Tag Archives: Pharisees

Today’s Scripture – April 23, 2018

Luke 20:17-19 (NIV) Jesus looked directly at them and asked, “Then what is the meaning of that which is written: “‘The stone the builders rejected has become the capstone’? Everyone who falls on that stone will be broken to pieces, but he on whom it falls will be crushed.”
The teachers of the law and the chief priests looked for a way to arrest him immediately, because they knew he had spoken this parable against them. But they were afraid of the people.

The Pharisees and teachers of the law were in a very hard place. They had plotted against Jesus, but their plots seemed to be known by Him before they could spring them. It was like Jesus knew what was in their very hearts. And now He was repeatedly exposing them and their treachery to the people He was teaching.

They knew that the parable He had just finished teaching was about them, and it galled them. But He wasn’t done yet. Instead of responding to the people, Jesus instantly transitioned to another parable, based on Psalm 118:22, depicting a building stone that was rejected by the builders of the temple, ostensibly because it was the wrong shape to fit into the existing structure, and no tools were permitted on the temple site with which to reshape it (1 Kings 6:7). In the Psalms passage, that same stone was found to have been cut by the chief planner to be the chief cornerstone for the new temple; the stone that, once it was in place, would determine the orientation of every other part of the temple.

Jesus capped off this imagery by pointing out the truth that anyone who fights against this stone, Himself, would end up destroying themselves in the process. He was trying to warn these leaders away from the reckless course of defiance and rebellion against God that they were already rushing down. He knew that it would ultimately result in their shame, their discipline, and their destruction, and it broke His heart. But they wouldn’t listen. Their anger at being called out only intensified their determination to bring Jesus down.

Father, the resistance of these leaders, even in the face of Jesus’ repeated warnings and condemnation, really is tragic. They did ultimately break themselves against the impervious rock that was Jesus; a great tragedy. Lord, help us to always work with You, and to never set ourselves against You. That is always a losing proposition! Amen.

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Today’s Scripture – April 9, 2018

Luke 19:39-40 (NIV) Some of the Pharisees in the crowd said to Jesus, “Teacher, rebuke your disciples!”
“I tell you,” he replied, “if they keep quiet, the stones will cry out.”

To these Pharisees, the shouting and overt joy of the disciples seemed inappropriate. After all, the whole crowd, walking into the city of Jerusalem, the throne of God, for one of the most awesome remembrances of the year, was being swept along in their enthusiasm, and even joining in with the chanting.

And what chanting it was! It seemed to them that Jesus’ disciples actually believed that Jesus Himself was the Messiah! That was entirely inappropriate, not to mention dangerous! They themselves, while they couldn’t deny that Jesus’ teachings were amazing and His miracles spectacular, had rejected Him as the Messiah because He didn’t fit their expectations. But now here He was allowing His followers to get the whole crowd stirred up, believing that He was the Messiah riding into the city to take over!

Something had to be done before things got entirely out of hand. So they demanded that Jesus silence His disciples, that He stop them from proclaiming Him the Messiah!

Jesus’ response is one of His most clear acknowledgements that the Messiah was precisely who He was: “If they keep quiet, the stones will cry out.” The Messiah was finally arriving to set men free from the mastery of sin and death, in fulfillment of God’s ages-long prophecies And that required celebration. If the humans were prevented from raising their voices to celebrate it, God would cause the very stones of the city walls to cry out the glad tidings!

Father, this far removed from the event, we have a hard time realizing just how big a deal this entry of Jesus into the city really was. And it is amazing to me that, in spite of the mountain of evidence, the powers that be refused to accept who Jesus was, instead of simply falling on their faces in worship. Help us, Lord to recapture the awe and wonder for ourselves of who Jesus is, and to continually raise our voices in praise, so that the rocks won’t have to do our job for us. Amen.

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Today’s Scripture – March 13, 2018

Luke 18:9-14 (NIV) To some who were confident of their own righteousness and looked down on everybody else, Jesus told this parable: “Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee stood up and prayed about himself: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other men–robbers, evildoers, adulterers–or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week and give a tenth of all I get.’
“But the tax collector stood at a distance. He would not even look up to heaven, but beat his breast and said, ‘God, have mercy on me, a sinner.’
“I tell you that this man, rather than the other, went home justified before God. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.”

This is a well-known parable of Jesus. But the context and target audience of any parable must always be kept in mind, including this one. Too often neglecting those two key parts of this parable has led to a theology where people believe that we must constantly emulate the tax collector, claiming forever to be miserable sinners, utterly unworthy to even lift our eyes to heaven.

But the target of this parable is not the average person, but those who were so confident in their own self-righteousness that they have forgotten about the grace of God entirely. They pat themselves on the back for their success in achieving what they consider to be their own right-standing before God, and look down with scorn on those whom they see as less righteous than themselves. Such were many of the Pharisees.

