Tag Archives: Pharisees

Today’s Scripture – February 19, 2018

Luke 16:15-17 (NIV) He said to them, “You are the ones who justify yourselves in the eyes of men, but God knows your hearts. What is highly valued among men is detestable in God’s sight. The Law and the Prophets were proclaimed until John. Since that time, the good news of the kingdom of God is being preached, and everyone is forcing his way into it. It is easier for heaven and earth to disappear than for the least stroke of a pen to drop out of the Law.”

In the previous verse we were told that the Pharisees, who loved money, were scoffing at Jesus’ teachings about having to choose whether to serve God or material things. But now Jesus turns his attack fully toward the heart of the matter.

The Pharisees were masters of public opinion. They knew well how to project an outward aura of sanctity that covered up a completely rotten heart. They fooled the people who admired them. But God doesn’t look at what shows on the outside. He looks directly at a person’s heart. (See 1 Samuel 16:7.) And what God saw in the hearts of those men was not just wrong in His sight; it was as revolting as a rotting corpse in a tomb (Matthew 23:27-28). Their bad hearts were so corrupt that just a few weeks later they allowed themselves to railroad Jesus, hire false witnesses, and lie to Pontius Pilate, the whole time convincing themselves that they were still holy in God’s sight.

Jesus’ next statement addressed that fact that the kingdom of heaven had become a reality since the beginning of John the Baptist’s ministry over three years earlier, but those self-righteous Pharisees refused to enter it, because to do so would entail believing that Jesus was actually the Messiah, something that they could not bring themselves to do. Meanwhile, people all around them were rushing to get into the kingdom, and were finding peace, power, and salvation, leaving the Pharisees in the spiritual dust, while they moved forward into what God was accomplishing.

In verse 17, Jesus reiterates His assurance that He had not come to do away with the law, but to fulfill it. (Compare with Matthew 5:17-20.) The law was not something that God gave for a season, but is based solidly on His own character, and so is a standard for God’s people for all time. The difference that Jesus’ coming made was that in the New Covenant no one will be saved by trying hard to keep the requirements of the law. Instead, Jesus fulfilled those requirements in His own life, including the entire sacrificial law. So salvation is now through faith in Him. But, once in the kingdom, God’s people, with the power of the indwelling Holy Spirit to move us and help us, are expected to live by God’s standards. As Paul put it, “Therefore do not let sin reign in your mortal body so that you obey its evil desires. Do not offer the parts of your body to sin, as instruments of wickedness, but rather offer yourselves to God, as those who have been brought from death to life; and offer the parts of your body to him as instruments of righteousness. For sin shall not be your master, because you are not under law, but under grace.” (Romans 6:12-14 NIV)

Father, thank You for this clear look “under the hood” of the Pharisees. It shows us clearly that, though our actions must be right before You, it is the heart that You see. Of course, if our hearts are right, our actions will follow suit (Matthew 7:17-18), and we will find ourselves, not striving to do the right things against our nature, but naturally living in ways that conform to Your character out of our transformed hearts. Create in me a pure heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me. (Psalm 51:10 NIV)

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Today’s Scripture – February 11, 2018

Luke 15:25-32 (NIV) “Meanwhile, the older son was in the field. When he came near the house, he heard music and dancing. So he called one of the servants and asked him what was going on. ‘Your brother has come,’ he replied, ‘and your father has killed the fattened calf because he has him back safe and sound.’
“The older brother became angry and refused to go in. So his father went out and pleaded with him. But he answered his father, ‘Look! All these years I’ve been slaving for you and never disobeyed your orders. Yet you never gave me even a young goat so I could celebrate with my friends. But when this son of yours who has squandered your property with prostitutes comes home, you kill the fattened calf for him!’
“’My son,’ the father said, ‘you are always with me, and everything I have is yours. But we had to celebrate and be glad, because this brother of yours was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.’”

Oddly enough, the villain in this parable turns out to not be the younger brother, the prodigal son, but the “righteous” older brother, the one who faithfully obeyed the father through all of the younger brother’s reckless wasting of his inheritance. The younger brother had indeed brought disgrace to himself and his father by his self-centeredness, his rebellion, and his wild ways. But now he has come to his senses, has repented, humbled himself, and been restored to the father’s home. As noted above, this son represents the tax collectors and sinners, the lost sons, who are listening to and responding to Jesus’ message.

The older brother, representing the self-righteous Pharisees and teachers of the law, is in a completely different place. When he finds that the cause of the celebration is the return and restoration of his brother, he refuses to join in the celebration. Instead, he becomes indignant and haughty. He is completely unresponsive to the father’s entreaties to join in the celebration. Instead, he attacks his father, accusing him of favoritism toward this disgraceful son, using the celebration as evidence.

