We're in Luke 20.41-47. Short passage – some of you are hoping for a short sermon! Well beware the preacher who has just a few verses to try and explain! And our passage says, Beware the Scribes – the scribes being the teachers of the law – and so supposedly of God's word and ways in Jesus' day. Yet they got it wrong in so many ways.
Yes, beware those who claim to be Bible teachers, even those who've been approved by the wider church, such as the Church of England, when what they teach and do doesn't agree with God's word – always check what they and we at JPC teach and do against Scripture. So, have Luke 20.41 open in front of you. And my first point is that
1. The Psalms Witness to Jesus Christ Being God
How do you answer people's questions about Jesus and the Christian faith, perhaps especially if they're hostile and looking to catch you out? Do you answer patiently as Jesus did or frustratedly? And do you have a question for them as Jesus did – to test and even expose their often ill-informed and sometimes rather arrogant thinking?
When I was a student at Newcastle I took a course in Biblical Studies with a new lecturer. Sadly, it should've been called Unbiblical Studies. The new tutor considered himself to be an expert on the Bible. But tragically he was arrogant and wrong rather like the scribes. A few years earlier he'd been about to go abroad as a missionary when he suddenly turned his back on God and declared himself an atheist. In his lectures, he would try to rip the Bible apart and argue that Jesus wasn't God but rather a failure. He would ask you lots of questions to try and dismantle your faith and trip you up. I decided at the ripe old age of 18 to prove him wrong. I wrote essays on the historical Jesus etc. I tried to argue from the Greek New Testament, rather pathetically trying to impress him. But I was trying to patiently answer the lecturer's questions. And then I decided to go and see him and humbly ask him some questions, because he was upsetting the faith of my friends. That turned out to be quite revealing. His response was far softer, saying he wished he could believe that Jesus is the Messiah, and say that he's my Lord and my God. Asking searching questions of those hostile to your faith can be effective. Which is exactly what Jesus does in Luke 20, but does so relevantly and perfectly, using Scripture.
Look at verse 41 to 44. After patiently replying to his enemies' attacks, the Lord Jesus asks them a question. He asks them to explain verse 1 of Psalm 110, where King David speaks of the Messiah, the Son of David, as his Lord.
But the teachers of the law, the Scribes, were unable to answer Jesus' question. Sadly, as with some teachers today, they didn't see the great truth that the Messiah was to be fully God as well as fully man and that while as a man he was David's son, or of David's line; as God he was to be David's Lord. Their ignorance of Scripture was exposed for everyone to see. They made themselves out to be teachers who possessed the key of knowledge, yet they were shown to be people who couldn't even explain their own Scriptures! Out of all the shortcomings which Jesus' enemies had, none was as humiliating as this one. Nothing so kills a person's pride as to have their ignorance, on the subject they consider themselves to be an expert, shown in public. Isn't that true? Isn't that what politicians fear? But if we're to have peace with God, know his love and the riches of his grace for eternity and so escape the just judgment of hell, which we'll come to later, then we're to humble ourselves, put our trust in Christ and submit to him as our Lord and God, just as some of the scribes did following Jesus' resurrection and ascension. Is there someone here who needs to do just that for the first time? That's a direct question which Jesus, through his word, is asking you today. How will you respond?
You see it would be arrogant of us, even if we're trusting in Christ, to think that Jesus isn't lovingly asking questions of us, lovingly pointing things out in our lives that need to change, such as hypocrisy. Perhaps we have questions for him – such as why is it so crucial that Jesus is fully God and fully man? Well the answer to that is if he's not then he couldn't rescue us from our sin and he'd be a liar and therefore Christianity would be false and we can all go home now! But what's he asking us and of us? He's not trying to trip us up – but rather to change us through his word and by his Spirit to be more like him and not like the scribes. And if we know him as Lord and God then we're to listen and obey.
You see you and I probably have little idea how much deep truth the Psalms contain. No part of the Bible is better known in the letter and so little understood in the spirit. If we suppose that the Psalms are nothing but a record of David's feelings or experiences, or his praises and prayers then we're greatly mistaken. Now please don't mishear me they are that, but the subject matter was often far deeper and higher than just the history of King David. The Psalms, in short, is a book full of Christ: Christ suffering, Christ in humiliation, Christ dying, Christ rising again, Christ coming again, Christ reigning over everyone. Psalm 110 certainly is. The Bible tells us so as Psalm 110 is the most quoted psalm in the New Testament. Both advents or comings of Jesus are there: the coming in suffering to bear the cross, the coming in power to wear the crown. Both kingdoms are there – the kingdom of grace, during which the elect (which doesn't refer to elected MPs but rather to God's chosen or those who've been rescued by grace through faith in Christ) are gathered and the kingdom of glory. So let's always say to ourselves as we read the Psalms: 'One greater than David is here'. And indeed, Christ is on every page of the Old Testament. Jesus himself says so on the road to Emmaus, in Luke 24.27.
Jesus wants us to see that the Messiah wasn't David's son in the petty sense of defeating Israel's foes and bringing in a new kingdom of David. No Jesus wants us to see that he is Lord as Psalm 110 does. Lord of people's hearts and lives. To call him Lord meaningfully is to see him as greater by far than merely another David. The scribes didn't get it. Do you? Do you submit to him as your Lord and Saviour? Are you submitting to him as Lord in every aspect of your life?
