40. Fundamentalists in Formaldehyde (Luke 11:37-54)
37 When Jesus had finished speaking, a Pharisee invited him to eat with him; so he went in and reclined at the table. 38 But the Pharisee, noticing that Jesus did not first wash before the meal, was surprised. 39 Then the Lord said to him, “Now then, you Pharisees clean the outside of the cup and dish, but inside you are full of greed and wickedness. 40 You foolish people! Did not the one who made the outside make the inside also? 41 But give what is inside the dish to the poor, and everything will be clean for you. 42 “Woe to you Pharisees, because you give God a tenth of your mint, rue and all other kinds of garden herbs, but you neglect justice and the love of God. You should have practiced the latter without leaving the former undone. 43 “Woe to you Pharisees, because you love the most important seats in the synagogues and greetings in the marketplaces. 44 “Woe to you, because you are like unmarked graves, which men walk over without knowing it.”
45 One of the experts in the law answered him, “Teacher, when you say these things, you insult us also.”
46 Jesus replied, “And you experts in the law, woe to you, because you load people down with burdens they can hardly carry, and you yourselves will not lift one finger to help them. 47 “Woe to you, because you build tombs for the prophets, and it was your forefathers who killed them. 48 So you testify that you approve of what your forefathers did; they killed the prophets, and you build their tombs. 49 Because of this, God in his wisdom said, ‘I will send them prophets and apostles, some of whom they will kill and others they will persecute.’ 50 Therefore this generation will be held responsible for the blood of all the prophets that has been shed since the beginning of the world, 51 from the blood of Abel to the blood of Zechariah, who was killed between the altar and the sanctuary. Yes, I tell you, this generation will be held responsible for it all. 52 “Woe to you experts in the law, because you have taken away the key to knowledge. You yourselves have not entered, and you have hindered those who were entering.”
53 When Jesus left there, the Pharisees and the teachers of the law began to oppose him fiercely and to besiege him with questions, 54 waiting to catch him in something he might say.
Several years ago, one of our elders went to Chile where his parents were celebrating their 50th wedding anniversary. They live on a ranch in a fairly remote place and those who were a part of the celebration stayed on the ranch for several days. Included in this group was a German pastor. Hans was introducing the pastor to his youngest son, Gabriel, and when he did so he used the German word for pastor. This term was not familiar to Gabriel, who responded with a puzzled expression. Hans thought for a moment as to how he would explain what a pastor was in terms that Gabriel would understand. Finally, Hans had the solution.
“This man is something like Bob in our church.”
Gabriel immediately grasped this, or so he thought. And so he said,
“Oh, he works on cars, does he?”
Those of you who know me very well know that working on cars is one of my hobbies, but it is not my job. The problem which Gabriel faced was that the German word for pastor did not have any meaning to him. As we come to our text, there are several terms which do not produce a clear mental picture for us, or which may even produce an inaccurate meaning. Several of these terms are:
As we proceed in this study, be very careful to take note of the meanings which will be provided for these terms. Our understanding of this passage will be determined by a correct definition of the terms which Luke has employed.
Who Were the Pharisees?
We will begin immediately by defining the term Pharisee,203 for it is one that is frequently found in the gospels. It was at the house of a certain Pharisee that this incident took place. Our Lord’s words were addressed to the evils of Pharisaism. We must therefore understand who the Pharisees were and how they related to Jesus and His ministry.
In a word, the Pharisees were the biblical fundamentalists of their day. The word “Pharisee” may very well be derived from a term which means “to separate.” The origin of the Pharisees as a sect seems to have been in or around the second century B.C. They soon became detached and distant from the political regimes (the zealots, for example, would have brought about change through revolution). The Pharisees sought to produce spiritual holiness and spiritual reformation. They recognized that Israel’s condition was the result of sin, specifically a disobedience to the Law. It was their intention to identify, communicate, and facilitate obedience to God’s law, thus producing holiness and paving the way for the kingdom of God to be established on the earth.