The older son, by causing the father to have to come out to him to plead with him to join the celebration, and by speaking so rudely, harshly, and accusingly to his father, is actually, to middle eastern minds, bringing just as much shame and disgrace on himself and his father as his younger brother had done before. But the older brother is so angry that he is blind to his own unrighteousness. He refuses to even acknowledge that the guest of honor at the party is his brother, referring to him as “this son of yours.” He won’t accept his brother back, he won’t join the celebration, and he is mad at his father for doing both.

This is a perfect picture of the Pharisees and teachers of the law. Jesus is celebrating with tax collectors and sinners the fact that they have repented and have come back into the Father’s good graces. But the Pharisees had written these people off as hopeless long before. They themselves had sacrificed and served for long years in order to be accepted by God, and they feel that He is being unfair to them by simply opening His arms to these prodigals and receiving them back. To them it feels as if God did not honor their devotion and service over all of those years.

The thing that they didn’t get was that God’s love for those lost souls who were now returning did not diminish His love for them in the least. And they had completely lost track of the fact that, as fellow Jews, these men weren’t merely God’s “sons,” but were their long lost brothers as well! The parable was designed to show them this truth, and some of them got it. But, unfortunately, the realization of their role in this parable only made those who understood it more angry.

Father, Jesus’ parables are absolutely amazing. They cut immediately to the heart of every issue, to show every open heart the deep things of Your kingdom. Help me to never become hard-hearted, like the Pharisees, so that I miss the point, or resent the points that I do get. Instead, help me to always learn and grow under Your teaching. Amen.

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Today’s Scripture – February 8, 2018

Luke 15:20-24 (NIV) “But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion for him; he ran to his son, threw his arms around him and kissed him.

“The son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son.’

“But the father said to his servants, ‘Quick! Bring the best robe and put it on him. Put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. Bring the fattened calf and kill it. Let’s have a feast and celebrate. For this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.’ So they began to celebrate.”

Jesus had described the celebration in heaven that happens when a single sinner repents (15:7, 10). The father’s rejoicing in this parable reflects that same celebration.

The returning son in this parable, who had disgraced both himself and his father by his self-centered, self-absorbed actions and attitudes, and who had ruined and disgraced himself, represents the tax collectors and sinners that regularly followed Jesus and listened to Him teach. Like the son, they had decided that it was time to humble themselves before God, and to return to Him, even if it was only as slaves.

But what a surprise was waiting for this prodigal son! The father he had disgraced was waiting for him, hoping for him, constantly on the watch for his return. And when his bedraggled figure first appeared over the horizon, the father leaped from his seat, ran out the house, and ran to his returning son, enfolding him in a warm embrace that told him that he was welcome.

Likewise, God is always on the lookout for the sinner to repent and to turn toward home. When He first sees someone turn, He immediately rushes to their side, providing them with all the grace that they need to complete the repentance and to make it real. Then He embraces them as sons, and welcomes them into His kingdom, now their kingdom.

The son attempts to deliver his prepared speech, begging the father to receive him back, even if only as a servant. But the father doesn’t need to hear the words; he has seen the heart. He interrupts the plea, and commands that the son be restored to the family immediately, and that a great celebration be commenced to celebrate the return of this wayward son to the life of the family.

In the same way, God doesn’t wait for the right words to be spoken in a prayer of repentance, the right “magic formula,” that will convince Him of the sinners’ sincerity. He sees the heart, and He knows when the repentance is real, even if a word is not spoken aloud. When someone returns to Him, they are immediately received into the family, and a celebration begins.

Jesus is trying to help the criticizing Pharisees understand that the fact that these tax collectors are hanging out with Jesus and are repenting and being saved was a cause for rejoicing, not for criticism and self-righteousness. God is rejoicing; they who claimed to love and serve Him should rejoice as well. But this isn’t the end of the story.

Father, it is amazing to think of You watching so diligently for me when I returned from the far country, retracing steps that I had made so long before. But it is the truth. And I will never run out of thankfulness and praise for that reality. Amen.

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Today’s Scripture – December 19, 2017

Luke 12:1-3 (NIV) Meanwhile, when a crowd of many thousands had gathered, so that they were trampling on one another, Jesus began to speak first to his disciples, saying: “Be on your guard against the yeast of the Pharisees, which is hypocrisy. There is nothing concealed that will not be disclosed, or hidden that will not be made known. What you have said in the dark will be heard in the daylight, and what you have whispered in the ear in the inner rooms will be proclaimed from the roofs.

