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The Marks of a Pharisee (and the Remedy)

Series: Luke

Sermon by J. Ligon Duncan on Jul 18, 2010

Luke 11:37-54

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The Lord's Day Morning

July 18, 2010

Luke 11:37-54

“The Marks of a Pharisee (and the Remedy)”

Dr. J. Ligon Duncan III

If you have your Bibles I'd invite you to turn with me to Luke chapter 11 as we come back to this passage that we looked at last week. We said it was a very awkward dinner conversation and we did a brief overview about what Jesus said to the Pharisees there. This morning I want us to look more specifically at the marks of a Pharisee, and not only the marks of a Pharisee, but the fundamental problem of a Pharisee. What is the real problem with a Pharisee? What's the thing that causes all of the symptoms and the evidences and the marks to be there?

As we prepare to look at the passage I want you to look at eight particular things in the passage so that you’ll know where I'm getting my marks from as we work through the passage. If you look at verses 37 and 38, you’ll see Jesus being judged by a Pharisee and the Pharisee judges Jesus as falling short of the standards of holiness. Now that really gets the whole ball going. Everything else in the passage flows from that initial judgment of the Pharisee that Jesus is falling short of the standards of holiness. Then if you look at verses 39 to 41, Jesus responds essentially by accusing the Pharisee of both hypocrisy and externalism, a mere ritual formalism in his religion. And those are the first two marks that we're actually going to see of Pharisees as we look at the passage.

Then you have a series of six woes, three to Pharisees and three to lawyers. Now these are not practicing attorneys vocationally, these are experts in the Jewish law, the Torah, the Hebrew Bible, and in expounding its commandments. They are a different group from the Pharisees but they’re closely aligned to the Pharisees and they’re associated with them in this passage. And so there’re three woes in verses 42 to 44 directed at the Pharisees and then three woes directed specifically at the lawyers, but they’re all part of the same whole.

So I want you to see first the woe in verse 42 against the Pharisees that they make the second things the first things. Then in verse 43, that they love being highly thought of, especially being thought of as holy. Third, that they catch and contaminate other people unaware because they look holy even though they are not. Then the three woes against the lawyers, you see those beginning in verse 45, verse 45 and 46, that the lawyers make hard demands but they offer the people little help in meeting them. And then in verses 47 to 51, that they give lip service to the prophets of the Old Testament but they actually reject their message. And then in verse 52, that they hinder people from coming to understand the Word of God. Now that's a pretty bad thing to say about a person who's one main job is helping people to understand that Word of God, that they in fact hinder them from understanding the Word of God.

Now these are the things which are going to supply us with the evidences or marks of a Pharisee. So let's give attention to God's Word and before we do let's pray.

Heavenly Father this is Your Word and we ask that You would open our eyes to understand it. We need the help of Your Holy Spirit because we're often so blind to our own sin and we don't see what the Scripture is saying to us because we don't see our own sin and therefore we miss the point of what the passage is saying to us. By the grace of Your Holy Spirit we pray that we would not so much miss Your Word this morning. Open our eyes to behold wonderful things in Your law. We ask it in Jesus' name. Amen.

This is the Word of God:

“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 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.

What are the marks of a Pharisee? How would you know a Pharisee if you met one? How would you know if your own heart has given into some of the temptations of a Pharisee? Now that question is perhaps more difficult to answer than you might think because most of us who have grown up in churches where the New Testament was read know a little bit about Pharisees and we know already that they’re the bad guys. When they show up in a story they’re the ones with the black hats on. And so they’re somewhat cartoonish to us. Our view of them is cartoonish. They’re so bad that we can't possibly imagine being tempted with the same kinds of temptations that tempted them. But this is a dangerous thing because the temptations that beset the Pharisees are temptations that beset us all. And so we need to give attention to the marks of the Pharisees so that we can examine our own heart and that's exactly what Jesus does for us in this passage. He gives us a picture of the marks of the Pharisees, the symptoms of the Pharisees. And I'm going to walk you through the eight symptoms that He sets before you.

