Luke 11:37-41 (NIV) 37 When Jesus had finished speaking, a Pharisee invited him to eat with him; so he went in and reclined at the table. 38 But the Pharisee, noticing that Jesus did not first wash before the meal, was surprised. 39 Then the Lord said to him, “Now then, you Pharisees clean the outside of the cup and dish, but inside you are full of greed and wickedness. 40 You foolish people! Did not the one who made the outside make the inside also? 41 But give what is inside [the dish] to the poor, and everything will be clean for you.
On verses 37-41: Although washing hands before a meal is a good sanitary practice, Scripture did not require Jews to wash their hands before eating. So when Jesus went to a Pharisee’s house for a meal and did not wash his hands before eating, he was not sinning against God. However, the Pharisees, who focused a great deal on hand washing and made it a part of their religious practice, took great offence. Jesus replies by pointing out that the Pharisees emphasize having a clean outward appearance while ignoring the dirty greed and wickedness that were caked to the inside of their hearts (v39). Jesus tells the Pharisees that they were foolish for focusing on people’s outward appearances while ignoring their inner life (“Did not the one who made the outside make the inside also?” – v40). Jesus tells the Pharisees that if they really wanted to be clean, they should focus on giving away their possessions to the poor as a way to combat the greed and wickedness that was polluting their hearts (“give what is inside the dish to the poor, and everything will be clean for you” – v41).
What can we learn from this? Beware focusing on how you look in front of others more than the condition of your heart before God.
Luke 11:42 (NIV) 42 “Woe to you Pharisees, because you give God a tenth of your mint, rue and all other kinds of garden herbs, but you neglect justice and the love of God. You should have practiced the latter without leaving the former undone.
On verse 42: What does “Woe to you” mean? “Woe” is an emotional way of condemning someone. When you say “Woe” to someone, you are condemning that person and judging them. In this case, the Pharisees were meticulous at tithing (giving the first 10% of) their crops, but were missing the love and justice God wanted from their lives. The Pharisees’ was a cold and calculated legalism that was devoid of heart or humility. Jesus says they should have done both: they should tithe and live lives of love and justice.
What can we learn from this? Don’t focus only on one aspect of worship while ignoring other aspects of worshiping God. Be a well-rounded follower of God. For example, at Thrive, AEIOU stands for God’s 5 big purposes for our lives: A is to worship God (worship), E is to grow more like Jesus (discipleship), I is to serve Jesus (ministry), O is to lead others to Jesus (evangelism), and U is to love our spiritual family (fellowship). As a follower of Jesus, you might be naturally inclined toward one or two of these 5 big purposes (e.g. you love to spend time with your church family in fellowship) but be less inclined toward others (e.g. you hesitate to share Jesus with those who don’t know him). We want to be well developed in all 5 of God’s purposes for our lives and not be aeIoU or AeiOu but AEIOU.
Luke 11:43 (NIV) 43 “Woe to you Pharisees, because you love the most important seats in the synagogues and greetings in the marketplaces.
On verse 43: Don’t live for the praise of people and turn yourself into an idol to be worshiped. Instead, live to please God.
Luke 11:44 (NIV) 44 “Woe to you, because you are like unmarked graves, which men walk over without knowing it.”
On verse 44: In putting so much stock in their own efforts to be good, moral and religious, the Pharisees missed the grace and mercy of God. They had become so dead to God that Jesus compares them to “unmarked graves”. Jesus is suggesting that whoever gets near the Pharisees’ teachings are flirting with death.
Luke 11:45-46 (NIV) 45 One of the experts in the law answered him, “Teacher, when you say these things, you insult us also.” 46 Jesus replied, “And you experts in the law, woe to you, because you load people down with burdens they can hardly carry, and you yourselves will not lift one finger to help them.
On verses 45-46: After condemning the Pharisees, Jesus goes after the experts in the law. He points out that these experts in the law were only placing great burdens on the people and doing nothing to help them with such burdens. Notice that here Jesus comes down hard and heavy against those who place their hope in their own goodness, effort and performance (like the Pharisees and experts of the law) whereas elsewhere Jesus is soft, compassionate and gracious toward those who know they have messed up and recognize their need for a Saviour.
What can we learn from this? The spirit of religion is all about doing more and placing ever increasing burdens upon its followers. The spirit of religion says, “Try harder. Do more. Work harder. Maybe you can please God with your efforts and earn your salvation.” Religion is a burden-imposing system that gives the person no peace. In contrast, Jesus came to give us a relationship with God instead of a religion. Jesus came to set us free from life’s biggest burdens. By dying on the cross for our sins, Jesus removed the burden of sin and shame from our lives. By rising again, Jesus removed the sting of death from our lives. False religions place an endless number of burdens on people. Jesus sets people free.
Luke 11:47-48 (NIV) 47 “Woe to you, because you build tombs for the prophets, and it was your forefathers who killed them. 48 So you testify that you approve of what your forefathers did; they killed the prophets, and you build their tombs.
On verses 47-48: By building tombs for Old Testament prophets, the Pharisees outwardly seemed to honour them. At the same time the Pharisees failed to recognize, or repent from, the fact that it was their own fathers who killed and persecuted these prophets.
Luke 11:49-51 (NIV) 49 Because of this, God in his wisdom said, ‘I will send them prophets and apostles, some of whom they will kill and others they will persecute.’ 50 Therefore this generation will be held responsible for the blood of all the prophets that has been shed since the beginning of the world, 51 from the blood of Abel to the blood of Zechariah, who was killed between the altar and the sanctuary. Yes, I tell you, this generation will be held responsible for it all.
On verses 49-51: Why would “this generation” (v50) of Pharisees be held responsible for the blood of all the prophets who ever lived, even if those prophets died long before this generation was born? It’s because this generation was soon going to kill the greatest prophet of all, Jesus Christ, the one whom all God’s prophets since the beginning had been talking about, pointing to and waiting upon. By rejecting and killing Jesus, they were in effect rejecting and persecuting all of God’s prophets who came before them. So even though the Pharisees had built tombs to give outward honour to these Old Testament prophets, Jesus points out that their actions were hypocritical.
Luke 11:52 (NIV) 52 “Woe to you experts in the law, because you have taken away the key to knowledge. You yourselves have not entered, and you have hindered those who were entering.”
On verse 52: Jesus accuses the experts in the law of being deceived and leading others astray, away from God. What can we learn from this? God cares so much about whether we are leading the people in our care toward Him or away from Him.
Luke 11:53-54 (NIV) 53 When Jesus left there, the Pharisees and the teachers of the law began to oppose him fiercely and to besiege him with questions, 54 waiting to catch him in something he might say.
On verses 53-54: If the Pharisees and teachers of the law had soft hearts, they would eventually repent in response to Jesus’ harsh words. However, the Pharisees’ hearts were hardened and thus rather than humbling themselves and repenting, they looked for more ways to attack and trap Jesus. May we respond to Jesus’ discipline with humility and repentance, rather than pride and defensiveness.
Heavenly Father, please forgive me for times when like a Pharisee I have focused more on how I look in front of others than on how my heart looks before You, for times when I focus on only one aspect of worshiping You while forgetting other important parts to it, when I’ve fallen for the spirit of religion and place my hope in my own effort, morality and performance instead of Your mercy and grace. Whenever You discipline me, please help me to respond with humility and a teachable heart. In Jesus’ name, AMEN!