Date: October 1, 2000
Bible Text: Luke 18:9-14 | Roger Voegtlin
Series: Transcribed Sermons
If you have your Bibles, please turn to Luke chapter 18. We’ll be reading verses 9 through 14. As I was thinking about this message, I thought about an elderly man whom I talked to quite a few years ago. I was showing him what the Bible said about how to get to heaven. He was very friendly, open, and receptive—he agreed with everything I said except for one thing. I’ll never forget what he said because many, many people have said the same thing. “I agree with what you say, but I can’t understand how a good God would send good people to hell. Why would God send good people to hell?” That’s what I want to preach about this morning. I want to answer that question. Let’s read the text first.
Speaking of Jesus, it says, “And he 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.” Jesus says in verse 14, “I tell you, this man went down to his house justified rather than the other: for every one that exalteth himself shall be abased; and he that humbleth himself shall be exalted.” Again, I would just like to answer this question, “Why do good people go to hell?” I hope you’ll listen.
The two men written about here in Luke 18 represent the two types of people who come to church on Sunday morning. This morning, throughout America, tens of millions of people will go to church. Tonight, there will be about two million at most, not even ten percent. Then for the midweek service, it would be good if there were half a million to three-quarters of a million people in church. There are all different types of people who come to church on Sunday morning, and I believe that these two people represent them. Some come acting as though they have no need. They come to church maybe to make church members feel good. Maybe somebody invited them and they said, “I’ll come, but I really don’t need anything.” They don’t get anything out of church because they don’t come looking for anything, neither realizing their shortcomings nor expecting a blessing. If you come without seeing your need and without looking for a blessing, you will leave the same way.
Now in verse 9 we read, “And he spake this parable unto certain which trusted in themselves…” Notice again, He is speaking to people who are trusting in their own selves “that they were righteous, and despised others.” He spoke to the proud people, the people who thought, “Well, if anybody gets to heaven, I can get there as well as anybody else.” Then in verse 10, He starts the parable, “Two men went up into the temple to pray; the one a Pharisee, and the other a publican.” One really came to pray, and the other one came to bray. One was a Pharisee. That was the best you could be in Christ’s day. There has been no sect, in any age, that could be thought of as being more moral than the Pharisees of Christ’s day. They not only kept the law of the Old Testament, but they added 613 other prohibitions to show how spiritual they were. Their whole life was taken up with showing people how good they were. They were in a class all by themselves. They represent the very highest achievement of man in the flesh.
Then there was the publican. He was about as lowdown as you could get in Christ’s day. Publicans were at the bottom of the totem pole. They were despised by people. They were renegade Jews who sold out to collect taxes for the Roman government. They got a certain percentage of those taxes, and so they squeezed everybody for every mite they could get. They were hated by the people. So if you could just picture the very best in Christ’s day and the very worst came to the temple to pray. Now again, verse 11, “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.” And I’ll just say, he really wasn’t any of those things. He was not just bragging, he wasn’t lying. He wasn’t any of those things. He probably had one eye open looking over at that publican, and that publican was all red-faced. Then we read in verse 12, “I fast twice in the week, I give tithes of all that I possess.” Verse 13, “And the publican [the despised man], 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.”
So again, here’s the best of all mankind, here’s the worst of all mankind, and then Jesus says something that must have shocked the people. It must have “thrown them for a loop.” In verse 14, He says, “I tell you, this man [talking about what they would call the sinner, the bad man] went down to his house justified rather than the other: for every one that exalteth himself shall be abased; and he that humbleth himself shall be exalted.” What a bomb that must have been! This is contrary to all human reasoning. Again, everybody believes good people go to heaven, and bad people go to hell. But here Jesus says the good man—the man who kept the law, the moral man—went to hell. And the bad man, the man who everybody thought would deserve hell, went to heaven. What a shock that must have been!
Now, it wouldn’t strain me much to show you that the Pharisee was morally better than anybody in this room including me. Notice he says, “I’m not an adulterer.” He could look right in the face of God and say, “As far as this dirty sin is concerned, I’m innocent.” Jesus taught that adultery was not just a physical act. Jesus taught in the New Testament that anybody who thinks an adulterous thought is guilty of the very act of adultery. With that in mind, it would be pretty hard to say, “I’m sinless,” especially in our age. What an age of immorality we live in! Some people think we are prudes because we are against these things. But go to most any store, and there’s Playboy and dirty magazines. Even worse than that, right in your home you can punch it up on your computer. Then there’s filth on the TV and in the videos and cable television. Look at the way people dress today. By the way, the Bible teaches that if you dress in a provocative way, you’re guilty. You are more guilty than the person who has the adulterous thought. But it’s awfully hard for a person to say, “I’ve never had a thought like that.” But that Pharisee could say it. He could say, “I am not an adulterer.” Now everybody ought to strive for that. Especially if you’re a Christian, you can come to this place. You don’t have to have dirty thoughts. But the point that I would make is that even if you could say you are completely moral in this area, it doesn’t mean you are going to heaven. This man said it, and he was going to hell.
