Certainty In Uncertain Times: Luke 11:45-54 – Learning And Living By The Word Of God

Grace For The Journey

We make our way through the Book of Luke paragraph by paragraph and verse by verse.  On Wednesday we studied Luke chapter 11 verses 37-44.  We learned that a certain Pharisee had invited Jesus to lunch during which time Jesus pronounced three “woes” or judgments upon the hypocritical ways of the Pharisees.  In these three “woes” in verses 42, 43, and 44 Jesus is holding up a mirror before the Pharisees that they might see their hypocrisy and that they might understand that it is what is inside a person that counts.After hearing these three “woes,” one of the lawyers in the group – and a lawyer was a teacher of the Pharisees; said, “Teacher, by saying these things You reproach us also.” Jesus takes this opportunity to pronounce three more “woes” upon the religious leaders.   We see these three in the passage before us this morning: verse 46, “Woe to you lawyers,” then again in verse 47, “Woe to you,” and one more time in verse 52, “Woe to you lawyers.”  Their condemnation is very similar. 

These three “woes” or judgments in this passage are directed at religious teachers of the Word, teachers who, by the way they use of the Word, lead others away from God.  Their condemnation is reported with alarming precision: Our Lord says in verse 52, “Woe to you lawyers!  For you have taken away the key of knowledge.  You did not enter in yourselves,” – and this is a reference to their entering into the Kingdom of God; salvation – “you did not enter in yourselves and those who were entering in you hindered.”  In essence Jesus says, “Because you have mishandled the message – the Word of God – the key of knowledge – not only will you face the judgment of eternal separation, but you will have led astray a number of others, too.”

It is a striking verse, isn’t it?  Preachers can kill you.  Bible teachers can kill you.  And their murder weapon is not a club or a gun or a sword, but their murder weapon is the way they mishandle the Word of God.  This passage calls for our serious consideration of how we teach, how we treat, how we hear, read, and obey the Word of God. As we go through this passage of Scripture and identify three actions about the Word of God. 

First . . .

1) We Must Teach The Word Accurately – Verses 45-46.

Remember that there are two groups of people in the greater context of this passage: the Pharisees and the teachers of the Pharisees.  The word “Pharisee” means “separated one” and these were the very religious people who separated themselves from the world in hopes to be closer to God.  In point of fact, however, many of them because of their religiosity and hypocrisy had separated themselves from God.  That was the Pharisee upon whom Jesus pronounced three “woes” in the preceding verses.   In today’s passage, Jesus now pronounces three “woes” upon the teachers of the Pharisees.  This is the meaning behind the word “lawyers” there in verse 45.  These were not lawyers in the contemporary sense that we think of a lawyer today, but rather a scribe of the Pharisee, an expert in the Old Testament Law; a teacher who may himself be a Pharisee, but was chiefly responsible for the interpretation of Old Testament Mosaic Law and the teaching of it.

Jesus condemns these lawyers.  He says to them in verse 46, “Woe to you!”  The word “woe” is understood in the sense of coming judgment.  It is a reference to the certain future judgment of God upon these teachers.  What is the reason for this woe?  Jesus explains in verse 46, “For you load men with burdens hard to bear, and you yourselves do not touch the burdens with one of your fingers.”  Like a Boy Scout going on a hiking trip; everybody puts their stuff in his backpack.  They just keep piling in more stuff, pressing it down into the pack on his shoulders, piling it in, pushing and pushing down upon his pack until the boy feels he is going to collapse underneath the weight.  That is how Jesus says these lawyers – these teachers of the law – were treating the common, everyday hearer of the Word.  He says, “You load men down with burdens hard to be and you don’t seem to mind at all that they are collapsing under the weight.”

Jesus is addressing the traditions that these teachers have added to the Word of God.   He is talking about the some 6,000 plus laws that the scribes had added to the Law of God, so numerous and so burdensome that it was impossible for anyone to keep them, but rather people were collapsing under the weight of them.  Now in fairness to the Pharisees and the scribes, they had added further laws to the Old Testament Law as a means to protect it and honor it, but they became blind to the fact that their additions to the Law had made following God a burden no one could bear.  Their initial motive was good, like the man who reads the bottle of medicine and it says to take 1 or 2.  Men, if it says to take 1 or 2 how many are we going to take?  3!  Because if one or two is good, then three must be even better.  But doing so often leads to harm.

