God Hates Heartless Religion – Part Two
June 02, 2019 | Randy Smith
God Hates Heartless Religion – Part Two
Sunday, June 2, 2019
Pastor Randy Smith
Last week we began a very interesting section of Scripture. We have perhaps one of the closest meetings with Jesus and the religious leaders. No one in the time of Jesus was more devout, moral, ceremonial and religious than the sect known as the Pharisees. You would think both Jesus and the Pharisees would be best friends. But ironically, nothing could be further from the truth. We see in verses 37-52, that Jesus brought strong condemnation on these men and in response these men in verses 53-54 “began to be very hostile and to question [Jesus] closely on many subjects, plotting against Him to catch Him in something He might say.”
Why was there such disconnect? It is because (as we learned) that our God wants a spiritual relationship from the heart based upon following the Bible and these men, like most religious people are more concerned with the externals, specifically following their own rules. As Jesus said in verse 39, “Now you Pharisees clean the outside of the cup and of the platter; but inside of you, you are full of robbery and wickedness.”
Last week we learned their issue was maintaining a spiritual purity by washing their hands before they eat. Today we have all sorts of issues that people in church history have added to the Bible and then use them to judge others and elevate their own spiritual maturity. Personal convictions and preferences are fine and should applauded, but the moment we press those non-biblical convictions on others and use them to evaluate our relationship with God we commit the same offense of the Pharisees.
Legalism in the church always leads to self-righteousness, a shift of focus off the essentials, a lack of love for others and destruction of our unity in Christ. The new man-made rules often surpass biblical teaching and those who hold them the best are often most esteemed in a weak church. We covered this last week and I went into greater depth in last week’s now posted podcast.
Now as we prepare for the Lord’s Table, we see one of the harshest sections of Scripture. These are some of the strongest and most condemning words off the lips of Jesus Christ. Jesus hates man-made religion. And now He’s about to let the Pharisees (verses 42-44) and a subset of the Pharisees called the Lawyers (verses 45-52) (not attorneys but so-called experts in interpreting God’s law) really have it. This section of Scripture we’ll cover contains six woes against the religious leaders who were all part of the same corrupt system.
A “woe” is basically a curse in which significant condemnation is coming as a result. Hope is that the warning will bring repentance before doom. Often here with Jesus and the Prophets in the Old Testament, they are somewhat ironic in nature. So see if you can spot that and make sense of these yourself. See if you are in any way bringing God’s judgment upon yourself.
The First Woe
>The first woe in verse 42. “But woe to you Pharisees! For you pay tithe of mint and rue and every kind of garden herb, and yet disregard justice and the love of God; but these are the things you should have done without neglecting the others.”
Okay, so let’s stay with this principle of tithing. Good or bad? A tithe means 10%. Good in the sense that the Israelites were requited to tithe. They were requited to give the first percent of their assets back to God – money, crops, livestock, etc. Good in the sense that we are also to give the first fruits of our finances to God. It’s a token of acknowledging that all we have is from God. It’s an imitation of God’s generosity. It’s sacrificing and thanking Him and participating in His work. It’s connected with the principle of what we sow is what we will reap. Following the biblical principles and giving back to God is good.
So where did these guys so wrong? There is nothing in the Old Testament about tithing mint , rue and garden herbs. As a matter of fact, even their own tradition in the Mishna specifically said they were exempt from tithing rue. This is an obsession to be consumed with their own rules. And while trying to look devout as they parsed their mint leaves, their attention to the minutia made them ignore what God really cares about – things like verse 42, justice (love for others) and love for Him.
You see, God is not into our giving if it is a painful religious duty. He’s not into our giving if it’s to make our name great. He’s not into our giving if we ignore the “weightier provisions of the law” (Mt. 23:23). God wants our heart. That’s not ten percent. That’s one-hundred percent giving. Then out of a committed love for God we become cheerful givers (2 Cor. 9:7). It becomes the overflow. We will always seek honor when we give. Is it like the Pharisees who were stingy but sought honor for themselves? Or is it like Spirit-filled Christians who are generous and seek honor for Christ? You can’t have both when it comes to your money.
The Second Woe
The second woe in verse 43. “Woe to you Pharisees! For you love the chief seats in the synagogues and the respectful greetings in the market places.”
