Luke: Don’t Fake Religion

Sermon by J. Ligon Duncan on July 10, 2011

Luke 20:45-21:4

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The Lord’s Day Morning

July 10, 2011

“Don’t Fake Religion”

Luke 20:45 – Luke 21:4

The Reverend Dr. J. Ligon Duncan III

If you have your Bibles, I’d invite you to turn with me to Luke chapter 20 as we
continue our way together through the gospel of Luke.
Today, we come to the end of Luke 20 and verse 45 and we’ll read through
to Luke 21 verse 4. You’ll see why
in a moment. The last time we were
together in Luke we saw Jesus indicting the theology of the scribes and the
Pharisees. They had challenged Him,
yet again, as to His own theology, with a question.
He had answered their question and then He had questioned them with His
own question which they could not answer, and in so doing, Luke shows us their
deficient theology of the Messiah and their deficient understanding of Scripture
and rebukes them for it. But now, in
the passage we’re going to read at the end of Luke 20, he’s going to show the
way that they’re living falls short of the commands of God in the Scripture and
he’s going to pair that, in the beginning of Luke 21, with a picture of true
piety. The scribes and the
Pharisees, in their pretention and in their hypocrisy, end up being the example
of impiety and this improbable example is held up for us of true piety in a poor
widow who shows up in the court of women and drops into one of those
trumpet-shaped offering containers, two mites, and Jesus holds her up as an
example of how we ought to give to God.

And so in this passage, Jesus is not simply going to address a problem of sin
that existed two thousand years ago and has nothing to do with us today.
He’s going to address a central struggle of our own hearts and lives
because hypocrisy is an ever-present and deadly dangerous sin.
It keeps us from seeing our need and it keeps us from availing ourselves
of the only solution to our need. So
let’s pray before we read God’s Word.

Lord, this is Your Word. It is true,
it is edifying, and it is convicting.
We ask, O Lord, that as we come to hear it read in our ears, that we
would embrace it as the truth of Your own lips.
The Lord Jesus and the Scriptures speak with one tongue, and if we reject
the Scriptures, we reject the words of Jesus to us, so we want to embrace it as
true. We also, O God, want to
acknowledge it as edifying. You
didn’t give this Word to us for us to be entertained hearing interesting stories
of times past. You gave this Word to
build us up, to grow us in grace, to change us from the inside out.
This Word if profitable, so we pray, O Lord, that You would build us up
by Your Word. We also ask, O Lord,
that You would convict and correct us by Your Word, that You would speak Your
Word into our own hearts and lives today and You would cause us to see our own
sin and its seriousness and the solution for it in our Savior.
We ask this in Jesus’ name.

This is the Word of God. Hear it:

“And in the hearing
of all the people He said to His disciples, ‘Beware of the scribes, who like to
walk around in long robes, and love greetings in the marketplaces and the best
seats in the synagogues and the places of honor at feasts, who devour widows’
houses and for a pretense make long prayers.
They will receive the greater condemnation.’

Jesus looked up and
saw the rich putting their gifts into the offering box, and He saw a poor widow
put in two small copper coins. And
He said, ‘Truly, I tell you, this poor widow has put in more than all of them.
For they all contributed out of their abundance, but she out of her
poverty put in all she had to live on.’”

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

True confessions, this passage hits pretty close to home to preachers.
When Jesus starts talking about scribes who like to go around in long
robes and who like to be respectfully greeted in the marketplace, most ministers
that are paying any attention recognize the tug of our own heart.
We like to be called by respectful names — pastor, minister — we like the
seats of honor at feasts. You know,
we oftentimes get to sit at special places at weddings, you know, get a little
extra honor. And I was told by
somebody after the early service that’s because they need us there to keep the
troublemakers from saying bad things at toasts.
I didn’t realize that was our function at rehearsal dinners — we were
grouped with the troublemakers so that they would feel more ashamed to say
certain things in their toasts. But
we are given special places to sit at feasts.
Now Jesus goes on to talk about these scribes devouring widows’ houses
and for a pretense making long prayers, and we don’t know exactly what He means
by the former thing. We know exactly
what He means by the latter, that is, even in their prayers, their purpose in
praying those long prayers is not to be heard by God, but to be thought pious in
the eyes of people who are hearing them.
Ministers know that tug.

