Sermon title:  CHRIST CONFRONTS HYPOCRITICAL RELIGIOUS LEADERS

Luke 11:42 – 12:1                         Immanuel Baptist Church – Sunday, February 10, 2019

 

 

 

 

 

Toward the very end of Jesus’ ministry on earth

he publicly denounced the scribes and Pharisees.

 

But the incident in this morning’s Responsive Reading

occurred in a more private setting

on an earlier occasion

when Jesus was invited to dinner.

 

We’ll see that, if we open to Luke, Chapter 11,

and look back a few verses

before where our Responsive Reading began,

to Luke 11:37.

 

37 When Jesus had finished speaking,

a Pharisee invited him to eat with him;

so he went in and reclined at the table.

 

Our Lord didn’t discriminate.

 

He ate with tax collectors and sinners,

and he ate with Pharisees,

who were chief among his enemies on earth.

 

The Pharisees were a strict sect among the Jews.

 

And, in Jesus’ day,

they held a lot of power in the Jewish community in Jerusalem.

 

They prided themselves in keeping God’s laws,

but they actually made up a lot of their laws themselves.

 

Their laws often went beyond what God said in Scripture.

 

And they even substituted their own laws for God’s.

 

We see that in the next verse.

 

38 But the Pharisee,

noticing that Jesus did not first wash

before the meal, was surprised.

 

The Pharisees made a big deal

out of washing their hands before meals.

 

It was not part of God’s law to the Jews.

 

But the Pharisees treated their own hand-washing rules

as if they were God’s laws.

 

So, it shocked them when Jesus ignored their custom.

 

But Jesus went beyond just ignoring

their man-made laws.

 

He also confronted them over their hypocrisy:

 

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.

 

So, Jesus was calling them out

over their hypocrisy.

 

They did everything for show.

 

They cleaned “the outside of the cup and dish

so that it would look clean.

 

But, who would want to eat or drink

from a cup or dish

that was clean on the outside, but dirty on the inside?

 

Jesus’ point was that the Pharisees themselves

were dirty on the inside.

 

They were corrupt:  greedy and wicked.

 

He continued,

 

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.

 

Different translations vary

on how they render this last verse.

 

But it seems, the Lord was inviting the Pharisees

to take the wealth they had gained through corruption

and give it to the poor.

 

It calls to mind Luke 19:8where Jesus called

the sinful tax collector Zacchaeus to repentance,

and

“Zacchaeus stood up and said to the Lord,

"Look, Lord! Here and now

I give half of my possessions to the poor,

and if I have cheated anybody out of anything,

I will pay back four times the amount."”

 

If the Pharisees would give their dishonest gain to the poor,

it would show repentance on their part, too.

 

But Jesus knew that even the Pharisees’ tithing

was done for show—

to make them appear to be righteous

in the sight of other people.

 

God commanded the Israelites to tithe—

to donate a tenth of all they received—

to support Temple worship.

 

That was because,

under the Old Testament arrangement

the tribe of Levi—one of the 12 tribes of Israel—

was assigned to do the work at God’s Temple,

offering sacrifices on the altar,

preaching and teaching,

and providing the music

at the Temple worship services.

 

So, when God distributed the land of Israel to the 12 tribes,

the tribe of Levi did not receive any land.   

 

The people of the other 11 tribes

were required to give a 10th of all their produce

to support the tribe of Levi and Temple worship.

 

In the next verse, Verse 42,

Jesus points out how the Pharisees

tithed, not just their major crops of wheat and grain,

but even tiny little crops

like mint and garden herbs—

but failed to practice justice

and the love of God.

He said,

 

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.

 

And then the Lord went on

to condemn the Pharisees

for seeking public honor from men—

the best seats in the Jewish houses of worship,

and respectful greetings in public places:

 

43 "Woe to you Pharisees,

because you love the most important seats

in the synagogues and greetings in the marketplaces.

 

They liked to receive the V.I.P. treatment

wherever they went,

as Very Important Persons

in the eyes of their fellow men.

 

And the Lord condemned them for that vanity and pride.

 

He also compared them to unmarked graves:

 

44 "Woe to you, because you are like unmarked graves,

which men walk over without knowing it."

 

Someone who touched a grave

would be ceremonially unclean

in the eyes of the Jews.

 

So, Jesus was implying that the Pharisees were unclean

but hid that fact,

so that they could contaminate other people

without their knowledge—

like a grave that wasn’t marked,

so people would know

to avoid touching it.

 

But the Pharisees weren’t the only religious leaders

Jesus condemned at this dinner in the Pharisee’s home.

