The Lord's Day Morning
July 10, 2011
“Don't Fake Religion”
Luke 20:45 – Luke 21:4
The Reverend Dr. J. Ligon Duncan III
If you have your Bibles, I'd invite you to turn with me to Luke chapter 20 as we continue our way together through the gospel of Luke. Today, we come to the end of Luke 20 and verse 45 and we’ll read through to Luke 21 verse 4. You’ll see why in a moment. The last time we were together in Luke we saw Jesus indicting the theology of the scribes and the Pharisees. They had challenged Him, yet again, as to His own theology, with a question. He had answered their question and then He had questioned them with His own question which they could not answer, and in so doing, Luke shows us their deficient theology of the Messiah and their deficient understanding of Scripture and rebukes them for it. But now, in the passage we're going to read at the end of Luke 20, he's going to show the way that they’re living falls short of the commands of God in the Scripture and he's going to pair that, in the beginning of Luke 21, with a picture of true piety. The scribes and the Pharisees, in their pretention and in their hypocrisy, end up being the example of impiety and this improbable example is held up for us of true piety in a poor widow who shows up in the court of women and drops into one of those trumpet-shaped offering containers, two mites, and Jesus holds her up as an example of how we ought to give to God.
And so in this passage, Jesus is not simply going to address a problem of sin that existed two thousand years ago and has nothing to do with us today. He's going to address a central struggle of our own hearts and lives because hypocrisy is an ever-present and deadly dangerous sin. It keeps us from seeing our need and it keeps us from availing ourselves of the only solution to our need. So let's pray before we read God's Word.
Lord, this is Your Word. It is true, it is edifying, and it is convicting. We ask, O Lord, that as we come to hear it read in our ears, that we would embrace it as the truth of Your own lips. The Lord Jesus and the Scriptures speak with one tongue, and if we reject the Scriptures, we reject the words of Jesus to us, so we want to embrace it as true. We also, O God, want to acknowledge it as edifying. You didn't give this Word to us for us to be entertained hearing interesting stories of times past. You gave this Word to build us up, to grow us in grace, to change us from the inside out. This Word if profitable, so we pray, O Lord, that You would build us up by Your Word. We also ask, O Lord, that You would convict and correct us by Your Word, that You would speak Your Word into our own hearts and lives today and You would cause us to see our own sin and its seriousness and the solution for it in our Savior. We ask this in Jesus' name. Amen.
This is the Word of God. Hear it:
“And in the hearing of all the people He said to His disciples, ‘Beware of the scribes, who like to walk around in long robes, and love greetings in the marketplaces and the best seats in the synagogues and the places of honor at feasts, who devour widows’ houses and for a pretense make long prayers. They will receive the greater condemnation.’
Jesus looked up and saw the rich putting their gifts into the offering box, and He saw a poor widow put in two small copper coins. And He said, ‘Truly, I tell you, this poor widow has put in more than all of them. For they all contributed out of their abundance, but she out of her poverty put in all she had to live on.’”
Amen, and thus ends this reading of God's holy, inspired, and inerrant Word. May He write its eternal truth upon all our hearts.
True confessions, this passage hits pretty close to home to preachers. When Jesus starts talking about scribes who like to go around in long robes and who like to be respectfully greeted in the marketplace, most ministers that are paying any attention recognize the tug of our own heart. We like to be called by respectful names — pastor, minister — we like the seats of honor at feasts. You know, we oftentimes get to sit at special places at weddings, you know, get a little extra honor. And I was told by somebody after the early service that's because they need us there to keep the troublemakers from saying bad things at toasts. I didn't realize that was our function at rehearsal dinners — we were grouped with the troublemakers so that they would feel more ashamed to say certain things in their toasts. But we are given special places to sit at feasts. Now Jesus goes on to talk about these scribes devouring widows’ houses and for a pretense making long prayers, and we don't know exactly what He means by the former thing. We know exactly what He means by the latter, that is, even in their prayers, their purpose in praying those long prayers is not to be heard by God, but to be thought pious in the eyes of people who are hearing them. Ministers know that tug.
