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The Woes of Religion - Part One

February 2, 2020 Speaker: Dr. Rick Gregory Series:

Topic: Religion Verse: Luke 11:37–11:54

 “The Woes of Religion” - Part One

Luke 11:37-54

Theme: Christ saves, not religious devotion.

Introduction: Perhaps the greatest of all sins is the sin of pride. This devilish self-promotion finds its most heinous expression in the form of religion. The sinner foolishly so grossly overestimates their abilities to believe that they can find within themselves the ability to pull themselves out of a sinful state through their own goodness. Religions all ask the same question: Luke 10:25: “What shall I do to inherit eternal life?” The diversity of religions exists because they all find self-tailored answers to that question, concluding that their favored means is sufficient.

However, the truth is given in Romans 3:20. One is saved not through their own efforts, but through faith in Christ Jesus – Galatians 3:20. Hence, Jesus finds complete contempt for those who would advocate self-deliverance through self-righteousness. Our text today demonstrates the comprehensive condemnation that falls upon all who fail to seek salvation through faith alone in Christ alone by grace alone.

I. The Diagnosis of Religion – 11:37-41

A. The Demonstration of Religion – vv. 37-38

  • On the surface, this next section begins innocent enough – “Now when He had spoken, a Pharisee asked Him to have lunch with him …”
  • By looking at the greater contexts, we recognize that on each occasion that a Pharisee seeks to spend time with Jesus, it always has a subversive purpose – cp. 
  • Don’t fail to recognize that this comes immediately after Jesus had just condemned the Pharisees.
  • Almost as if to prove Jesus wrong, the Pharisee “shows himself” a better man than what Jesus had denounced above.
  • The willingness to eat with someone was a cultural way of showing generosity or warmth – the attempt to assert that he was righteous after all.
  • Jesus cooperates – “… and He went in and reclined at the table.”
  • The significance of this was that Jesus walked by the basins provided at the door for washing.
  • The Pharisees had developed elaborate rituals through which one had to go to prepare to avoid defiling the holiness of one’s body through unclean hands, forearms, or elbows – called here “ceremonially washed” [βαπτίζω] – to baptize.
  • We are told that “when the Pharisee saw it, he was surprised that He had not first ceremonially washed before the meal.”
  • “surprised” [θαυμάζω] – means that he was “extraordinarily disturbed” at Jesus’ sacrilege – the careless defilement of not only Himself, but he brought the filth to this “pure” man’s table – an offensive act, resented by this sanctimonious, self-righteous man.
  • Jesus didn’t fail to remember, but was extracting this man’s hypocrisy from him in order to provide a denunciation of his religious self-satisfaction.

B. The Deficit of Religion – vv. 39-41

  • The text doesn't say that this Pharisee spoke about this – however, his horror at Jesus’ failure to measure up to basic “standards of righteousness” never commanded in Scripture but asserted by the legalists was profound.
  • Jesus knew this man’s heart and this occasion was merely yet another example of the hypocrisy and sanctimony of their external standards of righteousness - cp. Mark 7:5-8.
  • As a result, Jesus responds to the Pharisee’s critical spirit by confronting the essence of the self-righteousness of all of the Pharisees – “But the Lord said to him, ‘Now you Pharisees clean the outside of the cup and of the platter; but inside of you, you are full of robbery and wickedness.’”
  • As long as things “looked” righteous, their perspective was that it was righteous – and damning perspective to be sure!
  • He continues to demonstrate why their approach to righteousness is so deficient – “You foolish ones, did not He who made the outside make the inside also?”
  • In other words, Jesus asks the man whether God was just as interested about what was going on inside this man as He was about whether his hands were dirty?
  • If you can have a heart that is conformed to God, then everything else will take care of itself – “But give that which is within as charity, and then all things are clean for you.”
  • “charity” [ἐλεημοσύνη] – is a term that speaks of benevolence, goodwill, or doing what is necessary to meet the need of another.
  • Essentially, Jesus calls on this Pharisee to love his neighbor as a demonstration of a truly godly heart – cp. Luke 10:27; Proverbs 4:23.
  • Is God satisfied with a projection of righteousness when no righteousness is present inside?


  1. In what ways can you identify that you are guilty of “sanctimony?”
  2. When was the last time you struggled looking down on someone who doesn’t share your same standards? 
  3. Which is more important to you, to actually be righteous or to merely look righteous?

