JESUS DENOUNCES THE SCRIBES AND PHARISEES
"Be ye all of one mind, having compassion one of another, love as brethren, be pitiful, be courteous" (I Peter 3:8).
Loving One Another
There are good people in the world who are kind and thoughtful, and who love their neighbours as themselves. They try to obey Christ's instructions: "All things whatsoever ye would that men should do to you, do ye even so to them" (Matthew 7:12). And Jesus added to that, "For this is the law and the prophets."
There are other people, however, who do not love anybody but themselves. When they do some good deed, it is for their own benefit, or that of their family or close friends. They may give money to charity, but only for the purpose of receiving the praise of men for their generosity. They want to appear good before other people in spite of their selfishness.
The scribes and Pharisees, about whom we are now studying, were such people. They often went to church, but they made sure that they got the best seats. They stood on the street corners and prayed long prayers so they could be seen by the people. They shaved their heads when they fasted, so that everyone would know how pious they were. Yet these people had little love in their hearts for their fellow men.
It was through Moses that God had given the Law to the Israelites, and Moses was sometimes called the lawgiver. He had also explained to the Children of Israel what the words of the Law meant, so they would know what to do to please God.
Jesus now told the scribes and Pharisees that they were sitting in the seat of Moses, and they were supposed to be doing what Moses had once done. It was their duty to teach men and women what to do to be ready to meet God. But the scribes and Pharisees did not have the compassion Moseshad had. They would stand in the synagogues and harshly proclaim, "Thou shalt not. . . . Thou shalt not," but they did not love the poor people. The love of God should have been the most important thing in their lives. The Apostle Paul wrote, "Love is the fulfilling of the law" (Romans 13:10).
When Jesus said that we should treat others as we want them to treat us, He explained, "This is the law and the prophets," and not a new teaching. This was the Law that God had given to Moses and which the scribes and Pharisees had been studying and should have known.
The Law in the Heart
God had given instructions to the Israelites to bind His Law upon their hand and have it as frontlets between their eyes. This the Pharisees did. They wore phylacteries, which were four strips of paper with a verse or two of the Law written on each one, and carefully placed in a little leather bag or case. These were tied about the left wrist and on the forehead, and were worn especially at prayer time. The Pharisees were obeying this command in form, but were neglecting the part that God had also spoken: "Thou shalt love the LORD thy God with all thine heart, and withall thy soul, and with all thy might. And these words, which I command thee this day, shall be in thine heart" (Deuteronomy 6:5, 6). It was more important to have the love of God in their heart than to have it writtenon slips of paper and tied to their wrist.
Because the Pharisees had the Word of God only on their foreheads and wrists, and not in the heart, they were without love; and could bind heavy burdens on other people, while they themselves never moved a finger to help. They could "devour widows' houses," which meant that in the name of their religion they would tax the widows so heavily that the little they had would be taken from them.
In more recent times, such a person went to the home of a woman whose husband had just died. She supposed he had come to comfort her, and help her with her little fatherless children, but all he wanted was to ask for money for the church. She had nothing to give him except a cow which was her only means of support. When he came the second time andinsisted on having some money, she told him he could take the cow -- never thinking he would be so hardhearted as to take the last thing she had. He walked away with the cow, and the family had to be separated, the children sent to different homes to be cared for.
Of such hardheartedness were the Pharisees -- they had no mercy. Jesus said that they paid tithes, according to the Law, but they had left out the "weightier matters of the law, judgment, mercy, and faith."
God's Love for the Honest Sinner
Jesus called the scribes and Pharisees hypocrites, blind leaders of the blind, a generation of vipers (snakes) and serpents. He never talked to the honest sinners like that. He called to them: "Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest,, (Matthew 11: 28); "Let him that is athirst come. And whosoever will, let him take the water of life freely" (Revelation 22:17). He opened wide His arms, and welcomed everyone who wanted to be saved.
But to the hypocrites who stood on the street corner and said long prayers, He said: "Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! . . . ye shall receive the greater damnation." He called them "whited sepulchres, which indeed appear beautiful outward, but are within full of dead men's bones, and of all uncleanness." Imagine Jesus looking into their hearts -- past their long religious robes, their phylacteries, the pious look, the solemn face -- and finding such terrible sins that it reminded Jesus of "dead men's bones, and of all uncleanness."
