Woe to the Pharisees

Posted: March 26, 2017 in Luke, Uncategorized

Luke 11:37-44, “Woe to the Pharisees”

The Charles Sheldon classic “In His Steps,” asked the question “What would Jesus do?” in regards to various ethical situations and interactions with people.  Every so often the book has a bit of a revival & it wasn’t too long ago that Christians wore plastic wristbands inscribed with “WWJD” as a reminder to ask themselves that same question.  Normally when we consider what Jesus might do in any given situation, we remember the meek & mild Jesus – the One who was kind, winsome, and exuded the love and compassion of God to others.  And certainly Jesus was (and is) all of those things.  But there is another side of Jesus.  There’s the turn-over-the-tables Jesus, the whip-making Jesus, the Jesus who isn’t afraid to boldly stand up in the face of the religious hypocrites and call them what they are.  What would Jesus do?  He might just surprise you.

It’s the bolder side of Jesus that Luke highlights in our text today.  Where this fits chronologically in the ministry of Jesus is difficult to say.  Jesus has been shown to be on His way to Jerusalem, but the timeline gets a bit fuzzy from that point as Luke seems to have grouped several road-trips of Jesus together in one larger thematic section.  Most recently, Jesus has been seen casting a demon out of a man, and in the process, He was greeted by controversy as (1) some accused Him of only being able to do so by the power of Satan (Beelzebub), and (2) others demanded a sign from Jesus demonstrating His authority to do these things.  Jesus responded first to the false accusation, pointing out not only the foolish illogic of their claims, but showing that He was stronger than Satan.  Secondly, He gave them a sign, but only one: the sign of the prophet Jonah.  Jonah’s resurrection from the great fish would be the sign of Jesus’ resurrection from the grave – and that was a sign so incredibly good that it could not afford to be hidden away.

Whether or not Jesus was still speaking these things when the Pharisee approached Him is unknown.  Luke’s narration could certainly be read that way – or it could simply point to another time during which Jesus was speaking.  The thematic point is that Jesus had been opposed by the Pharisees.  They were the ones pressing the false accusations and demanding miraculous signs of authority.  It was obvious that to this point they were resisting the message and ministry of Jesus.  Thus when Jesus waylays into them through the various “woes,” this isn’t coming out of nowhere.  They were so obsessed with their attempts to nail Jesus on technicalities that they blinded themselves to their own need for His ministry.  They were the ones in need of the forgiveness that Jesus offered, and they didn’t know it.  They didn’t even realize that they might need the forgiveness of God at all.  They needed to be woken up, and sometimes that takes a bit of harsh light – which is exactly what Jesus provided.  He was the only One who could give them the true cleansing they required…but first they needed to understand their own need for it.

Luke 11:37–44

  • Controversy (37-38)

37 And as He spoke, a certain Pharisee asked Him to dine with him. So He went in and sat down to eat. 38 When the Pharisee saw it, he marveled that He had not first washed before dinner.