In the parable, Jesus draws a strong contrast between the self-righteous Pharisee (not a parody, by the way; this really was how many of them thought!) who marched into God’s presence believing that they have earned the right to be there, and that God is glad that they showed up, and the lowly, lost tax collector. The Pharisee’s sneering prayer leaves no room for God’s grace, either in his own life, or in the lives of those he so freely denigrates. It is, instead, a hymn of praise to his own righteousness, his own fastidiousness in keeping all of the minutiae of the law.

The tax collector, though, had not come to gloat, but to repent and to seek God’s grace and forgiveness. In place of the Pharisee’s self-assurance, he has only self-awareness of his lost state. In place of the Pharisee’s list of accomplishments, he could only identify himself with the simple label of sinner. Instead of pride, he has only heart-wrenching grief.

The moral is not that we always need to come before God’s throne like the tax collector, in shame and disgrace (unless, of course, we come with a load of sin to confess). It is that no one should ever strut into God’s presence like the Pharisee, proud of our own self-accomplished righteousness. Once we have truly repented and become one of God’s people, the proper way to approach God is neither strutting nor groveling, but in a spirit of grateful thanksgiving for the grace that enables us to be forgiven, to be holy, and to draw near to God in the first place.

Father, thank You for this vital lesson. It really is easy to hold up the tax collector as a positive role model for all Christians instead of just turning away from the model of the Pharisee, Jesus’ stated purpose for this parable. Help me to always approach You appropriately, with gratefulness and thanksgiving for Your grace that saves me and that operates in my life, forgiving me, empowering me, and enabling me to serve You without fear in holiness and righteousness before You all my days (Luke 1:74b-75). Amen.

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Today’s Scripture – March 6, 2018

Luke 17:20-21 (NIV) Once, having been asked by the Pharisees when the kingdom of God would come, Jesus replied, “The kingdom of God does not come with your careful observation, nor will people say, ‘Here it is,’ or ‘There it is,’ because the kingdom of God is within you.”

To the Pharisees, indeed, to many of the people of Jesus’ day, the kingdom of God was entirely different than it was to Jesus and to God. To them, it meant a restoration of their self-sovereignty, expulsion of the Romans, and them being remade into the preeminent kingdom of the world, as they had been in the days of Solomon. And it also meant the removal of the Herods, and a restoration to the throne of a descendent of King David.

So when they asked Jesus when the kingdom of God would come, they asked it sneeringly as a sort of underhanded shot. They completely rejected the very idea that Jesus was the Messiah, the one who would reestablish the kingdom. So their question actually came out something like this: “If You are the Messiah, tell us when You are going to reestablish God’s kingdom.”

But with such a different definition of the kingdom, there was no way for Jesus to give them a simple answer, a date or circumstance that would usher in the kingdom. The sort of kingdom that they were waiting for would never come. Their careful observation of the law would not usher it in. And when the actual kingdom was established, it would not be in a place or in a governmental system that someone would be able to point to and say, “There is the kingdom of God!”

Instead, though they had no eyes with which to see it, the kingdom of God was already right in their midst, established in the person of Jesus Himself. Wherever Jesus went, the kingdom was there in Him. Whatever He did was a physical manifestation of the spiritual reality of the kingdom.

The kingdom would be restricted to the immediate person of Jesus for a short time more. But after His resurrection from the dead, after His ascension to the right hand of the Father in heaven (Hebrews 1:3), and after His sending the Holy Spirit to indwell His followers on Pentecost, the kingdom became a reality in their hearts as it had been in His. And from there, it grew and spread until it covered the whole world.

The kingdom of God is still present in the world today, although it is much smaller than it could be, than God really wants it to be. It consists of every person who lives in the reality of Jesus as their Lord and King, who have been saved by grace, and who now live and work in the presence and power of the Holy Spirit, and who do God’s will “on earth as it is in heaven.” (Matthew 6:10) The whole purpose of the establishing of the Church and of the Great Commission was not to create a people waiting patiently for the kingdom to arrive. It was to create a people who, like Jesus, live consciously and continually in the kingdom; who take the kingdom everywhere they go; and who continually act in ways that are a physical manifestation of the spiritual reality of the kingdom.

Father, thank You for bringing me into Your kingdom, and for the power and grace to live there continually. And thank You for the multiplied millions in the world who live and work in the kingdom alongside me. Help us all, Lord, to live that kingdom life so fully, to obey Your commission so thoroughly, that Your kingdom grows and flourishes as You want it to. Amen.

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Today’s Scripture – February 26, 2018

Luke 17:1-3 (NIV) Jesus said to his disciples: “Things that cause people to sin are bound to come, but woe to that person through whom they come. It would be better for him to be thrown into the sea with a millstone tied around his neck than for him to cause one of these little ones to sin. So watch yourselves.”

Sin is a terrible thing. In the beginning, it was a destroyer that wreaked havoc with God’s good creation, ushering death and disease into the world, and separating mankind from His presence. It warped and twisted God’s image in man, and made sin and rebellion the most natural thing to do.