Jesus is Lord. He's a demanding and loving Lord. He demands our all. He wants us to totally serve Him in every area of life. He wants us to hold no area back. There's a story of a man in Haiti who wanted to sell his house for £1,000. Another man wanted very badly to buy it, but because he was poor, he couldn't afford the full price. After much bargaining, the owner agreed to sell the house for half the original price with just one condition: he would retain ownership of one small nail located just over the front door. After several years, the original owner wanted the house back, but the new owner was unwilling to sell. So, the first owner went out, found the carcass of a dead dog, and hung it from the single nail he still owned. Soon it became impossible to live there, and the family was forced to sell the house to the owner of the nail.
What's the point of that story? It's that if we don't surrender all our life to the control of King Jesus, if we give him all but one small nail, then Satan will hang his rotting garbage on it and make us unfit for Christ. If Christ is not Lord of all then he's not Lord at all. How we need his grace and power. All of which brings us secondly to
2. Christ Hates Hypocrisy
Notice how abominable hypocrisy is to Jesus. Politicians' hypocrisy doesn't go down well with the electorate, yet it's often tolerated, but Christ hates hypocrisy, verse 45 to 47:
"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 market-places and the best seats in the synagogues and the places of honour at feasts, who devour widows' houses and for a pretence make long prayers. They will receive the greater condemnation.'"
This was a bold and severe warning. Indeed it was a public condemnation of men who were publicly behaving badly. A public denunciation of men, remember, who sat in Moses' seat – in other words they wanted to be the leaders of Israel as Moses was - and were the recognised teachers of the Jewish people. Yet they couldn't interpret the Scriptures correctly nor did they even attempt to live them out as God intended. Rather they twisted them for their own ends as sadly some church leaders do today.
So, what does Jesus' reaction say to us in 2019? Well, it teaches us very clearly that there may be times when the sins of people in high places make it a positive duty to protest publicly against them.
You see the scribes loved to shine before people but were very careless of how they appeared before God. A trap we can fall into. Although their robes were a sign of distinction they marked the wearers as gentlemen of leisure. Public greetings and high places in synagogues and feasts were further showy marks of status and glory coveted eagerly by the scribes. And it got worse - they devoured widows' houses, the most defenceless group of the day. The scribes weren't allowed to charge for their teaching but there was nothing to stop people making gifts to them. So, according to Jesus, the scribes exploited these vulnerable women. They would encourage impressionable widows to make gifts beyond their means and charge them extortionate commissions for handling their financial affairs. Prosperity gospel churches can behave in similar ways today towards the vulnerable and the gullible. The scribes' hypocrisy also extended to their own public prayer lives. Their prayers featured length rather than depth. They gave the illusion of piety, but as their prayers were offered in pretence they were of no use before God. Is your faith in reality all outward show? If so wake up and turn to Christ – cling to him and his cross.
No sin seems to be thought of by Christ as more sinful than hypocrisy. None drew from him such withering condemnation during his whole ministry. He was always full of mercy and compassion for the worst sinners. He wasn't angry when he saw Zacchaeus or the penitent thief or Matthew the tax collector or Saul or the woman in Simon's house back in Luke 7. But when he saw teachers of the law and Pharisees wearing a mere cloak of religion and pretending a great outer holiness while their hearts were full of wickedness, he was full of indignation. Eight times in Matthew 23 he says, "Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites!" Which brings us to my third and final point:
3. There will be Degrees of Condemnation in Hell
What a way to end you say! Well this passage teaches that there will be degrees of condemnation and misery in hell. Jesus' words are clear. He says this about those who live and die as thorough hypocrites:
"They will receive the greater condemnation." (v.47)
Now these words open a deeply painful subject. The reality and eternity of future punishment in hell for those who don't accept Christ. They will get what they want – an eternity without God. These are among the basic truths of what Jesus teaches. It's hard to think about such truths without shuddering. But it's important to have all that the Bible says about heaven and hell firmly fixed in our minds. The Bible teaches that there will be degrees of glory in heaven; it also teaches that there will be degrees of condemnation and misery in hell.
Who, after all, are those who will finally receive condemnation? This is the point that concerns us most. All who won't come to Christ, all who don't obey the gospel of Christ, all who refuse to repent and persist in wickedness – all such will be finally condemned. They will reap what they have sown. Now please, please, please understand, God doesn't want their eternal ruin. He doesn't want anyone to perish, rather he wants everyone to come to repentance (2 Peter 3.9). It's why he gave his only Son. But if people won't listen to his voice, they will die in their sins. Sin must be punished – it can't just be swept under the carpet - so it is a just judgment. God is just as well as love and his justice is perfect, he doesn't make mistakes.
But who, among those who are condemned, will receive the heaviest condemnation? What does our passage say? It appears that it won't fall on those who never heard the truth; it won't fall on those for whose souls, no-one cared. But, according to Jesus, it will fall on those who had great light and knowledge but made no proper use of it; it will fall on those who professed great holiness and religiosity but who, in reality, clung to their sins. The unrepentant hypocrite will have the lowest place in hell. They will receive the greater condemnation.
These are all awful to contemplate. Whether those who are sadly but justly condemned to hell, receive condemnation or the greater condemnation. But they're true. Let's be praying for those we know who don't yet accept Christ. We need to examine ourselves this Advent. Are we really just unrepentant hypocrites who are simply pretending to follow Jesus and looking for flattery and ways to exploit people; or are we genuine repentant believers? If you're really the former then let this passage be a loving and severe warning to you. There's still time to turn to Christ in repentance and faith and enjoy eternity with him. And if you're already genuinely trusting in Christ then be humbly so grateful for his rescue of you, from condemnation and for his glory.