2013 9-8 ‘They Worship Me in Vain’ Luke 16 14-18

LUKE 16:14-18

I. Introduction
This morning’s passage presents us with a challenge. At first glance it seems as if it is out of place here in Luke 16. Then when we take a closer look, it almost appears that these five verses don’t even connect with each other. It’s as if Jesus is speaking on a variety of subjects without elaborating on any of them or making a logical transition from one subject to the next. But, of course, that is not the case at all.

By taking a careful look at Luke 16:14-18 we will see that the passage is speaking to the authority and supremacy of Jesus and the Scriptures over and above the authority and supremacy that the religious leaders had claimed for themselves. Jesus confronted them again and again with the truth; however receiving the truth would require these arrogant hypocrites to submit to divine authority. It would require them to lay aside their religious traditions and their endless man-made laws. It would require them to humble themselves, and worship God in spirit and in truth. These things they steadfastly refused to do.

And so, instead of submitting to Jesus and His Word, they scoffed, ridiculed, and mocked Him. The more the Lord exposed their false worship, the more blind the scribes and Pharisees became to the truth, and the more they hated Him.

There is a great irony here. The Jewish religious leaders, the scribes and Pharisees, those who on the surface seemed to be the most devoted of all people, were in fact, haters of the one true God, the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, the God they claimed to know.

How can we say this? We can say it because when the one true God put on human flesh, came into their presence, and revealed the truth to them, they turned on Him and plotted His murder. Rather than give up their false religion, the scribes and Pharisees mocked Jesus and had Him killed. But we should not be surprised by that because the truth is always mocked by those who practice false religion. And while those who preach truth may not always lose their lives for it, they will most certainly come to be hated for it.

Jesus said that is what happens when the light of truth shines in dark places.
John 3:19-20 (Jesus, speaking of Himself)
19 “…the light is come into the world, and men loved the darkness rather than the light; for their deeds were evil.
20 “For everyone who does evil hates the light, and does not come to the light, lest his deeds should be exposed.”

Jesus is the light and wherever He and His Word go, the darkness of false religion is exposed. And whenever that happens, God’s truth will be hated and mocked.
Therefore God’s harshest words and strongest condemnations are not directed at those who deny God’s existence. But atheists are fools and most people know it. Psalm 14:1 says, “The fool has said in his heart, ‘There is no God.’” God’s harshest words and strongest condemnations are directed at false religion and those who teach it. These false teachers say they belong to God, and claim to worship Him, but they’re the ones who stand in the way of those who may be curious about God and they’re the ones who lead millions into eternal destruction. Such are the scribes and Pharisees. Listen to Jesus.
Matthew 23:13, 15
13 “But woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites, because you shut off the kingdom of heaven from men; for you do not enter in yourselves, nor do you allow those who are entering to go in.”
15 “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites, because you travel about on sea and land to make one proselyte (convert to your religion); and when he becomes one, you make him twice as much a son of hell as yourselves.”

I can’t help but think of Matthew 15:14 where Jesus says, “…if a blind man guides a blind man, both will fall into a pit.”

In the OT God repeatedly rebukes Israel for their practice of a counterfeit religion built on solemn traditions, done in false piety, by people who know nothing of true humility before God, confession of sin, or a willingness to repent. God doesn’t say their religious activities are in themselves wrong. He established the sacrificial system. What is wrong is that the people cling to their religion but reject the God they claim to worship.

