|Woe unto You, Scribes and Pharisees (James Tissot)|
Since the beginning of his Gospel, Luke has focused on the importance of walking in faith and not in unbelief. Since the major shift at Luke 9:51 where Jesus leaves his Galilean ministry and turns resolutely toward Jerusalem and His coming Suffering, Death, and Resurrection, Luke’s message of trusting Christ and his warning against unbelief has honed in on the very religious, yet unbelieving Jewish leadership. Luke tells us that walking in faith means taking the message of God’s love and truth to the nations (Sending of the Seventy, Luke 10:1-24), to our hurting neighbors who may be unlike us (Good Samaritan, Luke 10:25-37), and to our own hearts (Mary/Martha, Luke 10:38-42). The secret of that personal relationship with the Lord is found in the intimacy of persistent prayer that yields a complete confidence in God and his love (Luke 11:1-13).
Then in chapter 11, Luke shows us the effects of unbelief in a series of controversies Jesus has with the Jewish leaders climaxing at Luke 11:53-54. When Jesus’ foes accuse him of operating by satanic power, Jesus warns them that any cleansing not finished with the filling of the Holy Spirit will ultimately fail (Luke 11:14-54). Because they have not repented, Jesus warns them of judgment (Luke 11:29-32), saying that only in receiving the Light Himself, Jesus, can anyone have the light. Denying Him (having an evil eye) is itself an admission of being in darkness (Luke 11:33-36). Jesus ends with today’s passage, in which he pronounces six woes on the dead religion of unbelief among Irael’s leaders (Luke 11:37-54).
Key Truth: Luke wrote Luke 11:37-54 to teach believers that dead religion is self-centered, defiling, hates the Word, and its proclamation.
Key Application: Today I want to show you what God’s Word says about the danger of dead religious activity.
Pray and Read: Luke 11:37-54
1. Dead religion is self-centered and defiling (Luke 11:37-44)
2. Dead religion hates the Word and its proclamation (Luke 11:45-54)
Exposition: Note well,
1. DEAD RELIGION IS SELF-CENTERED AND DEFILING (Luke 11:37-44)
a. Jesus’ discussion of light and darkness (Isaiah 9:2; 10:17) flows right into Jesus’ indictment of the secret society of the Pharisees, who are rejecting the message and believe themselves to have the light while others flounder in darkness.
b. Only Luke tells us that Jesus accepted the invitation of a Pharisee to dinner (probably the midday meal). Jesus, apparently deliberately chose not to use the water brought to each guest for handwashing before the meal (cf. Mark 7:1-5). It appears to be a high honor (Luke 7:36), since prominent teachers were invited to lecture at such meals, discoursing on wise topics with others who wanted to show off their education. But they are manipulating him, trying him with honor and meals, to see if they could persuade him.
c. APPLICATION: Beware of those who want to give you something with a hook in it. If someone gives you something which comes with an expectation, beware of manipulation.
d. The Pharisees had developed a ritual of washing before eating (found nowhere in the OT, by the way). It included the amount of water to be used, the kinds of vessels to use to pour, the way the water had to be poured, etc. It all sounds akin to the rules involved in witchcraft. He knows that it is expected because he does it in Luke 7:44 and John 13:4-10, but here he has a lesson to teach. What lesson? That which is welcome refreshment when offered as a courtesy becomes a burden when imposed as an obligation. Every time Jesus did not wash, it cause a stir of astonishment and gave him the opportunity to contrast the care the Pharisees gave to pots, pans, and hands with their lack of care about the care of their hearts. The passage has a tone like Isaiah 1 of rebuke for the nation of Israel for her wickedness and hypocrisy. They clean the outside of the cup (their external show of religious activity), but inside they are full of greed and wickedness.
e. APPLICATION: When you find yourself just trying to make things look good but not making sure your heart is right, that is dead religion. It is not about image. It is about heart.
f. Then Jesus gives his commentary and then three Woes against the Pharisees (cf. Matt 23:23-28).
i. Luke 11:39-41 - He calls them greedy (Luke 11:39), a strong Greek word harpage, which can mean violent greed, robbery, extortion, or plunder. Jesus tells them to give as alms what is inside (give to the poor). Luke is taking advantage of an Aramaic wordplay by Jesus. The Aramaic word for cleanse (Matt 23:26) is similar to “give in charity.”
ii. APPLICATION: When you encounter someone who is only interested in the financial numbers, only concerned about how much things cost, only interested in how much is coming in the offerings, that is a bad sign indicating dead religion.
iii. Luke 11:40 – He calls them foolish! The word translated foolish is aphron, indicating a willful ignorance. This group, also mentioned in Jesus’ scathing denunciation in Matthew 23, is not in error because they cannot see. They can. They are in error because they will not see the light shining in Jesus.
