a sample from The Son of Man (Verse by Verse notes on Matthew, Mark, and Luke)
A few years ago I wrote my John commentary and it was the most rewarding experience I had writing anything. I worried the follow-up would not live up to the great feelings that I got writing the notes on John. On the contrary, this has been equally as enriching. Studying the Ministry of my Master is not something I will ever grow tired of. Volume One of the commentary is finished, volume two will hopefully be done by the end of Summer. Here’s an excerpt, taken from a chapter entitled “Making Enemies” (an account found only in Luke 11)…
Throughout Jesus’ Ministry, the Lord encountered antagonism from the entrenched leadership of the Jewish people. Scribes, Sadducees, and Pharisees primarily were opposed to Him because everything He stood for and preached was opposed to the way in which they had twisted the Scripture.
On one occasion, while Jesus was teaching a certain Pharisee invited Him to dinner. We’ll see later in this text that Jesus was not the only other person here. It was common for Jews to eat big meals together, breakfast, lunch, dinner, etc. This was a very communal society, which is why it’s not unusual for Jesus to accept the invitation, despite the antagonism that was obvious between the two parties (antagonism from them against Him, specifically).
The trouble came when Jesus sat down to eat: He did so without first washing His hands. Actually, to be clear, Luke only says Jesus did not “wash before dinner.” He very well may had recently washed His hands and didn’t need to double-dip. The Pharisees were notorious for impressing traditions on the people, including how and to what extent a person had to wash themselves before being considered legally “clean.” Jesus instead enters the dining room, plops down to eat and gets served a helping of clutched pearls and gasps.
Reading the shocked expression on the Pharisees face sparks a rebuttal by the Lord: “You Pharisees work overtime to make sure your cups and bowls are squeaky clean, but their insides are disgusting.” Anybody really think the Lord is talking about dishes here? The Pharisees cared too much about outward appearance and about the way people perceived them, to the point that they neglected the spiritual matters of the heart.
What good is it to look holy if you aren’t actually holy on the inside? As Jesus says, the same God who made your outside made your inside too. The God who made the physical part of you made the intellectual, emotional, psychological, and spiritual parts of you as well.
You might be inclined to ask Jesus what a person needs to do to make his insides spiritually clean. The Lord tells us in this text: Give to the poor and behold all things are clean unto you. Is that all? Just be generous and you’re spiritually clean?!
I don’t think the Lord is intending to be comprehensive here. I think, instead, He’s singling out one example of the Pharisees hypocrisy; they want to look holy but they don’t want to do holy things. That’s why Jesus adds to that thought, saying: “Woe to you Pharisees! You tithe mint and rue and herbs, and pass over judgment and the love of God.” In other words they made sure to give the legal requirements of a tenth, and they gave a tenth of all their goods, but the heart was neglected: The cared TOO much about making sure to give exactly a tenth of their mints but didn’t care at all about justice (judgment) or love.
And lest anyone take Jesus’ words the wrong way, and think He’s saying “inwardly loving God is more important than outward service,” the Lord says this: “These you ought to have done, and not to leave the other undone.” Both should have been done; they should have been tithing and loving. Instead they focused on one and not the other, making the one they were doing worthless.
The Lord is rolling now. Without giving his audience a chance to respond, He continues: Woe to you Pharisees! You love the uppermost seats in the synagogue and you love being glad-handed in the marketplaces. They loved having the best seat in the house, they loved being praised and greeted by peers. But in reality, Jesus says, they were invisible. They were like unmarked graves, which men walk over without even being aware of them.
What a gut punch to the precious egos of these men! Jesus tells them “You people think you’re beloved by everyone, but because you don’t have a heart, you don’t have a relationship with anyone. People walk by you and don’t think twice about you. No one’s looking at you. No one’s impressed by you. No one even sees you!”
At this, one of the lawyers in the room took offense, saying, “Rabbi, when you say these things, you’re insulting us too.” And my Master, without missing a beat, pivots in place, points a finger, and says “woe unto YOU GUYS too! Don’t even get me STARTED on you clowns! You load people down with burdens they can hardly bear, and you don’t lift a finger to help them.”
You can see how this would really bother the heart of Jesus. He has a servant’s heart. He is a Master who expects many things of His Disciples but He never asks us to do anything that He was not also willing to do. That’s the exact opposite of the Scribes and lawyers. “Woe unto you,” Jesus says, “you built fancy tombs in honor of the Prophets, and it’s people like you who killed them! Yeah, you do the deeds of your ancestors all right. They killed the Prophets and you buried them.”
And He’s not done: “Listen to the wisdom of God: I will send Prophets and apostles and some of them shall they slay and persecute. That the blood of all the Prophets, which was shed from the foundation of the world, may be required of this generation.” This is Jesus saying “you’re guilty as sin. I know it, you know it.”
Not to interrupt the Lord when He’s in the middle of the queen-mother of all rebukes, but we need to touch on this “wisdom of God” thing. The way the text is written it seems like Jesus is quoting something, like a book. Your first instinct might be to assume He’s quoting from Proverbs (the Wisdom Book of the Old Testament) but there’s nothing in Proverbs that’s anything close to what the Lord says here, about sending apostles and Prophets and them being slain, etc.
Some have argued that maybe Jesus was alluding to an apocryphal book, some non-inspired text that His audience would be familiar with. That’s possible but I think there’s another explanation: Jesus is inspired and He knows the will of God, past-present-future.
Therefore Jesus’ words could simply be a verbalizing of what God’s will had always been: He was always going to send Prophets to the Old Testament people and Apostles to the New Testament people and they would be slain and persecuted. This will wasn’t written down in so many words, but Jesus is simply telling the people what the will is, and His words are as authoritative and True as anything recorded in Genesis or Jeremiah, etc.
God sends His messengers, the people kill them, and the killers are punished for their crimes. That’s the pattern, Jesus knows it, Jesus says it…and Jesus supersedes it too! Jesus is the Lord’s great Prophet, and He too is killed by the people. The difference is the Lord used His death to take away the punishment the killers deserved!
Anyway, back to the rebuking…
“Woe unto you lawyers. You’ve locked up the room of knowledge and thrown away the key. Not only do you enter but you hinder others from entering too!” The Lord speaks proverbially here, talking about keys of knowledge and so forth. The point is that the men who were trained as experts in matters of the law were not using their knowledge to help people learn the will of God. Instead they were playing the part of policemen and critics, happy to keep people in the dark about what’s expected of them until they do something wrong and are criticized for it.
Having had all they could take, the Pharisees and Scribes (lawyers) began to rapid-fire questions and rebuttals at the Lord. Luke says they “urged Him vehemently.” Literally the phrase means “to quarrel against Him with great (negative) passion.” They were red in the face, embarrassed and frustrated, and looking to bombard the Lord with questions. They wanted to provoke Him into giving rapid-fire answers that might distract from the fact that they were unable to defend themselves against a few key complaints the Lord had of them.
They also began to lay in wait, seeking out the perfect time to entrap Him, or catch Him saying something that they could use against Him. The Lord sat down for dinner and at the Scribes and Pharisees’ lunch. He then left the table with a group of enemies eager for payback. They wanted Him dead right then and there, oblivious to the fact that killing Him would have made everything He said about them true…
And since they will succeed in killing Him, everything He said here was true…which is why He said it in the first place. Boy I tell ya, this Jesus fellow is wicked-smart, yeah?