This morning we're going to return to the book of Luke and to what is a very instructive and important section of Luke, chapter 16. A bit of a summary, really. We're going to find that the things we learn out of the particular text we're going to look at this week and next are going to be by way of review in some sense, bringing back some things that have gone before, pulling them together in a most fascinating manner.
We want to look at Luke 16 verses 14-18, Luke 16 verses 14-18. One of the real paradoxes of religion is this: that those who are the greatest enemies of God are those who are the most religious. One would assume that the more religious you are the closer to God you are; the more religious you are the more favorable to God you are; the more religious you are the more God would approve of you. But just the opposite is true. The archenemy of God is false religion. The most vile and violent enemies of God are those who reject His truth and substitute anything else. Those who will suffer the severest eternal punishment in hell are those who have rejected the truth and embraced a false religion.
In fact the most overt and aggressive mockers of God and of Christ are religious. Anyone who denies the gospel and the God of Scripture and the Christ of Scripture is the archenemy of God and has taken his place with Satan in the propagation of false religions for the purpose of attacking God and the advance of His kingdom. It is an ironic reality that those who are the recognized representatives of God are actually filled with the greatest contempt for God and will receive from God the severest judgment. False religion and false teachers stand at the head of the parade of the anti-God force in this world. They are victims and participants in systems of religion designed by Satan, who is disguised as an angels of light... an angel of light and who is aided and abetted by demons who seduce people with damning doctrine; religion then that people propagate for the purposes of Satan and not at all for the purposes of God. Sad to say, but true, that the religious leaders of Israel fit into this category.
The Pharisees were the religious leaders of Israel. They had the people. The temple practices were operated by the Sadducees but they were sort of confined. They were the religious liberals, didn't have strong influence with the people, basically they ran the power structure in Jerusalem. But the leaders of the people in the synagogue scattered throughout the nation Israel were the Pharisees. It was their system that was basically propagated, believed and embraced by the populace.
They are, throughout the life and ministry of Jesus, clearly to be seen as His archenemies. They are the instruments of Satan all the way through. This is crystal clear. What is so interesting to me is that there is a movement gaining momentum right now, even as we speak, in evangelism, that wants us to embrace the Jews as they are under some kind of special covenant which God has within that does not require that they believe in Jesus Christ. This is being aggressively propagated on television, TBN, other television stations, books, conferences that we need to embrace the Jews; we need to embrace Israel because Israel is the kingdom of God. Israel has a special, unique covenant with God that does not require that they acknowledge Jesus as Messiah, as God, as Lord, and as Savior.
This is in clear opposition to the clear conflict that existed in the New Testament between Jesus and the Jews who were the most religious of all Jews, namely the Pharisees; the most studious of the law, the most fastidious in interpreting the law and applying the law, the most relentless in giving attention to the law, and the most eager to observe the ceremonies and the rituals that indicated that they were worshiping the true God. But as time goes on in the ministry of Jesus their hostility grows and grows and grows until the last months of Jesus' life are just a non-stop conflict between the Pharisees and the Son of God.
In verse 14 of Luke 16, we see something of their attitude, at this particular point, manifest in a very simple sentence. Let me read the text to you. Chapter 16 verse 14, "Now the Pharisees who were lovers of money were listening to all these things and they were scoffing at Him." They were scoffing at Him; curiosity once, hostility, kind of a mixture. There was a period of time when some of the Pharisees were inviting Jesus to their homes because they wanted to ask Him questions and they wanted to find out about what He was teaching, and they wanted to know about Him. We saw Jesus at the home of a Pharisee in chapter 7, again at the home of a Pharisee in chapter 11, again at the home of a Pharisee in chapter 14. Here they are again always surrounding Jesus but by now there are no more amiable meetings. There are no more lunches. There are no more dinners with Pharisees. He no longer is going to be an invited guest. There is never again a record in the gospel of Luke that there was a meeting between Jesus and the Pharisees in one of their homes. Because what started out as curiosity, what began to develop into animosity because Jesus was saying things contrary to their religion and calling the genuineness of their commitments into question... What began to turn into hostility eventually became anger. It eventually became a plot to kill Jesus, which is already escalating and moving Him toward the cross and this is all being orchestrated by the leaders of religion in Israel, the leaders of Judaism.
