In the first verse of our text today Luke tells us, “Jesus said to his disciples.” When Luke says, “Jesus said to his disciples…” I think it has two meanings.
First, Luke is relaying an eyewitness account of an event that happened. Jesus did say these words or he was remembered as saying these words to some of his original disciples, but Luke also uses the phrase “Jesus said to his disciples” to get the attention of his contemporary readers who claimed to be Jesus’ disciples.
When Jesus addresses the crowds or the Pharisees or the religious leaders, it might have been easy for contemporary disciples to ignore what Jesus had to say, or to think what he had to say didn’t have anything to do with them…
The church was just being formed.
Very few leadership structure were in place.
Disciples of Jesus met in homes not churches.
One figure I read this week estimated that there were about 20,000 believers in the world at this time. Of that 20,000 probably only a few hundred had ever even met or interacted with Jesus himself. So there must have been questions…
How do we live?
How are we to reflect this new revelation of God to the world around us?
How often should we meet?
Should we allow non-Jews to be part of our community?
Do we need to keep the Old Testament Law?
Should we get married?
When is Christ going to return?
They needed answers to these questions. They need Christ to speak to them.
So when Luke says “Jesus said to his disciples” This would have captured his early reader’s attention. They wanted to hear if Christ’s words could answer any of their questions
When we read “Jesus said to his disciples” this should capture our attention as well. We need to ask, what does Jesus want to say to us today. With that in mind lets look at just 2 verses, Luke 17:1-2
The language Jesus uses here is some of Jesus’ strongest in all of scripture. “woe to anyone! that causes my little ones to stumble. There are a couple of words or phrases in these verses that need a little explaining if we are going to hear what Christ has to say to us today. The first word is Woe.
Woe is one of those Bible words that can be difficult to understand. We don’t really use it anywhere else. Woe is best understood as a warning. It means almost something like, “oh no!” or stop it, but stronger. Woe is the inexpressible feeling you have when you see someone close to you making bad choices and you can already picture the bad consequences that will result. It’s so clear and unavoidable it’s as if they have already happened.
You might think to yourself, “I know where this is going” or “I know how this is going to turn out!” and it aint good. You just want to shout. Stop it!!! Stop it!!! Its going to kill you! You are going to hurt a lot of people! But you wonder if it is too late to stop it. That is what a Woe is.
Jesus is shouting a warning to his disciples, he is shouting a warning to the early Christian disciples who Luke was addressing and he is shouting a warning to us. Woe to you if you cause a little one to stumble… In other words, if you cause a little one to stumble, destruction will be coming your way.
That leads us to the second phrase we need to look at… “the little ones” this phrase is used in Matthew to signify little children, however in Luke it seems to be referring to young disciples. Disciples who were new in their faith in Christ. What Jesus is saying then is a simple command. Don’t do it!! I’m warning you, don’t cause these younger disciples to stumble in their faith. If you do there will be dire consequences for you…
This warning doesn’t come out of Christ’s anger but rather out of his deep commitment to his sheep. He is the shepherd and he is going to do whatever it takes to keep his young sheep from stumbling and going astray. What is interesting is that Jesus doesn’t specifically say how it is that the disciples might cause little ones to stumble. However, based on our own experience over the last 2000 years, and Christ’s words elsewhere, we know there is one very specific thing disciples can do to cause young Christians to stumble.
George Barna, a Christian researcher, once did a survey that asked non-Christians why they were not Christians. You can guess what one of the top reasons given was, hypocrisy. Being a hypocrite is a surefire way to not just keep non-Christians away from the faith, but to cause young Christians to stumble in their faith. Jesus knew this which is one of the reasons he spoke out so often against it.
In Matthew 23:27-28 he says. READ
In Mark 7:6 Jesus says READ
And then here in Luke Jesus warns some of his followers. “Why do you call me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ and do not do what I say?James, a book written by Jesus’ brother and containing countless allusions to Jesus’ own teaching, has multiple condemnations of hypocrisy. In James 1:22-24 we read
Later in chapter 2 we have maybe the most well known condemnation of hypocrisy in scripture.
“What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if someone claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save them? Suppose a brother or a sister is without clothes and daily food. If one of you says to them, “Go in peace; keep warm and well fed,” but does nothing about their physical needs, what good is it? In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead.
I could keep going but I won’t. Hypocrisy is condemned all throughout scripture. The English word hypocrite comes from the Greek word Hypocrites, which was the name given to an actor in Ancient Greece. In ancient Greece, actors would perform while wearing a mask to hide their identities. Gradually then a hypocrite came to be know not as an actor but as someone who was wearing a figurative mask and pretending to be someone they weren’t. Christianity has a long history of people like this.
Judas claimed to be a follower of Christ yet was greedy and betrayed Christ.
In the book of Acts, in a possible allusion to our very passage, an early Christian couple, Ananias and Sapphira, tell fellow members of the church that they have given all the money from a sale of their property to the church while secretly hold back some of it, God strikes them dead.
The issue wasn’t that they held back some of the money, rather the issue was that they said one thing and did another. They were two-faced.
As I talked about in one of my sermons before, Martin Luther, our tradition’s spiritual father, was a raving Anti-semite.
Countless Popes over the years have had immoral relationships with men and women, along with being greedy and self-righteous.
The slave trade was largely instituted in countries and by people who claimed to be Christians.
More recently the Catholic church has been found to have a deep problem with Pedophilia within the priesthood.
Likewise, the mission organization for the denomination my church was part of growing up has almost been destroyed by a missionary who repeatedly abused children. When accusations of this abuse were brought to the mission the mission repeatedly tried to silence the victims, sending them home from the mission field while leaving him in his position of power and helping him to avoid prosecution back in the states. He used this extra time to abuse more children.