So far as the “fundamentals” are concerned, the Pharisees believed in nearly everything we do. They believed in the inspiration and authority of the Bible (in their case, the Old Testament). They believed in the supernatural, in Satan, angels, heaven (the earthly kingdom of God at least) and hell, and the resurrection of the dead.
The problem with the Pharisees is not in what they believed, and not even in what they hoped to do, but in what they actually became and did. Their goals were noble and their presuppositions were essentially correct, but they were side-tracked. Instead of being the first to recognize Jesus as the Messiah, they were the first to reject Him. Rather than turning the nation to Him, they sought to turn the nation against Him.
What went wrong? How did a group of men so well-intentioned go so wrong? To a large degree the error of the Pharisees was an error with regard to divine revelation. While they held the Old Testament to be divinely inspired, they came to dwell too heavily on the law, to the neglect of the prophets. They came to dwell too heavily on the “letter” and not on the “spirit” of that Law. They concentrated too much on the details of the Law and not on its design, its purpose. In the final analysis, it was not the actual written Law which was their primary focus, but on the “oral law” and on their many interpretations of that law, which were written in many volumes. The written Law became only of secondary importance, while their traditions became primary. In those places where the traditions of the Pharisees contradicted the written Law, tradition prevailed (cf. Matthew 15:1-11).
The relationship between the Pharisees and the written Law of God in the Old Testament is something like that of the present Supreme Court of the United States to the Constitution of our land. Quite honestly, the “interpretations” of that court are hardly related to the original constitution of our land, or of the intent of the framers of the Constitution. Their present value structures and interpretations dictate the law of the land, almost in spite of the original intent of the framers of the Constitution. Thus, abortion can be ruled to be constitutional, only because the Constitution never specifically refers to a fetus as a person. Pharisees, move over!
As I have considered the Pharisees and their conflict with Jesus, it seems to me that the Lord had several major areas of conflict with them. First was their self-righteousness, their feeling that they were spiritually superior to others and pleasing in God’s sight. Second was their handling (or rather their mishandling) of the Old Testament Scriptures. Third was their traditions, to which they gave higher priority than God’s revealed Word. Fourth was their resistance to Himself, and their efforts to discredit Him and to turn the nation from Him.
Jesus’ rebuke of the Pharisees as a group should inform us that every group has its own tendencies toward error, its own temptations and failures. The thing which has struck me most in my study of this text and of the Pharisees is that this group is most similar to evangelical conservatives of today. The term “fundamentalist” is one which is proudly accepted by some and disdainfully bestowed by others, but by whatever term we may choose to label ourselves, the Pharisees were that group of people in the gospels which most closely resembles us. As well-meaning as these folks were, as correct as they were in so many areas of fundamental truths, they were some of our Lord’s strongest adversaries. They did not recognize Him as the Christ, they rejected and resisted Him, and they played a large role in His rejection by the nation. The study of this group and of their errors, as exposed by our Lord, should be of the greatest interest to those of us who are so like them. Let us therefore come to this text prayerfully, that we may have open hearts and minds, and that we may recognize those sins in the Pharisees which are also characteristic of us.
The Structure of the Text
We may outline the structure of our text as follows:
(1) Jesus’ Rebuke of the Pharisees—vv. 37-44
(2) Jesus’ Rebuke of the Lawyers—vv. 45-52
(3) Epilogue: The Outcome—vv. 53-54
Jesus had just finished speaking and a Pharisee asked Him to come to his house to eat. One cannot discern from the text what the motive of the Pharisee might have been for asking Jesus to share a meal with him. I would have thought that Jesus’ words would have offended the Pharisee, but they did not seem to. What surprised the Pharisee was the fact that Jesus did not wash prier to eating. We do not know whether or not the Pharisee spoke to Jesus about not washing. If not, then Jesus would have responded because He knew his thoughts.
