7th Apr, 2018 Day 97
Jesus is on the way to Jerusalem to die on the cross, rise again and ascend to the Father so the Spirit can come! Along the way, there’s a series of meals with Jesus where we learn much about the gospel and the Christian life:
1) Levi – the traitor to Israel has repented and joined the kingdom and had a banquet mixing his Christian and non-Christian friends, so we can learn about mission through meals – and that repentance, turning to God in your thinking, is the way in;
2) Simon the Pharisee and the unclean woman – at this meal we get to see the kingdom is for anyone, no-one is too messed up or too religious to repent and join, and the Kingdom reconciles us together from all sorts of backgrounds into God’s family;
3) At the feeding of the 5,000 we discover we are sent on a humanly impossible mission, which becomes possible when we trust Jesus;
4) At the home of Mary and Martha we discover that our call is to love God first and allow that to fuel the mission of loving our neighbour. It’s both/and, not either/or.
As we reach Luke 11, Jesus gets invited to a Pharisees house for luncheon as he is teaching. He has taught about prayer, taught that it is in His name we can cast out demons, that if you were set free from a demon you need to be filled or you will end up worse. Then he reveals the sign of Jonah – an enigmatic prophetic statement that he will die and 3 days later like Jonah come back bringing repentance and forgiveness in a greater way than Nineveh received. Then just before luncheon he tells us our eyes are the window of our souls and thus Christianity is an inside job first and foremost.
Today we see that Christianity is an inside job not external observance. There are certain ways you could tell the old covenant people of God apart and they were external boundary markers – Sabbath observance, food observance and circumcision. The new covenant replaces these with internal boundary markers – because Christianity is an inside job. We are a Spirit filled people.
So with that in mind Jesus addresses the hypocrisy that so easily goes hand in hand with external observance. If you can be a good Jew or acceptable to God just by external observance, then your heart doesn’t need to change. So for those that could bear to watch ‘The Secret’ on ITV recently… for Colin Howell in the traditional Northern Irish Baptist scene – divorce meant excommunication. An external thing that meant he wasn’t a good Baptist. So he came up with a way of murdering two people, making it look like it was suicide, so he didn’t have to divorce to get the woman he loved and still be a good Baptist. His awful sin was shame-driven and the shame was over external religious markers like looking holy. The trouble with external markers of being a good Christian or Jew is that our hearts can be rotten, sin can be hidden and shame can linger, but as long as we put on a good show we are okay.
Jesus shows us the inside needs cleaning up – and that outward lifestyle results from that.
So Jesus turns up at the luncheon – I call it by its posh name, because reclining at a table at luncheon implies the Pharisee was wealthy enough to be at leisure in the middle of the day. The Pharisee is shocked that Jesus doesn’t do the external rituals of washing before the meal like a good Jew should do.
The law (in this case out of the Talmud, not the Law of Moses) laid down that before a man ate he must wash his hands in a certain way and that he must also wash them between courses… large stone vessels of water were specially kept for the purpose because ordinary water might be unclean; the amount of water used must be… enough to fill one and a half egg-shells. First the water must be poured over the hands, beginning at the tips of fingers and running right up to the wrist. Then the palm of each hand must be cleansed by rubbing the fist of one into the other. Finally, water must again be poured over the hand, this time beginning at the wrist and running down to the fingertips. To the Pharisee, to omit the slightest detail of this was to sin.
Now with that in mind why didn’t Jesus wash his hands before He sat down? Was it just an oversight on his part? Did he just forget, like our children sometimes do? I don’t think so. I believe Jesus had no intention of washing, because He knew what kind of reaction He would get from the Pharisees and He wanted to take this opportunity to let them know exactly what He thought about them.
So Jesus takes a cup – and shows them what the Pharisee wants him to do is just cleaning the outside of the cup leaving the inside dirty. Cleaning the outside is observing the law, especially the visible bits of the law, whereas what Jesus offers us is grace that cleans the inside permanently. When Jesus washes the disciples feet later in Luke, Peter misses the point and asks for his whole body to be washed. Jesus tells him he’s missed the point. Grace has given him a bath, he is clean. He only needs a foot wash along the way when his feet get dirty! Grace does the inside job permanently and begins to clean the outside – that’s sanctification.
The Pharisee has missed the point – he’s concerned with the outside, the bits people can see, but inside he is a mess still. Unfortunately, many people today are making the same mistake that the Pharisees made. They put their Sunday clothes on, and come to church every week. They want everyone to believe they are faithful Christians. When in reality all they’re doing is playing church. So Jesus begins to tell some home truths to the Pharisee, who represents for Luke those who play at church, while living utterly non-Christian lives the rest of the week
In v. 41 Jesus tells him give to the poor and everything is clean for you – what does Jesus mean? Is he saying the opposite again? Is he saying if we give to the poor our inside, our soul and spirit will be cleansed by that outward act? Not at all. It’s an example of where our treasure is our heart is also – what we do with our money is a sign of what is going on inside.