I. The Pharisee sets his own standard of holiness.

First of all, if you’d look with me a verse 37. The Pharisee, notice the first thing he does is he judges Jesus of falling short of manmade standards of holiness and even in recording what the Pharisee did to Jesus, that is he judged Him of falling short of the manmade standards of holiness, Luke is recording for us one of the marks of a Pharisee. One of the marks of a Pharisee is he will set up his own standard of holiness. A Pharisee will have a tendency to set up his own standard of holiness. He’ll substitute an attainable standard of holiness for God's commands. And notice that whenever that set of substitute commands is substituted, it is always less than the commands that God has given. The Pharisee is scaling down God's demands to make them attainable and thus setting up his own standard of holiness.

For instance, have you ever looked at another Christian and judged that Christian because that Christian didn't do something that the Bible doesn't command that Christian to do, but that you think that Christian ought to do? Or have you ever judged another Christian because they didn't do something that the Bible didn't forbid them from doing but that you they ought to be forbidden from doing? If so, perhaps you have set up your own standards by which you are judging other Christians. Well after all, God doesn't allow us to set the standards for one another. He is the one who gives the law and we don't get to add to it or take away from it, but very often we establish our own standards and then we judge other Christians by those standards that we have established. Jesus says here's the first mark of a Pharisee — he sets up his own standard of holiness which is always less than God's and he measures others against his own standard, his own manmade standard of holiness.

Secondly, if you look at verses 39 to 41, Jesus’ initial response to this Pharisee is very blunt. “Cleanse the outside of the cup and the dish, not — you cleanse the outside of the cup and the dish, not the inside.” And then if you’ll pay attention to this word that Jesus says in verse 41 you’ll understand almost everything else He says in this passage — “Give as alms those things that are within, and behold, everything is clean for you.” In other words, if you worship God from the inside out, from the depth of your heart, and you offer to God a clean heart, then everything is clean. But if you simply try and look good on the outside and cover up your sin on the inside you’re simply fooling yourself.

II. Pharisees do not understand the true nature of holiness.

Jesus in verses 39 to 41 gives us the second mark of the Pharisee. He responds to the Pharisee who has accused Him of falling short of the standard of holiness by telling him that in fact the Pharisee misunderstands the very nature of holiness. This Pharisee cares more about the appearance of holiness than the reality of holiness. The Pharisee wants to look holy so that he can feel holy, and so he has promoted a ritual holiness that makes him look holy even though his heart has not been changed.

Wives and mothers in the room, can you imagine a pot that your young boy has spirited away out of your sight that had been left with all manner of food particles in it and it had been taken and stored under a bed and it had been discovered months and months later, and now there are not only hardened food particles, but there are all manner of mold and bacteria that has grown on the inside of that pot? Now the little boy pulls the pot out and realizes that he has really messed up. He's taken this pot away from his mother's kitchen, he's put it under the bed, he's found it now, and he starts scrubbing the outside of that pot. And he takes it back to the kitchen with the outside polished clean now and he says, “Look mom, the pot is clean.” And then you look inside the pot and you see what's there. That is something like the picture that Jesus is painting about the Pharisees here. They care a lot about the appearance of holiness on the outside but they don't really get to the deep down issues of the heart. They care more about appearing holy than being holy.

III. Pharisees major on minors and neglect the major issues.

Third, and if you’ll look in verse 42 you’ll see this — Jesus says that Pharisees major on the minors and they neglect the majors. Jesus, in this passage says, “You tithe mint and rue and every herb and neglect justice and the love of God.” This came home to me many years ago when Anne and I were living in Clinton in a little townhome and Anne decided that she was going to grow her own herbs one year and we were going to have mint and we were going to have all sorts of other things out of her herb garden. Well it was a tiny little herb garden but it produced enough herbs for us to season food and make mint tea and do things like that for a long time. And it struck me then, “Boy that's a tiny little garden compared to a big garden,” and yet the Pharisees, they were tithing out of their mint and their dill and their rue and these tiny little herbs. They were tithing out of this. That's pretty nit-picky. That's pretty meticulous. And Jesus says, look you’re fixated on these little things but you’re neglecting really big things. You’re focusing on relative minutia while neglecting massive realities of faith.

