1 Then all the tax collectors and the sinners drew near to Him to hear Him. 2 And the Pharisees and scribes complained, saying, “This Man receives sinners and eats with them.” 3 So He spoke this parable to them, saying: (Luke 15:1–3, NKJV).
Simply put, a parable is an illustration of divine truth. The illustration is taken from ordinary life events, from which the spiritual lesson is drawn. Greek dictionaries define a “parable” (parabole) as “a similitude…fictitious narrative (of common life conveying a moral)” (Strong’s, G3850). Understanding the parables depends on the condition of one’s heart. Jesus explained this in the parable of the soils, which He said is key to understanding the parables (Mark 4:13, 14-20). An open, honest heart receives its meaning, holds it fast, and bears good fruit (Luke 8:9-10, 15). Hard, closed hearts do not receive God’s word and fail to understand and apply the parables of the Lord (Matt. 13:10-22). In today’s passage, the scribes and Pharisees complained against Jesus for receiving and eating with sinners. They distorted the truth of the matter. The sinners came to Jesus to hear Him teach. He did not endorse their sins; just the opposite. He taught them the way of God in truth to save them. Jesus answered His critics with three parables. God is compassionate toward sinners (Luke 15:4-7), God values each and every soul (Lk. 15:8-10), and God mercifully forgives sinners who repent and return to Him (Luke 15:11-24). Like the elder son, the complainers were ungrateful of their blessings and unmerciful toward sinners (Lk. 15:25-32). Powerful lessons for those who have “ears to hear” (Matt. 13:9).
2 Now early in the morning He came again into the temple, and all the people came to Him; and He sat down and taught them. 3 Then the scribes and Pharisees brought to Him a woman caught in adultery. And when they had set her in the midst, 4 they said to Him, “Teacher, this woman was caught in adultery, in the very act.” (John 8:2–4, NKJV)
Why do people come to Jesus? This passage contrasts two different reasons. Some people come to Jesus to be taught by Him. They are ready to hear His words, to learn from Him. Those who “labor and are heavy laden” are among this number (Matt. 11:28-29). Open minds ready to receive and follow Jesus listen to Him with pure motives that increase faith (Acts 17:11-12). Others come to hear the words of Jesus with an agenda, like the scribes and Pharisees. They wanted to test Jesus so they could accuse Him of wrong (Jno. 8:5-6). They were not concerned about the law; they were violating it by their very conduct (where was the man involved in this sin?, Lev. 20:10). They were not interested in the woman’s salvation; she was a pawn in their devious attempt to ensnare the Son of God. Like them, some only listen to gospel preaching to disparage the gospel teacher, discard his gospel teaching, and generate doubt in others (cf. Acts 6:9-13). Use your opportunities to hear the gospel of Jesus with a ready heart, not a condemning eye. You will find rest for your soul when you come to Jesus this way (Matt. 11:28-29).
“Serpents, brood of vipers! How can you escape the condemnation of hell?” (Matthew 23:33, NKJV)
Christ’s words were scalding as He exposed the sins of the scribes and Pharisees in Matthew 23. “Woe to you…hypocrites!” “Blind guides!” “Fools and blind!” “Serpents, brood of vipers!” May disciples of Jesus follow His example of exposing, rebuking, and even pronouncing God’s condemnation of those who teach error and, by it, lead others into sin? Some say, “No, this was Jesus! He knew men’s hearts, but we don’t. We are not Jesus; we cannot do this.” Yet, here and elsewhere, Jesus addressed both the sinful conduct and the motives of heart that produced their error and sin. Both teachings and behavior, whether good or evil, come from the heart (Matt. 12:35). When He warned against false prophets, Jesus said: “you will know them by their fruits” (Matt. 7:15-16). Since we can know false proclaimers of God’s word from the fruit of their teachings, surely we are to warn others of the danger their error poses (Paul did this, 1 Tim. 4:18-20; 2 Tim. 2:16-18). Couple this with the undeniable truth that disciples follow their Master’s example, and we have ample right and reason to carefully identify and denounce sin and error (Lk. 6:40). Perhaps we should ask, did Jesus sin by using such harsh denunciations? No. Was His heart pure when He did? Yes. And, our hearts can be pure and our conduct without sin when we follow His example of warning against error and identifying those who promote it. Indeed, our hearts must be pure as we examine and expose error, lest we fall under the same condemnation (Rom. 2:1-2; 1 Tim. 4:16). God’s truth is our guiding light to expose sin and to advance righteousness (Jno. 3:19-21).
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).
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).