Tag Archives: Pharisees

Today’s Scripture – December 4, 2017

Luke 11:23 (NIV) “He who is not with me is against me, and he who does not gather with me, scatters.

Jesus is still addressing these words to the Pharisees who have accused Him of being able to cast out demons only because He Himself was possessed by the king of demons. In the previous two paragraphs, He has successfully rebutted their accusation, as well as credibly painting Himself as being personally much more powerful than the demons, and even more powerful than the king of demons, satan himself.

Now Jesus goes on to make two self-confirmatory statements that speak not only to His power, but to His identity.

The first statement, “He who is not with me is against me,” seems strange for him to have to verbalize. Isn’t it obvious that if someone is not for a person, they are on the opposite side?

But Jesus is not being philosophical. He is actually challenging the Pharisees to choose one side or the other. And in the light of the previous discourse and the power that He has demonstrated over the demonic forces that had stymied the best efforts of the Pharisees, this statement has an extra impact.

Jesus has shown that He is more powerful than the demons, because He is literally driving out the demons by the finger of God, and as a sign that the kingdom of God was present in His own life (verse 20 above). That means that if the Pharisees continue to work against Jesus, they are aligning themselves with the demons that His is defeating, and ultimately against God Himself.

The second statement nests neatly with the first: “He who does not gather with me scatters.” If Jesus really is the messenger of God’s kingdom, which the miracles and His ability to cast out demons proves, the He is at work gathering God’s people into God’s kingdom, the work to which He was called (Luke 19:10). And, consequently, any who oppose Him, who try to cast doubt on who He is and on where His power comes from, are frustrating His efforts. And, if they succeed at all, they will only succeed in scattering those that God is trying to gather to Himself through the work of Jesus. Thus, again, they will find themselves working against God, and against what He is trying to accomplish through Jesus.

Father, Jesus’ strength in the face of this opposition came from His sure knowledge that He was doing Your work in every detail. There was not a speck of His own agenda in there, so He could actually say that to stand against Him was to stand against You, and that to frustrate the work that He was doing was to work against what You were doing through Him. Lord, help me to do Your will as completely, as selflessly, as passionately as Jesus. Help me to so identify with You, to so commit myself to Your agenda, that Your purpose becomes fully my own, and Your own passion fully consumes me, so that Your kingdom work will advance powerfully through me. Amen.

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Today’s Scripture – December 1, 2017

Luke 11:17-20 (NIV) Jesus knew their thoughts and said to them: “Any kingdom divided against itself will be ruined, and a house divided against itself will fall. If Satan is divided against himself, how can his kingdom stand? I say this because you claim that I drive out demons by Beelzebub. Now if I drive out demons by Beelzebub, by whom do your followers drive them out? So then, they will be your judges. But if I drive out demons by the finger of God, then the kingdom of God has come to you.

The Pharisees had accused Jesus of being able to cast out demons because He was possessed by Beelzebul, the king of the demons. It was a combination of ignorance and jealousy that cause them to make this accusation. Ignorance because they were spiritually blind, and could not see at all what was happening right before their eyes. And jealousy because, even though they had theological degrees and the admiration of the people for their wisdom and righteousness, they were powerless against demons. If they ever were successful at casting them out, which was rare, it was a difficult process instead of the effortlessness of Jesus’ example.

It was because of their spiritual blindness and their powerlessness that Jesus took pity on them and patiently explained to them why their reasoning made absolutely no sense at all. First of all, there were only two possible sources for Jesus’ authority over demons: God or satan. But if Jesus’ authority came from satan, and if satan was therefore casting out his own soldiers in the name of the kingdom of God, he would have been cutting his own feet out from under himself, devastating his own forces to build up the reputation of his enemy. A very little thought shows that that idea made no sense at all. Besides, if only the king of the demons could cast out demons, that meant that every time the Pharisees were successful at casting out a demon, it proved that they themselves were in league with the devil!

That left the only other possibility. Jesus’ authority came from God, and his every defeat of a demon was a defeat for the kingdom of darkness by the kingdom of light, and proof that the kingdom of God had come into the world. That also meant that Jesus had a relationship with God that those Pharisees did not have, despite their reputations. It meant that the appropriate thing for them to do was to humble themselves and enroll as Jesus’ apprentices, so that they could learn about God and His kingdom through His teaching and His example. And, if that were true, it meant that the Pharisees had to admit that they were wrong. And they weren’t about to do that!