But you know, Jesus’ words of rebuke and indictment in this passage aren’t just
for preachers. Oh yes, they are for
us, but they’re for all of us. But
you see, what He’s getting at fundamentally is the problem of hypocrisy.
That’s very, very clear in the very last thing He said, isn’t it?
“For a pretense they make long prayers.”
They’re more concerned about what people think about them than they are
about the reality of who they are.
They want to look religious. They’re
ready to fake religion in order to enhance their reputation, and perhaps, as
this passage suggests in verse 47, even to enhance their wallets.
But this is not just a problem for the professional scribes of two
thousand years ago or for the professional clergy of today.
It’s a problem for all of us.
Hypocrisy is a universal problem and Jesus has something to say about it in this
passage. The first thing I want you
to see is the indictment that He gives of it, the second thing I want you to see
is His identification of the nature of this sin, and the third thing I want you
to see is the only escape from this.

The Indictment: Hypocrisy

First let’s look at Jesus’ indictment.
Isn’t it fascinating what Jesus does here?
When Jesus turns His attention to the scribes, He uncorks on them in this
passage. His fury is apparent and
His indictment is emphatic. Jesus
can be so patient with prostitutes; He can be so gentle with tax collectors; He
can even be forbearing with a persecutor of the church like Saul or He can be
kind and merciful and gracious to a thief on a cross, but when He is in the
presence of hypocrites, we see His full fury and the indictment is powerful
here. Listen to the stinging words.
“You like to walk around in long robes.
You love greetings in the marketplaces.
You love the best seats in the synagogues and places of honor at feasts
while you devour widows’ houses and you make for a pretense long prayers.
You will receive the greater condemnation.”
Jesus is saying quite, quite clearly here, there is a special place in
hell for hypocrites. It is a
stinging indictment. And you have to
ask yourself the question, “Why? Why
is Jesus so emphatic?” Because
hypocrisy is a sin that keeps you from admitting who you are and what you need
and applying to the One who is the only remedy for your soul’s sickness.
Hypocrisy is a sin that makes you think that you’ve got yourself covered
when you’re not, and it keeps you from availing yourself of the plentiful grace
which is in Christ Jesus. And so
Jesus, while He deals gently with sinners who realize that they’re sinners, when
He comes into contact with sinners who are trying to pretend that they’re not
sinners, He addresses them full-force because they have a disease that cuts them
off from full self-awareness and which cuts them off from the only remedy for
their sin. And so we see this
stinging indictment. They will
receive the greater condemnation.

Identifying the Nature OF THE Sin of Hypocrisy

And that indictment reminds us of the identification of this sin.
What’s going on in hypocrisy?
In hypocrisy, we are attempting to justify ourselves, to make ourselves look
righteous to cover up our sin by keeping them hidden from the eyes of others who
might see them and reject us if they saw them.
We are attempting to look better than we are, we are attempting to look
religious, while on the inside God is not the first and last, we are not ever
only and all for Him, we are living for ourselves.
We want to look like we’re living for God, while in fact, we’re living
for ourselves. You know, the
hypocrite fears that if we knew what he was like, we would reject him, and so he
comes up with a solution — I will cover my sin and pretend to be who I am not so
that I will not only not be rejected, I will be respected, I’ll be esteemed,
I’ll be counted as a pious person.
And that is a very, very dangerous game.
But we’re all tempted to it because there are flashes of
self-consciousness when we realize how ugly and black our hearts can be and we
want to cover that up. We know it
needs to be covered but we seek to cover it ourselves by hiding and pretending.

The Only Escape from Hypocrisy

And Jesus approaches this with a fury.
Why? For at least two
reasons. One is, and this is the
third thing I want you to see about the escape — one of the reasons why He
approaches this with such a fury is it doesn’t work.
Let’s put aside what this does in relation to God for a moment and just
think about how it doesn’t work with our fellow human beings.
Have you ever noticed that there are people with huge holes in their
lives and with great sin and they will attempt to hide those sins by being
unusually strident and judgment about small things?
They will be able to rain down judgment and condemnation on minutia while
ignoring huge, gaping holes in their own lives – great sins that they don’t
realize they’re not effectively hiding from anybody who’s looking very closely
at all. They may feel like they’re
covering up effectively, but they show us with their shriveled souls and their
harsh judgments about small things, the big void in their lives.
The covering up doesn’t work!

