Jesus' Last Word to the Pharisees
I met with a young guy this past week that I was involved in ministry to. And he told me that he’s walked away from faith in Jesus – faith in God – and doesn’t plan on coming back.
He realised that all of his Christian activity before was actually not heart-felt, and was just a show, and he’s tired of pretending.
How sad that is. But I’m glad that’s he’s not pretending. Pretending gets us nowhere.
The Pharisees were pretenders, and we’re going to see Jesus deal with them tonight in a way unlike He’d ever done before. He’s going to reveal them for who they are, not for who they pretend to be. It’s a long chapter, so let’s begin.
HOW TO BE A PHARISEE
In His final teaching in the synagogue, which we’re reading tonight, Jesus rips off the masks that the Pharisees have been hiding behind in order to make themselves appear impressive. Jesus does this so that they, and those around them, will be able to take a proper look at what’s under the surface, and hopefully to be moved to repentance.
However, we see by the end that the Pharisees have actually passed a point of no return, and Jesus ends with a deep cry of pain and sorrow.
But before we get there, let’s look at just some of the points that Jesus attacks, some of the masks that Jesus rips off the faces of the Pharisees.
And before we start, I want to encourage to hold up a spiritual mirror tonight. Nobody wants to be called a Pharisee – they are a byword for wickedness now – but at the time they thought they were doing pretty well before God. Maybe you feel that way about yourself, and let this be a time to check your own heart and see if you wear some of the same masks that these did.
1. The Danger of Pride (vss. 2-15)
The first thing, and perhaps most obvious thing, that the Pharisees and the TOTL (Teachers of the Law) struggled with was a deep, unyielding pride. They had a deep longing to be seen and applauded by men.
Look at some of the descriptions Jesus gives: They love to sit in Moses’ seat – that means, they loved to teach the people from the Scriptures like I am doing now – because that meant that people looked up to them for wisdom. They loved to make their phylacteries wide and the tassels on their garments long. That comes from Deuteronomy 6:8 and Numbers 15 – instructions from God for people to help them to remember and remember to keep His Law. Phylacteries were little boxes which contained Bible passages, as well as a strip of leather which one tied around an arm. Tassels were worn at the end of one’s garment to remind the person of God’s commands. In order to show their devotion, the Pharisees made their leather strips wider and their tassels longer to be seen by more people.
They loved the place of honour at banquets and special seats at special events. Don’t we all? They loved to be called Rabbi, Father, and Teacher.
They loved to be seen, and people loved to see them. Some of these benefits to spiritual leadership they didn’t take by force, they received them from people.
But they were full of pride, and the end result of their pride was what Jesus says in verse 13: 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.
Pride keeps us and others from entering heaven.
Does your pride keep you and others from entering God’s heaven?
Before you answer, let me define pride for you: Pride is calling people to look at you rather than Jesus. Pride is worrying about what people think about you at a party instead of being God’s light at a party. Pride is getting upset that someone else got special treatment in the Home Affairs line instead of seeking to serve the people around you in the line. Pride is getting upset for not getting your own way when your boss takes the credit for your work.
Pride seeks self, not God. Pride always desperately tries to get attention, tries desperately to be approved by people, tries desperately to appear superior. And pride pulls people away from God.
You see, Jesus was flinging the gates of heaven wide open for anyone who would enter in, but the Pharisees couldn’t handle the focus going off of them, and so they tried to turn the minds onto them, and so turned those minds off of Jesus.
This is why Jesus called them Hypocrites – Hypocrites because they were pretending to hold open the door to heaven while in actual fact it is a door to a dark chasm. Hypocrites because they were standing in filth and calling it glory.
The question for you and I tonight is this: How often do we shut up the way for people to enter God’s glory because we want attention on ourselves and people to glory in us and our abilities rather than Christ?
The danger of Pride.
Let’s look next at
2. The Danger of Blindness (vss. 16-22)
Jesus doesn’t often call people names, but when He does, it’s something we should take note of.
When Jesus calls them blind, what is He actually accusing them of?
The Pharisees had allowed themselves to become blinded by worldliness – seeing things the way that the world sees them, valuing things because the world values them.
