Under New Management, or: Jesus Puts the Pharisees On Notice (Luke 11:14-12:12)

So: Jesus is on the road to his capital city, Jerusalem, to claim the kingdom that he has conquered. He has set the captives free; the prison doors are open; the ancient dragon and his army are retreating: the prison guards have run away! And now Jesus, as he travels, is telling all the prisoners, “Get up! Follow me! The kingdom is under new management! You are free!”

And that is good news!

But as we saw last week, not all of the prisoners want to be under new management. They’re the ones saying, “It’s great that you say that, Jesus, but: prove it! Prove you are God’s new manager: do a bigger miracle! Show us a heavenly sign. Make the sun go backwards, or make the stars fall, or something like that! So far we’re not impressed with your miracles.”

And Jesus’ answer to them was, “You want a sign? You wicked generation, I’ll give you a sign! The pagan Queen of the South (the Queen of Sheba, in Africa) travelled across the whole world just to listen to King Solomon’s preaching. The pagan city of Nineveh (in Iran) repented when the Prophet Jonah preached to them. But now the greatest preacher who ever lived is here — that’s me, by the way — and you guys are not going to listen! So here is your sign: this generation, that refuses to listen to the greatest preacher of all, will be judged by pagans who did listen to lesser preachers!”

Then Jesus went on to say, “If you listen to me, then my words will transform you and your body will be full of light. But if you don’t listen to me, your body will be full of darkness.”

And now, today, Luke is going to give us an example of people who reject Jesus’ preaching. Their bodies are full of darkness, even though they look really good on the outside:

[37] When Jesus had finished speaking, a Pharisee invited him to eat with him; so he went in and reclined at the table.

Ah ha. Pharisees again!

Jesus hasn’t talked to these guys since…Chapter 7. Remember that time Jesus had dinner with a Pharisee named Simon? That was the time a prostitute broke into the party and washed Jesus’ feet with some very expensive perfume.

And that story actually ended on a cliffhanger. If you recall, Simon thought he was clean, and the woman was dirty. But Jesus said, “No, Simon, you are the sinner here. I can tell because you have no love — no compassion — in your heart for me or for this woman.”

And then Luke ended the story without telling us if Simon the Pharisee repented!

So now, four chapters later, Luke is returning to that storyline. Have the Pharisees repented? or are they still obsessed with keeping themselves clean?

Let’s find out!

[38] But the Pharisee, noticing that Jesus did not first wash before the meal, was surprised.

Uh oh. It’s not looking good, friends.

See, the Pharisees washed obsessively. Modern Muslims do a ritual washing before they pray; but Pharisees did ritual washings all the time — especially before they ate.

They based this idea on the Old Testament Law, which commands the Jews to wash any dish than an insect had fallen into. But as usual, the Pharisees took this simple little command and made it very complicated.

So…its seems they haven’t learned a thing over the last four chapters!

So: [39] Then the Lord said to him, “Now then, you Pharisees clean the outside of the cup and dish, but inside you are full of greed and wickedness. [40] You foolish people! Did not the one who made the outside make the inside also?

Now of course the Pharisees washed the inside of their dishes too; Jesus is using dishes as a metaphor. He is saying, “Look, you guys, you wash the outside of your body, and you think this makes you spiritually clean, because you’re ‘so good’ at keeping God’s Law — but actually when I look inside you I see nothing but greedy and wicked motivations!

“You idiots! You are not fooling God by washing your hands before dinner!”

[41] “But give what is inside the dish to the poor, and everything will be clean for you.

In other words: “If you give what is inside your body — your heart — to the poor, then you will be clean on the inside as well as the outside.”

Remember: God’s Law is about compassionate actions, not obsessive-compulsive religious details. A heart that belongs to the compassionate God will produce compassionate actions. But hearts that are full of greed and wickedness — like the Pharisees’ — will produce obsessive-compulsive religious details.

Did you catch that?

Jesus is suggesting that it is often the most religiously obsessed people who have the most selfish motivations.

And if you’re anything like me, you’re wondering, “How does that work?”

