Bible Study from Calvary Chapel Newberg
with Tom Fuller
The Problem with Humanity
We are enamored with superheroes. Our culture today has many superheroes, some real, and some imagined. In the sports world you have Peyton Manning (football), Lebron James (basketball), Shea Webber (Hockey), Mike Trout (Baseball) and many many others. Then there are the comic book superheroes that command respect at the box office. Superman, Batman, the Flash, Captain America, Spiderman, Super Girl—and the list goes on. We love it even more when our superheroes battle each other. I noticed that the opening weekend of Batman versus Superman broke several box office records. Our superheroes, or the actors that portray them, are rich, powerful, and respected. Many a boy has spent hours on the basketball court wanting to grow up to be the next Michael Jordan.
In the days that Jesus Christ walked the earth, the Pharisees were the superheroes of the Jewish nation. If they’d had trading cards, comic books, or movies—the Pharisees would be featured in them. They were successful, holy, politically powerful, socially powerful, economically powerful, well-connected, and revered. Many a boy wanted to grow up to be just like them.
Most of our superheroes, especially the fictional ones, have a vulnerability—a fatal flaw. For Superman, it’s Kryptonite, for Spiderman—electricity, the Flash, apparently, has problems if he runs too fast. Though they didn’t know it, and certainly didn’t admit it, the Pharisees (and the Scribes, experts in what it meant to follow the Law of Moses) also had a fatal flaw. That fatal flaw was an unbridled worship of themselves, and in an encounter with one particular Pharisee, Jesus unmasks this flaw, and in the process reveals that same fatal flaw in us all.
37 – 40
By this time the Pharisees were pretty much trying to find a way to discredit Jesus. I don’t think this man was curious about the Lord or the gospel in any way. Nevertheless, he invites Jesus to dinner and watches Him carefully. Jesus does not, like the Pharisee, wash his hands before eating. This had nothing to do with cleanliness. No one in that day knew what germs were or how to clean them. It was a ceremony described like this:
“The procedure is to pour water out from a cup or glass first twice over the right hand and then twice over the left hand–care being taken that the unwashed hands do not touch the water used for the washing. The hands are then dried with a towel before partaking of the meal. A benediction is recited over the washing of the hands: ‘Blessed art Thou, O Lord our God, King of the universe, who has sanctified us with Thy commandments and has commanded us concerning the washing of the hands.’”
The hand-washing was not proscribed in the Torah but was added by the Pharisees as one of the many oral traditions that would help someone be more holy. It originated because money that could be give at the Temple might have come into contact with something unclean, then handled by the hands of a Jew.
So the Pharisee is “amazed” which is a word meaning: “astonished out of one’s senses”. He didn’t have to say anything. He was dumbstruck. Jesus could read the reaction on his face, no doubt. This was just the opening Jesus was looking for to launch into what we’ll see is one general rebuke, followed by three specific rebukes in the form of “woes”.
Jesus’ rebuke basically says that the Pharisees concentrated on looking good, not being good. It follows along with His words in the Sermon on the Mount where He spoke of inward attitudes and thoughts being just as revealing of character as outward acts. Hating someone is the root attitude that under the right circumstances and motivation, leads to murder—so they are really one and the same.
We can’t be prosecuted for our thoughts in this world, but you can in God’s kingdom because as Jesus said:
Luke 6:43 “A good tree doesn’t produce bad fruit; on the other hand, a bad tree doesn’t produce good fruit. 44 For each tree is known by its own fruit. Figs aren’t gathered from thornbushes, or grapes picked from a bramble bush. 45 A good man produces good out of the good storeroom of his heart. An evil man produces evil out of the evil storeroom, for his mouth speaks from the overflow of the heart.”
So why is Jesus picking a fight with the Pharisees and scribes? You see, these religious leaders had a stranglehold on the people. They put up incredible barriers to approaching God, yet they themselves didn’t follow them or found ways around their own rules. Jesus needed to point out that hypocrisy – and He is putting them on notice. The one superhero who does not have a fatal flaw is Jesus. There’s a new sheriff on the scene and this town’s not big enough for the both of them!
41 – 42
Jesus isn’t saying that if you give to the poor you earn righteousness. He’s saying that the character of someone who is truly good is truly compassionate, like God, to those in need. It’s a result, not a recipe. The Law calls on Jews to tithe (Deut. 14:22-27; 26:12-15). The Pharisees had taken this to the extreme—giving 10% of their spices and counting out the grains to make sure they followed the “letter” of the Law. But they ignored the spirit of the same law.
