1 Then He said to the disciples, “It is impossible that no offenses should come, but woe to him through whom they do come! 2 It would be better for him if a millstone were hung around his neck, and he were thrown into the sea, than that he should offend one of these little ones. Take heed to yourselves.” (Luke 17:1–3a, NKJV)
There is a clear connection between the last two chapters (Luke 15-16) and the warning Christ now gives against spiritual offenses. Jesus had exposed the duplicity of the Pharisees and scribes who complained against His compassion toward sinners (Lk. 15), and then scoffed at His call to serve God instead of riches (Lk. 16). These lovers of money were in positions of religious power, but their teachings and practices were offenses to others. The word “offenses” (v. 1) is the Greek word skandolon, and means “the stick in the trap that springs and closes the trap when the animal touches it” (A. T. Robertson, Word Pictures on Matt. 5:29). We set traps for animals, but these people set spiritual traps that capture souls. Such offenses can take the form of religious leaders (like the Pharisees) whose doctrines and practices are false, yet who hide their hypocrisy at the expense of others. They are sheep in wolves’ clothing. (Jesus previously warned of their leaven in Luke 12:1.) Leading others into sin is itself a sin that does not go unseen and unpunished by God (Lk. 17:2). Disciples must heed Christ’s warning and not set snares by which others sin (v. 3).
1 Then Jesus spoke to the multitudes and to His disciples, 2 saying: “The scribes and the Pharisees sit in Moses’ seat. 3 Therefore whatever they tell you to observe, that observe and do, but do not do according to their works; for they say, and do not do.” (Matthew 23:1–3, NKJV)
Emphasizing the need to live what we preach, it has been said, “Seeing a sermon is better than hearing one.” Certainly, those who teach God’s word need to live God’s word. Otherwise, a stumbling block of hypocrisy is laid that is not easily removed. So it was with the scribes and Pharisees whom Jesus confronted and confounded with His truth. Since they taught God’s law to Israel (“sit in Moses’ seat”), the Lord expected people to observe God’s law when they taught it. Yet, Jesus warned against following the example of these hypocrites because they did not follow the law they taught. We must see that God holds us accountable for our own spiritual responsibilities. We cannot blame hypocrites for our sin. We must also learn to distinguish between a teacher of God’s word who may sin and corrects it, and the hypocrite who pretends to be what he is not. A Christian’s sin does not automatically make that person a hypocrite. That happens when we pretend to be something we are not. Genuine faith prevents hypocrisy while fueling faithfulness to do the will of God.
19 Whoever therefore breaks one of the least of these commandments, and teaches men so, shall be called least in the kingdom of heaven; but whoever does and teaches them, he shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven. 20 For I say to you, that unless your righteousness exceeds the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees, you will by no means enter the kingdom of heaven. (Matthew 5:19–20, NKJV)
Jesus respected and obeyed the Law of Moses, and, He taught those who lived under it to do the same. But, Jesus speaks here to more than faithfully keeping the Law of Moses. He drives to the heart of righteousness in the kingdom of heaven (the Son’s kingdom, which is His church, Matthew 16:18-19; Colossians 1:13; Hebrews 12:22-23, 28). The scribes and Pharisees hypocritically strained at gnats and swallowed camels by emphasizing parts of Moses’ law while abandoning “justice and mercy and faith” (Matthew 23:23-24). That was their form of righteousness. But, righteousness in the kingdom is not about selecting some commands and ignoring others. It is not about displaying ourselves so others will praise us (Matthew 6:1, 5, 16). Greatness in the kingdom of heaven is about a heart and life that “does and teaches” all of God’s commands (Matthew 5:19). That is how we “seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness” (Matthew 6:33).