The more the Jewish leaders pushed back against Jesus, the more His following grew, although the conflict was not the reason for the growth. But as Jesus drew nearer the cross, He ramped up His level of activity, and God drew more and more people to hear Him. This, of course, frustrated the leaders terribly. They were fighting Him with everything they had, and He continued to grow in popularity. (Their frustrations were plainly expressed in John 11:47-48.)

But Jesus was not done with the Pharisees yet. As He warned His followers away from not only their teachings but their influence as well (using yeast as an illustration), He identified their primary sin: hypocrisy. Hypocrisy, at its root, is pretending to be something you are not. The term originated in the theater as a term for actors who wore masks, taking on an external persona far different from what they were underneath.

As Jesus saw it (and how He saw it was the truth), the Pharisees were hypocrites not because they were trying to keep God’s commandments and sometimes failing, but because they were depicting themselves as people who were obeying every jot and tittle of God’s commands, when they knew that they were in direct disobedience to some of His requirements. They projected an outward appearance of holiness, while inwardly having hearts full of hatred, pride, and greed, completely out of character for those who identified themselves as God’s people. They were actors wearing masks of righteousness to cover over their evil souls.

Jesus’ next words have been used out of context to support evangelistic efforts. But these words were not an encouragement; they were a warning. To the Pharisees, and to any who aimed to follow them in their ways, Jesus warned that the secrets of the heart that were kept hidden under the masks would come out and be known, and the plots formed against Jesus, and against His true people would be exposed.

Father, Jesus’ words here proved absolutely true, as the plotting and machinations of those leaders were exposed by You, ultimately foiled, and are now published globally in Your Scriptures. Lord, preserve me and all of Your people from hypocrisy. And my request is not just about being honest about who we are, warts and all. Instead, I ask you to help us to be as good in our hearts as we would like to portray ourselves being on the outside. Amen.

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Today’s Scripture – December 16, 2017

Luke 11:45-46 (NIV) One of the experts in the law answered him, “Teacher, when you say these things, you insult us also.”
Jesus replied, “And you experts in the law, woe to you, because you load people down with burdens they can hardly carry, and you yourselves will not lift one finger to help them.”

The Pharisees and teachers of the law were first cousins theologically. Both of them combed through the books of the law looking for even the minutest commandment. They read the scrolls written by the great rabbinical scholars of the past, trying by their adherence to every shred of law, and by every available interpretation of the law, to be righteous before God. So when Jesus criticized the Pharisees, the same brush covered the scribes as well, and they were offended. But Jesus didn’t back off; He actually doubled down.

Jesus’ point with the scribes was not that those men were wrong in trying to please God by obeying His commandments (although, as Paul found out as a Pharisee (Romans 7:5-11), that that is ultimately not possible in one’s own strength). Instead, His focus was on the fact that these men were discouraging others that desired to be holy by loading them down, not with the reasonable commandments that God Himself put in His law, but with volumes and volumes of add-ons and interpretations that they themselves cold not entirely keep, but which they presented as the minimum requirements for someone who wanted to be truly righteous.

People confronted with so many requirements won’t naturally buckle up, dig in, and get started. Instead, they typically throw their hands up in despair, see God as harsh and unreasonable, and turn away from His commandments entirely. Thus, by making the path to the light too difficult, they doomed many to a life of walking in the dark!

The fact is, God’s real requirements are neither massive nor complicated, and they really need minimal interpretation. He didn’t drop a stack of books full of commands to earth and tell everyone, “Here you go. Obey these or else! You’re on your own!” Instead, He has promised to be with those who desire to serve Him with all of their hearts, encouraging them, teaching them, and guiding them in His ways.

Father, thank You for this reminder. We, too, can get so enamored of “the rules” that we can easily fall into the trap of communicating to new believers and seekers that the rules are what Christianity is all about. Help me, Lord, to always live with my relationship with You as the main thing, knowing that my obedience springs from that relationship, not the other way around. And help me to consistently communicate to those I am discipling the same truth. Amen.

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Today’s Scripture – December 13, 2017

Luke 11:43 (NIV) “Woe to you Pharisees, because you love the most important seats in the synagogues and greetings in the marketplaces.”

One of the big problems that the Pharisees had is what is commonly called “mission drift.” To become a Pharisee was a process that required commitment and a powerful devotion to God and to His word. It required being willing to devote hours every day to the study of Scripture, and a willingness to set aside personal goals and desires, and to take up passionate obedience to God’s commands, not as a religion, but as a lifestyle.

The problem arose when, after a while, the admiration of people began to be expressed, and when the perks that arose because of that admiration kicked in. These “spiritual giants” were often given the front seats in the synagogue, a coveted place close to the action. And they were usually greeted deferentially in the marketplace.

