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Andrew Krayer-White - August 30, 2021

Who's Going To Clean This Up?

During his time on earth, Jesus shared many meals, with a wide variety of dinner guests-tax collectors, religious leaders, skeptics, prostitutes, fishermen... Just as Jesus reveals his character through the words he spoke and the miracles he performed, he shows himself through the meals he shared and the people he sat across from. _____________________________________________________________________________________________ It’s good to be with you church. Today we’re going to continue in our sermon series “Meals With Jesus,” our message is titled “Who’s Going to Clean this Up.” If you’ve joined us over the last several weeks and haven’t picked up on it yet, Jesus could be a bit of an uncanny dinner guest. You never really knew what you were going to get when He was coming to dinner. Some found him quite literally the life of the party, while others found him the most unhospitable of dinner guests. Again and again, in the gospels, we find Jesus defying traditional and social conventions in order to demonstrate what God’s Kingdom is like. By and large, this is what these meals in Luke are about. Jesus used meals together as an opportunity to define what life in God’s kingdom looks like, and what it doesn’t.

In the gospel of Luke chapter nine we’re told that “When the days drew near for him to be taken up, he (that is Jesus) set his face to go to Jerusalem.” This verse is a hinge point in Luke’s gospel. The Galilean portion of Jesus’ ministry had drawn to a close. His work in the region of Galilee as a traveling preacher and miracle worker had established his identity and the purpose of his mission. Luke nine fifty-one through the end of chapter nineteen is a travel narrative, with Jesus on the road traveling to Jerusalem. Then in the final section of Luke’s gospel in Jerusalem, Jesus fulfills his calling and mission through His crucifixion, resurrection, and exaltation. What we discover in this middle, travel section is increasing hostility to Jesus and his message, such that when we arrive at His crucifixion, in the end, the results are surprising but the actions of the perpetrators are not.

In our text for today, we see this travel narrative played out in miniature. That is, it begins with curiosity and maybe even openness to Jesus and ends with hostility and rejection.

If you’ll join me in Luke 11:37. Our section begins “While he was speaking, a Pharisee invited him to dine with him; so he went in and took his place at the table.” Earlier in chapter eleven, Jesus had cast out a demon, much to the amazement of the crowd. There was some conflict among them. Some people suggested that Jesus was himself demon-possessed and that was the source of His power. Others in the crowd wanted Jesus to confirm through signs and wonders that he was who he claimed. As Jesus responded the crowd swelled.

This is the speaking that Luke mentions. It’s the context in which the Pharisee came and extended the invitation to dinner. While it was a mixed crowd having Jesus an important teacher and miracle worker join you for dinner would have been a big catch. Perhaps the Pharisee was imagining the way his esteem would rise in the community were Jesus to choose to have dinner at his house. Just think of how your neighbors might think about you and talk about you differently, if your favorite sports star or entertainment figure pulled up in their tinted-out, black SUV, for dinner at your place. It was a big deal. But, as we’ll see raising this Pharisee's social ranking was not high on Jesus’ agenda.

This wasn’t just dinner for two. The Pharisee invited all his friends, other Pharisees, and teachers of the law to dine with them. I mentioned there’s an openness here. It doesn’t seem that this Pharisee host was trying to trap or test Jesus theologically as others might have. The evidence for that is found in how Luke reports the Pharisee's reaction. He “was amazed to see that he did not first wash before dinner.” Meaning the Pharisee was actually surprised when Jesus failed to follow ritual custom. The gospel writer Mark provides a little bit more insight on what’s going on: "The Pharisees (Mark tells us) and all the Jews do not eat unless they give their hands a ceremonial washing, holding to the tradition of the elders." When they come from the marketplace they do not eat unless they wash. And they observe many other traditions, such as the washing of cups, pitchers and kettles.

Two things: first, this is not about germs. Whenever the kids come in the house from playing outside, we all wash our hands. My daughter is four, so she gets to do it herself. But sometimes she comes out of the bathroom a little too quickly and we say let me smell your hands, to ensure they’re clean. This is not about that. The second thing is Jesus is not breaking any Old Testament law here in choosing not to wash. This was as Mark says a “tradition of the elders” not a scriptural command. Leviticus 15:11 requires hand washing if you had a bodily discharge, but the Pharisees made it normative for all.

