Third Sunday after Epiphany – Wednesday
This man went down to his house justified. –Luke 18:14.
Who went down to his house justified? Who had forgiveness of sins? Who was absolved and pronounced entirely free and rid of all his sins? And who thus had the righteousness of God? Jesus “spake this parable unto certain which trusted in themselves that they were righteous and despised others: Two men went up into the temple to pray, the one a Pharisee and the other a publican. The Pharisee stood and prayed thus with himself: ‘God, I thank Thee that I am not as other men are, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even as this publican. I fast twice in the week; I give tithes of all that I possess.’ And the publican, standing afar off, would not lift up so much as his eyes unto heaven, but smote upon his breast, saying: ‘God be merciful to me, a sinner.’” – In conclusion Jesus added: “I tell you, this man went down to his house justified rather than the other; for everyone that exalteth himself shall be abased, and he that humbleth himself shall be exalted.” (Luke 18:9-14).
Now you know who is justified or made right with God: Not he that parades his own righteousness before God, despising others and exalting himself. No, his own righteousnesses are as “filthy rags” in God’s sight (Isaiah 64:6). In them no man can stand before God, for “by the deeds of the Law there shall no flesh be justified in His sight” (Romans 3:20). And whoever boasts of them before God shall be “abased,” rejected, damned. Objectively, “from the foundation of the world” already (Revelation 13:8), on the basis of Christ’s perfect “propitiation” for the sins of all (I John 2:2), God “reconcile[ed] the world unto Himself, not imputing their trespasses unto them” (II Corinthians 5:19) and thus justified all sinners “freely by His grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus” (Romans 3:24).
That gift of justification is received “by faith without the deeds of the Law” (v. 28). “Everyone that exalteth himself” rejects the grace of God in unbelief and refuses to be justified as God’s gift to the undeserving. On the other hand, he is justified, he ever was and ever shall be justified, who “humbleth himself” before God, acknowledging and confessing unworthiness of His favor because of his sins, and, quickened to saving faith by the Holy Ghost through the power of the Gospel, looks only to God’s mercy “in Christ” (II Corinthians 5:19a) for forgiveness, life and salvation.
This was the publican’s humble confession and prayer of faith uttered in only seven words: “God, be merciful to me, a sinner!” Thus the worst sinner is justified before God by grace, for Christ’s sake, through faith, and is exalted to the heart of God, reconciled as His own dear child, and clothed in the righteousness of Christ, an heir of eternal life.
PRAYER. – Righteous God, merciful Father, in whose sight nothing in all the world avails for Thy favor except the complete satisfaction of Thy justice, I thank Thee that in Christ my Savior Thou didst reconcile the world of sinners unto Thyself. For He rendered perfect obedience to Thy Law as man’s Substitute under its demands, earning for all mankind righteousness in Thy sight, and by His innocent suffering and death in the place of all He paid the penalty of their guilt. I thank Thee that, of Thy grace, Thou didst quicken me to saving confidence in Thy mercy to me, a poor, wretched sinner, didst clothe me in the garment of salvation by faith in His merits, and hast exalted me to the inheritance of heaven as Thy dear child. I now heartily beseech Thee graciously to keep me from unbelief, pride, and arrogance, as well as from despair and other great shame and vice, lest my prayer become an abomination before Thee; but rather grant that I may always take true comfort in Thy mercy, merited by the redemptive work of Thy dear Son, and honor Him by leading a Godly life, motivated and empowered by the Gospel, as the fruit of my faith and to the praise of Thy grace for His sake. Amen.
Not the labors of my hands can fulfill Thy Law’s demands;
Could my zeal no respite know, could my tears forever flow,
All for sin could not atone; Thou must save, and Thou alone.
Nothing in the hand I bring, simply to Thy cross I cling;
Naked, come to Thee for dress; helpless, look to Thee for grace;
Foul, I to the fountain fly: wash me, Savior, or I die!
Hymn 376 v. 2-3 (TLH)