Spring 2003

Religion and Spirituality

The Gospels for the 21st Century, Part 13

Inside Out

David Hulme

The themes of light and darkness appear more than once in the Bible to denote the reality of God’s world and that of Satan. God is real, and so is Satan.

When Jesus brought relief to people caught up in Satan’s web of deception, He sometimes faced accusations of being in league with the devil. For example, He drove out a demon from a man who couldn’t say a word. The crowd was amazed when they heard the man speak. Some said that Jesus did such miracles by the power of Beelzebub, the prince of demons. Others were more demanding, asking that He give them some further miraculous sign from heaven. Jesus was prepared to answer both groups.

In response to the charge that He was working under Satan’s power, He said that Satan could not be working against himself. It made no sense for Jesus’ critics to claim that a person who was working for the devil should free a person who was under Satan’s influence. As Jesus said, “A house divided against itself will fall” (Luke 11:17).

He also warned His opponents that they should decide whether or not they were in the presence of God’s Spirit at work, and if they were, to be very careful not to judge the work of God as the work of Satan—which, after all, would be blasphemy. Jesus emphasized His point by saying, “He who is not with me is against me, and he who does not gather with me, scatters” (verse 23).

Jesus’ teaching was so striking to one woman that she called out a blessing on His mother for bringing Him into the world. Jesus’ response was that there was something far more important. It was that a blessing comes on those who hear the Word of God and obey it. It’s not a matter of who we are, but that we hear and obey. This is what counts with God (verses 27–28).

So often we are obsessed with the position, status, wealth or fame of a person. God is concerned with innermost intentions—the heart. 

So often we are obsessed with the position, status, wealth or fame of a person. God is concerned with innermost intentions—the heart.

It was at this point in speaking to the crowds that Jesus addressed those who had asked for a sign from heaven (verses 29–32). First he commented on the wicked nature of the generation of His time. Then He told them that they would receive no other sign than the sign of Jonah.

This was not the first time in His ministry that He had mentioned Jonah as a reference point. Hundreds of years earlier, the prophet Jonah had brought a warning against the gentile city of Nineveh, and the people there had changed their behavior to such an extent that God had spared their city. Now someone greater than Jonah had come, and the people of Judah were not prepared to listen.

Jesus also mentioned that the queen of Sheba had come to visit King Solomon about a thousand years earlier and had marveled at his wisdom. Yet Jesus’ generation had given little attention to Him, the Son of God. It was a pointed condemnation of His own people, because the Ninevites and the queen of Sheba were not Israelites, yet they had recognized God’s servants. Jesus’ own people were having trouble acknowledging Him.

He went on to encourage His listeners to make sure that they were walking in light, not darkness (verses 33–36). It is all too easy to fall prey to the deceptions of Satan, who is the prince of darkness, the ruler of this present age. We are to seek the light and be focused on truth. If we do that, we will not reject the true light when it is before us, as so many did in Jesus’ own time.

Religious Hypocrites I 

Setting traps for Jesus was becoming a habit with the Pharisees. While Jesus was an invited guest at dinner with one of them, the Pharisee noted that the young Teacher had not washed His hands in the ritual way.

Knowing the hypocrisy of the Pharisees’ thought patterns, Jesus took the opportunity to point out to the religious leader that it is what is inside a person that matters, not what is on the outside.

Knowing the hypocrisy of the Pharisees’ thought patterns, Jesus took the opportunity to point out to the religious leader that it is what is inside a person that matters, not what is on the outside. He said, “You Pharisees clean the outside of the cup and dish, but inside you are full of greed and wickedness” (verse 39). They were religious in an outward show, but they had not captured the essence of the law’s intent.

Jesus continued, “Woe to you Pharisees, because you give God a tenth of your mint, rue and all other kinds of garden herbs, but you neglect justice and the love of God. You should have practiced the latter without leaving the former undone” (verse 42). They were willing to tithe or pay a tenth of their produce to God, even on the smallest plant or herb, and yet they were not willing to render merciful judgment. Christ said they should tithe; that is part of God’s law. But equally they should have rendered judgments with compassion.

Their failure to treat fellow human beings with love was not pleasing to God. In the end, such religion counts for little.

Jesus also criticized the Pharisees for their pride in status. He said, “Woe to you Pharisees, because you love the most important seats in the synagogues and greetings in the marketplaces” (verse 43). Their enjoyment of recognition and pride of place was too much for the humble Teacher from Galilee. No doubt we’ve all met people like that. Yet, while we don’t appreciate their vanities, so often we fail to see similar flaws in ourselves.

Jesus’ third comment to the Pharisees contained quite a bleak image: unmarked and unnoticed graves. He said, “Woe to you, because you are like unmarked graves, which men walk over without knowing it” (verse 44). The Pharisees demanded attention, yet their approach brought them far less. Hypocrisy makes all of us like the dead lying in unmarked and unnoticed graves.

Religious Hypocrites II 

One of the scribes, or experts in the law, who was listening said that Jesus’ strong words insulted his fellow lawyers.

Now Jesus replied with a powerful series of criticisms of this group (verses 46–52). He said that they weighed people down with their overly strict interpretation of the law and then would not lift a finger to help the burdened. He said they were the same as their forefathers, who had killed God’s own prophets. He told them that they would be held responsible for the killing of those messengers. There’s also a warning here for us, that we do not reject the Word of God when it is set before us.

Jesus’ final words were left to ring in the scribe’s ears. He said, “Woe to you experts in the law, because you have taken away the key to knowledge. You yourselves have not entered, and you have hindered those who were entering” (verse 52).