II. The Denouncing of Religion – 11:42-52

A. It Disregards Priorities – v. 42

  • Jesus embarks upon a denunciation of the flaws of religion found in these Pharisees.
  • These things faulted by Jesus transcend Judaism and are true of any false religious system – whether you are talking about biblically denying protestant denominations, Roman Catholicism, Mormonism, Russelism, Hinduism, Islam, or any other religion that lies to their adherents by telling them that they are able to gain righteousness through their own efforts.
  • He aims His most stinging and austere denunciations and condemnations at those who outwardly seemed to be the most religious devotees to God and the Scriptures.
  • “But woe to you Pharisees!” [οὐαί] – is a total declaration of judgment against them.
  • One of the things that religionists do is dismiss the more difficult priorities that God clearly declares and replaces them with things they are able to do to project their own worthiness – cp. Mark 7:8.
  • Hence, Jesus states: “For you pay tithe of mint and rue and every kind of garden herb, and yet disregard justice and the love of God; but these are the things you should have done without neglecting the others.”
  • Because they are ungodly, they disregard the genuine marks of godliness and pursue secondary outward forms of virtue in order to assert their self-righteousness.

B. It Desires Prestige – v. 43

  • There is a second condemnation – “Woe to you Pharisees! For you love the chief seats in the synagogues …”
  • Their motivation is here disclosed – they desire prestige; that is, status or promotion in the eyes of people around them.
  • The “chief seats” are the ones reserved for the dignitaries, they want the ability to occupy chairs in which others aren’t “worthy” to sit.
  • Additionally, “… and the respectful greetings in the market places.” – inside the religious context and out among the public, they desire to be recognized as prestigious and special.
  • Jesus clearly addresses the rank self-promotion that people have who have never been delivered from their sin by the glorious work of the only “worthy One” – the Lord Jesus Christ – cp. Matthew 23:6-12.

C. It Defiles People – v. 44

  • Another problem with false religion is that it defiles people.
  • Here Jesus continues “Woe to you! For you are like concealed tombs, and the people who walk over them are unaware of it.”
  • Their evil, deceptive influence on those around them is defiling and corrupting.
  • Despite the show of righteousness, they are compared to “concealed tombs” with which people don’t even realize they’re in contact.
  • The Old Testament prohibited the defiling of oneself by coming into contact with a corpse or a grave – cp. Numbers 19:13, 16.
  • Instead of promoting righteousness and acceptability to God, their self-righteousness further defiles them by lowering the bar of righteousness to their own attainment which is a sacrilege to the actual righteousness available solely in Jesus Christ.

D. It Devastates Peace – vv. 45-46

  • At this point, “one of the lawyers said to him in reply, ‘Teacher, when You say this, You insult us too.”
  1. The reason the “lawyers” were insulted is because they are the upper echelon of Pharisees responsible to interpret or write the laws the rest of the Pharisees were to keep.
  2. They were the theoreticians of the law while the rest of the Pharisees were the practitioners of the legalistic system of Judaism.
  3. “insult” [ὑβρίζω] – to treat spitefully or to scoff at, or to mistreat someone.
  • Jesus here, kicks it up a level and goes after the ones who are “writing the curriculum” by which the rest are living.
  • “But He said, ‘Woe to you lawyers as well! For you weigh men down with burdens hard to bear, while you yourselves will not even touch the burdens with one of your fingers.’” – demonstrating that they have absolutely no desire or ability to help anyone.
  1. “burdens” [φορτίζω] – a massive burden such as an entire ship’s cargo – a “boatload of burdens” that they place upon others to carry, and impossible task.
  2. “hard to bear” [δυσβάστακτος] – too heavy to bear or exceeding one’s strength.
  • What makes things worse is that they aren’t even willing to attempt to “touch the burdens” – [προσψαύω] – a term that means to reach out to touch; or to “brush against” something.
  • Instead of helping people find reconciliation with God, they force people to sense that through their inability to fulfill the law, they remain at odds with God.
  • These “lawyers” delight in laying massive loads on people who cannot possibly bear them, and then won’t even move “one of your fingers” to help them.
  • Jesus’ point here is that people who are so burdened with standard and legalistic requirements are not brought any closer to God, but are actually discouraged and distressed by their sense that they just “can’t do it.”

