Your Mini-Me is a Pharisee

All of us have a little Pharisee living inside us, the sinful flesh, which knows nothing of the Gospel, and is busy with the law, exalting ourselves to God and against the neighbor.

The Pharisees were experts at twisting the law, using it for their own benefit. They had taken the law of faith toward God and love toward their neighbor, and used that same law against God and against their neighbor.
Think about that. God’s law, which first accuses us before God and shows us how we deserve His wrath, so that we come before Him humbly and repentant, is taken by the Pharisees and used to show how good they are, how perfect and righteous, how they deserve to sit next to God in heaven.

And, second, this law of God is supposed to put us in a humble position towards our neighbor, so that we come alongside them and serve them, help them and give them gifts. And the Pharisees take the law and use it to beat down their neighbor, show how bad their neighbor is compared to their overflowing holiness.

The Three Uses, Remember Your Catechism

We talk of the three uses of the law: the curb, the mirror, and the guide. The law as a curb keeps society in order. This is the law that keeps us from hurting and harming each other, honoring marriage, protecting other family’s stuff, and the reputation of our neighbor. The law as a curb is why we have government, military, police, courts and judges and jails and stop signs.

The second use of the law is a mirror. This is the chief use: the law shows us our sin. It always accuses us. This is the theological use of the law, which is to condemn us, to show us the sins that we commit, the good works we neglect, and the sin which clings to our flesh. Here the law teaches us something that we can’t know by feeling and experience, that sin has corrupted us to the core, and that all of the wrong things that we do, say, and think are only the symptoms of an even deeper problem, I am a poor, miserable sinner. And, this second, mirror use of the law, tells me that my sin deserves God’s wrath.

See, we might know that we are sinners. Normally you here it like this, “I know I’ve made mistakes. I’m not perfect.” But we do think that we are bad enough to deserve God’s wrath and hell. Here God’s law comes in like a hammer and demolishes us, showing us how repulsive and offensive we are to the holiness of God. How the pain and shame and darkness of the cross, the being forsaken and smitten by God that Jesus suffered there, that is truly what we deserve.
Now when the law is doing this mirror work, showing us our sin, we might want to think that the law is the problem, that the law is bad. No, the law here is supremely good. Do you know those supper-good mirrors, that have the light around them, and they magnify your face? I accidentally looked in one of those once. That was a mistake. Every blemish, every spot, every wrinkle magnified on the big screen. It makes mountains out of mole hills, and out of noses. Some things should not be in high-definition. This is what the perfect law of God does. As long as we are comparing ourselves to one another, we might be doing okay, but as soon as the Lord’s perfectness comes into the picture, then we are undone. And this is exactly how Jesus wants us, undone. That we put aside our trust in ourselves to make room for faith in His promises.

The third use of the law is the guide or map, this is where the law gives shape to our Christian love and service to our neighbor. While the first use of the law makes sure I don’t hurt or harm my neighbor in his body, the third use puts me alongside my neighbor to love them, to serve them, to lay down my life for them, to forgive them and pray for them and bless them.

Because we are forgiven by Jesus we are set free from the need to self-justify. We don’t need to justify our existence, to ourselves, to God, to our neighbor. It’s done. You are justified. You are declared righteous by the righteous One, by the Son of God who sits at the right hand of the Father with the spoils of His victorious death and resurrection with Him. This means that you have nothing to prove. Think of that! God love you, and this gives you the freedom and courage to risk a good work, to suffer and die in service to the neighbors God has given you.

The picture I always think of is of the pill-bug. “Rolly-pollies” some people call them. You know those little bugs, when you pick them up the roll into a little ball to defend itself, but them, if you hold your hand still enough, it thinks it’s safe, and it will un-curl and walk around. So with us. When there is no Gospel we are curled in on ourselves. Who else is going to love us? Who else is going to take care of us? But when the Lord comes along with His mercy and love and cross and blood and life and promises, and says, “I love you,” then now we are safe, we can un-curl and walk around.

This is why suffering, sacrifice, and humility mark the Christian’s love for their neighbor.

These are the three good and godly uses of the law.

How That Sinful Flesh of Yours Loves the Law

The Pharisees, though, had two different uses of the law, or better: misuses of the law. The pedestal use and the big-foam-finger use.

The pedestal use lifts us up, we stand about the crowd, we prop ourselves up on our own good works so that we are above everyone else looking down on them and lifted up closer to God. The Pharisees were experts at this pedestal use.
And they were also pros at the big-foam-finger use. You know those #1 foam hands that people wear at basketball games? Imagine having one of these to point at others and their sins. “You’re a sinner.” When the Pharisees had Jesus to supper that Sabbath, they were all sitting on their foam fingers, waiting for Jesus to sin so they could pull them out.

The pedestal and big-foam-finger misuse of the law takes the law and flips it on its head. Instead of humbling us, we become proud. Instead of serving our neighbor, we become our neighbors’ accuser and judge.

When the Pharisees come to a feast, they take the best seat. Who else should be there? Instead of humble faith towards God and humble love toward the neighbor, they have exalted themselves and put down their neighbor. This Pharisee lives in us. Repent.

Jesus is found in humility. Your Jesus took the lowest and humblest seat He could find, His shameful death on the cross, His tomb cut out of rock. He humbled Himself to the point of death, even death on the cross, and the Lord exalted Him. “Come up here,” said the Father to the Son, and He brings you with Him, from death to life, from suffering to joy, from humility to glory.

Jesus finds you in humility. He is looking in the lowest seat, in seat marked “sinner,” that is where He finds you, and says, “Friend, come up higher.” To you, a sinner, Jesus says, “Friend, come up higher.” And you, imagine it, will sit next to the Master in the resurrection forever and ever.

Instead of the pedestal we have the cross. Instead of the foam-finger we have the God’s promises. And we rejoice in these, world without end.


(This post is a redux of a sermon preached at Hope Lutheran Church, Aurora, CO, on October 12, 2014. To hear the audio, click here: