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Good Eyes Gone Bad

May 29, 2022

Good Eyes Gone Bad

Passage: Luke 11:37-54
Service Type:

Good Eyes Gone Bad

Luke 11:37-54

If you are new to River City, you’re catching us right at the tail end of a long stretch through the book of Luke. We’re finishing up chapter 11 today, Luke has 24 chapters total, so we’re pretty close to halfway through. But today is our last day in Luke. Starting next week, we’re going to move into something else for the summer, and this will be a close look at 12 Core beliefs, or doctrines, of the Christian faith. 

We are basing this series on a very helpful book called Do You Believe? Which we are stealing for the series as well. This book was written by Paul Tripp last year, and what caught my attention was how he took a chapter to describe the belief, and then another whole chapter to talk about why it matters and how it would affect our lives if we believed it. And I thought, that’s a great summer series. 

Now, lest any of you think we are abandoning preaching the Bible and we are now preaching whatever book we just read, we will be back to Luke in September. 

Speaking of Luke, if you were with us last week, as I said it was a tough message. Well, it’s not going to be any easier today. The reality is that Jesus should come with a warning label. And that warning label would say, “Caution: This man who is gentle and kind, and who loves you more than you could possibly imagine, will at times say things or do things that confront, convict, and call you to action.” 

We don’t talk about this part of him very often in church, but that’s one of the reasons we choose to go verse-by-verse through books of the Bible. It gives us a fuller, clearer picture of who Jesus is, including the parts that make us really uncomfortable. Let’s pray, and ask that as we study his word God would once again help us to hear from him. 


37 As he was speaking, a Pharisee asked him to dine with him. 

We covered what he was saying last week, which was about having Jesus right in front of you, the kingdom of heaven right here in front of your eyes as Jesus actively overpowers the kingdom of darkness with just his words, and sets free a prisoner to Satan. Jesus was just saying, don’t close your eyes to what you see. That’s what verse 35 in chapter 11 was all about – don’t let the light in you become darkness. Don’t spiritually close your eyes to what is so obvious right here in front of you. As he was saying that, he got an invitation to dinner.

If you don’t know, the Pharisees were a numerous and powerful sect of the Jews. They were known for their nit picky interpreting and policing of the OT Law, and for being much, much better at life than you. If the OT Law said “don’t start dating your Mother-in-Law (which it did)” to make sure you didn’t do that, they would add the law “just don’t talk to women at all.”  That way you couldn’t accidentally ask her to go out with you. Which is whatever. It would probably work. But where the problem really took root was that they would place those new laws on equal ground with God’s law. They made their own law equal to Gods.

Another additional law was a ceremonial hand-washing before a meal. This wasn’t simply what parents of young children say, “hey, go wash up - you were petting the dog.” They had taken it so far as to become one way the Pharisees had come to mark who was in and who was out. Only someone outside of our religious circles would eat without the washing ceremony. Again – this law is on the same level as the 10 commandments in their minds.

But when Jesus gets invited to dinner at a Pharisee’s home, Luke records that he went in and reclined at the table. 38 When the Pharisee saw this, he was amazed that he did not first perform the ritual washing before dinner. 

Basic Hospitality 101 would say that for Jesus to not do this ceremonial hand-washing was an insult to his host (Green, 470), especially after he’d been interacting with a demon and crowds of people (Butler, 189)! Biblically Jesus wasn’t sinning, our Lord never sinned, but socially-speaking, Jesus was in the wrong and it was on purpose. He was looking to make a point. Socially, you also wouldn’t have criticized or made negative comments about your host either, but Jesus is going to skip that one too. 

39 …the Lord said to him,“Now you Pharisees clean the outside of the cup and dish, but inside you are full of greed and evil. 40 Fools! Didn’t he who made the outside make the inside too? 41 But give from what is within to the poor, and then everything is clean for you. 

I think the dinner probably got a little quiet about that point. I think there was some uncomfortable clearing of throats. They aren’t exactly looking to take orders or be shouted at by this street preacher, so I’m guessing the clearing the throats was more in the direction of the host – hey are you going to let him talk to us like that? We’ve worked hard to get in this position – how dare he attack like that. 