We have come to the second of those terms which might be misunderstood, “wash,” appears in verse 38. This is not the kind of
“washing up” which our mothers used to insist we did before we could eat our meal, the washing which is required by good hygiene. The concern is not “dirty hands” but ceremonial defilement. This was a “washing” that was required by the traditions of the Pharisees, rather than by the Law itself. It is more clearly explained in this text from Mark’s gospel:
The Pharisees and some of the teachers of the Law who had come from Jerusalem gathered around Jesus and saw some of his disciples eating food with “unclean”—that is, ceremonially unwashed—hands. (The Pharisees and all the Jews do not eat unless they give their hands a ceremonial washing, holding to the tradition of the elders. When they come from the marketplace they do not eat unless they wash. And they observe many other traditions, such as the washing of cups, pitchers and kettles.) (Mark 7:1-4).
The surprise of the Pharisee all the more interesting in the light of what Luke has already written in chapter 7 of his gospel. There, Jesus was also invited to dinner by a Pharisee whose name was Simon (7:40). This is the occasion when Jesus’ feet was washed by the “sinful” woman, who accomplished her task with her tears and her hair. What is of interest to us is that Jesus pointed out to Simon that he had not greeted Him with a kiss, washed His feet, nor anointed his head. This Pharisee, who would not have thought of eating without a ceremonial washing, and who apparently provided the means for Jesus to wash ceremonially, did not provide Him with the one washing He really needed. The Pharisees were meticulous in the matter of an unnecessary washing, but careless in a beneficial and practical one, at least Simon was, and I find it hard to think that he was an exception.
It seems to me that the Lord’s failure to wash was purposeful, deliberate, and perhaps a new phase in His ministry. The Pharisee would have had to provide for the ceremonial washing. It would seem that all of the others at the table that day must have excused themselves and gone to wash ceremonially. Only Jesus remained. They may have waited, politely, for Jesus to do so also, only to realize that it was not going to happen. Jesus began to eat without washing. He did not “forget to wash” as our children often do, He refused to wash, in my opinion.
This seems to mark a change in His practice. I am inclined to conclude (by reading between the lines) that Jesus initially observed this ritual. After all, there was really nothing intrinsically wrong with it. Up till now, Jesus is never said to have refused such washing. We do know, however, that His disciples were accused of not washing (e.g. Mark 7). Jesus may well have taught His disciples that these washings were not necessary and they may have quickly ceased from them (if indeed they ever washed this way). Jesus may have persisted only for the sake of ministry, simply living in a way that would not cause needless offense (cp. 1 Corinthians 9:19-23).
Now, however, Jesus seems to have ceased to wash ceremonially, as a matter of principle. It was now time to take a firm stand against the traditions of the Pharisees, for they had become of more importance to them than the written Word of God. Jesus seems to have deliberately refrained from washing here to make a point, to demonstrate the difference between Him, His teaching, and His practice, and that of the Pharisees. This is no oversight, it is a deliberate move, one which Jesus knew would make the differences between Himself and the Pharisees clear, and indeed which would widen the gap between them.
A Critical Difference
Between Jesus and the Pharisees
Jesus’ response to the Pharisee is an answer to his surprise at the Lord’s avoidance of ceremonial washing. While our Lord is addressing His host He is also confronting the evils of the Pharisaic system (“you Pharisees,” v. 39), of which this man is a part. Thus Jesus’ answer is a response to all of Pharisaism.
Our Lord’s words here are difficult to follow because the imagery changes so quickly and so often. The overall thrust is the contrast between the outside, which is secondary, and the inside, which is primary. Jesus begins by talking about the washing of the outside of a cup or a dish, but then moves to the inside of a man. He then moves back to the dish imagery and tells His host that he can make the dish clean by emptying its contents and giving them to the poor. It is my opinion that Jesus constructs this mental puzzle so that its meaning and message will be pondered for a good while. Let these great minds ponder these thoughts.
The overall impact of Jesus’ words is clear. Jesus differs from His host and the other Pharisees by seeing the inside as more important than the outside, the heart as being more important than appearances, man’s attitudes and motives as more important than one’s actions. The Pharisees believed that a man is made holy by working from the outside, in. Jesus believed that holiness (and defilement) came from the inside, out.