  • Given all of the confrontations between the Pharisees and Jesus, it seems rather unusual (and perhaps a bit gracious) for a Pharisee to invite Jesus to eat.  We’re not told the exact occasion.  The Greek word used here for “dinner” is better interpreted as a morning meal, rather than the evening one.  It’s plausible that the Pharisee and Jesus were in the same place (perhaps the local synagogue) during the time of morning prayers, and just like someone might invite a guest to lunch after Sunday church, so did the Pharisee invite Jesus for a home-cooked meal after their prayer service.  Whether or not this particular Pharisee was looking for a reason to entrap Jesus is unknown.  Perhaps it’s best to give him the benefit of the doubt and assume that he just wanted to be hospitable.
  • That the Pharisee invited Jesus for dinner wasn’t the big deal; it was what happened right before they got ready to eat.  Jesus had gladly gone with the man to dine, but He hadn’t “washed” prior to the meal.  This had nothing to do with sanitary issues.  It’s not that Jesus was filthy and needed to wash up (there was no indoor plumbing with a bathroom sink anyway!).  This had everything to do with ritual.  The washing in question was a Jewish form of ritualistic bathing in order to symbolize a person’s cleanliness and purity unto God before they sat down to eat.  The disciples had run into issues with this earlier in Jesus’ ministry.  Mark 7:2–4, "(2) Now when they saw some of His disciples eat bread with defiled, that is, with unwashed hands, they found fault. (3) For the Pharisees and all the Jews do not eat unless they wash their hands in a special way, holding the tradition of the elders. (4) When they come from the marketplace, they do not eat unless they wash. And there are many other things which they have received and hold, like the washing of cups, pitchers, copper vessels, and couches."  To this, the Pharisees objected, and Jesus defended His disciples, rightly labelling the Pharisees as hypocrites for much of the same reasons as will be seen here in Luke 11.  Why hadn’t Jesus’ disciples washed in this ritualistic way?  Probably because they noticed Jesus hadn’t washed either.  Certainly this Pharisee noticed Jesus’ abstinence from washing according to the tradition.  Why didn’t Jesus do it?  (1) Because it wasn’t commanded in the Law, (2) Because it didn’t accomplish anything.  There’s nothing wrong with symbolism, but symbolism is just that: symbols.  It didn’t truly make anyone clean in God’s sight – so if it wasn’t commanded in the Law, why do it?
    • Interestingly, the word Luke uses to describe this particular form of washing is the verb form of the same word we translate “baptize.”  Jesus had already been baptized once, at the outset of His ministry.  Did He need to “re-baptize” His hands every time He ate?  Of course not.  His initial baptism symbolized His dedication to God – everything else was just traditional cultural practice, with no real value to faith or Jesus’ relationship with His Father.  When Jesus was baptized, He was baptized for the right reason, and once was enough.
    • There are all kinds of Christian practices that are fine in & of themselves, but at the end of the day, they aren’t necessary.  It’s wonderful to listen to Christian radio, but our salvation is not judged by the preset dials on our car radios.  It’s great to give thanks to God before our meals, but our salvation does not rise and fall by the prayers we say at the dinner table.  Those are good cultural practices in American Evangelicalism, but we want to be careful to keep them in proper perspective.  We want to keep the essentials essential; everything else is subordinate to them.
  • In any case, the Pharisee “marveled.”  Luke doesn’t mention if the man said anything or not, or even if he betrayed his disgust on his face.  Whatever the Pharisee did (or did not do), Jesus as the Son of God knew what was on his mind, and Jesus was able to address it head-on…
  • Correction (39-41)

39 Then the Lord said to him, “Now you Pharisees make the outside of the cup and dish clean, but your inward part is full of greed and wickedness.

  • Before we get too far, note how Jesus is described: “the Lord.”  Amen!  This was no mere man talking to the Pharisee.  This was no ordinary teacher, or even an extra-special rabbi or prophet.  This was the Lord Himself.  The same title given unto God the Father is given unto God the Son, and Jesus could address the Pharisee with all the authority of Deity.  Even if the Pharisee didn’t understand this at the time, Luke certainly did.  It was the Lord who spoke, for Jesus is the Lord!
  • As to what the Lord had to say, the Pharisee may not have been too pleased with it.  Jesus didn’t beat around the bush or gently break into things – He simply called the man out on his hypocrisy.  The Pharisees seemed to be so concerned about cleanliness, but the only cleanliness they paid attention to was external.  The real issue was internal.  They immersed (baptized) their hands & their bodies – but what did they do about their hearts?  What good does it do to wash the outside of a cup, but never the inside?  Or to wash the bottom of a plate, but not the top where all of the stuck-on food is? That’s the way it was with the Pharisees who concentrated on external signs of purity and holiness, without ever addressing the true purity of the heart.
    • That’s not limited to ancient Jewish Pharisee, by the way.  American Evangelicals can be just as guilty.  People show up to churches all the time being concerned with external cleanliness without any attention paid to internal purity.  Sure, their clothes are nice, the kids are quiet, and everyone has a smile on their face – but they fought like the dickens all the way to the church building.  They’ve got the “right” look for Sunday morning, but they looked totally different Friday night.  That’s hypocrisy, plain & simple.  The Christian life isn’t about looking “right” on the outside; it’s about being right with God through Jesus Christ.  Will our outsides change?  Sure – but that just comes along with the internal transformation of our souls.  When we surrender our lives to Jesus in faith, everything changes.  Our hearts become new – our sins are forgiven – our love for God begins…and that’s when everything else on the outside changes.  Too many people try to make the outside changes without the internal transformation that comes with the gospel.  They want a better outside look, but they try do it with an inside without Jesus…and they fail.  They always will.  Only Jesus can truly transform us, and the way He does it is from the inside-out.
  • What did the insides of the Pharisees look like?  It wasn’t pretty!  They were “full of greed and wickedness.”  Another way to put that is that they were full of plunder/robbery and evil.  That doesn’t sound very appealing, does it?  It certainly doesn’t sound very pure!  What good did all of the ritualist hand-washing and repeated baptisms do for them?  Nothing.  They had walked through the ritual, but experienced none of the reality.
    • We need the reality!  When we stand before God at the judgment seat, He’s not going to ask us about all the rituals we went through.  He’s not going to ask us about all of the cultural-Christian things we did: what radio stations we listened to – what Bible trivia we memorized – how much we put in the offering plate, etc.  He’s going to see whether or not we are in Jesus.  Do we have faith?  Have we submitted our lives to Jesus Christ as our Lord & Savior?  That’s the only thing that will matter.  That’s the reality, because He is the only One who can truly make us clean & pure in the sight of God.