Well, it’s pretty simple actually. It works like this:

The world’s system — the system Satan taught the world — says that every person must save him- or herself. Most world systems have actually written this concept into law. For instance, the Quran says this: “no burdened soul shall bear the burden of another”. In other words: you have to pay for your own sins. No one else can. Secular corporate gurus say essentially the same thing. They don’t talk about sin anymore! but they do talk about self-worth, self-actualization, self-help. They don’t know it, but they are teaching the same system as the Muslims; the details are different, but the substance is the same.

Now, if you grow up in a system that says, “Only you can save yourself; you cannot help anybody else and nobody else can help you,” well — the conclusion is obvious, isn’t it? “Save yourself! You’re wasting your time if you try to help anyone else!”

That is how the Pharisees lived. They were the most religious people of all the Jews! — because they were actually the most selfish people of all the Jews!

They did not understand God’s Law. God’s Law does not say, “Love yourself as yourself, and you will inherit eternal life.” No! It says, “Love your neighbor as yourself, and you will inherit eternal life.”

So when Jesus says, “Give what is inside to the poor, and everything will be clean for you,” he is telling the Pharisees that they cannot save themselves by trying to save themselves. But if they reach out to save someone else who does not deserve to be saved, or even touched…? Then, by showing compassion to someone in need, they will be showing that they are actually Sons of God: destined to inherit eternal life.

Because the Pharisees are unclean — selfish — on the inside, they are obsessed with staying clean on the outside. But if they let themselves become “unclean” on the outside by showing compassion to all people — then they will find that they are actually clean on the inside, where it counts.

Jesus goes on: [42] “Woe to you Pharisees

— and that means, “Curses on you, Pharisees! —

because you give God a tenth of your mint, rue and all other kinds of garden herbs, but you neglect justice and the love of God. You should have practiced the latter without leaving the former undone.

Again, the Pharisees were obsessive tithers. They would not even eat a meal unless their host could assure them that 10% of every ingredient on the table had been given to the temple.

So…yeah! Obsess much?

But Jesus says, “That’s great and all, guys, but kind of pointless if you ignore justice and God’s love!”

And again: [43] “Woe to you Pharisees, because you love the most important seats in the synagogues and greetings in the marketplaces.

Once again: they love to put on that good religious image, they love to sit in the elders’ seats at church, they love it when people call them Reverend Most Holy Doctor Steve — but all that, Jesus says, “All that is just a coverup for corruption.”

He says, “Actually (verse 44) you guys are like unmarked graves, which men walk over without knowing it.”

I should pause to explain this: touching dead bodies made you unclean for seven days, according to God’s Law. But the Pharisees had added to this law — of course! — and they taught that even having your shadow touch a dead body made you unclean.

But they didn’t stop there! They said that even having your shadow touch a grave made you unclean. So, in order to keep the Pharisees happy, it had become the custom to paint graves white, so they could be clearly seen and avoided.

So Jesus is saying, “You Pharisees are like graves that somebody forgot to paint. You think you’re cleaner than everybody else? Actually, you defile people just by being nearby!”

Whew. Now that is some rough treatment, you have to admit.

And someone else at the table has noticed. [45] One of the experts in the law answered him, “Teacher, when you say these things, you insult us also.”

So at this point Luke reveals that the Pharisees are not alone: their good friends The Lawyers are also there. And we have to remember that it was just one chapter ago that Jesus talked to a lawyer and told him that God’s Law is about compassion, not obsessive-compulsive religious details.

But it looks like the lawyers also haven’t learned anything since their last episode with Jesus. So this lawyer speaks up and says, “uh, pardon me, Teacher: you do realize that you’re not just insulting the Pharisees, you’re also insulting us?”

And [46] Jesus replied, “Ya think?! Yeah I’m insulting you! Why? Because you load people down with burdens they can hardly carry, and you yourselves will not lift one finger to help them.”

See, in Jesus’ opinion, the lawyers had just one job: make God’s Law understandable to ordinary people. Keep it simple.

Instead, they did the opposite: they added details to details to details until no one had a clue what God wanted from them! That’s what Jesus means when he says they load people down with burdens but won’t help them. Ordinary people have to work; they have to live; they don’t have the time or the education to keep track of a thousand little extra legal details! Only lawyers can manage that!

So — and this is the diabolically clever part — the lawyers, by keeping the Law super complicated, guaranteed job security for themselves!

