Heading in the Wrong Direction
Woes, Pharisees, Legalism
I don’t know anyone who likes to receive negative feedback. Sometimes we may need correction but that doesn’t mean we will ever like it. I am pretty sure that even people who work in the “complaint department” don’t like to hear people complain. . . even when the complaints are justified.
In our text this morning in Luke 11 Jesus leveled some tough words on the Pharisees and Teachers of the Law. Our natural reaction is going to be to resist these words of correction. I encourage you this morning to resist that very human tendency to make excuses. Instead, let’s listen carefully to what Jesus said so that we can avoid some of the mistakes the Pharisees and Teachers of the Law made.
The account begins, “a Pharisee invited him to eat with him; so he went in and reclined at the table.” The Pharisees didn’t like Jesus but they invited Him to dinner. Jesus knew they didn’t like Him and went anyway . . . most likely looking for an opportunity to reach them and to teach others.
What provokes the discussion to follow was the fact that Jesus did not “wash his hands”. This was not about hygiene, it was about ceremony. The Pharisees and teachers of the Law had added many regulations designed to strengthen the Law of God. Their laws told you how much water to use, how to pour the water over your hands and more. It is possible Jesus ignored these practices simply to make a point. Jesus knew what the Pharisees were thinking and he said,
“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.
Jesus moved the focus from the external to the internal. These leaders were concerned about the external appearance of holiness but gave little attention to the heart. I believe this is the “general indictment”. What follows are six specific charges. Three are directed to the Pharisees and three to the Teachers of the Law. We’re going to look at each one.
The first of the three charges to the Pharisees, was that they were guilty of selective obedience.
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.
The New Living Translation translates “woe”, “What sorrow awaits you!” Jesus pictures the sorrow of Judgment and Hell that await those who do what the Pharisees are doing. This is serious stuff.
You can say all you want about the Pharisees but they did know how to tithe. In fact they became somewhat maniacal about their tithe. If they found a dime on the sidewalk they were diligent to give God a penny from that dime. If they raised 100 tomatoes they made sure they gave 10 of those to the Lord.
Jesus does not condemn their diligence in the area of tithing. He said “you should have practiced the later”. In other words He actually commends their diligence to honor God with their material blessings.
The problem however was that these men were not this diligent in every aspect of their lives. Jesus identified failure in the areas of “justice and mercy”. In Micah 6:8 we read
He has showed you, O man, what is good. And what does the LORD require of you?
To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.
The Pharisees had a tendency to victimize the poor, the weak, and the needy. They were good with superficial things but they were not very good in dealing with people . . . especially those who were hurting or weak. True discipleship has a practical expression.
Unfortunately, there are still many in the church who feel quite holy because they give 10% of their income to the Lord. They seem to feel they have fulfilled their obligation. These same people subject workers to dangerous conditions, cheat people of what they are owed, overcharge for products, and pamper themselves while neglecting the needs of others. They gossip, pander to their lusts, and have no control over their anger. This is selective obedience and “great sorrow awaits” those who live this way.
Sought the Approval of Men Rather than the Approval of God
The second indictment is found in verse 43,
43 “Woe to you Pharisees, because you love the most important seats in the synagogues and greetings in the marketplaces.
These men were trying to impress the wrong audience. They were living to impress others when they should have been living to please the Lord. They wanted others to view them as spiritual and significant. They wanted titles and public honors.
When we play to the crowd instead of to the Lord we make sure that everyone is sees any act of kindness we do. We make sure our name is prominent. Since our desire is to look good before other we also hide our own struggles with sin. When the spotlight turns to our struggles we try to divert attention to the struggles of others. Consequently, we end up living very dishonest lives.
When we play to the crowd rather than the “audience of one” we even begin to tailor our beliefs to whatever will garner the applause of men. Before long the message we proclaim is no longer the gospel.
We recognize this in teenagers and the problem of peer pressure. When our desire to be accepted by the crowd is foremost we will do what the crowd desires, even if it is foolish, sinful, or illegal; rather than do what is right. When churches obsess over size more than the fidelity or the truthfulness of the gospel that is proclaimed, they stop talking about sin, repentance, the Lord’s discipline, and sacrifice. Instead they focus on becoming “cool” and “hip”. It may be exciting for awhile but it is leading down the wrong path.
They Were Doing More Harm than Good
Jesus had one more woe for the Pharisees.
44 “Woe to you, because you are like unmarked graves, which men walk over without knowing it.”
Jewish law stated that any contact with a dead body made a person religiously impure (they could not bring offerings to the temple until they observed a period of purification). Touching a person’s grave was the equivalent of coming into contact with a dead body. Consequently, the Jews were very careful to mark graves. At festival times tombs and grave-sites were painted white so people could recognize them and keep from defiling themselves and missing the festival.
Jesus was saying, “You guys who parade yourselves as spiritual leaders are actually leading your people to Hell. Your example, your character and your teaching is actually defiling people rather than helping them find life. They were spreading an infection rather than affecting a cure.
When we proclaim Christ and call ourselves His followers yet live like the Devil, we are like unmarked graves. We look good but we are leading people to defilement. Here’s the take home point: You may give a bold testimony about your faith but if your life undermines that testimony, you may actually be doing more harm than good.
They Burdened People Instead of Helping Them
The teachers of the law were the theologians of the day. One of these teachers was listening to the words of Jesus and said, “Hey, you know your words are kind of insulting to us too.” The word he used for insult is actually a very strong word. It is as if he was saying, “You know, Jesus, you are slandering us also.”
Jesus’ response seemed to be: If you want something to be offended about, let’s talk about you!