The experts in the Word of God had actually deprived the people of the key to knowledge of God. This was their most serious failing.

The experts in the Word of God had actually deprived the people of the key to knowledge of God. This was their most serious failing. The very subject that they were supposed to teach, they had failed to deliver. The most important part of their role was to help people understand the Word of God, and they had thrown away the key.

Jesus’ open rebuke of the scribes and Pharisees provoked heightened hostility. Now they began to besiege Jesus with trick questions to entrap Him.

This antagonistic encounter caused Jesus to warn the crowds of the hypocrisy of the Pharisees (Luke 12:1–3). He said that there is nothing concealed that will not be revealed. Whatever we do will eventually come to light. If it’s evil, it cannot be covered up. It’s a realization that has stopped some people short. Knowing that we will be judged on what we have said and done is a powerful motivation to repent and do the right things in life.

Fear God, Not Man 

As Jesus went on to say, we should not fear those who can kill the physical body, but rather God who is in charge of our ultimate destiny. He has the power to destroy forever those who will not repent. They will simply never live up to the potential that God desires for all. God does not forget anyone; His care for us is immense (verses 4–7). However, He cannot work with those who willfully reject Him.

Jesus told His listeners that those who were more afraid of man than of God would not succeed. He was God’s Son, and His followers should not be afraid of men. If they were willing to disown Him before men, then they would be disowned before the angels of God. Jesus also warned them, as He had before, that speaking against the Holy Spirit of God was blasphemy, a sin that cannot be forgiven, because it is a denial of the power of God (verses 8–10).

Indeed it was the Holy Spirit that would help them know what to say when they would stand accused before the religious authorities. That was their reason not to fear or to fall prey to the temptation to deny Jesus Christ.

The day was coming when His followers would find themselves in such circumstances.

Right Priorities 

As Jesus was addressing a large crowd, probably in Judea, someone called out a request. A man said, “Teacher, tell my brother to divide the inheritance with me” (verse 13).

The question allowed Jesus to instruct about the perils of pursuing the false god of materialism. He told the man that He was not a judge of such matters. Instead, in reply, he focused on avoiding greed. He said, “A man’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions” (verse 15).

Then He told a story about a rich man whose land was so productive that he had to build new storage places for his wealth. Impressed with his abundance, he told himself that he could now sit back and eat, drink and be merry. But that night God required of him his life, and the rich man was unable to say who would inherit the wealth that he had planned to enjoy himself.

God named him a fool for his selfishness. Jesus’ conclusion was that “this is how it will be with anyone who stores up things for himself but is not rich toward God” (verse 21).

We humans cannot add a single hour to our lives by worrying. We must learn that God will take care of all these physical matters.

Now the disciples were about to hear something they had heard before in the Sermon on the Mount. Their Master went on to say that they should not be overly anxious about what to eat or what to wear. God takes care of the birds of the air. They don’t starve. He clothes the lilies of the field. They are in fact dressed better than one of Israel’s most wealthy kings, Solomon. We humans cannot add a single hour to our lives by worrying. We must learn that God will take care of all these physical matters. The priority, Jesus said, is to seek the Father’s kingdom, and then all these other physical needs will be taken care of. It’s a question of where our priorities lie, because where our treasure is, there will our hearts be (verse 34).

Readying for Christs Return 

It was not only against materialism that Jesus warned. He also said that we should not be negligent about the time of His return (verses 35–40). Materialism can, of course, make the possibility of His second coming seem very distant. Why worry about it now? Surely there will be a time later, people say.

He said that we should be like servants waiting for their master to return from a wedding banquet. If he finds them watching for his return, he will come in and serve them a meal. Jesus made the point that He will come at a time when He is not expected. So we must be personally diligent if we want to be part of those favored at that time.

Peter asked whether Jesus was giving this warning to the crowd or to the disciples. Jesus replied in a way that signaled that the disciples were to be the primary recipients of His words. He said that a good servant would be providing good food to the household that was left in his charge. He would not be found beating the household, abusing his charges (verses 41–46).

In this way Jesus was warning that those who would be His followers should care for His people, not take advantage of them. Sadly, this is the way some people behave when they think that Jesus’ return may be far off. No need to worry about that now, they say.

Jesus concluded His warning this way: “That servant who knows his master’s will and does not get ready or does not do what his master wants will be beaten with many blows. But the one who does not know and does things deserving punishment will be beaten with few blows. From everyone who has been given much, much will be demanded; and from the one who has been entrusted with much, much more will be asked” (verses 47–48).

The lesson is clear: We are responsible for acting on what we know and for carrying out our responsibilities in a godly way. The disciples were to become teachers themselves, responsible for serving God’s people and for telling them the truth. They had no excuse not to do so.

Of Division and Discernment 

Jesus concluded His address to the crowds with two more warnings—one about coming division, and the other about right judgment.

He said that He had come to eventually render judgment on the earth, but that would come after He had first died a sacrificial death. “Do you think I came to bring peace on earth? No, I tell you, but division” (verse 51).

It was a shocking statement, and not one we prefer to think about. It sounds unlike the stereotypical gentle Teacher from Nazareth. And it is. But Jesus Christ did not always smooth things over. Sometimes following the Father’s way means that there will be separation, even within families. It is inevitable that in a world of compromises with evil, those who stand for truth, and practice it, will be divided from those who do not.

Jesus’ final warning was to those who refused to discern the times. He told His audience that they could predict weather conditions by looking at the sky or gauging wind directions. What they seemed unable to do was to exercise discernment about the turbulent conditions that surrounded them.

They simply would not do the right thing, and they were going to suffer as a result.