40 Foolish ones! Did not He who made the outside make the inside also?

  • Want to do like Jesus did?  Call out religious hypocrites as fools. 🙂 That said, don’t be mean about it…just be truthful.  That’s what Jesus did: He told the truth.  When Jesus called the Pharisees “foolish ones,” He was not breaking His instruction in the Sermon on the Mount not to call others “fools.” (Mt 5:22).  For one thing, there are different words used.  The “fool” in Matthew 5 is ρακα (numbskull, empty-head).  In Luke, it is αφρονες (person without understanding).  The first is a direct insult, the second is a character description.  Jesus didn’t insult the Pharisees, so much as state the facts about them: they had no real understanding on this issue.  They thought they knew better than they did.  Secondly, if Jesus ever did call someone ρακα (of which there’s no record), we could be sure it was justified.  He never did anything without pure, righteous motives – something which cannot be said for us.
  • Of course, that was just the attention-grabber.  The main point was that God made the whole person: inside and outside.  If the Pharisees believed the outside was important, how much more is the inside?  If the ritual was done to symbolize reality, how much more important is the actual reality?  Take baptism for instance – not the baptism of hands before dinner, such as the case of the Pharisee & Jesus, but Biblical baptism – the baptism done by believers in Jesus Christ as a profession of faith.  Anyone can go through the ritual of baptism, without it meaning anything at all.  And sadly, many do exactly that.  They want to “get right with God,” so they go & get baptized.  They haven’t truly come to faith – they haven’t really surrendered their lives to Jesus – but they went through the ritual of baptism.  Or they brought their infant babies to the church for the rite of baptism, even though there is no possible way an 8-week old child can understand the gospel.  What happened?  They just got wet.  They went through the ritual of external baptism, but there was no internal reality of salvation.  There was no internal conversion, and thus no internal reality.  What good is the symbol, if the thing the symbol points to isn’t there?  God made the outside and the inside.  Did the Pharisees believe that God was blind to the inside?  As if they could fool God into thinking that if their outsides were ritually pure, then God would just give them a pass on the internal things?  No wonder Jesus called them foolish!  Man may look upon the outside, but God looks upon the heart. (1 Sam 16:7)
    • So how’s your heart?  How are your insides?  Today you might need to take a bit of self-examination.  You might have everyone you know convinced that you are a Christian, but perhaps all of that is just external stuff.  Deep down, you know the reality.  Are you saved?  Do you know that you know Jesus as your Lord & Savior?  God certainly knows.  Make sure that what you know about your salvation lines up with what He knows.

