The Best Dressed Corpse in Town (3): Baggage Loaders
May 10, 2015
Intro – (Read Lu 11:45-54). Jesus goes to lunch with a Pharisee, but it gets contentious immediately when Jesus doesn’t wash up. The host is appalled that Jesus would neglect this sacred tradition – tho it’s not God’s Law. Jesus bluntly warns against the danger of moralism – concerning ourselves only with outward appearances while ignoring our inward sinfulness. Like the teenage girl who brought her boyfriend home to meet the parents. He appeared in all his glory: leather jacket, heavy boots, tattoos, piercings. Later, when they expressed their concern that he didn’t seem very nice, the girl replied, “Well, if he wasn’t nice, why would he be doing 500 hours of community service?” People, like the girl, are fooled by outward appearance; God sees straight to the inward defiance. It’s all just window dressing unless the heart’s right.
Jesus initially identifies 4 ways the Pharisees do this -- signs of a moralist:
I. Exhibitionists of Externals (37-41) – To the moralist it’s all about what you do; to God it’s all about who you are!
II. Trivializers of Truth (42) – Moralists cling to their small efforts at doing good while ignoring their selfish, unforgiven heart.
III. Passionate About Position (43) – Moralists seek the approval of people over the approval of God. They crave recognition.
IV. Distributors of Defilement (44) – Moralists lead others astray as well. They are carriers of death.
So Jesus is on a roll. Kindness, miracles and gentleness had not penetrated these hard hearts. So he uses “Woe”, strong word expressing regret as well as condemnation. Jesus’ stern warning is not delivered with joy, but with the hope that they might yet repent. He is modeling what Paul later advises Timothy – to correct opponents with the prayer that “God may perhaps grant them repentance leading to a knowledge of the truth” (II Tim 2:25).
His words strike hard. V. 45: “One of the lawyers answered him, “Teacher, in saying these things you insult us also.” Not courtroom layers. These are experts at tradition. Theologians. Scribes. They developed the religious system and interpretations that the Pharisees practiced. They were modern in one sense. They knew where all the loopholes were. In attacking the Pharisees, the lawyers felt insulted, too. This one reminds Jesus, it’s one thing to attack the practitioners of the system; it is another to insult the inventers! It’s a warning. “You are not just attacking laymen; you’re lobbing grenades into the religious elite. We’re right in the line of fire. And you don’t want to take us on!” It takes Jesus about 2 seconds to reload and say “Woe to you lawyers also!” (46). “Thanks for reminding me. I’ve got some things to say to you guys, too.” Three more characteristics of moralism follow which address the inventers themselves.
V.Loaders of Legalism (45-46)
46 And he said, “Woe to you lawyers also! For you load people with burdens hard to bear, and you yourselves do not touch the burdens with one of your fingers. “Load” speaks of ship’s cargo. Ever watch bag after bag loaded on a plane? That’s the picture. “You crush people with plane loads of baggage.” The scribes knew how to load it on. They had no idea how to provide relief.
So what were they loading on? Rules. Regulations. Ritual. Legal trivialities the people could never hope to remember let alone keep. Not God’s law, but men’s traditions attempting to clarify the law. These manufactured traditions were over 6,000 in number – a smothering burden. BUT, here’s where it gets interesting. Jesus reminds this man, while piling on others “you yourselves do not touch the burdens with one of your fingers.” Sounds like our Congress, doesn’t it? Surely the lawyers had to obey their own rules! How can Jesus say that they do not touch the burdens they impose on others?
This is where the loopholes come in! The common person could not possibly keep up with this tax code -- but the lawyers knew and took every advantage. We’ve seen some before. Leon Morris flags another: "On the Sabbath day they taught a man may not carry a burden 'in his right hand or in his left hand, in his bosom, or on his shoulder.' But he may carry it '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 (loopholes!)” These loopholes allowed the lawyer “to do pretty well what he wished." But the average person was buried, fully apprised how they might offend God, but never taught how they might reach Him.
How greatly this contrasts with Jesus. Mt 11:28-30: "Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. 29 Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. 30 For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light." (Mt 11:28-30). The scribes’ teaching created crushing burdens. The gospel of Jesus removed those burdens thru repentance. Moralism crushes; the gospel saves. Moralism demands; the gospel gives. Moralism burdens; the gospel forgives.
