Turn to Luke’s gospel, Luke 11:37 is where we are, Luke 11:37. In this amazing eleventh chapter of Luke, Jesus has taught his disciples to pray. He has then strengthened and encouraged them, giving all kinds of inducements to pray. And after that Jesus did what he tends to do so often. He casts out a demon. He delivers from oppression. And for his miraculous work, he had to deal with a blasphemous charge from the Jewish leadership, running through the crowd that he was in partnership and in league with Satan himself. That he’s in league with the demons. So he responded to that charge, and then he rebuked and corrected those who would put him to the test by demanding from him a sign, as if he didn’t just perform a sign.
Okay, so now all this reactive, reaction, reply, everything he’s done so far, responding. Now it’s his turn. Now it’s his turn. Now it’s time for the Lord to go on the offensive, for him to press the truth to the consciences of men. And when he does this, he doesn’t mess around at all. He goes right for the jugular. He strikes right at the heart of phariaism, pharisaic religion, the dominant, most respected expression of Jewish religion at the time. He goes right to the corrupt heart of it, and he exposes it. He confronts its empty rituals. He exposes and rebukes the rotten core of its leadership. And he exposes this as a false religion. Very, very strong stuff. But don’t take my word for it.
Let’s read the text together. Verse 37, we’ll read to the end of the chapter. “While Jesus was speaking, a Pharisee asked him to dine with him, and so he went in and reclined at the table. The Pharisee was astonished to see that he did not first wash before dinner. And the Lord said to him, ‘Now you Pharisees cleanse the outside of the cup and of the dish, but inside, you are full of greed and wickedness. You fools! Did not he who made the outside make the inside also? But give as alms those things that are within, and behold, everything is clean for you.
“But woe to you Pharisees! For you tithe mint and rue and every herb, and neglect justice and the love of God. These you ought to have done, without neglecting the others. Woe to you Pharisees! For you love the best seat in the synagogues and greetings in the marketplaces. Woe to you! You are like unmarked graves, and people walk over them without knowing it.’
“One of the lawyers answered him, ‘Teacher, in saying these things you insult us also.’ And he said, ‘Woe to you lawyers also! For you load people with burdens hard to bear, and you yourselves do not touch the burdens with one of your fingers. Woe to you! For you build the tombs of the prophets whom your fathers killed. And so you are witnesses and you consent to the deeds of your fathers, for they killed them, and you build their tombs. Therefore also the Wisdom of God said, “‘I will send them prophets and apostles, some of whom they will kill and persecute,’” so that the blood of all the prophets, shed from the foundation of the world, may be charged against this generation, from the blood of Abel to the blood of Zechariah, who perished between the altar and the sanctuary. Yes, I tell you, it will be required of this generation.
“‘Woe to you lawyers! For you have taken away the key of knowledge. You didn’t enter yourselves, and you hindered those who were entering.’ As he went away from there, the scribes and the Pharisees began to press him hard and to provoke him to speak about many things, lying in wait for him, to catch him in something that he might say.”
” So the conclusion here that we see explains the reason for the cross.”Travis Allen
Luke provides us here with an introduction to this section in verse 37-38 and then a conclusion to the section in verses 53 and 54. And that conclusion is vital for the development in Luke’s gospel because it explains this uptick in antagonism from the Jews. Jewish hostility that eventuates, it crystallizes into a plan and then eventuates in this plan to put Jesus to death and death on the cross. So the conclusion here that we see explains the reason for the cross.
Listen, Jesus is, if you’ve been reading the daily reading you’ve seen in John 15, Jesus is hated by sinners, and for no good reason. But because he is the incarnation of God’s righteousness and grace, he is hated. Because sinners hate God. Even if they have him on their lips like these Pharisees, they truly at heart hate him.
Between the introduction and conclusion, Jesus calls out the hypocrisy of pharisaism. He calls out the nature and the effect of that hypocrisy. First in the sect of the Pharisees and then in the lawyers. The lawyers were the theological experts in Jewish law. They’re all the seminary profs who hang around the, the guys with the money, the Pharisees. These Pharisees and lawyers, they were in league with one another, and they saw themselves really as the guardians of Israel’s purity, as the protectors of Israel’s holiness, the last bastion of holiness in the land.
And as they see it, by their purity and by their holiness, they gain and maintain God’s favor upon the nation. They have a high regard for themselves in the land. They are the self-appointed evangelists of moralism through ritual purity, through law keeping, law abiding. How many, how many times are we seeing in our, this time, right now, people judging one another for different things, first it’s the coronavirus, now it’s all the unrest and everything else and everybody, everybody is everybody else’s judge. Guard that, beloved. Guard that heart that you do not cast aspersions, and blame and judgment on other people, especially fellow Christians.