41 But rather give alms of such things as you have; then indeed all things are clean to you.

  • So Jesus has pointed out the hypocrisy of the Pharisees, and exhorted them to look inwardly.  Had they received the real cleansing of the Lord, as opposed to mere external ritual?  How could they know for sure?  Jesus gave them a bit of a check: their almsgiving.  At first glance, this may appear to be rather strange.  After all, Jesus has clearly made the point that external things don’t save us.  What’s He doing here talking about their money?  Can true cleansing & salvation actually be purchased?  Of course not!  Heaven forbid.  All Jesus does here is provide a method of self-evaluation.  How could the Pharisees check if they were internally pure & clean?  By ensuring that their hearts were free of idolatry – specifically, the worship of money.  It’s one thing to walk through a ritual & claim one’s own purity – it’s another when our loyalties are put to the test and we part ways with our cash.  Nothing holds a person’s heart so much as his/her wallet.  It’s there that a person’s true priorities can be seen.  Do they hold the things of the world lightly, understanding that their home is in heaven?  Or do they cling tightly to those things, spending as much money on “self” as possible?
    • At this point, it’s easy to move from “preaching” to “meddling,” but it’s important that we be true to the word of God.  These aren’t the ideas and thoughts of a church pastor; these are the words of the Lord Jesus.  Jesus specifically tells the Pharisees (and the one Pharisee hosting Him for dinner in particular) to give alms / give financially in order to ensure that “all things are clean to you.”  What the Pharisee lacked in real purity was due to his love of money.  He had an idol in his life, and no amount of ritual washing could rid himself of it.  The only way to rid ourselves of idols is to turn our worship to something else – and that will include tearing the former idol down.  When our hearts are consumed with the idol of money, the very best thing we can do is give it away.  Don’t horde it; disperse it.  Think about it: what better way to get rid of your selfish desires than to use your money on something other than self? 
  • Keep in mind that almsgiving is not always comfortable giving.  To give alms is to give benevolence to those in need.  Sometimes that may include writing a check to a worthwhile organization – other times, that may include handing cash over to someone you can look in the eye.  That person may be someone you know & love – or it may be a complete stranger.  We don’t always get to pick & choose the way we give alms – most of the time, that’s left up to the Lord.  He’s the One who gives us the opportunity, and we are left with the choice whether or not to respond.  It’s not always easy (and sometimes there’s a legitimate reason we might hesitate) – but before you talk yourself out of giving, be sure to ask yourself how your response may or may not demonstrate the compassion and love of Christ that you’ve already experienced.  We certainly did not deserve the grace that was given to us, and it’s doubtful we’ve always used that grace wisely.  Do we impose a standard on others that we ourselves have not kept?  At all times be wise, but be also gracious.  He who has pity on the poor lends to the Lord (Prov 19:17).  We can be sure God sees the heart in which we give.
  • Chastisement (42-44)

42 “But woe to you Pharisees! For you tithe mint and rue and all manner of herbs, and pass by justice and the love of God. These you ought to have done, without leaving the others undone.