When we say ceremonial or ritual hand washing, it doesn’t just mean habitual hand washing. It’s not just they did it frequently. There was a very specific way to go about this. How much water should be used? Well, the rabbis had an answer for that. You must use enough water to fill one and a half eggshells. So, they’d have a little measuring device to measure out the water. Do you just splash it on? Must you say the ABC’s as you wash. No, there was a prescribed process for that as well. The water was first poured on both hands, held with the fingers pointed upward. It must run down the arm as far as the wrist and drop off from the wrist. Then you repeated the process, holding your hands with your fingers pointing down, and finally, each hand was cleaned by rubbing with the fist of the other. The truly observant would do this before every meal and even between every course in every meal.

Now, I don’t think that Jesus sat down and just forgot to wash his hands. And I do not think he was surprised by the amazed reaction of his host. I think Jesus knew exactly what he was doing when he took the invitation to dinner. He knew exactly what he was doing when he sat down with unwashed hands. Jesus was looking to pick a fight. Maybe the astonishment registered on the Pharisee's faces, or more likely Jesus knew what was in their hearts. Either way, Jesus did not give them an opening to voice their displeasure. He took the offensive, again, literally. “Then the Lord said to him, “Now you Pharisees clean the outside of the cup and of the dish, but inside you are full of greed and wickedness. 40 You fools! Did not the one who made the outside make the inside also?”

Can you imagine inviting someone over to dinner and before the first dish is passed, they began calling you and all the other guests wicked fools? Some of you are thinking, of course, I know what that’s like. Why do you think I was so happy I didn’t have to have to visit my family for the holidays this year? But that’s not how things are supposed to work. This was astonishing behavior then as it would be today.

Some of us have grown up with this false picture of a meek and mild Jesus. A kind of an ancient Mr. Rogers with a white robe, and blue sash. That’s an unbiblical caricature. We’re almost all familiar with Jesus’ role as the King of Kings. Even some others of us recognize Jesus as our High Priest. But scripture also tells us that Jesus is a Prophet. On the road to Emmaus after Jesus’ resurrection, we find two of the disciples ironically explaining the news about Jesus to Jesus of all people. But look at what they say “He was a prophet, powerful in word and deed before God and all the people.” That’s not the only instance in scripture he’s described as such, but it’s a pretty clear one.

Jesus the Messiah is our Prophet, Priest and King.

Contrary to what we might think, a prophet doesn’t just mean someone who can see the future. Rather their role was more importantly to serve as God’s mouthpiece. And reading through the Old Testament prophets, it doesn’t take long to see that God’s word through the prophets were often challenging and difficult. Jeremiah 23:29 says “Is not my word like fire,” declares the Lord, “and like a hammer that breaks a rock in pieces? That’s what God’s prophetic word is like, fire and a hammer. And that’s what Jesus is doing in this passage, He’s speaking a prophetic word, like a flame thrower, against those who claimed to represent God but were disastrously missing the point.

It’s not difficult to see why we might be less than comfortable with a prophetic Jesus. We like a Jesus whose role is exclusively to accept and affirms us, who not only loves us but endorses whatever we believe or however we behave. That’s not Jesus. Or do you think the depiction of Him in Revelation, with a sharp double-edged sword coming out of His mouth is a different Jesus than that of the gospels. Just look to our passage in Luke. “As the crowds increased, Jesus said, “This is a wicked generation.” Many today will tickle the ears of their audience, or water down the message in hopes to attract an audience. Jesus sees it growing and calls them wicked. He had compassion on his audience, but he never coddled them. I love what Thabiti Anyabwile says “When a hard truth hits a hard heart you get sparks and resistance. But you can’t soften the truth, or it ceases to be the truth.”

Here’s the point. We need to recognize Jesus’ prophetic word isn’t just against others, but often for us. It’s for us. Nowadays, if we hear a hard teaching, or a scriptural interpretation that conflicts with our major media narrative, or our political, sexual or socioeconomic orientation, we conclude that it is wrong, rather than perhaps we are wrong. We get sparks, but see nothing wrong with it. We have to be very careful that we don’t become like the Pharisees, and become hostile to Jesus, because we don’t like the message he brings. Of course we would never say we’re rejecting Jesus, we simply reject the teaching as false, regardless of its biblical alignment.

Isn’t that exactly what the religious leaders were doing in Jesus’ day. They rejected the Messiah, the only one who saves, because he did not match their expectations, and more importantly because embracing Jesus, and following him meant relinquishing their power and privilege. In essence, they said, if you’re the Messiah, I don’t want to be saved. In our day we simply refashion Jesus and His message, to fit our worldview and the kind of salvation we desire. But here’s the problem with that, following a false Jesus will never lead us to true salvation. You and I need to allow Jesus to be Jesus, and speak prophetically into our lives, particularly the areas closest our hearts and identities, to call sin a sin, and name our idolatries for what they are. Not to condemn us, but to deliver us, that are hearts may not be turned away or against him.

