Dr. Chuck DeVane, Pastor
Lake Hamilton Baptist Church
Hot Springs, Arkansas
April 15, 2018
37 While Jesus was speaking, a Pharisee asked him to dine with him, so he went in and reclined at table. 38 The Pharisee was astonished to see that he did not first wash before dinner. 39 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. 40 You fools! Did not he who made the outside make the inside also? 41 But give as alms those things that are within, and behold, everything is clean for you. 42 “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. 43 Woe to you Pharisees! For you love the best seat in the synagogues and greetings in the marketplaces. 44 Woe to you! For you are like unmarked graves, and people walk over them without knowing it.”
45 One of the lawyers answered him, “Teacher, in saying these things you insult us also.” 46 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. 47 Woe to you! For you build the tombs of the prophets whom your fathers killed. 48 So you are witnesses and you consent to the deeds of your fathers, for they killed them, and you build their tombs. 49 Therefore also the Wisdom of God said, I will send them prophets and apostles, some of whom they will kill and persecute,’ 50 so that the blood of all the prophets, shed from the foundation of the world, may be charged against this generation, 51 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. 52 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.”
53 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, 54 lying in wait for him, to catch him in something he might say.
— Luke 11:37-54, ESV
Johnny Mercer wrote, “Fools rush in where angels fear to tread [and] wise men never go.” We could apply these words to the Pharisees and the scribes who appear so regularly on the pages of the Gospels. So blinded by pride and hatred, these supposed religious authorities could not see God’s personification of grace standing right in front of them.
In a series of controversial statements, Jesus called them “fools.” He condemned each of the two groups three-fold. In doing so, our Lord has left us some lessons about the wrong kind and right kind of foolishness.
The Gospels record almost constant conflict between the Pharisees and the Lord Jesus Christ. One promoted a false gospel, the other is the gospel. One offered salvation by works, the other brings salvation by grace. One wanted people to honor and follow them and their ways, the other instructed people to honor and follow Him and God’s way.
Yet, Jesus was willing to spend time and show love to even His enemies. He accepts their dinner invitation, and soon all hell breaks loose. Hell, I say, because it is where fools rush in.
It is okay to have religious traditions. My family prays before every meal, whether at home or in a crowded restaurant. But, we do not judge others for not doing do so. The Pharisees taught a tradition of ceremonial washing before meals, and Jesus did not particularly care for that tradition, choosing rather to dig in instead of scrubbing up. Jesus, being the omniscient Lord, knew immediately He was being judged by the Pharisees for not keeping their extra-biblical tradition. The fight was about to begin.
Let us learn from the Lord and the Pharisees at this point. It is Christian to love your enemies, even spend time with them if perchance you may win them over to allegiance to God. On the other hand, it is anti-Christian to make up extra-biblical rules and regulations and judge others for not following them. Relationships beat rules and regulations every time.
Now for some fighting words. Jesus publicly identified the Pharisees (and by proxy, the scribes) as persons full of “greed and wickedness.” Then, as if this was not a big enough insult, He blows them away with the declarative “You fools!” Did Jesus really call someone a fool?
I can see the apparent contradiction. In the “Sermon on the Mount,” Jesus warned against using such a derogative label. But the word for “fool” in Matthew 5:22 is quite different from the one used in Luke 11:40. The first is a Greek word from which we get our English word “moron.” It is a harsh, judgmental word that speaks of someone whose idiotic ideas and actions are a danger to themselves and society. The term here, “aphron,” is softer but still fair, describing a person who lacks a true understanding of the situation and therefore makes bad judgments. In this light, it is almost a kindness for Jesus to call the Pharisees this kind of a fool.
Could you or I be kindly called a “fool” by Jesus? Well, you might be a Pharisee if you don’t understand that is what’s on the inside of a person, not the outside, that counts (ref. 1 Samuel 16:7). You might be a Pharisee if you wrongly believe that salvation comes from the outside in, external works can make your heart right with God (ref. Ephesians 2:8-10). You might be a Pharisee if you fail to understand that God’s gospel is one of transforming grace that begins within and works its way out (ref. Luke 17:21; Philippians 2:12-13).
A fool, or perhaps better translated a foolish person, is someone according to Jesus who simply does not understand the simply gospel of salvation by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone. All men are fools in this sense, by nature, choice, and ignorance. Unless we come to our senses, or to the gospel sense, the same condemnation Christ gave to the Pharisees and scribes will belong to us forever.
The “woes” have it in this episode. There are three each for the Pharisees and scribes. Here we’ll leave Johnny Mercer for a moment and tune in to Michael McDonald and the Doobie Brothers to see “What a Fool Believes.”
Fools, like the Pharisees, believe legalism saves, yet it is only a veiled form of self-centered love. Fools, like the Pharisees, believer personal recognition or fame is the goal of life. Fools, like the Pharisees, believe they are helping other people when they are actually dragging them down into the same pit they are rushing in to themselves.
Fools, like the scribes, talk the talk but do not walk the walk. Fools, like the scribes, contribute to church and charity while at the same time tear down the true and godly leaders of such bodies. Fools, like the scribes, who are just like the Pharisees, think they are showing people the light while blinding them with the darkness.
A good human proverb states that if you can’t say anything nice about someone, say nothing at all. But our Lord Jesus Christ transcends mere humanity. He sees the heart and He tells the truth. We desperately need His eyesight and insight, and we need to let it look into our own hearts to make sure we are not deceiving ourselves.
The conclusion captures the way in which you can tell whether you are a Pharisee or a follower of Jesus Christ. When you encounter Jesus, the word of God, or a church that sincerely if not perfectly bears His name, how do you react? Do you find fault or do you follow?
So many who have asked Jesus into their hearts at a young age are nothing but fault finders, false professors of faith, and Pharisees. They claim to love Jesus but do not obey him, chiefly the commandments to love one another and assemble together. They look for flaws in the Bible, or the church, or some Christian setting a bad example, and they use this as an excuse to fall away from personal and corporate Christianity. “Woe” unto them.
Others are different. As Jesus walked away from this encounter, true disciples followed Him instead of finding fault with Him. Christ’s words could be hard, but they were fair. Christ’s way was not easy, but it is the only way to go. Christ’s heart, unlike those grinches the Pharisees, was huge and wide open.
Perhaps instead of asking Jesus into our hearts, we need to ask ourselves whether or not we are in His. As Johnny Mercer wrote, “When we met I felt my life begin, so open up your heart and let This fool rush in.” I hope you feel this way about Jesus. This is the kind of fool you want to be, a fool for Christ. Rush in.
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