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“And as He spake, a certain Pharisee besought Him to dine with him: and He went in, and sat down to meat. And when the Pharisee saw it, he marvelled that He had not first washed before dinner. And the Lord said unto him, Now do ye Pharisees make clean the outside of the cup and the platter; but your inward part is full of ravening and wickedness. Ye fools, did not He that made that which is without make that which is within also? But rather give alms of such things as ye have; and, behold, all things are clean unto you. But woe unto you, Pharisees! for ye tithe mint and rue and all manner of herbs, and pass over judgment and the love of God: these ought ye to have done, and not to leave the other undone. Woe unto you, Pharisees! for ye love the uppermost seats in the synagogues, and greetings in the markets. Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye are as graves which appear not, and the men that walk over them are not aware of them. Then answered one of the lawyers, and said unto Him, Master, thus saying Thou reproachest us also. And He said, Woe unto you also, ye lawyers! for ye lade men with burdens grievous to be borne, and ye yourselves touch not the burdens with one of your fingers. Woe unto you! for ye build the sepulchres of the prophets, and your fathers killed them. Truly ye bear witness that ye allow the deeds of your fathers: for they indeed killed them, and ye build their sepulchres. Therefore also said the Wisdom of God, I will send them prophets and apostles, and some of them they shall slay and persecute: that the blood of all the prophets, which was shed from the foundation of the world, may be required of this generation; from the blood of Abel unto the blood of Zacharias which perished between the altar and the temple: verily I say unto you, It shall be required of this generation. Woe unto you, lawyers! for ye have taken away the key of knowledge: ye entered not in yourselves, and them that were entering in ye hindered. And as He said these things unto them, the scribes and the Pharisees began to urge Him vehemently, and to provoke Him to speak of many things: laying wait for Him, and seeking to catch something out of His mouth, that they might accuse Him”—Luke 11:37-54.
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We have noticed before in our attempt to expound this Gospel that Luke frequently tells of the Saviour’s being invited out to dinner and his participation at the table with various groups of people. We have mentioned that there is no place nor circumstance which draws a man out and shows what he really is more than the dinner-table, when surrounded either by friends with whom he may have fellowship, or in the midst of enemies who are ready to find fault with him. A great part of the Gospel of Luke is made up of the table talk of our Lord. We have already considered some instances, and here we have another. On every such occasion His words are most faithful. Our Lord Jesus was always honest with people; He never flattered them; He never pretended to be what He was not; He never endorsed anything which was wrong; nevertheless He was never rude nor offensive, but faithful and true in all circumstances.
Here we read that a certain Pharisee invited Jesus to dine with him, and “He went in, and sat down to meat.” There were other Pharisees present, and the host noticed that when Jesus was ready to recline at the table He did not go through a ceremony that was customary among them—He did not “baptize” before eating. This did not refer simply to the washing of the hands but to an elaborate cleansing in order that one might be fit to partake of the meal. This was of a religious nature, and they thought when this ceremony was finished they were clean before God. So the Pharisees marveled that Jesus had not ‘‘baptized” before eating. The Lord said unto them, “Now do ye Pharisees make clean the outside of the cup and the platter; but your inward part is full of ravening and wickedness. Ye fools, did not He that made that which is without make that which is within also?” In these words our Lord Jesus Christ insisted that though these religious zealots laid great stress upon the externals of piety, they neglected the internal realities that should have meant so much more to them. Many professed Christians make the same mistake today. They lay far more stress on outward ceremonies than on the inward life. There are those, for instance, who imagine that the ordinance of baptism cleanses them from sin, and that they are regenerated thereby.
The Lord saw into the very hearts of men, and He told them it was not enough to observe legal ordinances. If He were here today He would rebuke, just as strongly as He rebuked these Pharisees, those who imagine that being- a Christian depends on church-membership and ritual-services, rather than the cleansing of the soul before God. Our Lord told these Pharisees that they were very careful about cleaning the outside of the cup, but they did not clean the inside. They did not seem to understand that He who made the outside made also the inside. They cleansed the body with water, but the heart was full of ravening and wickedness. What God wants above everything else is a clean heart.
Our Lord was not ignoring the importance of the cleansing of the body, but that alone is not enough: the heart must be purified by faith. “Blessed are the pure in heart: for they shall see God.” “But rather give alms of such things as ye have; and, behold, all things are clean unto you.” That is, when the love of God fills the heart so that one will be concerned about the needs of others, then only will these outward observances have any real value. How we need to take that to heart today! We receive blessing after blessing from God, and how seldom do we remember that we are to communicate to others of the good things which God has given to us. You can test the measure of a man’s spirituality, not by a pious look on his face, nor by his words, but very largely by his use of the means which God has entrusted to him. He who is constantly gathering up for himself, in utter indifference to the poor and needy about him, gives evidence that the love of God does not dwell in him.
Our Lord pronounced three woes upon the Pharisees. First because of the way they emphasized tithing of minor things while neglecting the more important things of life: “But woe unto you, Pharisees! for ye tithe mint and rue and all manner of herbs, and pass over judgment and the love of God: these ought ye to have done, and not to leave the other undone.” They might go into the garden or out on the hillside or down by the seaside and gather these herbs. Then they always put away one-tenth of them for God, and thought when they had done this, when they had tithed these little things, that God must be pleased wtih them. But Jesus pointed out that while they were careful about tithing, there were other great matters of justice and the love of God which should have come first. It was perfectly right to apply the rule of tithing even to the smallest things, even though of little value, but the most important thing was a godly-walk—to walk in justice and righteousness before God and man, and to manifest the love of God in the life. The trouble with many religionists is that they have never known the reality of the new birth. Jesus said to Nicodemus, “Ye must be born again,” and, “Except a man be born again he cannot see the kingdom of God.” Outward observances will never make up for this lack of inner life.