Father, it is sad when I see someone who is willfully blind like those Pharisees, who cannot see Your works for what they truly are, and who will not see You for who You truly are. Save us, Lord, from all such blindness. Instead, help all of us, Your people, to see You and Your kingdom every day, and to share in Your power every moment, just like Jesus. Amen.

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Today’s Scripture – November 29, 2017

Luke 11:14-16 (NIV) Jesus was driving out a demon that was mute. When the demon left, the man who had been mute spoke, and the crowd was amazed. But some of them said, “By Beelzebub, the prince of demons, he is driving out demons.” Others tested him by asking for a sign from heaven.

The occasion for this conflict was the simple casting out of a demon that had made a man unable to speak. And, as was always the case, Jesus successfully drove out the demon, restoring the power of speech to the man.

The majority of the people who witnessed this exorcism were powerfully impressed with Jesus’ easy command over the demon. He employed none of the usual accoutrements of exorcists – anointing oil, candles, bells, and such. He simply spoke a word of command, and the demon left. There was never any struggle, never any sign of resistance.

This caused some Pharisees in the crowd (Matthew 9:34) to accuse Jesus of being possessed by Beelzebul, the king of demons. How else could they explain Jesus’ easy command of the demons, His inexplicable authority over them that none of the exorcists in their own crowd had? How else could they explain the fact that the demons never fought back, unless Jesus was using the authority of their own king, against whom they did not dare to rebel?

Others in the crowd, again, predominantly Pharisees, were demanding of Jesus a sign from heaven (of their own choosing, of course) to prove to them Jesus’ authority. Maybe if He could do the impossible task that they set for Him (such as moving the sun back in the sky, like Isaiah did) they would set aside their doubts and listen to Him.

But all of those accusations and demands did not come from an honest pursuit of the truth. Instead, they were motivated by jealousy of Jesus’ power and authority. The Pharisees had no spiritual power – they only had rules and regulations that they were champions at obeying. And they had no spiritual authority. They themselves could not cast out any demons or do any of the miracles that Jesus pulled off without any apparent effort. So the only way that they could maintain their own illusion of authority was to attack Jesus’ credibility, which they did with increasing vigor.

But Jesus was not a trained dog that would jump at the commands of those who were challenging Him to prove Himself. He did not need to be accepted by these “authorities” to validate His own identity. He was the eternal Son of God, and they should have been seeking HIS approval instead!

Father, Jesus’ authority was always questioned by those who saw themselves as having authority. And His miracles were doubted by those who could do no miracles themselves. His identity was challenged by those who had proved themselves to be spiritually blind. And He never took the bait! He was always 100% confident of who He was and what He had been called to do. Help me, along with all of Your people, to have that same confidence, that same assurance of our identity in Christ, so that the doubters and nay-sayers can never shake our confidence and faith. Amen.

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Today’s Scripture – September 8, 2017

Luke 7:31-35 (NIV) “To what, then, can I compare the people of this generation? What are they like? They are like children sitting in the marketplace and calling out to each other: “‘We played the flute for you, and you did not dance; we sang a dirge, and you did not cry.’ For John the Baptist came neither eating bread nor drinking wine, and you say, ‘He has a demon.’ The Son of Man came eating and drinking, and you say, ‘Here is a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and “sinners.”‘ But wisdom is proved right by all her children.”

Jesus’ criticism of “the people of this generation” is aimed, not at the common people, but at the religious leaders who were the opinion shapers of the day, who told people what they should think about things. And He was absolutely right. Because they saw both Jesus and John as threats to their status and autonomy, they harshly criticized them for completely opposite reasons.

John the Baptist was an ascetic. His years in the wilderness and his status as a Nazarite (Luke 1:15) led him to a lifestyle of self-denial and minimalism that struck the leaders as ludicrous. Their opinion was that he had gone over the edge; that such self-denial really wasn’t a requirement for those who wanted to live a godly lifestyle. They played the flute, but John refused to join the dance.

Jesus, on the other hand, was seen by those leaders as the polar opposite of John. Whereas John was into self-denial, they saw Jesus as someone who was unreasonably joyful all the time. He enjoyed eating and drinking to the point that He didn’t even participate in the twice-weekly fasts encourage by those leaders’ particular brand of holiness. And He not only ate and drank, but He did it with tax collectors and sinners, associating freely with people considered unclean by the Pharisees. They played a dirge, but Jesus wouldn’t join in the weeping and mourning.

