#4  The “Stumbling Blocks To Spirituality” Series




TEXT:         Matt. 23:25-26; Luke 11:38-41


INTRO:       My son Jeremy often came in from playing outside to eat supper with mud all over him ... his hands were so dirty but he sat ready to eat.  Then the strangest thing would happen, he'd ask for a clean spoon for dessert because the one he used for his dinner had food particles still on it; all the while ignoring his own dirty hands!  (Some adults are like this too!)


How like this we are sometimes spiritually ... so concerned about some speck of dirt on some outward action of someone else, while failing to notice the dirty hands we have ourselves!  It is an easy error to fall prey to!  The Pharisees and Scribes had already done this with their hearts; they were like cups that were washed on the outside but dirty inside!


This is unappetizing to God and to mankind, just as it is unappetizing to you when you go into a restaurant and when you finish the soup and you find dirt or old food stuck to the bottom of the bowl ... even though the outside looked so good!  We would find this offensive ... and God finds this offensive in our lives!


ILLUS:      The number one cause of atheism is Christians.  Those who proclaim God with their mouths and deny Him with their lifestyles is what an unbelieving world finds simply unbelievable. -- Karl Rahner, quoted in the Wittenburg Door (June/July l988).  Christianity Today, Vol. 34, no. 8.


PROP. SENT:    The Word of God teaches us that God is deeply concerned about what we are in our hearts, and not just what we seem to be by our appearance!


I.  SOAP IN THE HAND    Matt. 23:25-26;   Luke 11:38-39


A.   Unrelenting Myths    Matt. 23:25;   Luke 11:38

1.   The Talmud records a Jew by the name of AKHIBHA (ak-heeb-a) – A man who died of thirst rather than break the Jewish customs of washing before eating, he used the little water he had to wash and so had none to drink, and thus died of thirst!  This was recorded to show him as a HERO!

a.   Rather than see “life” as more sacred, ritual was held up as more sacred.

b.   Demonstrates the corrupted sense of values, both by those who follow and those who value and praise them.


ILLUS:     English is a strange language. There is no butter in buttermilk and no egg in eggplant. There is no ham in a hamburger and no apple in a pineapple.  Quicksand works very slowly and boxing rings are square.  Inconsistencies of language are not significant.  Inconsistencies in life are significant.  Christians must act like Christians.  Our words and deeds must be consistent with what we profess. -- Robert C. Shannon, 1000 Windows, (Cincinnati, Ohio: Standard Publishing Company, 1997).


2.   The Talmud also taught that unwashed hands had a demon sitting on them, thus to not wash your hands before you ate meant you let the demons sit on your hands and corrupt you and your food!

3.   Instead of our common saying today of, "Cleanliness is NEXT to Godliness" it was for them, "Cleanliness IS Godliness."

4.   Jesus likely failed to wash his hands on purpose ... probably to evoke this discussion and their inconsistent ways.

5.   We still have myths in this area ... Christians have valued certain looks; have certain hair-cuts, or certain cultural standards equal to Biblical standards; and we judge people based on these as though they carry the same weight as true Biblical absolutes ... God looks for the heart as the most important standard however ... but it doesn't mean the outward appearance is unimportant, just not as important!

a.   Jesus' point was: "Where is your energy spent?"

b.   “Does the outward take MORE importance over the inward?”

c.   They had gotten lost on the outward ... to the point they would honor one of their own for dieing of thirst rather than failing to wash their hands!

d.   There are some things worth dieing for ... this “ain't” one of them!

e.   They were wasting time, energy, life, and material goods on the wrong things!


B.   Ugly Mugs!    Matt. 23:26; Luke 11:39

1.   What an ugly mug!

a.   A cup in this condition is so very unappetizing!

b.   A person in this condition is so very unappetizing too, to God and the world!

2.   There's nothing wrong with looking nice ... but being nice makes looking nice acceptable and a joy!  Looking nice and not being nice is another matter!


ILLUS:     It is an obvious error for all to see in those ministers of the Church who make such a wide gulf between their preaching and their living.  They will study hard, to preach exactly and yet study little or not at all to live exactly.  All the week long is little enough time to study how to speak for two hours; and yet one hour seems too much time to study how to live all week.  They are loath to misplace a word in their sermons; yet they think nothing of misplacing affections, words, and actions in the course of their lives.  Oh, how curiously I have heard some men preach, and how carelessly have I seen them live! -- Richard Baxter, Leadership, Vol. 7, no. 2.


3.   This is Jesus' point with them; they looked great but were anything but great!

a.   Their hearts were filled with greed and wickedness!

b.   They needed the "WATER OF LIFE TO WASH THEIR HEARTS" not the soap of this world to wash their hands!