I want us to see two rebukes from God about the practice of false religion, two warnings that the scribes and Pharisees of Jesus’ day knew well, but refused to heed. As we read them, try to imagine God saying these things to us, and pray that He never needs to.
*Amos 5:21-24 (3rd minor prophet after Hosea and Joel)
21 “I hate, I reject your festivals, nor do I delight in your solemn assemblies.
22 “Even though you offer up to Me burnt offerings and your grain offerings, I will not accept them; and I will not even look at the peace offerings of your fatlings.
23 “Take away from Me the noise of your songs; I will not even listen to the sound of your harps.” (what can they do – what is the remedy?)
24 “But let justice roll down like waters and righteousness like an ever-flow-ing stream.”
*Isaiah 1:11-17
11 “What are your multiplied sacrifices to Me?” says the LORD. “I have had enough of burnt offerings of rams, and the fat of fed cattle. And I take no pleasure in the blood of bulls, lambs, or goats.
12 “When you come to appear before Me, who requires of you this trampling
of My courts?
13 “Bring your worthless offerings no longer, incense is an abomination to Me. New moon and Sabbath, the calling of assemblies – I cannot endure iniquity and the solemn assembly.
14 “I hate your new moon festivals and your appointed feasts, they have become a burden to Me. I am weary of bearing them.
15 “So when you spread out your hands in prayer I will hide My eyes from you. Yes, even though you multiply prayers, I will not listen. Your hands are covered with blood.” (what can they do – what is the remedy?)
16 “Wash yourselves, make yourselves clean; remove the evil of your deeds from My sight. Cease to do evil.
17 learn to do good; seek justice, reprove the ruthless; defend the orphan, plead for the widow.”

Later in Isaiah, God summarizes the attitudes and practices of people who love their reli-gion but reject Him. It’s not only a statement about false religion in Israel, but it speaks directly to what so often passes for Christianity today. In fact, Jesus quotes this verse from Isaiah twice in the gospels.
*Isaiah 29:13
13 Then the LORD said, “Because this people draw near with their words and honor Me with their lip service, but they remove their hearts far from Me, and their reverence for Me consists of tradition learned by rote.”(churchianity)

That describes the religious leaders Jesus was dealing with in the gospels. And it can be said of far too many in the church today. May it never be said of us!

II. Review
Luke 15:1 – 17:10 details one lengthy confrontation with the scribes and Pharisees some-where in Galilee. Much of Jesus’ teaching on this particular day was directed at them. In Luke 15 He emphasized God’s love and concern for the lost in the parables of the lost sheep, the lost coin, and the lost (prodigal) son. In Luke 16:1-13 He directed His teaching to His disciples while the religious leaders listened in. He concluded this teaching by saying that you cannot serve God and mammon. Mammon is defined not only as money, but everything this world counts as valuable. That leads us into today’s text.

III. Text
The scribes and Pharisees know that Jesus is directing His comments at them, and they don’t like it. They know that Jesus’ parables have condemned their love of strict adher-ence to laws. And they know He has condemned their love of money and prestige. The Lord is hurting their pride. He is pouring salt into an open wound. They are furious, but they can’t contradict what He is saying, or it will be obvious to all that they are lovers of money.
So where they grumbled about Jesus at the beginning of Luke 15, at the beginning of Luke 16, they scoff at Him.
*Luke 16:14-18 (Please stand with me in honor of reading God’s Word.)
14 Now the Pharisees, who were lovers of money, were listening to all these things, and they were scoffing at Him.
15 And (Jesus) said to them, “You are those who justify yourselves in the sight of men, but God knows your hearts; for that which is highly esteemed among men is detestable in the sight of God.
16 “The Law and the Prophets were proclaimed until John; since then the gospel of the kingdom of God is preached, and everyone is forcing his way into it.
17 “But it is easier for heaven and earth to pass away than for one stroke of a letter of the Law to fail.
18 “Everyone who divorces his wife and marries another commits adultery; and he who marries one who is divorced from a husband commits adultery.”

In Luke 15:2 we’re told that the religious leaders grumbled about Jesus. The word trans-lated “grumbled” is “diagŏgguzō” meaning “complained.” They whined about the “nasty” things Jesus was saying about them. But now Jesus has gone further. Now their hatred for Him is really beginning to show through their façade of religiosity and piety.
*Luke 16:14
14 Now the Pharisees, who were lovers of money, were listening to all these things, and they were scoffing at Him.

