Monday, January 29, 2007



In Luke 11:37-54 the increasing spirit of confrontation comes to a head when Jesus was invited by a Pharisee to dinner.
When Jesus had finished speaking, a Pharisee invited him to eat with him; so he went in and reclined at the table. But the Pharisee was surprised when he noticed that Jesus did not first wash before the meal.

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. You foolish people! Did not the one who made the outside make the inside also? But now as for what is inside you—be generous to the poor, and everything will be clean for you.

"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.

"Woe to you Pharisees, because you love the most important seats in the synagogues and respectful greetings in the marketplaces.

"Woe to you, because you are like unmarked graves, which people walk over without knowing it."

One of the experts in the law answered him, "Teacher, when you say these things, you insult us also." Jesus replied, "And you experts in the law, woe to you, because you load people down with burdens they can hardly carry, and you yourselves will not lift one finger to help them.

"Woe to you, because you build tombs for the prophets, and it was your ancestors who killed them. So you testify that you approve of what your ancestors did; they killed the prophets, and you build their tombs. Because of this, God in his wisdom said, 'I will send them prophets and apostles, some of whom they will kill and others they will persecute.' Therefore this generation will be held responsible for the blood of all the prophets that has been shed since the beginning of the world, from the blood of Abel to the blood of Zechariah, who was killed between the altar and the sanctuary. Yes, I tell you, this generation will be held responsible for it all.

"Woe to you experts in the law, because you have taken away the key to knowledge. You yourselves have not entered, and you have hindered those who were entering."

When Jesus went outside, the Pharisees and the teachers of the law began to oppose him fiercely and to besiege him with questions, waiting to catch him in something he might say.

I recently came across the writings of Donald Williams on the net and he opened to me three universal problems of the religious leaders Jesus was facing and it’s still with us today.

The FIRST problem is formalism—a commitment to outward forms—rituals, practices, creeds, type of worship, believing that these forms are key to true piety and make you acceptable to God. These forms aren’t bad in themselves, but there can be a tendency toward an external focus rather than what flows out of the heart. Jesus points out their excessive emphasis on washings and cleansings. He has already provoked this part of formalism by not following through on the ceremonial washing as He entered the house. The Pharisee gloried in his washings as one of the most important evidence of being so self-righteous.

Jesus offers two answers when the Pharisee questioned Him on not washing. The first was the parable of cup. Pharisees were so careful to wash the outside of the cup, but the leave the inside filthy. In other words, all that really matters is how someone looks. The second thing Jesus does is to fire away with some sarcasm. He says your fathers killed the prophets and you build the tombs. In other words, you are complicit in the process of even making the death of the prophets look good on the outside. Formalism is just too shallow to amount to anything genuinely spiritual.

The SECOND problem is legalism—Legalism is not just a strict stance on the Law. Legalism believes that by keeping a list of do’s and don’ts you will be able to earn God’s acceptance and salvation. The focus here is keeping whatever set of rules you have adopted and that devotion to keeping the rules becomes the empty activity, again proceeding without the heart for it. Jesus pokes fun at their practices of tithing. They took tithing to the point where they would go through their spice rack and carefully measure out a tenth of each jar—while ignoring the more significant matters of the Law, such as love. This practice became “burdensome”

You see, Pharisees are hypocrites. But they were hypocrites, not only in the sense of talking one thing and doing another. They were hypocrites, because they were “hyper-critical”—knit-pickers, feather-pluckers. The Sabbath also became a badge of legalistic righteousness. The practice of keeping the Sabbath also became an empty ritual or, in this case, Law that must be kept to the nth degree no matter what. So, legalists do things because they “have to”, not because they “want to.”

The THIRD problem is clericalism—Clericalism is the wrong kind of dependence on the position of clergy. Within clericalism there are two classes of people—first class and coach. First class believers are the clergy—those who are in the professional ministry. It’s the tendency to put clergy up on a pedestal above everyone else in the body of Christ.

When a person is in the hospital, get the pastor. Call the priest immediately. When someone needs prayer, we must wait for the pastor. I strongly disagree with this thinking. When a clergyman prays over someone, he puts his empty hands on a person’s empty head and prays for God to come through on his behalf. Anyone can do that.