Be on guard, because this is the heart of pharisaism, is this critical spirited, rule keeping, law following. They’re moralists. They see themselves too highly. They don’t see their sin clearly enough. When they try to enforce ceremonial cleanness upon everybody else in the land, among the people, and in so doing, they weigh people down. I mean, people are already perplexed enough by their own sins and mistakes and errors and limitations and everything else and all the hard work that they have to do in this cursed earth and the cursed soil. And the Pharisees and their pals, the lawyers, the scribe, they come along and pour more burdens onto them. They crush their consciences with traditions that for them in their society, they said, held the force of divine law.
Binding people’s consciences with traditions, with man-made rules, not only burdens people with guilt over what is not sinful. But it distracts them from matters of true righteousness. It turns them away from the only source of true mercy. So in love, Jesus is about to come in and pull a pin on a grenade and put it right in the heart of pharisaism and blow it up.
And I want to give you two points just by way of introduction. You don’t need to write these down unless you want to, but two points by way of introduction. Just before we get into the details of the text. First I want to give you a word about the tone. If this confrontation that’s recorded here were to be recorded on video, today, posted on YouTube, someone would definitely give this some kind of a clickbait title like Jesus destroys the Pharisees. Jesus crushes the lawyers. Click, click, click, click. Right?
Some people who love controversy, love debate. They love watching fights. They would cheer that. They would cheer that, seeing it as no more than that. Oh finally, they’re getting their due, finally getting their punch in the nose. Look at the blood flow.
Others who are more timid by nature, they’re likely to act like the tone police and come in and accuse Jesus here of being unloving. Either way, to see this as merely a Jesus destroys video. That is an entirely wrongheaded way to interpret what is happening here. As Jesus sits down with yet another Pharisee, along with a number of his Pharisee and lawyer buddies, we can see that this is another setup, isn’t it? Jesus is walking into an ambush. And we’re bracing for conflict. We know conflict is about to come from this, we as the reader.
But Jesus, he takes charge. He comes in and he shows, and Luke actually identifies him in verse 39. “The Lord said to him,” just in case we forgot. He is the kurios. He is the Lord. And he says to them, he’s, he’s taking charge. He has a design in coming into this meal. He has an intent and his intent is not to destroy. His intent is to love them. His intent is to help them.
I realize that it’s hard for us, sinful as we are, it is hard for us to see the tone of love that comes through the invective. To consider the intent of Jesus to love through this very strong, very direct language, and it is strong. It is direct. Jesus has called, he’s called them fools after all. That’s not polite in any meal time, right?
He denounces them with woes. He exposes their sin. He indicts them right in front of him, right in front of all their guests. He indicts them for their sins. And obviously this is making his host and all the guests feel quite uncomfortable. They’re trying to look for the exits. Where’s, I’m, it’s time, time to check on the pot roast, you know?
They, they just want to get out of this scene because the social expectations around any of our dinner tables, but especially around this time in this meal setting, made it impossible for this to happen any other way. Jesus has to cut through all the pretense. He’s got to rip off the facade of friendship that they want to portray publicly. And he has to risk being called rude by breaking social etiquette. By, by, he’s gotta risk being accused of unkindness here in order to love. He’s gotta be, he’s gotta risk being accused of being harsh in order to show mercy.
Why would he do that? It’s because he loves them. And again, these are not like the hoi polloi centers. These are not the people at the bars and the prostitutes and all the rest. These are the, these are the socially accepted elite. These are the judges. These are the pastors. These are the theologians. These are the seminary, seminary professors and all the rest. That’s who he’s talking to here. And yet, and everybody can see this too, they’re arrogant. They’re self-righteous. They’re self-assured. They have no sense that they’re in the wrong on anything.
Jesus comes into this house on this day and he comes with intent. He is resolved to come in here and to expose their sins, to lovingly confront them. To teach what true purity is all about. He’s here to show these men what cleanness really looks like. He wants them to see their need for divine forgiveness because they themselves are wholly unrighteous. They need a righteousness that’s not their own. They need a righteousness that is granted by God and God alone. Again, it may not seem nice to say such direct things and use such strong language. But for the hard hearted and proud, saying strong things is more important than maintaining polite niceness.
That’s what love looks like sometimes. Sometimes it’s necessary to cut through the armor that people have lifted up of social expectation, of cultural politeness and all that, and to get beneath that mask of appropriateness, which the proud used to hide behind. And he does it to address underlying heart issues. So that repentance can actually happen, so reconciliation can really occur. And so listen, whether you like the tone or you don’t, you need to understand this, Jesus is being loving here to these men. He’s being loving. And this matter of tone raises another issue.
Second issue, just by way of introduction. Second, the tone is warranted. If you hear any strength, power, severity in the tone. It’s because it’s warranted. Why? Because false religion is damning. False religion sends people to hell. That which deceives men and damns their souls should ignite our passions with righteous anger and holy indignation, just like our Lord. We should deal with it forcefully. Listen, beloved, if you can get what Jesus is saying here, you’ll have a paradigm for understanding all false religion of every shape and every kind, and yes, evangelical false religion.
