The comedian Eddie Izzard, who has found time in between running back to back marathons to star in this new film Victorian and Abdul, said this last week in an interview with the Guardian
“I have a very strong sense that we are only on this planet for a short length of time, And that is only growing. Religious people might think it goes on after death. My feeling is that if that is the case it would be nice if just one person came back and let us know it was all fine, all confirmed. Of all the billions of people who have died, if just one of them could come through the clouds and say, you know, ‘It’s me.., it’s brilliant, there’s a really good spa’, that would be great.”
It reminded me of the place where Jesus tells a story where people who have died tell God to send someone back from the grave to tell people it’s real and Jesus said, even if someone rose from the dead - they wouldn’t believe..
There’s something in humanity that avoids Jesus, sidesteps his authority. That’s what we’ve been seeing here in Luke 11. People see his miracles 11v? but then always keep needing more proof or it’s evidence for them that religion is dangerous! manipulative! They find a way of staying in the dark, avoiding the light.
And in todays passage Jesus exposes and condemns the classic way that we avoid him - RELIGION, and then offers an antidote - the challenge of GRACE
1. The danger of religion.
Jesus condemns the religious leaders of his day, who are the most religious (obviously) and by so doing he warns about the danger of religion
By religion here i mean the practice of climbing your way up to God. Making yourself acceptable to him by moral goodness (keeping laws) and performing religious duties. It doesn’t work says Jesus and it’s toxic
Jesus’ condemnation of religion is sparked by this critical spirit in a Pharisee who invites Jesus around for a meal. The Pharisees were not Priests they were a lay movement for spiritual piety and religiousdevotion. The holy ones. This Pharisee has Jesus round with others, see v? for a meal and Jesus doesn’t wash his hands!!
We tell kids to wash their hands before they eat because kids have invariably been playing with soil or picking their noses (like some adults for that matter) and it’s a matter of hygiene. But this handwashing was a matter of purity before God - a tradition observed by the Pharisees. Now i don’t think Jesus had just forgotten to wash his hands before he tucks in. Water had probably been brought. Jesus deliberately refuses to wash his hands. He passes the wash bowl on and starts eating and you should have seen the look on the Pharisee’s face.
Jesus refuses to wash - not because he wants to be deliberately offensive but because religion as a way of getting pure before God is a toxic lie. Because , Religion v39, is always only to do with externals, the outside, appearances. It doesnt touch the inside, our internal world, the heart.
Sometimes when i unload the dishwasher. Fail. Food inside the bowl dried on. Yuck! The pharisees religious attitudes and words and actions look good on the outside but inside there’s mess, there’s stuf on the inside. And v40 doesn’t God care about the inside just as much as the out?
Jesus begins to pronounce woes on the religious. 3 for the Pharisees and 3 woes for the Scribes. And here’s the thing. We cannot think that we escape these warnings. We easily slip into a religious way of being an ‘I can do this’ I can be good enough for God.. I don’t need Jesus
look at the woes
1. Hypocrisy v39 you follow all the tiniest outward details of devotion but there’s no love of God within. Because you’re religious you need to think you’re good enough, that your good deeds outweigh your bad ones; that you’re acceptable to God. And part of convincing yourself is that you need everyone else to think you’re good enough, that you’re acceptable. And so life becomes an act. That’s where the word hypocrite came from the actor who puts on a mask, plays a character. The danger of hypocrisy is that we hide behind masks and our brokenness can never be healed because we keep it in the dark rathe than admitting we are broken, sharing our burdens. Bonhoeffer in his explosive little book Life together writes this “The pious fellowship (a religious church) permits no one to be a sinner. So everybody must conceal his sin from himself and from the fellowship. We dare not be sinners. Many Christians are unthinkably horrified when a real sinner is suddenly discovered among the righteous. So we remain alone with our sin, living in lies and hypocrisy. The fact is that we are sinners!”
the danger of Hypocrisy.
2. the danger of pride v43
The pharisees love the front seats in the synagogues and the respect in the town square. Who of us doesn’t love to be honoured in our little sphere? It feeds our need to be acceptable before God, to be honoured by Him. If people say I’m good then i must be ok. If people honour me, God will. But what an exhausting and precarious existence - constantly living for the approval of others. When it’s there it swells my pride. When it’s absent I’m insecure and increasingky desperate. And all the time I take the best seats others are pushed down a rung or two. All th etime i get the attention, others are neglected. The toxicity of religion
And if i live this way, particularly if I am a leader. Whether a Pharisee or a Vicar. A splinter group leader or the only Christian in my workplace. All of us are leaders, all of us are leading someone. But if i live this way I lead people not to life but to death. v44 “…” Under the OT law contact with a dead body, even accidental and unintended - like walking over an unmarked grave would render a person ritually unclean. They had to wait a period of time and undergo ritual washings before they could re-enter the temple or re-engage with worship. The Pharisees thought they were sharing the way of purity, leaidng the way to heaven. But Jesus says that in their religiosity they are death traps! leaders of spiritual uncleanness whose teaching and example leads people to death!
Wow! How toxic religion is!
Well now v45 one of the scribes pipes up. The scribes were part of the religious establishment. This one pipes up as if to say you’re including us in this are you? Whis is a classic line isn’t it. If we here Jesus critique someone over there.. rather than thinking i wonder if I do this, if this applies to me, if i need to repent? we think. ‘you’re not including me in this are you?’ Well the Scribe will have wished he never complained because Jesus turns both barrels on him.