 

Some of the Jewish scribes, or experts in the Law of Moses,

were also present as dinner guests.

 

And Verse 45 tells us,

 

45 One of the experts in the law answered him,

"Teacher, when you say these things,

you insult us also."

 

As the saying goes, “If the shoe fits, wear it.”

 

And this scribe recognized

that the criticisms Jesus held up against the Pharisees

applied with equal force to the scribes, as well.

 

"Teacher, when you say these things,

you insult us also."

 

The Lord acknowledged he got that right.  In Verse 46,

 

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.

 

All the extra rules and regulations,

above and beyond God’s laws,

that the scribes and Pharisees imposed on the people—

like declaring them sinners

if they didn’t wash their hands

up to the elbows before eating—

these man-made laws were a heavy burden,

hard to live up to.

 

But the scribes and Pharisees themselves

were corrupt,

and only put on a pretense of righteousness.

 

So, Jesus continued,

 

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.

 

Hebrews 11, Verses 36 and 37 tell how

God’s Old Testament prophets

endured mocking and flogging,

and even chains and imprisonment.

37 They were stoned,

they were sawed in two,

they were put to death by the sword.

 

The Old Testament and Jewish history

tells how evil kings and rulers

had God’s prophets executed

for faithfully preaching the Word.

 

And our Lord Jesus boldly tells the leaders of his day

that they are just like their forefathers.

 

We saw that

in the case of John the Baptist

who king Herod had beheaded

when John the Baptist

condemned the king’s adulterous marriage

while the scribes and Pharisees kept silent.

 

Jesus continues in Luke 11:49,

 

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.'

 

Jesus knew that the Jewish religious leaders

would kill some of the Christian prophets and apostles

Jesus would send out,

in the same way that their ancestors

had killed the Old Testament prophets.

 

And, in the Book of Acts

we see that start to be fulfilled

when they stoned Steven to death,

put the Apostle Peter in jail,

and killed the Apostle James with the sword.

 

So, Jesus continues,

 

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.

 

And history tells us

that ‘that generation’ of Jews

was held responsible

when God sent the armies of the Roman Empire

to destroy Jerusalem and its Temple

a few years after Jesus spoke those words.

 

Toward the end of his ministry on earth

Jesus again denounced the scribes and Pharisees—

publicly, rather than at a private dinner like this.

 

The Romans tore down the Temple,

not leaving one stone on another,

and killed much of Jerusalem’s population

taking the rest captive to foreign lands—

all starting within ‘that generation’

that was held responsible.

 

And those religious leaders,

were especially responsible.

 

In Verse 52, Jesus said,

 

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."

 

Their knowledge of the Hebrew Scriptures

was enough to prove that Jesus was the promised Messiah.

 

But they refused to recognize him,

as the way to enter the Kingdom of God.

 

And they stopped their fellow Jews

from accepting Jesus as the Messiah.

 

So, they hindered them from entering the Kingdom.

 

After Jesus exposed their hypocrisy

and denounced them,

they still refused to repent.

 

Instead, their hostility to the Lord only increased.

 

Luke goes on to say,

 

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.

 

So, Jesus went on to warn his disciples

and the people in general

against those hypocritical religious leaders.

 

Luke 12:1 continues the account by saying,

 

1 Meanwhile,

when a crowd of many thousands had gathered,

so that they were trampling on one another,

Jesus began to speak first to his disciples,

saying:

"Be on your guard

against the yeast of the Pharisees,

which is hypocrisy.”

 

Just as yeast spreads through dough,

hypocrisy could infect Jesus’ disciples,

if they were not on guard against it.

-------------------------------------

So, Jerusalem and its Temple

were destroyed within that generation, as Jesus foretold.

 

A million Jews were killed by the Romans,

and the rest were eventually carried off captive

and sold as slaves throughout the lands of the Roman Empire.

 

But this account isn’t just dead history.

 

There is a lesson in it for Christians today.

 

Today we see churches and whole denominations

leaving the Word of God

to follow the popular culture.

 

We see churches and whole denominations

accepting abortion,

sex outside of marriage,

and even lesbian and homosexual practices.

 

Some churches fly the rainbow flag

and have a lesbian pastor and her partner

living in the parsonage.

 

How does the Lord view widespread sin

and hypocrisy in the lands of Christendom today?

 

Will he let those who mock him today

get away with it?

 

Hebrews 13:8 says,

Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, and today,

and forever.

 

So, we can be sure

he feels the same about it

as he did 2,000 years ago.

 

In fact, the 2nd and 3rd Chapters of Revelation tell us

that some decades after he went to heaven

Jesus appeared in vision

to the Apostle John

and gave him messages to 7 churches.