We have our own forms within evangelicalism. Within reformed evangelicalism, we have our own forms of this kind of pharisaism. I’ve experienced it myself. I’m sure you have too. And from this pharisaic form in the first century, it’s Judaism all the way to Buddhism and Hinduism and Islam and even various forms of secular humanism that dom, dominates our land right now. This is what false religion looks like, because none of this can get to the heart of the matter. None of it can make a person clean inside or outside.
I know, like you, I’m hearing all these calls for racial reparations today. Demands for justice and equity, calling for privileged Americans to repay the oppressed from the proceeds of oppression. The demand for reparations, which, understand it means money and power, folks. That’s what reparations mean. They want reparations. They want money. They want power. But no matter, no matter how much money is handed over, no matter how much power changes hands, there is no forgiveness in this modern system.
“Binding people’s consciences with traditions, with man-made rules, not only burdens people with guilt over what is not sinful. But it distracts them from matters of true righteousness.”Travis Allen
False religion provides no way to absolve guilt before God. No way to clean a soul from its many, many stains. No provision for forgiveness and reconciliation or peace. And so false religion, like no other injustice that exists, false religion ought to raise our sense of indignation higher than anything else, and it ought to make our blood boil. False religion ought to make us more angry than riots in the streets, looting of property, even brutality against people. And I’ll say this, even murder. Because false religion damns the soul to hell forever.
True religion, true religion revealed by God, this is the standard that Jesus assumes as he enters into this conversation. His mind is completely informed by truth, by the scripture, by the law and the prophets. That’s how he enters into this conversation. This is the standard that he raises in their midst and holds up to them. He holds up the mirror of divine righteousness to them. This is, this is the standard against which he judges the Pharisaic religion that’s practiced all around him.
Listen, true religion deals with the heart of the matter. It gets to the heart. What God has revealed is the way and the only way to make the heart truly clean. It’s the only way to bring about true purity, a complete and total cleansing. This is real salvation he’s talking about here.
The basis of Jesus’ argument, the standard of his judgment, is truth. It’s divine truth revealed from God, from that mind. And that truth is the power of God unto salvation for everyone who believes. Beloved, this is why Jesus speaks so strongly here. This is why his words may seem harsh to our ears, but listen, you need to grapple with this.
As JC Ryle said, “Our Lord’s behavior on this occasion is meant to be an example to all Christians.” It’s meant to be an example to all Christians. And just in case you’re missing the point, he went further to explain this. He said this, quote, “Let us take care that we enter into the company of unconverted people in the same spirit in which Christ did. Let us remember his boldness in speaking about the things of God. Let us remember his faithfulness in rebuking sin. He did not ignore sins of those who invited him when his attention was openly drawn to them. If we feel that we are unable to imitate Christ in the company of unconverted people, it would be better for us to stay at home.” End Quote.
That’s well said, and I don’t want to quibble with a great man, but just this caveat. We’ve been staying at home far too long. And I don’t just mean in the lockdown. How many people do you say, well, I don’t wanna be a hypocrite, so I’m not gonna confront that. Listen, Jesus says, “Get the log out of your eye and then go confront.” Stop being hypocrites. I’m not saying you are, but, that’s what, that’s what we’re to do here. We’re not to just sit at home, not saying a word.
If we feel we are, quote, “unable to imitate Christ in the company of unconverted people and,” end quote, we need to repent. We need to pray for a humble boldness and then get out there and speak the truth in love because people are dying and going to hell. Don’t waste any time. Alright, enough introduction. Let’s get into the heart of the matter, verses 37 to 41. Part of the matter on Pharisaic religion.
And our first point here, number one, worthless washing. Washing, which is worthless, worthless washing. Point number one, and just take a moment to set this up. If you look at verse 37 again, notice that it’s while Jesus was speaking that this unnamed Pharisee here has asked him to dine with him. In verse 38, our ESV translation refers to the meal as dinner, but the word is really actually referring to an early, one of the earlier meals in the day when we call, call, like late breakfast or brunch or even a lunchtime meal.
So the Pharisees invitation, it, it happened while Jesus was speaking, but probably during or immediately after he spoke to the crowd. The invitation was for the future, it was for a meal yet to come. We don’t know how much time passed in between verse 36 and verse 37, but it wasn’t long. What, whenever it happened, whenever this meal happened, Luke wants us to see this incident of the condemnation of the Pharisees and the lawyers. This incident is in the context of what immediately preceded. We need to see all of this in light of Jesus’ teaching.
Luke wants us to know Jesus’ host, he was there that day. He heard everything Jesus said. He saw what happened. He heard, perhaps even helped spread the rumor that Jesus was casting out demons by Beelzebul. This Pharisee is part of the crowd that tested Jesus, part of the crowd that demanded a sign.