To make it really clear Jesus then gives 6 woes – a woe is opposite to a blessing – In the beatitudes Jesus said Blessed are the… Now he does the opposite for the religious folks who think it is all about the outward. Woe, woe, woe, woe, woe, woe!
Woe to the people who know tithing is good news for the rich:
If you are rich like the Pharisee in this story, who can host a luncheon, instead of working, then tithing is easy. You can tithe your mint and rue and other herbs and carry on oppressing the poor; selfishly using the 90% for your own ends. The Pharisees – by which Luke writing to the early church means nominal Christians who do the external stuff, can tithe and still have a rotten heart.
If you earn the UK national average of £26,500 you are in the top 0.88% of richest people in the world. If you are on Jobseekers Allowance you are in the top 24% global with 6 billion people poorer than you. So most of us are rich. The more you have the more the 90% is. Money is one of those markers for how your heart is. Grace makes us generous and caring for others. Jesus nails those who outwardly do the law of giving 10% but inside they are selfish.
The second woe is focused on outward honour:
The front seats in the local synagogue were the best seats for two reasons. You could see and hear everything that was going on in the service, and you could be the first to greet visiting rabbis. Not to mention the fact that everyone else could see that you were sitting in the most prominent seats. You see the Pharisees did not go to the synagogue to worship or to hear the word of God proclaimed. Instead they went to the synagogue to get their egos stroked, which was also the main reason they went into the marketplace.
They wanted to be recognised as Pharisees because it made them feel good about themselves. They liked feeling superior to everyone else. They were driven by their desire to have men’s approval, rather than God’s. Consequently they could not interpret the Scriptures or teach them accurately. Their attitudes and their preconceived ideas kept them from being able to rightly divide the Word of God.
The third woe to the Pharisees was the hardest hitting:
You are like unmarked graves and people walk over them without knowing. To a Jew touching a dead body made them unclean. They would be unclean for 7 days and not able to go into the temple or synagogue. The Pharisees thought of themselves as righteous and holy people. They also believed they were making a positive contribution to the nation of Israel in leading it in the direction of holiness. Jesus told them that in reality they were leading the nation of Israel farther and farther away from God. Jesus is telling these Pharisees that they are dead bodies that make people unclean without knowing it. Their lives and their focus on external law observance is making people’s standing before God worse than they would be otherwise. Ouch!
Now the experts in the law come to Jesus – they are like the theologians, the Christian paperback book writers of the day. They are feeling the insult of those first three woes too, as it is their interpretations of the old covenant that are causing the issue. If you have read your Old Testament you’ll know that God is not concerned with outward appearance, he looks at the heart – that’s how he picked David to be King.
The fourth woe is that the law was a burden not a blessing:
God had chosen Israel by grace, showered his steadfast love on them and given them the law to guide them. It was always impossible to do – they needed the grace and mercy of God – it was a schoolmaster to drive them to Christ. But the teachers of the law had added to it, made it even more burdensome and very complicated, without helping. Now Jesus was coming to be the first to fulfil it, to release us from it and to give us the Holy Spirit to dwell within us.
The fifth and sixth woes are that they ignored the prophets and focused on the minors of the law:
They completely ignored the prophets who were calling Israel to turn to God with their hearts and pointing to Jesus coming as the Messiah. Instead just like their forefathers they killed the prophets and were focusing on minor ritual details and adding to them. The law could be summed up as ‘Love God and love you neighbour’, and they were doing neither.
Jesus accused the Scribes and Pharisees of hindering people from knowing and responding to the Truth.
In the Gospel of Matthew, Jesus was even more direct when he said that they were blind guides, who were leading people astray. Instead of teaching the people how they could renew their relationship with God they were pushing people away from God. This is why Jesus was so upset with them. But instead of repentance, they responded with rejection and resentment. From now until the cross they are looking to discredit him, with questions, ways to catch him out and ultimately to arrest and kill him.
So the challenge here is this…
If your life was like that cup – where is your focus – the outside or the inside? Grace deals with the inside first. Is Christianity going to church and doing the right things, or is it the grace of God operating in your heart? Do you want to look good to others, or have you received God’s goodness and allowed it to transform you?
How do you tell?
- What do you do with your money?
- Are you more concerned with what you look like to others than the state of your heart?
- Are you carrying shame that you can’t share with someone for fear of embarrassment and rejection? There’s no shame here, just process.
The gospel of grace is an inside job. Jesus loves you and offers you a free heart transplant – giving you a new heart for your old heart of stone. He cleanses you on the inside, giving you a new nature – the old has gone and the new has come. He gives you the precious Holy spirit to dwell within and transform your thinking and your actions.