According to what we read here, this Pharisee was a very reputable man. He was very much respected. He was the type of person of whom mothers would tell their sons, “You see that man? I want you to grow up and be like him.” An outstanding man, a leader in the community. They might say to their daughters, “That’s the kind of person I want you to marry.” You could be the number one citizen in your community, people could applaud you, you could get medals and awards, but if you’re not saved, you’d go to the same hell this man went to. Works do not get you to heaven. You are not saved by what people think of you. You are not saved by your reputation. You are saved by accepting Jesus Christ as your personal Savior. You could fool the whole world including yourself. You could say, “Well, I’m a pretty good guy.” But God sees beneath the veneer. He sees what we really, really are. The heart condition is what makes the difference between heaven and hell.
This Pharisee couldn’t find anything wrong with himself because he was doing the inspection. He stood up and looked at himself and said, “You’re awfully good.” The more he looked, the more impressed he was. The more he looked, the more he liked what he saw. And you might say, “He sounds awfully good.” But the reason that he sounds so good, the reason he didn’t find any fault in himself is that he was examining himself. If he had allowed the Spirit of God to take the searchlight of the Bible and shine it on him, he would have seen his dirty, black heart. That’s why we stress the Bible and the need to read the Bible to see how to get to heaven.
This man was also religious. I don’t mean that he was a Christian, but he was religious. He was a member of a religion, the most prominent religion of the day. There are a lot of religious people today. You probably read that Madeline Murray O’Hair, the famous atheist, even had a religion. She started a church, just to mock religion. She also had a phone line, a prayer line. You were to call this line for prayer; but if you did, no one would answer. Oh, she thought that was funny. She would make fun of God. But what I’m saying is that everybody seems to have some kind of religion. Religion is a cloak that you can put on and take off. Some people just put it on on Sundays and take it off for the rest of the week, living the way they want to. They’re stiff and starchy on Sunday, but the rest of the week you would never even know that they went to church. They think that being a Christian is being pious, and that being a Christian is an outward thing. But being a Christian is an inward thing. It’s a heart thing. This man was religious, more religious than anybody here I’m sure. If there were a prayer meeting, I’m sure he’d be there. And whether or not he was asked to pray, I’m sure he would pray loud. I’m sure he would pray long and eloquently. He loved to stand up and be heard.
The Bible says that he fasted. Have you ever fasted? About 40 days before Easter, some in America observe a custom they call “Lent.” They call it fasting, but it’s not fasting. They’ll have Mardi Gras (in New Orleans), and lap up every bit of sin that they can get a hold of, and just eat it up. Then they give up something that they should have given up anyway for 40 days, and they call it fasting. That’s not fasting. If you read the Bible you’ll see what fasting is. Fasting is eating nothing all day. This man said he fasted two times a week. We could go on. It says he gave of his tithes; he gave ten percent of everything that he had. If you stood him up in front of 85-90% of congregations, people would say, “Here’s a man who’s clean. Here’s a man who’s honest.” If he measured out a yard, it was a yard. If he had a scale and said he gave you a pound, then it was a pound. We ought to be honest. We ought to give a day’s work for a day’s wage. Some people brag that they “sleep on the job.” Well, you’re sinning against God. It’s not your company that you’ll answer to, it’s God. You need to be honest. If you sell a car and it’s got an oil leak and you throw something in there to keep it from showing, that’s dishonest. You ought to want to be defrauded more than to defraud someone else.
But you could stand someone up in front of churches and say, “What a reputation he has. He fasts, he tithes, he prays,” and most people would say, “Amen. Enter into our church; you’re better than we are.” What I want you to see in God’s Word here in Luke chapter 18 is that when he got through performing and walked away, the Lord Jesus said, “Unjustified.” Please understand that. That’s not me, that’s Jesus saying, “Unjustified.” Man’s top achievement—the very best that could be. How moral he was! How honest he was! How he fasted, how he tithed, how he went to church! After all that, God said he was unjustified. If you’re the best person in this room and you receive communion, you’ve been baptized, and you’re a member of a church, you fast and you pray and you tithe, all of that is good. But if you have never accepted Christ’s plan of salvation that He has in the Bible, Christ says you are unjustified.
