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Bring Your Nothing

November 13, 2022

Series: Guest Teacher
Scripture: Luke 18:9-14

Bring Your Nothing

Ian McConnell
Luke 18:9-14
BIG IDEA: The only way to find everything you need is to humbly bring your nothing to Christ. 

Introduction

I love football. It is one of my earthly joys. To be more specific, I love Philadelphia Eagles football. As a die-hard football fan family one thing that we have always look forward to doing is hosting watch parties. We would pack out our house most weeks during football season with friends and family who shared our passion for the games.

So I would send out an invite text every week reminding everyone about kickoff time and the most common reply from those who were planning on coming was “What can I bring?” It’s common courtesy to ask. “What can I bring?” It also shows, “You’re not a mooch free-loading off your best friend.” Someone needed to hear that—I think that was prophetic. Just kidding! But sometimes Rachel and I would plan to pull out the stops and we say “We got it. Don’t bring anything.” And even though we said, “Don’t bring anything” some of our friends would still bring something. Why? We don’t like to show up empty handed. That might be polite when we are going to each other’s houses, but in Luke 18:9-14 Jesus gives us a parable that teaches the opposite when it comes to going to the House of the Lord.

In our text Jesus gives a parable about two people who show up at the Temple, one comes with something and walks away with nothing, while the other comes with nothing and walks away with everything. And in the end Jesus says, “You want to be like the person who comes with nothing.” I think we will understand why as we dive in.

Read the Text. Pray.

Luke doesn’t want us to guess what Jesus is getting at in this parable. He connects the dots for us up front. Look at verse 9, “Jesus told this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous and treated others with contempt.”

Jesus is on a very pointed mission with this parable. He has punched in the coordinates and he is aiming for particular hearts dealing with a very particular struggle. He’s coming after self-righteousness.

According to Jesus in verse 9, self-righteousness is a two-headed monster—it’s trusting in yourself to be right with God and it’s judging others harshly in order to justify your inflated view of self.

Self-Righteousness involves having a judgmentally low view of others that is used as a means of validating a high view of self. It’s a heart that says, “I’m okay because as I look around at everyone else—I’m not doing so bad.” And oddly enough, those who are infected with the sin of thinking they have everything together also believe that this somehow impresses God. Self-righteousness leads to spiritual self-delusion. However, God is not impressed with anyone who thinks they have everything together. In fact, the opposite is true. This parable highlights the reality that God only accepts those who recognize they have nothing and come to him for everything. In the end, it’s only those who humbly bring their nothing to Christ that find everything they need now and forever in Him.

Christianity is not for people who think they have it all together. Christianity is for sinners who know they need a Savior.

This is why Jesus came—to seek and to save the lost. Jesus was sent by the Father because none of us have it all together. And in mercy, Jesus is available today and every day to offer everything needed to those who humbly confess that they have nothing. You brought nothing into this world, you will surely take nothing with you! And in between the beginning and the end our story is the same—we’ve got nothing.

This parable isn’t about boosting our self-esteem today—it’s a reality check—you’ve got nothing.

  • You’ve got nothing to make yourself acceptable to God.
  • You’ve got nothing to make life work.
  • You’ve got nothing to overcome your demons.
  • You’ve got nothing to get yourself out of bed when you’re so depressed you can’t even bring yourself to push the snooze button.
  • You’ve got nothing to overcome that addiction.
  • You’ve got nothing to reconcile that marriage.
  • You’ve got nothing to bring up those children in the nurture and admonition of the Lord.
  • You’ve got nothing to make yourself morally, mentally, emotionally, physically, relationally, and spiritually whole.
  • You’ve got nothing to make up for all your failures, cover all your shame, and get out from underneath that debt of guilt you owe to the God who made you for his glory.

You’ve got nothing. But I’ve got good news for you. Jesus will be your everything. That’s the gospel!

Jesus invites us to bring our nothing to him and what he gives us in place of our nothing is everything you need now and forever in Him.

This parable is about Jesus graciously confronting us and inviting us to stop acting like we have it all together and humbly bring our nothing to him. And when we do we will find the truth of this parable come alive in our souls. The only way to find everything you need is to humbly bring your nothing to Christ. That’s the BIG IDEA we want to consider from this parable today—The only way to find everything you need is to humbly bring your nothing to Christ.