And by the way, he’s also a, a member of this generation. Remember that generation, the generation that Jesus identified and condemned as being an evil generation? The Pharisees, the lawyers, they, they agreed with Jesus. His indictment of their generation as wicked, evil, impure, inclean, that’s a, that’s their position. They just thought of themselves as not a part of it, above it. They’re, after all, the holy ones, separated ones. That’s what Pharisee means.
This is why they lived how they lived. They adhered to, fastidiously to laws of ritual tradition, keeping every little jot and tittle. They thought they stood at Jesus’ level. They thought, they thought they stood perched above the hoi polloi, looking down their long noses at the rabble beneath. After all, they were the hand washers. They didn’t have eyes to see themselves clearly. The, the light that was in them, verse 35, “The light that was in them was darkness.” Which is why they failed to discern that, “something greater than Solomon was there.” “Something greater than Jonah,” was in front of them.
So Lu, Luke tells us that Jesus, verse 37, “he went in and he reclined at the table.” Completely bypassed the customary washing. He did not wash his hands. It’s a ritual washing, verse 38. “The Pharisee was astonished to see he did not first wash before dinner.” Interesting, isn’t it, how Luke writes that? “Pharisee is astonished.” He finds it shocking. And notice, very specific verb here, he’s, “astonished to see.” What did we just say, back in verse 34? “Your eye is the lamp of your body. When your eye is healthy, your whole body is full of light, but when it’s bad, your body is full of darkness.” And now these Pharisees are “astonished to see.”
Hmm. Luke’s already set us up for the punch line, hasn’t he? That the judgment coming from these Pharisees is not to be trusted. Their eyes, the lamp that gives light to their lives is bad. And therefore their lives, their judgments, their opinions, all informed by darkness. Listen, this is why Jesus just completely bypasses this ritual washing. He walks right past the guys doing it. He refuses to honor what is at the heart of Pharisaic religion, namely these purification rituals, and man it burned them. Their ritual washing is in vain and he is showing by his own action. That’s his judgment. It is completely worthless. This is worthless washing.
Let’s talk a bit about this ritual washing he bypassed on the way to breakfast. And I’ll just say it very clearly, Jesus did not wash his hands. Every kid, whoever got sent back from the dinner table just to wash his hands, his ears just perked up. He says, “I’m paying attention. What’s that? If Jesus didn’t wash before coming to the table, I don’t have to either. Mom’s being unbiblical.”
Son, this isn’t about getting dirty hands clean before dinner. You boys still gotta go listen to mom, honor your mom. Wash your hands. This isn’t a coronavirus thing. Keep washing your hands, alright? Wash your hands. It’s a different kind of washing here. It’s a washing that’s totally worthless. Doesn’t clean any dirt out of the fingernails. It doesn’t actually remove dirt. It doesn’t remove germs and virus and all that other stuff. It’s not that. Didn’t provide any cleansing of all, of the skin or of the heart, which is how they took it.
Just briefly turn over to Mark chapter 7 and I want to show you a little bit of what this Pharisee had in mind as he’s watching Jesus. Mark chapter 7, Mark’s gospel. Mark 7:1-23, you find the same account written in Matthew’s gospel as well, Matthew 15:1-20. Mark gives us a bit of, bit more detail here at the outset. The incident that Mark and Matthew described and record took place in Galilee, probably in Capernaum, and this is before, this is earlier in Jesus’ ministry. This is not this Luke 11 incident.
But look at Mark 7:1-5, “The Pharisees gathered to him and some of the scribes who had come from Jerusalem, and they saw that some of Jesus’ disciples ate with hands that were defiled, that is, unwashed. (For the Pharisees and all the Jews do not eat unless they wash their hands, holding to the tradition of the elders, and when they come from the marketplace, they do not eat unless they wash. There are many other traditions that they observe, such as the washing of cups and pots and copper vessels and dining couches.) Pharisee and the scribes asked him, ‘Why do your disciples not walk according to the tradition of eld, of the elders, but eat with defiled hands?’”
That’s tantamount to sin for them. That’s what they’re trying to do. They’re trying to load his conscience up with, this is the tradition of the elders. This is what our people have always practiced. Shouldn’t you be ashamed of yourself? Go back to Luke 11:38. This Pharisee, he does seem to be genuinely shocked here. This seems to be his first experience with someone ignoring this purification ritual. I mean, maybe he expected it of all the sinners and the rabble, but not of a rabbi. He’s amazed, he’s astonished, and none of this is in a good way.
Just to give you the sense of the offense that he felt here. Suppose you’re someone who is absolutely fastidious about wearing a mask out in public in this highly sensitive time when everybody’s concerned about the spread of viral infection. You’ve been wearing your mask morning, noon, and night. You wear it when you’re sleeping at night. You wear it in the shower. You’ve even decided to puree your food, drink it through a straw so you won’t have to remove your mask. Okay, that’s you.