Look at Jesus’ critique of the way of religion in v46. Religion weighs down people with burdens they just cannot carry and with no-one to help them carry these burdens..
We could look further but I want us to turn from the danger of religion to its antidote - the challenge of Grace. This is here in 12vv1-12. This passage that is full of alarming words. Some of the most problematic in the NT! It’s easy to get overwhelmed with the warnings in this passage, the negatives and miss the Promises that are extraordinary here. The promises of grace.
Grace. God knows our brokenness and weakness. he knows that we can never work our way to him, earn his righteousness, save ourselves. It’s laughable that we would ever think we can. And so He gives us salvation, gives us forgiveness and righteousness as a gift - a gift that cost the death of his Son. And here’s the challenge of grace because it leaves no room for our pride, for us thinking that we are good, that we can do it. That we can avoid Jesus. Grace requires us to no more hide behind that mask of uprightness but come into the light and admit our brokenness that it may be healed.
Jesus says, why are you hiding anyway? What’s the point? Everything is known to God and will be ultimately known. vv2-3 “…”
These are scary verses aren’t they? Total exposure of all we’ve ever done at God’s judgement. Fills us with shame! Maybe our sins will be exposed at the judgement. But only so that their darkness can be swallowed up in unquenchable light; for the victory of Christ over our sins to be exalted and celebrated. And everything good that we have ever done through Jesus will also be exposed.
It’s interesting that we fear exposure of what we’re really like before others more than we do before God who sees everything and knows everything anyway and has set his love upon us. We need to move out into the light more from hiddenness to knowness. I’ve been trying to do this more. My brokenness as i’ve approached midlife becomes more and more unmanageable and while i don’t think it’s appropriate or helpful to tell you all my inner issues. I’ve been trying to open up the real me, the broken me, more and more to some that i might come into the light and be healed. And it’s hard.
Bringing the challenge of grace Jesus ends with 3 couplets here
warnings and promises.
vv4-7 Don’t fear men, receive the Father’s love
vv8-9 Don’t deny Jesus, receive the Son’s honour
vv10-12 Don’t blaspheme the Holy Spirit, receive his help
let’s look at each of those
Don’t fear people, receive the Father’s love
Don’t fear those who can kill the body and afterwards do nothing. Don’t fear people
Fear, fear, fear 3 times in v5 God who after death can cast into Hell. Oh wo! what is this. Well te word hell is gehenna - the rubbish dump outside the city walls of Jerusalem - a constant bonfire where you through out your old stuff that doesn’t work anymore, that no longer serves the purpose for which it was made. Your broken washing machine, your faulty tv. Human beings are made in God’s image, made to image him as we look at him. the more we push god away, turn our backs on him , the more we lose our image and the purpose for which we were made. at the end of our lives if we have continually rejected God, God will give us what we want. The rubbish heap. In our sinfulness this is what we deserve. But in his love God will have none of it. In grace, Jesus, carried our sins outside the city walls to the place of crucifixion. he took our rubbish. he died for it, doing away with it THAT w emight receive INSTEAD the Father’s love vv6-7 “…” Do you see how God loves you, says Jesus. You are known intimately, you are valued exceptionally, you are loved eternally. Don’t fear people..come into the light receive the Father’s love.
Don’t deny Jesus, receive the Son’s honour
Don’t deny Jesus v9 or he’ll deny you. Oh wow.. I’m always denying him, aren’t you?
But this is not describing an occasional failure but an attitude of life. Peter denied Jesus but he came back. That we all do. Judas betrayed jesus and hardened himself in that position. To the point that he’s rather die than turn to Christ. That, we must not do. Remember the context of these chapters - don’t side step Jesus, don;t deny him, don’t use excuses. Don’t deny your true purpose and reason for living. You deny your own humanity if you shut out the author of life. (Our hearts cry out for loved ones still denying Jesus)
We deserve Jesus to disown us. We had denied him our lives. But in his love, Jesus would have none of it. In grace, Jesus bore our sins on the cross and he was disowned. His Father turned his back on the son. Jesus took the Father’s rejection for us so that we might receive instead the Son’s honour.
v8 everyone who confesses me - that is calls out to me for rescue, clings to me - the son of Man will confess him before the angels of God.
Acknowledge Jesus and Jesus will acknowledge before the Father. He will speak of you in glowing terms. He will honour YOU! Did you know you’re not disowned, unknown, you don’t need to hide. You belong. You’re known in the courts of heaven. Your company is expected.
Don’t deny Jesus, receive the Son’s honour
Don’t blaspheme the Spirit, receive his help
again at first glance this seems a terrifying that rocks our assurance. There’s an unforgiveable sin? I’ve been so unfaithful - i bet i’ve committed that! But look what the verse says. Jesus’ work is to save you and so complete is his salvation of you that you can speak against him and you will still be forgiven. He will forgive all things all things! The work of the Holy Spirit is to bring us to Jesus and then help us to follow him. The holy spirit puts the spotlight on Jesus, opens our eyes to him as the source of forgiveness and salvation. And it follows that there is only one sin that cannot be forgiven and that is to reject the work of the Spirit, to reject the only one who can forgive you.
That fits doesn’t it with the context of this passage. People rejecting Jesus, sidestepping him. Don’t do it. Your only saviour.
Don’t blaspheme the Spirit, receive his help.
Danger of religion, hiding
Come into the light of grace