Why in the world would the Pharisees be doing this? Because they want to focus on something that they’re able to do while they are neglecting something far more important to do that they’re not doing. And so they feel holy because they've concentrated on a tiny little thing that they’re able to do and they can ignore these massive gaps in their character that they’re not doing. William Hendrickson says this, “Rigid insistence on trivial matters is very often a cover for inner sin.” Rigid insistence on trivial matters is very often a cover for inner sin. How often have you seen that in your own life or in the lives of others where they’re dogmatic about relatively insignificant little things and yet there’re huge gaping voids in their character and in their lives or in our character and in our lives? So the Pharisee focuses on relative minutia while neglecting massive realities of the faith.

IV. Pharisees love reputation rather than real holiness.

Fourth, if you look in verse 43 Jesus says the Pharisees love the reputation and the appearance of holiness rather than real holiness. In other words, they not only care more about appearing holy than being holy, they care more about others thinking that they appear holy rather than actually being holy. They care more about what others think than what God thinks. “You love the best seat in the synagogue” verse 43 “and greetings in the marketplaces.”

Why? Because when they’re greeting with a special title and when they’re treated as if they’re better than other people and more godly than other people, it makes them feel good. They feel holy even though they’re not. And Jesus says that's the mark of a Pharisee — he cares more about what others think than what God thinks.

V. Pharisees appear holy on the outside but they are not on the inside.

Fifth, look at verse 44. Here, Jesus says that the Pharisees appear holy on the outside but they’re not on the inside. It's an interesting thing that He says. “You are like unmarked graves and people walk over them without knowing it.” Now the Pharisees were fanatical about not touching dead bodies or things that had been touched by dead bodies because of course that made you ritually unclean. And so the Pharisees went about on a campaign to mark graves so that you wouldn't accidentally walk across a grave and become ceremonially unclean. Jesus is saying to them, “Actually you’re unmarked graves because you look like you’re holy on the outside when in fact you’re not on the inside, so that everybody who comes into contact with you is contaminated by your sin.” It's a stinging rebuke to the Pharisees saying that they corrupt others because of their own hypocrisy. They infect others with their spiritual malaise because people are not suspecting of them. They look holy but they are not. I mean think of it my friends, if you’re corrupt, you’re incapable of helping other people to holiness. If you’re a hypocrite, you’re incapable of helping other people to real holiness. And if you are corrupt and hypocritical, no matter what you try and do in other people's lives, it will produce corruption and hypocrisy and Jesus is saying that of the Pharisees.

VI. Lawyers place religious demands on the people but don't help them to live.

Sixth, if you look at verses 45 and 46 He says that the lawyers place tremendous religious demands on the people but they don't help them to live. In other words, their approach to holiness is to develop more demanding rules so that you can feel holier than those who don't or can't keep them. They make enormous religious demands but they don't really help other people to live a holy life Jesus says. And so that's the sixth mark of a Pharisee.

VII. Pharisees pay lip service to the Scripture but ignore it.

Then if you’d look at verses 47 to 51 you’ll see a seventh mark of a Pharisee. They give lip service to the heroes of the Bible without paying attention to their message. The lawyers you see claim to stand in the tradition of the prophets but they actually stand in the tradition of the prophets murderers. Think about it. One of the main messages of the prophets was — obedience is better than sacrifice. Now why did they give that message? Because Israel in their day was keeping the ritual, the ceremonial law, but they were not obeying God in their lives. And so what did the prophets say to them? Don't offer sacrifices, offer obedience. Don't do the ritual without living in such a way that the whole of your life is an act of worship to God. Now the Pharisees and the lawyers were claiming to be the great supporters standing in the tradition of the prophets and yet they rejected the message of the prophets. They themselves were guilty of the very thing that the prophets preached against. So they gave lip service to the prophets without paying attention to their message. They claimed the prophets without living out their message.

