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A Very Awkward Dinner Conversation

Series: Luke

Sermon by J. Ligon Duncan on Jul 11, 2010

Luke 11:37-54

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The Lord's Day Morning

July 11, 2010

Communion Sunday

Luke 11:37-54

“A Very Awkward Dinner Conversation”

Dr. J. Ligon Duncan III

As we continue to prepare for worship today, as you will have already noticed, we will be worshipping in word and sacrament as we come to the Lord's Table. The Lord's Table is for all those who trust in the Lord Jesus Christ, who have professed Him and joined themselves to His body, the Church. And we’ll say more of that later as we prepare to come to the Lord's Table, but we should be preparing our hearts even now. Let me invite you to take your hymnals in hand and turn with me to number 76. Our opening song of praise is actually a psalm based in part on Psalm 103. It's number 76, “Praise My Soul the King of Heaven.” And you may want to use those words as we prepare for worship.

I've got a thought for you as you prepare your hearts for worship today: Christians are to be broken and triumphant.

Hosea 6:1 “He has torn us, that he may heal us; he has struck us down, and he will bind us up” and the searching question is: “Are Christians to be broken or triumphant?”

And the answer:

“Both. But–let's be clear what we mean.

“Are Christians to be broken? If by broken we mean downcast, long-faced, perpetually discouraged, hand-wringing, abject, ever grieving over sins–no. If by broken we mean contrite, low before the Lord, poignantly aware of personal weakness, self-divesting, able to laugh at ourselves, of sober judgment, sensitive to the depths of sin within us–yes.

“Are Christians to be triumphant? If by triumphant we mean self-assured, superficial, obtuse to personal weakness, beyond correction, self-confident, quick to diagnose others’ weaknesses and our strengths, showy, triumphalistic–no. If by triumphant we mean confident of God's unconquerable purposes in the world through faltering disciples, bold with a boldness that accords with the outrageous promises of the Bible, quietly abandoning ourselves to God in light of Christ's irrepressible victory, relentless in reminding the enemy of Christ's emptying of the power of Satan's accusations, risk-taking fueled not by reputation-seeking but God-fixated faith–yes.

“Brokenness without triumph is Eeyore-ish gloom that emphasizes the fall to the neglect of redemption, crucifixion to the neglect of resurrection. It is personally under-realized eschatology.

“Triumph without brokenness is Buzz Lightyear-ish naïveté that emphasizes redemption to the neglect of the fall, resurrection to the neglect of crucifixion. It is personally over-realized eschatology.

“The gospel gives us the only resource to look our brokenness squarely in the face, downplaying nothing, overlaid with–not in competition with–unspeakable victory. Both together.

“Jonathan Edwards understood this deeply. “All gracious affections, that are a sweet odor to Christ,” he wrote in Religious Affections, “are brokenhearted affections.” Yet Edwards had earlier written in the same book of the supreme value of “delight and joy in God, a sweet and melting gratitude to God for His great goodness, a holy exultation and triumph of soul in the favor, sufficiency and faithfulness of God.”

“In the gospel are we liberated to experience simultaneously fall and redemption, crucifixion and resurrection, brokenness and triumph. Jesus tells us to take up our cross daily (Matt. 16:24) while Paul tells us we have been raised and are seated in heaven (Eph. 2:6; Col. 3:1). How can both be true? Because the only person who was ever in Himself triumphant-without-brokenness switched places with those who are only in themselves broken-without-triumph so that now the greatest triumph–restored sonship to God–is freely ours, even as brokenness remains. As any seasoned saint will attest, the strange way God brings us to treasure this triumph is through, not by circumventing, present brokenness. But brokenness is never an end, only a means. There is no brokenness in the first two chapters of the Bible and none in the final two chapters.”

Let's prepare to worship together.

Praise the Lord! I will give thanks to the Lord with my whole heart in the company of the upright, in the congregation, for great are the works of the Lord. They are studied by all who delight in them. Let us worship God!

