I was once talking to a person about the things of the Lord. This particular person, knowing that I was a minister, had asked for my advice regarding a relationship he was having. I have to confess that I had to be rather blunt about certain things—some very personal and intimate things at that.
It may go without saying that the conversation became extremely awkward.
I wouldn’t doubt that some of you have had similar occurrences. When you are engaging in the work of the gospel you will find that this is true. Things will get awkward because you have to address people’s sin. You can’t sugar coat these things. You’ll have to call them to the floor and expose that which they need to repent of. These are life or death issues—issues of eternal consequence, and that will mean being awkward at times.
Well, as we look at our passage today, we can’t help but see a very awkward situation. This may be perhaps the most awkward dinner party that there ever was. It might cause you to think twice about whether or not you’d invite Jesus over.
Just think about it. Here this Pharisee was having a little get together and asks Jesus to come and join up. Everything was running smoothly. Everyone was mingling and having hors d'oeuvres, then all of a sudden this Pharisee notices that Jesus hasn’t stopped to freshen up. And with this social faux pas Jesus launches into a scathing condemnation of the Pharisaic order. You can perhaps see them in your mind: They have their heads turned down. They start stirring their forks in their plates. Everything just gets extremely awkward.
But Jesus isn’t into polite niceties. The truth has to be set straight. He doesn’t care about breaking social norms when it comes to dealing with the Truth. These Pharisees needed to hear this, no matter how awkward it might be.
Essentially what Jesus does here is sound the alarm. He denounces these Pharisees; he calls down these woes because they needed to know that their faith was a perversion. Their faith was no faith at all. Despite the fact that they appeared to themselves and to most other people to be the super-Christians of their day, Jesus wanted them to know that they were actually the objects of God’s wrath and on their way to hell.
And this morning, I want us to look at this passage and consider the life of a Pharisee. The Pharisee spirit still lives on today and we need to expose what makes a Pharisee. And hopefully as we do so, we’ll keep people from experiencing the same woe—the same condemnation as these Pharisees.
Now, the passage tells us that there are three basic traits of a Pharisee. A Pharisee is one who has a perverted view of Scripture, a perverted view of himself, and a perverted view of history.
I. Pervert the Scriptures
Ironically, the Pharisees and the Lawyers were supposed to be those who were the most dedicated to the Scriptures. They were originally formed for the purpose of staying true to the Word. But over time, things got garbled up. Even though they were famed for being the most disciplined students of Scripture, they had started to pervert the Scriptures. And Jesus here exposes a couple different ways they did this.
One of the things they did was enlarge (or encumber) the Scriptures. That is seen in the very opening of our passage. Verse 38 tells us that this Pharisee was astonished to see that Jesus didn’t wash before dinner.” Now, there were various ceremonies and rites that were commanded in the OT, but this was not one of them.
Washing up before dinner might be a nice thing to do. But it wasn’t a sin. You see, the Pharisees had added this to the Scripture. This practice had come to be regarded as just as authoritative as the word of God.
Now, we might make a parallel like this. It is a good thing to bring your Bible to church. We want you to bring your Bible so that you can follow along and compare what I’m saying to what Scripture says. But now imagine if you came here without your Bible. Imagine people around you looking at you and saying, “He calls himself a Christian! He doesn’t even carry a Bible to church!”
At that point you’ve just gone beyond the Scriptures. You’ve added to the word of God. And that is a sin. That is setting up man as our authority and putting his laws on the same level as that of God’s.
The point here is that God alone is to be the Lord of our conscience. And we are not to confuse the guidance or advice of men with the authority of God’s word. Once we’ve done that, then you have made a terrible mistake.
But you’ll notice that these Pharisees not only guilty of enlarging the Scriptures (by adding to them, they were also guilty of ignoring the Scriptures!
Look at what it says in the next part of the passage. In verses 39-40 Jesus tears into this Pharisee, and he says, “You cleanse the outside of the cup, but the inside is full of greed and wickedness. You fools! Did not he who made the outside make the inside also?”
These Pharisees were doing a very good job of presenting themselves as moral people. Outwardly speaking, they seemed exemplary in their conduct. But their hearts were filled with all kinds of filth and corruption.
This just shows that these Pharisees were ignoring quite a bit of the testimony of Scripture. In the Old Testament there are all kinds of denunciations against external religiosity. The OT tells us that God is very much concerned with the heart of man and not just how things look on the outside.
We were just reading the other day in our family devotions the story of David and how he was chosen to be king. The Prophet Samuel came to Jesse’s house and Samuel saw Jesse’s firstborn son, Eliab. And Samuel thought, “Surely this one is the Lord’s chosen.” He was handsome, strong, and just looked like a king. But God said, ‘Hey Samuel. Man looks on the outward appearance, but I look at the heart.”
That’s something you need to keep in mind. You can fool us all day long. You might be able to put on a good religious show, but you have to remember that God sees through your chest. His all seeing eye can look right into your heart to discern your motives. He knows what goes on when you are out of the public’s eye.
He can see how you are treating your wife and kids at home. He knows about those inappropriate relationships or those Facebook chats that go on late at night. He cannot be fooled.
If you are ignoring what the Scripture says about having a religion of the heart and it is all external, then that is a cause for concern. These Pharisees were making that mistake, and Jesus doesn’t hesitate to call them out on it.
But along with enlarging and ignoring the Scriptures, we see that they also inverted the Scriptures.
Look at verse 42. He says, “"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.”
Now, you see, these Pharisees had turned it all upside down. They were majoring on the minors and minoring on the majors. They were scrupulous when it came to tithing. The Bible says to “give a tenth of all you get,” and these guys took that very seriously. They were tithing even their herb garden. But despite being very particular when it came to these little things, they were missing the big things like justice and oppression. They turned a blind eye to the weightier matters of the law.