  • Jesus pronounces three woes unto the Pharisees.  Before we look at them individually, it’s worth asking why Jesus did this at all.  No doubt it’s normal for Jesus as the Son of God to chastise men & women (particularly those who claimed to be the people of God) – but this sounds an awful lot like judgment and condemnation, rather than a simple slap on the wrist.  Considering that Jesus specifically said that the Father had not sent Him to condemn the world (John 3:17), what’s going on here?
    • First of all, Jesus isn’t condemning the world; He’s condemning the Pharisees (and later, the scribes/lawyers).  This is no minor distinction or turn of phrase.  The “world” is the whole cosmos of people in creation – Jews and Gentiles alike, but mostly those who did not know God at all.  The Pharisees were a special class of Jews who claimed to truly study God’s word and know Him best.  The theology of the Pharisees was probably the closest to that of Jesus than any other religious group in the world at that that time, even among the other Jews.  Thus Jesus had extra reason to discipline them, for their misrepresentation of God was truly harmful to others who would look to them as witnesses.
    • Secondly, although Jesus passes judgment upon the Pharisees here, this judgment is temporary.  This is not the ultimate condemnation the Pharisees faced if they remained in this position of hypocrisy and rebellion.  They still had the opportunity to repent & humble themselves before the Lord (though few would take it).  Jesus truthfully said that God had not sent Him to condemn the world, and even here, Jesus hadn’t done it.  Even during His words of chastisement, He was giving people the opportunity to be saved.
  • Woe #1: sins of omission and hypocrisy.  Jesus had already mentioned the “greed/robbery and wickedness/evil” in the hearts of the Pharisees – all of this was contrasted with the omission of “justice and the love of God.”  For all of the attention that they paid to rituals and the smallest legalistic technicalities of their religious tradition, they missed the big picture.  They missed out on the things that God valued most.  Here this one Pharisee was, appalled at Jesus’ lack of ritual washing, when in the meantime his own heart was wicked and uncaring towards others.  He was careful enough to tithe even on the smallest of his herbs, but was blind to the needs of the poor around him, apparently reluctant to even give alms to beggars.  The Pharisee was the epitome of the religious hypocrite, concerned only for himself (and superficially at that), while ignoring the needs of those around him.
    • Lest we point too many fingers too quickly, we need to remember how easily we can find ourselves in the same position.  How often have we known of needs of the people around us, for us only to respond with a quick “I’ll pray for you,” and never give it a second thought? (Barely even praying, if that!)  Obviously prayer is crucially important, but sometimes God gives us opportunities to do more than pray…we just need to get our eyes off ourselves and our own schedules long enough to see them.  He may give us practical ways to stand up in issues of justice, or to demonstrate the love of God, if we only had eyes to see & ears to hear.  Perhaps it’s helping to pay someone’s bill – perhaps it’s buying someone’s meal – perhaps it’s mowing someone’s lawn or even just giving them a ride somewhere.  There is a multitude of ways to act out in the love of God.  We just need to look.
  • There may be a bit of a contrast between the tithing and the almsgiving.  Much has been said about the Pharisees’ practice of tithing, and how Jesus never condemns it – even going on to say they ought to do these smaller things without neglecting the bigger ones.  But we need to be careful not to turn this one statement into a “pro-tithing” message from Jesus…that’s not His point at all.  The tithe was the minor thing – it was the external ritual.  Notice that Jesus mentions the tithe in conjunction with the woe, whereas the more important stuff was the justice & love of God.  The financial giving that Jesus truly commends is the almsgiving.  What’s the difference?  The heart.  The tithe was the obligation – the 10% required by the law in order to provide for the Levites & the priests.  The Pharisees took the tithe so seriously that they took it to the “nth” degree by even giving their cooking spices.  Yet the alms were the freewill offerings given to the poor – this wasn’t required; it was benevolence freely given as the need arose.  One was done out of legalism; the other out of love.  The latter is a far better motivation!
    • Love should always be the motivation for financial giving – even in terms of giving to God.  When Christians speak of “tithes and offerings,” what we’re really talking about are freewill offerings to God as an act of worship.  It’s not an obligation – it’s not a legalistic demand.  That’s not the sort of giving God desires from us.  Paul wrote to the Corinthians that “God loves a cheerful giver,” (2 Cor 9:7) and that ought to be our heart as we give to the Lord.   

43 Woe to you Pharisees! For you love the best seats in the synagogues and greetings in the marketplaces.

  • Woe #2: sins of pride.  If the first category of sins were things the Pharisees omitted (justice & the love of God), the second were things they committed – things they did.  Jesus specifically calls them out on their pride & their desire for public attention and recognition.  Literally, the “best seats” could be translated “first seats” in the synagogue.  These were the positions of prominence, the seats in which everyone else would be able to see their importance.  In present-day churches, perhaps these are the seats right up front (or right at the back, depending on which one is more important) – or the ones with the special name-plate on them showing that you “sponsored” that pew/chair.  Whatever it is that designates the person as “special” or “more spiritual” than everyone else, that’s what the Pharisees wanted for themselves.  They loved the public attention, including the special “greetings in the marketplaces.”  This wasn’t merely a “hello” & a hand-shake – this was a special involved greeting that showed everyone else how important the Pharisee was.  In certain churches, parishioners kiss the ring of their bishops in greeting – or they use grand academic titles in their address “The Most Reverend Doctor So & So.”  Again, it’s a way to call attention to what a special person this is, and how everyone else is to be in awe of him.
  • Jesus calls all of this out as sinful pride.  It was worth nothing but the woe of God, deserving of Divine condemnation.  What did any of this have to do with someone’s purity and holiness?  Nothing!  All of us are wretched sinners in need of the rescue of Jesus.  There is none among us that is good, no not one. (Rom 3:12)  All of our righteousnesses are like filthy rags. (Isa 64:6)  That’s just as true of the prison inmate as it is of the pope.  Pastors are no different from anyone in the pew in regards to our innate sinfulness and need for Jesus.  Why pretend any differently?  Why call attention to one man, as if he’s done something special & is inherently more spiritual than anyone else?  All of that is foolish, based in nothing but sinful pride.
    • Once again, we ought to be careful before pointing fingers.  This kind of pride affects more than Pharisees, priests, and popes.  It reaches right into American Evangelicalism as well.  One person make sure to pepper her speech with all kinds of Christians phrases, so everyone will realize how spiritual she is.  Another raises his hands extra high, to make sure everyone will see.  Someone else makes a point to try to create a special friendship with the pastor, just to be sure people know he/she is in “good graces,” etc.  Obviously there’s nothing wrong with Christian phrases, exuberant worship, or friendship…but once more it comes down to a matter of the heart.  Why do we do the things we do?  Is it sincere – or a show of self?  Beware pride!  Pride has been the downfall of men & women since the Garden of Eden, and it continues to this very day.