This parable won’t send you off-into an Oprah Winfrey induced celebration of the self. This parable won’t inspire you to throw yourself a me party. What this parable will do is cause your heart to say today and everyday, “I will arise and go to Jesus, he will embrace me in his arms. In the arms of my dear Savior, O there are 10,000 charms.” Why? Because although I have nothing—Jesus is everything.

If you are here this morning and you are keenly aware of your nothing, I got good news for you—Jesus can do for you what you can’t do for yourself—Jesus has for you what you don’t have yourself. Jesus invites sinners to bring all their nothing to him and in mercy he is eager to fill your empty hands with everything you need—again and again and again 

If you are here this morning and you think that by comparison to others in here and out there, that you’re alright, then Jesus wants to expose your inaccurate sense of self-awareness and convince you that you are just like everyone else around you—you are a sinner in need of a Savior. And the good news is that your self-righteousness is no match for the self-giving love of Christ, who can undo you and put you back together before we leave this gathering today.

Regardless if you are someone professing to be a follower of Jesus, someone exploring the truth claims of the Christian faith, or someone reluctantly here today for one reason or the other, let’s all be open to the possibility that Jesus is planning to challenge our presuppositions about ourselves and call us all to bring our nothing to him.

So let’s allow the truth of this parable to do its work of both disorienting and then renewing all of our hearts 

The only way to find everything you need is to humbly bring your nothing to Christ.

You probably noticed in the reading of the text that this is a parable of contrasts. And in particular we see the truth of this parable emerge in three contrasts…let’s turn our attention to them…

  • Two Very Different People10
  • Two Very Different Prayers11-13
  • Two Very Different Possibilities14

I. Two Very Different People

10 “Two men went up into the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector.

Why are these two men going to the Temple? They are going to pray. That’s another way of saying, they are going to talk to God, they are going to relate to God, they are going to meet with God. The Temple is the place where God and man meet. As I mentioned earlier—the Temple was also referred to as the House of the Lord. Even though God is omnipresent—at all places, at all times, in his entire being—God was especially present with his people at the Temple. His glory filled the Temple. His mercy flowed from the Temple. His Words were declared at the Temple. His praises were sung at the Temple. The Temple is where you went to encounter God. What the Temple was under the old covenant, the church of Jesus Christ is under the New. We come together like we are today as a spiritual Temple, with Christ as our cornerstone, and when two or three are gathered in his name he is right here in our midst.

So here are two men who are approaching God at the Temple.

One is a Pharisee and the other is a tax collector. In the days that Jesus walked on the earth, these two men couldn’t be more different than the other.

Pharisees were considered the most pious people in Jewish Society; while Tax Collectors were considered the most despised people in Jewish Society.

Pharisee were thought to be loyal to God & the Jewish people doing the dignified work of the One True God; while Tax Collectors were thought to be traitors of God & the Jewish people doing the dirty work of their Roman Oppressors.

One was the kind of guy you would expect to see at the Temple, the other guy—not so much. In Luke’s repeated literary style, the Pharisee is the insider, while the Tax Collector is the outsider. And here they both are, drawing near to God at the Temple.

II. Two Very Different Prayers

11 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. 12 I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I get.’ 13 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!’

Notice the contrast in the Posture of their Prayers.

The Pharisee (11) is standing by himself while the Tax Collector (13) is standing far off. The Tax collector is standing far off because he doesn’t feel worthy to be any closer to the Temple than he is. He’s on the fringe. God is holy—he is sinful—he knows he needs to be there but he doesn’t want to get too close—he doesn’t think he’s worthy. His head is bowed and he wont’ even lift up his eyes to look up to God in heaven—this reveals his sense of shame. He’s beating his breast which reveals his contrition and taking ownership for the content of his prayer. Contrast this with the Pharisee who presumably is looking around the crowd as he prays because it says that he points out the tax collector while praying.

One posture reveals humility, godly sorrow, and contrition, while the other reveals hubris and self-righteous comparison.

Notice the contrast in the Content of their Prayers.