It might not seem like it but Jesus delivers his prophetic rebuke in hopes of delivering them. He sees their pursuit of external righteousness. They longed to look good in the eyes of others, rather than be right in eyes of God and calls them on it. Referring to their empty rituals he says, “you clean the outside of the cup and dish, but inside you’re full of greed and wickedness.”

How many of you have a coffee cup in your car or office? And it’s got that little bit of coffee residue from yesterday’s coffee left over. When you get the next cup, do you just poor it in over that. It’s all coffee, it’ll just mix together right? No way, that’s gross.

How much more defiled are our insides than that cup? And yet Jesus is suggesting, that’s what they were offering to God. They were spending all their time, polishing up the outside of the bowl or cup of their lives. Slavishly maintaining rituals, to present a spotless exterior, but internally they were filled with greed and wickedness.

Greed and wickedness are interesting words, because if we saw these Pharisees today, greedy and wicked might not be the words that we would use to describe them. Morally speaking they’ve got us beat hands down. If you check their browser history, checking accounts, even their refrigerators. They’d be clean, clean, clean. As far as giving goes, they tithed, which means they gave a tenth…of everything. In fact, they were so meticulous that they even gave a tenth of their spice rack. But that’s what religious hypocrisy does. It focuses on the external and observable. Outside it looks good, but inside it’s rotten to the core.

It’s the person who shows up every weekend for worship smiling, saying God is good all the time but rages at home at their wife and kids. It’s the person who knows the most scripture and theology, but inside, they’re desperately addicted to pornography. It’s the Instagram life of having everything together, but inside you’re falling apart. Because as much as you polish the outside, you can’t touch the inside. It’s exhausting. And it feels like death. Because it is. Reading and memorizing more scripture, listening to more sermons, whatever it is you do in your own strength to try and hold it all together is not going to fix what’s wrong inside of us. Jesus came to dinner and wasn’t polite or kind, he didn’t just go with the flow and wash up, because going with the flow - assuming we can make ourselves clean and right before God through these tiny external rituals – is death, and Jesus came to bring life. So he throws down the gauntlet and lets them have it. Wake up you fools. You’re walking corpses.

They were sitting at the table with the God in the skin and they’re wondering aren’t you going to wash your hands? When the question they should have been asking is Jesus won’t you please wash our hearts? Won’t you please give us life?

Jesus condemns the sin in their hearts, but life is exactly what he offers them. He tells them “So give for alms those things that are within; and see, everything will be clean for you.” You see Jesus is telling them God wants more than your obligatory external practices. Alms were charitable gifts given mostly to the poor. They were an external work. But here, Jesus is saying something slightly different - give generously from what’s within you. What’s within you? Your heart, your mind, your will, identity. Give those things that are core to who you are. Not just to the poor, but to God. Surrender the inside of your bowl to God and He will make you clean. That’s the good news is it not? Not what we do, but what He does.

Psalm 51 is the record of David’s prayer to God, following his fall through adultery and murder. If you know the story: Did David sit down at dinner, with his little egg cups and wash his hands? No. Did he commit to perfect attendance at the temple, double down on his devotions or increase his giving? No, No, No. He poured out his insides to God, knowing that it’s God alone that can cleanse us. If you turn their quickly, you can see the language in Psalm 51. David prays: “blot out my transgressions. Wash away all my iniquity and cleanse me from my sin. Cleanse me with hyssop, and I will be clean; wash me, and I will be whiter than snow. Create in me a pure heart, O God.” That’s what the Pharisees should have been doing. But because they refused to hear Jesus’ prophetic word – they were unable to grasp their need to do so.

When we fess up to our inability to clean our own cup and surrender it to God, he will gladly make us clean. Not only that, but it will lead to our outside being clean as well. True Transformation is an inside-out process. It begins outside of ourselves with God. And leads to seeking the well-being of those other than ourselves. Let me say it this way. Transformation begins as God’s gift, that takes root in our hearts and bears fruit in our lives. If it’s God who’s worked in our hearts done in our thru Jesus, it will work its way out in the way that we live.

It might be tempting to wrap up Jesus’ message here, but he’s not done yet. In a sense, while we’re wrapping up in a moment, he’s just getting started. He unleashes six woes, six different warnings where the Pharisees were missing the mark. We don’t have time to walk through all six, but I want to look at just the first, because as we speak of this inside-out process - I think verse forty-two paints an important picture of how to live in light of what God’s done.

Verse forty-two says “But woe to you Pharisees! For you tithe mint and rue and herbs of all kinds, (…that is you tithe your spice rack) and neglect justice and the love of God; it is these you ought to have practiced, without neglecting the others.”

