John 5:39,40 “You study the Scriptures  diligently because you think that in them you have eternal life. These are the very Scriptures that testify about me,  yet you refuse to come to me to have life.”

     You can’t read your way to Jesus.  Your head isn’t big enough to hold all of His Word.  You can’t teach your way to Jesus.  If you think you can you end up thinking you know Him well, when in reality none of what you know comes from experience.   You can’t preach your way to Jesus.  If you think you can you end up believing that your righteousness is all that counts forgetting about His grace and mercy.  His Spirit isn’t in your words.  His Spirit is in His Word and that’s where  all  true preachers preach from.

     Anything we do in our own strength is not a road to Jesus.  We take pride in our strength and capabilities.   If we read the Scriptures like the Pharisees, searching only for our own justification, seeking only our own good opinion of ourselves and looking for confirmation of our righteous selves every word even though it is Scripture is emptied of its Power to transform us.  Time spent in Scripture with proud and judgmental hearts,  takes us away from Jesus not closer to Him.  Those that go to the scriptures with a desperate heart searching for consolation, searching for help and searching for hope will find Jesus.  God draws close to a humble person; “Though the LORD is great, he cares for the humble, but he keeps his distance from the proud.” (Psalm 138:6)

    Jesus had a lot of confrontations with the Pharisees.  They were proud.  They were religious leaders.  They were the best of what organised religion could come up with.  The difference between them and the ‘common man’ or sinner is described in Jesus’ parable about the Pharisee and the Publican; “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 so much as lift up his eyes unto heaven, but smote upon his breast, saying, `God, be merciful to me a sinner!’ 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.” (Luke 18:10-14)

     Why were the Pharisees who knew their Bible inside and out so set against Jesus?  Because they didn’t need Him.  They were so sure that they were just fine without Him.  They believed in their own righteousness and had no need for Jesus.  Unlike the publican sinner who knew in his heart what he was and begged for mercy, the Pharisee had no need of mercy.  A heart that has no need for mercy has no mercy in it.  Such a heart is not pleasing to God; “I will have mercy, and not sacrifice: for I am not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance.”  (Matthew 9:13)

   A few days ago my wife and I attended a Gospel Concert and star singer, M.W. Smith gave a short message in between his beautiful songs.  Smith’s message was simple; ‘Jesus loves you, He came for you as you are.  No judging. No rejection. Accept Him, He accepts you!’   Sadly, according to Smith many churches are unable to come up with this kind of love for the mass of humanity that so desperately needs Jesus.  That is a powerful statement to make to the audience in that it represented the assembled church.  There was no collective gasp!  Conviction didn’t fall upon the crowd.  Did we come to hear the singer but not Who he sang about?  M.W. Smith made me sad at that point because I knew there was at least one person in the crowd who struggled with a hard heart. Me!

     What is in your heart?  If you’re like me, life is a daily struggle with Pharisaical performance orientation.  If you’re like me, life is a daily struggle with judging others because in order to be good enough somebody has to loose out.  If you’re like me, life all too easily becomes a zero sum game where others must loose so I  can win.  From there it’s not a big step in your heart to where salvation is a zero sum game – in order for you to get to heaven many others will have to go to hell!  If that attitude is in your heart – evident or hidden behind self-righteousness – no amount of reading, teaching or preaching will bring you closer to Jesus!

     There really are only two types of prayer.  Jesus’ parable illustrates both; that of the Pharisee and the publican sinner.  Oh we may think; ‘I’m not like the Pharisee!’  But the very thought convicts us because we are not like the publican sinner either.  To be in between the two types is no better than being completely like the Pharisee because the  ‘grey area’ allows us to fool ourselves into thinking we are OK.  The challenge that faces all Christians is to be open to the transformation of  our hearts and minds so our attitude changes from the Pharisee’s to the publican’s.   This is a transformation that we can’t do for ourselves.  This is God’s work in us.

     My confidence is in Jesus; “. . . He who hath begun a good work in you will perform it until the Day of Jesus Christ.” (Phil 1:6)