The Jews had these oral traditions, these numerous spoken laws that they had added to the Old Testament Law.  The Mishnah, the sort of “Jewish Rule Book” of the Pharisees, is a record of the oral traditions of Rabbinic Judaism.  The Mishnah records, for example, the requirement of ritual hand washing before meals that got this whole discussing with Jesus going.  This was a ritual cleansing that had to be perfect in order to be effective: “The hands are susceptible to uncleanness, and they are rendered clean [by the pouring over them of water] up to the wrist.  Thus, if a man had poured the first water up to the wrist and the second water beyond the wrist, and the water flowed back to the hand, the hand becomes clean; but if he poured both the first water and the second beyond the wrist, and the water flowed back to the hand, the hand remains unclean.  If he poured the first water over the one hand alone (are you following this?!) and then bethought himself and poured the second water of the one hand, his one hand [alone] is clean.  If he had poured the water over the one hand and rubbed it on the other, it becomes unclean; but if he rubbed it on his head or on the wall [to dry it] it remains clean.”  (Yadaim 2.3)

Where do you read that in the Bible?  Nowhere.  It was an addition to the Law, just one of six thousand man-made laws that became like barnacles encrusting the Old Testament Law into a weight no one could shoulder.  we must take care to teach the Bible accurately, plainly, and straightforwardly.  We are of help to no one when we impose upon the Bible legalistic obligations or fanciful interpretations that take us away from the main point of the passage.

Modern preachers, teachers, and writers are no different that the scribes of the Pharisees when the Bible is made to be something that no one could understand were it not for this gifted speaker or this latest book.  There is no secret code in the Bible that must be unlocked. 

The Bible is God’s revelation. 

He has revealed His Word to us

That we might learn it and live it.

While biblical studies are extremely helpful and a grasp of the original languages is an added benefit, the beauty of the Word of God is such that the Holy Spirit enables the unlearned and the child to understand it when read in a plain, straightforward manner. 

Always remember when reading the Bible

That the plain things are the main things

And the main things are the plain things.

We must teach the Word accurately. 

Number two:

2) We Must Respond To The Word Favorably – Verses 47-51.

Look at the next “woe” directed at these scribes of the Pharisees in verses 47-48, “Woe to you!  For you build the tombs of the prophets, and your fathers killed them.  In fact, you bear witness that you approve the deeds of your fathers; for they indeed killed them, and you build their tombs.”  Jesus says that the forefathers of these scribes and Pharisees were guilty of killing many of the Old Testament prophets.  Rather than heeding their Word, they killed them.  Jesus says to these lawyers of His day, “You share in their guilt.  You build tombs and monuments to the prophets of old as if you cared to honor their memory, but in reality you are just as guilty as your forefathers for killing them.  Your fathers did not respond favorably to the message of God’s prophets and neither do you.”

Jesus continues to say in verses 49-51 says, “Therefore the wisdom of God also said,” or, “God in expressing His wisdom said,” ‘I will send them prophets and apostles, and some of them they will kill 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 to the blood of Zechariah who perished between the altar and the temple.  Yes, I say to you, it shall be required of this generation.”

God is saying, “Just like your forefathers, I am sending you prophets and apostles and you will kill and persecute them.”  And they do: John the Baptist is persecuted and killed, the early church leaders and apostles are persecuted and killed.  Most importantly, the Lord Jesus Christ Himself is persecuted and killed.  Because of this, God says, “Their blood will be upon you.  Your hands are stained with their blood and you will give an account of this on Judgment Day.”  In fact, Jesus says that the blood of all the prophets will be upon these teachers of the Law.  He speaks of all prophets in general, from Abel to Zechariah, all the prophets of the Old Testament who were killed.   This is a general and chronological way of referring to the entire Old Testament.  Abel was the first prophet killed in the Hebrew Bible (Genesis 4) and Zechariah the last prophet killed in the Hebrew Bible (2 Chronicles 24).  A related point here is our Lord’s referring to the Old Testament as that which happened from the first book of the Bible to the last book of the Bible.  We have here Jesus Christ’s acceptance of the entirety of the Old Testament as the authoritative Word of God.  He embraces the entire sweep of Old Testament history as a matter of factual, historical record.  Our view of the authenticity of the Old Testament should be no less than the view of our Lord’s.

