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
The rise of the Spirit of Religion and the Pharisees was developed through their adopting a Religious Method to Keep the Law. They produced Fences. What I mean by that is they developed rules and regulations that were designed to keep a person from getting near enough to the Law to break it. They produced fences upon fences religiously.
In that, there is a clear problem. Over time, they ‘forgot’ what the command was and became enamored with the fence. They ‘forgot’ that the fences were man-made and began to call them the Word of God or The Law. It became incredibly complicated and they erected massive structures of man-made traditions. They moved from being persecuted to highly respected and many held them in awe.
It was impossible to not realize they were present. That was the whole idea. At the time of Jesus’ ministry, there were only about 6,000 of them but they seemed Omnipresent. You could not miss them. They were their blue robes and had their box on their forehead (phylactery). They placed a verse inside the box. They had a box tied around their waist and wore long prayer shawls. You could not miss them! Their outward visibility was for show and they sought to be noticed and sought to impose their religious views on everyone.
By the time of Jesus, they had become national heroes. It is commendable to believe that the Word of God “IS” the Word of God. They were fanatical students of the Scriptures and sought to observe and obey every Law of the Old Testament Mosaic Law. They loved to obey! They would even take the commands meant for the priests and seek to keep them. They demanded that everyone be educated in the scriptures and tithed on ‘everything’. They also were eagerly awaiting the Coming Messiah.
Therefore, there is much to commend them for. Yet, Jesus said, “You are a bunch of snakes! You are clean outwardly but inside; you are yesterday’s food rotting in the pot. You are dirty corrupt pots.” Now, the LORD has my attention. He is challenging the accepted religion of His day and questioning their motives and actions.
I suggest that when we understand ‘why’ the Pharisees are there it has the potential of blowing the lid off our religious theology. It has the potential to change our lives completely and bring us to a new freedom we never dreamed existed.
The Love that Jesus lived and that flowed out through Him can only be understood when contrasted to the brittle, rigid, formalism, and legalism of the religion of the Pharisees. It is only when we see what man has polluted that we can see what Jesus came to do. It is shocking to a religious legalist. It is in Jesus that Incarnate Love is dropped into the midst of the religion of the Pharisees. They are polar opposites and in direct conflict. The two cannot live harmoniously. One must be destroyed.
If Jesus had come and said, “I am come that you might have abundant life” without having the religion of the Pharisees to contrast that to, we would miss the power of the freedom He brings. He came and said, “I am the polar opposite of that!” If He had not had the Pharisees to contrast what He was bringing, we might think that He was simply bringing another religious system. We still try to relegate the Abundant Life of Jesus and His Incredible Grace to a religious system. We keep trying to live, in many ways, as Pharisees.
Some may have read what I have written and ask, “What is wrong with the Pharisees?” They seem like good people who wanted to live for God. What was it about them that induced the anger of God? I leave you with a thought that we will touch on in the next devotional, Jesus said, “I am not come to destroy the Law (Torah), but to fulfill it.” The Pharisee said the same thing but meant, “I am going to obey every detail by rigid observance.” He sought to earn favor with God and be worthy of God’s favor and that is the heart of Legalism!
Until next time, may the LORD be with you and guide you to Truth and Freedom!