Plastic Plants and Plastic People



Luke 11:37-44


Jesus rarely turned down an invitation to lunch, even if it came from a Pharisee.  When our Lord ignored tradition – the Rabbinic tradition of washing before eating – His hosts were incensed.  This prompted Jesus to issue a series of “woes” or denunciations.  Many of the things He said about the Pharisees and the experts in the Law here in Luke sound a lot like the things He said of these same groups in Matthew 23.  But we are looking at two different situations and two different occasions.  The incident in Matthew took place during the Passion Week, and here this little luncheon at the Pharisee’s house took place while He was in Perea on His way to Jerusalem.  Still, it’s late in Jesus’ ministry and things weren’t as easy as they were in the early years.  Relationships with the religious elite were deteriorating.  His teachings were pointed and for some, now hard to accept.

When Jesus had finished speaking, a Pharisee invited him to eat with him; so he went in and reclined at the table.   (Luke 11:37 NIV84)

By now, most of the Pharisees were at odds with Jesus, so it is possible that this invitation to lunch was part of a larger plan to trap Jesus; to use His habits, which were well-known, or His words against Him.  But Jesus had a plan of His own, and nothing – not even religious leaders – would stop Him.  Part His plan involved these very religious leaders, the lawyers and the Pharisees.  Jesus had a message for them, and what better time to deliver it than over lunch?  So, the religious leaders thought they were in charge, but it was Jesus who used this situation for His purpose.  We will find out that these men, whatever else they may have been, were hypocrites.   We will also learn that Tennyson was right in his observations regarding these people who pervert the truth:

A lie which is half a truth is ever the blackest of lies! A lie which is all a lie may be met and fought outright, But a lie which is part of a truth is a harder matter to fight!

1.  A hypocrite is more concerned with the traditions of man than the truth of God

But the Pharisee, noticing that Jesus did not first wash before the meal, was surprised. (Luke 11:38 NIV84)

These so-called experts in all things having to do with the Law, the Old Testament, were actually far more interested in compliance to certain rituals that had nothing to do with Scripture.   In fact, these people were quite literally obsessed with hundreds of man-made rules.  They were constantly being handed down and enforced as if salvation depended on their strict observance.  In truth, the very simple precepts of the Levitical Law demanding cleanliness and ceremonial purity had been blown way out of proportion.   Jesus, by His action of entering the house and simply “reclining” at the table, was demonstrating what He thought of their precious hand-washing requirement. 

The Pharisees cared more about the traditions of the elders, which were always in a state of flux, being added to or altered, than they were with the true, unchanging Law of God or with the true dignity of Jesus’ divine character.  In truth, the true child of God ought never be put in a position of having to be bound by the opinions of man.

It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery.  (Galatians 5:1 NIV84)

Living by faith, understanding that your position in Christ is a work of faith alone, sets the believer free from the notion of having to “earn” his salvation through man-made rules and regulations. 

But the hypocrite is the one who thinks – and insists that others think as he does – that salvation is a matter of God’s grace and faith, but also a matter of believing the right “doctrines,” as determined by some man or committee of men.  Jesus would have nothing to do with such nonsense.  Why, then, do we?

2.  The hypocrite is more concerned with being clean on the outside than with purity of heart.

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.”  (Luke 11:39 NIV84)

Jesus called a spade a spade!  His words here are strong, direct, but necessary.  The word translated “greed” means literally “plunder” or “robbery.”  His point here is that the only good side to the Pharisee is the outside; inside he is rotten to the core.  They live their lives for the eyes and scrutiny of other people.  These were the man-pleasers that continually got under the skin of the apostle Paul:

To the pure, all things are pure, but to those who are corrupted and do not believe, nothing is pure. In fact, both their minds and consciences are corrupted.   They claim to know God, but by their actions they deny him. They are detestable, disobedient and unfit for doing anything good.   (Titus 1:15-16 NIV84)

Jesus went to to say:

Fools! Didnt God make the inside as well as the outside? Purity is best demonstrated by generosity.  (Luke 11:40, 41  TLB)

In typical hypocrite fashion, they were partly right but mostly wrong!  These religious types made sure the outside was squeaky clean, but they neglected to clean up the inside.  Erdman comments,

Jesus declared that to wash the body while the heart is impure is as absurd as to clean only the outside of the cup or platter.  God made both the body and soul, and is more concerned with the latter than with the former.