E. It Disguises Persecution – vv. 47-51

  • This next “woe” is lengthy – “woe to you!”
  • Religion will often find ways to attempt to distance themselves from intolerance and small-mindedness that others have.
  • Jesus denounces them for their assertion that they were better than their forefathers who were intolerant of the prophets – “For you build the tombs of the prophets, and it was your fathers who killed them.” – cp. Matthew 23:29-30.
  • Yet Jesus indicts them: “So you are witnesses and approve the deeds of your fathers; because it was they who killed them, and you build their tombs” – in spite of their distancing themselves from their fathers, they couldn’t escape that the attention they were giving to the tombs of those killed by their fathers linked them to their fathers!
  • This “seeing through them” was according to the wisdom of God – “For this reason also the wisdom of God said, ‘I will send to them prophets and apostles, and some of them they will kill and some they will persecute.’”
  • They will display the same antagonism for truth by responding to those genuinely sent from God exactly the way their intolerance, murderous fathers had done.
  • In this way, “the blood of all the prophets, shed since the foundation of the world, may be charged against this generation” – to identify with the wickedness of those who reject God brings the cumulative wrath of God upon them; God’s wrath burns against those who reject His Word and avenges Himself against that class of people who so reject it.
  • Notice how exhaustive Jesus’ reference is: “from the blood of Abel to the blood of Zechariah, who was killed between the altar and the house of God; yes, I tell you, it shall be charged against this generation.”
  1. “the blood of Abel” – refers to the son of Adam murdered because he spoke the truth to Cain about the need for the right sacrifice.
  2. “to the blood of Zechariah” – refers to the unrecorded death of the author of the book of Zechariah at the end of the Old Testament Scriptures before the 400 silent years between the testaments.
  • The principle evidence of their guilt before God and the propriety of the cumulative weight of their fathers’ guilt being placed upon them is because they will not merely kill a prophet, but a prophet who is the final and full expression of the Word of God – the Living Word, the Son of God who they will soon be nailing to a cross – cp. Matthew 23:32.
  • They seek to cover up their intolerance, but they are as hostile as anyone who has ever lashed out against God’s messengers of truth.

F. It Dulls Perspicuity – v. 52

  • Finally, Jesus repeats – “Woe to you lawyers! For you have taken away the key of knowledge; you yourselves did not enter, and you hindered those who were entering.”
  • Instead of interpreting and clarifying the law as they were supposed to be doing, they had “taken away the key of knowledge” – a reference to the accurate interpretation of Scripture under the illumination by God’s Holy Spirit.
  • Rather, they were obscuring the truth through their own ideas, traditions, and systems of religious legalism.
  • Hence, what should have been clear, became shrouded in enigma, mystery, and questions.
  • Jesus diagnoses this – “you yourselves did not enter” so how could you possible help others enter; instead, “… you hindered those who were entering.” – cp. Matthew 23:15.


  1. What are some ways that you keep your focus on Christ instead of falling into the trap of religion?
  2. Do you struggle with feeling good enough to be acceptable to God How does this indicate that you are given to religion?
  3. Why do people trapped in religion struggle so much with living by faith alone?

III. The Defiance of Religion – 11:53-54

A. The Hostility toward the Truth – v. 53a

  • We don’t know exactly how the exchange ended, whether Jesus was eating all the while He was talking or whether He ever took any food at all.
  • It all ends somewhat suddenly as if Jesus “drops the mic” – “When He left there, the scribes and the Pharisees began to be very hostile …”
  • “very hostile” [δεινῶς ἐνέχειν] – to the extreme negative point on a scale – their grudge against Him was “maxed out!”
  • They didn’t merely disagree with Jesus, they possessed animosity toward Him – seething and boiling as a cauldron of personal spite and hatred – John 7:7; 15:24.

B. The Hindrance to the Truth – vv. 53b-54

  • Their entire agenda was to seek to discredit Jesus – they began “… to question Him closely on many subjects, plotting against Him to catch Him in something He might say.”
  • They sought to “ambush” or “catch” [θηρεύω] Him, setting traps for Him to stumble into their nets so that they can accuse Him of some falsehood, error, or “something He might say.”
  • This demonstrates that their entire objective was to bicker, pick, and hinder the truth by questions, protests, problems, and contests with the truth of the Word of God. 


  1. Do you ever feel hostility toward those who speak the truth to you? When was the last time you remember experiencing this? Have you come around to seeing things from God’s perspective? 
  2. How can you distinguish between a question designed to bolster your faith and one that permits you to reject Christ?
  3. Do you tend to focus more on the clarity of Scripture or on the debatable? Explain how this is true in your life.

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