and no part in the justification of sinners before God.  He knew that faith alone in Christ alone saves.  The good news is that we now are in the right place.  That Christ is hear, bidding us to come to him, to place our faith in these little words “your sins are forgiven.”  No more is needed for salvation, if there was, it would not be the gospel, but the law.

The right distinction between law and gospel is of utmost importance for the comfort of our soul; to have the assurance of salvation and the certainty that we will be welcomed into heaven when we die.  Yet to understand and to remember the right use of the commandments and the gospel is as easy as remembering the distinction between polishing and stripping.  To polish ourselves with keeping the commandment, is only to cover up sin, and that is the wrong use, just as it is wrong to polish a rusting hubcap.  To strip ourselves of all pride, by letting the commandments accuse us to reveal our sinful nature, is the right way; just as it is right to strip back a rusting cap to reveal the bare metal.

When this is done, then the ointment that cures the rust can be added.  In the same way, once the law has done its work on us, Jesus pours on the healing ointment of the gospel, which cures us of the guilt of our sin.   Jesus beckons you to hear and believe the ointment of his word, that heals, forgives and restores “I tell you the truth, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life and will not be condemned; he has crossed over from death to life.”

A study on the Text.

Luke 17.11-19  A study on the text


Today we are going to do something a little different.  Sometimes it is good to do some ‘theology’; today you will be theologians.  It means the study of God through the study of his word.

Luke begins with “Now on his way to Jerusalem”.  This is very important for the understanding of the healing of the leper.  Jesus was travelling, walking, or journeying towards Jerusalem.  Does anyone know why?  He was coming to the end of his ministry time on earth and Luke records how Jesus as now making his way to Jerusalem to be crucified; to be a sacrifice for the sins of the world.

The most important building is Jerusalem was what?  The Temple.  Every Jew knew that the Temple was where God dwelt.  It was a holy place where the Levi priests and the high priest sacrificed birds and animals to atone for the sins of all the people.

Next Luke notes: “As he was going into a village, ten men who had leprosy met him. They stood at a distance.” and called out in a loud voice, “Jesus, Master, have pity on us!”

Using one of the dirty lamps, explain the purpose for the temple.

 The dirt on the glass represents sin or some form of disease, like leprosy which is ‘unclean’.  In order to be healed or cleansed of sin, the person would go to the temple in Jerusalem. 

God is holy – clean:  Like this white cloth. 

We are sinners, or sick, like this dirty lamp.

God in his holiness dwelt in the holy of holies.

The book of Leviticus is all about the cleanliness laws.  How, through sacrifice and blood presented to God, the people of Israel are cleansed from un-cleanliness.

The priests would sacrifice a lamb, bring the blood of the lamb into the holy of holies to be made clean, then brought out of God’s presence and sprinkled upon the sinner or unclean person to ‘make them clean again’ (wipe clean the glass)

If the person is healed the priest would announce this and welcome the person back into the community.  If not, the person had to live in an ‘unclean’ colony outside of Jerusalem.

When Jesus sees the lepers, he knows they are unclean, like this second lamp.  What does he do?  Does he heal them?  No, “When he saw them, he said, “Go, show yourselves to the priests.”

Jesus is saying to go to the temple, to go where you are made clean because it is where God dwells in his holiness.  The 10 lepers, by simply going, would be presuming that by going to the temple, going to where God dwells, he would cleanse them, and when they turn up to show the priests, cleansed, then receive the forgiveness of their sins.

Instead of this, something amazing happens on their way…what? They are cleansed “

What does this miracle tell us about Jesus?

Jesus is God in human flesh.

In Jesus, rather than in the temple is where God is found.

Use the second dirty lamp to demonstrate the healing of the leper.

By healing the 10 lepers, Jesus takes upon himself the sin and sickness of the lepers, like the blackness that is now on the white rag, but not on the glass.

How would you feel if your son, got his ‘Sunday whites’ and wiped clean dirty black lamps?  Yes, you would be angry and would take the clothes and wash them clean to get rid of the dirt.

In the same way, God’s anger against the dirt of sin that now clung to Jesus, the blackness of sin for all people, rids the world of sin by having his Son crucified.

Jesus goes to the cross to die for our sin

He goes to the cross so that his blood atones for our sin

He goes to the cross to that by his blood we are cleansed

The healing of the lepers demonstrated before time, why Jesus was heading to Jerusalem.  His death and the shedding of his blood now bring healing and cleansing, and not in the continual sacrifices of the temple.

What happened when Jesus died?  The temple curtain, that separated God from humans, was torn in two.  It no longer had any use, God no longer dwelt in the temple by in the man Jesus Christ.

The once for all sacrifice of Jesus, the blood of the Lamb of God, now cleanses.

Luke writes: “One of them, when he saw he was healed, came back, praising God in a loud voice.  He threw himself at Jesus’ feet and thanked him– and he was a Samaritan.”

The Samaritan recognised that God now dwelt in Jesus and thanked and praised him.

Jesus is still healing us

His very same way Jesus’ blood still cleanses us

His word pronounces us cleansed and his blood cleanses us.

This is why we must still confess that Jesus is truly present here for us, under the guise of the bread and wine.  Only Jesus’ blood can cleans us of sin and make us clean, as St Paul urges us “For whenever you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes. Remembers, by his wounds we are healed! 

Therefore, whoever eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty of sinning against the body and blood of the Lord. A man ought to examine himself before he eats of the bread and drinks of the cup.  For anyone who eats and drinks without recognizing the body of the Lord eats and drinks judgment on himself.”

In the church, in the liturgy of the worship service, God cleanses us by the blood of his Son Jesus, and by the absolution of your sins, you are also made clean.  We are lepers of sin who are made clean, like the cleaning of the lamp.  So let us give thanks to God and praise him for our healing.