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The Key of Knowledge

April 28 2024

Book: Luke

Scripture: Luke 11:37-54

Thank you for reading this sermon from Christ Fellowship. I hope and pray that this sermon will be a blessing of grace and truth to you. With that said, let me encourage you not to use this sermon as a replacement for your local church. Christ Jesus did not establish his Church simply for us to consume content. Instead, He calls us to be part of a real, covenant family. 


We’re in Luke chapter 11, where the ministry of Jesus takes a sharp turn. This morning, we will begin reading in verse 37.

37 While Jesus was speaking, a Pharisee asked him to dine with him, so he went in and reclined at table. 

Most of us think of Pharisees as religious leaders, and many of them were synagogue leaders. But they were also middle-class businessmen, generally loved and respected by the people.

Jesus already had a reputation for eating and drinking with “sinners”, but He was also willing to eat with Pharisees.

38 The Pharisee was astonished to see that he did not first wash before dinner. 

Washing up before eating is a good, healthy habit. Most cultures do it, including ours. But that’s not why the Pharisee expected Jesus to wash up.

This had become a religious and cultural expectation. The Jewish people at that time believed you were ceremonially unclean if you didn’t wash up before eating.

In other words, Jesus was being morally judged for something that God had not commanded. But watch what happens next.

39 And the Lord said to him, “Now you Pharisees cleanse the outside of the cup and of the dish, but inside you are full of greed and wickedness. 

Wow! Imagine inviting someone to your home for dinner. You clean the house. You cook dinner. And the first words spoken by your guest is a deeply offensive personal attack against you! He calls you greedy and wicked. But wait, there’s more!

40 You fools! Did not he who made the outside make the inside also? 41 But give as alms those things that are within, and behold, everything is clean for you.

Jesus calls his host and the other guests fools! To their face! Why is this ok?

It’s more than ok. It’s actually gracious of Jesus. It is gracious of Jesus to call these men to repentance instead of condemning them on the spot.

Please understand – the Pharisee is not judging a mortal rabbi. He’s judging the God who wrote the law! He’s hosting the King of the Universe and all he can think about is a petty ritual.

Jesus is gracious enough to hold up a mirror, shine a light on the Pharisee’s hypocrisy, and call him to repentance. The Pharisees loved to mock Jesus because he ate with “sinners”, but EVERYONE Jesus ate with was a sinner. The only difference is that some of them didn’t know it.

And Jesus doesn’t pull any punches.

42 “But woe to you Pharisees! For you tithe mint and rue and every herb, and neglect justice and the love of God. These you ought to have done, without neglecting the others. 

A “woe” is a serious warning about coming judgment. And it sounds bad, but it is actually merciful. It’s like being pulled over by a police officer and he lets you go with a warning instead of giving you a ticket.

Jesus is saying, “Be careful or something worse is going to happen!” This is the first of three woes. This woe addresses their hypocrisy. They obsess over the outside while neglecting the inside. But read carefully – what does Jesus say?

“These you ought to have done, without neglecting the others.” In other words, the problem isn’t your desire for personal holiness. Sometimes we give these Pharisees a hard time because of their respect for the law. But that’s not what Jesus criticizes. God expects us to care about personal holiness.

The problem is that they are doing the easy things and neglecting the more important things. And that is always the temptation with religious people. Give me an easy list of things I can do to look holy. Tithing your herbs and spices is easy compared to loving and serving other people.

Jesus calls this what it is – cleaning the outside and neglecting the inside. He’s asking us to look closely at our motivations. Why do we do the things we do?

For the Pharisees, the motivations were complicated. This was not just a desire for religious purity – if it was, I don’t think Jesus would be calling them fools. These customs and regulations also carried political and cultural significance, which is why the Pharisees had popularity even though they were in the minority as religious leaders.

In other words, the rules they kept were a way to separate from and protest against Roman authority. The rule-keeping was a source of both religious and national pride. But it was crowding out love and mercy, which Jesus calls the weightier matters of the law.

If there’s a clear application for Christians in America today, this is it. We must not allow our Christianity to become nothing more than a source of religious and national pride. (repeat)

In fact, pride is the topic of the second woe.

