Luke 11:45-52 :
One of the lawyers answered him, “Teacher, in saying this you insult us also.”
He said, “Woe to you lawyers also! For you load men with burdens that are difficult to carry, and you yourselves won’t even lift one finger to help carry those burdens. Woe to you! For you build the tombs of the prophets, and your fathers killed them. So you testify and consent to the works of your fathers. For they killed them, and you build their tombs. Therefore also the wisdom of God said, ‘I will send to them prophets and apostles; and some of them they will kill and persecute, that the blood of all the prophets, which was shed from the foundation of the world, may be required of this generation; from the blood of Abel to the blood of Zachariah, who perished between the altar and the sanctuary.’ Yes, I tell you, it will be required of this generation. Woe to you lawyers! For you took away the key of knowledge. You didn’t enter in yourselves, and those who were entering in, you hindered.”
Legalists tend to extend a rule beyond its intent and they tend enforce it like this in others instead of themselves. It’s not that they are violating the rule itself, it’s just that they use the rule as a way to win power over another person rather than to promote the righteousness that the rule was intended to measure. Another point is that the law tells you what is right and wrong, but it doesn’t give you knowledge about life or understanding about why the rules exist. The reasons for the rules are very important to God as we see here. Jesus accuses the legalists of taking “away the key of knowledge.”
Knowing the truth about something helps you to live by rules that support that truth. For instance, I make a law for you that you need to stop putting sugar in your coffee and stop there, you might try for a while but fail and start doing it anyway. Now, if I tell you that you will die in one year if you don’t limit your intake of sugar because you have diabetes and that if you stop putting sugar in something like your coffee it could save your life, you have a the key of knowledge that opens your heart to obey the truth. There is more to obeying the truth than knowledge, but without knowledge, the legalist has left out very important details.
In leaving out the details about the intent of the law, it allows laws to be used to violate the intent of the lawmaker. Any writing can be taken out of context. By removing the context, you change the law. Let me illustrate. Consider what I mean when I say: “Mary had a little lamb.” What if I told you that Mary is my sister and she made lamb chops last night for dinner? Or, what if I say, Mary is the neighbor and she just sold her baby lamb that was born last week so she no longer has it? What about if I say that Mary was a mother sheep and just gave birth? Notice that I can take the writing and twist it into almost opposite meanings by taking it out of context. Good thing I’m not a legalist!
This problem is so common in the United States today it is easy to come up with examples. By avoiding the intent of the lawmaker, you can twist the law in such a way that the original intent is gone. When the United states was young, governments were often connected to a brand of the Christian Church of some kind and acted as a church authority in the lives of the people. For some it was Roman Catholic, for others it was the Church of England or that of Germany and it was used to exercise religious authority over the people. The founding fathers of the United States intended to promote a separation of rule between the “church and state” so that the government could not act as God in affairs of the people. By taking the word “church” out of context when the law was created, it can be interpreted today by legalists as meaning any religious organization including ones that completely violate Christianity itself. Notice, also, the original law makers wanted it to protect the worshiper from the government, not the government from Christianity! There is no evidence that the lawmakers intended to create a secular government. Now that rule, taken out of context, is used to justify the removal of church groups from public property, harming the very ones the law was intended to protect. Notice also that the law makers didn’t intend the government to be outside the jurisdiction of the Church, but that the People were to be free to listen to God over the voice of the government and to choose the “kind” church to go to themselves.
Legal actions like these have been used to jail police while acting on duty to protect people, soldiers obeying orders and Christians who misunderstand a very complicated aspect of the law intended for criminals. God doesn’t forget these things. Jesus knew that those who twist the law are often able to gain power for a time but God has committed his wrath against them and they will ultimately be punished as Jesus promises here. They are just waiting for their big day in court. May they come to Jesus before it is too late for them.