Question: Does Jesus suggest that tithing doesn’t matter? That we should avoid it because it’s external? Absolutely not. He says: “this you should have practiced, without neglecting the others.” If ever there was a place for Jesus to grant license, and freedom from the law, it would be in his confrontations with the Pharisees. And yet he still calls them to obedience. Why does that matter? Because there are many in the church today, that have asked God to cleanse the inside of their bowl, and taken it as permission that having been made clean they need not live obedient to his command. It’s as if they're saying Jesus washed me clean, so I’m free to do whatever I want. Spend my time how I want to, spend my money how I want, sleep with who I want. Because what I do on the outside doesn’t matter, it’s my heart that matters. So long as I believe in Jesus and love Jesus nothing else matters. But Jesus does not give us that license here, the right response is loving obedience. Jesus is calling for congruence. He’s challenging us to love God with all that we are, internal and external.

What does that external expression of love look like? Well, it looks like loving obedience but Jesus gets even more specific than that. It looks like pursuing Justice and loving God. Not my words…those are Jesus' words. Some of you cringe, maybe experienced sparks at the mention of the word justice. Perhaps you feel like that we should stick to preaching the gospel and leave it to the politicians to talk about things like “justice.” I would suggest that if that’s you, perhaps you are following a different Jesus than the one presented in scripture. Because Jesus came announcing the Kingdom of God, and He was crucified with the title King of the Jews above his head. Maybe you’ve never thought of it this way but Kingdoms and kings are very much political things.

But more to the point, in this passage, our King Jesus is calling the Pharisees and us to seek justice. That doesn’t mean our pursuit will be identical to what has become popular in secular circles. Our pursuit of justice is one biblically informed, by passages like Zechariah 7 “Thus says the Lord of hosts: Render true judgments, show kindness and mercy to one another; do not oppress the widow, the orphan, the alien, or the poor; and do not devise evil in your hearts against one another” or more maybe a more simple expression like that of Leviticus 19:18 “to love your neighbor as yourself.”

The Faithful pursuit of justice will take all kinds of expressions, but here’s the point... We’re called to respond to God’s transforming work by loving Him and seeking justice in the world He loves.

I mentioned in the beginning of the message that Jesus uses meals like the one found in our text, to clarify what God’s Kingdom looks like and what it doesn’t. So let’s close here: The Kingdom looks like this: it’s made up of those who don’t make themselves clean, but whom God has lovingly made clean, through his son. And in response to that cleansing work, we do not seek to earn His love, but by the Spirit respond freely in love and seek to make a difference in the world that He loves.

Sadly at the end of this meal, Jesus went outside, and when he went outside, the Pharisees and the teachers of the law began to oppose him fiercely and to besiege him with questions”. In short Luke, the author is telling us this story has presented with a choice. We can accept Jesus the Messiah as our Prophet, Priest, and King and His message of God’s Kingdom and all that it entails, or we can choose to reject him as the Pharisees did. There is no neutral ground or middle way. As we close, I want to invite never taken that step, of accepting Jesus – as your Lord and Savior – Prophet, Priest, and King, to do so today. As we saw God doesn’t require our perfection, He requires our surrender to Him and our trust in His perfect son.

Lord, perhaps one of the most difficult things to do in our world these days is to hear your voice. In the midst of all the competing and compelling voices in our world, the things that vie for our attention, we long to be a people who listen to you and respond obediently to you and no other. Lord, I want to especially lift up those who are hearing your invitation to be made clean today. Those who are tired of trying to hold it all together, tired of living for approval and applause of the crowd. Lord I lift up to you those that have gotten themselves into something that they can’t get themselves out of, would you do a work of deliverance today. And finally Lord I want to lift up those who have realized the corruption in their hearts and want to turn to you, that you might make them clean today for the very first time in their lives. If you're listening, and that’s your prayer, all you have do, in the quiet of your heart, is confess God, that’s me. I am a sinner, I’m tired of trying to live my own way, make myself clean. I surrender my life to you. Will you be the Lord of my Life? If you prayed that prayer just now, praise Jesus. Welcome to God’s forever family, it’s good to have you. Father God, we are so thankful for what you are doing, in our lives, in our community, and in this world. For your glory. Amen

From Series: "Meals With Jesus"

During his time on earth, Jesus shared many meals, with a wide variety of dinner guests-tax collectors, religious leaders, skeptics, prostitutes, fishermen... Just as Jesus reveals his character through the words he spoke and the miracles he performed, he shows himself through the meals he shared and the people he sat across from.

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