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THE LOVE OF GOD IN JESUS’ WOES

Luke 11:37-11:54
Key Verse: 11:42b

Thank God for teaching us that our eyes is the lamp of our body through the light within us as we put the lamp of God’s word in the right place. May we keep good and healthy eyes to see so that we can have right and bright view of things and events, especially at each critical time. In today’s passage Jesus pours out woes on Pharisees and experts in the law. It was likely that the light within them was darkness so that their eyes were so bad and their view of God and people and their prospect of their own life were distorted. In these woes Jesus strives to enlighten theirs hearts. His woes on them are denunciations and also the expression of sorrow. These two designations are not necessarily self-contradictory. In this study we can especially think of the love of God and his unbending plan for the salvation of mankind.

First, three woes on the Pharisees (37-44). Look at verse 37. “When Jesus had finished speaking, a Pharisee invited him to eat with him; so he went in and reclined at the table.” In the gospel story Pharisees were a great hindrance in Jesus’ messianic ministry and they often were the object of his reprimand. Yet, Jesus accepted their invitations to somehow help them. This is well shown in Luke’s gospel. In 7:36 it is written, “Now one of the Pharisees invited Jesus to have dinner with him, so he went to the Pharisee’s house and reclined at the table.” In 14:1 it is also written, “One Sabbath, when Jesus went to eat in the house of a prominent Pharisees, he was being carefully watched.” Jesus’ accepting Pharisees’ invitation and eating with them can be a part of Jesus’ humanity as the good shepherd in Luke’s gospel.

Then what happened there? Look at verse 38. “But the Pharisee, noticing that Jesus did not first wash before the meal, was surprised.” We wonder why not washing hand was such a serious matter that the Pharisee who invited Jesus was surprised at this? We can understand this better when we read Mark 7:3, “(Pharisees and all the Jews do not eat unless they give hands a ceremonial washing, holding to the tradition of the elders. When they come from the marketplace they do not eat unless they wash. And they observe many other traditions, such as the washing of cups, pitchers and kettles.). So not washing was not a matter of hygiene. It had nothing to do with germs. It was a matter of fear of ceremonial defilement; for example, on the way home from the synagogue one might have touched a Gentile or an article he had held in his hand. Now the Pharisee’s surprising became the cause of Jesus’ woes at the table in the presence of many other guests, Pharisees and experts in the law. To Jesus helping the people was more important that just eating together there at the invitation, even if it would bring about their severe criticism and opposition.

Look at verse 39. “Then the Lord said to him, ‘Now then, you Pharisees clean the outside of the cup and dish, but inside you are full of greed and wickedness. You foolish people.” Pharisees, of course, cleaned the inside and outside of the cup and plate. Who would wash just outside of utensils? Certainly, cup and dish here refer to a person. Through this figure of speech, Jesus pointed out that the Pharisees were only concerned about washing outwardly, not inwardly at all. As a result inside they were full of greed and wickedness. To Jesus they were foolish and absurd like those who clean only the outside of the unclean cup and dish.

Then Jesus said, “Did not the one who made the outside make the inside also?” In saying this Jesus wanted them to think of God the Creator, who made both the body and the heart. The holy God made the inside and outside. So he sees not only the outward but also the inside. Especially Samuel 16:7 says, “…Man looks at the outward appearance, but the LORD looks at the heart.” It is interesting that Luke wrote at the beginning of verse 39, “Then the Lord said to him”, instead of “Jesus said to him.” In truth it implies that Jesus himself was the one who made the outside and the inside as well. He is the Creator. He knows about humans he created very well. When God created man, the man was good and clean both the inside and the outside as the workmanship of the holy God. However, man’s inside became unclean and corrupt since sin came by his disobedience to God. Jesus once said, “For from within, out of men’s hearts, come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, greed, malice, deceit, lewdness, envy, slander, arrogance folly. All these evils come from inside and make a man unclean” (Mk 7:21-22). No one can make an excuse for the unclean inside. Jesus urged unclean and sinful mankind to repent. He came as the Lamb of God to die on the cross shedding his blood so as to cleanse us from our sins and guilty conscience. God provided us with a way of cleaning the inside through Jesus the Lord.

So here Jesus said in verse 41, “But give what is inside the dish to the poor, and everything will be clean for you.” Just before, Jesus said, “inside you are full of greed and wickedness. Now he says, “Give what is inside the dish to the poor.” At the table there was delicious food inside the dish. Jesus wanted the Pharisee to give that one to the poor. Also, giving what is inside the dish could imply giving from the heart. However, we know that just giving something to the poor cannot make a greedy heart clean. It is a biblical constant that man’s good act can never make him clean and holy. Rather, a clean heart produces a good act. So, when Jesus said, “give what is inside the dish to the poor”, it surely meant giving as the expression of a new life after inner cleaning. So Jesus said, “…and everything will be clean for you.” We can understand this clearly when we refer to Matthew’s gospel, in which Jesus said, “First clean inside of the cup and dish, and then the outside also will be clean” (Mt 23:26b).

