Saturday, August 23, 2008

The Phony Pharisees

In the time that I’ve spent studying through the gospels, (which is not as much as I should) I’ve easily noticed an antagonistic people called the Pharisees. I can see all that is written about them in the New Testament, and knew briefly what kind of people they were. But in case you’re like me, and could use a little refresher, here’s a little more background on them:

The Pharisees (the Hebrew word means “the separated ones” or “separatists”) felt that God had set them apart to live by the Torah (the Law, or Teaching, of Moses). For them, this meant following the interpretations of the Torah laid down by generations of teachers. So in a sense, the Pharisees considered the interpretation of the Torah by their Rabbi's to be more important than scripture themselves. Some Pharisees held that a man was righteous if he had done more good than bad, while others apparently followed the stricter group who insisted that even the least implications of the Law must be kept. The Pharisees expected a Messiah (Hebrew for “Anointed One”; Greek: Christ), who would deliver them from foreign oppression (Romans) and rule with justice. However, Jesus of Nazareth had infuriated many Pharisees by interpreting the Law differently and claiming a special relationship with God. Thus, when some Jews began to proclaim Jesus as Messiah and Lord (a term usually reserved for God), strict Pharisees opposed them vehemently.

Hopefully, a short point to this study is taken from a few verses. Jesus warns the people that, in general, the so-called righteousness of these Pharisees was not righteousness at all. Jesus says they worship me in vain. Their worship is useless to Jesus, and to themselves. Matthew 15:8-9

The problem I have personally is that I now realize that I am a Pharisee. Or rather, God willing, that I used to be a Pharisee. I realize that in my 30 plus years of being raised as a Christian, I was taught to question everything. I’ve seen families break up because of arguments over scripture. I’ve seen families dis-associate and cut all ties because of disagreements over scripture. I’ve seen brother dis-own brother because of scripture. And I believe that I was simply too blind to see it then, but now I believe that I was raised and taught to be more of a Pharisee, than I was a follower of Christ. Verse after verse explains just what it was that Christ went through here on this earth – for us, because of these argumentative Pharisees. This Messiah or Christ could not be the one, they said, because he does not agree with our interpretation of scripture. This Messiah is not a follower of “our way” therefore, he is not the one, they said.

I continue to study, but I’d love to share these verses with you, as they have been on my mind for quite some time….In fact, I remember studying these same verses over the past several years. And each time I read them, I would say, I’m glad I’m not like that Pharisee, who thinks better of himself than he should, and I would turn around and judge someone whom I disagreed with, knowing in my heart that they were wrong, because they didn’t think of believe just like me…..what a paradox.

When Jesus taught on the mountain, the beatitudes, he explained that if a person is to teach, he must also follow his own teachings – unlike the Pharisees:
Matthew 5:20 For I say to you, that unless your righteousness exceeds the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees, you will by no means enter the kingdom of heaven.

When Jesus called Matthew, and Matthew had a large feast in his home for Jesus:
Matthew 9:11 Mark 2:16 Luke 5:30 And when the Pharisees saw it, they said to His disciples, "Why does your Teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?"

At the same feast, the Scribes and Pharisees asked Jesus why aren’t his disciples more like themselves – as if they were superior to them:
Matthew 9:14 Mark 2:18 Luke 5:33 Then they said to Him, "Why do the disciples of John fast often and make prayers, and likewise those of the Pharisees, but Yours eat and drink?"

On one Sabbath, Jesus and his disciples are walking through the grain fields, picking grain to eat as they walked:
Matthew 12:2 Mark 2:24 Luke 6:2 And when the Pharisees saw it, they said to Him, "Look, Your disciples are doing what is not lawful to do on the Sabbath!"

In this case, Jesus really sets the record straight in the fact that these Pharisees were more interested in their own traditions, rather than the commandments of God:
Matthew 15:1-9 Mark 7:5 1 Then the scribes and Pharisees who were from Jerusalem came to Jesus, saying, 2 "Why do Your disciples transgress the tradition of the elders? For they do not wash their hands when they eat bread." 3 He answered and said to them, "Why do you also transgress the commandment of God because of your tradition? 4 For God commanded, saying, 'Honor your father and your mother'; and, 'He who curses father or mother, let him be put to death.' 5 But you say, 'Whoever says to his father or mother, "Whatever profit you might have received from me is a gift to God"-- 6 then he need not honor his father or mother.' Thus you have made the commandment of God of no effect by your tradition. 7 Hypocrites! Well did Isaiah prophesy about you, saying: 8 'These people draw near to Me with their mouth, And honor Me with their lips, But their heart is far from Me. 9 And in vain they worship Me, Teaching as doctrines the commandments of men.' "

Luke 18:9-14 9 Also He spoke this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and despised others: 10 "Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. 11 The Pharisee stood and prayed thus with himself, 'God, I thank You that I am not like other men--extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even as this tax collector. 12 I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I possess.' 13 And the tax collector, standing afar off, would not so much as raise his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, 'God, be merciful to me a sinner!' 14 I tell you, this man went down to his house justified rather than the other; for everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted."

As if I cannot see the implications myself, Jesus plainly teaches his disciples to avoid the doctrine of the Pharisees. I realize that I am like them. I realize that I must put that off, and not be one of them. I realize that if I am just like them, that I am as pleasing to Jesus, as they were to Him:
Matthew 16:6 Then Jesus said to them, "Take heed and beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and the Sadducees." 11 "How is it you do not understand that I did not speak to you concerning bread?--but to beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and Sadducees." 12 Then they understood that He did not tell them to beware of the leaven of bread, but of the doctrine of the Pharisees and Sadducees.

Matthew 23:23 Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you pay tithe of mint and anise and cummin, and have neglected the weightier matters of the law: justice and mercy and faith. These you ought to have done, without leaving the others undone. Matthew 23:25 Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you cleanse the outside of the cup and dish, but inside they are full of extortion and self-indulgence. Matthew 23:27 Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you are like whitewashed tombs which indeed appear beautiful outwardly, but inside are full of dead men's bones and all uncleanness.

I apologize for being such a fake. I realize that in my own life, I have pointed the finger far too many times at others for stupid, inconsequential things that don’t matter, when I can’t even get my life straight. I’m sorry for being a Pharisee. Instead, I wish to be a follower of Christ. I’m sorry for appearing to be “all together” on the outside, while inside I fight my own set of demons. But most of all, at this moment, I am glad that I realize that what I should be is a follower of Christ. If Christ is my example, then I should follow him. I see a huge difference in the way Christ lived, and who he associated with, than I do with how the Pharisees lived and who they associated with. I'm also reminded of what a very good Elder friend of mine said to me, as I was explaining to him what all I couldn't do, and what others shouldn't do either. He said to me, "I don't focus on what I can't do, but what I can do - and then I do that." Thanks Mr. Dale.
Am I listening to what God is saying in His Word?

No comments:

Post a Comment