Then Jesus spoke to the multitudes and to His disciples, saying: “The scribes and the Pharisees sit in Moses’ seat. Therefore whatever they tell you to observe, that observe and do, but do not do according to their works; for they say, and do not do. For they bind heavy burdens, hard to bear, and lay them on men’s shoulders; but they themselves will not move them with one of their fingers. But all their works they do to be seen by men. They make their phylacteries broad and enlarge the borders of their garments. They love the [b]best places at feasts, the best seats in the synagogues, greetings in the marketplaces, and to be called by men, ‘Rabbi, Rabbi.’”
Jesus should stand as our example of how to live our lives, and we should not put words into Jesus’ mouth that we do not know what he said. By the time Jesus was born, there were four different Jewish sects: the Pharisees, the Sadducees, the Essenes, and the Zealots. Each had its issues. The Pharisees put more emphasis on their moral laws than those of God. The Sadducees based their life not on the Pharisees’ teachings but on the Temple and saw their ultimate authority as that of their Roman overseers. The third sect, the Essenes, actually left Jerusalem to live an ascetic life in an effort to be closer to God. Then there were the Zealots who completely opposed Roman rule and actively fought against it. It is the Pharisees that I want to talk about today because the Christianity of today is too much like that advocated by the Pharisees.
The Pharisees believed they were the ultimate religious people among the Jews during Christ’s life on earth. Determined not to break any of God’s laws, they had, over time, devised an intricate system of oral tradition to keep them from breaking the Mosaic law. One would think with such a desire to obey God that, they would have recognized the perfect obedience of Jesus and affirmed and followed Him. The essential problem lay in their different understanding of the nature of God. For the Pharisees, God is primarily the one who makes demands. For them, the Scriptures of the Old Testament were a set of rules that must be kept at all costs. For Jesus, as well as the Old Testament believers, God is a merciful God, not a vengeful one. Psalm 145:8 says, “The Lord is gracious and full of compassion, slow to anger and great in mercy.”
The main cause of the Pharisees’ antagonism toward Jesus, however, lay in His ignoring of their hundreds of elaborate but petty rules that they had devised for interpreting the law of God. Not only did they devise these hundreds of man-made rules, but they also elevated them to the level of Scripture so that to break one of their rules was to violate the law of God itself. And yet these rules not only obscured the true intent of God’s law but also, in some cases, actually violated it. In other words, they added rules that were not in the scriptures. Many Christian denominations do this today. They decide their own morality and claim it is biblical when in truth, they are going against the Word of God. All that the Pharisees did was designed to make them appear to be the holiest of Jews.
Since all Scripture is profitable for us, there is a present-day lesson for us to learn from Jesus’ clash with the Pharisees. We need to be careful that we do not add our own man-made rules to the Scriptures. Some convictions that we hold dearly may be derived more from our particular Christian culture than derived from Scripture, and we need to learn to discern the differences. It is okay to have cultural convictions as long as they do not harm others, but we should be careful that we do not elevate them to the same authority as Scripture. So much judgmentalism among Christians today occurs because we do this. But that is basically what the Pharisees were doing. So, we have to guard against the modern-day Pharisees and bring Christianity back to where it belongs as a loving and charitable religion.
March 5th, 2023 at 9:52 am
Well said re Christianity and how it’s practiced by way too many “Christians” today. Love, as Christ taught, is not on the agenda. Judgement, hate and political and social power are too much the agenda now, turning off many who might be inclined to be part of the family of God.