These signs of admiration would not necessarily be a problem. The problem came when these men began to accept the perks as their due, and the mission began to drift toward the praises of men. The Pharisees were often upset when the expected perks were not offered. If someone else got the front seat in the synagogue, the Pharisee who had to sit in the second row frequently did so with annoyance and hurt feelings, their attention no longer on God, but on themselves. And when someone refused to treat them with the deference that they believed was due, they frequently held a grudge against them. (That was actually the reason behind their backhanded compliment to Jesus when they were trying to trap Him: “You aren’t swayed by others, because you pay no attention to who they are.” (Matthew 22:16 NIV))

Jesus pronounced woe on these men because, if they were really focused on serving God, they, like Jesus Himself, would serve God, study His ways, and speak His words without caring who noticed, or what kind of benefits came their way as a result. As it was, in their pursuit of God and His blessings, their way had gotten diverted so that they were now serving the idol of position and public praise.

Christians today are not immune to this kind of subtle idolatry, a form of Pharisaism. The symptoms are feeling unappreciated for all that we are doing to “serve the Lord,” or feelings of jealousy when others are acknowledged. And, just like with the Pharisees, the only solution to this problem is to repent, to return to seeking first God’s kingdom and His righteousness, and to seek the praise that only comes from God, regardless of whether our work and efforts are recognized and appreciated by the human beings around us.

Father, that really is a subtle trap that is easily stepped into: seeking praise and recognition from people, and feeling hurt or resentful when it isn’t given. Help me to avoid such a focus, and such feelings. Instead, help me to seek You only, and the praise that can come only from You. Amen.

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Today’s Scripture – December 12, 2017

Luke 11:42 (NIV) “Woe to you Pharisees, because you give God a tenth of your mint, rue and all other kinds of garden herbs, but you neglect justice and the love of God. You should have practiced the latter without leaving the former undone.”

This statement of Jesus shows just how exacting the Pharisees were in their commitment to all of God’s commandments. The law requires that a tithe, a tenth of all of a person’s increase, including what grows from the ground. But some of the Pharisees were so precise that rather than weighing out small crops like herbs and spices and seeds (also see Matthew 23:23), they laboriously counted them out, one for God, nine for them.

What seems odd to some people in this statement is that Jesus does not condemn this extra measure of exactitude. He does not pronounce woe on these men for being legalistic in their manner of tithing, neither here, nor in any of the parallel passages in the other gospels. Instead, the Pharisees are condemned for neglecting other parts of the law, specifically justice, and the love of God, loving Him with all of themselves, as well as showing genuine love to others. Those requirements are just as much God’s commands as tithing is, but was being overlooked in the shadow of them doing tithing really precisely.

Jesus’ point here is not that tithing is unnecessary, or legalistic, or even “Old Testament”. He could have said, “You should have practiced justice and the love of God, and forgot about tithing, since that is going away soon.” But He didn’t say that. Instead, His instruction was to practice the latter, (justice and the love of God), without leaving the former (tithing) undone. In other words, both are requirements of the law, and both need to be done, and with equal passion.

Today many teach that justice and love for God and others are necessary for Christians, but that tithing is not. They base this on the idea that Jesus affirmed the former things, but never said that tithing is still required. However Jesus affirms tithing in very clear language right here, and never at any future point is quoted as saying, “Starting now, tithing is not necessary.”

But Jesus’ key teaching here to the very detail-oriented Pharisees is not specific to tithing. The underlying teaching is that God’s requirement for His people is that they be obedient to all of God’s commands, instead of picking and choosing a few to do really well. God never designed His commands with a “pick one from column A and three from column B” kind of mentality. Instead, the law, all of God’s commands, including those given specifically in the New Testament, are a reflection of God’s character, who He is, and who His people must be to live in His presence.

The beauty of the new covenant is not that God has no requirements in it for His people. It is that God’s people can now be transformed by the presence of the Holy Spirit (Ezekiel 36:26-27, Romans 12:1-2) so that we more naturally obey God’s commands instead of having to be motivated by external rewards and punishments. In this way the whole of God’s law, encapsulated in the two greatest commandments (Matthew 22:34-40) can be kept as a whole by His people.

Father, it really is easy for us to adopt an either-or, or “this not that” kind of mentality when it comes to Your commands. Thank You for reminding me that it’s not about a list of rules to be obeyed to try to earn our salvation, or to earn bonus points with You, but that Your laws and commands for us spring from Your own character and our need to align ourselves with Your character, so that we can live as Your people, and as children of light. Amen.

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