Luke 16:15-17 (NIV) He said to them, “You are the ones who justify yourselves in the eyes of men, but God knows your hearts. What is highly valued among men is detestable in God’s sight. The Law and the Prophets were proclaimed until John. Since that time, the good news of the kingdom of God is being preached, and everyone is forcing his way into it. It is easier for heaven and earth to disappear than for the least stroke of a pen to drop out of the Law.”
In the previous verse we were told that the Pharisees, who loved money, were scoffing at Jesus’ teachings about having to choose whether to serve God or material things. But now Jesus turns his attack fully toward the heart of the matter.
The Pharisees were masters of public opinion. They knew well how to project an outward aura of sanctity that covered up a completely rotten heart. They fooled the people who admired them. But God doesn’t look at what shows on the outside. He looks directly at a person’s heart. (See 1 Samuel 16:7.) And what God saw in the hearts of those men was not just wrong in His sight; it was as revolting as a rotting corpse in a tomb (Matthew 23:27-28). Their bad hearts were so corrupt that just a few weeks later they allowed themselves to railroad Jesus, hire false witnesses, and lie to Pontius Pilate, the whole time convincing themselves that they were still holy in God’s sight.
Jesus’ next statement addressed that fact that the kingdom of heaven had become a reality since the beginning of John the Baptist’s ministry over three years earlier, but those self-righteous Pharisees refused to enter it, because to do so would entail believing that Jesus was actually the Messiah, something that they could not bring themselves to do. Meanwhile, people all around them were rushing to get into the kingdom, and were finding peace, power, and salvation, leaving the Pharisees in the spiritual dust, while they moved forward into what God was accomplishing.
In verse 17, Jesus reiterates His assurance that He had not come to do away with the law, but to fulfill it. (Compare with Matthew 5:17-20.) The law was not something that God gave for a season, but is based solidly on His own character, and so is a standard for God’s people for all time. The difference that Jesus’ coming made was that in the New Covenant no one will be saved by trying hard to keep the requirements of the law. Instead, Jesus fulfilled those requirements in His own life, including the entire sacrificial law. So salvation is now through faith in Him. But, once in the kingdom, God’s people, with the power of the indwelling Holy Spirit to move us and help us, are expected to live by God’s standards. As Paul put it, “Therefore do not let sin reign in your mortal body so that you obey its evil desires. Do not offer the parts of your body to sin, as instruments of wickedness, but rather offer yourselves to God, as those who have been brought from death to life; and offer the parts of your body to him as instruments of righteousness. For sin shall not be your master, because you are not under law, but under grace.” (Romans 6:12-14 NIV)
Father, thank You for this clear look “under the hood” of the Pharisees. It shows us clearly that, though our actions must be right before You, it is the heart that You see. Of course, if our hearts are right, our actions will follow suit (Matthew 7:17-18), and we will find ourselves, not striving to do the right things against our nature, but naturally living in ways that conform to Your character out of our transformed hearts. Create in me a pure heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me. (Psalm 51:10 NIV)