Some guy out in public, he’s not wearing a mask. You know, he’s one of these Viking, beard looking guys, you know? And he recognizes you. He thinks he recognizes you. So he runs up to you, just to make sure, he pulls your mask down to see if it’s you. And at the same time, sun gets in his eyes, wind blows, and he sneezes full on in your face. Imagine what that might feel like to you.
Now, add the element of holiness to this, of religion to this, the element of separation, of purity, of ceremonial cleanness before God. This ritual hand washing that Jesus just ignored, it’s not merely an issue of bad manners or inconsiderate offensive behavior. In the judgment of this Pharisee, what Jesus did is on the same level as a sin before God. And now he’s got the audacity to bring this sinful impurity, this uncleanness, to the breakfast table, that he invited him to. Look, Jesus did not forget to wash his hands. This is intentional. He’s walked right past the servants who are all pouring the water, there to perform the ritual for the guests.
Edersheim helps us to understand how this went down. As the guests enter, they sit down on chairs. Not at the table, not at the, the table where they reclined, but they sat down on chairs at the entrance. And water is brought to them, with which they wash one hand. And after the cup is taken, when each speaks the blessing over the wine, and then they presently all lie down at the table, water is brought to them again. With which they now wash both hands preparatory to the meal. When the blessing is spoken of the bread, and then over the cup by the chief person of the feast. Then, the way the meal’s ordered, it’s according to the position of each guest. The way the washing goes is according to the positions of the guests, from the most important rabbi to the least important. The chief guest is sitting between the worthiest rabbi on the left and the second worthiest on the right.
I mean, it’s all about performance and formal ritualism and who’s more important than anybody else, and who gets the best seats and all that stuff. Then the ritual washings, hands out, palms facing up, water poured until it hits the wrist, but just then. And then they turn over the hands over, over palms facing downward, more water, then the cups, then the platters, then all the rest. So all this formality, you know they’re waiting, and it’s worth it for them. Because you know what? All this formality they’re going through and all this ritual, for a Pharisee, this is almost better than food. To see who gets first and second, and who’s doing the ritual rite and all the, all the other stuff that they’re doing.
But it turned for the, for the godly. This is what my family is saying. For the godly, this turned meals into rather tedious affairs. It’s made even more odious by the fact that the meal became an occasion for pomposity and pride. Too much attention to the seating chart, put status on display and wealth and influence and all the rest.
Jesus, again Jesus just walks right past. He blows it off and he’s intentional. It’s, it’s not just for the sole crass point of being rude and irreverent. It’s not just for the sake of shirking custom. Jesus is coming in here to get their attention, and he does so by ignoring these worthless hand washing rituals, purification rituals, that they’ve been taking for granted as so, so spiritual.
The Pharisees, scribes, lawyers they’ve been using these hand washing rituals are kind of like secret handshakes. A means of identifying themselves as the pure ones, of reinforcing, reminding themselves that of this self-assurance that they are clean. Not like everybody else, the rest of society out there. They’re unclean, but they are proven clean by their hand washing rituals. In words of one commentator, “Jesus snubbed his host by failing to wash before the meal.” And to be taken as an insult, the Pharisee here, he apparently has kept this to himself.
Propriety kept him from saying anything that might make us socially awkward moment in front of his guests. So he does what all Pharisees do, keeps up appearances. He wants everything to continue looking good, so he keeps on maintaining social etiquette. He just tries to cover over the, the offense. In his concern for how things look, and in his inattention to how things really are, this Pharisee is not going to call attention to Jesus shirking the hand washing.
So what this Pharisee hoped to hide behind the veil of social propriety, Jesus intends to bring out into the open. He’s about to confront this corrupt system represented in this ritual. The hand washing is not only worthless, first point, it’s the very symbol of pharisaic hypocrisy.
So second point, we’ll call it hypocritical hygiene. Hypocritical hygiene. If it were just a matter of a worthless hand wash, hand washing ritual, Jesus may have just submitted to it, just gone along with it, but there is hypocrisy involved in this ceremonial washing, and so Jesus wants no part of this. Look at verse 39, Jesus casts off all sense of decorum and he confronts his host directly. “The Lord said to him, ‘Now you Pharisees cleanse the outside of the cup and that of the dish, and inside you’re full of greed and wickedness.’” Inside you are full of greed and wickedness.
Luke reminds us in verse 39 of what the Pharisee didn’t discern, that this is the Lord speaking to him. May seem rude at first glance, but this is the Lord. Not only does he have the right to speak. But he speaks with good intent and with good purpose.
You clean outside of cup and dish, inside full of greed and wickedness. He’s saying, there you are, you Pharisees. There you are making a show of cleanness in your rituals but that’s all it is. It’s just a show, because on the inside you are utterly, totally rotten. Two words, greed, wickedness and they comprehend the true condition of the Pharisees. We might summarize this by saying they’re totally depraved. They’re completely and thoroughly bad. That’s what Jesus is saying.