But you know, Jesus’ words of rebuke and indictment in this passage aren't just for preachers. Oh yes, they are for us, but they’re for all of us. But you see, what He's getting at fundamentally is the problem of hypocrisy. That's very, very clear in the very last thing He said, isn't it? “For a pretense they make long prayers.” They’re more concerned about what people think about them than they are about the reality of who they are. They want to look religious. They’re ready to fake religion in order to enhance their reputation, and perhaps, as this passage suggests in verse 47, even to enhance their wallets. But this is not just a problem for the professional scribes of two thousand years ago or for the professional clergy of today. It's a problem for all of us. Hypocrisy is a universal problem and Jesus has something to say about it in this passage. The first thing I want you to see is the indictment that He gives of it, the second thing I want you to see is His identification of the nature of this sin, and the third thing I want you to see is the only escape from this.
The Indictment: Hypocrisy
First let's look at Jesus’ indictment. Isn't it fascinating what Jesus does here? When Jesus turns His attention to the scribes, He uncorks on them in this passage. His fury is apparent and His indictment is emphatic. Jesus can be so patient with prostitutes; He can be so gentle with tax collectors; He can even be forbearing with a persecutor of the church like Saul or He can be kind and merciful and gracious to a thief on a cross, but when He is in the presence of hypocrites, we see His full fury and the indictment is powerful here. Listen to the stinging words. “You like to walk around in long robes. You love greetings in the marketplaces. You love the best seats in the synagogues and places of honor at feasts while you devour widows’ houses and you make for a pretense long prayers. You will receive the greater condemnation.” Jesus is saying quite, quite clearly here, there is a special place in hell for hypocrites. It is a stinging indictment. And you have to ask yourself the question, “Why? Why is Jesus so emphatic?” Because hypocrisy is a sin that keeps you from admitting who you are and what you need and applying to the One who is the only remedy for your soul's sickness. Hypocrisy is a sin that makes you think that you've got yourself covered when you’re not, and it keeps you from availing yourself of the plentiful grace which is in Christ Jesus. And so Jesus, while He deals gently with sinners who realize that they’re sinners, when He comes into contact with sinners who are trying to pretend that they’re not sinners, He addresses them full-force because they have a disease that cuts them off from full self-awareness and which cuts them off from the only remedy for their sin. And so we see this stinging indictment. They will receive the greater condemnation.
Identifying the Nature OF THE Sin of Hypocrisy
And that indictment reminds us of the identification of this sin. What's going on in hypocrisy? In hypocrisy, we are attempting to justify ourselves, to make ourselves look righteous to cover up our sin by keeping them hidden from the eyes of others who might see them and reject us if they saw them. We are attempting to look better than we are, we are attempting to look religious, while on the inside God is not the first and last, we are not ever only and all for Him, we are living for ourselves. We want to look like we're living for God, while in fact, we're living for ourselves. You know, the hypocrite fears that if we knew what he was like, we would reject him, and so he comes up with a solution — I will cover my sin and pretend to be who I am not so that I will not only not be rejected, I will be respected, I’ll be esteemed, I’ll be counted as a pious person. And that is a very, very dangerous game. But we're all tempted to it because there are flashes of self-consciousness when we realize how ugly and black our hearts can be and we want to cover that up. We know it needs to be covered but we seek to cover it ourselves by hiding and pretending.
The Only Escape from Hypocrisy
And Jesus approaches this with a fury. Why? For at least two reasons. One is, and this is the third thing I want you to see about the escape — one of the reasons why He approaches this with such a fury is it doesn't work. Let's put aside what this does in relation to God for a moment and just think about how it doesn't work with our fellow human beings. Have you ever noticed that there are people with huge holes in their lives and with great sin and they will attempt to hide those sins by being unusually strident and judgment about small things? They will be able to rain down judgment and condemnation on minutia while ignoring huge, gaping holes in their own lives – great sins that they don't realize they’re not effectively hiding from anybody who's looking very closely at all. They may feel like they’re covering up effectively, but they show us with their shriveled souls and their harsh judgments about small things, the big void in their lives. The covering up doesn't work!
