Challenging the Experts: Luke 11:37-54

Focus Passage: Luke 11:37-54 (NIrV)

37 Jesus finished speaking. Then a Pharisee invited him to eat with him. So Jesus went in and took his place at the table. 38 But the Pharisee was surprised. He noticed that Jesus did not wash before the meal.

39 Then the Lord spoke to him. “You Pharisees clean the outside of the cup and dish,” he said. “But inside you are full of greed and evil. 40 You foolish people! Didn’t the one who made the outside make the inside also? 41 Give freely to poor people to show what is inside you. Then everything will be clean for you.

42 “How terrible it will be for you Pharisees! You give God a tenth of your garden plants, such as mint and rue. But you have forgotten to be fair and to love God. You should have practiced the last things without failing to do the first.

43 “How terrible for you Pharisees! You love the most important seats in the synagogues. You love having people greet you with respect in the market.

44 “How terrible for you! You are like graves that are not marked. People walk over them without knowing it.”

45 An authority on the law spoke to Jesus. He said, “Teacher, when you say things like that, you say bad things about us too.”

46 Jesus replied, “How terrible for you authorities on the law! You put such heavy loads on people that they can hardly carry them. But you yourselves will not lift one finger to help them.

47 “How terrible for you! You build tombs for the prophets. It was your people of long ago who killed them. 48 So you show that you agree with what your people did long ago. They killed the prophets, and now you build the prophets’ tombs. 49 So God in his wisdom said, ‘I will send prophets and apostles to them. They will kill some. And they will try to hurt others.’ 50 So the people of today will be punished. They will pay for all the prophets’ blood spilled since the world began. 51 I mean from the blood of Abel to the blood of Zechariah. He was killed between the altar and the temple. Yes, I tell you, the people of today will be punished for all these things.

52 “How terrible for you authorities on the law! You have taken away the key to the door of knowledge. You yourselves have not entered. And you have stood in the way of those who were entering.”

53 When Jesus went outside, the Pharisees and the teachers of the law strongly opposed him. They threw a lot of questions at him. 54 They set traps for him. They wanted to catch him in something he might say.

Read Luke 11:37-54 in context and/or in other translations on BibleGateway.com!

During a meal Jesus ate with some religious leaders, He challenges them with how they have chosen to live and about where they were placing their focus. This all began when Jesus chose not to ceremonially wash before the meal, and this offends the host who was a Pharisee.

Following, or perhaps interrupting, Jesus’ challenge to the Pharisees, an authority on the law (i.e. a lawyer) speaks up saying that Jesus’ words against the Pharisees are offending him as well. By speaking up, this lawyer opens the door for Jesus to change His focus and extend His challenges to this group as well.

Luke tells us that Jesus replied by saying, “How terrible for you authorities on the law! You put such heavy loads on people that they can hardly carry them. But you yourselves will not lift one finger to help them. “How terrible for you! You build tombs for the prophets. It was your people of long ago who killed them. So you show that you agree with what your people did long ago. They killed the prophets, and now you build the prophets’ tombs. So God in his wisdom said, ‘I will send prophets and apostles to them. They will kill some. And they will try to hurt others.’ So the people of today will be punished. They will pay for all the prophets’ blood spilled since the world began. I mean from the blood of Abel to the blood of Zechariah. He was killed between the altar and the temple. Yes, I tell you, the people of today will be punished for all these things. How terrible for you authorities on the law! You have taken away the key to the door of knowledge. You yourselves have not entered. And you have stood in the way of those who were entering.” (v. 46-52)

Just like He did with the Pharisees, Jesus shares three core issues with the expert lawyers. In some ways, the group of lawyers is even worse than the group of Pharisees.

The first thing Jesus challenges the lawyers with has to do with the lists of laws that they had developed. The lists of new laws they had developed to keep the people from coming close to sinning had taken their focus away from loving and helping others. The issue Jesus has with the lawyers is that they were using their minds and logic to keep people trapped rather than to help people live better lives. With a humble focus, the religious experts could have helped all the Jewish groups live better, be better, and understand God’s character better, but they had instead focused on the negative characteristics of God and turned Him into a villain rather than a loving Father.

The second issue Jesus challenged the lawyers with their honoring the prophets that their ancestors killed. In a somewhat ironic way, by giving the Old Testament prophets honor when their ancestors had rejected them, these leaders in the present were just as stuck in the past as their ancestors were. Both groups chose to focus on what God had done earlier in history while rejecting what He was choosing to do in their lifetimes. By trying to keep things the way they were before, the leaders miss out on what all of God’s prophets were pointing forward to, and the biggest problem with this approach is that these leaders ultimately reject God’s Messiah.

The final problem Jesus has with the lawyers is that instead of using their intelligence to help people grow closer to God, they used their intelligence to push people away from God. These were the people who could have helped everyone understand God’s love and His grace, but they instead pushed people away from God by focusing only on God as the judge. If someone implied that God was loving, the lawyers were quick to redirect the focus away from His love and towards His judgment of sinners.

While Jesus challenged these two groups of religious leaders to help them realize they had misplaced their focus, these leaders ultimately chose to reject Jesus rather than grow based upon His challenges. The leaders chose their pride over the humility God wanted them to have, and this decision closed them off to God like they had closed God off to the people living in the first century. When Jesus challenges us, He doesn’t do it to push us away; His challenges are meant to help us grow into the people He created us to be!

This thought was inspired by studying the Walking With Jesus "Reflective Bible Study" package. To discover insights like this in your own study time, click here and give Reflective Bible Study a try today!

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