Wait for Jesus in Sureness
It was about a month ago when Deb and I spent several hours looking at the plans for the new addition. We had gotten word that the doors were going to be put on and the contractor had wanted to secure the building. So there we sat, pouring over the plans, and assigning keys to each of the soon-to-be-installed locks of the new building.
This evening, in the last of our mid-week advent services, we are encouraged to Wait for Jesus in Surenness. The sermon text reminds us that while we wait, Jesus demands should lock us out of eternal life, but since he had no hypocrisy, he is the key that unlocks eternal life for us.
1. Those who had been with him that day had seen some amazing things. They had seen Jesus drive out a demon from a deaf and mute man. They had heard Jesus teach in an astonishing way. They had heard his reminder that those who heard his word and obeyed it were blessed, and then they were told that the sign he would give to them was the sign of Jonah.
One man was so amazed that he wanted to enjoy Jesus’ company further. This Pharisee invited Jesus to have dinner at his house. Before dinner started, the Pharisee noticed that Jesus didn’t follow the custom of the day and wash his hands before the meal.
Jesus, knowing what the Pharisee was thinking, responded in this way. 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 (vv 39-40)? He knew that the goal of the Pharisees was not only to follow the Law of Moses but even their own customs that they passed off as laws. And so Jesus pointed out to them that they were missing the point. “God doesn’t desire mere outward actions,” Jesus was saying, “but rather that those outward actions flow from a godly attitude of the heart.” Although the Pharisees looked clean to the outward world their hearts were dirtied by sinful attitudes of greed and wickedness.
And so he gave them a list of further commands: Give what is inside the dish to the poor, and everything will be clean for you (v 41). It wasn’t that the Pharisees should be generous for generosity’s sake, but rather that they be generous as way of showing love for God. He gave this command, not as a way of saying “Do this one thing and salvation is yours,” but rather to illustrate that they could not keep even this one command perfectly.
Jesus went on: 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 (v 42). One of the most important laws that God had given Israel through Moses was tithing – giving 10% of their possessions – and the Pharisees took it one step further. Not only did they give 10% of their money and cattle, but they had even gave a tenth of the minor garden herbs. But with these words, Jesus was condemning their attitude for such giving, for they were giving out of obligation and desire to look good instead of giving out of thanks and love for God.
Woe to you Pharisees, Jesus continued, because you love the most important seats in the synagogues and greetings in the marketplaces (v 43). Jesus had looked into the hearts of the Pharisees and saw that they desired earthly greetings and honor more than pleasing God. Now he was pointing out to them that they had failed to listen to God when He said that He desires men to be humble. They had failed to look out for their neighbors needs, and instead had looked after their own needs and desires. They had failed to act as servants to their neighbors, but used their power to elevate themselves.
The others at that dining table had been offended by what Jesus had said. One of the Teachers of the Law spoke up, Teacher, when you say these things, you insult us also (vv 45). In response, Jesus turned his attention and his demands from the Pharisees to those teachers. Woe to you, he said, because you load people down with burdens they can hardly carry, and you yourselves will not lift one finger to help them (v 46). These teachers of the law had joined with the Pharisees and stressed to Israel that it was important to live according to the law. In fact, they had even gone as far as creating new laws, laws not been recorded by Moses, and told the people that proper living meant following those laws as well. Instead of using the law as a way to prepare hearts for the gospel, they used the law as curtain to hide the gospel message.
Woe to you, because you build tombs for the prophets, and it was your forefathers who killed them. So you testify that you approve of what your forefathers 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 (vv 47-49). These Pharisees and Teachers of the Law were the descendants of those who had killed and persecuted God’s prophets. Jesus now condemned them by saying that through their actions they approved of what their forefathers had done. By their own actions, they too were showing a disregard for the message that God had sent to them.
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 (vv 50-51). Because of that continued neglect and disregard for God’s Law and message, these Pharisees and Teachers were responsible for the blood of all God’s prophets, from Abel – the first murder – to Zechariah – one of the last of God’s prophets. Their crime of murdering God’s prophets not only deserved an earthly death sentence but also a spiritual death sentence.