See the problem? More concerned about looking good in the eyes of man than looking good in the eyes of God. It’s about their glory. Using religion for their glory. Chief seats were not sitting up front. It was the seats on the stage facing the people. Some pastors do that. I’d prefer to sit with my family. Wearing fancy gowns and silly hats. Being called a reverend, most holy, etc. Pastors parading all kinds of letters after their name to show the world how educated they are. Again, external, man-centered, heartless religion.
The Third Woe
The third woe is found in verse 44. “Woe to you! For you are like concealed tombs, and the people who walk over them are unaware of it.”
According to the Old Testament you were defiled for seven days if you touched a dead body or a grave (Num. 19:16). Therefore the tombs were often whitewashed to make them stand out. Jesus actually used that one against these guys in Matthew 23. “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you are like whitewashed tombs which on the outside appear beautiful, but inside they are full of dead men’s bones and all uncleanness” (Mt. 23:27).
Here a different picture is presented. Jesus now says they are like “concealed (unmarked) tombs.” Mark the tombs clearly to avoid contamination. See the irony? The ones so concerned about personal defilement with their traditions were the ones that actually defiled others because of their traditions. Because of their influence, they caused corruption, uncleanness and impurity to all who came into contact with them.
The Fourth Woe
Verse 46, the fourth woe. “But He said, ‘Woe to you lawyers as well! For you weigh men down with burdens hard to bear, while you yourselves will not even touch the burdens with one of your fingers.’”
Here is what Jesus said about Himself in Matthew 11. “Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me , for I am gentle and humble in heart, and YOU WILL FIND REST FOR YOUR SOULS. For My yoke is easy and My burden is light” (Matt. 11:29-30).
These religious leaders seeking to be the voice of God did exactly the opposite. They came up with so many spiritual rules (over 6,000 of them) that it was a burden to follow God. The rules left people confused, exasperated and ladened with guilt. Few wanted it. Less understood it. And all couldn’t follow it. They made no sense, focused heavily on the external, kept people out of the Bible, fostered hypocrisy and drew no one closer to God.
Consider for a minute what it meant to keep the Sabbath. “To ensure that no work was performed on the Sabbath, the Mishnah listed thirty-nine classifications of labor, with each category capable of endless subdivision. For example, one of the thirty-nine categories forbade the carrying of burdens on the Sabbath and hedged it with minute prohibitions for every occasion. This section declared that anything equal to or heavier than a dried fig was a burden. So it was permissible to carry something that weighed less than a dried fig on the Sabbath. But if one inadvertently put it down and then picked it up, he would be counted as doubling the weight and thus breaking the Sabbath!” (Hughes, Luke, p. 30).
The Mishnah, (first attempt to codify and shorten the verbal laws into written form in A.D. 220 which I mentioned last week) specified ways to carry burdens, “On the Sabbath if a man carries a burden in his right hand or in his left hand, in his bosom or on his shoulder, he is culpable; for this last was the manner of carrying of the sons of Kohath . If [he took it out] on the back of his hand or with his foot or with his mouth or with his elbow, or in his ear or in his hair or in his wallet [carried] mouth downwards, or between his wallet and his shirt, or in the hem of his shirt, or in his shoe or in his sandal, he is not culpable since he has not taken it out after the fashion of them that take out [a burden].”
The Apostles understood this at the Jerusalem Council in Acts 15 when they were receiving pressure from the Jewish legalists. “Now therefore why do you put God to the test by placing upon the neck of the disciples a yoke which neither our fathers nor we have been able to bear? But we believe that we are saved through the grace of the Lord Jesus, in the same way as they also are” (Ac. 15:10-11).
People say to me, isn’t Christianity about following (implied: outdated and meaningless) rules? No! It’s about following Jesus which means living according to His nature so that our relationship with Him will be strong and our lives will be blessed. Don’t buy the lie! Not following Him is slavery. Following Him is liberation. Those weighed down with the most anxiety, guilt, shame and fear in life are those who are following Christ the least. External rules are a burden. There is no power to obey them. Rules do not change a heart. Our Lord changes our hearts. He gives us grace-empowerment. He provides purpose in doing it His way.
The Fifth Woe
Let’s go to the fifth woe. Beginning in verse 47, “Woe to you! For you build the tombs of the prophets, and it was your fathers who killed them. So you are witnesses and approve the deeds of your fathers; because it was they who killed them, and you build their tombs. For this reason also the wisdom of God said, ‘I will send to them prophets and apostles, and some of them they will kill and some they will persecute, so that the blood of all the prophets, shed since the foundation of the world, may be charged against this generation, from the blood of Abel to the blood of Zechariah, who was killed between the altar and the house of God; yes, I tell you, it shall be charged against this generation’” (verses 47-52).
