November 17, 2023


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Rev. Innocent Chukwudi Peace-Udochukwu
President Living Fountain Ministries Int’l LIFOM

“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.”
— Luke xviii. 13.

On the surface, today’s parable seems to be one of the easy ones. A Pharisee and a tax collector go to the temple to pray. The Pharisee gives thanks to God that he isn’t a tax collector, and praises himself for his righteousness, he tithes on all of his possessions and fasts twice weekly. In both of those, he is going beyond the literal commandments of Torah, overdoing it as it were. On the other hand, the tax collector prays simply, “Lord have mercy on me, a sinner.” Jesus finishes the story with the judgment that we all would come to: “the tax collector went home, justified rather than the other.”

IT was the fault of the Pharisee that, though he went up into the temple to pray, he did not pray; there is no prayer in all that he said. It is one excellence of the publican that he went up to the temple to pray, and he did pray: there is nothing but prayer in all that he said. “God be merciful to me a sinner” is a pure, unadulterated prayer throughout. It was the fault of the Pharisee that when he went up to the temple to pray he forgot an essential part of prayer, which is confession of sin: he spoke as if he had no sins to confess, but many virtues to parade. It was a chief excellence in the devotion of the publican that he did confess his sin, ay, that his utterance was full of confession of sin: from beginning to end it was an acknowledgment of his guilt, and an appeal for grace to the merciful God. The prayer of the publican is admirable for its fullness of meaning. An expositor calls it a holy telegram; and certainly it is so compact and so condensed, so free from superfluous words, that it is worthy to be called by that name. I do not see how he could have expressed his meaning more fully or more briefly. In the original Greek the words are even fewer than in the English. Oh, that men would learn to pray with less of language and more of meaning! What great things are packed away in this short petition! God, mercy, sin, the propitiation, and forgiveness.

He speaketh of great matters, and trifles are not thought of. He has nothing to do with fastings twice in the week, or the paying of tithes, and such second-rate things; the matters he treats of are of a higher order. His trembling heart moves among sublimities which overcome him, and he speaks in tones consistent therewith. He deals with the greatest things that ever can be: he pleads for his life, his soul. Where could he find themes more weighty, more vital to his eternal interests? He is not playing at prayer, but pleading in awful earnest.

His supplication speeded well with God, and he speedily won his suit with heaven. Mercy granted to him full justification. The prayer so pleased the Lord Jesus Christ, who heard it, that he condescended to become a portrait painter, and took a sketch of the petitioner. I say the prayer in itself was so pleasing to the gracious Saviour, that he tells us how it was offered: “Standing afar off, he would not lift up so much as his eyes unto heaven, but smote upon his breast.” Luke, who, according to tradition, was somewhat of an artist as well as a physician, takes great care to place this picture in the national portrait gallery of men saved by sovereign grace. Here we have the portrait of a man who called himself the sinner, who may yet be held up as a pattern to saints I am glad to have the divine sketch of this man, that I may see the bodily form of his devotion. I am gladder still to have his prayer, that we may look into the very soul of his pleading. My heart’s desire this morning is that many here may seek mercy of the Lord as this publican did, and go down to their houses justified. I ask no man to use the same words. Let no man attach a superstitious value to them. Alas, this prayer has been used flippantly, and foolishly, and almost looked upon as a sort of charm! Some have said — “We may live as we like, for we have only to say, ‘God be merciful to me,’ when we are dying, and all will be well.” This is a wicked misuse of gospel truth; yea, it turns it into a lie. If you choose thus to pervert the grace of the gospel to your own destruction, your blood must be on your own heads. You may not have space given you in which to breathe out even this brief sentence; or if you have, the words may not come from your heart, and so you may die in your sins. I pray you, do not thus presume upon the forbearance of God. But if with the publican’s heart we can take the publican’s attitude, if with the publican’s spirit we can use the publican’s words, then there will follow a gracious acceptance, and we shall go home justified. If such be the case, there will be grand times to-day, for angels will rejoice over sinners reconciled to God, and made to know in their own souls the boundless mercy of the Lord.

“Have mercy upon me, O God, according to thy lovingkindness; according unto the multitude of thy tender mercies blot out my transgressions.’”
Psalm 51:1
David wrote this Psalm, it is thought, after his sin with Bathsheba. David was suffering greatly while in this unforgiven state and earnestly desired God’s forgiveness.

He started by asking God for mercy. The Bible teaches that God is a God of mercy. In Deuteronomy 4:31, Moses pointed out, “(for the Lord your God is a merciful God), He will not forsake you nor destroy you, nor forget the covenant of your fathers which He swore to them.” Ephesians 2:4 says, “But God, who is rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us.”

What is mercy? Vines Expository Dictionary of New Testament Words points out that the Greek word used in Ephesians 2:4 means “the outward manifestation of pity; it assumes need on the part of him who receives it, and resources adequate to meet the need on the part of him who shows it.” The International Standard Bible Encyclopedia says, “From all the foregoing it will be seen that mercy in God is not merely His pardon of offenders, but His attitude to man, and to the world generally, from which His pardoning mercy proceeds.”

David committed some awful deeds. Not only did he commit adultery, but to cover up his sin with Bathsheba, he had her husband (Uriah the Hittite) killed. What David did would have been bad for anyone, but David was a divinely appointed King. God had blessed him so much. Indeed, he should have served as a better example for his people.

In spite of this, David was very humbly asking God to forgive him. David recognized that the mercy of God must be granted to him so that he could receive forgiveness. So, with humility, he asked God for mercy, knowing the compassion of God. In verse 2, he said, “According to Your lovingkindness; according to the multitude of Your tender mercies.” Sins forgiven today are because of God’s loving-kindness and tender mercies (NASB “compassion”)

Are your sins forgiven? If so, it is because of God’s mercy. If you have not received forgiveness, God’s mercy will allow you to receive it. God is willing to forgive us today because He is a merciful God, but we must comply with His will and conditions.

Only on the footing of free grace can the most experienced and most honoured of the saints approach their God. The best of men are conscious above all others that they are men at the best. Empty boats float high, but heavily laden vessels are low in the water; mere professors can boast, but true children of God cry for mercy upon their unprofitableness. We have need that the Lord should have mercy upon our good works, our prayers, our preachings, our alms-givings, and our holiest things. The blood was not only sprinkled upon the doorposts of Israel’s dwelling houses, but upon the sanctuary, the mercy-seat, and the altar, because as sin intrudes into our holiest things, the blood of Jesus is needed to purify them from defilement. If mercy be needed to be exercised towards our duties, what shall be said of our sins? How sweet the remembrance that inexhaustible mercy is waiting to be gracious to us, to restore our backslidings, and make our broken bones rejoice!