We were looking at Luke 20:41-21:4 yesterday morning, its a brilliant and challenging passage about Jesus Lordship and our response to it. But one of the most striking things about it is that Jesus turns from talking to the teachers of the law to warn his disciples not to be like the teachers of the law. Jesus warns his followers not to be like them and that it is a real danger for them.
It’s another shocking statement which Jesus makes because the teachers of the law were the people society looked up to, they had spent years studying the law, they were viewed as wise, they had devoted themselves to studying and applying God's law and they were respected for their learning and understanding, yet Jesus says beware of them. Why?
Because their religion was only skin deep and pride and self righteousness filled their hearts. They loved the ostentatious flowing robes which made them easy to spot and displayed their wealth for all to see which they wore as a badge of being blessed of God. They loved to be greeted, to be seen as important, honoured and welcomed. But, said Jesus, it is all a sham, it is all for show, they aren’t pious they are poisonous.
They look good but their religion is just a cloak for rotten hearts. They don’t love God they love their reputation and that’s seen in their desire for recognition by men but refusal to do what pleases God which is seen in their mistreatment of the poor.
They may know the scriptures but they don’t apply it, they may look good but they don’t love God. Religion, religious knowledge, religious practice doesn’t save. Don’t be like that, Jesus warns the disciples, beware of hypocrisy, don’t be proud, don’t love popularity and appearance, love God.
One of the things that struck me in preparing was the irony that so often it is the very thing Jesus here warns his disicples against that is so often levelled against Christians today; 'Christians are hypocrites'. Jesus warns us beware – it is our greatest danger!
And Jesus warning gets traction in our hearts because we feel that lure that desire to pursue popularity, both sometimes with non-believers by keeping quiet about our faith but also with believers by talking up our faith or giving an impression of spirituality. Or perhaps it is in the desire for recognition or the refusal to reveal when we are struggling.
How do we answer that simple yet sincere 'How are you?' from a concerned brother or sister? It is not just another way of saying good morning or hello, it is a genuine query about your well being (or it ought to be used in that way). Are we honest about our struggles to pray, about how hard we are finding it to apply grace to our marriage, or a friendship, or to our parenting? What is behind our refusal to share and seek prayer? Is it embarrassment? Is it pride? Is it wanting to be thought spiritual?
Don't be like the teachers of the law, instead Jesus says be like the thankful, humble widow who serves God without thought for others opinions.