First word Jesus uses described their hearts, verse 39 is harpage, harpage. It comes from that verb that Bret described in his sermon as harpagao. I think is what, to snatch up, to take up. That’s the word that’s used for rapture. So it, it, it occurs oftentimes within the action to refer to the action of a thief who is stealing. He’s carrying somebody else’s stuff away. And it’s not just a, it’s not just a thief, but it’s like a robber, someone who does it by force, harpage. You get the good picture of this in the looters we’ve been seeing in the news these days. It can mean robbery, plundering.
Godet translates the word as ravening. Calls it avarice that’s carried out in act. In this context, focusing on their insides, he’s using the word to describe the attitude of the Pharisees. They are full of, and therefore driven by, greed and covetousness. It’s not just an attitude though, because their greed drives in to find clever ways, lawful ways, to take what does not belong to them from others who are weaker than they are, and to do it with the laws’ justification.
Second word poneria refers to an intentional ill will that’s put into practice. It’s a mindset. Poneria is a mindset of scheming, cunning, planning to do evil to practice wickedness. This is a heart that gives expression to thoughts of malice and resentment and jealousy, envy. It’s the heart of poneria that is the source of the first word, the plundering, the greed.
And with that word, poneria, Jesus has just tied the Pharisees to the generation that he publicly condemned as poneria, as an evil generation, verse 29. The Pharisees didn’t see themselves that way. Not at all. They’re the ones who followed Moses, adhered to the law, had their complex system of purification, tithing, fasting, praying, and all the rest. Jesus just blows way past all that outward show and gets to the heart and says inside you’re full of harpage and poneria, greed and wickedness.
That’s why Jesus wants nothing at all to do with this hypocrisy. He wants nothing at all to do with this show of ceremonial purity in the mealtime, hand washing ritual. Or the rituals to purify the cup and the platter, the holes, the food and the wine. This is distasteful to him, totally. Even consume this food, drink this wine, because he knows that this is the, the payment, the result of plunder and a greedy heart.
For the sake of time, I’d just like you to write down two passages. I’m not gonna have you turn to them, or we’ll, we’ll look at them in detail right now. But write down Mark 7, I already told you that section, verses 1-23. And read verses 9-12 to see about their heart here, and I’ll just describe it very briefly. Also write down Luke 20, Luke 20 verses 45-47. And then continue on in, to Luke 21:1-4. Mark 7, Luke 20, Luke 21, end of Luke 20, beginning of Luke 21, write down those passages. Mark 7, I’ll just describe it for you just briefly.
Mark 7 describes the Pharisees’ sin. They have money that they should be using to support their elderly parents. Older people in their lives, take care of their medications, doctor visits, pay their rent, all the rest. And the Pharisees said whatever can be used for your support and your care is Corban. Corban was a word that means dedicated to the temple.
Now it didn’t mean they had to take that money and give it to the temple. It’s just that any money that they pronounce Corban is dedicated to the temple. They continue using it. But it’s dedicated to the temple and therefore can’t be given over to them. In so doing, they robbed their parents of the honor and the care that they genuinely are commanded to receive by God. They robbed them of that. Let them go hungry, let them go poor, in order that they can hold on to their money.
The next section in Luke 20, end of Luke 20, Jesus condemns the Pharisees, lawyers, because “they devour widows’ houses.” That seems a very specific charge, doesn’t it? But then you read on into Luke 21 and Jesus and his disciples are there observing the giving collection, giving at the temple. And there’s a widow putting in two pennies. And it says in the text, “all she had to live on.” In error, there are some who preach that text as if, wow, what an example of sacrificial giving. Let’s, let us be like the, the sacrificial widow who gave her very last two cents. Jesus says no, no, no.
That is the rapacious religion, the religion of greed that will extract the last two pennies from a widow in order to, as it describes later, build all these edifices and beautify them. It’s exactly what the Catholic church does is rob people of money in order to build big palatial churches. It’s what the Mormons do. He is not commending the widow. Whatever she does in her heart before the Lord is between her heart before the Lord. What he’s done, doing in that section, he’s condemning a false religion that would fleece the flock and take from people who are so needy.
“The Lord said to him, ‘Now you Pharisees cleanse the outside of the cup and that of the dish, and inside you’re full of greed and wickedness.’”Luke 11:39
Those are passages that just help you get a sense here of what Jesus is seeing around this Pharisee’s table. As they’re pouring the wine and handing off meat from the platter, after they’ve done their purification holy rituals. He’s disgusted by this. He’s angered by this. He knows where the money came from to buy this food. He hates hypocrisy. God hates hypocrisy. Figuratively speaking, you could say, religious hypocrisy turns God’s stomach. But as much as Jesus hates hypocrisy, as much as he’s confronting it here, you know what? There’s grace for hypocrites, too.
Brings us to a final point. Complete cleansing, number three, complete cleansing. I’ll grant you Jesus’ words, his opening words here don’t sound like grace. Let me give you a chance, or let me just, give me a chance here to explain. He says in verse 40, “You fools! Did not he who made the outside make the inside also? But give as alms those things that are within, and behold, everything is clean for you.”
