We continue our way through Luke's Gospel today by looking at Luke 11:37-54, which contains the outline of a very awkward dinner conversation. Jesus has been invited into the home of a Pharisee, a respected leader. For us, the very word Pharisee tends to churn up in us a condescending contempt. That word would not have evoked that kind of a response in Jesus' day. People in Jesus' day would have revered the Pharisees. They were religious leaders, lay leaders of synagogues throughout the land who were calling Jewish people back to the Bible, to live by the Book, to not cave in to the cultural corruption of the occupying Romans the way the Sadducees were caving in at every turn and giving cultural ground. And so the people revered the Pharisees as among the holiest of all those in Israel.

So what do you think that Jesus might say if He came to dinner at your house? I mean this is fairly bracing conversation. This Pharisee, a respected religious leader in his town, has invited other respected religious leaders in his town and Jesus and perhaps His disciples as well to come and sup with him on a rather formal occasion. And it appears that Jesus has hardly entered into the meal when a dispute arises. And how do I put this - Jesus uncorks. The Pharisee notices that when Jesus enters that He does not engage in the ritual washing or cleansing which was standard practice for the Pharisees who were considered to be those who cared most about keeping God's law, who cared most about observing the ceremonial law of what we call the Old Testament, their Hebrew Bible. And he criticizes Jesus. He's astonished that Jesus would not participate in this ritual cleansing. He considers it to be an act which indicates a lack of complete respect for God's Word and for the pursuit of holiness, and he's baffled that Jesus would not do this and he draws attention to it. And Jesus responds very emphatically to him.

Now understand that this ritual washing was not commanded by the Word of God, not even by the ceremonial code of the Old Testament. This was an extension, an application, you might even say an addition that had been developed by the Pharisees extending the ceremonial law as a way of honoring it and upholding it and building a hedge around it that believers might (a) not accidently transgress it and (b) might manifest their adherence to the law in a more obvious way.

But unfortunately, it was an addition to God's Word, and when we add to God's Word, the next thing you know we'll be taking away from God's Word. And that's exactly what had happened to the Pharisees. They thought they were improving on the Word of God when in fact they were actually undermining the Word of God in their lives. And Jesus makes that clear. And Jesus speaks very directly to them.

Now this is a rich passage but don't miss the main point. The main thing that Jesus says to the Pharisees and to the lawyers is that they were hypocrites, that they cared a great deal about external righteousness but their hearts were not marked by real righteousness. Look again at what Jesus says at the very outset in v.39 "You Pharisees cleanse the outside of the cup and the dish, but inside you are full of greed and wickedness." And then look at v. 41 - "Give as alms those things that are within, and behold, everything is clean for you." This is Jesus' constant critique of the Pharisees. It is that they cared a lot about looking holy but they really, really didn't show a concern to be holy from the very depths of their hearts. They cared a lot about respectful greetings - "Hello pastor! Hello reverend! Hello father!" - whatever the appropriate religious greeting of the day was, they loved being greeted as holy men. They loved being respected in the synagogues and being given the best seats. They loved being thought of as the most holy people in Israel, but as much as they cared about looking holy, looking religious, looking righteous, they weren't in their hearts. In their hearts they were empty. In fact, they were rotting in their hearts.

And so Jesus launches a withering assault against the Pharisees and against the scribes for religious hypocrisy. That is, not surprisingly, they were in a conservative, religious Jews in a culture that was over-run by an alien occupying force of pagan, polytheistic Romans and in the context of that culture they cared greatly about retaining the religious traditions of that culture and keeping distinct Israelites from these invading and occupying Romans. But in the process of doing that they actually were fostering a religious externalism that bred hypocrisy. It's not surprising that within their own sub-culture they would have cared greatly about being thought of as holy, but their problem was they really didn't care enough about holiness because holiness is not an external thing, it is something that emanates from the heart, a changed heart.

In the Word of God it is the heart that is the wellspring of everything in the Christian life. And if the heart is not right, everything is wrong. And Jesus is indicting the Pharisees and saying, "You care a lot about looking holy, but in fact, you're a hypocrite because you care more about what other people think of you than you do about what God knows about your heart."

Now it would be very easy for us to join in throwing stones at the Pharisees and the scribes, but I want to suggest to you my friends that this is not a temptation to which we are immune because most of us want to look like Christians. Very often our concern is to look on the outside a way that we are not in fact on the inside. And thus we are tempted to this kind of religious hypocrisy that looks spiritual, looks religious, looks Christian, but in the heart is really not taken up with God. We are not loving the Lord our God with all our heart and all our soul and all our mind and all our strength and our neighbor as ourselves.

Now we all have it in different ways, but it's important for us to examine our hearts and ask this - Do we care more about looking religious or looking Christian than we do about having a living relationship with a living God by faith in Jesus Christ? Does our love for God and our trust in Jesus Christ animate our lives above everything else or is the heartbeat of our life found in something else other than God and the Gospel and His Son the Lord Jesus Christ, and we just like to have that as a part of our lives? We have a little box over here where Jesus and the Gospel and the church fit in our lives. We want it to be a part of our lives but it's not the heartbeat of our lives.

If you look at your life and you can say that your heart is not animated fundamentally by love for God because of His grace to you in the Gospel and that there's just a little place that you want Jesus and Christianity and the Bible and the church to fit into your life then you yourself may be vulnerable to the very kind of religious hypocrisy that Jesus is condemning here. Jesus wants servants with whole hearts.