And the truth is, they are right – they have worked hard to get there. They’ve worked hard on their own personal appearance. The robes are just right, tassels are just right, they pray just right, they walk right, keep the Sabbath just right, they wash their hands just right. But Jesus is calling them out.

When I open the dishwasher, pull out the rack and choose a cup, I don’t look twice at the outside. I pull it off the rack, and give a glance on the inside. Is it clean enough to be the carrier of my delicious sweet tea? That’s all I want to know. If I say, oh gross, that one has some junk in it yet, no one in the house goes, oh come on dad, just use it – the outside is spotless.

Yet Jesus is implying that’s how disgusting legalistic religion is. Jesus isn’t impressed with outward appearance. Back in the OT book of 1 Samuel, as God is anointing a new king to lead Israel, he tells the prophet Samuel “Man looks on the outward appearance, but God looks at the heart.” Jesus  tells the Pharisees that he can see that their outward appearances are motivated by greed and evil…a filthy inside. That word translated “greed” means plundering, seizing, extortion, robbery, taking by force. 

The problem with their inventing new laws, and attaching it to who is in or who is out (something called legalism) is that it hijacks God of HIS plan of salvation he has set up. They are trying to seize God’s kingdom, trying to enter heaven according to their own efforts instead of following the way of the Lord. 

Jesus calls them fools. You are spending all your time, your energy, your efforts on making yourselves look good, but your eyes are closed to the filth inside you, and closed to the real needs of real people right in front of you. 

Jesus continues with the word “woe”. OT prophets used this word to express a tragic and dire situation. By using this word, Jesus a) implies he is a prophet from God, which is true and b) the Pharisees snap to attention, bc they know it means something is drastically wrong.

42 “But woe to you Pharisees! You give a tenth of mint, rue, and every kind of herb, and you bypass justice and love for God. These things you should have done without neglecting the others. 

Tithing is meant to be a joyful experience. The Old Testament clearly taught God’s people to tithe—to give 10 percent of their income, particularly their agricultural crops – to God through the temple and priests. Leviticus 27 explains: Every tenth of the land’s produce, grain from the soil or fruit from the trees belongs to the LORD; it is holy to the LORD. Every tenth animal from the herd or flock, which passes under the shepherd’s rod, will be holy unto the LORD. (Num. 18:12; Deut. 12:6–9; 14:22–29; 26:12–15; Neh. 10:37–38; 12:44; 13:5, 12; 2 Chr. 31:5–12; Mal. 3:8, 10). 

  1. The goal of tithing was that people would joyfully and willingly trust God by giving back to him what is already his, and it was also the way God had set up to take care of the people who served in the Temple, as well as any refugees, orphans, and widows living in the city. It wasn’t just about keeping the lights on – it was about helping those in need. 
  2. The Pharisees wanted to prove their own righteousness, so they went above and beyond what God required, even counting the leaves of the smaller plants in their gardens, and giving every tenth leaf to God. But it was all for show. 
  3. They overlooked the parts of the same Old Testament that said “Do justice, love mercy, and walk humbly with your God.” They have lost sight of the purpose for tithing. – And Jesus was like “fine, keep counting leaves if you want. But not at the expense of caring for others the way God cares for them! 
    1. You are free to go above and beyond what God asks, as long as you don’t attach your righteousness to it. You are free to go above and beyond what God asks, as long as you don’t neglect the very people he has positioned you to help in the process. 
  4. The reality is that 100% of what you have is God’s. It was given to you to steward on his behalf. So whether you give 10% and live on 90%, or you tithe 90% and live on 10%, giving is meant to be joyful! 
  5. God doesn’t need your tea leaves. So it doesn’t mean anything if you’re legalistic about the rules, but your life doesn’t reflect a love for God and a heart of kindness and love for others. Speaking of Love for God…

43 “Woe to you Pharisees! You love the front seat in the synagogues and greetings in the marketplaces. 

