Tag Archives: Pharisees

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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Today’s Scripture – March 29, 2017

Matthew 23:23-24 (NIV) “Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You give a tenth of your spices–mint, dill and cumin.  But you have neglected the more important matters of the law–justice, mercy and faithfulness.  You should have practiced the latter, without neglecting the former.  You blind guides! You strain out a gnat but swallow a camel.”

The teachers of the law and the Pharisees were very focused on keeping all of the fine points of the law.  But in their focus, they missed many of God’s larger and overarching requirements.

For example, many of them really did spend long hours laboriously counting out small seeds of dill and cumin, and leaves of mint, ensuring that one out of every ten went to their tithe.  They believed that God would bless them for their extra diligence, since the vast majority of people measured out their tithes by weight or measure, and might be off by several seeds or leaves.

But in the process, these men were overlooking the “more important matters of the law” such as justice, mercy, and faithfulness.  It wasn’t that they didn’t believe in these things in their theology and speak about them in their lectures.  But their eyes were so focused on the minutia of their religious observances that they really didn’t make time to apply them.  It was like a man so captivated by what he is seeing through a microscope that he doesn’t notice that his house is burning down around him!

In their zeal for keeping every fine point of the law, these men ignored justice, fighting to make sure that the least was treated fairly.  They overlooked mercy, instead dealing harshly with people who did not live up to their standards, even writing them out of God’s salvation!  And they overlooked faithfulness to all of God’s commands to love others in His name.  They were like those God spoke to through the prophet Isaiah about fasting and Sabbath keeping (Isaiah 58), who had the procedures right, but who were missing the why, the reflection of God’s own character that His people are supposed to exhibit.

Many of these men would literally pour their tea and wine through a piece of cloth before they drank it in order to strain out any gnats that might have gotten into it, because gnats were unclean.  Jesus’ final statement shows the irony of this by His figure of man being meticulous about straining out gnats, but swallowing a camel, which was also an unclean animal.  His point was that while these men focused on avoiding the minute details of sin, they ended up violating much larger commands by treating God’s people harshly, failing to show God’s love and mercy, and not receiving His Messiah.

Father, this is a trap that we can all fall into:  focusing so much on specific right actions that we miss You and Your purposes in the midst.  Jesus specifically taught here that the details are important, but reflecting Your character through justice, mercy, and faithfulness is even more important, and must never get lost in the details.  Help me to keep my eyes focused on You as I go through my day today, so that I can live out a full-bodied faith, correct in the big picture as well as in the details.  Amen.

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Today’s Scriptures – March 27, 2017

Matthew 23:15 (NIV) “Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You travel over land and sea to win a single convert, and when he becomes one, you make him twice as much a son of hell as you are.”

Just as it is impossible for a bad tree to bear good fruit (Matthew 7:18), an ungodly teacher cannot produce a godly disciple.  A person can only teach what he or she knows.  And, in the case of the teachers of the law and the Pharisees, they had a lot of head knowledge of the Scriptures, but their hearts were far from knowing God Himself.

The teachers of the law and the Pharisees knew the letter of the law.  But outside of a relationship with God, the letter of the law is fatal to the soul (2 Corinthians 3:6).  Jesus Himself pointed out that the Pharisees were scrupulous in their observances, going so far as to count out precisely one-tenth of small seed crops like dill and cumin, and leaves of mint to ensure that they gave an exact tithe of even these (Matthew 24:23), But their hearts were devoid of justice, mercy, and faithfulness.

When these men made a convert, instead of teaching them to know God and showing them God’s power, love, and grace, they loaded down these new believers with lists of rules to follow, and shades of meaning of the various commandments.  Their new faith then, became all about rules and requirements, and left out the all-important element of relationship with God.  Such a religion cannot save, but merely attempts to imprison the will behind the bars of regulations – a death trap, as Paul clearly learned during his days as a Pharisee (cf. Romans 7:9-11).

The faith that Jesus came to bring stood in stark contrast to the religion of the Pharisees.  His faith is one in which believers are brought into vital relationship with God through His own faithful life and sacrificial death (Romans 5:18-19), a proximity from which they can develop a genuine relationship with God Himself.  But such a new and radically different faith, a different pathway to justification, necessarily showed the path of the Pharisees for what it truly was:  a path to failure, and ultimately to hell.

Father, this is really crucial.  There is still a tendency for us to introduce new believers into a faith of rules and requirements instead of relationship.  Partly this is because it is easier, but partly it is because that is all many of us know!  Help us, Lord, to keep our living relationship with You at the forefront of even our own disciple-making activity, so that our converts are twice as much children of heaven as we are.  Amen.

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Today’s Scripture – March 25, 2017

Matthew 23:13 (NIV) “Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You shut the kingdom of heaven in men’s faces. You yourselves do not enter, nor will you let those enter who are trying to.”

The Pharisees and teachers of the law were not entering God’s kingdom for one reason:  they were determined to enter on the basis of their own righteousness, and were rejecting the only legitimate gate into the kingdom – Jesus.

But their spiritual shortcomings extended far beyond this.  They were slamming the door of the kingdom in the face of multitudes of legitimate seekers.  They had written off to their faces many of the tax collectors and sinners that Jesus had come to seek and to save.  In their denunciations, they had convinced many of these that they were too bad to ever be saved; too wicked for God to visit anything on them besides His judgment and wrath.

In doing this, they were operating in direct opposition to God’s agenda and purpose.  And with every person they discouraged and waved off the path as unworthy, they brought deeper judgment on themselves.  Not only that, but they were actively trying to persuade people that Jesus, the one true way, was a charlatan and a fake, turning them even further from the path.

Jesus’ denunciations of these men may seem harsh to some.  But He was simply delivering God’s message directly to them.  They had strayed from God’s ways, and were now actively working in opposition to Him.  Jesus’ words had a twofold purpose.  To those who still had enough spiritual life and love for God to be able to respond, His words were a wake-up call – a call to repent and get back on the path.  But for those whose necks were stiff and whose wills were set on the path of ruin that they were following, God’s words were a sentence of doom that would soon overtake them.

Father, we are so reluctant to speak Your strong words to people.  But for those locked hard into sin’s irons, those harsh-sounding words may be the only thing that can break through and penetrate their souls, moving them to repent.  Help me to never be cruel or harsh with those whose hearts are soft.  But help me never to turn from speaking, even the hard truths, to those who need to hear them, so that they can be led to repent, and be saved.  Amen.

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