Formalism, legalism and clericalism are all very much alive among us and act as dangerous cancers in our fellowships. Jesus was totally upset by those who seek the best seats of honor in the synagogues. He was livid over the fact that these pseudo-leaders took the key to knowing God and His ways as if they were the gate-keepers of faith. Yet, these same gate-keepers have never gone into a full faith relationship themselves while hindering others in the process.

For many years I’ve been saying, “We don’t need more ministers. We need more people ministering.” Lord, deliver us from thinking we’re something when we’re not, from following a man-made list of do’s and don’ts and from the pompous spirit of clericalism. Lord, deliver us from our tendency to be drawn to any of these Pharisaical practices that are empty and destructive. Lord Jesus, deliver us from ourselves.



In Luke 11:33-36 Jesus uses the image of a lamp that shines a light in your whole body—or not:

"None of you lights a lamp and puts it in a place where it will be hidden, or under a bowl. Instead you put it on its stand, so that those who come in may see the light. Your eye is the lamp of your body. When your eyes are healthy, your whole body also is full of light. But when they are unhealthy, your body also is full of darkness. See to it, then, that the light within you is not darkness. Therefore, if your whole body is full of light, and no part of it dark, it will be just as full of light as when a lamp shines its light on you."

The most effective use of a lamp is to place it on a prominent stand or shelf in the house, so that it is able to shine throughout the house. When a lamp is placed properly, then you can see everything within the entire house.

Jesus switches then from a house to your house—your body. He says the lamp of your body is your eye. When your eye is healthy, your whole body is full of light. But when it is unhealthy, your whole body is filled with darkness.

What is He saying? I see it this way. Since your eye is the window to your entire psyche, then maybe Jesus is referring to what your eye is focused on. This seems to fit His constant emphasis on those who have “ears to hear” and “eyes to see.”

So, if your eye is focused on hearing and seeing what Jesus is saying and doing, then your eye is focused on the right things. If your eye is focused on Jesus and His Kingdom, then your focus is pure and clear. And, when your eye is focused in this way, your whole insides is full of light. But if your eye is out of focus on Jesus and His Kingdom, then your insides will be filled with darkness.

This is just another way of saying, “He who hears my words and practices them” has a firm foundation for his life. But those “who hear my words and don’t practice them” have a shaky foundation and are vulnerable to destruction from the winds, floods and rains of life’s trials and troubles.

Well, what part of this is unclear? I spent most of my life doing life my way for Jesus. Jesus says that this will not work well and He has proven to be right in my situation. Now, I am determined to do my life in the way of Jesus. You see, He is the way, the truth and the life. I highly recommend you choose to do the same.

You know what? It’s like the process of elimination—NOTHING ELSE WORKS.



At this point in Jesus’ ministry He is getting closer to Jerusalem. He began in the Galilee region and is making His way through Judea in this section. In verses 14-20 Jesus casts out a demon and really stirs up the crowds with strong reactions to this miracle.

By Jewish tradition there were three miracles that only the Messiah would be able to handle—healing a leper, a man born blind and a person who couldn’t speak. They would say, “When the Messiah comes, He will be able to heal them. We can’t do that ourselves, so we’ll wait for the Messiah.” Now, here we come to the healing of a man who couldn’t speak, because of a demon. This was just too threatening to many of the people. Jesus did it, but it just can’t be.

Jesus was driving out a demon that was mute. When the demon left, the man who had been mute spoke, and the crowd was amazed. But some of them said, "By Beelzebub, the prince of demons, he is driving out demons." Others tested him by asking for a sign from heaven.
Jesus knew their thoughts and said to them: "Any kingdom divided against itself will be ruined, and a house divided against itself will fall. If Satan is divided against himself, how can his kingdom stand? I say this because you claim that I drive out demons by Beelzebub. Now if I drive out demons by Beelzebub, by whom do your followers drive them out? So then, they will be your judges. But if I drive out demons by the finger of God, then the kingdom of God has come upon you.

Beelzebub comes from the same name as a Canaanite god the children of Israel faced—Baal. Baal literally means “god of the high place.” By the time Jesus showed up Beelzebub was considered the Devil, the prince of demons. This was a slanderous accusation, but the only comfortable alternative for many of the religious leaders.

