I’m going to go ahead and tell you now that this one is going to hurt. It hurt me as I wrote it. It’s important, as Christ followers, that we wound our flesh. With all that’s going on in our world, we need to be checking our motives and reactions. If you’re a believer, I encourage you to pause for a second before reading on and ask God to open your heart and mind. You won’t want to start this post offended or it will not achieve it’s desired goal.
I have been asking myself the following questions for several years: “If Jesus came to do His earthy ministry now (instead of 2000+ years ago), would I be someone that He would want to hang out with? Would He invite me in close like the disciples? Or would He rebuke my religious systems like He had to do over and over with the Pharisees?” Unfortunately, I don’t usually like the answer.
I want to be someone who brings God joy. When He needs to use someone, I want it to be easy for Him to choose me. I don’t want my Heavenly reputation to be that I am difficult, jealous, calloused, or self-righteous. I want to fight those things head on and be known for humility and kindness. I certainly do not think that I will achieve perfection – that’s why Jesus came! I just want to be more like Him everyday.
Pharisees were Jewish people who took the law very seriously. They truly thought that they were obeying the Lord to the letter. In fact, they memorized full books of the Bible. Jack Zavada says this about Pharisees:
“The Pharisees formed the largest and most influential religious-political party in New Testament times. They are consistently depicted in the Gospels as antagonists or opponents of Jesus Christ and the early Christians.
The name “Pharisee” means “separated one.” The Pharisees separated themselves from society to study and teach the law, but they also separated themselves from the common people because they considered them religiously unclean.
…Because they taught that the way to God was by obeying the law, the Pharisees gradually changed Judaism from a religion of sacrifice to one of keeping the commandments (legalism).”
Let’s try to get into the mind of a Pharisee for a minute: Imagine that Jesus Christ, the Son of God, the Messiah, is on the earth. You’ve waited and waited for His arrival. But He doesn’t come packaged the way you expected. He doesn’t come to overthrow the tyrannical government of your day. He doesn’t come as a conquering, mighty king. All the expectations you have for this person aren’t met. And yet, He is achieving miracles left and right. He is so abnormally confident that He is calling Himself the Messiah. People are leaving your teachings to hear what He has to say. He is selecting disciples who have terrible reputations. He is “breaking” the Sabbath, which is a holy commandment. Then He comes into your church and turns the tables over, rebuking your leadership.
Maybe I’m crazy, but I can see how they were offended by Jesus. I *almost* have compassion on these guys. Jesus has done (and not done) some things in my life that sting my flesh! I don’t like it when He says that I can’t have everything I want (spoiled much?!). And it really stinks when He gives the stuff that I want to people who aren’t nice (so spoiled!).
I think that becoming a modern day Pharisee is a slow progression. Remember when you first gave your heart to the Lord? You were fired up and could take on the world. Then, you got into church, and it’s politics and flawed leaders hurt you. You still loved God but weren’t trusting of people. Slowly, it just becomes easier to be more about policy (the law) than people (love). I’ve been there.
Jesus is radical. He is not concerned with our comfort. He isn’t afraid of denouncing our religious ideas. In fact, He exposes them. He intentionally stirs the water when we get complacent or luke-warm. Jesus prioritzes people (love) over policy (law) EVERY SINGLE TIME.
We are going to look at Matthew 23 in The Living Bible. I almost copied and pasted the whole chapter because it’s so strong. I encourage you to read it when you have a minute. This is what Jesus has to say about the Pharisees:
“Then Jesus said to the crowds, and to his disciples, 2 ‘You would think these Jewish leaders and these Pharisees were Moses, the way they keep making up so many laws! 3 And of course you should obey their every whim! It may be all right to do what they say, but above anything else, don’t follow their example. For they don’t do what they tell you to do. 4 They load you with impossible demands that they themselves don’t even try to keep…
…23 ‘Yes, woe upon you, Pharisees, and you other religious leaders—hypocrites! For you tithe down to the last mint leaf in your garden, but ignore the important things—justice and mercy and faith. Yes, you should tithe, but you shouldn’t leave the more important things undone. 24 Blind guides! You strain out a gnat and swallow a camel.
25 ‘Woe to you, Pharisees, and you religious leaders—hypocrites! You are so careful to polish the outside of the cup, but the inside is foul with extortion and greed. 26 Blind Pharisees! First cleanse the inside of the cup, and then the whole cup will be clean.
27 ‘Woe to you, Pharisees, and you religious leaders! You are like beautiful mausoleums—full of dead men’s bones, and of foulness and corruption. 28 You try to look like saintly men, but underneath those pious robes of yours are hearts besmirched with every sort of hypocrisy and sin,'” (Matthew 23:1-4, 23-28 TLB).
Ouch. I want us to let that mess with us. Jesus was not shy in His rebuke. He takes these attitudes very seriously. The Church is the Bride of Christ. We belong to him. When we have pious, ugly attitudes that don’t reflect Jesus’ heart, we hurt and confuse people. We aren’t attractive to the lost (which is our whole mission, by the way). As I read through that chapter, I saw the following themes. Read through them carefully and see which ones are closer to your current attitudes and behaviors.
Want some good news? If you found yourself identifying more with the Pharisees than Jesus, you’re in good company. Paul, who wrote most of the New Testament, was a Pharisee (Acts 26:5). Not only did he have a pious, religious attitude, but he took it as far as killing Christians. He was so convinced that these new believers were dangerous that he wanted them to be silenced. I encourage you to read Acts 9:1-18.
3 As he was approaching Damascus on this mission, a light from heaven suddenly shone down around him. 4 He fell to the ground and heard a voice saying to him, ‘Saul! Saul! Why are you persecuting me?’
5 ‘Who are you, lord?’ Saul asked.
And the voice replied, ‘I am Jesus, the one you are persecuting! 6 Now get up and go into the city, and you will be told what you must do,” (Acts 9:3-6 NLT).
This story is incredible! Saul knew the Word but had not encountered the Son. You can’t separate the two and see lasting fruit. The entire Bible points to God’s compassionate mercy and salvation through Jesus. God shook Saul in a dramatic, powerful way. Jesus showed up and blinded him while he was ON HIS WAY to arrest Christians. Saul was already spiritually blind and couldn’t see the effects of what he was doing so, God blinded him physically as well. Jesus intervened to protect His new believers, but He also intervened out of compassion for Paul. He knew there was so much more potential in him. He humbled him, challenged him, filled him with the Holy Spirit, and called him to be a leader among those He once persecuted.
“Amazing grace! how sweet the sound,
That saved a wretch; like me!
I once was lost, but now am found,
Was blind, but now I see.”
God knows how to handle our pharisaical hearts too. We ALL have blind spots that lead to sin. The world desperately needs to see us operating in grace with each other. Let’s ask the Holy Spirit to check our hearts. Where are we blind? Where are we too concerned with our own opinions? Who do we need to listen to? Are we missing Jesus when He shows up right in front of us because we are preoccupied?
“‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, and mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. The second most important is similar: ‘Love your neighbor as much as you love yourself,’ (Matthew 22:37-39 TLB).