From what follows, Jesus is about to launch into a polemic against Pharisaic religion. But listen, you need to see this as grace. You need to see this as love. What he’s doing here is he’s offering repentance and he’s giving a promise of cleanness. He’s giving them a chance to turn from this greed and wickedness that animate their hearts to embrace the opposite expressions of virtue, you say? But what about calling them fools? Isn’t that kind of a, a bad start to grace? Setting the wrong tone. Causes everything else that you say to be misunderstood is coming from a harsh, rancorous spirit.
I’m glad you asked, because we need to talk about that for a minute. The English word fool is used to translate several Greek words that can be translated that way. This word here aphron and anoetos both convey the sense of ignorance. That’s the word he’s using here. You’re being ignorant. He’s, he’s trying to get them here by using that word aphrones. He’s trying to get them to see their error that they have mistaken thinking.
Yes, of course he’s gonna, they’re gonna be offended by this. They don’t think them ignorant, think themselves ignorant of anything. They think they’re fully informed, better educated than he is. But he’s not being insulting, he’s just getting their attention. He’s very intentional, very precise, using this word, ignorant, foolish to refer to them. He wants them to see their fault, their error in their thinking. He wants them to come to their senses, to snap to attention, to find forgiveness and receive the grace of God in the repentance that he’s about to explain.
So Jesus picks up the exact word for the occasion, brings them to their senses. What is it that they’re ignorant of? He says you are ignorant. You are fools about the nature of God. “Did not he who made the outside make the inside also?” The God who created the physical world, he created the very idea of space, inside space and outside space, which means, as Godet says, God who made the body, made the soul also. The purification of the one cannot therefore in his eyes be a substitute for the other. A well cleansed body will not render a polluted soul acceptable to him any more than a brightly polished platter will render distasteful meat agreeable to a guest. For God is spirit.
Because the Phar, the Pharisees lacked eyes to see, they didn’t possess the light of truth. They didn’t know the spiritual nature of God, the unity and the oneness of God, the fact that God is interested in, yes, the whole, and also the parts, the inside and the outside as well. He sees all, he considers all. God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth. The spiritual nature of God is one of the very first principles of all true religion. It’s at the very foundation. It’s just basic.
“This principle,” as one commentator says, “this principle lays phariaism in the dust.” And I would say along with him that this principle that God is spirit, lays all false religion, non-Christian religion in the dust. It’s dead upon arrival. The spiritual nature of God, defined by Scripture, revealed in Scripture, explained through so many passages, Old and New Testament alike, with total consistency, without any contradiction, is one of the fundamental principles of all true religion.
God is spirit means God is one. He is one. He is concerned about the whole of us, not one part is over against the other. We cannot compartmentalize our thinking. He sees it all. He intends to see us as an integrated whole so that what shows up on the outside of us is consistent with the inside of us. Our words, behaviors, habits, actions, pursuits, the way we use money, time, talents, resources. He wants what is showing up on the outside to be completely integrated in to an inside that is conformed to his word.
God is spirit. He is one. He sees everything as an integrated whole. God is also spirit, he’s concerned with our spiritual selves. And he’s concerned first and primary and fundamentally with our spiritual selves, not just with an outside show. He wants our heart to be right with him. Proverbs 4:23, “Keep your heart with all vigilance, for from it flow the springs of life.” God sees, not as man sees. “Man looks on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart.”
This is why Jesus told the Pharisees early in his ministry in Galilee, “There’s nothing outside of a person that by going into him, can defile him.” That’s why these washings, these ritual washings are worthless. “It’s what comes out of a person from the heart, that’s what defiles him. For from within, from the heart of man, come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, coveting, wickedness, deceit, sensuality, envy, slander, pride, foolishness. All these evil things come from within, and they defile a person.” Oh Pharisees, don’t be foolish, don’t be ignorant.
Consider the first principles of true religion has to start the very nature of God and let that guide your repentance. Considering their slanderous, blasphemies, attitude of constant doubt toward him and unbelief. When you think about how they’re trying to turn people against him, how they’re attempting to undermine his ministry, dogging his steps, testing him, catching him in errors, trying to accuse him of sin.
Listen, isn’t Jesus demonstrating the mo, most kindness and grace to stop and teach them? In light of his indignation and in view of their evident greed, wickedness, their pride, self-righteousness, isn’t the very, this the very picture of love, of kindness, patience, goodness, all the fruits of the spirit?
Notice in verse 41, he points them to repentance and faith. Their ability to do as he says and obey this command presupposes regeneration. We won’t get into all that right now, but he’s not commanding regeneration here. That’s the Spirit’s initiative. He’s commanding repentance. If they have a regenerated heart, if they have eyes to see, ears to hear, a heart to believe, they’ll respond. It says, “Give as alms those things that are within, behold, everything else is clean for you.” In contrast to the harpage, the greed. Bent on taking from others, Jesus says the opposite. He says give, not take, give.