Look at what they had done. In their oaths, they had allowed the people to become fickle and only keep the oaths that were made on the things that people see as more valuable: The gold of the temple, the gift or the sacrifice of the altar.
But gold without a temple is just a metal, and sacrifice without an altar is just a braai.
Jesus rebukes the Pharisees; God’s Spirit – God’s presence is what makes the temple anything more than a hall, and the altar anything more than a fire-pit. You’re blind to spiritual matters; you care nothing for the God behind the temple practices.
And here we also fall short, Church.
How often do we put primary importance onto things that are only made of primary importance by God’s Spirit, but remain blind to God’s Spirit?
What do I mean? We can read Bible, run missions trips, preach sermons, say long prayers, plant Churches…and all with it being as dead and empty as an altar unconsecrated by God.
How often do we read out Bibles and not seek the God of the Bible? And then we say we’ve accomplished something, but we haven’t. We’re just as spiritually disconnected and blind as these Pharisees – we’re just less Bible literate than they were. Man, they knew their Bibles well!
Are you blinded by worldly treasures?
The third danger we see was
3. The Danger of Legalism (vss. 23-24)
I want you to notice that Jesus doesn’t rebuke them here for paying tithes. In all these matters, Jesus isn’t rebuking the Pharisees for what they’re doing, but for doing them with the wrong heart. Jesus doesn’t tell them to stop doing what they’re doing, He’s simply telling them that there’s more to it than just an outward show.
And here we come to the matter of just how careful the Pharisees were to obeying the minute parts of the Law. Tithing was required in the Law of Moses, but nowhere in Moses’ Law did it specify these herbs had to be tithed – these were just common herbs. Mint was sprinkled on people’s floors to help the room smell nice; it wasn’t an expensive resource.
And here the Pharisees were; tithing not just the resources that are specifically mentioned by Moses, but even the resources that are not mentioned, and yet Jesus rebukes them. Why?
Because they were taking the easy route!
What? Yes – the easy route.
Jesus says that there are some parts of the Law that are more weighty, and some that are less weighty – more important and less important. He doesn’t say to just keep the more weighty parts, He says keep all the parts.
But the Pharisees were only keeping the less weighty parts.
How on earth is tithing down to your smallest cent the less weighty part?
It is easier to do the less weighty things – it is easier to read Bible than to lay our heart bare before God – it is easier to pay tithe than to seek God’s direction for our finances – it is easier to give to the poor than to strive for their benefit – it is easier to swallow and bury hurt done to us by others than to bring that hurt to God and receive healing enough to extend mercy to our offender…
Legalism is easy, because it requires muscle work; surrender is hard, because it requires heart-work.
The TOTL&P made a great show of zeal in doing what was easy, and shirked the serious and more arduous requirements of duty.
And look to what extent they did this: It became a proverb: To strain out a gnat and swallow a camel. Both of these creatures are unclean for the Jew – you can’t eat either and be spiritually clean. But the irony of legalism was that they were keeping the lighter parts of the law – straining out a gnat as it were, while completely neglecting the weightier parts of God’s command: His call for heart work – swallowing a camel as it were.
This is the danger of legalism.
As Christians, we run from legalism. ‘No, I’d better not read my Bible today because then I’m just being legalistic; I’d better not attend Church until I feel like it because if I go when I don’t feel like it I’m being legalistic…’
Legalism is not 'doing spiritual duties' – spiritual duties are good! Legalism is doing them and taking pride in them; legalism is feeding the poor and telling them they should be grateful for you; legalism is waving your tithe around so people see what you’re giving; legalism is doing the physical work that God calls us to do without doing the spiritual work that God calls us to do with it.
That’s the danger of Legalism.
Let’s look at the next danger,
4. The Danger of Externalism (vss. 25-28)
What’s interesting about these first two verses that you won’t understand from the English is that when Jesus speaks about cleaning the inside of the cup and dish, He’s not talking about inside as in the inside surface.
Jesus is saying that the Pharisees have collected their food, as we see in the previous verses, through ungodly practices, through greed and extortion. Then they go and do their ceremonial washing of the plates and bowls and eat the food gained through sinful ways!