Jarrod Jacobs: “God Be Merciful To Me A Sinner”
Our title is found in Luke 18:13. In this text, we read a parable the Lord spoke to those who “trusted in themselves that they were righteous and despised others” (Lk. 18:9). This parable was about a Pharisee and publican (tax collector) who went to the Temple to pray to God (Lk. 18:10-13). The Pharisee spoke to God as if bragging about how great he was, but the publican simply said, “God be merciful to me a sinner.” Christ said that the publican was the one who was justified rather than the Pharisee (Lk. 18:14).
What can we learn from the publican’s prayer? First, let us understand that this is not a prayer offered by an “alien sinner” to God. Sometimes, we hear false doctrine associated with this prayer as if a lost person can simply pray a prayer and be saved from past sins. This is not taught in the Bible. Remember, both the publican and the Pharisee were in the Temple (Lk. 18:10). Therefore, both men were Jews, i.e., children of God. The publican had come to renew a relationship with God he had lost. Thus, the publican’s prayer is not parallel in any way with someone today coming to God who needs to become His child. This is because in order to become a child of God today, we must believe in Christ as the Son of God, repent of our sins, confess Christ as God’s son and be baptized for the remission of sins (Heb. 11:6; Acts 17:30; Acts 8:37; I Pet. 3:21).
As we examine the publican’s prayer, I would suggest it reveals much about him and teaches us valuable lessons. First, he addresses his prayer to “God.” He is not praying to some pagan idol. He does not deny God’s existence but looks to One higher and greater than himself for blessing. In this petition, he, as God’s child, asks for God’s mercy because he had sinned. Mercy is something that God has in abundance (Ps. 136). All men need God’s mercy daily! This publican recognized the need for mercy as well. He had sinned as God’s child and needed God’s forgiveness. Who among us has not sinned (Rom. 3:23)? Seeing that this is true, let us never forget the true source of our mercy, and be thankful it is given to us.
The publican made his prayer personal when he asked for the mercy to be provided, “to me, a sinner.” I am impressed that he did not do as the Pharisee and look at others, noting their sin. Instead, he knew he had to look no farther than self to see sin. May we learn this lesson. It is very easy to blame others for our problems. It is very easy to try to discount or deny our sins by saying, “Look at him! He did worse than me!” What does this solve (II Cor. 10:12)? Let us be honest and admit we have sinned. Then, let us look to God for our strength and our salvation.
If you need to be baptized, then do so before it is too late (Mk. 16:16). If you need to do as the publican and repent of past sins as an erring child, then please do this while you still can (Acts 8:22; I Jn. 1:9). God’s mercy is abundant, but life on earth is temporary (Jas. 4:14). Tomorrow may be too late!! (II Cor. 6:2; Prov. 27:1).
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