Now, it isn’t that Jesus is mad that they were so finicky with the little things. When it came to their garden habits, he says, “Sure, that is commendable. That you should have done, but you missed things that were so much more significant!”
Sure you are very finicky about how much money you give, but when it comes to the death of the unborn where are you? It is great that you are particular about the craft of a sermon or how the Lord’s Supper is administered, but babies are dying. Innocent children are being massacred by the millions and you don’t seem to care one bit!
You see, they had gotten things backwards. They had gotten things out of proportion. They demonstrated that they didn’t have any real love for God because they didn’t care about things to the same degree as God himself does.
All of these are perversions of Scripture. Enlarging, ignoring, and inverting Scripture. And we should be on the look out that we not commit the same mistakes. If that is your lifestyle, if that is the way you treat Scripture, then you are in grave danger.
But as you look at our text, you’ll notice that it wasn’t just the way they perverted Scripture that got Jesus upset. Jesus lays into them for their vanity too. These Pharisees had a perverted view of themselves.
II. Perverted view of themselves
Look at what he says in verse 43. He says, “You guys love the best seat in the synagogues and the greetings you get in the marketplaces.” In other words, the faith was more about the prestige and the celebrity-like status that it brought than about true honor for God.
Religion for them had become nothing more than a means of propping up their own ego. It wasn’t for the Lord that they fasted. They were doing it to boost their own reputation. Their prayers were not for the ears of God. They had a completely different audience in mind.
This was one big American Idol performance. It was all a show and it was for recognition.
These Pharisees were guilty of religious prostitution.
Now you know what prostitution is. You engage in certain acts in order to get wages. You need to know that you can become a religious prostitute. You can engage in acts of religious devotion in order to get rewarded with more notoriety and popularity.
We can sometimes see this vividly illustrated in many of our mega church personalities. For a lot of these guys, it is an ego trip. Having thousands of people with their eyes on you, and not making any efforts to plant churches—I have a real problem with that.
I’m not knocking it all. I know that sometimes you can’t help it. Charles Spurgeon had thousands in attendance each week. But he was Charles Spurgeon (and he is still regarded today as the Prince of Preachers), and he was busy planting churches during the whole of his ministry. He wasn’t involved in a cult of personality.
I think a lot of these mega-church pastors are in it for the acclamation they are getting. Or another thing that is popular today is this whole thing that is called “satellite churches” where they pipe in a preacher via video steaming. Again, I’m not condemning it outright. Perhaps there can be a place for it (though I’m not sure I’ve seen one as of yet). I can’t help but think that there is something egotistical about that.
But don’t get me wrong. This is something to which no one is immune. You can be just as susceptible to it in a small church. I actually think I see this is common in a lot of our kinds of churches. Someone will aspire to an office, not because he has the skill or calling, but because he wants the position. Or maybe he wants the wrong position. You can easily see someone saying, “I can’t just be a lowly deacon. I have to be an elder because that’s where the real respect will come.”
That’s vanity. That’s the same narcissistic spirit that these Pharisees had. And Jesus would have non of it. If religion is more about you than it is about true devotion to God—if your religion is about how much people worship you, then your religion is a false religion. And you need to understand that hell is about ready to receive you.
The last thing I want to point out is that these Pharisees had a perverted view of history.
III. Perverted view of history
In verses 47-51 Jesus talks about how they admired the ancient prophets. They even went so far as to decorate their tombs to pay tribute to them. But Jesus says, “They way you play with their tombs is appropriate. Just like your forefathers, you are enamored with the death of the godly.”
These prophets were men who God sent to rebuke those who had apostatized in the past. And, Jesus says, here I am doing that very same thing, and you are about ready to kill me.
And that is even proven to be true with the way the passage ends. After this dinner party ended (and I’m sure it ended rather quickly after this ordeal), it says that the Pharisees and the scribes began to press him and try to catch him in something he might say. You see them lurking along, like a lion in wait for its prey to make that fatal step that they might pounce upon him.
But understand this: If there is one thing a Pharisee cannot stand it is someone who speaks the truth and is willing to call them out on their apostasy.
The appropriate response is not to get mad and make a scene. The appropriate response is to bow your face to the ground and repent. But that is not what the Pharisee will do. When exposed, he will likely ignore it deny it at first. But at some point he will actively seek to silence the dissenter.
We’ve heard of late how death is intimately associated with the religion of Islam. The same can be said of any unbelieving religion. But let’s not forget that Pharisaism is a religion of death too. Apostate Christianity is marked by all kinds of blood. It is a religion of hate.
Interestingly enough, God used this as part of his divine plan. It was this hatred that led to the death of Christ, which we know is the means to redemption. Without Christ going to the cross, all of us would have the woe of God coming down on us. There is no escaping hell except through Christ who has had the woes of God poured out on himself in our place.
And there is good news here. There is a way of salvation. If you have the spirit of a Pharisee, if you turn to God with true faith and true sorrow in your heart for your sins, then there is redemption for you.
Never forget that the whole time Jesus was declaring these woes was so that they may wake up and find mercy with God. His denunciations were the sounding of an alarm and ultimately Christ was calling them to repentance.
And I pray that the same may be said here. The Lord holds out to you the offer of mercy and grace. If your religion is merely external, and not truly a religion of the heart—if your religion has been more about you than the Lord and what He desires, then you must know that you need to begin to fear God. If you do, then you can be assured that God will grant you grace.
But if you do not, then “woe to you.”
Kindled Fire is dedicated
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Matt is blessed to be a husband, father, and pastor in Ashland, Ohio.