Pharisees, Legalists, and Hypocrites (Luke 11:37-12:12)
Man-made Rituals (11:37-41)
Judging from what Jesus teaches in this section of Luke, the biggest danger we face as a church is being theologically informed, religiously active, morally conservative people whose hearts are far from God. Jesus argues that there is nothing more dangerous than pharisaism, legalism, and hypocrisy. When Jesus neglected the ceremonial washing before the meal, it was not because he was ignorant of the Pharisees’ rules and regulations. His purpose was to point out that while they were careful to fulfill their self-made demands, they were ignoring the actual demands from God in His Word. The Pharisees had failed to distinguish between the Word of God and their own man-made code of conduct. Jesus’ was not saying that rituals are bad (since he established two rituals: baptism and the Lord’s Supper), but he was pointing out the danger of carrying out the external symbol while stopping short of the reality.
– It is possible to be theologically informed, religiously active, morally conservative, and yet still have a heart that is far from God. How are you being diligent to avoid this?
Woes to the Pharisees (11:42-44)
The first woe Jesus issues to the Pharisees is for majoring on the minors. They were putting all the emphasis on the secondary duty of tithing, and forsaking the essential responsibility to love and practice justice. Jesus is not teaching that they should neglect the minors, such as tithing, but that the minors should not be carried out to the neglect of the majors. Both are God’s commands and should be carried out with equal diligence. The second woe is for their love of the chief seats. The Pharisees were more interested in promoting themselves than they were the Kingdom of God. No person can do a religious act for the purpose of self-promotion and simultaneously do it for the glory of God. The third woe issued to the Pharisees is for their wickedness concealed within outward cleanliness. They were as tombs that were washed in order to be seen more easily, so that a person passing by wouldn’t step on the grave and become defiled. Jesus was stating that anyone who had contact with the Pharisees was being defiled by them.
– What are some of the trivial things you are prone to major on to the neglect of the essentials? Do you see a desire for self-promotion in any of your actions and activities, rather than a desire for the advancement of Christ’s Kingdom?
Woes to the Legalists (11:45-54)
The first woe to the experts in the law is for placing heavy burdens on others that they themselves will not touch. Sadly, there are many people still today that are heavily burdened with rules and regulations that have nothing to do with the Word of God. Knowing God is not a heavy weight, but freedom. The true law of God drives us to Jesus, while the laws of men crush the spirit of men and hamper the Kingdom. The second woe issued to them is for building the tombs of the prophets that their fathers had killed. By building these tombs they were not just acknowledging that their fathers had killed the prophets, but they were consenting to the evil deeds that their fathers did. These legalists wanted nothing to do with the message the prophets of old had preached: “love rather than sacrifice”, “give to the needy and provide for the poor,” “do justice, love kindness, walk humbly with God,” “live by faith,” etc. The third woe to the lawyers is for taking away the key of knowledge. They claimed to be the only ones able to know the truth and teach it, and yet they were declaring that which is false to be true and vice versa. The key is Christ, and they were teaching the Bible in a Christ-less fashion!
– Why do we wrongly associate knowing God with heavy burdens? In what way does the law of God lead us to Jesus, and in what way do the laws of men crush the spirits of men?
Jesus tells his disciples, among thousands of listeners, to beware of the leaven of the Pharisees, which is hypocrisy. One day there will be a divine unmasking when all hypocrisy will face ultimate exposure. While people-pleasing and man-fearing lead to hypocrisy, fearing God in reverent humility protect us from it. The warning that Jesus issues to His disciples to fear God rather than men is not harsh or brash. Instead, he introduces it with, “My friends,” and reminds them that they are valued by God. This same God that knows all things and has the authority to cast them into Hell is also the One that cares for them and values them exceedingly. Jesus is assuring them that fearing the Greater will deliver them from the numerous lesser fears.
– In what specific situations, settings, or surroundings do you notice the greatest temptation toward the fear of man? How might a right fear of our God who cares for us help you fight against that sinful fear of man?
Blasphemy Against the Holy Spirit (12:8-12)
The warning regarding blasphemy of the Holy Spirit is given in the context of Jesus’ teaching on hypocrisy. He is suggesting that pharisaism, legalism, and hypocrisy are early warning signs of blasphemy, which is the ultimate rejection of the conviction by the Holy Spirit. For even the worst of all sins there is pardon: David’s adultery, dishonesty, and murder; the many sins of the woman in Luke 7; the prodigal son’s “riotous living”; etc. There is always forgiveness to be found in Jesus Christ! But there will be no pardon for the one who pretends all the way to the end, consciously rejecting the Spirit of God, hoping only in his own man-made religion while ignoring the commands of Christ. If you have ever wondered if you have committed the unpardonable sin, you haven’t, and you don’t have to! Be done with self-righteous pretending and look exclusively into the face of our Lord Jesus Christ!