You get the picture on this one? These phony religious leaders knew very well that generally speaking, Israel didn’t have the greatest pedigree of honoring God. Most of their Kings were corrupt. Most of their Shepherds were useless. Many of their prophets were false and they often ignored, hated, imprisoned or killed the prophets that were genuine. As Jesus says in verse 51, “From the blood of Abel to the blood of Zechariah” (A-Z so to speak).
Massive guilt! So like all self-righteous legalists, they believe they are better than others, specifically their forefathers. They build tombs to the prophets. They claim they would never treat God’s messengers this way. You see the irony? They love dead prophets because they can’t speak anymore. They want to keep them buried. And while they do this the great irony is that they want the death of God’s greatest prophet, Jesus Christ.
Legalists hate God’s Word. They hate those who speak God’s Word (read 1 Ki. 22:7ff). What they love are their rules and judging others that don’t follow them. They love to control others and know nothing about being controlled by God. Their false religion is cover-up for their guilt and hypocrisy.
“Listen to another parable. There was a landowner who PLANTED A VINEYARD AND PUT A WALL AROUND IT AND DUG A WINE PRESS IN IT, AND BUILT A TOWER, and rented it out to vine-growers and went on a journey. When the harvest time approached, he sent his slaves to the vine-growers to receive his produce. The vine-growers took his slaves and beat one, and killed another, and stoned a third. Again he sent another group of slaves larger than the first; and they did the same thing to them. But afterward he sent his son to them, saying, 'They will respect my son.' But when the vine-growers saw the son, they said among themselves, 'This is the heir; come, let us kill him and seize his inheritance.' They took him, and threw him out of the vineyard and killed him. When the chief priests and the Pharisees heard His parables, they understood that He was speaking about them. When they sought to seize Him, they feared the people, because they considered Him to be a prophet” (Mt. 21:33-39, 45-46).
The Sixth Woe
Let’s move to the sixth and final woe.
Verse 52, “Woe to you lawyers! For you have taken away the key of knowledge; you yourselves did not enter, and you hindered those who were entering.”
Listen, all false religion is based on works to achieve God’s favor. And when you base it on works you will either use God’s Word as a means to obtain God’s favor or ignore God Word and create your own expectations.
Both are deadly because they short-circuit God method of grace. God created the first humans and gave them a relationship with Him. Then He set the rules of the relationship. God called Abraham and justified Him by faith. Then came the Law hundreds of years later through Moses. And God saves people through Christ and then enables us to have a healthy relationship with Him through Scripture. Grace is always first. Grace before obedience so you cannot boast in human achievement. We follow Him by grace. We love because He first loved us. His love empowers and motivates obedience. Obedience never earns His love. Obedience is the evidence we do love Him. And the relationship from start to end is never divorced from Scripture.
So when the Scripture is ignored or adjusted, as these religious leaders were doing, no one can get saved because they never learn the message of salvation and the saved are unable to follow God appropriately. You take away the true Word of God and you (verse 52) “have taken away the key of knowledge.” And when you take away the key of knowledge, you (verse 52) do “not enter and you hinder those who are entering.” And obviously if the entire Bible points to Christ, you can’t reject Christ and claim to have any handle on God’s truth. That’s why we are very careful here to preach Christ and preach His Word (2 Tim. 4:1-2)!
“When He left there, the scribes and the Pharisees began to be very hostile and to question Him closely on many subjects, plotting against Him to catch Him in something He might say” (Lk. 11:45-54).
Even as true believers, if we are not careful we can ignore the big picture and become consumed with the minutia more than the greatest commands to love God and love others. We can be more concerned about using our spiritual life to make a name for ourselves. We can focus on the externals and ignore the condition of our heart. We can replace our convictions and preferences for what it teaches in the Word of God. And we can even begin, though our words and example, to press these tendencies on the lives of others and hurt them spiritually.
Jesus Christ wants your heart. It starts with a desire to love Him, trust Him and obey Him based upon what He instructs from the Bible. It’s giving Him firstplace, living for His honor, finding your identity in Him and desiring to be like Him more every day. God is not impressed with religion. What He wants is a genuine relationship built on joyous heart surrender.