But that’s not the worst part of it.
You see, the worst part of it is that covering up doesn’t work with God because
He sees everything. You know, in
this passage, Jesus — and it’s quite remarkable, isn’t it?
Because He looks up and He’s watching people giving their tithes at the
temple and He’s watching the rich give some very impressive gifts to the temple
and He notices a poor widow giving two mites.
Now do you know how much money that is, my friends?
If you took a penny and you cut it into four pieces, you gave away three
of the four pieces and you retained one, that’s how much those two mites are
worth. Jesus notices it.
Now for believers, that ought to be incredibly encouraging and it
shouldn’t surprise us at all because Jesus says that if you give a cup of water
in His name He will not forget it.
The eyes of the Lord are looking to and fro upon the earth and He does not miss
a thing that His children do. And
Jesus sees that widow and He holds her up for us as an example.
“Here’s a woman who was ever, only, and all for My Father.”
Look at her. She’s giving
everything she has. It’s worth a
quarter of a cent. That’s the kind
of person who loves the Lord. That’s
an example of real piety. That’s an
example of a person who’s not about pretense.
They’re just worshiping the Lord with all that they are and all that they
have. There’s true piety and Jesus
sees it.

That ought to be very encouraging to the believer, but to the hypocrite that
should be very discouraging, because if Jesus can take the time to see a woman
giving a quarter of a cent to God in the temple, there is no sin in your life
and in your heart that He does not see.
And so all of your covering of that sin to others, all your pretending
around others, all your hypocrisy is utterly vain with God.
He knows what you’re like.
And even worse, your thinking that you’ve got it covered keeps you from going to
the only One who can cover it. Did
you hear Billy read about the great High Priest who bore our shame and who for
His piety He was heard by God? He
bore the shame, our shame, but He Himself, He Himself needed no covering because
He was perfect. And He is the only
one who can cover you, and if you try to cover yourself and if you think you’ve
got yourself covered, you’ve cut yourself off from the only One who can cover

You know, the hypocrite thinks, “If I can just keep my sin from being known,
I’ll be alright.” And the hypocrite
is listening to words being whispered in his ear that goes something like this —
“Don’t let it be known. Don’t let it
be known because if it is known, you will be rejected.”
But the Savior is saying, “I already know what is in you.
Come to Me, all you who are weary of playing that game and are heavy
laden and I will give you rest.” The
Savior knows what’s in you. He knew
what was in Peter and He loved Peter.
He knew what was in Saul and He loved him.
He knew what was in Abraham and He loved him.
He’s the lover of our souls.
It will not be His lack of love that will keep Him from us, it will only be our
feeble attempts at covering our own sin and our own self-justification that keep
us from Him. You see why Jesus is so
furious about hypocrisy? Yes,
hypocrisy amongst leaders breeds hypocrisy amongst believers, but deeper than
that, this is a sin that cuts you off from the fountain of God’s mercy.

You see why I say that it’s not just preachers that are convicted by this
passage today. It’s all of us,
because we so care about our reputation.
We so care about looking good in front of others, but my friends, if we
do not reckon with what we are and what we have done, if we do not simply go to
Him and say, “Just as I am without one plea, but Thou my God hast died for me.
Nothing in me that pleads for mercy; there’s only something in Him.
Unless we do them, we can never get the covering we need.
The Savior will give us that covering.
We have to stop playing games.
We have to stop faking religion.
We have to recognize who we are, we have to repent of that sin, we have
to trust in Him for the covering that only He can give, the only covering that
works. And that’s what this passage
is about today. The question for you
and me is — Have we really seen ourselves?
Have we admitted that to ourselves or are we working on a plan where we
just try to look good enough to one another and to think that will suffice?
Jesus is saying, “All of that will melt on the last day.
The only covering that will remain is that which has been provided in My
body and blood.”

Let’s pray.

O Lord, the very act of coming to this Table is meant to be a full admission of
our need and of our undeserving and our unworthiness and the embrace of the rich
and more than sufficient bountiful supply of Your mercy in Your Son.
The Table speaks of His worthiness.
The Table speaks of His mercy, His grace, His forgiveness.
Lord, help us to reckon today with our own hearts and lives to stop
playing at religion, stop trying to cover ourselves, to own our sin, to learn to
hate it rather than just hide it, and to see the beauty of our Savior and His
kindness in accepting us. Lord, do
these things in our hearts and lives today.
We pray in Jesus’ name.

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