Jesus tells these hypocritical teachers that a judgment day is coming.  That there is a judgment should be encouraging to those of us who are followers of Christ.  We need not fear the judgment.  All our sin is paid for and atoned for in Christ.  Our sin is taken care of in Christ Jesus.  We do not fear the coming judgment.  We stand forgiven, clothed not in our own righteousness, but the righteousness of another, our Lord Jesus.  The fact that there is a judgment encourages Christians to know that God will deal with the wicked.  For a little while it may seem that they have gained the upper hand.  We struggle to understand why it seems the ungodly prosper when the people of God are persecuted.  We are beaten down, overlooked, pushed away, and passed over, but a day of reckoning will come.  One day all will be made clear, a day when, in the words of JC Ryle, “the tangled maze of God’s providence shall be unraveled” and “every tear that the wicked have caused the godly shall be reckoned for.”  There is a coming judgment.

We must respond to the Word favorably.  The teachers of the Law and their forefathers responded to God’s message by killing God’s messengers.  Here was their hypocrisy!   In building tombs and monuments . . .

They honored the memory of the prophets

But not the message of the prophets.

What of our responding to the Word?  Do we respond favorably or would Jesus Christ lump us together with other religious people worthy of condemnation?  Do we even delight in hearing the Word?  We have far more of God’s Word than the scribes and Pharisees in Jesus’ day.  We have some 66 books of the Bible and preaching and teaching in the local church and Bible teaching on the radio.  Do we even read it?  How do we respond to it – favorably or unfavorably?  The Word does not always address us in comforting ways.  Sometimes the Word convicts us and condemns us.  It points out our hypocrisy and prideful self-sufficiency.  What will we do?  Kill the messenger either literally as did the forefathers of the scribes, or symbolically by slandering those who stand in modern pulpits today with the courage to proclaim, “Thus says the Lord God?”   We must teach the Word accurately.  We must respond to the Word favorably. 

Thirdly . . .

3) We Must Handle The Word Reverently – Verses 52-54.

Verse 52 says, “Woe to you lawyers!  For you have taken away the key of knowledge.  You did not enter in yourselves, and those who were entering in you have hindered.”  What tremendous power the power of our influence.  How are we handling the Word?   Here were these lawyers, these scribes and teachers of the Pharisees.  They had the key to knowledge, but they were throwing the key away.  They had power to help people come to know God, but they obscured the plain teachings of the Word with their added traditions and goofy interpretations.

And to what extent?  To the extent that it kept people from entering into the Kingdom of God.  The misuse of the Word of God kept people from salvation.  They were like blind people leading blind people.  They themselves were not entering into the kingdom and so they hindered others from entering also.  After Jesus says this, the scribes and Pharisees begin to assail Him and confrontation continues.

We must handle the Word reverently.  The Word has the power to save souls from hell and to grant them heaven.  Imagine mishandling the Word so that we actually keep people from entering into heaven!  This again is why I place such an emphasis upon careful exposition of the Word.  If you are seeking bells and whistles and sugars and sweets added to the Word, you will not find that here at our church.  I believe the plain things are the main things and the main things are the plain things.  I want only to unleash the Word and let it speak power into our people’s lives.

I close with these comments of Kent Hughes regarding our handling the Word reverently.  Kent Hughes is pastor emeritus of College Church in Wheaton, Illinois.  He says, “We have all had the experience of hearing a text read and waiting in anticipation for its exposition, only to have the preacher depart from it never to return.  Preaching is not exposition if it views the text through the lens of a personal agenda – say, a patriotic lens or a therapeutic lens or a social lens – so that one’s sermons, regardless of text, are characterized by, for example, political chauvinism or repeated emphasis on wellness or a narrowly defined social issue.  We must free the Word from our scribal accretions, be they every so evangelical, and let God’s Word say what it says.” 

I share with him this aspiration.  If there is one goal I would like to reach through long years of ministry; it is to build a congregation who know when they hear the Word preached and who know when they do not hear it preached – people who are discerning.  I would like to leave behind a legacy of people who read many books but who are people of one Book.  If that happens, the future will be very bright.

This is God’s Word …

This is Grace for your Journey …

Rest and Rejoice in this eternal truth!

Pastor Terry

Ephesians 4:7 – “But to each one of us grace has been given as Christ apportioned it.”

Hebrews 4:16 – “Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.”

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