Here’s what the prophet Micah said about this kind of behavior: Mic. 6:6 “What should I bring before the LORD when I come to bow before God on high? Should I come before Him with burnt offerings, with year-old calves? 7 Would the LORD be pleased with thousands of rams or with ten thousand streams of oil? Should I give my firstborn for my transgression, the child of my body for my own sin? 8 Mankind, He has told you what is good and what it is the LORD requires of you: to act justly, to love faithfulness, and to walk humbly with your God.”
A heart that is after God’s own heart is a giver, but not just to satisfy a requirement, but to satisfy a need, and not in arrogance and pride, but offered in humility and service.
So first we have hypocrisy, now we have pride. They wanted to be seen as more important, when the character of God is to become a servant, not a master.
A Jewish person was made unclean when they came into contact with death so graves were marked. The Pharisees are like unmarked graves because they appear to be clean, but are actually dirty sinners whose teachings and actions move people away from a true honest relationship with God and an understanding of His character into sinful arrogance and pride.
45 – 46
You know how it is when someone is speaking honestly and harshly. You can get offended and apparently this scribe had had enough. At least give him credit for being honest, but it unleashes three more “woes” from Jesus. “You think I’ve been offensive? You ain’t seen nothin’ yet!”
The first woe comes back to hypocrisy. There are a couple of ways to look at this. One is that the makers of the rules exempt themselves from following them and thus show themselves to be hypocrites. The other is that the traditions the scribes and Pharisees created prohibited them from showing compassion to others on the Sabbath (like healing on the Sabbath – Luke 13:10 and following). Yet those that were in real need had no help. So rules were more important than compassion—a common complaint of Jesus to the religious leaders.
47 – 51
Being a prophet in Israel was not a wise career move. The career ladder often ended in death at the hands of the religious leaders. Poor Jeremiah was a good example. He spoke the truth of God but was persecuted and imprisoned and tortured for it. Others were killed like Isaiah; who tradition says was sawn in two. The ancestors of the religious leaders killed the prophets yet they built and honored monuments to these same prophets. But the same spirit lives in them and they will kill the most incredible prophet ever to rise—Jesus, and His messengers.
The last rebuke is the strongest of all. They call themselves “teachers” – which suggests imparting knowledge. But in fact, their ideas and teachings actually keep people from knowledge of Yahweh and coming into relationship with Him. They themselves won’t try to understand the true nature of God and they keep everyone else from it as well. This kind of attitude really got to Jesus. It’s why He overturned the moneychangers’ tables and said they’d turned what was to be a “house of prayer” into a “den of thieves” (Matthew 21:13).
53 – 54
This really became a turning point in the ministry of Jesus. The religious leaders at first didn’t understand Him and tried to minimize His message and often criticized Him. But now Jesus had made it clear His opinion about them and that causes them to begin actively looking for any way they could trip Him up, accuse Him and arrest Him for something. The encounters that follow are like a series of rounds in a boxing match, where the religious leaders play tag-team – sending in their best players to try to beat up Jesus spiritually, only to emerge from the encounter bloodied and confused themselves.
It’s sad to say, but as humans we have more in common with the Pharisees and Scribes than we’d like to admit.
I see some common themes in Jesus’ accusations—revealing the heart attitude of the religious leaders:
- As long as I look good on the outside, I am good. (vs 39 – 40)
- I don’t want any accountability for my behavior. As long as I obey the rules I should get credit for passing the course. (vs 41 – 42)
- I want it both ways—I want to reject God’s rebuke of sin in my life, but also be seen as honoring God by my “monuments” – those things I do for Him that earn me His favor. (vs 47 – 51)
- I don’t want to be held accountable for how my behavior effects others (vs 52)
These attitudes and behaviors reveal humans’ fatal flaw: arrogant pride. It’s like our Kryptonite. The good news is that Jesus took on our fatal flaw. He exposed Himself to Kryptonite and let it kill Him.
Isaiah: 53:5 “But He was pierced because of our transgressions, crushed because of our iniquities; punishment for our peace was on Him”
But because Jesus was completely free of any real vulnerabilities, the punishment was meted out and the wrath of God satisfied so that: “… we are healed by His wounds.”
What’s the opposite of the behavior of the Pharisees? “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart soul mind and strength and love your neighbor as yourself.” (Matthew 22:38-39). You get that kind of character when you trust in Jesus. Yes, it’s a process, but a wonderful, painful, difficult and yet totally worth it process as God works out the old arrogant pride and through trial and tribulation and discipline and revelation and Spirit infilling, works into us a new character of self-sacrificing, other-centered affection.