Oh the Pharisees.
Such men who were held in high honor. Holy men who kept the law.
They fasted often. They ceremoniously washed their hands - often. They pursued purity with a passion and wanted nothing more than to live lives that pleased God. (So they said.) They saw themselves better than everyone else simply because they followed all of the religious rules of the day.
They may have done all in the name of the Lord but when they were faced with God in human form, their entire life’s work was put into question.
These men knew the law, they observed its commands, but they also had misguided interpretations of it.
Jesus’ ministry threw the Pharisees - and their livelihoods - into a whirlwind as His teachings called into question how they lived their very lives.
During John the Baptist’s ministry of preparing the way, “people went out to him from Jerusalem and all Judea and the whole region of the Jordan. Confessing their sins, they were baptized by him in the Jordan River.” Matthew 3:5-6
John was creating a scene that drew the Pharisees to see what was going on. As it was supposed to be, they were the most holy and had a following of their own “disciples” who postured after them. To hear a man who wore camel’s hair (dirty) a leather belt around his waist (dirty again) and ate food like locust and honey (definitely not clean) who was baptizing people of their sins, it had to be investigated. (Matthew 3:4)
When John saw the Pharisees and Sadducees approach to witness what all the commotion was about, he spoke to them:
“You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the coming wrath? Produce fruit in keeping with repentance. And do not think you can say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father.” I tell you that out of these stones God can raise up children for Abraham. The ax is already at the root of the trees, and every tree that does not produce good fruit will be cut down and thrown into the fire.” Matthew 3:7-10
John just totally called them out! He’s basically saying that for all of their “holiness” they needed to repent. (Repent? What? They were so holy and pure! They didn’t need repentance!) They needed to produce good fruit. (Don’t you see all the fruit of followers who worship us…er um…worship God through us?) He clumped them in the same group as the lowly people he was baptizing in the dirty river. (hOw DaRe hE!)
Don’t you think that would bring a rise out of them? And not only does he call them out, but he claims someone who is more powerful than him was coming to do a major house cleaning. (Matthew 3:11-12)
Basically, watch your backs, Pharisees. Get right or you’ll be cast out.
Now, think how a Pharisee would react at this moment.
Maybe they were repentant with a sober spirit in how religious they were in their faith. Maybe they joined the people getting baptized and stood in line. (That would be beautiful.)
Maybe they turned away and forgot about it. (Doubtful.)
Maybe they went back home and looked back at all they did and thought over their life’s work. (That would have been good so they could see for themselves just how much they overlooked God’s ribbon of love woven throughout their history.)
But really, they were offended.
Offended. Resentful. Insulted. Annoyed. Enraged.
Ok, John, you took it too far. And not only did he have the nerve to call them out, but he claimed another was coming who would wreak even more havoc and turn even more people away from them.
They couldn’t have that.
So their tactic in stopping Jesus? Their response to this offense?
Every single thing Jesus did. They called it into question. Instead of seeing the lesson to learn, they turned the focus away from themselves and they cast judgment on every single move Jesus made.
But you know what they say when pointing a finger at someone…three more are pointing back at you.
When Jesus sat with the tax collectors and sinners, they asked self-righteously for it was unheard of and unclean, “Why does your Teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?”
Jesus’ replies with truth, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick.” Matthew 9:10-12
When Jesus cast out demons and the multitude marveled saying, “It was never seen like this in Israel!”
The Pharisees, in their jealousy and offense, immediately threw shade at Jesus. "He casts out demons by the ruler of demons." Matthew 9:33-34
When the Pharisees were scrambling at straws to find issues with Jesus, they judged His disciples. “Look, Your disciples are doing what is not lawful to do on the Sabbath!”
Jesus replies with recalling history that the Pharisees had memorized of David when he and his men ate holy bread, “But if you had known what this means, ‘I desire mercy and not sacrifice,’ you would not have condemned the guiltless. For the Son of Man is Lord even on the Sabbath.” Matthew 12:1-8
When Jesus went into the synagogue where the Pharisees would teach and healed a man on the Sabbath, they judged yet again: “Is it lawful to heal on the Sabbath?”
Jesus’ reply, “What man is there among you who has one sheep, and if it falls into a pit on the Sabbath, will not lay hold of it and lift it out? Of how much more value then is a man than a sheep? Therefore it is lawful to do good on the Sabbath.” Matthew 12:9-14
When Jesus healed yet another demon-possessed man, the crowd marveled saying “Could this be the Son of David?”
The Pharisees yet again judge Him and try to persuade the crowds to see Him in a bad light. “This fellow does not cast out demons except by Beelzebub, the ruler of demons.”