The Pharisees know that Jesus’ statement back in v. 13, “You cannot serve God and mammon (or, in the case of the Pharisees, money)” is directed at them. These men are con-vinced that they’re the most important people in all of Israel. With their over-inflated view of themselves they think they have a right to all the money and wealth they can acquire. And why not? Aren’t they worth it? How dare this Jesus cast aspersions at them, or even question them!

So they no longer grumble, complain, or whine about Jesus. Here in v. 14 they scoff at Him. The word translated “scoff” is “ĕkmuktĕrizō.” It has a very specific meaning. It is to “turn up one’s nose in derision.” It is sneering and making a joke of someone or some-thing. In essence, these self-appointed holy and pious men are mocking Jesus to His face.
Can you even comprehend that – standing in the presence of the Lord Jesus Christ, God incarnate – and mocking His words, His teachings, and Him? It staggers the imagination.

Such is the blindness of man-made religion. But you cannot mock God.
Galatians 6:7
7 Do not be deceived, God is not mocked; for whatever a man sows, this he will also reap.

By this point in time the scribes and Pharisees are becoming livid. What is it that has set them off? It is Jesus’ indictment of their love of money. Listen, greed is a major driving force behind false teachers today just as it was then.
Philippians 3:17-19 (Paul to the church at Philippi)
17 Brethren, join in following my example, and observe those who walk according to the pattern you have (seen) in us.
18 For many walk of whom I often told you, and now tell you (again), even weeping, that they are enemies of the cross of Christ,
19 whose end is destruction, whose god is their appetite, and whose glory is in their shame, who set their minds on earthly things (mammon).

Isn’t this seen today in the parade so many of the popular “televangelists” who blanket the airwaves? Most of them are quite wealthy, some extremely so. Many own multiple estates all over the world, some own private jets, in at least one case (TBN), they own two. The likes of Paul Crouch, Benny Hinn, Joyce Meyer, Kenneth Copeland, Robert Tilton, and numerous others like them teach what has come to be called “Word-Faith” a.k.a. “Health-Wealth” a.k.a. “The Prosperity Gospel.”

This false gospel says God doesn’t want you to be poor. In fact, Robert Tilton has said, “Being poor is a sin when God promises prosperity.” So how do those who buy into the prosperity gospel stop being poor? These false teachers are all pleased to tell you. You are to “name it and claim it.” You’re to speak in faith and give money to your friendly Word-Faith preacher. When you do these things they claim God is required to answer. If He doesn’t answer you and give you what you want, it’s either because your faith or your financial gift wasn’t quite large enough. Hopefully, you’ll do better next time.

You ask, “Who in their right mind buys into this? Who believes this stuff?” The answer is that enough people believe it to make these false teachers, these corrupt charlatans, ob-scenely wealthy. It would appear that the gospel of prosperity works just fine for them.

Just as these modern day religious conmen have no love for the people they fleece, so too the Pharisees had no love for the people over whom they wielded their power and author-ity. Rather, they loved money, and everyone knew it. The Jewish religious leaders were outwardly beautiful and holy, but inwardly they were corrupt, and greedy. Back in Luke 11:39 Jesus had said to them, “…you Pharisees clean the outside of the cup and of the platter; but inside of you, you are full of robbery and wickedness.”

That’s not the way to win friends and influence people, is it? But the truth seldom is. So when the scribes and Pharisees hear the truth, they mock the One who has come to tell them the truth. If there is any question that they are false teachers who worship God in vain, their response to Jesus proves it.
*Luke 16:15
15 And (Jesus) said to them, “You are those who justify yourselves in the sight of men, but God knows your hearts; for that which is highly esteemed among men is detestable in the sight of God.

When Jesus says that they justify themselves He is talking about a works righteousness. This is at the core of every false religion. It says that you must earn your salvation by obeying rules, performing certain rituals, or doing a sufficient number of good deeds. If that is what it took to be saved, then the most self-centered, legalistic, and evil among us would certainly go to heaven. All anyone would need to do is follow the tenets of their religion, whatever it may be.