We see something of the escalation of their attitude because in chapter 15, verse 2, it says, "They began to grumble." They were complaining about Jesus openly, complaining about His behavior publicly. They were convinced in their minds that He was not from God because what He said was different than what they said. It was a clear-cut contest and this would be the bottom line: Who speaks for God? Is it Jesus or is it the Pharisees. That is the contest. And because of what Jesus said was an attack on what the Pharisees taught, it was clear that they did not agree. One was right and one was not. Who was it? Was it Jesus or was it the Pharisees?
Well the Pharisees came to the conclusion that it was they who were speaking the truth and it was Jesus who was the imposter. It was Jesus who was against the law, who was relaxing the law, who was, in a sense, defaming the law, depreciating and diminishing the law by spending His time with lawbreakers such as sinners and tax collectors. They had come to that conclusion and it was now time to get the people on board with their conclusion, and so openly, for example earlier in the gospel of Luke, people would say, "He does what He does by the power of Satan." They didn't want to keep it in. They wanted to shout it so that everybody who was inclined to be attracted toward Jesus would understand that this was a horrific decision to make and a shameful thing because Jesus was satanic.
In chapter 15, they grumbled, they murmured, they complained out loud, "This man receives sinners and eats with them." Come on to our side. We are the true interpreters of the law of God. We speak for God. Look at the associations of this man. We don't associate with those kinds of people. Their grumbling in chapter 15, by the time we get to chapter 16, verse 14, it's escalated to scoffing. Scoffing, this is serious stuff. This is now mockery. They're no longer just complaining. They're no longer saying He's satanic. It's turned into a sneer. It's turned into a...a mocking expression of distain, disgust, and hatred toward Jesus. The verb ekmuktērizō basically means in the literal sense to turn up your nose at someone, to treat them as with disdain, strong contempt.
This is now their attitude. It is an attitude of mockery, of scorn, of repudiation in the most severe degree. It is a kind of vile hatred that...that is diminishing and degrading of Jesus. In fact, this becomes a pattern for them. In chapter 23 of Luke, when you get to the foot of the cross and Jesus is being crucified, in verse 35 it says, "Even the rulers were sneering at Him," the only other time in the New Testament the same word is used.
So this lifting up their nose and treating Jesus with mocking scorn, sneering disdain, and public disgust is now going to be the pattern. They've worked through all the other things and they've reached this point where they just openly, incessantly deride and mock Him. And they do it publicly for the purpose of deterring anyone who might regard Him as the Messiah or might regard Him as a prophet from God or might believe that He is, in fact, the true interpreter of God's law.
Our Lord's archenemies then, our Lord's most hostile antagonists are the self-appointed guardians of the true religion of Judaism. Mark it down folks; false religion is always the most severe hater of God, always. They denounce Jesus publicly because they reject what He is and what He says, and all false religion that will not accept the true saving gospel of Jesus Christ does exactly the same thing. They may not do it publicly. They may not do it openly. Most of them will if you press the issue of the true gospel and true Christianity against a false religionist, they will finally come to the place where they will treat the truth with scorn. But whether they do or not, anybody who takes a position that does not acknowledge the truth of Jesus Christ and the gospel is the enemy of God. And as a purveyor of false religion becomes the archenemy of God because as is said of the Pharisees, "Not only are you sons of hell," Matthew 23, "but everybody you convert becomes twice the son of hell that you are." Who would have ever thought that the Pharisees, the...the guardians of Old Testament truth, they thought, the gatekeepers of Judaism, the representatives of the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, who would have thought that they would be not sons of God, not sons of the kingdom, not sons of heaven, but called by Jesus sons of hell?
There's no truce to be made with false religion in any way, shape, or form whatsoever. It is a contest: Who speaks for God? Is it Jesus or is it the Jews? Is it Jesus or is it anyone who says something different than Jesus? Is it Jesus or anyone who has another religion and another gospel or another version of the gospel? And by the way, that's why in Galatians 1, the apostle Paul says, "If anyone preaches any other gospel let him be cursed, damned, consigned to hell."