Jesus’ reply, “If satan casts out satan, he is divided against himself. How then will his kingdom stand?…He who is not with Me is against Me, and he who does not gather with Me scatters abroad.” Matthew 12:24-30
“Then the scribes and Pharisees who were from Jerusalem came to Jesus, saying “Why do Your disciples transgress the tradition of the elders? For they do not wash their hands when they eat bread.” He answered and said to them, “Why do you also transgress the commandment of God because of your tradition?...you have made the commandment of God of no effect by your tradition. Hypocrites! Well did Isaiah prophesy about you, saying:
‘These people draw near to Me with their mouth, and honor Me with their lips, but their heart is far from Me. And in vain they worship Me, teaching as doctrines the commandments of men.’”
When He had called the multitude to Himself, He said to them, “Hear and understand: Not what goes into the mouth defiles a man; but what comes out of the mouth, this defiles a man.”
Then His disciples came and said to Him, “Do you know that the Pharisees were offended when they heard this saying?”
But He answered and said, “Every plant which My heavenly Father has not planted will be uprooted. Let them alone. They are blind leaders of the blind. And if the blind leads the blind, both will fall into a ditch.” Matthew 15:1-20
The Pharisees sought to expose Jesus because they did not like what He was saying.
His ministry called into question every single thing THEY did so in turn called into question every single thing HE did.
“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites!” (Matthew 23:13, 14, 15, 23, 25, 27, 29)
As they donned their garments of empty worship and fake posture.
As they put on the mask of having it all together.
As they claimed the Lord as God but spat in the very face of God incarnate.
They missed it.
They - who memorized scripture, who actively pursued holiness, who had followers idolize them in their celebrity status - missed the mark.
“Therefore, you have no excuse, you foolish person, every one of you who passes judgment; for in that matter in which you judge someone else, you condemn yourself; for you who judge practice the same things. And we know that the judgment of God rightly falls upon those who practice such things. But do you suppose this, you foolish person who passes judgment on those who practice such things, and yet does them as well, that you will escape the judgment of God? Or do you think lightly of the riches of His kindness and restraint and patience, not knowing that the kindness of God leads you to repentance? But because of your stubbornness and unrepentant heart you are storing up wrath for yourself on the day of wrath and revelation of the righteous judgment of God, who will repay each person according to his deeds:” Romans 2:1-6
“Do not judge, and you will not be judged. Do not condemn, and you will not be condemned. Forgive and you will be forgiven.” Luke 6:37
“A person may think their own ways are right but the Lord weighs the heart.” Proverbs 21:2
“Therefore let us stop passing judgment on one another. Instead, make up your mind not to put any stumbling block or obstacle in the way of a brother or sister.” Romans 14:13
“But I tell you that everyone will have to give account on the day of judgment for every empty word they have spoken.” Matthew 12:36
“There is only one Lawgiver and Judge, the one who is able to save and destroy. But you - who are you to judge your neighbor?” James 4:12
I must ask the question: do you have a pharisee heart?
Have you been offended by someone? Do you hold judgment in your heart because you take offense by someone's words or even by the Word of God? Are you so stuck in being right that you may overlook the truth that you might be wrong? Are you walking around with a self-righteous demeanor doing things in the name of the Lord but overlook having a repentant heart?
When our eyes are directed on the horizontal plane, we focus and obsess on things we shouldn’t be focusing on and obsessing over.
“Look at that person. Look how they live. Harrumph. They aren’t doing it right. They profess to do it for Jesus but the way I do it is so much better.”
There’s a root of pride in having a pharisaical heart. And when pride is poked, offense gets its dander up and judgment walks in ready to fight.
"And why do you look at the speck in your brother’s eye, but do not consider the plank in your own eye?" Matthew 7:3
Before we point fingers at each other, remember that our sin always looks worse on others than it does on ourselves.
"Whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things." Philippians 4:8
Scripture commands us to judge carefully, rightly, humbly and without hypocrisy. - Alisa Childers
May we learn to shed the mantle of offense and pride. Learning that we are all continually being refined. That we are ALL works in progress.
And before we speak out with a pharisee heart, before we react from offense with judgment, may we examine our own hearts first. And ask the Lord to hold our hearts to the light of truth.
“Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who does not need to be ashamed and who correctly handles the word of truth.” 1 Timothy 2:15
“Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” John 8:32
“Sanctify them by the truth; Your word is truth.” John 17:17
“Guide me in Your truth and teach me, for You are God my Savior, and my hope is in You all day long.” Psalm 25:5
~ Kissy Black