Who can disagree with the fact that cleanliness on the inside is more important than cleanliness on the outside? I know a man who went out to a rural church to preach, where he spent the night at the home of a farmer. In the morning, the farmer’s wife fixed breakfast. She went out to the hen house to gather some eggs. When she came in with the eggs, this preacher noted that they had some of the barnyard on them, which the woman had not washed off. He didn’t worry about it, though, because she put the eggs into boiling water to cook. The pollution of that water couldn’t hurt the eggs, protected as they were by their shells. The woman then asked him if he would like a cup of coffee. He gratefully accepted, only to be as he watched the woman put instant coffee into a cup and then pour the dirty egg water into it. What is on the inside of the cup is more important to us than what is on the outside.
The Law dealt with external things, but its purpose was to teach Israel with reference to the heart. Jesus could therefore summarize the whole Law in terms of love: love for God and love for one’s neighbor. The Sermon on the Mount makes this point forcefully. Jesus taught that seeing the Law’s application only to outward acts was inadequate and inconsistent with God’s intent in giving the Law. He taught that obedience to the Law must be a matter of spirit, and not just of letter. This was not an added meaning, but the original meaning of the Law. The Pharisees did not see it this way.
Apparently the Pharisees explained their emphasis on the outward, the “outside of the cup” by insisting that it was important because God made it. We must keep the outside of things clean, including ourselves, because God made them. Jesus simply points out that God also made the inside, and thus they, by the same logic, should be kept clean as well.
When viewed by outward measurements, the Pharisees looked good, but Jesus exposed the vileness of their hearts when He told them that they were “full of greed and wickedness” (v. 39). When we look at the gospels as a whole we see that the greed and wickedness of the Pharisees was worked out in ways that seemed commendable, in ways that looked pious, in ways that may have even brought them praise, but which were evil (cf. Matthew 23:5-7).
Jesus then told the Pharisee that the way to “clean up” was to empty the contents of the dish—what was inside—and thus all things would be clean. It is really a very simple image. I clean my coffee cup by first pouring out what is in it. You cannot clean the inside of a dish if the dish is full. One of the evils of the Pharisees was greed (v. 39; cf. also Luke 16:14), and thus Jesus proposed generosity as its antidote.
The Three Woes
We do not know how the Pharisee responded to Jesus’ words, but it would seem that he had no opportunity to say anything, as Jesus followed up with three stinging woes. The term “woe” is another important element in understanding our Lord’s words. It is not so much a stinging rebuke as much as it is an expression of grief. When we say, “Woe is me,” we are not rebuking ourselves, but expressing grief. The flavor of this term “woe” is to be found at the conclusion of Matthew 23, where many woes have been spoken with regard to the Pharisees. Note the grief in our Lord’s words, which conclude a series of “woes” directed toward the Pharisees:
“O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you, how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, but you were not willing. Look, your house is left to you desolate. For I tell you, you will not see me again until you say, ‘Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord’” (Matthew 23:37-39; cf. Luke 13:24-25).
The first woe of our Lord concerns the Pharisees’ focus on the fine points, while missing the fundamentals. They majored in the minors:
“Woe to you Pharisees, because you give God a tenth of your mint, rue and all other kinds of garden herbs, but you neglect justice and the love of God. You should have practiced the latter without leaving the former undone (Luke 11:42).
The Pharisees were meticulous in the details of the Law, and yet they lost sight of the design of the Law. In the words of our Lord, spoken elsewhere, they “strained gnats and swallowed camels” (Matthew 23:24). Jesus did not criticize the keeping of the Law in its small points—the tithing of mint, rue, and other garden herbs—but He did say that the major thrust of the Law—justice and the love of God—must be fulfilled. While both are important, the former is secondary; the latter, primary.
The second woe concerns the Pharisees’ preoccupation with position, prestige, and the praise of men:
“Woe to you Pharisees, because you love the most important seats in the synagogues and greetings in the marketplaces (Luke 11:43).