The conflict is the issue here, the conflict continues to be the issue until finally Jesus is executed and on the surface it looks like the Pharisees won the contest. Not so, however, as we well know when they face their eternal judgment. Jesus is not abrogating the law as they accused Him of. Jesus is not relaxing the law as they accused Him of. Jesus is not inventing some new religion as they accused Him of. He is not condoning sin and sinners as they said He did. He was upholding the law, clarifying the law, restating the law, reaffirming the law, if anything expanding the law, as He did in the Sermon on the Mount when He said, “You’ve heard it said this, but I say unto you," and he made the law even more stringent and more demanding than the Pharisees were ever willing to make it. They were reductionists of the law. They had to reduce the law because they had to be able to keep it to earn their salvation and so they had to twist it and turn it into something that was manageable.
Jesus came and pushed the parameters of the law back to where they began and even extended them beyond what people did to the way people thought. But the contest is the same. Who speaks the truth? Does Jesus or anybody else who says anything other than what Jesus said? And Jesus didn't say things that were His own, although that would have been fine since He was God, but in the incarnation, submitting Himself to the Father, He said, "I speak only to you that which my Father speaks." So either you receive the truth of God through Christ or you oppose that truth. And there is no middle ground.
Now in this text, I want you to focus on that little phrase, “they were mocking at Him,” scoffing at Him, turning up their nose at Him, because this text is going to underc...is going to uncover the motives for that. What's behind it? There really is a pathology in this text. There is an underlying assessment here of the nature of these Pharisees, and of course of anybody who is in a false religious system. Why did they scoff at the truth? Why did they sneer at the truth? Why do they mock at the truth? Why do they laugh at the truth? Why do they deride the truth?
And by the way, even today evangelicals want to embrace, many evangelicals under that rubric want to embrace everybody who believes anything and nothing and something and throw their arms around whoever, whatever view, if you're just willing to talk about Jesus at all we'll get you in, and even if you never heard of Jesus we'll get you in somehow. We're all going to be in there. That... That's sort of the mindset now. We don't want to be divisive. The only way you can perpetrate that, see the only way you can perpetuate that, the only way you can make that sort of unity work is to never say anything that offends all the people who are outside the truth, because if you start speaking the truth in that context they're going to sneer at you, they're going to mock and they're going to scorn.
And so in order to make that work, on the broad level, whether it's to create a cultural morality, or whether it's just to be a nice guy and be loving and not divisive, in the end you pull out everything that could produce any kind of resistance. That's the mentality we're dealing with today.
But Jesus goes right to the core of this issue and obviously will not tolerate anything other than the truth and does not wish us to either, and so He uncovers the motives for people in false religion. And I'm going to give you some today and next time in this text. Number one: Why do people scoff at the truth? Why do people sneer at the truth? Why do they reject the truth? Well very clearly here the first thing we can say about it is that it's against the inclinations of their own heart. It's against the inclinations of their own heart. Clearly, look at it.
"Now the Pharisees, who were lovers of money, were listening to all these things and were scoffing at Him." Actually the Greek structure in the verse is set up a little differently. The verse begins this way: “Now listening to all these things were the Pharisees who were lovers of money and they were scoffing at Him.”
Now the Pharisees are characterized here as, it's an interesting word, philargyroi, philargyroi, two words, lovers of money, from phileo, to have affection for. They were money lovers. Actually the word is “silver.” They were silver lovers. Everything was coinage. They didn't have any paper money in those days. They were lovers of coins. They were motivated by greed. They were motivated by avarice. That's why Judas became an apostle, a disciple. He got in because he wanted money and when he was...when he was one of the disciples he manipulated himself to get into the place where he became the treasurer and he held the bag and then he was beginning to become very concerned when money was going out of the bag and he made a point of that, you remember. And he only made the point, it says, because he held the bag and it was depleting his potential income down the road. He was in it because he thought Jesus would bring the kingdom and he would be wealthy and rich and prominent in it. Pretty typical; he was moved by avarice.
All false teachers function like that. They operate thinking that godliness is a means of great gain, 1 Timothy 6:5 and 6. They think that religion will make them rich, or maybe not filthy rich, but religion is a good way to make them comfortable. Religion will provide their money. You get into it, you use people, you abuse people, in order to satisfy your own needs, to meet your own needs. This is absolutely typical of false teachers. That is why anyone who is to serve in spiritual leadership is warned against it.