Remember John Bunyan’s Pilgrim? He can’t get rid of the growing bag of guilt on his back. He meets Evangelist who points him to the wicket gate beyond which is the cross and urges him to go there to find relief. As Pilgrim leaves, neighbors mock. Even his family tries to pull him back. On he goes anyway until he runs into Worldly Wisdom. Worldly Wisdom tells Pilgrim he knows a faster way to get rid of the burden. He points him to the village of Moralism and a man named Legality living on a high hill. Pilgrim goes, but as he gets to the hill the burden grows greater until he can hardly go on. But Evangelist finds him again and directs him back to the light at the wicket-gate.
Pilgrim once again sets his sights on that light, goes thru the gate and finds a fence on either side of the road labeled “Salvation.” Up the road he runs with great difficulty until at last he sees a cross. Below is a sepulcher. Just as he arrives at the cross, to his amazement, his burden falls from his back and into the sepulcher and he sees it no more. No more. Never again. What a picture!
With tear-filled eyes Xn says: "Thus far did I come laden with my sin, Nor could aught ease the grief that I was in, Till I came hither. What a place is this! Must here be the beginning of my bliss! Must here the burden fall from off my back! Must here the strings that bound it to me crack! Blest cross! blest sepulchre! blest rather be / The Man that there was put to shame for me!" There’s only one place to lose the guilt that moralism and legalism lay on us, Beloved. We must bring the burden to the cross where Jesus died to pay for every single sin. There they disappear never to be seen again. Moralism can never create new life; Jesus does that at the cross.
VI.Hiders of Hypocrisy (47-51)
47) “Woe to you! For you build the tombs of the prophets whom your fathers killed. 48 So you are witnesses and you consent to the deeds of your fathers, for they killed them, and you build their tombs. 49 Therefore also the Wisdom of God said [or God, in His wisdom said], ‘I will send them prophets and apostles, some of whom they will kill and persecute,’ 50 so that the blood of all the prophets, shed from the foundation of the world, may be charged against this generation, 51 from the blood of Abel to the blood of Zechariah, who perished between the altar and the sanctuary. Yes, I tell you, it will be required of this generation.” You wouldn’t have wanted to be an OT prophet. You were just as likely to be beaten or killed as not. Telling people they need to turn from idols to God is never a popular message.
Those few who stood for righteousness were often brutalized. Abel was killed by brother Cain for bringing a proper, bloody sacrifice while Cain brought the fruit of his own effort and was refused. And Zechariah? Most take him to be the priest who opposed King Joash in II Chron 24:20-22 and was stoned in the courtyard of the temple for his trouble. Since Chron is the last book in the Hebrew OT, Jesus would be saying, “Your father killed prophets from Abel to Zech – from A to Z – from Gen to Chron” – a thorough indictment.
BUT the Zech in Chron is the son of Jehoiada. Jesus’ Zechariah is the son of Berechiah according to Mt 23:35 – thus the next last prophet in the OT – Zecharaiah, son of Berechiah (Zech 1:1, 7). His killing is not recorded, but apparently he, too, died at the hands of his countrymen before the altar. Point is the forefathers of the Pharisees were prophet-killers. But as the prophets became revered posthumously, this generation jumped on board. They built ornate tombs to the prophets. Why? Mt 23:30 saying, ‘If we had lived in the days of our fathers, we would not have taken part with them in shedding the blood of the prophets.’ They tried to distance themselves from ancestral guilt.
But Jesus would have none of it. Lu 11:48, “So you are witnesses and you consent to the deeds of your fathers, for they killed them, and you build their tombs.” They were saying, “Our tombs honor those prophets.” Jesus counters, “Oh, no. Your tombs show your consent. They killed them and you build tombs to make sure they stay dead!” What did He mean by that? In what sense did the tombs show their consent? Well, they were referring to physical tombs. Jesus was referring to the tombs of unbelief by which they buried the message which was their true tribute to the prophets. They honored them outwardly, but inwardly rejected the very One to whom all the writings and testimony of the OT prophets looked forward. This is a devastating indictment.
Remember the two disciples on the Emmaus road. They supposed Jesus dead; hope was gone. Then Jesus appears to them on the road, and did what? Jumped out and said, “Ta da, guys. Look. It’s me. I’m back!” That’s what I’d have done, but not Jesus. Lu 24:25-27, “And he said to them, “O foolish ones, and slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken! 26 Was it not necessary that the Christ should suffer these things and enter into his glory?” 27 And beginning with Moses [Torah] and all the Prophets [2nd section of Jewish OT], he interpreted to them in all the Scriptures [writings – 3rd section of Jewish OT] the things concerning himself.” In other words, Jesus showed them that He was on every page of the OT, meaning no one could honor the prophets and yet throw Him over. The Pharisees were hiding their hypocrisy behind great, ornate tombs to the prophets, but their real tribute to the prophets – their real tomb was their rejection of Jesus. That told it all.