According to Jesus, the Pharisees were “full of greed and wickedness” (verse 39). They were not publicly regarded as such, however. These hypocrites loved the praise of men and to be placed in positions of privilege and honor. In short, they sought the praise of men, rather than the praise of God. They were driven by their desire to have men’s approval, rather than God’s. Having this motivation, they could not speak the truth, nor could they interpret the Scriptures accurately, for then they would have been hated and rejected, just as the prophets (who did interpret the Old Testament Scriptures accurately and who spoke truthfully).
Incidentally, it is interesting that Jesus accused the Pharisees of desiring “greetings in the marketplaces.” It was in the marketplaces that they would have contact with those they considered “unclean,” and probably those from whom they received honor and praise. It was this very defilement which, in their minds, necessitated the ceremonial washings which they so diligently observed.
The third woe is the most painful and pointed. Jesus accused the Pharisees of being a source of defilement, rather than of purification:
“Woe to you, because you are like unmarked graves, which men walk over without knowing it” (Luke 11:44).
In the Law which the Pharisees revered (Numbers 19:16) the Israelites were taught that a person was rendered ceremonially unclean by coming into contact with a grave. The Pharisees thought of themselves as holy, and they saw their contribution as leading the nation in the direction of holiness. Jesus told them that the exact opposite was the case. They were themselves both unclean (sinful) and defiling to others. Those who came into contact with the Pharisees were thus rendered unclean. That which the Pharisees prided themselves in being and doing was the very opposite of the reality of the matter. Here was the most stunning blow of all to the self-righteous Pharisees.
Three Woes Directed
to the Experts in the Law
The final term which we must define is “expert in the law,” as rendered by the NIV. The NASB calls these experts in the law “lawyers.” The problem with this term is that is conveys an inaccurate picture of these men, who were not lawyers at all, as we know them. If the Pharisees were the “laymen” of this group committed to practicing and producing holiness (but were failing), the “experts in the law” were the “clergymen.” These were the theologians, the seminary professors, the authors of commentaries, the teachers of the Law. They were the source, the “horse’s mouth” of Pharisaism.
As the “experts in the law” were but a subset, a small group within the larger group of Pharisees, one of these “experts” saw that Jesus’ words were applicable to them, too, and sought to have Jesus clarify His teaching in their favor. Surely He did not mean to condemn the experts, too? Was it not only on the lay level that these errors were being practiced? Jesus’ answer is a follow-up to His first woes, with three additional woes, woes specifically addressed to these experts.
The first woe directed against the “experts in the law” was that their teaching produced a burden, not a blessing:
Jesus replied, “And you experts in the law, woe to you, because you load people down with burdens they can hardly carry, and you yourselves will not lift one finger to help them” (Luke 11:46).
When David spoke of the Law of God in Psalm 119, it was a blessing, a delight. When the experts of the Law were done with it the law was a burden, a drag. They had turned the Law inside-out. What God had graciously given they had perverted by their teaching to be an unbearable code of conduct, one which was so complicated they could not even understand it, let alone obey it.
In contrast to their teaching, Jesus’ “Law” was light:
“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light” (Matthew 11:28-30).
We might find these words of Jesus hard to believe if we thought about it. In the Sermon on the Mount Jesus taught that the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees was not sufficient to get into the kingdom (Matthew 5:20). He explained that He had not come to abolish the Law, and from His interpretation of it we would have to say that His interpretation of it was even harder to obey than that of the Pharisees. The Pharisees’ teaching forbade murder, but allowed for hate; Jesus’ teaching condemned both. The Pharisees’ teaching forbade adultery, but did not condemn lust; Jesus’ teaching called both sin. Jesus’ interpretation of the Law was not more liberal or easier to obey.
How, then, can our Lord say that His burden is light? Note, first of all that Jesus said that He was “gentle and humble in heart” (Matthew 11:29). The hearts of the Pharisees, on the other hand, were full of wickedness and greed (Luke 11:39). The difference between Jesus’ teaching of the Law and that of the Pharisees was that His teaching was motivated by compassion, and theirs by self-seeking and sin.