Ahhh! So we begin to see why lawyers will not welcome a preacher who promises to make God’s Law simple and understandable! Because if God’s Law was simple and understandable, we wouldn’t need lawyers anymore, would we?

Jesus knows this. So he goes on:

[47] “Woe to you, because you build tombs for the prophets, and it was your forefathers who killed them.

So these lawyers — being rich — used to build religious monuments; which was another way of showing off how religious they were. But…oops: they were actually building monuments to commemorate murders. “Which,” Jesus says, “is another way of saying: ‘I approve of this prophet’s murder! Luckily this prophet got murdered, because now I have an opportunity to show off my piety by building a monument for him!’”

[48] So you testify that you approve of what your forefathers did; they killed the prophets, and you build their tombs. [49] Because of this, God in his wisdom said, ‘I will send them prophets and apostles, some of whom they will kill and others they will persecute.’ [50] Therefore this generation will be held responsible for the blood of all the prophets that has been shed since the beginning of the world, [51] from the blood of Abel to the blood of Zechariah, who was killed between the altar and the sanctuary. Yes, I tell you, this generation will be held responsible for it all.

Jesus is saying, “your forefathers killed the prophets to stop them from making God’s Law simple and understandable. You are going to do the same to me and my disciples, my apostles!”

And then he goes on to say, “you guys here today are going to be judged for every murdered prophet in history, from Abel — the first prophet murdered in the Old Testament — to Zechariah, the last prophet murdered in the Old Testament.”

And our question is: why? Why do these guys get blamed for thousands of years of murders?

Well, Luke, as usual, is very soft, very subtle. Did you notice that Jesus says “this generation” twice here? That repetition is supposed to catch our attention. We’re supposed to go, “Oh, wait a minute, where have I just heard that?”

We heard it just last week, when Jesus warned the ordinary people that “this generation” will be judged by pagans because they rejected the greatest preacher of all.

Now Jesus is telling the leaders that “this generation” will be judged for every murder of every prophet because “this generation” is going to murder the greatest prophet of all!

And who is the greatest prophet of all?

So Jesus has just told the lawyers, to their faces, that they are going to murder him. And he did it without even saying the words. He left it for them to figure out.

That kind of subtlety just really warms my literary nerd heart.

So Jesus, having just told them what they are going to do, finishes up: [52] “Woe to you experts in the law, because you have taken away the key to knowledge. You yourselves have not entered, and you have hindered those who were entering.”

See, these men were supposed to be the shepherds of God’s sheep. They had the key to God’s Kingdom. They were supposed to bring God’s people in so they would be protected from Satan’s “save yourself” system.

Instead they joined Satan’s system. They taught it. They built it. They made it stronger! But now Jesus — new management! — has arrived. And he is furious. He telling these corrupt shepherds, “Repent now. Join me, listen to me, teach the truth about God’s Law, and I will forgive you. But if you don’t? I am going to fire every last one of you.”

[53] When Jesus left there, the Pharisees and the teachers of the law began to oppose him fiercely and to besiege him with questions, [54] waiting to catch him in something he might say. [1] Meanwhile, when a crowd of many thousands had gathered, so that they were trampling on one another, Jesus began to speak first to his disciples — 

Our English translation doesn’t really capture very well what is going on here. We get fooled because someone put a chapter break here, which makes us think these are two separate stories.

But when Luke wrote this, this was actually all one flowing narrative. The day begins with Jesus driving out a demon that was mute. Then he preached and told the people that “this generation” would be judged for rejecting his preaching.

Then, when he was done preaching, the Pharisee invited him in for dinner. Jesus insulted them for a while — as we have just seen — and then: a fight started.

See, what Luke is telling us here, in verse 53, is that the lawyers and Pharisees are so angry at what Jesus said at dinner they have followed him out of the house, and now they are arguing with him in the street, publicly. After dinner. At night of the same day!

And the people who heard Jesus preach just that afternoon, they’re still in the area. And no doubt the word spread like wildfire, “Hey! Did you hear? The Pharisees are fighting with Jesus in the street!” And everyone’s like, “Oh, man, that’s so cool!” So they come stampeding back into town, trampling each other in their urgency to see this spectacle!

…We have to understand: it was the first century; entertainment options were limited. In those days watching theologians lose their temper in public was good fun.