43 Woe to you Pharisees! For you love the best seat in the synagogues and greetings in the marketplaces.

They loved the attention. They loved the recognition. There was an obvious lack of humility, which Jesus sees as further evidence of their hypocrisy. They aren’t doing any of this for God.

But Jesus is gracious again to hold up the mirror. Look at your neglect of love and mercy. Look at your pride. And if that isn’t convicting enough, listen to the third woe:

44 Woe to you! For you are like unmarked graves, and people walk over them without knowing it.”

This is, by far, the most offensive thing Jesus says. Walking over a grave made someone ceremonially unclean – unable to worship God for at least a week.

What then is Jesus saying? He’s saying, “You are defiling the people. You don’t realize it and they don’t realize it, but you’re making it impossible for people to follow God. You’re making them unclean. Your hypocrisy is harming others.”

This is highly offensive and the offense was taken.

45 One of the lawyers answered him, “Teacher, in saying these things you insult us also.” 

There were lawyers also at this dinner party. They were experts in the Mosaic law and Jesus turns on them as well. Notice there are three more woes given.

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. 

More hypocrisy… More works-righteousness… these men were the source of all the oral traditions that were added to God’s law. But they don’t even keep it themselves.

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, ‘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. 

This is an interesting argument Jesus makes. What he’s saying is that these lawyers are guilty of killing the prophets they are trying to honor! Why? Because they continue the tradition of ignoring God’s Word in favor of their own opinions.

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.”

In other words, they had God’s Word but they don’t understand it. They viewed the Bible as a book of rules instead of a book meant to reveal God’s character and plans for His people.

I’m going to give you a spoiler. The key of knowledge is God’s promised Messiah! In Luke 24, after the Resurrection, Jesus reveals this to His disciples.

25 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 and all the Prophets, he interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself.

Jesus is the key that unlocks our understanding of the Old Testament. Without Jesus, the Jews remain in darkness – to this day! And the true Israel of God is the New Testament Church, because the Holy Spirit has opened our eyes to Jesus, the key of knowledge!

But in this moment, Jesus was rejected.

53 As he went away from there, the scribes and the Pharisees began to press him hard and to provoke him to speak about many things, 

54 lying in wait for him, to catch him in something he might say.

Instead of repentance, they respond to Jesus with resentment. They begin to hate him. Why? Because they were still blind to the light.

I want to make one more comment about the danger of this position – when your heart is turned against Jesus.

It’s not just that God dislikes this attitude of self-righteous pride. Jesus pressed them hard because it leads to destruction. This way of living breeds hatred for outsiders and its why the Romans eventually destroyed their temple and scattered the Jews.

We need to look for this attitude in ourselves, inside the church, because Jesus clearly describes this taking place within religious community. I would ask us – when we judge the people around us, in this church or in other churches, or even people outside the church – is it because of our respect for God’s law or is it something else?

Are we really motivated by a desire to honor God, and to see other people honoring God, or is there a deeper need for us to be seen as godly or even to just be right? … Please hear me… smug, self-righteous people are not healthy Christians, and they are damaging to the body of Christ.

This is the danger of sin. There are really two ways of running from God. One of them looks like running from God, but the other one looks like honoring God. The problem is in the heart… the inside, not the outside. And so, the rest of us may see you as someone who loves and honors God – but inside is pride and self-righteousness.

If you know anything about the Gospel, it is that the truth is meant to set us free! It is not meant to further burden us. Yes, God wants us to honor Him with our lives, absolutely, but it starts with humility, not effort.

Godliness without humility is worthless. Knowledge without love is worthless. And that’s the message today. The Pharisees and scribes were right about many things, but they lacked humility and love. It was not a genuine work of God’s Spirit.

The Christian doesn’t obey God only because He must. We obey God because we want to, not from a sense of pride or self-righteousness – but from a heart of gratitude and dependence.

What might Jesus confront about us? What woes might He give us? It is a severe mercy – but it is a mercy because it is an opportunity to repent and trust our Savior. Even Pharisees like me…