In 2 Timothy 3:2, "Men will be lovers of self, lovers of money." It just goes with being fallen. You're going to want what you want to satisfy your own needs and your own comforts. Opposed to that, if you're going to be an elder or a spiritual leader in the church, 1 Timothy 3:3, "You must be free from the love of money." Titus 1:7, "You must be free from the love of money." First Peter 5:2, "You must not minister for sorted gain." Jude 16, the same thing. You don't do what you do in order to take financial advantage of people. This is a corrupt motive that was characteristic of the Pharisees. And there it is. They were lovers of money. They were in it for money. That means their motives were impure. It wasn't for God; it wasn't even for the welfare and the benefit of people, they were dishonorable, they were not to be trusted, they only pretended to love God, they only pretended to love people, they were in it to get what they could get out of it. They were devourers of people. They were devourers of widow's houses. They took advantage of the poor. They only gave as a dramatic show, not sacrificially, not out of their own heart.
Even when their parents were destitute rather than give their parents what the Old Testament required they would say, "Oh it's korban, it's korban, it's korban,” which is a way of saying it's devoted to God, I pledged it to God, I can't give it to my parents. So they would let their parents suffer and not help them. This is old stuff. Jeremiah 6:13, "Everyone is greedy for gain, from the prophet to the priest, everyone deals falsely." Verse 14: “Saying, ‘peace, peace,’ but there is no peace." Why did they say, “Peace, peace”? Because that's the message people will pay to hear.
If that's all you've got to say people will pay. You look at television, you see those stadiums filled with all those people and you listen to those guys that are talking and you say, "Why are they there?" Why are they there? They don't say anything. What they do say is how you can feel good, how you can be prosperous, how you can think good about yourself, how you can have a happy life. They say peace, peace, peace, peace, and people will pile into hear that. But the motive, the underlying motive is wrong. It's warped, and it's for their own sake.
So you see there's no capacity in them to receive. We could say point number one is they operate out of impure motives; they operate out of corrupt, self-aggrandizing motives.
Secondly, then: Because of this they are antagonistic to God's demands. They're antagonistic to God's demands. And this is kind of what we've been mentioning already. There they are listening. And what triggers this scoffing, what triggers this outburst, which is very public here? They're scoffing at Him publicly, He hears them and everybody hears them. What triggers it is what He says in the prior thirteen verses. They were listening to Him and what He was saying was you need to use your money for the purchase of friends for eternity. You need to use your money to win friends for eternity. You need to invest in the kingdom of God, which would be to give your money to spiritual enterprises. You need to be faithful with using the little that you have and using it to the glory of God and then God will reward you and give you much. You need to love God, not money. You need to serve God, not money. It's pretty straight stuff, really straight stuff.
And this indicts them because they were lovers of money. Don't think for a minute that corrupt people don't know they're corrupt. I mean even saved people know they're corrupt. It's all an illusion. People know their own hearts. The apostle Paul says, "Who knows what's in a man except the spirit of the man." People know their hearts. And when Jesus was telling them to do with their money things that advance the kingdom of God they did not like what He was saying because they were in their religious operation for money. And it was money to come to them not to go to somebody else. The only money they gave is what they did publicly to put this...to put on display their hypocrisy. We'll see that a little later.
So the Lord was teaching things they didn't want to hear. And the response is ridicule, the response is scorn, the response is an all-out attack on the truth. This is a very important principle, folks, mark it. You can always mark it. Anytime you see an aggressive reaction to what the word of God demands, you know you're dealing with false people, because they have no receptivity to the truth. They have no capacity. They are blind, they are dead. "The natural man understands not the things of God,” 1 Corinthians 2:14. He can't know them, he can't understand them. Even the preaching of the cross is to them that perish foolishness. It is an offense to them. It is a stumbling block to them, to preach the word of the living God, to preach the truth. It offends them.