iv. APPLICATION: When someone refuses to listen, refuses to consider other points of view, refuses to be teachable, that is a bad sign indicating dead religion.
v. Luke 11:42 - He says they have their priorities backwards, very careful with things that do not matter but completely neglectful of higher priorities like love and justice (Luke 11:42). They tithed mint and other herbs, things that God’s Word did not require, but supposedly following the command to tithe crops and livestock, but like the Parable of the Good Samaritan, their priorities are completely backwards.
vi. APPLICATION: When you find yourself more interested in the color of the carpet rather than the salvation of the nations, your priorities are out of order. When the order of service is more important to you than orphans starving, your priorities are out of order. When pleasing one person becomes more important than pleasing the Savior, the church’s priorities are out of order. When you cultivate a relationship with Jesus, He realigns your priorities and makes them honor Him.
vii. Luke 11:43 - He calls them arrogant: “you love the most important seats” (Luke 11:43). The Pharisees relished the honor which came from their reputed meticulous observance of the law. Those with superior knowledge were treated especially respectfully in the market.
viii. APPLICATION: When we hear something like, “you need to make sure that Mrs. So-and-so is happy or we cannot do it,” then we have made an idol out of someone rather than worshiping the Lord.
ix. Luke 11:44 - He calls them dead & unclean: without life toward God, like dead men’s graves (Luke 11:40; whitewashed tombs of Matt 23:27), but spreading uncleanness among men (Num 5:2; 19:16). Touching a corpse made a Jew ceremonially unclean. In fact, nothing spread uncleanness as severely as a corpse. Pharisees thought that they would become unclean if even their shadow touched a corpse or grave. An unmarked grave was dangerous, then, because they could accidentally become unclean. This is why inconspicuous tombs were whitewashed each spring to warn others. The Pharisees lacked their whitewash. They were unmarked. Associating with them, Jesus implies, would make you unclean. The Levite and the priest were afraid of contaminating themselves with death with the wounded neighbor on the road, but their actions showed they were contaminated with death (Luke 10:25-37). Jesus’ point is that while they consider themselves pure, they are defiling everyone with whom they come in contact.
x. APPLICATION: Beware of being that person at work who talks all about being a Christian and cheerleads the Christian bandwagon but then badmouths their supervisor and takes home supplies from work.
2. DEAD RELIGION HATES THE WORD AND ITS PROCLAMATION (Luke 11:45-54)
a. Luke 11:45 - (cf. Matt 23:4, 29-36). One of the experts in the law, as quick as his colleague in Luke 10:25-29 to speak up, complains to the Lord. Jesus follows with three more woes connected with their teaching of Scripture.
i. Luke 11:46 - He says they put people in bondage. They lay down rules for others that they do not obey themselves.
ii. Luke 11:47-51 - He says they try to kill God’s Word. The only prophets they honor are dead ones, for whose death they share responsibility (Luke 11:47-51). Building tombs to honor the prophets was an important thing in the first century. Zechariah is the prophet whose death is recorded in 2 Chron 24:20-22. Chronicles is the last book of the Hebrew OT, so when Jesus mentions the blood of Abel (Gen 4:8-10) to Zechariah, he is including all the martyrs of the OT. Zechariah prayed for vengeance (2 Chron 24:22) and Abel’s blood cried out from the ground (Gen 4:10). Jesus’ point is “like father, like son”; corporate sin and guilt continues among the descendants of the wicked unless they repented (Exod 2:5; Deut 23:2-6; 1 Sam 15:2-3; Isaiah 1:4, etc.). His generation would climax the terrible sins of their ancestors, Jesus said, but the rest of the story is found in Heb 12:24.
iii. Luke 11:52 - He says they ignorantly withhold God’s Word. Ignorant themselves, they withhold knowledge from those who want to learn God’s law (Luke 11:52)
b. Luke 11:53-54 – Now with stronger enmity than ever because of His words, they banter him with question after question, hoping to trap Him into saying something that will bring Him to trial or have him silenced.
 Luke 11:14-17:11 is a section of Luke’s Gospel called the Perean Discourses, during a time of ministry in Perea from about September A.D. 28 to April A.D. 29 when he returned to Jerusalem for his last week of ministry. Luke is the only record of these days and teachings with the exception of Matthew 12:22-45 and a few incidents in John 10:22-42; 11:1-45; 11:46-54. Luke records parables and discourses, but not many incidents, possibly because it was winter. The beginning of Jesus’ ministry in Galilee was marked with parables and sermons, too. Thus, Jesus resumes and repeats with more fullness some of the teaching he had given in Galilee.
 Luke takes one nuance of Jesus’ Aramaic wordplay while Matthew adopts another.
 Rue and Matthew’s dill (Matt 23:23) are similar words in Aramaic. Perhaps Luke was recording the story from someone speaking Aramaic.
 David’s tomb is mentioned in Acts 2:29-30.