The second critical difference between Jesus’ handling of the Law and that of the Pharisees is that His teaching resulted in grace, while theirs resulted in guilt. Jesus’ teaching of the Law was always in the light of the teaching of the Old Testament prophets. The Pharisees were experts in the Law alone, neglecting the prophets. Yet it was the Old Testament prophets who were sent by God to interpret the Law (not the self-appointed Pharisees), and to point out its essence, and its fulfillment. It was the prophets who spoke of the ministry of the Holy Spirit, who enables men to obey the commandments of God:
“This is the word of the LORD to Zerubbabel: ‘Not by might nor by power, but by my Spirit,’ says the LORD Almighty (Zechariah 4:6).
The Law was not given to make men righteous, but to show men that they were unrighteous, and that they needed redemption. The sacrificial system pointed ahead to the coming Savior, the Lamb of God, of whom the prophets spoke in detail. The Law was but a temporary provision, and this “old” covenant was to be replaced by a new and better one, one in which God would transform men’s hearts, which would result in transformed lives (cf. Jeremiah 31:31-34).
The second woe which Jesus spoke to the experts in the law is directly related to the first. Note that it is the most lengthy “woe”:
“Woe to you, because you build tombs for the prophets, and it was your forefathers who killed them. So you testify that you approve of what your forefathers did; they killed the prophets, and you build their tombs. Because of this, God in his wisdom said, ‘I will send them prophets and apostles, some of whom they will kill and others they will persecute.’ Therefore this generation will be held responsible for the blood of all the prophets that has been shed since the beginning of the world, from the blood of Abel to the blood of Zechariah, who was killed between the altar and the sanctuary. Yes, I tell you, this generation will be held responsible for it all” (Luke 11:47-51).
We have already noted that the experts in the law and the Pharisees majored on the minors, they not only focused on the small details, missing the design, but they also focused on the Law without the prophets. The prophets were the ones who called Israel to the major matters of loving God and men, of mercy and justice. In these words of woe, Jesus shows us how strongly the Pharisees resisted the prophets. Not only did they reject the teaching of the prophets, they are guilty of being accomplices in their deaths.
Our first impression might be that the Pharisees build tombs for the prophets, which would seems to indicate that they accepted them as from God and their message as true. Our text, however, reads in such a way as to say that their building of tombs for the prophets proves their hatred of the prophets. Why would the Pharisees build magnificent tombs for people whose message they respected, and who, according to Jesus they would have put to death?
Have you ever been to a cemetery and looked at all the kinds of markers which are placed at the grave? I do not mean to suggest that this is true in all cases, but sometimes a very elaborate funeral and tomb is evidence of guilt, more than of love. Some people go overboard with the burial of those about whom they feel guilty, or to make it look as if they loved them when they did not. It seems that this was the case with the experts in the law. They went to great lengths to show honor to the prophets, lengths which only revealed their own guilt. This was a kind of Freudian slip, and Jesus pointed it out.
But how could these experts in the law be guilty of the blood of prophets whom their forefathers had slain? I think that Jesus is pointing out at least three ways. First, they had rejected the teaching of the prophets, just as their forefathers had done. Second, they were presently rejecting Jesus’ teaching, which was consistent with (and the fulfillment of) the teaching of the prophets. Soon, they would kill Him. And third, some of those prophets and apostles who are yet to come (namely Jesus’ disciples), after the death and resurrection of Christ, will be rejected, persecuted, and sometimes killed by them. All of this puts these experts in the same category of sinners, just like their forefathers. They were not the spiritual elite, they were just like the rest, just like those who had gone before them. They very things they condemned they were guilty of themselves.
The third woe is the capstone:
“Woe to you experts in the law, because you have taken away the key to knowledge. You yourselves have not entered, and you have hindered those who were entering” (Luke 11:52).
