Luke: Jesus Criticizes the Religious Leaders

Read: Luke 11:37-54

Invited to dinner with the Pharisees, Jesus is quick to point out their deficiencies as a group. The way Luke records this is fascinating. He sits down, doesn’t wash ceremoniously to get their attention, then proceeds to tell them they are fools!

Now then, you Pharisees clean the outside of the cup and dish, but inside you are full of greed and wickedness. You foolish people! Luke 11:39-40

Two chapters ago, before the Transfiguration, Jesus was telling His disciples, “The Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests and the teachers of the law…” (Luke 9:22), the very people who invited Him to dinner — now He’s openly criticizing them!

Before digging into the “woes” that follow, I find it quite interesting that these guys don’t storm out of the room. It seems to me that they’re so confident in their position that they stand their ground to teach Jesus a lesson or two. Their proud posture will ultimately be their downfall. Something I need to be reminded of when I take a stance for or against the church. Jesus is the truth, not Dave, not the scribes, not the Pharisees.

Another general observation is that Jesus makes His position known openly, He doesn’t speak to the Pharisees one way in front of them and another to His disciples. The Pharisees (and others) are often seen whispering among themselves, plotting in secret, and acting deceptively. Jesus has nothing to do with such behavior and calls out these actions frequently. Important lessons to learn when having crucial conversations — integrity is of utmost importance.

We must NOT engage in religious hypocrisy. That sounds intuitively obvious, but when, not if, we only surround ourselves with people that agree with our own perspectives, we risk becoming hypocrites by association. For this reason, among many others, we must get out from behind the walls of the church building and befriend those who are far from Christ where our pious positions are not so revered and honored.

The Woes of Legalism

  • you neglect justice and the love of God
  • you love the most important seats…and respectful greetings in the marketplaces
  • you are like unmarked graves
  • you load people down with burdens
  • you build tombs for the prophets… from the blood of Abel to the blood of Zechariah…this generation will be held responsible for it all
  • you have taken away the key to knowledge

Jesus didn’t just criticize randomly, He provides specific issues for them to consider, perhaps for us to consider. The words here are laced with pride, especially pride in their legalistic system with which few can pass tests and therefore enter the elitist community.

May we surround ourselves with people of integrity that question our motivation and decisions. Keep me far from “yes-men” that make me feel good about myself for the sake of feeling good. At the same time, I’m not suggesting that being obstinate is not a badge of honor. Let’s just simply be people of integrity.

Luke was inspired to provide these specific words for us to consider. Lord, I pray we would not neglect justice for the least of these, that we would love You above all else. I pray we lay down our prideful nature and selfish ambition to make You accessible to all people, especially those who have not properly heard the gospel. Help us to be keys to knowledge, not barriers!


Footnote of Interest from the NIVAC:

The Pharisees and scribes were not the majority on the ruling council of Judaism (the Sadducees were), but they did have great influence there. While the Sadducees basically followed the Torah (Genesis to Deuteronomy), the Pharisees developed an extensive tradition of oral law, applying it to every area of life; this factor made them the strictest of the Jewish religious sects. Though small in number (estimated to be over 6,000 at this time), as a lay movement they represented one of the more powerful influences on Judaism. 2 The scribes were scholars who tried to determine what following the law meant. They were respected by most Jews.

Wilkins, Michael J.; Garland , David E.; Bock, Darrell L.; Burge, Gary M.; Fernando, Ajith. NIVAC Bundle 6: Gospels, Acts (The NIV Application Commentary) (Kindle Locations 50699-50704). Zondervan. Kindle Edition.

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