But that's not the worst part of it. You see, the worst part of it is that covering up doesn't work with God because He sees everything. You know, in this passage, Jesus — and it's quite remarkable, isn't it? Because He looks up and He's watching people giving their tithes at the temple and He's watching the rich give some very impressive gifts to the temple and He notices a poor widow giving two mites. Now do you know how much money that is, my friends? If you took a penny and you cut it into four pieces, you gave away three of the four pieces and you retained one, that's how much those two mites are worth. Jesus notices it. Now for believers, that ought to be incredibly encouraging and it shouldn't surprise us at all because Jesus says that if you give a cup of water in His name He will not forget it. The eyes of the Lord are looking to and fro upon the earth and He does not miss a thing that His children do. And Jesus sees that widow and He holds her up for us as an example. “Here's a woman who was ever, only, and all for My Father.” Look at her. She's giving everything she has. It's worth a quarter of a cent. That's the kind of person who loves the Lord. That's an example of real piety. That's an example of a person who's not about pretense. They’re just worshiping the Lord with all that they are and all that they have. There's true piety and Jesus sees it.
That ought to be very encouraging to the believer, but to the hypocrite that should be very discouraging, because if Jesus can take the time to see a woman giving a quarter of a cent to God in the temple, there is no sin in your life and in your heart that He does not see. And so all of your covering of that sin to others, all your pretending around others, all your hypocrisy is utterly vain with God. He knows what you’re like. And even worse, your thinking that you've got it covered keeps you from going to the only One who can cover it. Did you hear Billy read about the great High Priest who bore our shame and who for His piety He was heard by God? He bore the shame, our shame, but He Himself, He Himself needed no covering because He was perfect. And He is the only one who can cover you, and if you try to cover yourself and if you think you've got yourself covered, you've cut yourself off from the only One who can cover you.
You know, the hypocrite thinks, “If I can just keep my sin from being known, I’ll be alright.” And the hypocrite is listening to words being whispered in his ear that goes something like this — “Don't let it be known. Don't let it be known because if it is known, you will be rejected.” But the Savior is saying, “I already know what is in you. Come to Me, all you who are weary of playing that game and are heavy laden and I will give you rest.” The Savior knows what's in you. He knew what was in Peter and He loved Peter. He knew what was in Saul and He loved him. He knew what was in Abraham and He loved him. He's the lover of our souls. It will not be His lack of love that will keep Him from us, it will only be our feeble attempts at covering our own sin and our own self-justification that keep us from Him. You see why Jesus is so furious about hypocrisy? Yes, hypocrisy amongst leaders breeds hypocrisy amongst believers, but deeper than that, this is a sin that cuts you off from the fountain of God's mercy.
You see why I say that it's not just preachers that are convicted by this passage today. It's all of us, because we so care about our reputation. We so care about looking good in front of others, but my friends, if we do not reckon with what we are and what we have done, if we do not simply go to Him and say, “Just as I am without one plea, but Thou my God hast died for me. Nothing in me that pleads for mercy; there's only something in Him. Unless we do them, we can never get the covering we need. The Savior will give us that covering. We have to stop playing games. We have to stop faking religion. We have to recognize who we are, we have to repent of that sin, we have to trust in Him for the covering that only He can give, the only covering that works. And that's what this passage is about today. The question for you and me is — Have we really seen ourselves? Have we admitted that to ourselves or are we working on a plan where we just try to look good enough to one another and to think that will suffice? Jesus is saying, “All of that will melt on the last day. The only covering that will remain is that which has been provided in My body and blood.”
O Lord, the very act of coming to this Table is meant to be a full admission of our need and of our undeserving and our unworthiness and the embrace of the rich and more than sufficient bountiful supply of Your mercy in Your Son. The Table speaks of His worthiness. The Table speaks of His mercy, His grace, His forgiveness. Lord, help us to reckon today with our own hearts and lives to stop playing at religion, stop trying to cover ourselves, to own our sin, to learn to hate it rather than just hide it, and to see the beauty of our Savior and His kindness in accepting us. Lord, do these things in our hearts and lives today. We pray in Jesus' name.