They have taken away “the key of knowledge,” Jesus said. What was the “key to knowledge”? In its simplest form, I believe that they “key of knowledge” was the divinely revealed knowledge of the Scriptures. The experts in the law, the ones who were self-appointed to teach the truth of the Law to their nation, were the very ones who were withholding, indeed, concealing that truth. They set aside the written Law for the oral law and man’s distorted interpretations of the Scriptures. They set aside the prophets and all of the inspired insight which God had revealed through them. They made themselves and experts and thus discouraged men from studying the Word of God for themselves. Those who thought themselves to be the guardians of the truth, and the teachers of the truth, were the concealers of it. And any who would seek to find the truth and to enter into life through it, were resisted by these experts in the law. They were not pointing out the way to life, but pushing people away from that way. How great their sin. How great our Lord’s grief at their sin.
The response of the Pharisees and experts in the law was not repentance, but rejection and resentment. This was the “last straw.” They would not seek to work with Him, nor to straighten Him out any longer. They would now become His fiercest opponents, trying to prove Him to be incompetent in the Scriptures, and waiting for the opportunity to put Him down. This was the beginning of the end. The cross is on the horizon.
The first thing which we need to recall as we consider the meaning of this text to us is that those who are guilty of the most serious sins are the ones who want to be most holy, and who think that they are. These Pharisees and experts in the law are, as we have said, fundamentalists. They believe in God, in His Word, in miracles, Satan, sin, and even of salvation. But their very desire to be holy has become distorted. Their commitment to lead others into holiness has actually produced the opposite. Let us learn that no matter how much we want to be holy, no matter whether men think us to be holy, God’s Word may show us to be otherwise.
How is it that people so committed to holiness can stray so far? If I understand this text correctly, we would have to say that it is by perverting the Scriptures. Just as Satan sought to use the Scriptures to tempt our Lord, so he employs the Scriptures to defeat the Christian. For those who hold the Scriptures in high esteem, Satan seeks to distort their grasp of the Scriptures. He accomplishes this is by working to make God’s Word merely a duty, and not delight, to make it a burden, and not a blessing. If the grace of God can be overshadowed by man’s guilt, if man’s efforts can be the focus rather than God’s, if the ministry of the Spirit can be set aside, then Satan has achieved his purpose. And if Satan can get our attention on but one portion of the Scriptures (as the Law was for the Pharisees) and not on the whole Bible, then we are sure to have a distorted grasp of God’s revelation. Also, if he can cause us to focus on one area of truth, to the exclusion of others, the Scriptures can be (mis)used to produce sin and not righteousness. The heart attitude with which we come to the Scriptures, as well as the way we study them plays a vital role in our Christian walk.
We who are fundamentalists and evangelicals have a number of ways in which we can be a hindrance to the Bible’s working in the lives others. We can, for example, fall into a scholasticism, an elitism which suggests to the masses that only the experts (who know Greek and Hebrew and theology) can study the Bible. We who are viewed as the experts in the Bible can give people the impression that all they need to do is to listen to and obey our interpretation of the Bible, rather than to read, study, and obey it for themselves. We can, of course, lose sight of the priorities of the Word of God, and focus on the fine points (like the details of prophecy, rather than its purpose of promoting faith and purity). And we can, by dull and boring teaching, convince others that there is nothing worthwhile in the Bible anyway.
This text surely reminds us that in the Bible those who are outwardly religious and inwardly evil are more severely rebuked than those who do not seek to clothe their sin in a religious garb. It also reminds us that there are corporate sins, those to which any and every religious group are susceptible. Whenever we are a part of a group that is a subset of Christianity, we will undoubted have both our strengths and our weaknesses. Satan will use either our strength (which he will encourage us to overplay and overstate) or our weaknesses. And because we, as a group, are convinced that we (distinct from all other groups) have the truth, we are not inclined to listen to or to learn from others, who are better able to see our weaknesses than we are.