Amen. If you have your Bibles I'd invite you to turn with me to Luke 11 as we continue our way through Luke's gospel. Luke 11:37-54 contains the outline of a very awkward dinner conversation. Jesus has been invited into the home of a Pharisee, a respected leader. For us, the very word Pharisee tends to churn up in us a condescending contempt. That word would not have evoked that kind of a response in Jesus’ day. People in Jesus’ day would have revered the Pharisees. They were religious leaders, lay leaders of synagogues throughout the land who were calling Jewish people back to the Bible, to live by the Book, to not cave in to the cultural corruption of the occupying Romans the way the Sadducees were caving in at every turn and giving cultural ground. And so the people revered the Pharisees as among the holiest of all those in Israel.

And the lawyers in this passage, who are not lawyers in the sense of attorneys practicing law for their vocation, they are law experts — they are scribes in one place called in this passage — that is, people who were specifically devoted to the recording and teaching of the law. They were not identical to the Pharisees but they were associated with the Pharisees and part of what we might call the conservative party in Judaism in Jesus’ day. These people were highly thought of.

Think in your own mind of some of the religious teachers today who have meant the most to you. I won't name names, but all of us have names of spiritual teachers that we have greatly benefitted from over the course of our Christian lives, some of whom have national and international reputations, some of whom are just faithful pastors and shepherds and teachers in local congregations here and there, but in our mind when we hear their name it immediately evokes respect — respect for their integrity, their character, their authority. That's how people thought of the Pharisees.

Now Jesus, in this conversation, to say the least, speaks very directly. In fact, if you and I had been there I have no doubt that we would have had our forks and our heads down, sort of moving things around on our plates, uncomfortably clearing our voice and hoping that our eyes did not catch Jesus’ during this conversation. It's a very, very awkward conversation but it is a very, very important conversation for us to listen in on because I believe that we are tempted by the same temptations which the Pharisees and the scribes were tempted. I think our own congregation is not invulnerable to these temptations. And so what Jesus has to say is not just relevant to religious hypocrites that lived two thousand years ago. It's relevant to us — very timely.

Let's pray and ask God's blessing on the reading of this, His holy Word.

Lord, this is Your Word but our hearts are so often so blind to our own sin and weaknesses that we cannot see how directly Your Word is speaking to us. By Your Spirit, make that not be so today. Help us see our sins, not others’, not the Pharisees, not the scribes, not other people in other churches and other denominations and other places, help us to see our sins today and the only remedy that is found for them in Jesus Christ. Exalt the Savior in our eyes. Exhort us as sinners. And give us ears to hear and believe Your wonderful truth. We ask this in Jesus' name. Amen.

This is the Word of God. Hear it:

“While Jesus was speaking, a Pharisee asked Him to dine with him, so He went in and reclined at table. The Pharisee was astonished to see that He (that's Jesus) did not first wash before dinner. And the Lord said to him, ‘Now you Pharisees cleanse the outside of the cup and of the dish, but inside you are full of greed and wickedness. You fools! Did not He who made the outside make the inside also? But give as alms those things that are within, and behold, everything is clean for you.

But woe to you Pharisees! For you tithe mint and rue and every herb, and neglect justice and the love of God. These you ought to have done, without neglecting the others. Woe to you Pharisees! For you love the best seat in the synagogues and greetings in the marketplaces. Woe to you! For you are like unmarked graves, and people walk over them without knowing it.’

One of the lawyers answered him, ‘Teacher, in saying these things you insult us also.’ And He said, ‘Woe to you lawyers also! For you load people with burdens hard to bear, and you yourselves do not touch the burdens with one of your fingers. Woe to you! For you build the tombs of the prophets whom your fathers killed. So you are witnesses and you consent to the deeds of your fathers, for they killed them, and you build their tombs. Therefore also the Wisdom of God said, ‘I will send them prophets and apostles, some of whom they will kill and persecute,’ so that the blood of all the prophets, shed from the foundation of the world, may be charged against this generation, from the blood of Abel to the blood of Zechariah, who perished between the altar and the sanctuary. Yes, I tell you, it will be required of this generation. Woe to you lawyers! For you have taken away the key of knowledge. You did not enter yourselves, and you hindered those who were entering.’

As He went away from there, the scribes and the Pharisees began to press Him hard and to provoke Him to speak about many things, lying in wait for Him, to catch Him in something He might say.”