Jesus’ point was that the criticism of the religious leaders of two such diverse men betrayed an underlying agenda. It wasn’t really the lifestyles of John and Jesus that was the problem, even though that was the avenue of the attacks. The real problem was that both men required and demonstrated a genuinely holy life, far beyond the pro-forma holiness of the Pharisees and teachers of the law. And it was that real holiness that threatened them, because it showed their own lack of holiness in its true light.

Father, it is easy to scoff at those men for being so hypocritical and closed-minded. But even today I hear similar criticism by Christians against their fellow believers for being too liberal or too conservative; too free-wheeling or too legalistic; too much of a free spirit or too much of a stick in the mud. The whole time, they refuse to really look at the fruits of those lives so that they can make a valid judgment. Give me eyes that truly see the hearts of my brothers and sisters in Christ, lips that are slow to criticize, and a heart that is open to learning from even the least of those brothers and sisters. Amen.

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Today’s Scripture – August 2, 2017

Luke 6:6-11 (NIV) On another Sabbath he went into the synagogue and was teaching, and a man was there whose right hand was shriveled. The Pharisees and the teachers of the law were looking for a reason to accuse Jesus, so they watched him closely to see if he would heal on the Sabbath. But Jesus knew what they were thinking and said to the man with the shriveled hand, “Get up and stand in front of everyone.” So he got up and stood there.
Then Jesus said to them, “I ask you, which is lawful on the Sabbath: to do good or to do evil, to save life or to destroy it?”
He looked around at them all, and then said to the man, “Stretch out your hand.” He did so, and his hand was completely restored. But they were furious and began to discuss with one another what they might do to Jesus.

The Pharisees were bound up in their own definition of what work was to be avoided on the Sabbath. They had even decided that if someone cut their hand on the Sabbath, a bandage could be applied to control the blood, but no salve could be put on the wound until the Sabbath was over, because that could promote healing, and healing was considered work to be avoided on that one day each week. That’s why they were watching Jesus so closely. If He healed this man with the withered hand, they considered that doing work on the Sabbath, and they could then dismiss Jesus as a Sabbath-breaker, and a sinner.

Jesus knew that this was their line of thinking. He also knew that it was God’s intention to heal that man on that day. Jesus was not the kind of person to do the work of the Lord in secret, so He decided to confront the issue head-on.

He began by calling the man with the shriveled hand to the front, so that what He was doing could be seen by all. Then He confronted the Pharisees directly, challenging them to publicly declare what they believed was permissible on the Sabbath: to do good, or to do evil; to save life, or to destroy life. Mark tells us (3:4) that they all remained silent. They weren’t even going to go on record as saying that it was okay to do good on the Sabbath, or to save a life, because that would possibly compromise their stand on healing on the Sabbath!

Their silence irritated Jesus, but it didn’t sway Him from His determination to follow through with what the Father had called Him to do. But HOW He did it really threw a wrench into the plans of the Pharisees. He simply commanded the man to stretch out his hand as if it were whole. He didn’t touch the man. He didn’t pray over him. He didn’t even speak a word of healing. Just “Stretch out your hand.” And when the man obeyed, the healing was instantaneous; the hand was made whole and was easily stretched out.

But this left the Pharisees in a terrible spot. They couldn’t really accuse Jesus of the healing, because none of His actions could be considered that kind of “work.” Simply telling the man to stretch out his hand wasn’t work, and neither was the man stretching out his hand in obedience. And the fact that the healing had actually happened left them open to the dreaded possibility that God Himself had done the healing on the Sabbath, which threatened to undermine their whole theological integrity on this issue.

But instead of reacting in an honest questioning of their beliefs that could have led them deeper into the truth, they dug their heels in out of anger, and determined that Jesus had to be destroyed.

Father, none of us likes to have our theology challenged, especially to have it challenged publicly. It makes us feel unsure and insecure. But if we stubbornly dig in our heels instead of coming to You and to Your word in an honest seeking after the truth, we run the risk of closing ourselves off to what You are trying to show us, to how You are challenging us to grow. Help me to always stay open to all of the light that You want to reveal to me, so that I can continue to be shaped and molded by Your word. Amen.

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Today’s Scripture – August 1, 2017

Luke 6:1-5 (NIV) One Sabbath Jesus was going through the grainfields, and his disciples began to pick some heads of grain, rub them in their hands and eat the kernels. Some of the Pharisees asked, “Why are you doing what is unlawful on the Sabbath?”
Jesus answered them, “Have you never read what David did when he and his companions were hungry? He entered the house of God, and taking the consecrated bread, he ate what is lawful only for priests to eat. And he also gave some to his companions.” Then Jesus said to them, “The Son of Man is Lord of the Sabbath.”