  1. Woe #2: Along with a desire to be found perfect according to the law came a desire to be seen doing it! They loved the applause of people. They loved the nice greetings in public where people would tell them they loved their sermons, and were so impressed with how well they tithed, etc. They wanted the front seat, that is the seats facing the crowd from behind the preacher. They had achieved a position. Status. Applause. The Spotlight.
    1. They were in love with the praise of men, more than the praise of God. 

44 “Woe to you! You are like unmarked graves; the people who walk over them don’t know it.”

There is nothing more impure than a dead body. The Law of Moses said you’re unclean for seven days if you touch a dead body or a grave. It doesn’t mean that if someone dies you should never carry the body, or that you shouldn’t bury a loved one – it just means that you can’t enter public worship or interact with priests and sacrifices and other people until you’ve been purified. 

Therefore, every Jewish grave was supposed to be clearly marked, so no one would accidentally walk over the top of it or touch it, and become unclean. 

Jesus is telling the Pharisees that when you attach salvation to your own purification efforts and rituals, you are like an unmarked grave that is accidentally contaminating people. People follow you and listen to you and admire you and learn from you, but you are contaminating them by misleading them to a wrong understanding of what it means to follow Yahweh! You’re leading them away from his heart!  Instead of helping them, you’re killing them!

Up to this point, they might have all thought he was still responding to his host, meaning to only insult him, but it was too close to home. 

45 One of the experts in the law answered him, “Teacher, when you say these things you insult us too.” 46 Then he said, “Woe also to you experts in the law! You load people with burdens that are hard to carry, and yet you yourselves don’t touch these burdens with one of your fingers.

Woe #4 – You are in charge of helping people keep the law, and not once have you shown you actually care about the people. You just keep adding more laws to the previous laws. A person can’t turn around without you condemning them for something they did wrong. 

If you actually understood the law you claim to be an expert in, you’d see that the laws are not meant to keep people AWAY from God, the laws are there so you can recognize your sin, repent, and DRAW NEAR! If you understood that, you’d be eager to show people how to keep the law. You’d try as hard as you could to make obedience easy. But instead you keep heaping on add-ons without actually helping people out. 

Psalm 119 says God’s word is a lamp to our feet, a light to our path. That’s a good thing! 

But the Pharisees, and even a lot of religious groups and churches still today, had made God’s word into 100’s of trip wires, where you couldn’t take a step without setting off an alarm that said you messed up. 

Sometimes the burdens in life we carry are from grief, loss, poor decisions we’ve made, things that have been done to us, etc. But sometimes, our burdens come from the church, or from our parents, adding laws upon laws upon laws, trying to make us righteous through rules. That was not God’s heart for his people. A verse we champion around here a lot is where Jesus said, “Come to me, all of you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take up my yoke and learn from me, because I am lowly and humble in heart, 

and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”

Jesus didn’t come to earth to add more commandments to the 10 we couldn’t keep. Jesus invites you to come to him for rest, not for heavier burdens.

Back to the experts in the law: 

47 “Woe to you! You build tombs for the prophets, and your fathers killed them. 48 Therefore, you are witnesses that you approve the deeds of your fathers, for they killed them, and you build their monuments. 49 Because of this, the wisdom of God said, ‘I will send them prophets and apostles, and some of them they will kill and persecute,’ 50 so that this generation may be held responsible for the blood of all the prophets shed since the foundation of the world ​— ​ 51 from the blood of Abel to the blood of Zechariah, who perished between the altar and the sanctuary. “Yes, I tell you, this generation will be held responsible. 

In the OT, God sent prophets to speak to the people of Israel, and a lot of the time, they didn’t want to hear the message, so they killed or made life difficult for the prophet. 

Jesus claims insight into God’s thought process right here, and tells these Pharisees that God has now sent them prophets and apostles, and they are going to do the same thing their great-great-great-grandfathers did. They’re going to kill and persecute them. Jesus is no doubt predicting again his own death at the hands of these very people around the dinner table, as well as the deaths of disciples and Christians that will come in the book of Acts.

“In a sense, what Jesus is saying is that if you take all of the murders of the prophets throughout the whole of history and add them together, that doesn’t add up to the heinousness of the crime they are about to commit in murdering him. They had the greatest prophet of all, the Son of God standing before them and they despised him” (Sproul, 253-254).

