The Book of Luke, The Woes of Christ, Part II - Lesson 151
As we discussed last week the Gospels on many occasions record the Lord Jesus Christ pronouncing woes.
As a matter of fact this word woe is used in the Gospels 31 times and it is always used by the Lord Jesus Christ.
He uses it in relation to cities, to offenders of little children, to the world, to those who are with child at the onset of the tribulation, to the one who will betray him, to the rich, to those who are full, to those who laugh, to those whom men speak of highly, but most times the word woe is used, it is in reference to scribes, Pharisees, and to experts in the law, the religious crowd.
The intention of a pronouncement of woe upon another is to bring them to a state of grief.
In the case of woes that Jesus pronounces on others it is meant to bring reality to their condition in place of the false understanding that they have of themselves.
Jesus is the word and that is one of the word’s purposes, to shine the light in darkness.
Cities thought they were doing fine until Jesus Christ brought the reality of their condition to their mind.
The rich think every thing is going smoothly but they walk in slippery places.
Much laughter is exhibited by those who are one heartbeat away from death.
Jesus Christ by pronouncing woes upon the Pharisees, the scribes and the experts in the law is shining the light of truth into the darkness of their souls and revealing to them what they truly are.
The first woe of our Lord, which we studied last week, concerned the Pharisees’ focus on the fine points, while missing the fundamentals for they majored on the minors.
The second woe, also studied last week, concerned the Pharisees’ preoccupation with position, preoccupation with prestige, and the preoccupation with the praise of men for they loved the uppermost seats, and greetings in the markets.
But the third woe is the most pointed of his woes to the scribes and Pharisees for in pronouncing this woe, Jesus accused the Pharisees of being a source of defilement, rather than a source of purification.
They saw themselves as purifying the land but Jesus Christ saw them as graves full of decay.
44Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye are as graves which appear not, and the men that walk over them are not aware of them. Luke 11:44.
In the Law, which the Pharisees revered, the Israelites were taught that a person was made ceremonially unclean by coming into contact with a grave.
Numbers 19:16, And whosoever toucheth one that is slain with a sword in the open fields, or a dead body, or a bone of a man, or a grave, shall be unclean seven days.
The Pharisees thought of themselves as holy, and they saw their role as leading the nation in the direction of holiness.
But here in this woe, Jesus told them that the exact opposite was the case.
They were themselves both unclean (sinful) and defiling to others as a grave is defiling to others.
Those who came into contact with the Pharisees were therefore made unclean.
Can’t you just hear blood boiling with the reception of these words?
Don’t you suppose that hatred of this man Jesus is building to the point that death is desired for him.
That which the Pharisees prided themselves in being and doing was the very opposite of the reality of the matter.
According to Jewish custom, just before the people were to come to Jerusalem for Passover the grave stones were whitewashed.
This was done so that the graves were clearly seen and wouldn’t cause people to become defiled if they walked over a grave.
But perhaps some grave was left unwashed by omission and some walked over that grave and became ceremonially unclean.
Jesus is telling the Pharisees that they are the unwashed graves, hidden from view but those who come into contact with them become defiled.
This then was the most damning blow of all to the self‑righteous Pharisees for they saw themselves as uplifting but in reality they caused the people to err.
45Then answered one of the lawyers, and said unto him, Master, thus saying thou reproachest us also.
Notice this reaction carefully for it shows how pointed the preaching of the Lord is.
There was no mistaking of his words that they only applied to others but the lawyers knew that he spoke of them.
That is successful preaching!
In other words this lawyer, not a lawyer as we know lawyers, but an expert in the law of Moses said, “Teacher, by saying these things you are insulting us as well!”
There was no mistaking on their part to whom His words applied.
So with these woes someone finally steps forward to dispute with the Lord Jesus Christ.
The lawyer that stood up was among the experts in the law, he was among the theologians, the seminary professors, the authors of commentaries, the teachers of the Law.
In a nutshell the experts in the law were the source, the “horse’s mouth” of Pharisaism for they were the teachers of the Pharisees.
One of these “experts” saw that Jesus’ words were applicable to them also and sought to have Jesus clarify His teaching.
Do you mean to insult us also?
