Harmony of the Gospels

(12) Judgment Against Lawyers and Pharisees
(Micah 6:8) Luke 11:37-54


Jesus was a dinner guest in the home of a Pharisee, but He did not flatter His host or the other guests by avoiding the truth.  He exposed their hypocrisy and condemned them for their sins (Matt. 23). They ruined people (v. 44), burdened them (v. 46), and locked the door on them (v. 52), while posing as holy men of God.  Instead of taking the opportunity of repenting and being forgiven, they opposed Jesus and attacked Him.  Today’s lesson is about the conversation between Jesus and a certain Pharisee that took place during dinner.  Jesus says many of those things to the Pharisee and his guests that He will say to them later in the temple.  Jesus is consistent in what He says; He will not say anything in private that He would not say in front of a large congregation.  Now let’s read what Luke reported about what happened at this dinner.

(Luke 11:37-38)  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.

The Pharisees were very careful to maintain outward cleanliness, but sometimes they were unconcerned about the inside.  Jesus probably ate without washing on purpose to point this out to His host.  This necessity for ceremonial purity symbolized removing the dirt of the sinful world from their hands. The principles of ceremonial cleanness affected every part of a Hebrew’s life.

While He was speaking, a certain Pharisee interrupted him with a request to come and dine with him.  We do not know what this Pharisee had in mind, but, whatever it was, Christ knew it. We need to be cautious about the company we keep, but we should not be rigid.  We need to have non-Christian friends to witness to.  We are to be in the world; not of the world.  Jesus did not wash His hands before setting down to eat, and this caused the Pharisee to wonder how a holy man, a prophet, a man devoted to God, could sit down to eat, without first washing His hands.  The Pharisee himself and all of his guests, no doubt, washed their hands in the prescribed manner.

(Luke 11:39-40)  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?

Now notice what they are guilty of.  Jesus made this accusation: "You Pharisees clean the outside only, you wash your hands with water, but do not wash the wickedness from your hearts.  And you are full of greed and hatred, greed for what others have, and hatred of good men.’’  There are certain sins that we can get rid of by washing the outside of the cup; but, the more gross, and immoral, and inexcusable sins continue to keep the inside dirty. The Lord says that is foolish: "Ye fools, did not he that made that which is without make that which is within also?"  God gave the Jews the Law of Moses which included ceremonial washings, but you should also cleanse and purify your hearts?  What benefit could there be to clean the skin if the heart is not made clean also?’’

God, who made us these bodies, also made our souls.  He expects us to take care of both; and therefore we should not only wash the body, and make the hands clean for the work He has for us to do.  But, we must wash the spirit also, and get the leprosy in the heart cleansed.

(Luke 11:41-42)  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.

Here the Lord tells them that there are better ways to spend their time: “Instead of washing your hands before you eat, give something that you have to the poor.”  We can enjoy the gifts of God’s ourselves when we give part of what we have to those who have less than we do.  What we have is not our own, unless we give God His tithe out of it.  He accuses them of stressing trifling matters, and neglecting the weighty matters of the Law.  They were sticklers for the Law, especially those Laws which related to religion, above all those Laws concerning the maintenance of the priests.  He said, “Ye pay tithe of mint and rue.”   Rue is a shrub with strong-smelling leaves that grows on hills in the Holy Land. Both mint and rue were tithed by the religious leaders.  Now Christ does not condemn them for being so exact in paying tithes, but for thinking that this would atone for them neglecting their more important duties.

(Luke 11:43-44)  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.

Jesus scolds them for their pride and vanity, and love for the praise of men.  He exclaims, "Ye love the uppermost seats in the synagogues;” those were seats reserved for important people.  And then, He said they loved greetings in the markets; or as you might say, to be complimented by the people.  It is not sitting uppermost, or being greeted, that is criticized, but loving it.