You say, though, “Why, why was this man lost?” I’ll tell you why, because he was trying to get to heaven, trying to be saved in an impossible manner. Please listen, now I’m going to tell you the answer to the question, “Why do good people to go hell?” You can’t be saved any way you want to be. You must be saved God’s way. It’s His heaven. It’s His plan. He sent His Son to die. Most people in America believe that. You see crucifixes everywhere; you see crosses everywhere. People believe that Jesus was born, and we celebrate it at Christmas time. People believe because it’s a historical fact that Jesus died. We celebrate His resurrection from the dead at Easter. But for some reason things get all mixed up. And I think the reason is that a lot of our churches, including a lot of Baptist churches, have turned to tradition of man instead of God’s Word. That’s what this Pharisee was depending on—the tradition of man. Doing what man thought you needed to do to get to heaven.
This Pharisee was trying to keep the law. But I want to point something out, nobody can keep the law. Again, people say to me, “I’m going to heaven because I try to be good, and I try to keep the Ten Commandments.” And then I’ll ask them, “Well, what are the Ten Commandments?” I’ve never had a person who said they were trying to keep the Ten Commandments be able to list them. But even if you could list them, you couldn’t keep them. For one thing, one of them says that we ought to honor our mothers and our fathers. Did you ever break that one when you were two or three years old? I guess! I don’t know of a child who has always obeyed his parents. Another thing the Bible says is that we are not to lie. Is there anybody in here who could say, “I’ve never lied in all my life.”? If somebody stood up and said, “I’ve never lied in all my life,” everybody else would say, “He’s a liar.” You see, nobody can keep the law, and you can’t be saved by keeping something you can’t keep. The law wasn’t given to us to keep in order to get to heaven. The law was given to us to reveal what sinners we are.
We would never know what sin was if God didn’t put it in the Book. You see, God says it’s sin to lie. God says it’s sin to disobey your parents. God says it’s sin to murder. God says it’s sin to commit adultery. God says it’s sin to covet. Please don’t misunderstand me, we should try to be moral, and as Christians we can be moral. We should strive to keep the Ten Commandments. But we can’t, especially without Christ. The Bible says that the Ten Commandments, the law, is like a mirror. It shows us what we are. It’s as if you go into the bathroom and you look in the mirror and see a big smudge here. The mirror reflects the need to wash the smudge off. That’s what the law is. It reflects and says, “If you are a liar, you broke the law.” But you don’t take the mirror and try to wash your face with it, do you? Of course not. It shows your need. You get some soap and water to wash it off. We could use many illustrations this way. You’re looking for dirt with a flashlight. The flashlight reveals the dirt, but you don’t wash the dirt with the flashlight. You say, “You’re being silly.” The same thing could be illustrated with a plumb line. You put a plumb line beside a building to discover if it’s out of plumb, but you don’t try to straighten it out with the line. The Bible also says that the law is like a schoolmaster to teach us that we are sinners. Just as when you go to school and they teach you what’s right and wrong, the law is a schoolmaster, the Bible says, to bring you to Christ Who can save you.
Please turn in your Bibles to James 2:10. I’ll just read this one passage, but the Bible is full of this idea. I want to show you how impossible it is to be saved by keeping the law. James 2:10 says, “For whosoever shall keep the whole law, and yet offend in one point, he is guilty of all.” You say, “That condemns everyone.” That’s the point of my message. We’re all guilty. “For whosoever shall keep the whole law…” You can be moral and never have an indecent thought, and we ought to be that way. You can be honest and not steal or take something from other people, and we all ought to be that way. You can say, “I don’t covet.” Again I say, what a sin of America! We live better than all the people in all the world, and all we want is more. You say, “I’m not that way.” Praise God! That’s the way we ought to be. But what the Bible is saying is that you can keep the whole law and lie once, “the whole law, and yet offend in one point, he is guilty of all.” Now do you think there is anybody in this auditorium or in all the world who can say, “I’m guiltless. I’ve lived a perfect life.” You see, what I’m trying to get across is that the most respected, most virtuous, perfect, kindest person in this audience this morning is just as condemned as a drug addict, or a “wino” out on the streets, or a prostitute. In God’s eyes there is no difference. We are all on our way to hell. We’re all sinners under condemnation of a broken law.
