Tag Archives: Pharisees

Today’s Scripture – July 3, 2019

Acts 15:5-11 (NIV)
Then some of the believers who belonged to the party of the Pharisees stood up and said, “The Gentiles must be circumcised and required to obey the law of Moses.”
The apostles and elders met to consider this question. After much discussion, Peter got up and addressed them: “Brothers, you know that some time ago God made a choice among you that the Gentiles might hear from my lips the message of the gospel and believe. God, who knows the heart, showed that he accepted them by giving the Holy Spirit to them, just as he did to us. He made no distinction between us and them, for he purified their hearts by faith. Now then, why do you try to test God by putting on the necks of the disciples a yoke that neither we nor our fathers have been able to bear? No! We believe it is through the grace of our Lord Jesus that we are saved, just as they are.”

It didn’t take much time in the Jerusalem Council for the battle lines to be drawn. The question was raised, and the Pharisees among the Christians stood and declared that only Jews could be saved by Jesus. Thus, if a gentile wanted salvation, they first had to convert, be circumcised, and commit to obeying the entire law of Moses.

The apostles and elders then met to consider the matter and all the arguments on both sides. But in the end, it was not the persuasive qualities of any argument that won the day. Instead, it was the Spirit-given wisdom of Simon Peter.

As the discussion moved forward, Peter’s mind went back to the meeting with Cornelius and his whole circle (Acts 10). It was a meeting orchestrated by God and held entirely at His command.

Peter remembered how, right in the midst of his presentation of Jesus’ story, the Holy Spirit had unmistakably fallen on the whole crowd in the house, demonstrating that they had successfully crossed over from death to life through faith in the Savior he was presenting to them. Over the next two days, days he spent living with those new converts and teaching them, he had grown convinced beyond any doubt that their salvation was genuine, and that the Holy Spirit had purified their hearts through faith.

Peter also remembered how he had fought back at that time against accusations that it had been improper for him to have taken the gospel to gentiles, to say nothing of his staying in their house and eating their unclean food (Acts 11:1-18). The hard-core Judaizers had accepted his testimony of God’s work then, and he reminded them of that in his testimony now.

The core of Peter’s argument was that no one, not even the Pharisees, had ever been able to earn salvation through obedience to the law. Instead, even the staunchest Pharisee had only found salvation through faith in the finished work of Jesus. And if they couldn’t be saved by “being Jews,” why make the gentiles jump through useless hoops that militated against rather than promoted faith in the grace of Jesus.

Father, we still haven’t grown past this. All too frequently, rather than sharing Jesus with people who seem to be far from him and encouraging salvation through faith in Him and Him alone, we try to encourage people to clean up their lives first, to quit drinking, or smoking, or gambling, or whatever vice or dysfunction is evident in their lives BEFORE they can come to Jesus for salvation. But we forget that You can clean up a life through salvation and the baptism with the Holy Spirit far more effectively than any rules or self-improvement program we could ever devise. Help us always to remember the order in which You do things: repentance, faith in Jesus, and then transformation, and not try to change that order through our own efforts. Amen.

If you are enjoying my blog, I invite you to check out my book, When We Listen, A Devotional Commentary on the Gospel of Mark. Just follow this url: http://eagerpress.webstarts.com/ Thanks, and God bless you all!

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Today’s Scripture – November 15, 2018

John 15:22-25 (NIV)
“If I had not come and spoken to them, they would not be guilty of sin. Now, however, they have no excuse for their sin. He who hates me hates my Father as well. If I had not done among them what no one else did, they would not be guilty of sin. But now they have seen these miracles, and yet they have hated both me and my Father. But this is to fulfill what is written in their Law: ‘They hated me without reason.’”

Jesus had spent more than three years among the people, teaching them about God’s kingdom and doing astounding miracles among them. These public miracles included healing the sick and casting out demons, as well as even more spectacular things like raising the dead and healing a man born blind.

The Pharisees and teachers of the law had been dogging Jesus’ steps nearly from the beginning, trying to figure out who or what He was. Their representatives were present in the crowds wherever Jesus went, and they had seen Jesus’ miracles first-hand, and had closely investigated those that they had not personally witnessed. They knew that Jesus was no phony, but that the miracles, even the most spectacular ones, were indeed real.

But despite that overwhelming evidence, these leaders rejected Jesus. This was partly due to jealously. Jesus drew larger and more passionate crowds than they could, and Jesus, whom they taught was wrong in many key areas, could do amazing miracles consistently, while they, who supposedly had it right, were powerless.