Amen. And thus ends this reading of God's holy, inspired, and inerrant Word. May He write its eternal truth upon all our hearts.

So what do you think that Jesus might say if He came to dinner at your house? I mean this is fairly bracing conversation. This Pharisee, a respected religious leader in his town, has invited other respected religious leaders in his town and Jesus and perhaps His disciples as well to come and sup with him on a rather formal occasion. And it appears that Jesus has hardly entered into the meal when a dispute arises. And how do I put this — Jesus uncorks. The Pharisee notices that when Jesus enters that He does not engage in the ritual washing or cleansing which was standard practice for the Pharisees who were considered to be those who cared most about keeping God's law, who cared most about observing the ceremonial law of what we call the Old Testament, their Hebrew Bible. And he criticizes Jesus. He's astonished that Jesus would not participate in this ritual cleansing. He considers it to be an act which indicates a lack of complete respect for God's Word and for the pursuit of holiness, and he's baffled that Jesus would not do this and he draws attention to it. And Jesus responds very emphatically to him.

Now understand that this ritual washing was not commanded by the Word of God, not even by the ceremonial code of the Old Testament. This was an extension, an application, you might even say an addition that had been developed by the Pharisees extending the ceremonial law as a way of honoring it and upholding it and building a hedge around it that believers might (a) not accidently transgress it and (b) might manifest their adherence to the law in a more obvious way.

But unfortunately, it was an addition to God's Word, and when we add to God's Word, the next thing you know we’ll be taking away from God's Word. And that's exactly what had happened to the Pharisees. They thought they were improving on the Word of God when in fact they were actually undermining the Word of God in their lives. And Jesus makes that clear. And Jesus speaks very directly to them.

Now this is a rich passage but don't miss the main point. The main thing that Jesus says to the Pharisees and to the lawyers is that they were hypocrites, that they cared a great deal about external righteousness but their hearts were not marked by real righteousness. Look again at what Jesus says at the very outset. “You Pharisees cleanse the outside of the cup and the dish” verse 39 “but inside you are full of greed and wickedness.” And then look at verse 41 — “Give as alms those things that are within, and behold, everything is clean for you.” This is Jesus’ constant critique of the Pharisees. It is that they cared a lot about looking holy but they really, really didn't show a concern to be holy from the very depths of their hearts. They cared a lot about respectful greetings — “Hello pastor! Hello reverend! Hello father!” - whatever the appropriate religious greeting of the day was, they loved being greeted as holy men. They loved being respected in the synagogues and being given the best seats. They loved being thought of as the most holy people in Israel, but as much as they cared about looking holy, looking religious, looking righteous, they weren't in their hearts. In their hearts they were empty. In fact they were rotting in their hearts.

And so Jesus launches a withering assault against the Pharisees and against the scribes for religious hypocrisy. That is, not surprisingly, they were in a conservative part of a culture that was being over-run by paganism. They were religious Jews in a culture that was over-run by an alien occupying force of pagan, polytheistic Romans and in the context of that culture they cared greatly about retaining the religious traditions of that culture and keeping distinct Israelites from these invading and occupying Romans. But in the process of doing that they actually were fostering a religious externalism that bred hypocrisy. It's not surprising that within their own sub-culture they would have cared greatly about being thought of as holy, but their problem was they really didn't care enough about holiness because holiness is not an external thing, it is something that emanates from the heart, a changed heart.

What did the choir just sing? “Create in me a clean heart. Renew a right spirit within me.” That's an Old Testament prayer and it recognizes that in the Word of God it is the heart that is the wellspring of everything in the Christian life. And if the heart is not right, everything is wrong. And Jesus is indicting the Pharisees and saying, “You care a lot about looking holy. You care a lot about being respected for being religious, but in fact, you’re a hypocrite because you care more about what other people think of you than you do about what God knows about your heart. And so you try and put on appearances, you want to look holy, but in fact you’re hypocrites.”