So, this is the scene Luke has set up for us: it is evening, perhaps nighttime. In the street. Pharisees are there spitting blood and cursing and “opposing him fiercely” as Luke says. The crowd is jamming in around them to hear the debate, and Jesus turns to his disciples and says, “Hey: very action la these guys, ah?”

He says, [1]…”Be on your guard against the yeast of the Pharisees, which is hypocrisy.


Well, let me explain: yeast is a fungus that makes bread rise and makes beer fermented. A very little bit has a very large effect. So Jesus is warning his disciples that the Pharisees are like a virus, like an infection: just a little contact can have a very bad effect. He is really just repeating what he said at dinner when he said, “You Pharisees defile people just by being nearby!”

And what is this infection called? Hypocrisy.

Now, to us, hypocrisy means “being fake”, and we despise it. But the ancient Greek word “hypocrisy” is heavier than that. It really refers to someone who deliberately lies in order to manipulate people.

Jesus is saying that the Pharisees are lying about God’s Law so that they can manipulate and control people. They are telling everyone that only you can save yourself, and the only way to save yourself is by following the Pharisees’ obsessive-compulsive religious details. And you can see how that puts the Pharisees on the top and everyone else on the bottom. That is the system: manipulate and control.

So Jesus is warning his disciples — warning us! — that that teaching, that idea, is the Satanic virus that took mankind captive in the first place. Jesus has set us free from that! but this is a virus that re-infects us so fast! We are so vulnerable to it. We have to be so careful to keep even the smallest bit of bad code from creeping back in to our operating system! Because once it does, it begins to replicate, and the next thing we know we find ourselves back under the Old Management, prisoners once again.

So Jesus reminds us: [2] There is nothing concealed that will not be disclosed, or hidden that will not be made known. [3] What you have said in the dark will be heard in the daylight, and what you have whispered in the ear in the inner rooms will be proclaimed from the roofs.

He is repeating what he said at dinner just now: no one can fool God! People can be religious. People can do all kinds of good deeds — and all kinds of people do! I have met Muslims, Buddhists, Hindus, Atheists who were very conscientious, very generous, very concerned about social injustice, the poor, the environment: very good people making a very good difference in this world. But Jesus is warning us that if all those good deeds are motivated by the selfish desire to save yourself…then you are living under Satan’s management, and one day that will be revealed. It is not enough to do good things — even for other people — if your own body is still full of darkness.

A billionaire dying of cancer can give their fortune to the poor of the world — and that’s good! — but it will not cure the cancer.

Jesus is warning us: “Do not be re-infected by the Pharisees’ teaching. They know how to make the outside look really great! but only I can cure the darkness within you.”

Now Jesus’ warning to the disciples is a very strong warning; made even more strong by the fact that the Pharisees are right there listening! This is war. Satan’s spiritual army has fallen apart: his demons are powerless in the face of Jesus! But Satan’s human servants are still very much in control of the prisoners Jesus has come to set free.

The war in heaven is over! But the war on earth is just getting started.

Jesus knows this. That is why he is warning his disciples so strongly: he knows that the temptation to be re-infected is going to be very strong; the internal temptation — and the external temptation.

See, Jesus knows that the lawyers, the Pharisees — all the leaders of this world who depend on this idea that we have to save ourselves — they will use force to suppress Jesus’ teaching about freedom.

The lawyers don’t want God’s Law made simple and understandable: they’ll be out of work! The Pharisees don’t want God’s Law turned into a law of compassion: then they’ll have to give up their high position in society! The leaders of our world don’t want people set free from fear: fear is how you control people and make them your slaves.

So Jesus goes on to instruct us, his disciples, on how to respond when the world tries to use force to make us submit:

[4] “I tell you, my friends, do not be afraid of those who kill the body and after that can do no more. [5] But I will show you whom you should fear: Fear him who, after the killing of the body, has power to throw you into hell. Yes, I tell you, fear him.

Notice that Jesus tells us to fear God three times in verse 5. That is an ancient literary way of saying: “Be very, very, very afraid!”

But then he goes on to say: [6] Are not five sparrows sold for two pennies? Yet not one of them is forgotten by God. [7] Indeed, the very hairs of your head are all numbered. Don’t be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows.

Now I definitely have to pause here to point out a couple of things.