And isn’t that what most people, even many who profess to be Bible-believing Christians say? They say things like, “He’s such a good person,” or “She’s so kind and nice” or, “They’re both so religious. How could God not let them into heaven?” But the biblical teaching on salvation is clear. It always has been and it always will be. A religion of works or so-called “goodness,” or “kindness and niceness” will never save anyone. We are saved by faith alone. How many times does God’s Word say it? Consider Romans.
• “…the righteous man shall live by faith (1:17b).”
• “…by the works of the Law no flesh will be justified in His sight…(3:20)”
• “(God) is the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus (3:26b).”
• “…a man is justified by faith apart from the works of the Law (3:28b).”
• “But to the one who does not work (for his salvation), but believes in Him who justi-
fies the ungodly, his faith is reckoned as righteousness…(4:5)”
• “Therefore having been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ (5:1).”

Paul’s letters to the Galatians and the Ephesians say many of the same things and add…
• “The (OT) (foresaw) that God would justify the Gentiles by faith…(Galatians 3:8a)”
• “For by grace you have been saved through faith…(Ephesians 2:8a)”

Saved by grace, saved by grace! Justified by faith, justified by faith! Dare I say that only the spiritually blind could miss this most basic and fundamental core truth? The moment we try to add anything, anything at all to “justified by faith,” we trample on “saved by grace.” We mock God and say that our works nullify and actually supersede His grace.

So if you and I could somehow do enough good things to save ourselves we would be robbing God of the one thing that does save us – the grace that gives us the faith to save us – we would be mocking Him and His gift of salvation. But God is not mocked. Here in Luke 16 the Pharisees, blind guides leading the blind, rely on their works, refuse God’s grace, think they can justify themselves, and turn on the only One who can justify them. None are so blind as those who think their religion can save them.
Instead of humbling themselves and worshipping Him, the scribes and Pharisees mock Him. And their pride will ultimately destroy them. Speaking of these Jewish religious leaders, those who follow them, and all those who think like them, Paul says…
*Romans 10:2-3
2 For I bear them witness that they have a zeal for God (for religion), but not in accordance with (true) knowledge.
3 For not knowing about God’s righteousness, and seeking to establish their own, they did not subject themselves to the righteousness of God.

In Luke 16:15 Jesus says they try to justify themselves so as to look good to others. This is just further proof of their pride. All they care about is the respect and praise of men and they will do anything to get it. But that is all the praise and respect they will ever get.

God knows their hearts, and their hearts focused only on mammon, the things this world considers to be valuable, the things which are sought after and coveted by men, but things that Jesus says are “detestable in the sight of God (Luke 16:15c).”
*Luke 16:16
16 “The Law and the Prophets were proclaimed until John; since then the gospel of the kingdom of God is preached, and everyone is forcing his way into it.

The Law and the Prophets is the OT. The OT truths continued and were in force until the last OT prophet, John the Baptist, announced the kingdom.
Matthew 3:1-2
1 Now in those days John the Baptist came, preaching in the wilderness of Judea, saying,
2 “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.”

Where the OT is sometimes called the Testament of Promise, the NT is called the Testa-ment of Fulfillment. John the Baptist proclaimed the end of the promise and the start of the fulfillment. He actually bridged the gap between the two. When John’s ministry was over, Jesus became center of attention, the fulfillment of God’s promises. He said so.
Matthew 5:17
17 “Do not think that I came to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I did not come to abolish (them), but to fulfill (them).”

In Luke 16:16 Jesus is saying that, rather than turning against Him, the religious leaders of Israel should be embracing Him. He is the One they say they worship, and He is here!
But instead of receiving Him, they reject Him and cling to the OT laws, not to mention all of their own man-made ones. But by doing so, they reject God’s grace and justify themselves by thinking that their obedience to their laws, rules, regulations, and religious rites will save them.
So in Luke 15:16 Jesus is saying that the scribes and the Pharisees are rejecting the gos-pel of grace because they think their own righteousness will be sufficient to break down the doors to the kingdom of heaven and force their way in. (“God will have to accept ME!”)
*Luke 16:17-18
17 “But it is easier for heaven and earth to pass away than for one stroke of a letter of the Law to fail.
18 “Everyone who divorces his wife and marries another commits adultery; and he who marries one who is divorced from a husband commits adultery.”