It’s not that sin became inevitable. At every juncture where temptation arises, people have a choice as to whether or not to give in to it. And, when a person receives Jesus into their lives, they receive at the same time additional power to do what is right and holy instead.

Notice that Jesus did not say that sin itself is bound to come, or that it is inevitable, but that things that cause people to sin are inevitable in this world. That is, no one will be able to avoid temptation as long as they live in the world. Even Jesus Himself was not immune to temptation (Luke 4:1-13), but He chose not to give in to it, and thus remained holy.

But Jesus did caution His followers to never become an agent of satan, a source of temptation to others. Here He is not only referring to temptations to break the Ten Commandments, for example by tempting people to covet or commit adultery, although that would definitely be included. He was also echoing things like the Old Covenant prohibition against encouraging idolatry, the worship of any god other than the true God as He has revealed Himself. (Compare to Deuteronomy 13:1-5.) He is referring the teachers of the law who, through the legalistic self-righteousness that they taught, put a wall of separation between their followers and God (Matthew 23:15). And, of course, He was referring to those like the Pharisees who were continually trying to get Jesus’ followers to doubt Him and turn away from Him to their ultimate ruin.

Life in the world will present more than sufficient opportunities for temptation. That is a fact of existence. But if I lead a person into temptation, especially a follower of Jesus, He clearly indicates that a terrible judgment awaits me.

Father, Paul echoed this same understanding when he wrote that he never wanted his freedom in Christ to lead someone else astray, so he always watched his step (1Corinthians 8:9-13). We don’t always think through the impact that our little compromises can have on those around us who look to us to see how to live in Your kingdom. But clearly we must. Help me, Lord, to never be a source of temptation, but only of encouragement, and clear and accurate teaching of Your word. Amen.

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Today’s Scripture – February 23, 2018

Luke 16:27-31 (NIV) “He answered, ‘Then I beg you, father, send Lazarus to my father’s house, for I have five brothers. Let him warn them, so that they will not also come to this place of torment.’
“Abraham replied, ‘They have Moses and the Prophets; let them listen to them.’
“’No, father Abraham,’ he said, ‘but if someone from the dead goes to them, they will repent.’
“He said to him, ‘If they do not listen to Moses and the Prophets, they will not be convinced even if someone rises from the dead.’”

The reality of his situation is finally starting to dawn on the rich man. He can receive no comfort or help from Abraham or Lazarus. His punishment is eternal, all because he was consumed by enjoyment of his possessions while he was alive, to the exclusion of being generous and loving to those around him who were in need.

So his mind turned from is own sad fate to his brothers, who were just as consumed by their stuff as he had been by his. If only there was some way to warn them so that they could repent and turn away from this dead-end track before it was too late.

In an instant the solution struck him: if Abraham would send Lazarus to his brothers, surely they would repent. After all, who wouldn’t listen to someone risen from the dead with an eye-witness account of the afterlife!?

But Abraham wouldn’t consider his request for three very good reasons. First, he had no authority to send someone back from the dead. That is God’s sole purview. Second, Lazarus is not the rich man’s servant, that he should run to do his bidding. But third, and most significantly, the rich man’s brothers, like he himself, had free access to the teachings of the law of Moses and the prophets that clearly showed them how they must live in order to avoid an eternity of suffering.

But the rich man was un-swayed. He knew that he himself had not paid attention to what the law taught about how to live as one of God’s people; he was too busy planning his investments and his feasts. And his brothers were cut from the same cloth. Even if the knew the law inside out, they were not likely to allow it to change their hearts. But if someone like Lazarus rose from the dead, that would catch their attention and open their hearts to change!

But Abraham saw clearly that if the brothers were willfully deaf and wouldn’t listen to the law and the prophets, even someone rising from the dead would not open up their hardened hearts to see how they were supposed to live, genuinely loving God, and loving others as well. In this, Jesus was taking a clear shot directly at the hearts of the Pharisees to whom He was speaking. They knew the law and the prophets inside out. In fact, most of them could quote large portions of the Scriptures. But many of them studied the law as a mechanism to win God’s favor so that He would increase their wealth. Their hard hearts had nothing of mercy about them. They despised those of their own people who were not as legalistically “righteous” as themselves, refusing to touch them, eat with them, or be near them for fear of contamination. And Jesus knew that even the reality of someone rising from the dead would have no impact on their hard hearts. Unfortunately, in just a short time, He would be proved right when these same leaders refused to have faith in Him after He Himself rose from the dead. Indeed, they tried to cover up His resurrection instead, and persecuted His followers who insisted on talking about it.

Father, Jesus was spot on about the hearts of the Pharisees. But we, even today, can fall into the same trap: following Your word because of the blessings we believe will come our way if we do, but not allowing our hearts to be filled with love, love for You, love for the lost, and love for those of the faith who are struggling. Change our hearts where You need to, Lord, so that we serve You out of unconditional love for You, and so that we love all of those around us with that same unconditional love. Amen,.

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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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