Look at verse 42. “Woe to you Pharisees, because you give God a tenth of your mint, rue and all other kinds of garden herbs, but you neglect justice and the love of God. You should have practiced the latter without leaving the former undone.” Here first, we need to understand the meaning of giving God a tenth. The beginning was with Abraham who gave God a tenth through Melchizedek when Melchizedek reminded that it was God who blessed him and granted him victory over his enemies (Ge 14:19-20). The tenth was an acknowledgement of the Creator and Possessor of all things. And Jacob in his vow promised that he wold give his God a tenth if God would make his life safe with all the necessary provisions (Ge 28:22). And when the Israelites were in the desert, God told them that a tithe of everything belongs to the LORD and is holy to the LORD (Lev. 27:30-33; Deut. 14:22-29). Then, later in Malachi, when the returnees from the exile in Babylon did not offer a tithe to God while they only took care of themselves in their own difficulty, he rebuked them that not bringing the tithe was robbing or cheating God (Mal 3:8) and even told them to test God in regard to a tenth, whether God would throw open the floodgates of heaven and pour out so much blessing that they would not have room enough for it (Mal 3:8-10). Through offing a tithe we can receive the abundant material blessing from God and in doing so we can rule over material matters. And Jesus said, “Where your treasure is, there your heart will be also” (Mt 6:21; Lk 12:34). One prominent servant of God said, “Unless one’s pocket does not repent,” it cannot be a true repentance. Giving God a tenth out of a thankful heart and deep acknowledgment of God’s ownership is a part of a sound and blessed Christian life.

However, the problem with the Pharisees was that as time passed by, giving God a tenth became their self-righteousness. In Luke 18, a Pharisee prayed, “God…I fast twice a week and give a tenth of all I get…I am not like this tax-collector” (18:11-12). Here Jesus pointed out that they neglected justice and the love of God. Probably, they did not care for the poor, thinking that they offered God a tithe. Most importantly they neglected the love of God. The love of God is the greatest theme in the Bible. God’s creation was out of his love, especially when he made men in the image of God. Also, God’s redemption work was solely out of his amazing love. When man’s inside was unclean and corrupt with no remedy, God sacrificed his one and only Son to die on cross and shed his blood to cleanse us from our sins and make us holy. When God gave us his own Son, he gave us everything, expressing his lavishing love (Ro 8:32). His love is truly greater far than tongue or pen ever tell. God’s people should grow in knowing the love of God and reflect God’s love in their lives. Giving a tenth is to be the expression of deep gratitude for his love, recognizing that not only the material, but our very own life belongs to him, for he not only created us but also purchased us through his Son’s blood, which is his own blood. When the love of God is neglected, the whole point is missed and everything goes wrong. Jesus speaks in his woe that the love of God should be the focus of our Christian life. He said, “They should have practiced the latter without leaving the first undone.”

Look at verse 43. “Woe to you Pharisees, because you love the most important seats in the synagogues and greetings in the marketplaces.” This woe is related to the Pharisees’ desire for honour and recognition from people. They did not seek God’s honour and his recognition, which are eternal, but were sensitive to human honour and recognition, which are temporary. Jesus said in Luke 16:15, “…What is highly valued among men is detestable in God’s sight.” Look at verse 44. “Woe to you, because you are like unmarked graves, which men walk over without knowing it.” According to a Jewish custom, just before the arrival of vast caravans of people traveling to Jerusalem to attend the Passover, graves were whitewashed. The reason this was done was that they might be clearly visible, so that no one would ceremonially defile himself by walking over a grave. But at times some graves were inadvertently left unwashed, unmarked. What Jesus is saying then is this: just as by walking over such an unmarked grave a person would become ceremonially defiled, so by “walking” (conducting oneself) in accordance with the teachings of the Pharisees one would become spiritually defiled. Thus Pharisees were a deathly bad influence to the innocent people.

In this part we ask God for his mercy in the light of Jesus’ woes that in whatever we do we may not miss the love of God, who sacrificed his one and only Son for our salvation and cleansing, but grow in it, and seek his honour and recognition and be truly a blessing to others.

Second, three woes on the experts in the law (45-53). In verse 45, one of the experts in the law answered him,, “Teacher, when you say these things, you insult us also.” At this Jesus did not apologize, but began to pour out woes on the experts in the law. Look at verse 46. “And you experts in the law, woe to you, because you load people down with burdens they can hardly carry, and you yourselves will not lift one finger to help them.” In other words, the teachers of the law did not practice what they taught and preached (Mt 23:3). We learn more and more that we should practice the love of God and grow in it constantly.

Look at verse 47. “Woe to you, because you build tombs for the prophets, and it was your fathers who killed them.” The experts in the law built tombs for the prophets probably to impress the people as ones who honoured the dead prophets, while they did not listen to the prophets who were alive and among them. What they laboured for the tomb-building was nothing but showing-up. They should have honoured the living prophets, listening to them and repenting. This was like Jesus’ saying to his hometown people, “I tell you the truth, no prophet is accepted in his hometown” (Lk 4:24). Jesus continued here, “So you testify that you approve of what your forefathers did; they killed the prophets and you build their tombs.” How irony what they did was!