Let me illustrate this. Let’s picture a ravine 30 feet wide and 500 feet deep. Let’s say Carl and I are on one side of this ravine, and for some reason we’ve got to get to the other side. Who knows what that reason is, but our life depends on it. (You know, no human being has ever jumped 30 feet.) Let’s say I back up and I jump, and I break the world record. I jump 29 feet, 11½ inches. I break the record! But I’m not happy, and I’ll tell you why. Because I’m smashed at the bottom. Now take Carl; he’s undaunted. He jumps. He jumps 5 feet. He’s on the bottom. Now who is better off? The one who broke the world record or the guy who just jumped 5 feet? It doesn’t matter, we’re both a mess at the bottom of the ravine, 500 feet down. It’s all over for both of us. Now I say that to illustrate that it’s right to be “good.” I love the old-fashioned morality of what America once was. It’s good to try to be good; I appreciate that. But it doesn’t get you to heaven. I say again, it doesn’t matter if you are the best person in this auditorium, or if you’re the worst wino on skid row in Chicago, it doesn’t make a bit of difference as far as heaven is concerned. It doesn’t matter. You’re at the bottom of the pit. If you haven’t kept the whole law, you’re just as guilty as if you broke every one in every category.
What is God’s standard for getting to heaven? What is His standard of righteousness? Think. What is His standard of righteousness? The Bible says it’s His Son, Jesus Christ. Do you know that you have to be exactly as good as Jesus to get to heaven? You say, “Then nobody can get to heaven.” That’s the point I’m trying to get across; that’s what the whole sermon is about. That nobody on his own can get to heaven. And when you stand yourself next to the sinless, spotless Son of God and see the best that you can do is nothing but dirty, filthy rags, you’ll see that you’re falling ten thousand miles short of where you ought to be. You say, “Pastor Voegtlin, then I can never make it.” You’re getting it. What you need to do is come to God. You see, that’s the only way you get to heaven. You need to come to God as the old publican did, and just say, “Have mercy upon me. I’m a sinner. Save my soul.”
If that Pharisee had forgotten all he had done and remembered to plead the blood of Christ instead of his own goodness, he would have walked away justified just like the publican. That publican had nothing to brag about, and he’s a picture of us. None of us has a thing to brag about. You say, “Pastor Voegtlin, what do you think of yourself?” I’m not exaggerating, when I think of myself and my life, I think of a sinner. I’m ashamed of my life. I’m a sinner saved by the grace of God, and that’s what I want you to be able to see. But you’ll never come to God if you don’t see yourself as a sinner. We can’t compare ourselves with others. We won’t be saved that way. We must look to Jesus.
Romans 3:10 says, “As it is written, There is none righteous, no, not one.” How can you not understand, “…it is written, [talking about the Bible] there is none righteous,” and it doesn’t stop there, “no, not one.” We’re all sinners. Verse 23 says, “For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God.” Do you understand that? All have sinned. That’s everybody. Praise God, He died on the cross to cover our sin, to pay for our sin. That’s what Christmas is about. That’s what Easter is about. Jesus Christ came to this earth, lived 33 sinless years, and then was nailed on the old rugged cross, and God placed the sins of everybody in this auditorium and everybody who has ever lived, on Him. He died for us. “All have sinned and come short of the glory of God.” The wages of that sin is death, “but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.” That’s what He came for, to give us that gift. Not the way the Pharisee did it, not church membership, not baptism, not communion, not the traditions of man, “but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.”
That’s the best news I could ever tell you in all your life. You say, “Your sermon was awfully negative. You made me feel bad. I’m a sinner, and I can’t get to heaven.” That’s negative, but that’s good if you came to the conclusion that you are a sinner and you can’t get to heaven. Look to Christ. He died on the cross that you might be saved. I don’t care how many churches you belong to. I don’t care if you have been sprinkled, poured, or immersed. If you never came to Christ as a hell-bound, hell-deserving sinner, if you never came in faith to Him to receive Him as your Savior, you’re on your way to hell. I don’t like to hurt you. But I’m not hurting you, I’m trying to help you.
You see, if you don’t turn to Christ and accept Him as your Savior, you’re going to go out those doors back there just like the Pharisee in Jesus Christ’s day—unjustified. What I’m asking you to do is forget your pride, forget your reputation, forget your works, forget everything except that you’re on your way to hell and you need to accept Christ as your personal Savior. And then call out to Him as the publican did. “Lord, be merciful to me a sinner and save my soul.” Realize your need of a Savior. “Lord, be merciful to me a sinner, and save my soul.” If you do that, you’ll walk out those doors and Jesus will say, “He’s justified. He’s on his way to heaven.”