First: God cares about sparrows that are sold in the marketplace; therefore he cares for us much more! That part is obvious. But ask yourself this question: what do you think happens to sparrows that are sold in the marketplace? They are taken home and eaten.

So God cares about the sparrows! — but he doesn’t stop them from being eaten. God cares for us much, much more! — but that doesn’t neccesarily mean that he will rescue us from persecution, or even death.

Which is a troubling thought, isn’t it? We tend to think that if God loves us, he would surely save us from execution! Wouldn’t he?

But see: to God, death is not the end of life. That’s why Jesus just told us, “My friends, don’t be afraid of those who can only kill your body!” Killing the body is something that can be reversed. Jesus has reversed death two times already in Luke’s book. And he has promised that one day, death will be reversed for all of us: we will inherit eternal life!

So: God may not deliver us from death at the hands of the world. But that is not reason for us to despair. Because — and this is the  second thing we have to stop and notice — because we do not need to fear God.

And this is where you all say, “What? I thought Jesus just said three times that we should be very very very afraid of God!”

Yes, he did. But now look at verse 7. What does he say? “Don’t be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows.”

We’ve already seen that Luke has a pretty quirky sense of humor, and this is one of his sly jokes. And like all his jokes, this is a joke with a lesson.

This how the joke works: “Be very, very, very afraid of God, who has the power to throw you into hell.” Good advice, right? — especially if you are someone who has rejected God’s Son. If you reject God’s Son, God is going to reject you. Be very afraid!

But if you have listened to God’s Son, if you are a disciple, then God is your Father. And God the Father will never throw his children into hell — even if they misbehave! If they are naughty, of course he will correct them. But he will never throw his beloved children into hell!

Remember what Jesus has been teaching us for the last two chapters: it is not what you do that gives you the right to inherit eternal life; it is who you are. And if you are listening to Jesus then you are God’s child! even though it is impossible for you to listen perfectly.

So Jesus says, “Don’t be afraid! You are God’s kids! Of course you are more valuable than sparrows! So even if the leaders of this world put you on trial and threaten to kill you: relax! Tell the truth about who you are, who you really belong to. After all, even if they kill you, yet shall you live!

So (verse 8): “I tell you, whoever acknowledges me before men, the Son of Man will also acknowledge him before the angels of God.”

When the powers of this world confront us, and say, “Hey, you have to save yourself. Submit to our obsessive-compulsive religious rules and we will let you live, ” and if we say, “No. God is my Father. Jesus is my Lord. I live by the Law of compassion and generosity and self-sacrifice. I will not submit to a system built on selfishness and slavery!” well, then — after we are executed — we will find ourselves in God’s courtroom, surrounded by angels as witnesses. And at that point Jesus will point and say, “He is my brother. She is my sister. These are my people!”

[9] But he who disowns me before men will be disowned before the angels of God.

For those who accept the idea that only you can save yourself; for those who think that obsessive-compulsive religious details can fool God; for those who submit to the Satanic system that depends on slavery and fear and selfishness — they will find themselves in that same courtroom, with billions of eyes watching, as Jesus stands up and says, “I don’t know these people.”

Now, I want to pause here for a moment to make something very clear, just in case it is not already clear:

Jesus is not saying that if you deny him while you are on trial, you are damned. After all — spoiler alert, for you who do not yet know the whole story — Peter disowns Jesus at the end of Luke; and yet he is forgiven.

So when Jesus says “Those who disown me before men will be disowned by me,” he is talking about those who systematically disown him. It is possible to have a weak moment and disown Jesus with your mouth — Peter did! — and yet, live a life submitted to God’s compassionate Law.

In the same way, it is possible for a person so say, “Yes, I believe in Jesus!” and yet live a life submitted to the selfish systems of this world. Those are the people who truly disown Jesus, and will be disowned by him.

And this idea is confirmed by what Jesus says next:

[10] And everyone who speaks a word against the Son of Man

— like Peter does —

will be forgiven

— like Peter is —

but anyone who blasphemes against the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven

…and that last sentence is one of the scariest sentences in the whole bible. Because now we all want to know: “what does that mean?” and: “what if I have done it?”

What if I will not be forgiven?

