After the near “food fight” we saw during the last meal Jesus attended at the home of a prominent religious leader, another Pharisee is brave enough to have Jesus over to his place on a separate occasion. Once again, Jesus serves up a spiritual meal in his teaching, and it’s piping hot for those who are listening.
In this encounter, we see that Jesus stands against religion-based unkindness, hostility, and neglect of the needy. Moreover, he frowns upon self-promotion, self-exaltation, and jockeying for position. Most prominently, Jesus detests using disadvantaged people for personal gain rather than loving them as they are.
By chance (or perhaps as a trap) a man with an illness enters the house. Typically an unwelcomed guest, this man is now welcomed by Jesus who heals him. Jesus then takes the opportunity—by way of a parable—to teach the inhospitable Pharisees about the generous hospitality of God’s Son for anyone who will accept his invitation. Through his actions and teachings, Jesus demonstrates gospel opportunities increase in proportion to our gracious hospitality.
Quite significantly, on the timeline of Jesus’ life, we’re not too far from the cross. The crucifixion is starting to come into view, so this argument between Jesus and the religious leaders has been going on for several years now. And yet, Jesus is not finished dialoguing with them. We might have been, but not Jesus. Whatever frustration he has with these cold-hearted religionists, he seizes yet another opportunity to make the gospel known to them. He’s making it known to us, too.
The problem with legalism is that it doesn’t feel like sin. It feels like holiness. It feels like true commitment and genuine devotion. It feels like something God should be pleased with. That’s why religious people are especially prone to it. Their perceived sense of spiritual goodness and moral superiority become an obstacle to receiving God’s grace (as well as giving it to others). Besides, they don’t really think they need it—at least not as much as other people do. In Jesus’s mind, however, legalism is just an ugly sin to be avoided.
Surprisingly, Jesus had more conflicts with the legalists of his day than any other group. They were constantly at odds throughout the Gospels. In the end, it wasn’t the “general issue sinners” who put Jesus on the cross; it was the legalists—those overly zealous, hyper-critical religious folks who looked down on everybody else. Later, the Apostle Paul had a similar experience. The legalists dogged his every step, distorted his message of grace, and then eventually beheaded him.
Up to this point in Luke’s Gospel, Jesus has shared lavish grace and gentle correction with those at his table. This meal, however, shows us something different. Jesus unleashes his anger on the religious leaders of the first century, and it’s not pleasant. In fact, the encounter is downright confrontational. We might say Jesus “burned the meal” this time. But why? What made Christ so angry that he would issue six “woes” to the religious leaders he was breaking bread with? The passage tells us that Jesus gets “steamed” when:
we value external ceremonies over internal cleansing. (37-41)
our religious traditions become more important than God’s priorities. (42)
we’re driven more by the praise of others than by the praise of God. (43)
we lead others away from God and nobody seems to realize it. (44)
we raise people’s moral standards but offer no help to meet them. (45-46)
we claim to honor the very people whose message we violate. (47-51)
we obscure the beauty of God’s revelation with our own distortions of it. (52)
Sadly, the Pharisees didn’t see themselves as sinners in need of a Savior. They saw themselves as jolly good fellows who kept the law; therefore, God should accept them. To make matters worse, they imposed their “fence laws” (i.e., their own tedious additions and traditions to God’s simple laws) on everybody else—which just made life drudgery for everyone. They then looked down on people who didn’t keep the fence laws like they did, thus making them feel inferior to the religious elite.
That’s why Jesus saves his most stinging rebukes for the hyper-religious. They, more than anybody else, misrepresent the gracious heart of God. Even today, Pharisees offer a religion of “DO!” while Jesus offers a relationship of “DONE!” That’s why he announced from his cross, “It is finished.” Jesus paid it all, and now he gives salvation full and free to all who know they need his grace.
“The Sabbath was God’s good gift to a weary people, and all who embraced it enjoyed its beauties, mysteries, and delights.” – Timothy R. Valentino
Below is a link to my article, “Artistry and Architecture in the Fourth Commandment: New Proposals on the Context, Structure, and Beauty of Israel’s Sabbath Law,” published in the Fall 2015 volume of the Evangelical Journal. The introduction and thesis paragraph are reproduced here, and a link to the full article follows below:
The fourth commandment (Exod. 20:8–11) occupies a unique and exalted place among the laws of the Decalogue. Rabbi Bahya ben Asher, a medieval scholar, called it “the primary commandment given to Israel,” and “the first principle of faith, as weighty as all the rest of the commandments combined.” Other sages have described the Sabbath as the “bride” of Israel, elevating its status to the intimacy and mystique of marriage. In his classic treatise on the significance of Sabbath, Heschel goes so far as to say, “The Sabbath is the presence of God in the world, open to the soul of man.” So important is the Sabbath law to Judaism that some rabbis have placed it on par with the entire Torah. To keep it is to keep the whole law, and to break it is to break the whole law.
Historically, the Sabbath was God’s gift to a weary people. For more than four-hundred years, the Israelites had lived and labored as slaves down in Egypt, a nation organized around a ten-day workweek with no regular day off.5 Into such a world came the surprising text of the fourth commandment. The people who first heard it would have received it gladly. Their grueling and oppressive workweek had just been shortened from ten days to seven, with the seventh being a day of rest. In the text of this unique commandment, then, Yahweh reveals his compassion toward his people. His kindness and generosity are on display, as are his care and concern for all creation.
Centuries of scholarship have aided our understanding of the Sabbath law. What is often missing, however, is a detailed look at its literary context and internal arrangement. Such an omission is due primarily to the claims of higher criticism that the law has been embellished over time; therefore, its present form must be unoriginal and therefore untrustworthy. This paper challenges that claim. It proposes, instead, a sharpened arrangement for the Decalogue, and a new literary structure for the Sabbath law, showing how its internal architecture reinforces its meaning. Our investigation will reveal that (1) the fourth commandment constitutes its own unit within the Decalogue, and (2) the commandment itself is chiastically arranged. It is an exquisite text that defies any attempt to attribute its canonical form to scribal misadventure, editorial emendations, or other evolutionary developments. Indeed, the Decalogue is said to have been written “on tablets of stone inscribed by the finger of God” (Exod. 31:18). As such, God’s artistry is on display in the Sabbath law. Not surprisingly, its literary presentation befits the beauty of its message, which we will also briefly consider.