Today we’re going to take on a whole group of powerful people! So far in our study, we’ve been looking at just one character at a time. While there were some Pharisees called out in scripture by name, the Bible often refers to them as a group. And typically not in a positive light. The Pharisees had dedicated their lives to pleasing God. Or, had they? Let’s take a look…
Matthew 23:1-15, 23-33
Then Jesus said to the crowds and to his disciples, 2 “The scribes and the Pharisees sit on Moses’ seat, 3 so practice and observe whatever they tell you—but not what they do. For they preach, but do not practice. 4 They tie up heavy burdens, hard to bear, and lay them on people’s shoulders, but they themselves are not willing to move them with their finger. 5 They do all their deeds to be seen by others. For they make their phylacteries broad and their fringes long, 6 and they love the place of honor at feasts and the best seats in the synagogues 7 and greetings in the marketplaces and being called rabbi by others. 8 But you are not to be called rabbi, for you have one teacher, and you are all brothers. 9 And call no man your father on earth, for you have one Father, who is in heaven. 10 Neither be called instructors, for you have one instructor, the Christ. 11 The greatest among you shall be your servant. 12 Whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and whoever humbles himself will be exalted.
13 “But woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you shut the kingdom of heaven in people’s faces. For you neither enter yourselves nor allow those who would enter to go in. 15 Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you travel across sea and land to make a single proselyte, and when he becomes a proselyte, you make him twice as much a child of hell as yourselves. . . .
23 “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you tithe mint and dill and cumin, and have neglected the weightier matters of the law: justice and mercy and faithfulness. These you ought to have done, without neglecting the others. 24 You blind guides, straining out a gnat and swallowing a camel!
25 “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you clean the outside of the cup and the plate, but inside they are full of greed and self-indulgence. 26 You blind Pharisee! First clean the inside of the cup and the plate, that the outside also may be clean.
27 “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you are like whitewashed tombs, which outwardly appear beautiful, but within are full of dead people’s bones and all uncleanness. 28 So you also outwardly appear righteous to others, but within you are full of hypocrisy and lawlessness.
29 “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you build the tombs of the prophets and decorate the monuments of the righteous, 30 saying, ‘If we had lived in the days of our fathers, we would not have taken part with them in shedding the blood of the prophets.’ 31 Thus you witness against yourselves that you are sons of those who murdered the prophets. 32 Fill up, then, the measure of your fathers. 33 You serpents, you brood of vipers, how are you to escape being sentenced to hell?” ESV
The term “hypocrite” in its various forms occurs only once in the Old Testament. It is used frequently in the New Testament to describe the character of the Pharisees and scribes. But rather than interpreting the law so the common man could understand it and comply, the Pharisees expanded it by creating rules and requirements designed to dictate in excruciating detail every facet of daily life. Jesus taught that compliance with laws was an attitude of the heart, not carefully following complex man-made rules.
Jesus frequently denounced the Pharisees and Jewish leaders for being hypocrites. He dealt severely with their leadership and specifically challenged their attitudes on giving to the needy, prayer, and fasting (Matthew 6). The ultimate result was that the Jewish leaders decided they had to dispose of Jesus (Luke 20:19-20).
The Pharisees practiced many behaviors intended to call attention to themselves and to encourage respect for their position and their religious piety. Jesus’ point in Mt 23:8-12 is that the people needed to be focused on God and God alone. We have one Father, one Lord, and one Teacher: God the Father, Jesus our Lord, and the Holy Spirit.
Hypocrisy: Webster defines a hypocrite as a person who claims or pretends to have certain beliefs about what is right but who behaves in a way that disagrees with those beliefs; someone who puts on a false appearance; a person who acts in contradiction to his stated beliefs or feelings; and a person who does things he tells other people not to do. Biblically the meaning has generally come to be “saying one thing and doing another” or “putting on a false front.”
The Pharisees: The Pharisees accepted both the written and oral tradition as equally inspired and authoritative, having equal status. They believed there was a future after death and in the immortality of the soul. They were champions of human equality and believed in a reward and retribution system after death (judged on good and bad actions). Thus the spirit and intent of their teaching were correct.
The Pharisees were men who desperately and earnestly desired to please God through absolute obedience and devotion. But they were dedicated and arrogant legalists. They were totally focused on keeping the law, not on obeying God. The rules they imposed were so detailed, confusing, and difficult that they were impossible to follow. They were a heavy burden that would weary most followers.
The problem was that no matter how hard they tried, the people could never perfectly follow all the rules in effect at that time. Jesus may have liked their desire to please God, but He knew that following manmade rules would never make them righteous. In addition, they often focused on details that had relatively little impact while they ignored the more important issues (Mt 23:23).
Unity in the Church: What are some of the little things that will cause great division in today’s local church? Superficial issues like the color of the carpet, the color of choir robes, stained glass windows, cross on display, dress code, hymns or worship choruses, hymnals, or screens are examples of issues that might divide a church.
Today: Do you think the church today is much different than the Jewish people and Pharisees who Jesus was exhorting? Probably not! The leaders, who should have helped the people understand the law, obscured that understanding with all their additional rules and faulty interpretations. Are we guilty of this today? They were not only rejecting the teachings of Jesus themselves, but they were keeping the people away from the real truth. Are we guilty of this? Maybe it is not being done in the same way or in the same context, but are we guilty of actions that are producing the same result?
Do the rules of the church take priority for you over a relationship with Jesus?
What spiritual rules do you hold dear? Are these doctrines of God or rules of men?
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