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The Scriptorium

Sham Religion

Don't let it define your life. Luke 20

Luke 20 (7)

Pray Psalm 26.1-3.

Vindicate me, O LORD,
For I have walked in my integrity.
I have also trusted in the LORD;
I shall not slip.
Examine me, O LORD, and prove me;
Try my mind and my heart.
For Your lovingkindness is before my eyes,
And I have walked in Your truth.

Sing Psalm 26.1-3.
(Aberystwyth: Jesus, Lover of My Soul)
Vindicate me, Lord on high; I have walked within Your Word.
Never wav’ring, though I sigh, I have trusted You, O Lord!
Prove me, Lord, prove even me! Test my heart and try my mind.
Let Your steadfast mercy be in the path for me to find.

Read Luke 20.1-47; meditate on verses 5-8.

1. About what were the religious leaders most concerned?

2. Where did that leave them in relation to Jesus?


In Luke we are given a close look at sham religion. This chapter provides an opportunity, not to condemn others, but to examine ourselves. Because the terrible thing about sham religion is that it keeps us from receiving the truth that is in Jesus (v. 8). God will not entrust us with more of His truth or more of Jesus if we insist on using His Name for our own selfish purposes.

The priests, scribes, elders, Pharisees, and Sadducees had a good thing going. Well, that’s how they saw it, at any rate. Be parading their outward piety (vv. 45, 46) and lording it over the people, they kept themselves well-fed and the Romans happy. They were very careful not to offend the religious sensitivities of the people (v. 6). They feared doing anything with Jesus that might provoke the people to revolt (v. 19). They tried to hoist Jesus on His own petard, only to find themselves hanging from the lance (vv. 21-26). And they couldn’t even trip Him up with their superficial and self-serving appeal to the Scriptures (vv. 27-38). When challenged to see that the Scriptures pointed to Jesus, they clammed up rather than seek understanding (vv. 41-44). They would do everything they could to preserve their outward show of piety and keep Jesus from ruining their settled way of life (Jn. 11.45-48). Meanwhile, they continued bilking the people for their own comfort (v. 47).

We are all prone to drift into sham religion, more concerned about how we appear to others and what we’re getting out of our “faith” than in how we may honor the Lord by loving Him and our neighbors. Jesus warned His disciples against being attracted to such a lifestyle (v. 46), and He warns us as well. To those who practice a dissembling piety, Jesus withholds Himself. But to those who heed His Word, He gives us more of Himself and the joy of our salvation.

Treasures Old and New: Matthew 13.52; Psalm 119.162
The chief priests, scribes, and elders were reasoning together about how to answer Jesus’ question concerning the baptism of John, if it was from heaven or from men (Lk. 20.4, 5). Poor things. They were really stuck. If they said from heaven, then why oh why didn’t they believe him. And if they said from men, then the people would be angry because they considered John to be a prophet. This was a conundrum—a super big dilemma.
So what did the religious, after much reasoning, decide to do? Simple solution. Just lie. In their haste to denigrate Jesus, they ended up breaking several commandments, the most obvious being, “You shall not bear false witness” (Ex. 20.16), because to say “they did not know” (Lk. 20.7) was a pragmatic whopper.

“But to those who heed His Word [truthfully and carefully], He gives us more of Himself and the joy of our salvation.”

“But his delight is in the law of the LORD, and in His law he meditates day and night” (Ps. 1.2).
“I delight to do Your will, O my God, and Your law is within my heart” (Ps. 40.8).
“I long for Your salvation, O LORD, and Your law is my delight” (Ps. 119.174).
“For I delight in the law of God…” (Rom. 7.22).

“Those who are of a perverse heart are an abomination to the LORD, but the blameless in their way are His delight” (Prov. 11.20).
“Lying lips are an abomination to the LORD, but those who deal truthfully are His delight” (Prov. 12.22).
“The sacrifice of the wicked is an abomination to the LORD, but the prayer of the upright is His delight” (Prov. 15.8).

When we walk in the truth of God’s Word, we find great delight.
And God finds delight in us as we walk in the light of His Truth.

No need to be a pietistic dissembler or religious shammer.

Jesus said, “If you abide in My word, you are My disciples indeed.
And you shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free” (Jn. 8.31, 32).

For reflection
1. How would you describe Jesus’ attitude toward sham religion? How should this instruct us?

2. How do you experience delighting in the Lord? When do you experience this?

3. How do you experience the Lord delighting in you? When do you experience this?

They were unworthy to learn the truth and to see the pathway that leads directly to every good work. Christ answered them, “Neither do I tell you by what authority I do these things.” Cyril of Alexandria (375-444), Commentary on Luke, Homily 133

Pray Psalm 26.4-12.
Ask the Lord to review your soul—heart, mind, and conscience—to see if there is any wickedness or sham religion in your life. Wait on Him in silence. Confess as He leads. Then pray that God will keep you from any dissembled piety or self-serving ways.

Sing Psalm 26.4-12.
(Aberystwyth: Jesus, Lover of My Soul)
Men of falsehood shall not sit in my presence, nor will I
suffer any hypocrite to find favor in my eye.
All the wicked I abhor; ‘round Your altar let me stand,
loudly singing evermore of Your gracious, mighty hand.

Lord, I love Your dwelling-place, there where all Your glories shine.
Keep my soul before Your face, lest for sinful ways it pine.
As for me, in righteousness, I shall walk on level ground.
Save me, Lord, renew and bless! Let me with Your Church be found!

T. M. and Susie Moore 

You can download all the studies in our Luke series by clicking here.

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Except as indicated, all Scriptures are taken from the New King James Version. © Copyright 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved. For sources of all quotations, see the weekly PDF of this study. All psalms for singing are from The Ailbe Psalter (Williston: Waxed Tablet Publications, 2006), available by clicking here.

T.M. Moore

T. M. Moore is principal of The Fellowship of Ailbe, a spiritual fellowship in the Celtic Christian tradition. He and his wife, Susie, make their home in the Champlain Valley of Vermont.
Books by T. M. Moore

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