The precise meaning of these two verses is a little unclear, but Jesus may have in  mind the Pharisee’s predilection for being all talk but with very little action.  And our Lord may also have had in mind the numerous Old Testament passages that stress obedience to the more important aspects of the Law over obedience to ceremonial ordinances.  These passages might include:  Isaiah 1:10-17; Amos 5:21-24; Micah 6:6-8.  It’s not that Jesus is advocating a works-based salvation, but rather something akin to what His half-brother would later write:

In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead.   (James 2:17 NIV84)

But there is a deeper meaning here.  These hypocrites should have been giving unselfishly to help others, motivated not from the outside but from their inner most being.  But we get the sense that, in fact, the opposite was going on:  they were actually robbing  the poor.  That may be taken two ways:  (1)  by not giving generously, the Pharisees were robbing them; (2)  somehow they were literally taking what little the poor had away from them.  Perhaps in the form of offerings or  some sort of “temple” tax.  Either way, the shoddy way these men treated the poor showed them for what they were:  hypocrites who talked right but walked wrong.

3.  The hypocrite majors on the minors

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.  (Luke 11:42 NIV84)

It’s a fact that nothing good follows the word “woe” in the Bible!  The hypocrites eating lunch with Jesus observed scrupulously the tithing admonition taught in Leviticus 27–

A tithe of everything from the land, whether grain from the soil or fruit from the trees, belongs to the Lord; it is holy to the Lord.  (Leviticus 27:30 NIV84)

What strikes you is that these Pharisees not only observed this part of the Law, but they observed it to the minutest detail!  They tithed…herbs!  Mint?  Why stop there…why not tithe a grain of sand?  Their absolute obsession such minor points of the Law blinded them to the needs of others.  They were strong on their knowledge of the Law, which Jesus never condemned by the way, but they had no love.  We don’t know why they were like this; perhaps they thought themselves above being charitable to others or it may be that as far as they were concerned being sticklers for the letter of the Law absolved them from getting involved with others. 

Jesus informed these men that it was proper for them to practice their tithing; the New Covenant wasn’t established yet.  It’s interesting that the Gospels mention the “tithe” only three times, all in connection with the Pharisees.  Tithing is also mentioned in Hebrews but only in a historical context.  We never read of any member of the early church tithing.  We do, however, read a lot about “generous giving.”  Christians ought to give generously, as God enables them to do so. 

But these religious men eating with Jesus, they were all about the minute letter of the Law.  That’s what motivated them. 

4.  The hypocrite loves to impress people with his “religiosity.”

Woe to you Pharisees, because you love the most important seats in the synagogues and greetings in the marketplaces.  (Luke 11:43 NIV84)

Yes, these hypocritical Pharisees loved to be seen in the synagogues and loved to be greeted in the streets.   And so are religious hypocrites today.  They don’t really care about adorning the great doctrines of the Bible, but like to be adorned by those doctrines.  In other words, the religious hypocrites of today use and warp Biblical doctrines to meet some need they have.  How many preachers and pastors are in those professions because they like the (imagined) power or for the prestige that comes from being introduced as “Reverend” or “Doctor” or “Reverend Doctor?”

5.  The hypocrite true character is opposite to what he projects

Woe to you, because you are like unmarked graves, which men walk over without knowing it.  (Luke 11:44 NIV84)

This “woe” is a little different from the parallel “woe” in Matthew 23:27–

Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You are like whitewashed tombs, which look beautiful on the outside but on the inside are full of dead mens bones and everything unclean.   (Matthew 23:27 NIV84)

In Matthew, the Pharisees are compared to beautiful tombs that look clean and well-kept on the outside but full of putrid rot on the inside.  Here in Luke, though, the comparison is a little different.  Here Jesus says the Pharisees are just unmarked graves that anybody would walk over without even noticing. 

According to Jewish customs of the day, these kinds of “unmarked graves” needed to be whitewashed so as to be easily seen.  If, as Jesus said, a hapless Jew were to walk over one of those graves, he would have been ceremonially impure, so that’s why these undistinguished grave markers had to be whitewashed.  To the religious types listening to Jesus this lunch hour, this “woe” must have been particularly stinging because here they were, thinking they “all that”  and being looked up to and admired by everybody.  Yet they were like unkept grave markers; neglected.  The Pharisees had hidden their hypocrisy, presuming people were impressed with them.  Yet, according to Jesus, some people were not – they were, as it were, just walking right over them.

The true character of the hypocrite is the opposite to what they project.  So let’s be careful to make sure our hearts are right and our motives pure as we serve the Lord and lead others to Him.

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