II.  SPIRIT IN THE HEART    Luke 11:39-41


A.   Unacceptable Manipulation    Luke 11:39

1.   They used their "LOOKS" to gain personal glory and prestige.

2.   Their goals were not to teach righteousness ... but to be renowned as great men ... without the actual works of righteousness!

3.   They used others to gain the goals they set for themselves, goals that were self-glory oriented.


ILLUS:     Most of the evil in this world does not come from evil people. It comes from people who consider themselves good. -- Reinhold Niebuhr, Christianity Today, Vol. 30, no. 5.


4.   Robes with special pouches, carrying around special pieces of scripture visible to those who passed them by, special borders on their robes, special seats in the sanctuaries, long prayers on the street corners; all this outward stuff to lead people to believe they were on the inside what they seemed to be on the outside!

a.   Titles and such are not wrong ... if they actually apply to the person’s heart!

b.   In the case of the Pharisees these didn't really apply, it was all show … what was on the inside didn’t match the appearance on the outside!


B.   Uncovered Meaning    Luke 11:40

1.   Jesus drops the bomb on them ... they were dirty on the inside while looking good on the outside!

a.   Wearing the robes didn't make them spiritual.

b.   Carrying a passage of scripture didn't make them know God's Word.

c.   Titles didn't make them teachers or Pastors.  (This is still true!)

d.   Long prayers didn't make them intercessors.

e.   Wide borders on their robes didn't increase their righteousness.

2.   Only what was in their hearts could open the doors to these other things!

3.   "As a man thinketh in his heart ... S0 IS he!"

4.   True religion had been corrupted by all the various groups or factions in Judaism:     these errors are still with us today ... they just have different names!





5.   These are still the ways many people respond to God's call to be saved!


ILLUS:     There is today an evangelical rationalism which says that the truth is in the Word and if you want to know truth go learn the Word.  If you get the Word, you have the truth.  That is the evangelical rationalism that we have in fundamentalist circles:  "If you learn the text you've got the truth."

   This evangelical rationalist wears our uniform.  He comes in wearing our uniform and says what the Pharisees ... said:  "Well, truth is truth and if you believe the truth you've got it."  Such see no beyond and no mystic depth, no mysterious or divine.  They see only, "I believe in God the Father Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth; and in Jesus Christ His only Son, our Lord."

   They have the text and the code and the creed, and to them that is the truth.  So they pass it on to others.  The result is we are dying spiritually.  To know the Truth, we must "know" the Son. -- A. W. Tozer in Power for Living (Oct. 16, 1977). Christianity Today, Vol. 33, no. 13.


6.   TRUE RELIGION however changes the heart ... which then does change the outward ... notice Jesus says, "CLEAN THE INSIDE OF THE CUP AND THEN THE OUTSIDE WILL ALSO BE CLEAN!"   MATT. 23:26


C.   Unconditional Mercy      Luke 11:41

1.   When love comes from the inside it can't help but influence the outside as it passes through it!

a.   Jesus called these men to give to the needy ... to love unconditionally!

b.   If they gave the food inside the cup to the poor then they wouldn’t have to worry about the “dirty” inside bowl, the gift of giving the food to feed the poor in itself would have served the need of loving others, and would have made the bowl “clean” even though it still looked dirty from the refuse of the material!  Cleaning the bowl by a ritual is not the issue; ministry is, so Jesus tells them to give what is on the inside of the bowl to the poor.  “But give what is inside the dish to the poor, and everything will be clean for you.” Lk. 11:41

c.   They couldn’t give however because they were men full of greed ... thus they needed to learn to give!

2.   This is why God starts with the heart ... it is the base of all attitudes, which ultimately leads to all our actions!


ILLUS:     I saw a Peanuts cartoon with Lucy saying to Charlie Brown, "I hate everything. I hate everybody. I hate the whole wide world!"

   Charlie says, "But I thought you had inner peace."

   Lucy replies, "I do have inner peace. But I still have outer obnoxiousness" (from Barbara Brokhoff, New and Improved Jesus? C.S.S., 1991, p. 53). -- W. Frank Harrington, "When You Really Want to Quit," Preaching Today, Tape No. 138.


3.   Learning ALL the looks of a Christian are not nearly enough ... BEING a Christian is what counts, being has to do with the heart!

4.   God wants us to have a heart ... a heart of His love!


CONCLUSION:    God hates an ugly mug!  Nothing ruins an appetite more than finding garbage inside a cup after drinking from it ... nothing ruins the world's appetite for God more than finding an unloving heart in someone who claims to be a Christian!  God looks in our heart ... don't let Him see an ugly mug, but a clean vessel ready to be filled with His love.  The world may drink in His love from a life like this!