In John chapter 3, for example, is the best and most core illustration of this. In John chapter 3, Jesus says very simply, "Light has come into the world," verse 19, "and men love the darkness rather than the light for their deeds were evil. Everyone who does evil hates the light; doesn't come to the light lest his deeds should be exposed. But He who practices the truth comes to the light that his deeds may be manifest as having been wrought of God." Somebody who belongs to God, somebody who has the life of God in them, someone who is truly God's is going to hear the truth, embrace the truth, love the truth, run to the truth and when you preach the truth and it raises hostility and anger and animosity, you know you have just brought the light shining on the darkness and you've got a bug looking for a rock to crawl under to get away from the light.
Very religious, but when the light went on they hated the light because their deeds are evil. They resent it. That's false religion. That's why, as I said, the only way you can make an alliance with people who have false gospels and false religions, the only way you can find a way to get along with them is to make sure that the light is turned off. You just dim the revelation of God. They didn't want to accept what Jesus said. They weren't allowing that conviction to do its work in their hearts. They had no interest in using their money for purposes that Jesus brought to their attention. The simple principle is false teachers have no ability to respond to the word of the Lord. They're antagonistic to the truth.
So the bottom line is this: Look, there is no way to be faithful to the truth without generating antagonism. You don't try to do that, that's not your objective, but until that antagonism is confronted there cannot ever be repentance. This is simply a biblical principle that is crystal clear in the text of Scripture.
Just a few illustrations: Go back to Luke 6 because it's so important. Luke 6:47, well 46, because this sets it up. "Why do you call me Lord, Lord, and don't do what I say?" That is the question. Oh you say you're in the kingdom. You say God is your God. You say you believe in Jesus. Why do you call me Lord, Lord and don't do what I say? This is...This is ludicrous. This is a false claim. This is meaningless.
Here's the point, verse 47, "Everyone who comes to Me and hears My words and does them,” or acts on them, I'll show you what He's like. He's like a man building a house, dug deep, laid a foundation on the rock, when a flood rose, the torrent burst against that house, couldn't shake it because it had been well built. On the other hand, the one who’s heard, hasn't acted is like a man who built a house on the ground without any foundation. The torrent burst against it immediately collapsed and the ruin of the house was great.
The point is there's two kinds of religious house. There's a house that has a foundation and a house that doesn't and the foundation is hearing and obeying the word. The Jews had built a religious house but they rejected the word. They didn't' hear it, they didn't believe it, they didn't act on it and the torrent is judgment and when judgment comes their house of cards will collapse. It's all about who hears and acts, not just professors, but possessors, not just hearers, James says, but doers of the word.
If you go over to Luke 8, there's an occasion where Jesus' family members come to Him and they can't get to Him because there's a big crowd, actually in a house, as Mark tells us. And so it's reported to him, verse 20 of Luke 8, somebody comes and says to him while He's in the house, "Your mother and your brothers are standing outside wishing to see you." I mean He's a grown adult and He gets a message your mother wants you, and your brothers are alongside, half-brothers, outside. "He answered and said to them." This is a great opportunity to identify who has any claim on a relationship to Jesus, and it's not an earthly family member. Who has the true claim on a relationship to Jesus? "My mother and my brothers are these who hear the word of God and do it." You can tell a true believer because whatever you say out of the word of God they receive, they embrace, and they respond in action.
Look at the 11th chapter — I think it is — in verse 28. Verse 28, "He said, 'On the contrary, blessed are those who hear the word of God and observe it.'" Again it's the same thing. Go to the gospel of John because it’s...it's worthy of our attention. The gospel of John emphasizes this again and again and again. Chapter 5 is a good place to start and verse 24, "Truly, truly, I say to you, he who hears my word and believes Him who sent me has eternal life and does not come into judgment but is passed out of life into death." What is necessary? To hear My word and believe in the One of whom My word speaks. To hear My word and believe in God who sent Me and in Me the One whom God has sent.