Jesus responds by telling them how ridiculous their accusation is. He points out that if He were empowered by Satan, then Satan would be fighting against himself by casting out a demon. Then Jesus questions the Jewish exorcists, “Now if I drive out demons by Beelzebub, by whom do your followers drive them out?” Jesus wasn’t the only one casting out demons. There was a variety of Jewish exorcists at that time.
Jesus is arguing here that the same could be said of their own exorcists, that they are empowered by Beelzebub.

Then Jesus turns the corner a bit and says, “But if I drive out demons by the finger of God, then the kingdom of God has come to you.” And, if this is true, then He is pointing out that they are too blind to see it as from God and not the Devil.
Next Jesus states two parables. One is to point out that He is doing these miracles because of His superior power. "When a strong man, fully armed, guards his own house, his possessions are safe. But when someone stronger attacks and overpowers him, he takes away the armor in which the man trusted and divides up his plunder. "Whoever is not with me is against me, and whoever does not gather with me scatters.

The second parable is a warning. "When an evil spirit comes out of anyone, it goes through arid places seeking rest and does not find it. Then it says, 'I will return to the house I left.' When it arrives, it finds the house swept clean and put in order. Then it goes and takes seven other spirits more wicked than itself, and they go in and live there. And the final condition of that person is worse than the first."

There are three basic responses to Jesus’ healing of the man who couldn’t speak. FIRST—Many were in awe and were even more attracted to this miracle worker from Galilee.

SECOND—Unwilling to see the hand of God in Jesus’ healings, there were some who accused Jesus’ acts as being from the Devil—Beelzebub. We see Jesus’ response to their accusation in Luke 11:27-28.

As Jesus was saying these things, a woman in the crowd called out, "Blessed is the mother who gave you birth and nursed you." He replied, "Blessed rather are those who hear the word of God and obey it."

After a woman yelled out a blessing to the young rabbi, Jesus responds with an even greater blessing for the crowd. He says, “Blessed rather are those who hear the word of God and obey it.” His point is directly toward those who see His works as coming from the Devil rather than God. Because they refuse to hear or accept this sign from God through His Messiah and obey it, then they will miss out on the blessing of God.

THIRD—There were some who asked for a sign from heaven that He was from God. NOTE, this is as if Jesus hadn’t already given several signs through all of His miracles to date. They were saying, “That was pretty good, Jesus, but show us another one and another one.” Jesus responds to their demand for a sign in Luke 11:29-32.

As the crowds increased, Jesus said, "This is a wicked generation. It asks for a sign, but none will be given it except the sign of Jonah. For as Jonah was a sign to the Ninevites, so also will the Son of Man be to this generation. The Queen of the South will rise at the judgment with the people of this generation and condemn them, for she came from the ends of the earth to listen to Solomon's wisdom; and now one greater than Solomon is here. The people of Nineveh will stand up at the judgment with this generation and condemn it, for they repented at the preaching of Jonah; and now one greater than Jonah is here.

His accusers are always wanting more signs, yet He has given them many signs. And, in this particular sign of healing the man who couldn’t speak He is clearly doing a Messianic miracle longed for throughout the ages. So, if they are so blind as to reject Him after all He has shown them, then Jesus will not give them any more signs but one. The one sign He will give them is the sign of Jonah.

The sign of Jonah is the sign of the resurrection. Just as Jonah spent 3 days in the belly of the whale, so must the Messiah spend 3 days in a grave. But in the same way Jonah was delivered from this deep-sea grave, the Messiah will also be raised from His grave. We learn from Matthew’s gospel that from this point on, Jesus speaks only in parables. He speaks in parables so that those who have ears to hear can hear and those who do not have ears to hear will not understand any more. If they continue to reject the clear signs of God’s Messiah, they are piling up more judgment against them.

I don’t want you to miss the underlying point Jesus is making in this section. In my opinion, the key statement in this passage is “But if I drive out demons by the finger of God, then the kingdom of God has come upon you.” If Jesus is using the mighty finger of God to work His works, then the kingdom of God has come upon you. If He is not, then nothing changes. If Jesus isn’t from God, then we can remain in our own quiet desperation—alone. However, if Jesus is from God, then He, the King, has brought His kingdom to us. That’s the good news! In a sense, it’s a pragmatic thing. What have you got to lose by following Jesus—hearing what He says and obeying it?

I’m reminded of my favorite Snoopy saying, “It doesn’t make any difference whether you win or you lose—until you lose.” And then it makes a lot of difference.