In teaching through the Gospels at Southwestern College this semester I have really been reminded again about the legalism of the Pharisees. Jesus has absolutely no tolerance whatsoever for their approach to God by following their rules or for their insistence that everyone else do the same. Jesus has no problems dropping a “Jesus Booyah” on these guys!
13 “But woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites, because you shut off the kingdom of heaven from people; for you do not enter in yourselves, nor do you allow those who are entering to go in.
14 [“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites, because you devour widows’ houses, and for a pretense you make long prayers; therefore you will receive greater condemnation.]
15 “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites, because you travel around on sea and land to make one proselyte; and when he becomes one, you make him twice as much a son of hell as yourselves.
16 “Woe to you, blind guides, who say, ‘Whoever swears by the temple, that is nothing; but whoever swears by the gold of the temple is obligated.’
23 “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you tithe mint and dill and cummin, and have neglected the weightier provisions of the law: justice and mercy and faithfulness; but these are the things you should have done without neglecting the others.
24 “You blind guides, who strain out a gnat and swallow a camel!
25 “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you clean the outside of the cup and of the dish, but inside they are full of robbery and self-indulgence.
26 “You blind Pharisee, first clean the inside of the cup and of the dish, so that the outside of it may become clean also.
27 “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you are like whitewashed tombs which on the outside appear beautiful, but inside they are full of dead men’s bones and all uncleanness.
28 “So you, too, outwardly appear righteous to men, but inwardly you are full of hypocrisy and lawlessness. (Matthew 23:13-16, 23-28)
What a scathing rebuke!
Two thoughts come to mind this Thanksgiving eve as I look through Jesus’ condemnation of the Pharisees:
- The Pharisees certainly didn’t consider themselves hypocrites, actors who played a part. They certainly wouldn’t have seen themselves as full of dead men’s bones and uncleanness; they were the righteous ones who God would certainly approve of! They had the right pedigree as children of Abraham and the right piety as followers of the law. In other words, they weren’t at all self-aware. They didn’t know what their needs were and for the most part considered themselves to be in God’s good graces.
- If I were a Pharisee, how would I have heard Jesus’ rebuke? Would I have taken it as it was intended, to shake me out of my lethargy and complacency? Or would I reject the rebuke and stay comfortably within my self-delusional existence?
We tend to look at the Pharisees in the Gospels and paint them as bad guys in spaghetti westerns. However, we see some of them come to faith in Christ (John 12:42 comes to mind) and many of them, like Saul of Tarsus, genuinely thought that they were serving God with their wrong-headed insistence on following the rules. I think that I tend to think of their hypocrisy like they had a nice exterior but inside they have turmoil because they are fakers. The picture that the Gospels paints for us, though, is more that they sinned a lot on the inside but thought that was no big deal as long as the outside was clean.
Re-read that last sentence. They sinned a lot on the inside but thought that was no big deal as long as the outside was clean. Doesn’t that sound like a lot of Christian’s perception of Christianity? As long as I am doctrinally correct and have no overt sin in my life I am good to go in God’s eyes.
Eh…not so much according to Jesus. He, in love, gets under the Pharisee’s skin for putting their own image and their own religion and their own preferences above what God wants for them. He does not mind calling them out or ruffling their feathers because they need to hear what He is saying.
When is the last time that you took an honest look at yourself and asked God to show you the ways that, even though you THINK that you’re doing well, you’ve replaced worship of Him with legalism. Have you ever asked God to rebuke you and show you where you’ve left your love for Him and replaced it with comfortable rules?
This Thanksgiving I am not only thankful that Jesus died for my sins, but I am also thankful that He loves me enough to get me out of my comfort zone. I am thankful that He loves me so much that He is willing to condemn the legalism in my life, even when that legalism is comfortable and especially when I think I am doing well.
How about you”? Is there anything this Thanksgiving that is not typical that you are thankful to God for? Is there a difficult situation, a temptation He has asked you to break from, or a sin that He loves you enough to kick you in the shins over right now? And more importantly, are you willing this Thanksgiving to thank Him for doing it?