Go down to verse 39. He says to the Jews, you search the Scriptures all the time, that's what you do because you think that in them you have eternal life, “and it is these that bear witness of me." You're reading the Old Testament day after day, hour after hour, digging into the Old Testament searching the Scriptures to find eternal life and they speak of Me, verse 40, and you are unwilling to come to Me that you may have life. It's not about a lack of information. It's not about a lack of clarity. It is about the love of iniquity. You won't come. Verse 43: "I've come in my Father's name. You don't receive Me. If somebody comes in his own name you receive him." Verse 46, "You say you believe Moses? If you believed Moses you'd believe Me for He wrote of Me.” But if you do not believe his writings how you're going to believe My words. You don't even have the Old Testament straight. How are you going to have the New Testament right? If they didn't know God they wouldn't be able to interpret either the Old or the New Testament.
You see this is the problem with false religion. There's no time in the ministry of Jesus when He commends the Jewish leaders and says, well you're OK, don't worry about Me. You have your own covenant. You're saved your own way. Don't worry about Me. He says, if you knew anything about the Old Testament, if you knew anything about the Scriptures you pride yourself on and Moses who you think you know so well, you would know that you are to believe in Me because that's what the Scriptures are pointing you to. The fact is you don't what Moses was saying and you don't know the Scriptures at all because you reject Me. John chapter 11:47, interesting passage: "Then the chief priests and Pharisees convened a council and were saying, 'What are we doing? For this man is performing many signs. If we let Him go on like this, all men will believe in Him.'"
That was the problem. They couldn't let Him keep doing this or everybody would...too convincing. Too many miracles, and then what's going to happen? “The Romans will come and take away our place and our nation." It will affect us economically. We'll become a vassal state. We'll all get turned into Roman slaves. "And a certain of them, Caiaphas, who was high priest that year, said, 'You know nothing to all...nothing at all' and then goes on to make this prophecy about Jesus."
But the point is their fear was that Jesus was going to do something that would cause them to lose what they wanted out of life, their independence, their freedom, their source of income, their prestige, their power, their position. Then later in chapter 12, down toward the end of the chapter, it couldn't be more clear in the final section of John chapter 12 in verse 47, "If anyone hears My sayings and doesn't keep them I don't judge him; I didn't come into the world to judge the world, but to save the world. He who rejects Me, and doesn't receive My sayings has one who judges him. The word I spoke is what will judge him at the last day." When sinners go before the final judgment, stand before God what's going to judge them is whether or not they believed everything Jesus said. There's absolutely no way around this, there's no commendation of the Jews ever by Jesus. Apart from believing in Him there is no salvation.
First John 2:3, "By this we know we've come to know Him if we keep His commandments. Whoever keeps His word in him the love of God has been perfected." Someone says I've come to know Him and doesn't keep His commandments he is a liar. He's a liar. False teachers have corrupt motives and are antagonistic toward the truth. You can...You can spot them on the basis of those kind of things.
Thirdly, it is also true of people in false religion that they are self-justifying, self-justifying. Look at verse 15. This is absolutely unmistakable and is really one of the great definitions of false religion. "You are those who justify yourselves." Now there's a hopeless situation. To justify, dikaioō, or to make righteous; to make right. The idea is to make yourself right. "You are those who try to make yourselves right," to put it another way, to save yourselves, to earn your salvation. Pharisaic Judaism is a system of self-justification, making your self-righteous by ritual and by maintaining certain standards and laws and ethical codes and traditions, making yourself acceptable to God by your works. And of course we know enough about the Bible to know this is rejected wholesale.
The just shall live by faith, the Old Testament says. That's repeated again and again. In Romans 1:17, "The just shall live by faith." Romans 3, "By the deeds of the law no flesh will be justified. Chapter 4, "Abraham was not justified by works, but by faith." It’s the same thing in chapter 5: "For by grace are you saved by faith.” Ephesians 2. We know this great truth; no one can make himself right with God. That's the reigning deception in human culture. Well I think I'm going to heaven because I'm...I’m a good person, and I believe in God, and I believe in Jesus, and I try to do the best I can, and try to be a good person, and I'm sure I'm more good than bad. That's the typical scenario.
So you're going to justify yourself. The problem with that is explained in Romans 10, and this is one we look at a lot but Romans 10... Here the apostle Paul says something that's really very definitive. "Brethren," talking to the Jews, "Brethren," he's very concerned, speaking of the Jews I should say, "My heart's desire and my prayer to God for them,” for the Jews who had been the subject of the prior chapter, "My prayer to God for them is their salvation," which is to say they're not what, not saved. I don't know how much more clear that could be. And we're on this side of the cross here in Romans. “I pray for their salvation and I bear them witness that they have a zeal for God." We'll give them that. They have this zeal for God but not in accordance with knowledge, which makes it useless. If you don't have the facts right it's a useless zeal.