Hypocrisy is rampant in the church and always has been.
Just this week I had a conversation with one of my coaches who is not a believer. I think he didn’t know what to expect of me when he first met me but he has grown to enjoy me I think. He didn’t grow up in this area and moved up here to farm. When he first moved to the area the amount of Christians he met came as a shock to him. Almost every other farmer was a Christian and most of the time they were also leaders in their churches. He was telling me this week that the first farmer he ever made a deal with, who was an outspoken Christian, ripped him off for $6000.
I don’t like to make assumptions about the spiritual lives of people in the audience when I am preaching, but today I am going to make an exception… I feel rather comfortable saying that everyone of us in this room today is a hypocrite to one degree or another. We all have parts of our lives that don’t line up with what we say we believe.
What causes many young Christians to stumble and many more non-believers to stay away from faith is not that our actions don’t always line up with what believe but rather that we deny that that is the case. People don’t expect Disciples to be perfect, but they do expect Disciples to admit their imperfections.
Many of you are old enough to remember the presidency of Richard Nixon and the Watergate scandal. For those who don’t remember the whole scandal began with a relatively small crime, the break in at the Watergate hotel. What led to the scandal and the eventual resignation of the president was the effort that took place at the highest levels of government to coverup the crime. The phrase that came out of this scandal is one that is still used today, “its not the crime it’s the coverup”
In the same way, while sin is destructive, be it greed or gossip or anything else, what really destroys the faith of young Christians and keeps others from joining the faith is the cover up of that sin.
So what are we to do about our own hypocrisy?
How do we keep it from being a millstone around our necks and the necks of other young believers?
The first and easiest thing to do is to admit our own hypocrisy….
Growing up as a Pastor’s kid many times I would have some variation of this conversation with people.
“so you are a pastor’s kid”
“so were you like the drug dealer in high school, cause the pastor’s kid in my town was the drug dealer”
“nope I wasn’t the drug dealer”
Why do so many pastors kids rebel? One reason is because their dad’s or mom’s try and hide their sinfulness from their kids and when they inevitably fail at it (your kids know your weaknesses better than you do) the kids are like I am out of here.
I have an older sister who is one of those people who will say exactly what needs to be said at any given moment, even as a child. One Sunday my dad preached a sermon out of James, probably on the tongue or anger or maybe even hypocrisy, and later that afternoon my sister who was 10 or 11 at the time asked him what it was like to preach a sermon that he didn’t practice himself. He said to her, Cathy, we are all sinners and none of us perfectly put into practice everything God asks us to do. That was pretty typical of my dad. He admitted his own inability to live to God’s standards... He admitted his own hypocrisy. We knew he was a sinner. We knew his words didn’t always line up with his life.
And from that we were reminded that we needed a savior too.
The first thing we can do about own hypocrisy, a hypocrisy that causes little ones to stumble is admit we are hypocrites. This lessons its power to cause others to stumble. So lets do that right now. I want everyone to stand up if you can right where you are. Now I want you to look at the person next to you and say this. Hi my name is Blank and I am a hypocrite.
Ok now you can sit down. How does that feel? There is something disarming about simply admitting our own inability to live the way we say we want to live. Just doing that will take the bite out of the accusation of hypocrisy.
The second thing we can do in our battle with hypocrisy is to revisit Grace. Here is the deal… Disciples of Christ have no reason to hide their failures and sins. Everyone else does. The activist without Christ who professes their commitment to the poor while living in a mansion on the good side of town has to hide that. The marriage counselor without Christ has to hide their divorce. The politician without Christ who runs on a platform to end corruption has to hide the bribes they are taking.
A disciple of Christ on the other hand knows that nothing they do will change how God feels about them. They can throw away their mask. As a song from my childhood says, We are loved just as we are not as we should be.
One of the most comforting verses in all of scripture is Romans 5:8. “But God demonstrates his love for us in this, while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” God didn’t wait for us to be perfect before saving us, and we don’t have to be perfect in order for God to continue to save us. The unconditional nature of God’s love frees us to take off our various masks, to be honest with ourselves and with others about who we are, warts and all.
There are a lot of different ways to think about what church…
Some think of the church as a body, as a bride, as a ship, as a lot of different things.
But the metaphor I like best it to think of the church as a hospital. That is, the church is a place where sick people come to hang out with other sick people while they wait to be healed. Imagine for a moment if that became the model of our church… If we became the church filled with people who were honest with each other about their sickness.
Imagine coming to a place every week where people knew you so well and were filled with so much love, that they could ask you real questions about your life, with no judgment or shame, and you would give real answers back. You would walk in the door and you might hear someone say, hey how goes the battle with lust this week, or hey how generous were you this week? Are you still struggling with being tightfisted? And you wouldn’t be offended or upset because you would know that the question came from a place of love and compassion, and you would answer truthfully because you had nothing hide and nothing to lose.
That kind of openness and honesty would quickly facilitate change in our lives, And it would help keep young Christians from stumbling… They would see that we are not hiding our sin. We are not a bunch of fakes. We are broken people in need of a savior. That kind of openness would attract people to Christ instead of repel them.
Imagine what kind of impact a church like that could have on the valley. Imagine how our lives and the lives of the people in this valley would be changed.
“Jesus said to his disciples” What did he say?
He said to them and he is saying to us today don’t cause these little ones to stumble…
Don’t cause young believers to fall away from the faith.
Don’t be the reason your kids, your cousins, your coworkers run from the church.
Don’t coverup your sin, instead be open with others.
We are all hypocrites but because of the cross we are forgiven.
This week lets bring that message to the young Christians and non-believers in our lives.
Lets be the church that is honest about our failures and celebrates God’s forgiveness.