Friends, to quote Jesus: “don’t be afraid. You are God’s children!” Okay? So: keep calm, and listen.

This is what Jesus means by “blasphemes against the Holy Spirit”: he means the systematic and deliberate twisting of God’s Law into something it’s not.

See, for the ancient Jews, the Holy Spirit was the Spirit of Prophecy: the Spirit of God’s Word. So when the Pharisees took God’s Law of compassion and twisted it around to become a Law of Self-Salvation, they systematically blasphemed — that means “spoke against” — what the Holy Spirit was saying.

The Holy Spirit says, “God’s Law is about compassion and love and rest. It is a gift to all God’s children!”

The Pharisees said, “God’s Law is about obsessive-compulsive details and hard work! It is a curse upon God’s children if they fail to keep it perfectly!”

So blasphemy against the Holy Spirit means systematically and deliberately lying about what God’s Word says. Systematically and deliberately lying about God’s Word is the virus the Pharisees were infected with. No wonder their bodies were full of darkness! And no wonder Jesus warned his disciples to be on their guard against them!

But hang on! If Christians are actually in no danger from the virus of blasphemy, why does Jesus warn his disciples to be on our guard against it? If we, as children of God, cannot actually be infected personally, then why the warning?

Well, if God is our Father — and he is — then we cannot be infected, personally, by the temptation to twist God’s Word.

But we can be infected collectively.

Remember, from Chapter 10 onwards, Jesus has been instructing his disciples on the proper management of his kingdom. He is the King! but his disciples are the new management. It is going to be their job to maintain the system that Jesus set up.

So when Jesus says, “Watch out for the Pharisees’ infection: those who blaspheme cannot be forgiven!” he is not saying that the disciples are in personal danger. He is saying, “You guys, as managers, need to make sure that no false teachers creep into my kingdom!”

See, Israel began under good management, with God’s Law clearly written by Moses. But then, over the centuries that followed, lawyers and Pharisees took that good Law and turned it into a curse; they listened to Satan, they adopted his system of self-salvation, and they deliberately led the people astray. That is why Jesus was so furious with them! They were supposed to teach truth about God the compassionate Father. Instead they taught lies, and because of their teaching that whole generation suffered a terrible judgement!

“So, pay attention!” Jesus is saying to his disciples. “Do not let the Pharisees’ virus get re-downloaded into my kingdom’s operating system! Do not let just anybody get up and teach God’s Law. Test them. Watch them. Protect my kingdom!”

But then, to reassure his disciples that they, personally, are in no danger from blasphemy or from the powers of this world, Jesus finishes with: [11] “When you are brought before synagogues, rulers and authorities, do not worry about how you will defend yourselves or what you will say, [12] for the Holy Spirit will teach you at that time what you should say.”

See, this is the key: the disciples are in no danger of committing the sin of blasphemy against the Holy Spirit because the Holy Spirit lives within them, and will speak through them. Christians cannot blaspheme against the Holy Spirit, because it is God’s Spirit — God’s Word — that gives us eternal life. For Christians, blasphemy against the Holy Spirit would be like trying to kill yourself by holding your breath: it cannot be done.

And this, really, is another bombshell that Luke has dropped on us. Two weeks ago, Luke revealed that we, too, are children of God. And that is a radical concept! But there was a second bombshell there that I did not highlight: at the end of Jesus’ teaching about prayer he promised that the Father would give the Holy Spirit to anyone who asks. So, not only is God our Father, but we also own the Holy Spirit in some way? What does that even mean?

Well, here, Luke begins to answer that question: the Holy Spirit is the Spirit of Prophecy, the Spirit of God’s Word: the Spirit of Speech. For Luke, being given the Holy Spirit means being given the ability to speak God’s Word, to say the right thing when challenged. Now, it also means much more than that! — but that is as far as Luke has explained it, so…that is where we will stop.

Right. Summary and application time.

Here’s the summary: here, Jesus warns his disciples to acknowledge him consistently in their lives, especially when the authorities put them on trial. He warns them to consistently reject the world system, which is based on self-salvation, selfish legalism. And he warns them to guard his Kingdom against teachers who twist God’s Law into self-salvation and legalism.

So: is all this still relevant to us, 2000 years later? Is there an application for us?

Unfortunately: yes.