And here's what they don't know: "Not knowing about God's righteousness." That is the biggie folks. That's the big one. In all the things Paul could have said he doesn't say this: "I bear them witness that they have a zeal for God but not in accordance with knowledge and they don't know how sinful they are." That's not where you start because you don't understand what it is to be sinful until you understand how holy God is. So you have to start where you have to start, not knowing about God's righteousness. They don't understand that God is absolute holy. Well didn't they read Leviticus? "Be holy for I am holy. Be holy for I am holy. Be holy for I the Lord am holy," over and over and over and over and over again, dozens and dozens and dozens of times. Didn't they read that? Didn't they know that to violate the law was to bring death, to violate the law they had to bring a sacrifice to God and make an atonement for their sins and there had to be an atonement made for the whole nation? Didn't they understand that God is absolutely holy? Didn't they read Isaiah 6, holy, holy, holy? Didn't they read Ezekiel and see the horrific trauma that Ezekiel underwent when he was exposed to a vision of the holiness of God?
But they had to work God down. They had to manage God down because if you're going to save yourself, then you've got to bring God down to a level where you can reach Him. And so they thought God was less righteous than He was. They thought they were more righteous than they were, and so they could make it on their own.
So they didn't know how righteous God is so they went about seeking to establish their own righteousness and didn't subject themselves to the righteousness of God. What they needed to do was say God is so holy He demands absolute holiness, we can't do it, we can't cut it, oh God be merciful to me a sinner, and throw themselves down in repentance and plead with God to save them. That's what they should have done. But instead they managed God down, made Him less holy than He was in their view, made themselves more holy than they were, did not subject themselves to the true righteousness of God, and never understood that Christ died on the cross to bring an end to the tyranny of the law and to provide righteousness for those who believe since nobody can earn it.
It all went back to this idea that you could your own way to heaven, you could earn your own acceptance with God. This is the damning idea that God is going to let you into His eternal heaven because you did good things, because you had a zeal for God, because you were religious, because you did ceremonies and rituals. Righteousness, the Bible says, comes only by faith, faith in a work that Christ has done by which the righteousness of God is credited to the believing, penitent sinner.
The Pharisees were into this self-righteousness so deep, turn to Matthew 23, that it was the defining character of their behavior. Matthew 23:13, they were, of course, verse 12, the ones who exalted themselves all the time, loved the chief seats, loved to be called rabbi, teacher, father, leader, all those lofty names, but He says in verse 13, "Woe to you scribes and Pharisee, hypocrites, because you shut off the kingdom of heaven from men." Of course, they didn't have the keys to the kingdom because they didn't have the truth. You can't open the door and let anybody in unless you have the key and the key is the gospel, the key is Christ, and they rejected Christ, they couldn't let anybody into the kingdom. You don't go in yourselves nor do you allow those who are entering to go in. You bar the door of salvation to everyone, including yourselves, by your efforts to earn your own way in.
"Woe to you,” verse 14, “scribes and Pharisees. hypocrites, you devour widow's houses." Sure you use widows. What does it mean you consume widows? You take advantage of women who are not protected by husbands. You go in and you manipulate these widows for gain. And how do you do it? Well you make a pretense of long prayers. You put on this big pious act, all the time you're ripping off these widows of their money. "Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites,” verse 15, "You travel on sea and land to make one proselyte, when he becomes one you make him twice as much a son of hell as yourselves." You're no son of God, you're no son of heaven, you're a son of hell and all your converts are double sons of hell. This is where self-righteous religion leads you. This is where works leads you. No one ever will enter heaven by their own works, only by faith alone in Jesus Christ and the grace of God's forgiveness and love.
So, false religion is marked by impure motives, love of money, and personal fulfillment. It is marked by hostility toward the truth and it is clearly marked by efforts to earn one's own salvation.