44 Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you are like graves which are not seen, and the men who walk over them are not aware of them.”

  • Woe #3: sins of stumbling.  In the first two woes, the Pharisees did (or didn’t) do something to themselves.  It was their direct actions.  In the third woe, it was their indirect effect upon others.  They had become stumbling blocks, dangers to their community around them.  Jesus described them as “graves which are not seen” or “unmarked graves,” as other translations put it.  What was the big deal?  Defilement.  This particular Pharisee showed disgust at Jesus’ disregard for the ritual tradition, thinking that Jesus had left Himself defiled before eating.  Yet it was the Pharisees who truly left people defiled, and those who were affected didn’t even realize what had happened.
  • A similar section in Matthew sheds a bit of light on the cultural practice.  When Jesus later arrives in Jerusalem, He is confronted by the scribes, Sadducees, and Pharisees with a series of tests/traps, in which Jesus passes all of them.  In turn, He asks them a question about the Son of David they are unable to answer, and then goes on to blast them in a series of woes which repeatedly called the scribes & Pharisees “hypocrites.” (The phrase here in the NKJV seems to have been assimilated in from the earlier Matthew manuscripts.)  One of the woes addressed the other side of this issue: Matthew 23:27–28, "(27) Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you are like whitewashed tombs which indeed appear beautiful outwardly, but inside are full of dead men’s bones and all uncleanness. (28) Even so you also outwardly appear righteous to men, but inside you are full of hypocrisy and lawlessness."  Tombs needed to be “whitewashed” in order for them to be seen.  Jesus’ statement to the Pharisees here was similar to what He said in vs. 39 about them looking good on the outside, but being dirty on the inside.  But it’s the illustration of the tomb turned inside out that He uses in vs. 44.  Jewish tombs needed to be whitewashed.  According to the law of Moses, anyone who touched a dead body was unclean for seven days (Num 19:11), and in practice that was extended to graves and tombs.  Thus tombs were painted (washed) white in order to be clearly seen and avoided.  But what would happen if a grave was unmarked or unclear?  People might walk right over them, lean against them, or even sit down right on top of them, and never know it.  They would be defiled, unable to bring their sacrifice to God, with their ignorance only compounding their problem when they brought their sacrifice anyway without the appropriate cleansing.
  • That was the condemnation for the Pharisees.  They caused other Jews to stumble into sin, and these Jews didn’t even realize that they were sinning.  Other people wanted to serve and worship God, but they were unable to do because their religious leaders had led them so astray that they didn’t even know what true worship was.  The Pharisees had led the people into a state of defilement, and the rest of the people didn’t even realize it.  The Pharisees were stumbling blocks…massive ones.  The religious leaders of Israel had caused the whole nation to sin.
  • That’s not something God takes lightly.  Not among Israel; not among us.  Matthew 18:6–7, "(6) Whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in Me to sin, it would be better for him if a millstone were hung around his neck, and he were drowned in the depth of the sea. (7) Woe to the world because of offenses! For offenses must come, but woe to that man by whom the offense comes!" Contextually, Jesus had held up a child as an example to others of how people must humble themselves in faith, believing in Jesus as the Lord in order to enter the kingdom of heaven.  Yet those who believe can still be made to stumble into sin through the actions & false teachings of someone else.  That person brings upon himself the wrath of God.  The principle is no different here.  There was a nation of people that ought have been worshipping God in truth.  If they had, they would have recognized Jesus when He came among them.  The fact that they didn’t was proof that their religious leaders had led them astray, and caused them to sin.  They would face fierce judgment as a result.
    • That’s the Pharisees, but what about us?  In principle, we can still do the same thing.  We can so easily become stumbling blocks to others, hindering them from their knowledge of Jesus.  Perhaps we flaunt certain freedoms around them, causing them to engage in continued sin against God. (Which Paul actually brings out regarding certain food & drink in Romans 14.)  Or on the other side, perhaps we become so legalistic with our own walk with Christ that we try to impose the same thing upon others, burning them out to the gospel of grace.  Maybe we get loose with our sin, giving the impression that Jesus doesn’t really transform lives, so why bother?  Or perhaps teachers lead people astray in false doctrine, making it impossible for them to discern what is true.  We don’t have to be Pharisees to cause others to stumble into sin & be defiled.  All too often, Christians do an effective job of this on our own.