Look at verse 49. “Because of this, God in his wisdom said, ‘I will send them prophets and apostles, some of whom they will kill and others they will persecute.’” Why is it God’s wisdom? In his wisdom, at least God should have stopped sending prophets when the people killed them. How can continually sending prophets and now apostles as well be the wisdom of God, even when the prophets and apostles will be killed or persecuted? It is because God’s work is done on the ground where the blood of the prophets and apostles shed. God’s work overrides human wickedness. This is God’s way of working throughout history. When Cain killed Abel, the work of God, that is, the history of the righteous, seemed to be ended. But God accepted the blood of Abel that cried out to God from the ground (Ge 4:10), and let Seth be born to Adam in the place of Abel (Ge 5:25) and continued the history of the righteous for his purpose. Another example was Joseph. When Joseph’s brothers sold him to Egypt as a slave, they thought that’s the end of the life of Joseph, who believed God and had hope and vision in God. However, God was with Joseph and raised him up from a slave to the Prime Minister of Egypt, where Jacob’s descendants came and became a nation with a multitude. The best example is the Lord Jesus. When God said in his wisdom, “I will send them prophets and apostles, some of whom they will kill and others they will persecute,” certainly the main figure was Jesus. In Matthew’s gospel, it is written, “Therefore I am sending you prophets and wise men and teachers. Some of whom you will kill and crucify…” (Mt 23:34). When Jesus was crucified on the cross and died, it was most likely that the history of God was completely over with the evil one’s victory. But God raised him up from the dead and made him Lord and Christ. This was the apostle Peter’s message, “God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Christ” (Ac 2:36). Through his death and resurrection Jesus is our Saviour, Christ and the Lord. Since then, countless men and women of God followed Christ’s example and gave their lives to the work of God. In their blood God’s work blossomed. God’s love triumphs over evilness of man.

Jonathan Goforth (1859-1936) was born in Ontario, and studied in Knox college in Toronto. After graduation, at the age of 26 he married Rosalind and established a mission family. Soon after he decided to be a missionary to inland China. The people who knew this thought he was crazy, but no one could stop him. In 1898 he and his wife and their 11 children went to China and arrived there. In the course of carrying out God’s mission there, they lost 6 children. But the love of God compelled them to keep doing soul-saving work there. When they overcame all the difficulties, God blessed their sacrificial life of mission that one time for 5 months more than 25,000 people came to his house and heard the gospel. He did not lose his passion for gospel-preaching until he was 73. Even when he became blind, he continually did the gospel work by the help of the Chinese. He came back to Canada at the age of 74 and continued to do God’s work for 18 months and went to heaven. He is known as one of the greatest missionary in 20th century. May God raise up such servants as Jonathan from U of T once again. We are reminded of Jesus’ words in John 12:24, “I tell you the truth, unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed. But if it dies, it produces many seeds.” Also, Paul encouraged the believers in Corinthian church, “Always give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord, because you know that your labour in the Lord is not in vain” (1 Corinthians 15:58). May God help us to be fertilizers in the place where we are for the gospel work and for the completion of God’s given mission.

Look at verses 50 and 51. “Therefore this generation will be held responsible for the blood of all the prophets that has been shed since the beginning of the world, from the blood of Abel to the blood of Zechariah, who was killed between the altar and the sanctuary. Yes, I tell you, this generation will be held responsible for it all.” This indicates the destruction of Jerusalem at AD 70, which was too tragic to imagine. One thing is clear that rejecting the love of God brings dreadful judgment, while God fulfills his purpose of man’s salvation despite all the rejections.

Look at verse 52. “Woe to you experts in the law, because you have taken away the key to knowledge. You yourselves have not entered, and you have murdered those who were entering.” Knowledge is an important word in the Bible. Hoses 6:6 says, “my people are destroyed from lack of knowledge.” Here knowledge is knowledge of God (Hosea 6:6). And in Luke’s gospel it is the knowledge of salvation as Luke 1:76 and 76 says in Zechariah’s song regarding his son, “And you, my child, will be called a prophet of the Most High; for you will go on before the LORD to prepare the way for him, to give his people the knowledge of salvation through the forgiveness of their sins.” And according to Luke 8:10, it is the knowledge of the secrets of the kingdom of God. The key that unlocks the meaning of Scripture and brings people to the knowledge of God. Then how terrible it is that the teachers of the law took away the key to knowledge when they rejected Christ! They were supposed to teach the knowledge of salvation to the people as the teachers of God’s law, but they did not. They only taught human rules and regulations. They themselves have not entered the kingdom of God as they put their hope in this world, not the kingdom of God. They wanted to live in this wold permanently. And they have blocked the way for those who were entering the kingdom above. So Jesus poured out woe on them in his broken heart.

Yet, their evilness continued. When Jesus left there, the Pharisees and the teachers of the law began to oppose him fiercely and to besiege him with questions, waiting to catch him in something he might say.

We thank and praise God for his love which is shown to sinful and perishing mankind, and which can never be defeated in his wisdom. Remembering Jesus’ woes and his broken heart, may we go deeper into the love of God and in his love share the key to the knowledge for the salvation of perishing souls one by one.

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