This might have been passed off by many as a mere difference of opinion, a case where both sides were responding faithfully to their worldview. But Jesus saw it differently. The Pharisees, Sadducees, and teachers of the law did not have a “live and let live” attitude. Instead, they were actively plotting to take Jesus out. Since they couldn’t best Him in power or in the arena of ideas, they were plotting to murder Him. And in less than 24 hours, they would succeed.

Jesus’ point was that these religious leaders were not acting out of ignorance. They had all the proof they needed of Jesus’ identity in the miracles they had seen Him doing; miracles that they had investigated and had to admit were genuine. Thus, their rejection of Jesus, and their consequent rejection of the God who had sent Him and whose power lay behind the miracles, was a grave sin, one that would cost not only them, but the whole Jewish nation that they led and were responsible for.

These leaders, by their hatred and plotting were also unconsciously fulfilling a prophecy from Psalm 35:19: “They hated me without reason.” Jesus had shown them the truth about God and about themselves, and they hated Him for it enough to kill Him.

Father, it is mind boggling to think about how someone could hear Jesus’ words and watch His miracles and be so hard-hearted that their response was hatred and jealousy instead of worship and surrender. But I guess that is the result of an impenetrably hard heart. Lord, help me to never allow my own heart to grow hard or cold toward You so that I end up betraying You and turning away from the truth. And help me to have the same winsomeness and gentleness as Jesus, even if those around me reject me and hate me for Your sake, so that I can reach those whose hearts are still soft with the good news of Your kingdom. Amen.

If you are enjoying my blog, I invite you to check out my new book, When We Listen, A Devotional Commentary on the Gospel of Mark. Just follow this url: http://eagerpress.webstarts.com/ Thanks, and God bless you all!

 

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Today’s Scripture – August 21, 2018

John 10:1-6 (NIV)
“I tell you the truth, the man who does not enter the sheep pen by the gate, but climbs in by some other way, is a thief and a robber. The man who enters by the gate is the shepherd of his sheep. The watchman opens the gate for him, and the sheep listen to his voice. He calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. When he has brought out all his own, he goes on ahead of them, and his sheep follow him because they know his voice. But they will never follow a stranger; in fact, they will run away from him because they do not recognize a stranger’s voice.” Jesus used this figure of speech, but they did not understand what he was telling them.

Remember that chapter divisions were a late addition to the text of Scripture, not devised until the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries, and sometimes they ended up dividing things that really go together. In this case, Jesus words at the beginning of chapter ten are a continuation of His answer to the Pharisees at the end of chapter nine.

The Pharisees had asked Jesus if they were included in His condemnation of the Pharisees: “those who see will become blind.” Jesus had answered that, since they claimed to be able to see, they were guilty of blindness. To many, that answer seems unnecessarily harsh, since these Pharisees seem to have been interested in following Jesus. But He continues His explanation in what is now chapter ten.

Jesus portrays the kingdom of God as a sheep pen, full of the people that followed God, His flock. The true sheep, as well as the true shepherds of the sheep, come into the sheep pen via the gate. But those who try to sneak into the pen by climbing over the wall are neither true sheep nor true shepherds. Their avoidance of the gate provided by the builder of the pen clearly shows that they are up to no good.

Jesus is equating the Pharisees with both the rogue sheep and the rogue shepherds. Rather than being faithful sheep who follow Jesus into the safety of the pen and out to find safe grazing, they go their own way, claiming to be part of the flock because of their strict adherence to the law. And rather than being faithful shepherds to God’s sheep under their care, they are more interested in what the sheep can do for them by providing wool and meat.

Jesus points out that the true sheep of God’s flock follow Jesus. They realize that He had come as the true shepherd, and they recognize his voice and follow Him wherever He leads. But the Pharisees didn’t recognize Jesus’ voice as that of their shepherd, preferring instead the long-dead voice of Moses (although even Moses had pointed forward to the Messiah who would come). Thus, the Pharisees were indeed blind to the truth of who Jesus was and of how to enter the kingdom of God, even though they claimed to have absolutely clear sight. In fact, they were so blind that they didn’t even understand what Jesus was trying to tell them.

Father, we, too, are not immune to trying to find our own way into the sheep pen, to being counted as one of Your people. We try to earn our admission through good works or self-improvement. And we, too, can fall into listening to shepherds other than Jesus, who will always lead us astray. Help us, Lord to see clearly, to hear truly, and to follow faithfully the voice of our one true Shepherd, Jesus. Amen.

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Today’s Scripture – August 17, 2018

John 9:35-41 (NIV)
Jesus heard that they had thrown him out, and when he found him, he said, “Do you believe in the Son of Man?”
“Who is he, sir?” the man asked. “Tell me so that I may believe in him.”
Jesus said, “You have now seen him; in fact, he is the one speaking with you.”
Then the man said, “Lord, I believe,” and he worshiped him.
Jesus said, “For judgment I have come into this world, so that the blind will see and those who see will become blind.”
Some Pharisees who were with him heard him say this and asked, “What? Are we blind too?”
Jesus said, “If you were blind, you would not be guilty of sin; but now that you claim you can see, your guilt remains.