The second woe was pronounced because of the devotion of the Pharisees to the uppermost seats in the synagogue: “Woe unto you, Pharisees! for ye love the uppermost seats in the synagogues, and greetings in the markets.” They were fond of outward show. They enjoyed having people look up to them when they entered the synagogue, which answers to the church today. Some men like the head usher to approach them and say, “Come here; we have a special seat for you.” And everybody says, “He must be somebody; who is he?” “Oh,” someone explains, “he is Dr. So-and-So, one of the great religious leaders.” And this dignitary sits complacently enjoying the admiration of the company while pretending to worship God. In reality he is but seeking satisfaction from the recognition given him. Such conduct is abhorrent to God who knoweth the proud afar off.
The third woe dealt with hidden uncleanness: “Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye are as graves which appear not, and the men that walk over them are not aware of them.” We need to understand something- of what was written in the Law in order to get the full force of these words. According to the Law of Moses, an Israelite was defiled if he walked over a grave or came in contact with the bones of a dead body. He had to go through a process of cleansing before he could again take his place with the worshippers in the house of the Lord. These Pharisees, who should have been examples of holiness, who should have been the ones to whom others might come for help and guidance, were corrupt themselves and misleading, by their unhallowed influence and hypocritical lives, those who trusted them. They were utterly false. To associate with them was like coming in contact with dead men’s bones and becoming defiled, though they did not realize it. These were the scorching words of our Lord, and the worst of the matter was that they were absolutely true and every Pharisee at that table realized that they were true, though they may have gnashed their teeth with indignation when they heard Jesus say these things.
There were lawyers present, that is, men whose business it was to expound the law of Moses, men who had given themselves to years of study in the sacred Scriptures. When questions came up as to the interpretation of passages, these men were supposed to be able to give the final word. One of them, evidently stirred to the depths of his soul, said, “Master, thus saying Thou insultest us also.” The word “insultest” is a better translation than “reproachest”: “You insult us in talking like this.” His own conscience condemned him, for he knew what the Lord had said of the Pharisees was just as true of him and his fellow-lawyers. Jesus did not retract His words for one moment. He was not trying to insult anyone. He was absolutely faithful. He would not cover up their sins; He brought them into the light, that they might be judged in the presence of God.
Jesus pronounced three woes upon the lawyers as He had upon the Pharisees. The first was because they laded men with burdens grievous to be borne, and they themselves touched not the burdens with one of their fingers. These lawyers not only expounded the Law of Moses but they had also added to that Law many human traditions. Jesus said, “You have made the Law of God of none effect by your traditions.” They could explain to the people all these different commandments and rules and regulations, but Jesus declared that while they made these things clear to other people they themselves did not obey them. They were not genuine but insincere. Jesus emphasized the importance of obedience to God. They urged upon the common people obedience to the law and the traditions they had added to it but they did not obey many of the commandments themselves. In other words, they were saying, “Do as I say, but not as I do.”
In the second place, the Lord reproved and pronounced a woe upon the lawyers for absolute hypocrisy. They made a great deal of the sacred shrines. Jesus said, “Woe unto you! for ye build the sepulchres of the prophets, and your fathers killed them. Truly ye bear witness that ye allow the deeds of your fathers: for they indeed killed them, and ye build their sepulchres. Therefore also said the Wisdom of God, I will send them prophets and apostles, and some of them they shall slay and persecute.” This is the only place in the New Testament where the Wisdom of God is personified. In the book of Proverbs we have this personification. In chapter 8 Wisdom warns men of the danger of insincerity and sinful folly. Here in the New Testament the Wisdom of God speaks, telling men of the doom that comes upon those who have not heeded the revelation God has given, though they profess to honor those through whom it came. The Wisdom of God said, “I will send them prophets and apostles, and some of them they shall slay and persecute, that the blood of all the prophets which was shed from the foundation of the world, may be required of this generation: from the blood of Abel unto the blood of Zacharias.” Whether this refers to Zechariah, the author of the book which bears his name (who, according to the Jewish Targum, was slain in the sanctuary), or to that earlier Zechariah whose death is recorded in 2 Chron. 24:20, 21, is a moot question. But the important thing to see is that God held unbelieving Israel accountable for all the blood that had been shed because of faithfulness to Him. The same spirit of rejection of the Word and opposition to the messengers of God was seen in that generation. As we know, terrible judgments soon followed.
The third woe is found in ver. 52, “Woe unto you, lawyers! for ye have taken away the key of knowledge: ye entered not in yourselves, and them that were entering in ye hindered.” The key was looked upon as the symbol of knowledge. The doctors of learning in Israel wore a key just as some of our college graduates, for instance, who have specially excelled in Greek, wear the Phi Beta Kappa key. Jesus referred to that when He said to Peter, “I give to you the keys of the kingdom of heaven.” To these lawyers He said, as it were, “You have the key of knowledge; you are supposed to know, and you are recognized as men familiar with the Scriptures. Why do you not give to others the Scriptures in their simplicity? You have taken them away from the people and are keeping them for yourselves; yet you do not heed them, and the people are left in ignorance.” It is a solemn warning against the misuse of the Scriptures. If God has entrusted one with the knowledge of the Word, he is responsible to give out that Word clearly and helpfully so that others may share the blessing.
With these sayings our Lord’s table talk on this occasion came to a close. As He said these things unto them, the scribes and Pharisees began to question Him, trying to catch something out of His mouth whereby they might accuse Him. They desired to find some evidence showing that His teaching was contrary to the law of Moses; but they had no concern about getting right with God themselves.