In contrast to the poneria, the evil wickedness of idolatry, Jesus says be generous to those in need. Give alms. Word describes this, specific benevolent giving to those who are poor and needy, it’s charity, it’s alms giving. The way he puts this, he’s going deeper than the gift itself. Literally, he says, give as benevolence, give as charity, not mere money, but give those things which are within. Your heart, your soul, your mind, your strength, love for God, expressed in love for people. Give your sympathy, give your benevolent attitude, give your heart, give your compassion, those things that are within. In a word, give your love to others, not yourself.
That’s the Pharisees’ sin. They are self-lovers. Lots of self-esteem with those guys. But not much love for neighbor. Love your neighbor as yourself. Love your neighbor. Give those things which are within. And in doing that, you’re loving and honoring the God who created the whole of you. He’s not prescribing almsgiving as a formula for salvation by works. He’s not trying to abandon the gospel of divine grace.
He’s just describing in very concrete terms what repentance looks like in these self-righteous Pharisees. They’re ignorant about the nature of God. They’re ignorant about true righteousness, true cleanliness before God. And so in love and mercy, Jesus takes time to confront their sin, teach them the truth, point them to the proof of divine grace which is worked out in love and mercy. Care for other people.
If there are any among the Pharisees, any guests at the meal that day, with sincere but ignorant hearts, who thought fastidi, fastidious, attentiveness to hand washing and purification rights, ceremonial washing and all the rest is truly efficacious, had power to make them clean. If there are anybody who’s like that among them, sincere about that, Jesus just graciously demolished all their basis for hope in a clean heart before God based on all that external stuff.
But he gives them the gospel. The good news at the end of verse 41. Look at it there. “Give as alms what’s within.” Give your love, give your heart, give your compassion, give your sympathy, give your beneficent attitude. Give what is within. “And behold, take note, look, everything is clean to you.”
We’re reminded of David’s beatitudes, Psalm 32. “Blessed is the one whose transgression is forgiven, whose sin is covered. Blessed is the man who, against whom the Lord counts no iniquity.” He’s saying, listen, if you repent, if you put off your self-centered, plundering attitude and you put on an almsgiving, gracious, merciful attitude, that is evidence of true regeneration. That is evidence of faith, that is evidence that God has done a work. And if God has done that work, guess what? You are forgiven. You’re clean. You’re clean before God, and you can give up all this externalism. All this pharisaism, all this loading the heart and the mind and the soul with guilt.
If there are any here who’ve been suffering underneath the heavy hand of the Lord and feeling the weight of conviction for your sins, groaning in sorrow over the consequences of sin. Moaning in weakness over your sin and its consequences, and you’re feeling the weight. You need to understand there is deliverance in confessing and repenting of and forsaking your sins and turning to Christ in faith. To be driven like the heart of Pharisees, by a heart of greed and wickedness and self-righteousness and self-centeredness is to suffer.
It’s to be weighed down, slumped over. Like Christian in the Pilgrims Progress, hunched over with his heavy, heavy burden. Dragged through the streets then by an iron chain, enslaved to various lusts, pulled around by slave master, sin. But Christ came to break the chains of sin. He came with bolt cutters to just shatter those chains, cut the cords of death, and deliver us into new life, which is the glorious freedom of loving God, obeying good commandments from God, loving others with a changed heart, a renewed mind. One that is full of love and kindness and goodness and compassion. Repent, beloved, turn from sin, turn to true righteousness found in Christ and Christ alone, and behold, everything is clean for you.
Let’s pray. Our Father, we so desperately need to hear the message from Jesus about how to find true cleanness, how to find true forgiveness. The means of true reconciliation that comes from you and is a reconciliation first and foremost, fundamentally to you. It’s the only basis by which there can be rec, reconciliation with anybody else. Father, let us take note of Jesus in his ways. Jesus in his kindness, that even in his severity, he is kind and gracious and shows love. Our Father, we love you. We thank you for our Lord Jesus Christ. We thank you that the severe words of the law have been pointed at our hearts. That you have informed our mind with the truth and helped us to see our condition before you, that we are guilty of lawbreaking, of transgressing.
We thank you that you didn’t leave us crushed in our guilt. But that you turned our eyes in faith toward Christ and let us trust in him and put our hope in him. We thank you that he is perfect righteousness. That in his body he took the penalty for our sin. He took on himself what we deserved. And he suffered and died. And that in him there is true reconciliation to you. He lived a perfect, perfect, righteous life that we could never live. And by trusting in him, we’re united to him in faith. We’re covered in his righteousness, and we stand before you perfect and complete. We thank you so much for this gospel of grace by which we are completely clean. Let us rejoice in that message of cleanness in grace, and let us proclaim it to a, a world that so desperately needs, needs to hear it. In Jesus’ name we pray, amen.