The Pharisee begins his prayer with the pattern of a psalm of thanksgiving—“God, I thank you…” And what would follow in this form of prayer would typically be a recounting of the works of God. However instead of recounting the works of God, he is recounting his works to God. Five times in two verses he uses the 1st person singular pronoun “I-I-I-I-I.” He doesn’t commit the sins of other people around him. He goes above and beyond the call of duty to fast twice a week even though it was only commanded to fast once a year on the Day of Atonement. He tithes off of everything—not just his income, but even his groceries even though the farmers already tithed off of their crops. This prayer reveals that the things he is most thankful for is himself. He trusts that his lifestyle and life choices impress God and make him better than those around him—especially the tax collector.

Notice the prayer of the tax collector, ‘God, be merciful to me, a sinner!’

He doesn’t come to God to impress God—he comes to God confess that he’s sinned against God. He doesn’t come to be rewarded by God; he comes to be reconciled to God. He’s got nothing to commend himself. He’s empty. He’s excuseless. He’s got nothing. His prayer is a penitent plea for mercy. His hands are empty—he has one option—one hope—one recourse—trust God for mercy.

All of this reveals a contrast in the Heart of their Prayers.

The Pharisee is self-focused and self-righteous. His prayer says, “I’m the man.”

The Tax Collector is bowed and broken. His prayer says, “I’m a mess, but you’re full of mercy.”

III. Two Very Different Possibilities

“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.”

Here is the lesson of the parable being driven home by Jesus— the one who comes to God thinking he had everything, goes away with nothing but the one who comes to God with nothing, goes away with everything.

The word “justified” here isn’t being used in the super technical sense like the apostle Paul uses it in the book of Romans. In the most denotative sense the word “justified” means acquitted and accepted. 

The Pharisee went home self-deceived that he was right with God because of all that he does for God. The Tax Collector went home justified because of what God had done for him. 

The Pharisee exalts himself and in the end he will be humiliated in judgment.

The Tax Collector humbles himself and in the end is exalted with salvation.

And that’s the point of this parable The only way to find everything you need is to humbly bring your nothing to Christ.

Conclusion

There are only two ways to approach God. You can come to God like the Pharisee or you can come to God like the Tax Collector. This not only forms a pattern for how someone initially becomes a Christian but it’s also the pattern for how we live each day of our Christian lives. We can try to live each day like the Pharisee self-deceived in thinking we have everything we need to make life work trying to impress God. If that’s you today, how’s that working for you? I’m sure you are tired, defeated, and on the brink of despair. Stop denying that you have nothing and bring your nothing to Christ. Start to walk in the freedom of living each day like the Tax Collector humbly bringing your nothing to Christ asking for new mercies. Bring your nothing to Christ and morning by morning new mercies you will see. I would encourage you to start using those exact words to start your day, “God, be merciful to me, a sinner.” Start each day extending your empty palms to Christ and ask him to be everything you need.

What’s your heaviest burden this morning? What makes it so heavy? Isn’t it that there is nothing you can do about it? Bring that burden and your nothing to Christ and trust that he has mercy and grace to help in your time of need.

If you are not a Christian, then what are you waiting for? Bring your nothing to Christ this morning and he will be your everything.

  • Christ will be your justification—he will forgive your sin and declare you righteous.
  • Christ will be your reconciliation—he will restore your relationship with God.
  • Christ will be your sanctification—he will change your life from the inside/out.
  • Christ will be your satisfaction—he will satisfy your soul like no one and nothing else in this world.
  • Christ will be your sustenance—he will provide for you, protect you, and hold your life together.
  • Christ will be your strength—he will pour out the Holy Spirit upon you to resist sin, be renewed in his image, and empowered with gifts to serve his Kingdom purposes.
  • Christ will be your wisdom—Christ will be your healing—Christ will be your hope—Christ will be your guide.
  • Christ will be your light in the darkness; your shepherd in the wilderness; your companion in the loneliness.

Bring your nothing to Christ and he will be your everything. It was my pastoral hero, the prince of preachers, Charles Spurgeon, who said, “I have a great need for Christ; I have a great Christ for my need.

The only way to find everything you need is to humbly bring your nothing to Christ.

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