Now it would be very easy for us to join in throwing stones at the Pharisees and the scribes, but I want to suggest to you my friends that this is not a temptation to which we are immune because most of us want to look like Christians. I mean the fact that we're even here today is indicative of the fact that we want to be thought of, most of us, as Christians. Some of us are willing to come into this place and to be respectful dissenters and to not embrace the title Christian, but most of us that come into this room want to be thought of as Christians. But very often our concern is to look on the outside a way that we are not in fact on the inside. And thus we are tempted to this kind of religious hypocrisy that looks spiritual, looks religious, looks Christian, but in the heart, the heart is really not taken up with God. We are not loving the Lord our God with all our heart and all our soul and all our mind and all our strength and our neighbor as ourselves. In fact in our hearts we love the world as much as the next guy. And so Jesus’ words are very, very relevant for us today and especially relevant as we come to the Lord's Table.

In just a few minutes I'm going to read to you from a section in 1 Corinthians 11. And it's Paul giving to the Corinthians the institution of the Lord's Supper. And what's the problem in Corinth? Well, one of the problems is they want to look like Christians but not act like it. They want to look like Christians and not act like it. And what does Paul say to them? “Beware of partaking of the Lord's body while you are not recognizing the body.” In other words, beware of coming to the Lord's Table when you’re not treating one another the way the Lord said for you to treat one another. Why? Because that's hypocrisy. It's claiming the name of the Lord while not treating one another in the way that the Lord told His people to treat one another. And so this issue of religious hypocrisy is one that is alive and well in our own day, two thousand years after Jesus had this very awkward dinner conversation.

Now we all have it in different ways, but it's important for us this morning, before we even come to the Lord's Table to examine our hearts and ask this — Do we care more about looking religious or looking Christian than we do about having a living relationship with a living God by faith in Jesus Christ? Does our love for God and our trust in Jesus Christ animate our lives above everything else or is the heartbeat of our life found in something else other than God and the Gospel and His Son the Lord Jesus Christ, and we just like to have that as a part of our lives? We have a little box over here where Jesus and the Gospel and the church fit in our lives. We want it to be a part of our lives but it's not the heartbeat of our lives.

If you look at your life and you can say that your heart is not animated fundamentally by love for God because of His grace to you in the Gospel and that there's just a place that you want Jesus and Christianity and the Bible and the church to fit into your life — you want to have it as a little part, you want it to spice up your life a little bit but it's not the animating thing — then you yourself may be vulnerable to the very kind of religious hypocrisy that Jesus is condemning here. Jesus wants servants with whole hearts.

Do you remember the psalm that I quoted to begin the service where the psalmist calls the people of God to worship Him with their whole heart? It's another way of saying exactly what the choir prayed, that He would create in us clean hearts and renew our spirits within us. Jesus wants whole-hearted disciples. He doesn't want some of you, He wants all of what you are.

Let's pray.

Heavenly Father, thank You for this Word. It is a rebuke to me. I recognize too much of myself in these religious leaders that Jesus confronted. It is a rebuke to us and our culture where we care a great deal about appearances, respectable appearances and even Christian or religious appearances. Help us to be a people that deal much more deeply than just the surface and just appearances. Help us to be people who are concerned about reality and not just his appearance, who are concerned about the heart and not just external things. And help us, O God, by grace in response to the glorious Gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ to be so in love with Him that we give Him our whole hearts. This we ask in Jesus' name. Amen.

Now let's prepare to come to the Lord's Table taking our hymnals in hand and turning to number 257. We’ll sing of Jesus’ person and work using “Stricken, Smitten, and Afflicted.”

The Lord's Supper

Paul records for us the words of institution for the Lord's Supper in 1 Corinthians 11 saying:

“I received from the Lord what I also delivered to you, that the Lord Jesus on the night when He was betrayed took bread, and when He had given thanks, He broke it, and said, ‘This is My body which is for you. Do this in remembrance of Me.’ In the same way also He took the cup, after supper, saying, ‘This cup is the new covenant in My blood. Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of Me.’ For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord's death until He comes.

Whoever, therefore, eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty of profaning the body and blood of the Lord. Let a person examine himself, then, and so eat of the bread and drink of the cup. For anyone who eats and drinks without discerning the body eats and drinks judgment on himself. That is why many of you are weak and ill, and some have died. But if we judged ourselves truly, we would not be judged. But when we are judged by the Lord, we are disciplined so that we may not be condemned along with the world.”