What if you and I had been sitting at that table with Jesus? Would we too have been insulted and condemned by Jesus? We may not physically be at that table, but Jesus still speaks these same demands to each one of us.
Have you ever seen a movie or TV show where one of the characters runs into their home and quickly tries to lock out a pursuer? They’re usually in movies of suspense or horror, and the individual’s door doesn’t have just one or two deadbolts, but 3, 4, 5, sometimes even six! The purpose of those deadbolts was to keep out anyone that shouldn’t be entering.
We have been given the same demands Jesus gave those Pharisees and Teachers of the Law. Jesus’ demands are like that door with many deadbolts. On one side of the door is eternal life and righteousness; we stand on the other side. Each time we fail to completely keep our Savior’s demands, those deadbolts are locked. Try as we might, we will never be able to pick those locks through our good deeds. How often don’t we have to agree with Jesus and say that we have lived as one who commits hypocrisy? Do we confess with our lips that we see this Christmas season as a time to celebrate the birth of our Savior, but show with our actions that for us Christmas is a time to receive gifts? Or perhaps we have failed to show Christian love and generosity to those who are in need. And then there are those times that we have withheld the healing of gospel forgiveness from those who have asked forgiveness from us. We have failed to completely obey Jesus’ demands, and because of our failure the door to eternal life was locked.
2. Jesus was able to speak of the demands of God because he had kept them perfectly. Try as anyone might, whether it was the Pharisees of his day or the doubters of our own day, no hypocrisy could be found in Christ. Christ kept God’s demand of generosity perfectly by showing godly love and compassion. He showed it by healing the demon possessed man; he showed it by loving and helping all. He regarded hearing and obeying God’s Word above any other command. Every one of the demands he listed, Christ kept perfectly.
Most of all, he did not try to silence or disregard God’s voice but came as one to proclaim it. He showed God’s love by speaking the law, as harsh as it was, to those who needed to hear it. Christ could have left us to our own devices and abandoned us to our own sin. Yet, he came to preach the law to us in order that we might recognize where we had failed. He preached the law in order that our hearts might be prepared for the gospel, so that when they were prepared, he might heal them by the gospel.
3. Jesus summarized and completed his section of woes against the Pharisees and Teachers of the Law with this final statement: Woe to you, because you have taken away the key of knowledge. You yourselves have not entered, and you have hindered those who were entering (v 52). The religious leaders of Israel possessed the knowledge of the gospel – that master key to a dead-bolted door – yet they chose to focus their attention and the attention of the people on the law. They increased the demands of the law by adding laws to the laws of Moses. As they increased the demands of obeying the law they kept the deadbolts on the door to eternal life locked.
But they were not the only ones who possessed the key. Jesus himself held the key to unlocking eternal life. And he not only held the key – he is the key. He is the key that unlocks the mystery of the Old Testament. In him all the Old Testament prophesies of the coming Messiah were fulfilled. He has unlocked for each one of us that mystery of how we are saved.
As the key of knowledge he not only unlocks the door to understanding the Old Testament but also the door to heaven. He is the key that unlocks everlasting life because of his holy and determined purity. He led a life of complete purity and adherence to the law for our benefit.
He is the key that unlocks everlasting life by his innocent death in our place. Jesus complete obedience and perfect life meant that he did not need any ceremonial or spiritual washing. Yet he was nailed to a cross where he was counted among criminals; he was pierced, bruised, bloodied, and most of all stained with our sin and guilt. Because of our sin and guilt he was completely in need of washing. As he took on our sin and guilt, he gave to each one of us his righteousness. As he died the death we deserved for failing to meet his demands, he opened the dead-bolts of the door to heaven for us. Because Jesus is the key of knowledge, you and I have an unlocked door to heaven!
As Deb and I were working on assigning keys to the various doors, we realized that one of the master keys would work on every door. Don’t you wish you had a key like that, a key that would unlock every lock? It would be easy to get into any room you’d need to then.
Because of our sinful nature, the door to heaven had been locked. It was locked with many different dead-bolts that needed a different key. Thanks be to God that there is one “master key” that unlocks all those dead-bolts. That key is Jesus Christ, and because he is the key, you and I can wait for him – assured of our salvation.