Do you mean to have us also grieve over our condition?
Here we are, well respected in the academic and religious community, having status among men.
Do you desire us to see ourselves in a manner that will bring grief, distress, affliction and trouble to our minds and hearts?
Yes, that is what love does for love brings light to the human condition so that repentance and calling upon God will come to pass.
No one needs, nor will call upon a savior who does not see themselves as God sees them.
What need of a life saver is there to those who are not drowning.
But Jesus by pronouncing these woes intends for them to see themselves as God sees them.
So the lawyer who said he felt reproached by Christ was not long in waiting for an answer, for our Lord quickly expands his assignment of woes to include the experts in the law.
The first woe directed against the “experts in the law” was that their teaching produced a burden, not a blessing:
46And he said, Woe unto you also, ye lawyers! for ye lade men with burdens grievous to be borne, and ye yourselves touch not the burdens with one of your fingers. (Luke 11:46).
When David spoke of the Law of God in Psalm 119, it was a blessing, it was a delight. O how love I thy law!
When the experts of the Law were done with it the law was a burden, the law was a load too heavy to carry.
These burdens consisted of the many regulations which the rabbis, and the law experts after them, had come up with which buried the essence of the law of God.
This had in effect deprived men of their liberty and peace of mind.
They had added to God’s law, for example they had prohibited the picking and eating of heads of grain on the Sabbath, and rubbing them with their hands saying that this amounted to reaping and threshing.
They forbade taking part in healing measures on the Sabbath unless a person’s life was in immediate danger thus allowing pain and suffering to continue until the sun went down.
The Pharisees by their rules and regulations had so altered the Sabbath that the Sabbath was a curse instead of a blessing.
For Christ had said in: Mark 2:27, …….The Sabbath was made for man, and not man for the Sabbath.
They had come to the conclusion that man was made for the Sabbath.
And thus they had turned the Law inside‑out.
God had graciously given the law to be a blessing but they had perverted it by their teaching to be an unbearable code of conduct, a code so complicated they could not even understand it, let alone obey it.
In contrast to their teaching, Jesus’ “Law” was light:
28Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. 29Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart: and ye shall find rest unto your souls. 30For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light. (Matthew 11:28‑30).
The difference between Jesus’ teaching of the Law and that of the Pharisees was that His teaching was motivated by compassion, and theirs by self‑seeking and sin.
The second critical difference between Jesus’ handling of the Law and that of the Pharisees is that His teaching resulted in grace, while theirs resulted in guilt.
Jesus’ teaching of the Law was always in the light of the teaching of the Old Testament prophets.
The Pharisees were experts in the Law alone but to the neglect of the prophets.
They interpreted the law apart from the prophets but it was the Old Testament prophets who were sent by God to interpret the Law (not the self‑appointed Pharisees), and to point out its essence, and its fulfillment.
It was the prophets who spoke of the ministry of the Holy Spirit, who enables men to obey the commandments of God:
6Then he answered and spake unto me, saying, This is the word of the LORD unto Zerubbabel, saying, Not by might, nor by power, but by my spirit, saith the LORD of hosts. (Zechariah 4:6).
The law was given to man for man’s benefit but it was not given to make men righteous, but to show men that they were unrighteous, and that they needed redemption.
The sacrificial system pointed ahead to the coming Savior, the Lamb of God, of whom the prophets spoke in detail.
The Law was but a temporary provision, and this “old” covenant was to be replaced by a new and better one, one in which God would transform men’s hearts, which would result in transformed lives.
The Pharisees knew of this for Jeremiah wrote of it in:
Jeremiah 31:31‑34, Behold, the days come, saith the LORD, that I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel, and with the house of Judah: 32Not according to the covenant that I made with their fathers in the day that I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt; which my covenant they brake, although I was an husband unto them, saith the LORD: 33But this shall be the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel; After those days, saith the LORD, I will put my law in their inward parts, and write it in their hearts; and will be their God, and they shall be my people. 34And they shall teach no more every man his neighbour, and every man his brother, saying, Know the LORD: for they shall all know me, from the least of them unto the greatest of them, saith the LORD: for I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more.
But the Pharisees were so married to the law that they thought that they could reach this height by the law without the Spirit.