“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. 
The first reason that “sorrow awaits” the Lawyers was because they focused on rules rather than a relationship with God. Every time you left a meeting with the theologians you felt like you needed to work a little before you could be loved by God.
Don’t misunderstand what I am saying. Certainly we need to be made aware of how far short we fall of God’s standard for our lives. We do need to strive to live holy lives. However, we also must proclaim the good news that God has sent His Son to die for those He knew were sinners! God is not withholding His love until we become holy . . .He loves us so much He wants to help us live in a right (or holy) relationship with Him.
If we get out of balance with the message of the gospel you have two deadly extremes. The one group says: “I am saved by grace so it doesn’t matter what I do.” The other group says, “I can’t be saved until I conquer sin in my life . . . so what’s the use?” We are saved by God’s grace so we can do good works because of the new life in us.
We must be careful that we don’t burden people down and do nothing to help them.
- We must teach those of others religions the good news of God’s grace and love.
- We must give unwed mothers a better option than abortion.
- We must show love to the homosexual and help them to get free from the sinful lifestyle that has them ensnared.
- We must help those living off handouts to find a better way. We can give them jobs and help them find joy in working for what you receive.
- We must pray for those who are in authority over us rather than simply complain about those liars and thieves in Washington.
We must strive to be people who help people carry their burden rather than simply give them more burdens to carry.
They Were Repeating Deadly Patterns
What would you think of someone who built a monument to Abraham Lincoln and was engaged in a contemporary slave market? What would you think of someone who set up a monument to the Ten Commandments yet refused to live by those commandments? We would call them hypocrites! They would give the impression of honoring that which the monument represented while at the same time denying that for which they stood.
In the fifth charge Jesus says these teachers were doing the same thing. Let me read to you how the Message renders these verses,
“You’re hopeless! You build tombs for the prophets your ancestors killed. The tombs you build are monuments to your murdering ancestors more than to the murdered prophets. That accounts for God’s Wisdom saying, ‘I will send them prophets and apostles, but they’ll kill them and run them off.’ What it means is that every drop of righteous blood ever spilled from the time earth began until now, from the blood of Abel to the blood of Zechariah, who was struck down between altar and sanctuary, is on your heads. Yes, it’s on the bill of this generation and this generation will pay.
These men built monuments to prophets who condemned the hardness of heart that was in their fathers. Their reaction to Jesus shows that they had not reformed . . .they were just like their fathers who had killed the very prophets they honored! (from A to Z Abel was the first to be killed for His righteous faith and Zechariah would have been the last to be killed in the Hebrew arrangement of the Old Testament).”
How does this relate to us? When we buy the books of those who ridicule Christians, when we become fans of programs that spit in the face of Christian belief, when we watch movies that glorify sin . . . are we not doing the same thing as these lawyers? Are we not supporting and “building monuments” to the very ones who are destroying our culture and standing against the gospel?
They Are Inhibiting True Knowledge of God
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.”
These teachers were trying to turn people away from Christ. In doing so they were taking away the key to knowledge! Their talk was godly but they were working for the Devil! They weren’t leading people to eternal life they were (unwittingly) leading them to eternal torment. It is a devastating indictment for those who were teachers of the Law!
Unfortunately, there are a whole host of teachers and preachers today who wear scholarly titles and carry educational degrees who spend their time explaining why the Bible does not mean what it says. They deny Biblical truth and twist it to say something it does not. They deny basic doctrines
- The deity (or goodness of Jesus)
- The supernatural (or virgin) birth
- The reliability of Scripture
- The sacrificial death (atonement) of Jesus
- The literal and physical resurrection of Jesus
- The real and literal return of Christ to gather His people
These people may be called “spiritual leaders” but they are leading people away from truth and life rather than towards it.
Jesus spoke these words to the Pharisees and the Teachers of the Law but through the Bible the Holy Spirit speaks them as warnings for our own lives.
Consequently, there are a couple of responses we should have. First, we should be careful and discerning. Not everyone who calls themselves a child of God is a child of God. Not everyone who claims to be teaching the truth is teaching the truth. We can’t afford to be lazy. Great sorrow awaits those who lead others astray . . . and great sorrow awaits those who follow those false teachers.
To this end we must know what the Bible actually says and we must read it carefully. We must ask God for a spirit of discernment so we can distinguish between truth and error. When something doesn’t sound quite right we need to check it out rather than shrug it off.
Second, we must examine ourselves. It is much easier to see the faults of others than it is to see our own failings. We don’t like criticism but we need to listen when people point out inconsistencies in our lives. Rather than immediately defending ourselves, we would be wise to listen and listen carefully to what others are saying.
So let’s look at the charges again and measure ourselves against them
- Are we being selective in our obedience; only doing what appeals to us?
- Are we so hungry to be liked that we are neglecting to be faithful?
- Are we doing more harm than good by our example?
- Are we emphasizing rules or are we pursuing a relationship with Christ?
- Are we proclaiming holiness but actually supporting and celebrating those who are undermining the message of Christ?
- Are we teaching what is Biblical and true or have we embraced the current fad?
The last verses of this passage are sad,
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. [NLT]
Rather than learn from the criticism and insight of Jesus, these men set out to get rid of Jesus. Rather than consider whether or not the criticism was justified they chose to eliminate their critic. We face a similar choice. We can ignore the corrective words, we can pack up our bags and go somewhere else, we can attack the critic, or we can ask the Holy Spirit to help us hear the corrective words and make the necessary changes in our life. This is our opportunity to check our course so we don’t end up headed toward great sorrow but instead toward a great and wonderful reward.