Amen. This is God's Word.

The Invitation

I want to invite to the Lord's Table today all those who are resting and trusting in Jesus Christ alone for their salvation as He is offered in the Gospel and who have united themselves by profession of faith in baptism to His body, His Church. This is the way we confess that we are His. We are His blood-bought, grace-saved followers by professing His name and uniting ourselves to His people. All those of you who have done this are welcome to this, His table.

The Prayer of Consecration

Let's look to the Lord in prayer as we consecrate this supper.

O Lord God, we come to Your presence for You are the God of all creation. You are the triune God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, and You have revealed Yourself through the incarnation of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Through His becoming flesh and taking on our sin, being punished, receiving the just desserts that we deserved, receiving the wrath of God that should have been on our sin in our place. And yet at the same time, giving to us His perfection, His righteousness, all that of His that pleased You, the Father, all that for us. We come therefore, this day, to take of the Table and the Supper that You have called us to come to. Father we acknowledge that we are here only because Your Spirit has drawn us. And we ask, Father, that You would take these common elements and cause them to be a means of grace whereby we again remember what Jesus has done for us, where again we remember the reality of His body broken and of His blood shed. We ask these things Father because by faith we come and by faith we trust that Christ died for us. And so we ask that even by faith we may partake of the Lord this day. We ask this in Jesus' name. Amen.

The Apostles’ Creed

The Lord's Supper is for those that believe in the Lord Jesus Christ and so let me ask you — Christian, what do you believe and what are you willing to die for?

I believe in God the Father, Almighty, Maker of Heaven and Earth.

And in Jesus Christ, His only Son, our Lord;
Who was conceived by the Holy Ghost,
Born of the Virgin Mary, suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, dead, and buried;

He descended into hell;
The third day He arose again from the dead;
He ascended into heaven, and sitteth on the right hand of God the Father Almighty;
From thence He shall come to judge the quick and the dead.
I believe in the Holy Ghost; the holy catholic church; the communion of saints;
The forgiveness of sins; the resurrection of the body; and the life everlasting. Amen.

The Ten Commandments

And now having confessed these things, how do we want to live? The Ten Commandments is given not as a way to please God but as a way that those who have been saved by God come and do in gratitude what He wants them to do. So Christian, what is it that you want to do because Christ paid it all for you?

You shall have no other gods before Me.

You shall not make for yourself an idol. You shall not worship them or serve them.

You shall not take the name of the Lord your God in vain.

Remember the Sabbath Day to keep it holy.

Honor your father and your mother.

You shall not murder.

You shall not commit adultery.

You shall not steal.

You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor.

You shall not covet.

The Communion with Our Lord Jesus and His People

“On the night in which He was betrayed, the Lord Jesus, having given thanks to God the Father, took bread and broke it and gave it to His disciples saying, ‘This is My body, broken for you. Do this in remembrance of Me.’

“In the same way after the supper, the Lord Jesus took the cup and gave it to His disciples saying, ‘This cup is the new covenant in My blood which is shed for many for the remission of sins. Drink ye all of it.’”

The Prayer of Thanksgiving

Let us pray.

O Lord God, for Your rich mercy to us and for Your goodness accounted to us through our Savior the Lord Jesus Christ in giving us a visible sign that we could see and touch and smell and taste to remind us of the reality of the death of our Savior, of the reality that He really died on a cross, that His body was broken for us, that His blood was shed that we might have life. We give You thanks for this sign and for this sacrament that has reminded us again of what Jesus has done for us. O Lord God we come and ask that Your Spirit would equip us and enable us to live for Your glory, that You would give to us Your Spirit in such measure Father that we would go forth and that we would bleed and die for one another and that we would bleed and die for the world, but only Father in light of what You have done for us. O Lord God we pray that by this sacrament You might indeed strengthen our faith that we might trust You more and that we might love You even more. These things we pray in Jesus' name and for His sake. Amen.

Before they went out they sang a hymn, so let's turn to 252 and sing together, “When I Survey the Wondrous Cross.”

There is One who can make your heart whole and clean and new. Here is His blessing - Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.

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