He also reprimands them for their hypocrisy saying, "You are as graves overgrown with grass, which therefore appear not, and the men that walk over them are not aware of them, and so they become ceremonial unclean from the touch of a grave.’’   These Pharisees were full of greed, jealousy, and hatred; and yet they concealed it so cleverly with a profession of devotion to God, that you couldn’t tell it.  Those who talked with them, and followed their doctrine, were infected with their corruption and sick morals, and that prevented them from being saved, however, they made such a show of piety, that no one suspected them of being corrupt.

Notice how boldly Jesus spoke in these verses. Six times he uttered woes, and once called them fools (spiritually thickheaded), and once hypocrites.  Jesus was just over thirty, and this did not sit well with the older generation. Luke notes how heated the discussion got in verse 53 where it says the Pharisees were rudely provoking Christ to speak about many such subjects in hopes (vs. 54) of being able to accuse Jesus of something in order to put Him to death.  Christ was their thorn in the flesh.

(Luke 11:45)  Then answered one of the lawyers, and said unto him, Master, thus saying thou reproachest us also.

The shoe was beginning to fit.  The Pharisees were occupied with secondary and nonessential things.  They were adding to the Law, making it more difficult, and yet not attempting to follow it themselves.  There was one lawyer (or scribe) there who resented what He said about the Pharisees. This lawyer promoted the Pharisee’s cause, and that made him a contributor to his sins.

(Luke 11:46-51)  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.

11:46 The lawyers described by Jesus made the everyday lives of the Jews unbearably hard due to their many additions to the Mosaic Law. Although they told the people to obey these difficult rules, they did nothing to help them do so.

11:49–51 Jesus quoted from an unknown source. His point was that although these people claimed to honor the prophets, they were inwardly rejecting them. As a result, they would be held responsible for the deaths of the prophets. Jesus mentioned Abel (Gen. 4:8) and Zechariah the priest (2 Chr. 24:20, 21) as examples of innocent men killed while serving God. These examples were taken from the first and last books of the Hebrew OT.

Our Lord Jesus took these lawyers to task for taking the Pharisee’s part, and quarrelling with Him because he criticized them. He hauled them over the coals for making their religion more burdensome to others, but easier on themselves.  He said, “You will not burden yourselves with them, nor be yourselves bound by those restraints with which you hamper others.’’   Then Jesus rebuked them for pretending to honor the prophets whom their fathers killed, when yet they hated and persecuted those prophets who were sent to them in their day to call them to repentance, and lead them to Christ.  These hypocrites erected monuments over their graves to honor them, probably with large inscriptions containing high praises of them, and yet they hated and persecuted the prophets who came in their day.   Christ foresaw the persecution and murder of His apostles who would come in His name with the Gospel.  This generation of the Jews, whose sin in persecuting Christ’s apostles would exceed any of the sins of their fathers would bring the wrath of God upon themselves.  Their destruction by the Romans was so terrible that it might well be considered the carrying out of God’s vengeance upon that persecuting nation.

(Luke 11:52-54)  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.

They are reprimanded for opposing the gospel of Christ, and doing all they could to obstruct the progress and success of it.  They had not, faithfully explained to the people those scriptures of the Old Testament which pointed at the Messiah, which if they had done so, the people may have accepted Jesus.  But, instead of that, they had misrepresented those texts, and had blinded the people to the truth.  Matthew called this, “Shutting up the kingdom of heaven against men”, (Mt. 23:13). They did all they could to hinder and discourage, by threatening to cast them out of the synagogue, and otherwise terrifying them.

Lastly, in the close of the chapter we are told how maliciously the scribes and Pharisees planned to draw him into a trap.  They could not bear those cutting remarks, even though they had to own up to them. They hoped to stir Him up enough to put him off His guard. They began to pressure Him and to provoke Him to speak about many things, and they asked Him dangerous questions which by His answer might offend the people or the government, or both.  There is a challenge here for us: so that we may bear trials of this kind with patience, and get through them with good common sense, let us think about Him who endured such fierce hatred from His enemies.


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