That’s why Jesus quotes God in v 49, “‘I will send them prophets and apostles, some of whom they will kill and persecute.” And they did! They had already killed John the Baptist; they would eventually kill Him; and then Stephen and then James – thus joining their fathers in killing the very ones that brought God’s message to them. These lawyers and scribes and Pharisees unwittingly acted on this principle: the only good prophet is a dead prophet. They built monuments to dead ones, but their true legacy was to kill the Word of God, just like their ancestors before them.
And this time, God says, Enough! V. 50, “so that the blood of all the prophets, shed from the foundation of the world, may be charged against this generation, 51 from the blood of Abel to the blood of Zechariah, who perished between the altar and the sanctuary. Yes, I tell you, it will be required of this generation.” In other words, this era is over. Judgment is coming, and so it did – on that very generation. Between 66 and 70 AD when the Jews rebelled against Rome, these Word-killers felt the wrath of God as over 1,000 towns throughout Israel were completely wiped out, siege was laid to Jerusalem, its buildings destroyed, the temple torn apart, thousands massacred and other sold into slavery – a horrendous physical reminder of the unspeakable spiritual fate that awaits those who pretend allegiance to God’s Word while living disobedient and unrepentant and self-sufficient lives. Moralism will not do!
Perhaps we, too are building tombs of honor to the God’s Word, sitting on our shelf, while paying our real tribute in unbelief. Moralists instead of believers.
Like the man who came out of the mountains of western Carolina one day. All dressed up – carrying a Bible. A friend saw him and said, “Elias, what’s happening? Where you goin’ all dressed up like that?” Elias replied, “I been hearing a lot about New Orleans. They say there’s plenty to drink, a lot of gambling, enticing shows and women there.” The friend said, “But Elias, why are you carrying your Bible?” Elias answered, “Well, if it’s as good as they say, I might stay over through Sunday.” The Bible was just the final ornament on a well-dressed corpse. Do we really love the book, enough to live by it, or are we just kidding everyone, including ourselves?
VII.Dealers in Deception (52-54)
Perhaps this is the worst thing of all. They messed up the message. They were self-deceived and condemned others as well. V. 52, “Woe to you lawyers! For you have taken away the key of knowledge. You did not enter yourselves, and you hindered those who were entering.” How had they taken away the key of knowledge? By misrepresenting the Word? By teaching moralism instead of repentance. How did that happen? They just took the parts they liked.
He says in Isa 1:13, “Bring no more vain offerings; incense is an abomination to me. New moon and Sabbath and the calling of convocations -- I cannot endure iniquity and solemn assembly. 14 Your new moons and your appointed feasts my soul hates; they have become a burden to me; I am weary of bearing them.” Wait a minute? Who told them to keep those feasts and make those offerings? God did, right? So how can He say He hates them? End of v. 13 – “I cannot endure iniquity and solemn assembly” -- sin and sacrifice don’t mix. Sacrifice without sorrow is shameful. Mal 1:10: “Oh that there were one among you who would shut the doors, that you might not kindle fire on my altar in vain! I have no pleasure in you, says the LORD of hosts, and I will not accept an offering from your hand.” The problem? Unrepentant hearts. Psa 51:16: “For you will not delight in sacrifice, or I would give it; you will not be pleased with a burnt offering. 17 The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit;
a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise.”
The Pharisees hid this knowledge They told people, “You must keep the law to be saved.” But the law was never given to save people; it was given to elicit broken hearts. It was given to teach You can’t make it on your own. You need a Savior. In rejecting Jesus, they rejected the only answer to the law’s demands, and they rejected their only hope.
Conc – The best moralism can do is make the outside look a little better. It can’t bring new life. It can only dress up death. Ritual without repentance is repulsive. The gospel strips us bare of pretense, forgives the old, creates new. Two artists saw a decaying old barn with objects of interest. One of them stumbled over an old wheel barrel -- dented, rusty, long abandoned with some wood rotted away but with some flowers growing out of the collected dirt. The other got very excited. “Can’t you just see this as a still life?” About that time the farmer came out to see what was going on, so the woman asked if he would mind if she painted the old wheel barrel. The old farmer said, “Sure, lady, you can paint it -- but it’s not gonna help it.” Painting the outside won’t change the inward reality. That’s why the best moralism can hope for is to make the best-dressed corpse in town. Better to pray as did the tax collector, “Lord be merciful to me a sinner.” Moralism loads it on; repentance takes it all away. Let’s pray.