Imagine you have been invited to your pastor’s house for dinner and some leaders of the church are there. It is a nice meal with pleasant dinner conversation.
Do you think you would take this time to point out all the things you didn’t like about the people around the table?
Some of you might! Some would be mortified of doing that.
Jesus, in Luke 11:37-56 was invited to dinner with a Pharisee, and an expert in the Law was there. Before dinner Jesus chose to forgo the traditional washing, and the Pharisee noticed and was surprised. Jesus saw this as a cultural open door, and stormed through it. Over the course of the next few minutes he proceeds to insult the Pharisees and Law Experts, using a prophetic Woe Oracle against them. I introduced the concept of a Woe Oracle last week. Woe Oracles used funeral language to proclaim “if you keep doing what you’re doing, you will die!”
I also said last week that perhaps the American Church would do well to listen in to this sharp conversation. Stats have been telling us that we are declining. Maybe there is something that Jesus was saying to the religious leaders of his day that could help us avoid death in our day.
So what were the Pharisees and Law Experts doing that was so wrong? Two things. They were being hypocritical and legalistic. Read through the Woes again and you’ll see how they were not practicing what they were preaching (hypocrisy), and they were burdening people with extra laws (legalism).
Is it possible that the decline of the American Church is attributable, at least partially, to our own hypocrisy and legalism?
I know this is a difficult passage. These are hard and harsh words from Jesus. He is speaking to those who are living a lifestyle of hypocrisy. I know that we are not the Pharisees, but don’t we all have areas of hypocrisy? I know not too many of us are living lifestyles of complete and total legalism, but I don’t want to let us off the hook here either. Instead I think we all should wrestle with a passage like this. We are disciples of Jesus. And Jesus certainly called out his disciples, who had areas of struggle, many times, just as he is calling out the teachers of the law here. I think it is always good for us, as people who are disciples of Jesus, who desire to make our hearts more and more like the heart of Jesus, to take a hard and honest look at ourselves and see what areas we have improved in and what areas we still need to work on. We should always have teachable hearts, ready to make changes and to do the hard work to change attitudes that work themselves out into our actions.
To use the language of the parable Jesus told to the Pharisee, in what areas are we clean cups on the outside and filthy on the inside? Are we living secret lives? Are we hypocritical in any way? We need to get that out in the open, confess it, and change.
This does not mean that you need to be proclaiming all your junk to the public all the time – that is not what I am saying. I am saying that our hearts should be beating like Jesus and that will naturally overflow into our actions.
Additionally, we need to address any potential legalism in our lives. If the Gospel is about grace through faith, not by works, we can hinder people from the Gospel by emphasizing rules.
Do we believe that following these rules define us as a Christian? If so, is it possible that we have led people astray by communicating to them the perception that they, too, if they want to be a Christian must follow those rules?
Let me give you an illustration. In the early church, in Acts chapter 15, the leaders of the church called a conference. At this point the church was maybe 10 years old or so, and it had grown a lot from the original 120 who started out. Guys like Paul and Barnabas had gone on mission trips and non-Jews from outside Israel had become Christians. Some of the Jewish Christians, including some Pharisees who became Christians, heard about these non-Jews becoming disciples of Jesus, and while they were happy, they felt that the non-Jews needed to start following the Old Testament Jewish Laws now. Especially the law of circumcision. Imagine that. These Jewish Christians felt that adult male non-Jews needed to be circumcised! Ouch!
Paul was totally against this. He argued that the message of Jesus was that the Old Testament Law was fulfilled in Jesus, and that Christians, disciples of Jesus, didn’t have to follow those Laws. Those Laws were essentially the treaty or the covenant between God and Israel, not between God and the church. Paul was right, and thankfully the leaders saw things Paul’s way and they did not require the non-Jewish disciples to get surgery. Whew.
Just like them, let us not put rules and regulations in place of faith in Christ and a life of discipleship! What defines us as a Christian is that we have hearts that beat for the Lord. That we are his disciples, and our lives are totally arranged about being a disciple who makes disciples.
So in conclusion, the message of Jesus’ Woe Oracle to the Pharisees and teacher of the law is that we should remove hypocrisy and legalism from our lives. We should not be one person on Sunday at church and someone very different in our private lives.
Have you heard the story of the police officer who recently committed suicide because he had a double life? Two sets of families? We don’t ever want to hear Jesus say Woe to you Church, and that means we should live a life fully for him. Ask him to reveal any hypocrisy in your life. And then remove it.
If there are rules you are imposing on others, maybe even unwittingly, would ask God to reveal them to you, so you can present a pure Gospel and not trip people up on legalism?