There’s a lot of woe & judgment here – all needed & righteously applied, but it’s still harsh.  And knowing that although it originally applied to the Pharisees, but that Christians can still be guilty of the same practices doesn’t make it any easier.  What do we do about this?  What do we do when we realize that we are the hypocrites, the selfish ones, the sinfully proud, and the stumbling stones?  What do we do when we are the ones who not only have sinned, but have caused others to sin?

First, we confess and repent.  We deal with these sins like any other sins we’ve committed before God.  We confess our sins to God, knowing that He is faithful and just to forgive and cleanse us of our sins because of Jesus Christ. (1 Jn 1:9)  We turn away from those things, forsaking them, and we reaffirm our trust in Jesus.

Second, we’re renewed in the Holy Spirit.  The last thing we want to do after confessing our sin to God is to walk straight back into it because of the weakness of our flesh.  No – we need the power of the Holy Spirit in our lives to help us live lives that glorify God.  Just like the early church in the book of Acts was repeatedly filled with the Holy Spirit, so do we repeatedly ask to be filled with God the Holy Spirit, empowered to walk worthy of the calling with which we were called.

Finally, we make it right with others.  It might require some humility, but it’s necessary.  Where we have taught wrongly, we acknowledge we were wrong.  To those against whom we’ve sinned, we make it right.  We may not be able to go back to missed opportunities, but we can certainly be mindful not to miss the next ones that arise.  None of this is complicated, though it’s not always easy.  The key is to remember that we’re doing all of this through & because of Jesus.  It’s not us; it’s Him.  We’re not trying to purify ourselves (that’s impossible!); we’re simply living out the purity that Jesus has already given us in His grace.

The Pharisee had accused Jesus of defilement, but the reality was far different.  The Pharisee was the defiled one. He was the one who was unclean…he was just blind to his situation.  This was why Jesus was so brutally honest with him (and everyone else who was present).  These may have been harsh words, but they were needed words in order to help the Pharisees understand their need.  They were just as lost as anyone else they had previously condemned, and they were just as badly in need of the forgiveness of God.  Jesus made it available to them, but they needed to know enough to ask.

How about you?  You may be just as lost as the Pharisee in front of Jesus was.  He thought he knew it all & had it made.  He was a religious man, well-respected by others.  He knew his culture & traditions inside & out, even thinking it possible to pass judgment on the rabbi he invited home for dinner.  You may be a religious person, with all the “right” clothes, the “right” words, and the “right” behaviors.  But like the Pharisee, you don’t truly know Jesus.  You haven’t surrendered yourself to Him & received Him as your Lord.  You’re lost in sin, and you need to wake up to your situation and be saved.

Or maybe you easily recognize what kind of sinner you are.  Other people may be blind to their hypocrisy, but you know you’re lost.  You’d love to be saved, but you never felt like you were good enough to be around the other Christians because of all of the Pharisaical attitudes there.  There is good news for you: Jesus wants to save you and He offers to do so!  Jesus offers to save sinners, hypocrites, stumbling blocks, and everyone else.  Anyone who comes to Him in humble faith can be forgiven.  But you have to ask.


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