I'll give you one more. They seek human approval. They seek human approval. Back to our text; it's right there, awful lot tucked into this one little section. "You are those who justify yourselves in the sight of men," literally before men. That's what it's about. Galatians 6 says, "There are those who desire to make a good showing in the flesh." They just want people approval. They're...They’re...They’re trying to appear righteous. They're trying to appear noble. They're trying to appear virtuous. You know that's what's really behind all those funny garbs that ministers and priests and sometimes preachers wear. What is that all about? There's no priesthood anymore. We're all a kingdom of priests. There are no kings any more. We're all in the kingdom of priests. We're all kings. We're all reigning and ruling with Jesus Christ. None of us needs to go around with funny clothes and weird hats and setting ourselves apart as if we're some kind of transcendent human being. Even backwards collars bother me. What is that about? I always say if God wanted people to wear backward collars He wouldn't have invented ties. What is this about? This is appearing to be what?
Look at Matthew chapter 6. You get a little bit of an insight into this. It was all about show. It was all about what people thought. It was chapter 6, in the great Sermon on the Mount, verse 1, "Beware of practicing your righteousness before men to be noticed by them." That’s...That's the bottom line. Beware of just putting on a show of being some kind of good person. You see they lived in a culture that expected goodness. They lived in a culture that put a high standard on virtue. They lived in a culture — remember we talked about it with the chapter 15 studies — of honor and shame. Honor was an awfully important thing when you wanted to sort of live at the honorable level what society defined honorable level as, and so you did what you did in order for people to think you were a good, noble, religious person. "Beware of,” he says, "practicing your righteousness," not God's, practicing your righteousness “before men to be noticed by them." If that's what you do, believe me "you'll have no reward with your Father who is in heaven." God does not take that into account. "When you give your alms," verse 2, "don't sound a trumpet like the hypocrites in the synagogues and in the streets, to be honored by men. I truly say to you they have their reward." What's their reward? They got honored by men. That's it. God has no honor to give such hypocrites. They get their honor from men and it's the end.
Verse 5: "When you pray don't be like the hypocrites, and stand and pray in the synagogues, on the street corners to be seen by men. They have their full reward." What? They were seen by men. That's it, nothing more. Verse 16: "When you fast, don't put on a gloomy face as the hypocrites do.” They neglect their appearance in order to be seen fasting by men. They want to look like they're fasting. They have their reward. They were seen by men. That's it. That's all they ever cared for; that's all they ever wanted, and that's exactly what they got and nothing else. While they lived in this world they were seen by men and appeared to be religious. They can remember that when they suffer eternally in hell. It's just an amazing approach, but that's what false religion is all about. They don't know God, they don't have God. They’re dead, blind. All they've got is a show to put on to be seen.
False religion. We think of it as some kind of elevated thing, very religious, very elevated, the best of people living at a virtuous level, the high level. They've ascended above the hoi polloi, the riff-raff, the scum of society. Jesus felt much more comfortable, much more at home hanging around sinners and tax collectors than He did around Pharisees. Why? Because it wasn't the sinners and tax collectors who were the architects of the satanic opposition; it was the false religious leaders. Lovers of money with corrupt and impure motives antagonistic to the commands of God, hostile to the word of God, purveyors of a kind of self-righteous system where you make a contribution to your own salvation by your good works, and seekers of honor from people. That's what marked the Pharisees. And that's what set them in contrast to Jesus. They are outside the kingdom clearly.
There are only two possibilities: You either are in Christ because you accept the word of God concerning Christ and the work of Christ and you believe and you embrace that truth, or in any other religious form you are the enemy of God and the opposition to Jesus Christ and the true gospel. There is no middle ground and there's no truce that can be struck.
Now next time I'm going to give you the rest of this fascinating portion of Scripture. Let's bow in prayer. Father as we now are reminded again of Your holiness we're also reminded of Your grace in Christ and we thank you that it's not according to our righteousness, it's not by works which we have done, but by grace You have saved us through faith in Jesus Christ. We celebrate that, that even though You are an infinitely holy God, we are utterly sinful and unworthy. Your righteousness has been credited to our account through our faith in Christ and we come before You as holy in Your presence. We thank you for that. Do Your work in every heart we pray.
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