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God’s Word for You

Luke 11:45-48 Tombs of the prophets

by Pastor Timothy Smith on Monday, July 30, 2018

45 One of the experts in the law answered him, “Teacher, when you say these things you are insulting us, too.”

Besides Pharisees at this meal at the Pharisee’s house (Luke 11:37), there was a group of experts in the law. Almost all of these lawyers were also Pharisees, and they were actually the ones who were the teachers among the Pharisees. These lawyers studied the Law of Moses, but also the rabbinical teachings: the Mishnah (sayings of the Rabbis). The Gemara (or Gemora) came much later; this was a commentary on the Mishnah written in the 6th century A.D., often found together today with the Mishnah and known as the Talmud.

Since the experts in the law were the teachers of the Pharisees, this expert realized that when Jesus condemned the Pharisees, he was condemning them, the experts, too. But did he think that by saying something, he would “muzzle the outspoken Rabbi from Nazareth” (Ylvisaker, The Gospels p. 463)? Not at all!

46 But Jesus said, “Woe to you experts in the law, because you load people down with burdens too heavy to bear, and you yourselves won’t even touch these burdens with one of your fingers.

If Jesus was hard on the Pharisees, he was going to be even harder on their teachers. The experts taught rules that went far beyond what the Bible says, “burdens too heavy to bear.” The very first regulation in the Jewish Mishnah is about doing work on the Sabbath, specifically about bringing merchandise into a house on the Sabbath, based on Jeremiah 17:21 and Nehemiah 13:19. But going far, far, beyond God’s anger at pagans bringing pushcarts into the Jerusalem for “business as usual” on the Sabbath, the law experts said that if a beggar comes to a house to ask for something (bread), and stands outside while the master of the house is inside, these rules apply:

    A. If the beggar’s hand passes into the house (through
    a door or window) and either receives something from
    the master or gives something to him, then the beggar
    is guilty of a sin, but the master is not.

    B. If the master’s hand passes outside his house and he
    gives something to the beggar or receives something
    from him, then the master is guilty of a sin, but the
    beggar is not.

    C. If the beggar’s hand passes into the house and the
    master takes something from it, or if the master’s hand
    passes out of the house and the beggar takes something
    from it, then neither of them is guilty.

    (Mishnah: Tractate Sabbath, Chapter 1, number 1).

This law is so convoluted as to be incomprehensible to the ordinary person. The third option (letter C above in my formatting) violates both of the previous ones, and Jesus’ point is always that we should be free with gifts to the poor, without bothering with these ridiculous and shameful rules that seem to demand that beggars would have a precise knowledge of the oral law.

Jesus condemned the experts: “You yourselves won’t even touch these burdens with one of your fingers.” Having made an impossible rule, the experts in the law refused to attempt to keep it. Their solution to this first test case about beggars on the Sabbath was to avoid beggars on the Sabbath entirely. They didn’t lift a finger to help someone in need. They refused to live in the world, but only judged the world as condemned, including (and especially condemning) people who tried to keep the law as written in Scripture.

47 Woe to you because you build monuments for the prophets, but it was your fathers who killed them. 48 So you are witnesses and agree with what your fathers did, because it was they who killed them, and you build their monuments.

With this, Jesus cuts even deeper into the faith of the law experts. Their forefathers, the people of Judah in the days of the kings, had murdered the Old Testament prophets. This had been going on within the family of God since the beginning of time (more about that with verses 49-51).

Someone might wonder: How does building a monument to the murdered prophets connect the builders with the sins of their ancestors? Couldn’t someone build a tomb out of remorse for the actions of one’s ancestor? For example, in 1413 King Henry V built chapels to the memory of Richard II whom his father Henry IV had imprisoned and, in some fashion, murdered (perhaps by starvation) thirteen years before. Henry V regretted what his father Henry IV had done.

What Jesus is saying is this: If you experts in the law regretted what your ancestors did, you would follow the words of the prophets, repenting of your sins as they urged, and embracing the gospel they preached. That gospel points without question to Christ. But continuing in the unbelief of your ancestors, you approve of the way they murdered the prophets, and nobody is fooled by the tombs or monuments you build.

As always, Jesus points us to what’s in the heart. It is our faith that matters. What we do with that faith is up to each individual, but God is looking for faith—faith in Christ—not a specific work.

In Christ,
Pastor Timothy Smith

Pastor Tim SmithAbout Pastor Timothy Smith
Pastor Smith serves St. Paul’s Lutheran Church in New Ulm, Minnesota. His wife, Kathryn, attended the Chapel from 1987-1990 while studying Secondary Education (Theater and Math) at UW-Madison. Kathryn’s father, John Meyer, was also the first man to serve as a Vicar at Chapel.

To receive God’s Word for You via e-mail, please contact Pastor Smith.

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