These guys had studied the law over and over, just like their ancestors did. They should have known better than anyone what God wanted to reveal to the people. But instead of making the picture of God clearer to the rest of the people…

52 “Woe to you experts in the law! You have taken away the key to knowledge. You didn’t go in yourselves, and you hindered those who were trying to go in.”

Any of you who are teachers in the room today know that probably the harshest thing you could ever be told is that in your preferred teaching style, your methods, your delivery, that you are making more difficult for students to learn, and that in fact, you are slowing down their progress instead of helping them grow. 

But that’s what Jesus is bringing against the law experts: You who are teachers are taking away the key to knowing God. In John’s gospel, Jesus told these same people, “you pore over the Scriptures because you think you have eternal life in them, and yet they testify about me!” 

“Instead of opening up the treasures of knowledge, the lawyers closed them fast. They turned the Scriptures into a book of obscurities, a bundle of riddles which only the experts could understand. And the experts were so pleased and preoccupied with the mysteries they had manufactured that they missed the wonderful things that God was saying” (Sproul, 225). 

Last week we said you have to make a decision about Jesus. You can’t be a neutral third party. This whole conversation we just talked about came about as Jesus was speaking about keeping your eyes open to what’s right in front of you. There are two ways we can respond to the text right in front of us. 

  1. We can see ourselves in the Pharisees and repent. I know that being a self-righteous Pharisee is what Jesus saved me from. No question. I was on the fast track to becoming the best modern-day Pharisee I could imagine. Grew up in a solid Christian home, knew the answers, knew what to say – but judgmental, proud, make rules for everyone else but be loose with them yourself – If Jesus hadn’t awakened my heart to the gospel of grace, I would have become the most self-righteous person you’d ever met. 
    1. The apostle Paul writes in Titus 3…[4] But when the kindness of God our Savior and his love for mankind appeared, [5] he saved us – not by works of righteousness that we had done, but according to his mercy – through the washing of regeneration and renewal by the Holy Spirit. 
    2. But there is no way I or any of us could do enough works of righteousness for God to accept us. And He knew that. He saw our condition, and in his mercy he acted on our behalf in the person and work of Jesus! We could never do enough hand-washing ceremonies to wash away our own sin, or regenerate ourselves, bringing ourselves from spiritual death to spiritual life!
    3. Jesus lived the life that self-righteous people try to live – doing everything perfectly the way God intended. Jesus did that for you. 
    4. Death is the punishment for the sin of self-righteousness – Jesus died the death we should have died, stretched out on a Roman cross.
    5. And God raised him from the dead to prove it all worked. His life, his death, the payment for sin – all accepted. 

So we can repent of trying to earn our way into heaven, and start loving the people God has put in the houses next to us, in the workspace next to us. 

  • We can double down

We can put on our “Expert in Christianity” hats, and start slinging mud at other churches or other pastors we know or other Christians “who should be here to hear this stuff.” It’s easy for us to name names and think of people who have shown the same kind of attitude as these Pharisees. Last summer we spent time in the book of Proverbs, and looked at chapter 14:12, which says There is a way that seems right to a person, but its end is the way to death

Here’s how the Pharisees responded: 53 When he left there, the scribes and the Pharisees began to oppose him fiercely and to cross-examine him about many things; 54 they were lying in wait for him to trap him in something he said.  

I hope you can see that even in his warnings and insults to the Pharisees, underneath it all is a heart of love! Jesus is heartbroken that they’ve missed it. Heartbroken that they’ve not taken care of the poor. Heartbroken that they’ve studied and studied and studied God’s word, but have not seen Jesus. 

But he is offering them repentance. They can immediately stop doing any of these things! They can immediately repent and start listening to him. We can too. 

Let’s pray.  


Trent C. Butler, Luke, vol. 3, Holman New Testament Commentary (Nashville, TN: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 2000)

R.C. Sproul, A Walk with God: An Exposition of Luke (Great Britain: Christian Focus Publications, 1999)

Green, Joel 1997. The New International Commentary on the New Testament, The Gospel of Luke. Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans Publishing Co