The war is still raging. Satan is confined to earth; his power is severely restricted, and will remain so until just before the Judgement. But his human servants, the lawyers and Pharisees of the world, are still very much in power. They teach everyone that, “Only you can save yourself. If you live by our rules, if you accept our identity, we will accept you.”

This is obviously still the situation if you are Malay in Malaysia. The system says, “You were born Muslim, so you have a right to all the special benefits of being a Muslim. But in exchange for this right, you have to follow our Muslim rules. You are not allowed to question or critique our system. If you do, we will charge you with sedition and throw you into prison!”

But this is also the situation for the rest of us as well. For instance, more and more the secular religious system says, “You were born with a certain sexual orientation, so you have a right to try every sexual combination until you find one that benefits you. But in exchange for this right, you have to live according to our sexual rules. You are not allowed to question or critique our system. If you do, we will call you a bigot; we will charge you with hate-speech and throw you in prison.”

The world’s system takes many forms, friends, but underneath the details, they are all the same: manipulate and control. Save yourself at all costs. Trample on anyone who disagrees with you.

So, yes: Jesus’ call to acknowledge him consistently in our lives, especially when the authorities put us on trial, is still very relevant. What is his advice for us? “Do not be afraid of those who kill the body and after that can do no more…Don’t be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows!”

But what about his warning to guard the kingdom against the virus of the Pharisees?

Unfortunately, this warning is also only too relevant.

Our world is full of false, blasphemous teachers. They claim to know God, but then they tell lies about his true character. They claim to teach God’s Law, but then they add all kinds of extra details that do not come from the Spirit’s Word. Some claim to preach Christ! — they even use his name — but they will not be forgiven for their blasphemy against the Holy Spirit.

Okay. But practically speaking: how do we guard the kingdom from false teachers? How can we recognize a false teacher?

Well, Luke has just given us some very practical ways to recognize false teachers.

Here they are:

Jesus has just said, “woe to you Pharisees, because you’re clean on the outside but selfish on the inside!” Does a teacher tend to reject people who don’t measure up to his personal religious standards? If so, he might be a blasphemer, and you should run away screaming.

Jesus just said, “woe to you Pharisees, because you tithe like crazy but you don’t care about justice and God’s love!” Does a teacher seem to be obsessed with following tiny details of the Law? Is he full of “does and don’ts” but has no compassion for those who are in need? If so, he might be a blasphemer, and you should run away screaming.

Jesus just said, “woe to you Pharisees, because you love the best seats and fancy greetings in the marketplace!” Does a teacher seem to be really excited about titles and status? Does he get really angry if you don’t call him “Reverend” and treat him with proper respect? If so, he might be a blasphemer, and you should run away screaming.

Jesus just said, “woe to you lawyers, because you load people down with burdens and won’t lift a finger to help them!” Does a teacher make God’s Law feel heavier? Does he make God’s Word so complicated that you can’t tell if you’re saved or not? Do you feel discouraged after listening to him teach about God? If so, he might be a blasphemer, and you should run away screaming.

Jesus said, “woe to you lawyers, because you build tombs for the prophets even though you would have murdered them if you could!” Does a teacher like to show off how religious (and how rich) he is by building huge monuments “for Jesus’ glory”? Does he boast about what he has done for Jesus more than he boasts about what Jesus has done for him? If so, he might be a blasphemer, and you should run away screaming.

Jesus just said, “woe to you lawyers, because you have taken away the key to knowledge! You yourselves have not entered, and you have hindered those who were entering.” Does a teacher preach the free forgiveness of Jesus? Or does he hold people back, making it seem as if they have to earn the right to call God your Father? If so, he might be a blasphemer, and you should run away screaming.

The rightful King has claimed his kingdom. The enemy has been defeated. The prison doors are open. The kingdom is under new management:

We are that management. It is our task to keep the prison doors open, the keep the Word of God clear and fresh and lifegiving. We must protect our pulpits from false teachers. We, personally, as God’s children, are in no danger. But if we allow blasphemous self-salvation-style teaching to take root in our churches, whole generations can be lost.

So let us keep watch, brothers and sisters! Out of compassion for all those people out there living in the slavery of self-salvation — let us be on our guard. Let us always protect the Well of God’s Word; it is most compassionate thing we can possibly do.

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