At first these two verses seem out of place. Individually, we understand what they mean, but why are they here together? Or why are they here at all? Here’s why. Jesus has been exposing the fact that the Pharisees’ supposed reverence for the OT, the Law and the Prophets, is based on their own perceived ability to keep the Law. Since God’s grace renders human achievement both useless and worthless, they think Jesus is saying God’s Law is no longer valid. So in Luke 16:17 Jesus repeats something He has said before.
Matthew 5:18
18 “For truly I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not the smallest letter or stroke shall pass away from the Law until all is accomplished.”

The one thing Jesus is NOT doing is rendering God’s Law invalid. Let me say it again. He is fulfilling it! And in fulfilling it He is pouring out God’s grace on you and me and everyone who will come to understand that the Law IS valid and we CANNOT keep it. Reject God’s grace and you reject your only hope of salvation.

God’s Law is perfect. It’s what man does to it, what man adds to it, and what man takes away from it that proves to be useless and worthless. One of the most blatant examples of the religious leader’s doing this was seen in the laws they had made about divorce.
They had twisted what Moses had taught about divorce in Deuteronomy 24:1-4 and made it possible for themselves to divorce their wives for any reason at all. Maybe she burned a meal. That was enough. Maybe someone else was better looking. That was enough. Maybe a man just wanted a younger woman. That too was enough. Whatever it took!

But Moses was neither condemning nor condoning divorce. He was acknowledging the fact of divorce and trying to reign in the practice of it. But as with so much of God’s Law, the scribes and Pharisees had made a mockery of it. That’s why Jesus states this most basic and brief statement on what God has to say about divorce in Luke 16:18.

And, by the way, don’t take this statement out of context and use it as God’s whole coun-sel on the issue. In order to understand God’s whole counsel on divorce you need the NT’s wisdom and guidance on the subject as well.

And so again, these Jewish religious leaders, who claimed to be devoted to God’s Law, were in reality, among the most vile and heinous violators of God’s Law.
Could there be any greater hypocrisy than that? They said they worshipped the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, and they said they revered and upheld His Law, but they did not. Rather, they mocked Him and worshipped Him in vain. And they hated Jesus with a hot hatred because He saw through all of it and exposed them for what they were. They would have to kill Him. No problem – they would just pervert God’s Law to do it.

Their motives were evil, they did their so-called good deeds to be seen by men, they thought they could justify themselves by obedience to their own laws, and in the process, they rejected the one thing that could save them – God’s grace!

IV. Conclusion
This is what all false religions – even many of those that call themselves “Christian” – eventually lead to. They can save no one who buys into them. On the contrary, they eternally condemn all who do so.

There is a lesson and a warning here for us. Today’s postmodern world, the world you and I live in, denies, mocks, and rejects absolute truth, while tolerance of virtually every false religion and perversion is simultaneously justified, praised, and embraced.

Listen please, it doesn’t matter how outwardly religious someone seems to be. If they reject the absolute truth of the grace of God as it is seen in the Person of Jesus Christ, and displayed in His gospel, they are the enemies of God – no matter how nice, kind, helpful, gentle, good, and religious they appear to be. I close with something I’ve already said.
Isaiah 29:13
13 Then the LORD said, “Because this people draw near to with their words and honor Me with their lip service, but they remove their hearts far from Me, and their reverence for Me consists of tradition learned by rote.”

Jesus said, “…in vain do they worship Me, teaching as doctrines the precepts of men (Matthew 15:9).” When they do so they are mocking God, but, “Do not be deceived, God is not mocked (Galatians 6:7a).”

I pray that these things will never be said of us.

~ Pray ~

Jim Timms – Pastor/Teacher
Lighthouse Bible Church – Lake Geneva, Wisconsin 53147