Matthew 23:1-4 – “Then Jesus spoke to the multitudes and to His disciples, 2 saying, “The scribes and the Pharisees have seated themselves in the chair of Moses; 3 therefore all that they tell you, do and observe, but do not do according to their deeds; for they say things, and do not do them. 4 “And they tie up heavy loads, and lay them on men’s shoulders; but they themselves are unwilling to move them with so much as a finger.” NASB
In considering the development of the Spirit of Religion and the Pharisees we see that in their pursuit of spiritual perfection and rightness they produced what is called the ‘Great Separation.’ That is important because they sought to ‘separate’ themselves from the heathen nations surrounding them. They identified themselves as ‘God’s Separated People.’ That was commendable but, over time, they grew lax and their enthusiasm for the scriptures and truth waned.
That brought about the rise of a group within the nation, the Hassidons (pious ones). It was loosely translated ‘saints’. They separated themselves and declared, “We will return to the devotion of God with a whole heart.” They were a group within the group and that progression is important to note.
Psalms 119 was written by a member of that sect and in it, you find key words such as, ‘Law, Testimony, and Statute.” The Torah was their focus. They loved the Word of God. They were so committed that when Greek thought and philosophy tried to invade Jerusalem saying, “All this Torah stuff is old fashioned, let’s get with modern thinking,” they resisted. They said, “No, we stand firm in our commitment to the Law of God.” They were persecuted, laughed at, despised, ridiculed, called old fashioned, and were the brunt of jokes. It was not easy being a Hassidic Jew.
Then, time marched on and we saw the first Hitler, Antiochus come on the scene. In the year 135 BC there was a split within the group. Some of them gravitated to politics and others to rededication to the Word of God. That group was given the moniker, “Separatists” and thus we have the Pharisees, (a separated one) coming into view.
This is where the Spirit of Religion that Jesus was so totally other than was birthed and began its ascent to prominence and power. This group became fanatical and sought to keep every jot and tittle of the law down to the most minute of details. They called themselves “The Association”. In that they were saying, we have associated ourselves with the Word of God. We have associated ourselves with those who Love God’s Word. We have separated ourselves from all who are not like us. That is dangerous! They were moving from being a group of devoted followers of God’s Word into fanaticism, being narrow and totally exclusionary. Does that sound remotely familiar in today’s’ world?
One of the significant problems in this mindset is they not only separated themselves from the world but from brother and sister Jews as well. They were saying to those Jews, “You are not good (holy) enough for us. We are the Association!” To become a member of that sect you had to be initiated and it took from 30 days to a year of intense examination, evaluation, and training.
They saw themselves as ‘the godly’ among ‘the ungodly.’ They believed that because of their Law Keeping that they and only they were the ‘True People of God.’ They believed that everyone else was phony. They would greet each other, “Shalom Neighbor.” Remember the scriptural directive “love your neighbor as yourself?” To the members of the Association, they believed that what God really meant was, “Love all the members of the Association.” They evolved to believe that it was okay to hate everyone else and that only those in their sect were True Neighbors.
That is a dangerous and deadly condition. It is serious. They were focused on Law, Law, Law, Law, and more Law. However, they realized in their hearts and lives that keeping the Law as difficult, if not impossible. So, they began to seek how they could keep the Law. That’s where they produced their Religious Methods and the Spirit of Religion rose to prominence. That is what we will talk about in the next devotional.
God bless you as you enjoy this wonderful day in Him!