Luke 16:24-18 “The New Stop Light”
Not long after the new traffic light was installed, still before the State Highway Department put in warnings about the new speed bump right after the new light, so that everyone was still hitting the bump at great speed and potentially dropping their transmissions in doing so, I saw not one, not two, but actually THREE vehicles in succession simply drive right through a red light. We all like to get angry about other drivers and the insane things they do. I shook my head back and forth and condemned those drivers in my heart. Then, it struck me--no nobody from behind wanted to run the light too--but IT struck me that I was being a Pharisee behind the wheel. You see, I should have raced after those drivers and offered them salvation in Jesus Christ, especially since with their driving habits they could easily be dead soon.
Instead, I am ridiculing those drivers this morning. You know what, that is simply not the Good News of Jesus Christ! When Christians waste what little time we have on this planet going after one another, non-Christians find us to be hypocritical. We do not have time and should not waste our energy on ridiculing others.
Paul’s Letter to the Romans spends a whole two chapters talking just about this very fault of ours that we seem to always be going after other people when we should only be pushing for the Kingdom of God. That is where our energy is supposed to be going. Romans 14:5 and on, “Some judge one day to be better than another, while others judge all days to be alike. . . .(15:1) We who are strong should put up with the failings of the weak. . . .”
Too often we Christians stand in a circular firing squad pulling the trigger on one another over the silliest of reasons. This started in Jesus’ time with the Pharisees. I still wonder to this day why they just did not leave Jesus alone. Okay, so Jesus was different than them. So, just tolerate him. They did not have to ridicule him. Let us just focus on getting the lot of us into heaven.
On that point, we should note that Jesus states that since the time of John the Baptist that is exactly what the masses of people of the day were doing. We have kind of a funny translation of this idea in the pew bibles. A little out of order, but look at verse 16. It says that people are trying to enter the kingdom by force. I just want to clarify that what this is really looking like in the Greek is that people are jamming at the gates of heaven with so many people coming in that it is getting clogged if you will. This is kind of like the beer and chip stand at the local store during the big football game--too many people!
Remember that Jesus is being followed by a lot of people wherever he goes now. In those days, HE was the big game! There may be hundreds trying to get close to him while he is chatting with the Pharisees and being ridiculed. So, it is that Jesus remarks that the Pharisees are trying to justify themselves before the people! They are trying to defend their religiosity before the crowd that is following Jesus.
Jesus says, the people following now are not interested in the pharisaical justifications of faith, and are not interested in the ridicule they are dispensing. They are interested in knowing God and getting into God’s Kingdom. They are pushing and shoving to get closer to Jesus. Meanwhile the Pharisees just love money. First line of the scripture for today. If you recall the sermon from last week, we can say that they have decided to follow the little god called “mammon.”
Jesus says that God knows their hearts. Indeed God knows our hearts. I would be remiss if I did not share with you all one of my favorite scriptures (though I have too many to count actually). This is from Jeremiah 1:5, “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you. And before you were born I consecrated you. . . .” Yes, God has known us all of our days, and has even known us in the womb, and even before we were in the womb!
Then, in Matthew 6:8 (right before the Lord’s Prayer), Jesus tells us that God knows our prayers even before we pray them. Yet, then the instruction is to pray just the same. That is to mean that we still need to be accountable to God in our prayers, but God knows our hearts already.
I have to say that many non-Christians have challenged me on this point. Even some Christians have questions, too. So, if God knows everything already, and God is all-powerful anyway, why should we still have to pray? And, why should we still have all the calamity in our lives that we have to struggle through?!
Yes, God knows our hearts. God’s providence is open to us. But, let me point out that there are different ways of knowing something. And the Greek word here, γινωσκω, is quite specific in its meaning. It is not as someone would know a fact or an equation, or even a prayer before it is spoken. This is the kind of “know” like a child knows its mother, and conversely the mother knows it child by its cry. This is the “know” that comes when the love of another person enters our hearts.
Not to long ago in this sermon series, Luke 13:22 and on, we heard about our coming to the celebration but the Lord telling us to go away because He does not “know” us. Do you remember? This is the same kind of knowing. It is not just recognizing someone’s name on a list. It is not like you met that person once on an airplane and then you see them again somewhere else. This is REALLY knowing someone because there is love manifested between you two.
So, Jesus tells these Pharisees that God knows their heart. This means in essence that Jesus is offering the love of God to these Pharisees. But, the first line of our scripture tells us that they only love money. That is the trouble. There is no place for the love of God in their hearts. And, God knows this sad fact. Jesus is reaching out to them with the love of God, but they are rejecting it and even ridiculing it.
Then, at the end of our scripture Jesus seems to drop this incredible bombshell on those listening to him. It seems so crazily out of place, too. Who was talking about divorce? Why does the conversation suddenly shift? And then, as we can see with the follow-up story that follows the conversation abruptly shifts again. What is this thing about divorce doing here in Luke’s writing?
The only way this seems to fit is if by chance Jesus is still talking about God’s love in our lives. That has been the topic all along. We are not to assume that Jesus is simply talking about Old Testament prohibitions here. By the way, in Deuteronomy 24 we can read that divorce is in fact allowed and that in an innocent case, there is no assignment of sin. A woman can remarry without committing adultery. So, what is Jesus really trying to say here?
The Old Testament laws in essence go like this: If a man divorces his wife, it can be because the marriage contract itself was never fully fulfilled. Deuteronomy 24 says that the man “finds something objectionable about her.” That is a very loose reason to divorce! So, he writes a certificate and hands it to her. She is now free to remarry.
However, if a man is fully wed to woman, and yet he sees another woman and decides he does not want the first wife anymore, then that divorce is not legal. It becomes adultery. The difference between the two is simply the “other woman.” So, in the Bible, one can rightfully divorce if there is no other party involved. Yet, as soon as another woman (or other man) enters the picture, then that is adultery because you have broken your vows of marriage—IN YOUR HEART!
I have counseled couples about this issue of “affairs of the heart” with other people while still married to someone else. This is what is happening with the Pharisees. They are having an affair of the heart with the god of mammon (money, wealth) while pretending still to be true to the one true God! So here it comes again, “you cannot love both God and mammon.” Jesus knows their heart. He, being God incarnate, knows that these Pharisees have forsaken their covenant with Him and are having an affair of the heart with another.
Do you remember the idea that everyone is pushing to get into the Kingdom of God? We just heard that in the scripture. In a divorce of that age, the man writes the divorce certificate and shows his wife the door. That is what Jesus is doing here now. He is confronting the Pharisees with their adulterous love of mammon and showing them the door. Everybody else is coming into the covenant, yet these guys are being certified as unfit to remain!
They have forgotten the real covenant with God. It is right there in Deuteronomy 6. This is called the Great Shema: “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and all your soul, and with all your strength.” Note that the “all” is repeated three times. Why repeat three times? It means the “all-iest.” It is superlative in Hebrew to mention something three times. Our hearts must totally belong to God. No room for anything else.
That is how God will know our hearts indeed. That is the greater stop light to our entering the Kingdom of God, too. Our hearts are known to God.