One of the temptations which we face as Christians, and which our text clearly exposes, is to focus on outward acts or appearances, rather than on inward motivation. We are often guilty of taking new Christians aside and trying to rid them of their “evil habits” like smoking, drinking, cussing, or whatever, as though cleaning up the outside purifies the inside. Jesus teaches us that when we clean up the inside, when our attitudes and our motives are pure, our outward lives will clean up. Often, cleaning up only the outside tends only to corrupt the inside more. Now, having cleaned up the outside, we find pride and self-righteousness to be added to our list of inner evils. Let us learn from our Lord that holiness begins inside and works out, and not the reverse.
I must confess to you that it was at this point I planned to have some very pointed applications, but the text forbids it. Jesus’ rebuke here is general, not specific. He does not point out any particular sin, but principles which expose sin. You see, the moment I become specific, I tend to become external, and this is exactly the opposite of what our Lord wants. Our Lord wants these Pharisees and experts in the law to look at their hearts, not in the light of their own teachings, but in the light of the Scriptures, and in the searchlight of the Holy Spirit. It is the Spirit of God, working through the Word of God, which exposes our inward sins. May each of us go to the Scriptures, asking God as David did in Psalm 119 to reveal His Word to us, and also to reveal our sin. May each of us seek God from the heart to have a pure heart, by His grace, and for His glory.
Of what did the Pharisees accuse Jesus?
(1) Eating/associating with sinners—Matt. 9:11; Mark 2:16; Luke 5:30; Luke 7:39; 15:2
(2) Not fasting as they did—Matt. 9:14; Mark 2:18; Luke 5:33
(3) Operating in power of Satan—Matt. 9:34
(4) His disciples violated Sabbath by eating—Matt. 12:2; Mark 2:24; Luke 6:2
(5) Jesus violated Sabbath by healing man with withered hand—Mark 3:1ff.; Luke 6:6ff.
(6) Healing man with dropsy on Sabbath—Luke 14:1-6
(7) Violating Sabbath, He cannot be Messiah—John 9:16
(8) His disciples didn’t wash their hands ceremonially—Matt. 15:1ff.; Mark 7:1ff.
(9) Under what conditions can a man divorce his wife? —Matt. 19:3ff.; Mark 10:2ff.
(10) Claiming, by inference (sins forgiven) to be God—Luke 5:17ff.
(11) Accepting praise by disciples as Messiah—Luke 19:19-40
(12) Testing Jesus as to what to do with woman caught in adultery/application of the law—John 8:3
(13) Jesus was “bearing witness of himself”—John 8:13ff.
Of what were the Pharisees accused in the Gospels?
(1) Hypocrisy—bring forth fruit worthy of repentance—Matt. 3:7
(2) Honoring God with mouth, but heart far away—Matt. 15:7ff.
(3) Justify selves in men’s sight, but God knows hearts—Luke 16:16
(4) Self-righteousness—Luke 18:10ff.
(5) Not having works sufficient to get them into kingdom—Matt. 5:20
(6) Placing their traditions above the law—Matt. 15:1ff.
(7) Focus on externals, not internals—Luke 11:39ff.
(8) Demanding a sign—Matt. 16:1-4; Mark 8:11-12
(9) The leaven of/in their teaching—Matt. 16:5-12
(10) Being ignorant of the Scriptures—Matt. 19; 21:42, and of power of God (Matt. 22:29).
(11) Elevating themselves & seeking prominence—Matt. 23:2, 5-6
(12) Shut of kingdom of heaven from men—Matt. 23:13
(13) Use technicalities as excuses for disobedience of law—Matt. 23:16ff.
(14) Focus on trivials, but miss the main points—Matt. 23:23ff.
(15) Being lovers of money—Luke 16:14
(16) Disdaining the crowds, who knew not the Law (John 7:49)
(17) Using their influence to turn men from Christ—John 7:48; 12:42
203 To facilitate my own grasp of the Pharisees, I consulted every text in the gospels in which the term Pharisee was employed. From these texts I then summarized the accusations of the Pharisees against our Lord, and also His accusations of them. These are summarized on the following page:
Related Topics: Law