11 And when the Pharisees saw it, they said to His disciples, “Why does your Teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?” 12 When Jesus heard that, He said to them, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. 13 But go and learn what this means: ‘I desire mercy and not sacrifice.’ For I did not come to call the righteous, but sinners, to repentance.” (Matthew 9:11–13, NKJV)
Did Jesus condone sin by eating with sinners? No. A careful reading of today’s text shows Jesus knew these people were sinners, because He alluded to their need for a physician. Was He “judging” them? No. They were sinners – “sick” in sin. Far from condoning sin or “judging” people unjustly, Jesus showed mercy by calling sinners “to repentance” while eating with them (Luke 15:1-2). Those who complained against Jesus for doing so had no mercy in their hearts for sinners. Why? Because they did not see their own sin and their own need for mercy. All have sinned, but not all sinners see their sin and how much they need mercy. These self-righteous complainers had no compassion toward sinners because they refused to deal honestly with their own sin (Luke 18:9-14). We learn to be merciful toward others by learning we need mercy, too. Mercy does not ignore sin, it calls on sinners to face their sin and to repent. That is what Jesus did. The Pharisee offers his sacrifices to God, yet forgets to be merciful (Matthew 23:23-24). And, he complains against those who shows God’s mercy to sinners. What a dreadful place to be!
26 Then they said to him again, “What did He do to you? How did He open your eyes?” 27 He answered them, “I told you already, and you did not listen. Why do you want to hear it again? Do you also want to become His disciples?” (John 9:26–27, NKJV)
Some people do not want to believe Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the living God. Put another way, some people do not want to believe the truth even when it is staring them in the face. The blind man whom Jesus healed had already told the Pharisees and Jewish leaders what happened and how he could now see (John 9:8-17). His parents agreed their son, who was born blind, could now see. But, instead of accepting the evidence of a great miracle and believing in Jesus as the Son of God, the Pharisees and Jewish leaders resisted and argued. They were not listening, nor did they care to listen. Their minds were made up. The evidence that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God is abundant (John 20:30-31). May it never be that we reach a point where we prefer to defend ourselves and our opinions (which is what they were doing, John 9:14-16) instead of humbly yielding to Jesus Christ and His truth (John 8:31-32). If we do, we have joined hands with the enemies of Jesus, and will die in our sins (John 9:39-41; 8:23-24).
45 Now when the chief priests and Pharisees heard His parables, they perceived that He was speaking of them. 46 But when they sought to lay hands on Him, they feared the multitudes, because they took Him for a prophet. (Matthew 21:45–46, NKJV)
How do you react when the Scriptures pierce through to your heart and you know they are addressing your life? Are you receptive and humbly responsive to God’s call of repentance, redemption and spiritual renewal in Jesus Christ? Or, do you castoff its rebukes and promptings like these priests and Pharisees did? They knew Jesus had been addressing their rejection of Him and God’s punishment for doing so (Matthew 21:42-44). But, they obstinately tried to silence God’s Son instead of accepting His message of truth. And, so it goes today. The truth of God’s word melts the tender heart even as it hardens the prideful heart of unbelief. Receive its indictments of sin and offerings of redemption. God’s warnings and rebukes bring life in the Son to those who are corrected by them. Those who oppose the word of Christ will be ground to powder (Matthew 21:44). Those whose hearts are broken by it will not be put to shame (Romans 9:33).
23 Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you pay tithe of mint and anise and cummin, and have neglected the weightier matters of the law: justice and mercy and faith. These you ought to have done, without leaving the others undone. 24 Blind guides, who strain out a gnat and swallow a camel! (Matthew 23:23-24, NKJV)
Jesus did not pronounce this stinging condemnation of the scribes and Pharisees because they were careful to tithe herbs (this was commanded in God’s law to Israel, Leviticus 27:30). He pronounced woe upon them for abandoning the principles and motives that characterize acceptable obedience to God. They strained out a gnat and swallowed a camel with their minute correctness while failing to obey God out of justice, mercy and faith. They “passed by justice and the love of God” in their zeal to keep the law (Luke 11:42). Unfortunately, this passage is frequently used as an “either, or” proposition to justify disobedience in the name of justice, mercy, faith and the love of God. Jesus did not say that. He taught that careful obedience is useless unless it genuinely expresses faith, mercy and justice. Obeying God does not contradict justice, mercy, and faith. While being faithful to obey God, be just and merciful to others. Do not “pass by the love of God” lest you fall into condemnation (John 14:15; 1 John 5:3).