VIII. Lawyers actually make it harder for people to believe and understand God's word.

And then the eighth mark of a Pharisee you see in verse 52. Jesus says that the lawyers, these interpreters of God's Word, have actually made it harder for people to believe and understand God's Word. They have hindered people from truly understanding and following God's Word. Why? Because essentially they have not seen the depth of their own sin and need and therefore they have misread the law of God and they are not capable of helping people really understand the law of God. Because when it gets down to it, the fundamental problem of the Pharisees is this — they misunderstand the human predicament. They misunderstand the presence of sin, the gravity of sin, and the solution to the problem of sin. And so they come up with superficial answers. “If you’re sinful inside,” the Pharisee says, “just pretend you’re not.” What is that? Hypocrisy. If you’re sinful inside what do you do? “Cover it up with rituals.” That's externalism. You can't clean the inside by simply addressing the outside. If you’re sinful inside, what do you do? “Make sure you have a reputation for not being sinful. Make sure you have a reputation for being holy.” You still haven't gotten to the problem of your sin. If you’re sinful what do you do? “Follow ritual rules.” All of the Pharisees and the lawyers problem stems from the fact that they do not understand the gravity and the predicament of their own sin. That's the fundamental problem of the Pharisee.

Application:

And what's the remedy to that? There's only one remedy to that and the remedy is the Gospel. The only remedy to Phariseeism is the Gospel, that we would understand it. We have all rebelled against God in sin and pride and we've decided to worship ourselves rather than God, and as a consequence we've become idolaters and thus we're under God's just judgment and we're guilty and under a proper sentence of death. And in response to that we can't pretend like we're not sinners or cover up our sins with external acts of ritual and ceremony. Our sin has to be dealt with some other way and we ourselves cannot forgive ourselves of that sin. We can't get ourselves out of that predicament. What do we do then? We look to what God has provided in the Good News. We look to Jesus. By faith we trust in Jesus Christ because “God so loved the world that He gave His own Son that whoever believes on Him will not perish but have eternal life.” Those who are born again are saved from the just judgment of God against their sin and they turn away from sin and self in repentance and turn to the Savior in faith for salvation. And then God by His Spirit works in their lives to deal with sin. But sin cannot be dealt with in the superficial external ways that the Pharisees are attempting to deal with it with in this passage. So Jesus here shows us the marks of the Pharisees, but the marks of the Pharisees all get back to one fundamental point - that they do not understand the predicament and gravity of sin and therefore they give the wrong solution.

So how about you? Are you a person who can really say, “I know my sins,” and deal with those sins not by excusing them, not by diminishing them, not by denying them, not by trying to cover them up, not by doing ritual ceremonies, but deal with those sins in the only way that they can be dealt with and that is fleeing to the cross and saying, “Lord, I am unclean. I am sinful and I can't clean myself up. Only You can clean the inside of me and You can do that in Your Son who is my only hope”? May the Lord help us to see ourselves and see the Savior. Let's pray.

Heavenly Father, the problems evidenced in Jesus’ words of woe and judgment against the Pharisees are not just problems for people who lived a long time ago, they’re our problems, they’re our sins, they’re our temptations. Lord, spare us from the temptation to justify ourselves, from the temptation to cover up our own sin or to deal with it in some diminished way. Help us to recognize that we are so bad that only You can save us, but that our Savior is so great that there is no bad person beyond His reach in the Gospel. We ask this in Jesus' name. Amen.

Would you take out your bulletins and turn with me to the “Gospel Song”? And we’ll sing it once through with accompaniment and we’ll close singing it acapella.

Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.

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