The formerly blind man had never seen Jesus. When he had washed the mud off his eyes at the pool of Siloam and had been able to see for the first time in his life, he had not tried to find Jesus, but had simply gone home as quickly as possible to share the glad news with his family and friends. But now that he had been thrown out of the synagogue where the Pharisees had gathered to examine his case, Jesus went to him.

Jesus’ first question was key. The man had become an outcast because he had refused to denounce Jesus as a sinner or heretic. But refusal to denounce Jesus is not the same as full belief in Him. So, Jesus asked the question outright: “Do you believe in the Son of Man?”

The formerly blind man realized that this “Son of Man” was the one who had healed him and was ready to believe in Him the moment someone could point Him out. And when Jesus identified that He Himself was the Son of Man, the man fell at His feet and worshiped Him. Far from rejecting the man’s worship as other mere men, and even angels, were required to do (Acts 10:25-26, 14:13-15; Revelation 22:8-9), Jesu accepted the worship as rightfully given.

Jesus proclamation that He had come so that the blind would see and the seeing would become blind encapsulates what had taken place that day. The man everyone had written off as a vile sinner due to his congenital blindness had had both his physical and spiritual eyes opened so that He could see who Jesus truly was and put his faith in Him. At the same time, the religious leaders, including the Pharisees who were with Jesus, but who had similarly shown disdain for the blind man, had been shown to be spiritually blind, unable to see past their prejudices to be able to understand who Jesus truly was so that they, too could worship Him.

Father, I am so glad that You opened my eyes so that I could finally see and receive Jesus as my Lord and Savior. Help me to point everyone I meet today to Jesus, to tell the story of my encounter with Him, so that they can be saved and be given the amazing gift of spiritual sight as well. Amen.

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Today’s Scripture – August 14, 2018

John 9:18-23 (NIV)
The Jews still did not believe that he had been blind and had received his sight until they sent for the man’s parents. “Is this your son?” they asked. “Is this the one you say was born blind? How is it that now he can see?”
“We know he is our son,” the parents answered, “and we know he was born blind. But how he can see now, or who opened his eyes, we don’t know. Ask him. He is of age; he will speak for himself.” His parents said this because they were afraid of the Jews, for already the Jews had decided that anyone who acknowledged that Jesus was the Christ would be put out of the synagogue. That was why his parents said, “He is of age; ask him.”

The Pharisees had one last hope: that this whole healing was a scam. If the man really hadn’t been born blind, if he had always been able to see, then their issue with Jesus’ power would simply go away, and He could be written off as a con-man.

So, they summoned the man’s parents and put them under oath. They also subtly suggested that they had to be careful in what they said. If they claimed that Jesus was the Messiah based on this “supposed” healing, they would be put out of the synagogue, made outcasts in their own community.

So, they asked the man’s parents the key questions: Is this your son? And was he actually born blind as everyone is saying? To their dismay, the parents answered both questions in the affirmative. He was absolutely their son – they would not deny him, regardless of the threats. And yes, he absolutely had been blind from birth. Their joy at his healing would not allow them to deny that either.

The only question that they would not answer was regarding how their son had regained his sight. First of all, they were not witnesses of the healing; all they had was the story their son had told them about it. And they were afraid that if they said that Jesus had healed him that they would slide into the penalty for confessing Him as the Messiah. So, they merely pointed to their son, and basically said, “We weren’t there. Ask our son. He is of age to testify and is the only one with first-hand knowledge of how it all happened.”

Father, the Pharisees, with their strong reputation as upholders of the law, were doing their best to give the appearance of holding a fair and unbiased investigation into a supposed miracle. But they were prejudiced against Jesus from the beginning, which irreparably tainted their objectivity, and caused them to insist that the investigation result in Jesus being declared a law breaker, a sinner. A big part of their bias was jealousy. For all of their supposed righteousness and Jesus’ supposed sinfulness, He could do amazing miracles, and they were completely powerless. Lord, instead of rebelling against who You are, what You are showing us, and what You really require of us as Your people, like the Pharisees, help us to simply listen, learn, surrender, and obey, so that we can be Your people, and so that we can manifest Your presence and Your power to our sin-darkened world. Amen.

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Today’s Scripture – August 13, 2018

John 9:16-17 (NIV)
Some of the Pharisees said, “This man is not from God, for he does not keep the Sabbath.”
But others asked, “How can a sinner do such miraculous signs?” So they were divided.
Finally they turned again to the blind man, “What have you to say about him? It was your eyes he opened.”
The man replied, “He is a prophet.”