The Pharisees had ringed the Sabbath with a whole suite of rules to ensure that people didn’t inadvertently sin by doing some kind of work on that day. They had rules for how far a person could walk on the Sabbath before it crossed the line and became work, as well as long lists of forbidden activities.

The Pharisees were not worried that the disciple were stealing grain. A hungry person was actually allowed to pull off heads of grain in someone else’s field, as long as they didn’t use a sickle (Deuteronomy 23:25), or to pull grapes off a vine to eat, as long as they didn’t put any into a basket to take away (Deuteronomy 23:24). But, to the Pharisees, pulling the heads of grain off constituted harvesting; rubbing the chaff off the grain constituted winnowing; and chewing the raw grains constituted grinding flour; all of which were, according to them, classified as work, and therefore not allowed on the Sabbath.

Interestingly, Jesus didn’t argue with them about their interpretation of the law. He turned their attention instead to another instance where God allowed a clear need to be met in spite of the rules. In this instance (1 Samuel 21:1-6), David was fleeing from Saul and had no supplies for him and his men. He approached Ahimelech the priest at Nob, asking for any food that might be available. All the priest had was the bread of the presence which had just been replaced with fresh loaves that day. Normally only the priests could eat that bread, but Ahimelech allowed David and his men to eat it, actually sacrificing his own food because of their apparent need.

Jesus’ point was not that God’s clear commands don’t matter. His point was that if God was willing to relax a rule in order to meet a genuine human need out of compassion, the Pharisees should be willing to do the same with their own rules regarding what was permissible on the Sabbath.

Father, it’s clear that this wasn’t primarily about permission to break rules or commandments (You don’t, for instance, approve of stealing, even by a hungry person), but about compassion for genuine need, and about being willing to receive Your gracious provision, even on the Sabbath. You are a great and compassionate God, and I praise You today. Amen.

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Today’s Scripture – March 31, 2017

Matthew 23:27-28 (NIV) “Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites!  You are like whitewashed tombs, which look beautiful on the outside but on the inside are full of dead men’s bones and everything unclean.  In the same way, on the outside you appear to people as righteous but on the inside you are full of hypocrisy and wickedness.”

Jesus is continuing on His theme of those who take pains to make themselves look good on the outside, while being corrupt and foul on the inside.  In this case, He used the image of whitewashed tombs.

According to Numbers 19:16, anyone who touched a dead body, or a human bone, or a grave would be ceremonially unclean for seven days.  This had far-reaching ramifications for the Jewish people, because an unclean person would not be able to eat the Passover feast, or enter the temple courts.  Even if they were unaware that they had touched such things, they believed that God would strike them dead if they tried to enter the temple area while unclean.

Because of the large number of tombs in and around Jerusalem, many of them non-descript, looking more like flat ground or a cliff face than a tomb, and the potential for a pilgrim to inadvertently touch one of them without realizing what it was, thus bringing judgment on themselves, many tombs were painted with a coat of whitewash that was renewed before the major feasts and holidays.  This made the tombs much more visible, much easier to see and avoid, and much prettier than bare ground or a rock wall.  But the beautifying of the exterior of the tombs didn’t change the fact that what was contained in the tomb was rotting corpses, putrid smells, and all manner of insect life assisting in the work of decomposition.

Jesus likened the lives of the teachers of the law and the Pharisees to these whitewashed tombs.  Their outsides looked beautiful, but the rot and decay of sin was working insidiously in their hearts.

Just as with the cup illustration, the only solution was to clean out the inside, and the outside would follow suit.  If the bodies and bones were removed from the tomb, and the inside of the tomb scoured, then there would be nothing on the inside that would cause contamination to those who touched the outside.  If sin were removed from the hearts of those men, there would be nothing in them to contaminate their outer actions and attitudes, and nothing in them that would cause corruption in the hearts of those who followed them.

Father, again, the solution is so straightforward, and much simpler than the self-improvement programs that are pursued by so many Christians.  If we allow You to simply take care of the sin problem in our hearts, cleansing us with the fire of the Holy Spirit, there will be nothing in us to corrupt our actions and attitudes; nothing to prevent us from living a genuinely holy life.  Thank You!  Amen.

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