 

These were 7 prominent Christian churches in Asia Minor,

the land that now forms the nation of Turkey.

 

These churches were all major centers of Christian worship.

 

But our Lord told 5 out of those 7 churches

to “Repent” “or else...”

 

And, if we look at Revelation, Chapter 2,

we’ll see that the Lord rebuked a couple of these churches

for tolerating teachers of sexual immorality—

much like the churches and denominations of today

that have stopped teaching the Bible’s standards

of right and wrong.

 

In Revelation 2:12 the risen Christ said,

 

12 "To the angel of the church in Pergamum write:

 

After mentioning some good things

about the church in Pergamum, he said in Verse 14,

 

14 Nevertheless, I have a few things against you:

You have people there

who hold to the teaching of Balaam,

who taught Balak

to entice the Israelites to sin

by eating food sacrificed to idols

and by committing sexual immorality.

 

Balaam was an evil prophet

in the Bible book of Numbers

who hired himself out for money

and worked for Israel’s enemies.

 

Balaam taught Israel’s enemy Balak

how to seduce the people of Israel

into idolatry and sexual immorality.

 

So, speaking from heaven to this church in Pergamum,

our Lord Jesus told that church

that they had people like Balaam in the church—

church members, and probably even church leaders,

who were leading the church

into idolatry and sexual immorality.

 

Was Jesus going to take that lying down?

 

Did he say, ‘These folks are saved by the blood,

so there’s nothing I can do about it’?

 

No, in Verse 16, Jesus says from heaven,

 

16 Repent therefore!

Otherwise, I will soon come to you

and will fight against them

with the sword of my mouth.

 

In the King James Version, Jesus says,

Repent; or else...

 

Repent;

or else I will come unto thee quickly,

and will fight against them

with the sword of my mouth.

 

And then makes it a warning to all the churches.  

 

In Verse 17, Jesus concludes,

 

17 He who has an ear,

let him hear

what the Spirit says to the churches.

 

That church in Pergamum

wasn’t the only church

that was allowing immorality to be taught.

 

In Verse 18, the risen Christ says,

 

18 "To the angel of the church in Thyatira write:

These are the words of the Son of God ...

 

Again he acknowledges the good things that the church was doing,

but he continues in Verse 20,

 

20 Nevertheless, I have this against you:

You tolerate that woman Jezebel,

who calls herself a prophetess.

 

By her teaching she misleads my servants

into sexual immorality

and the eating of food sacrificed to idols.

 

21 I have given her time

to repent of her immorality,

but she is unwilling.

 

22 So I will cast her on a bed of suffering,

and I will make those

who commit adultery with her

suffer intensely, unless they repent of her ways.

 

23 I will strike her children dead.

 

Then all the churches will know

that I am he who searches hearts and minds,

and I will repay each of you according to your deeds.

 

And in Verse 29, Jesus again

makes this a warning to all the churches:

 

29 He who has an ear,

let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.

 

This is especially relevant to today’s world

and what is happening in churches and denominations today.

 

In a couple of weeks the United Methodists—

the 2nd largest Protestant denomination in the United States,

after the Southern Baptists—

the United Methodists will be holding

a special General Conference.

 

The whole focus of the denomination-wide meeting

will be whether or not

to abandon the Bible’s teaching on sexuality

and instead to accept homosexual marriage

and gay and lesbian pastors for their churches.

 

Many in leadership positions among the United Methodists

are pushing for this change.

 

A number of other smaller denominations and individual churches

have already changed their official policies

to accept homosexual marriage and gay clergy.

 

But the Bible is very explicit

in condemning homosexual conduct

throughout the Old Testament and the New Testament.

 

God has not changed his mind.

 

We recall the words of Matthew 7:21-23, printed in our bulletin,

where Jesus said,

Not everyone who says to me, 'Lord, Lord,'

will enter the kingdom of heaven,

but only he who does the will of my Father

who is in heaven.

 

Many will say to me on that day,

'Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name,

and in your name drive out demons

and perform many miracles?'

 

Then I will tell them plainly,

‘I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!'”

 

Our Lord Jesus held his contemporary generation

responsible for grievous sins,

and brought punishment upon that generation

when Jerusalem and its Temple were destroyed.

 

Jesus knows what is going on in the churches today,

just as he knew what was going on

in the First Century churches in Pergamum and Thyatira.

 

And he knows what is going on in the countries

that used to call themselves “Christendom.”

 

We can only wonder

what he has in store

for our contemporary generation

that aborts millions of babies,

condones sex outside of marriage,

and widely accepts homosexual practices.