The Pharisees suddenly found themselves in a theological jam. There were two conflicting philosophies that were battling it out in their minds that John gives voice to here.

The first philosophy is that Jesus could not be a holy man because He did not keep the Sabbath the way that they believed it should be kept. Many of them had spent virtually their whole lives studying all the teachings on the Sabbath that had been written by notable rabbis since the exile, memorizing exactly what was defined by them as the “work” that God had forbidden them to do on the Sabbath. And among all those forbidden activities was performing medical treatment on someone. (Performing miraculous healings wasn’t specifically addressed but was assumed to fall under the same prohibition.)

The competing philosophy was that only a holy person could actually do miracles; that God did not answer the prayers of the wicked. They realized quickly that this healing was no illusion, no sleight of hand that Jesus had done, but a genuine miracle, and of a type that had never been seen before, even in the ancient Scriptures. Coloring this part of the dilemma was the understanding that no person, no matter how holy they were, actually had power to do these kinds of miracles in themselves, but that it was God acting through them that enabled the miracle to happen. Which meant, in their way of thinking, that God Himself had broken the Sabbath!

They immediately turned away from that idea in horror. And when they did, they again saw the once-blind man watching them (!), and taking in their argument with his whole attention. One of them snapped testily at the man, “What do you say about Him? After all, it was your eyes that he opened.” The man simply smiled and said softly, “He is a prophet.” To this man who was seeing for the first time in his life, that was the only conclusion that he could reach.

But the Pharisees turned away from him in disgust. Useless!

Father, we will always fall into trouble when we bring our worldly theologies into Your presence and try to apply them definitively to You. You are infinite. There is far more to You than You have ever revealed to us. Far more than You ever can reveal, even if the Scriptures were millions of pages long. We see only in part, and all efforts to shoehorn You into our predeveloped theologies are doomed to failure. Help us instead to simply read Your word at Your feet every day, humbly learning from You what we can grasp at the time, so that we can grow in wisdom and in knowledge of Your ways. And one day, when we see You face-to-face, we will see how the small amount that we have been able to grasp fits into the infinite whole that is You. Amen.

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Today’s Scripture – August 10, 2018

John 9:10-15 (NIV)
“How then were your eyes opened?” they demanded.
He replied, “The man they call Jesus made some mud and put it on my eyes. He told me to go to Siloam and wash. So I went and washed, and then I could see.”
“Where is this man?” they asked him.
“I don’t know,” he said.
They brought to the Pharisees the man who had been blind. Now the day on which Jesus had made the mud and opened the man’s eyes was a Sabbath. Therefore the Pharisees also asked him how he had received his sight. “He put mud on my eyes,” the man replied, “and I washed, and now I see.”

This man had caused quite a stir when he had come home able to see after having been born blind. Things like that just didn’t happen! His family and friends plied the man with questions about how it had happened, but his answers were unsatisfying to them. He had heard the man’s name, Jesus, but other than that he had no information about the person who had healed him.

And his report of the method used was just as dissatisfying. Spreading mud on a man’s eyes and sending him to wash it off just didn’t seem like it should have done anything to restore his sight.

So, they brought the man to the Pharisees. Surely, they would be able to figure out what had happened. But instantly, the proceedings took a turn the man’s family and friends hadn’t anticipated. It was the Sabbath, and the Pharisees, self-appointed guardians of all things concerning the law, were more concerned about that than they were about the fact that the man could now see.

As far as the Pharisees could tell, Jesus had broken two, possibly three Sabbath laws. He had made mud with the intention of using it as medicine; He had applied the medicine to the man’s eyes in order to heal him; and He had possibly encouraged the man to walk further than was allowed on the Sabbath.

Of course, none of those things were actually against the Sabbath law that God had given to the Israelites through Moses. These were all man-made rules, written to define, clarify, and specify what God had meant when He simply commanded them to put aside their livelihood, their pursuit of wealth for one day each week in order to focus on rest, rejoicing, and worship. But those auxiliary regulations quickly took on a life of their own, eventually being accepted as being as binding as the words God had spoken.

In healing this man, setting him free from decades of darkness and letting not only the light of the world, but the Light of the world, shine into his life, Jesus was following God’s explicit direction, as well as fulfilling His mission to seek and to save what was lost. But the Pharisees weren’t able to understand that in the midst of the haze of their own religious system.

Father, keep our eyes and ears open, so that we can always be as responsive to Your commands as Jesus was, regardless of any pushback we might get, and help us to simply obey, and to never put limits around what You tell us to do based on our own limitations or beliefs about how You work. Amen.

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