Jesus also said they were like dishes which had been washed on the outside, but were dirty inside. It is more important to have the dish clean inside where the food will be placed, so that no one will become ill from the germs. One may dress modestly, to look like a Christian, and faithfully do the service of the church; but if he is saying unkind things about his neighbour, and imagining evil thoughts about his friend, his heart is not pure. "For as he thinketh in his heart, so is he" (Proverbs 23:7). It is the pure in heart, clean on the inside, who shall see God.
Our Father in Heaven
The Pharisees were people who went to church faithfully and read the Bible, and pretended to be so holy that men had to call them Rabbi Master, or Father. They held their heads high and acted as though they were better than anyone else. But Jesus said: "All ye are brethren. And call no man your father upon the earth: for one is your Father, which is in heaven." That did not mean that children could not speak of their parent as father, but that they must not honour a priest as God, and call him father. No priest can stand between us and God to make intercessionfor us, or forgive our sins. Jesus is our High Priest, and He taught His disciples to pray to God the Father, and ask Him to give them their heart's desire, in His name. He promised that if they prayed thus, they would receive what they asked.
Jesus never exalted Himself. He said He had come as a servant among them, to do good things for them. He told them that if they wanted to get a reward in Heaven they would have to do as He had done, If they humbled themselves, He would lift them up and honour them before His Father in Heaver. But people who exalt themselves, try to make others believe they are great and holy, Jesus will condemn; and they will be very much ashamed when they stand before God in judgment.
Many of the traditions of the Pharisees were without sense. They said that it did not matter if the people made an oath by the Temple, but it was wrong to swear by the gold that was in the Temple. Jesus asked them why they made this difference. Was not the Temple greater than anything that was in it? Was it not the house of God, and should it not be honoured as such? And if they swore by the Temple, God's House, were they not swearing by God Himself, and thus dishonouring Him? Jesus said they were not to swear by anything. If they told the truth, they need say no more than yes or no. More words would only make their statement sound less sure. Our government has made the provision that a Christian need not "swear" in court, but may "affirm" that what he says is true.
Jesus said the Pharisees were even shutting up Heaven so that other people could not he saved. How could they do that? In the first place, they did not believe that everyone could be saved, and that was what they preached. Of course that would discourage many from even trying to be saved. And others might become discouraged by watching the hypocrites, and say that if followers of God were so wicked and unmerciful, they would not want to be one. And so by their sins the Pharisees closed Heaven to themselves, and also hindered others from being saved.
The Pharisees said that if they had lived in the days of the prophetsthey would never have been guilty of killing such Prophets as Isaiah, Jeremiah, Zechariah, and Hosea, as their forefathers had done. But Jesus, who was much greater than the prophets, was now among them, and they were plotting to kill Him. The religious people, those who said they were the children of Abraham, and to whom the Law of God had been given, hated Jesus with such intense hatred that they were preparing to crucify Him. By doing this they would fill their cup of iniquity, and judgment would soon follow.
Jesus was sorry that the people would not repent. He did not want them to suffer, even though they had been mean to Him. Just a little while before He was condemned to die, He wept over Jerusalem: "O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, thou that killest the prophets, and stonest them which are sent unto thee, how often would I have gathered thy children together, even as a hen gathereth her chickens under her wings, and ye would not! Behold, your house is left unto you desolate."
This was their last opportunity to receive Him. They would see Him no more until that time when they will say, "Blessed is he that cometh in the name of the Lord." Some of the Jewish descendants of those wicked scribes and Pharisees will yet turn to Jesus and cry unto Him, their Messiah, for mercy. They will confess their sins and ask for pardon. Then theywill enjoy the blessings of God as do true children in whom is love foreverybody.
- Learn the Golden Rule (Matthew 7:12).
- Who was called the lawgiver? and who had this place in this lesson?
- Where had God told the Israelites to put His Law?
- Where did the scribes and Pharisees have the Law?
- The Pharisees paid tithes, but what had they forgotten to do?
- What did Jesus call the scribes and Pharisees?
- What does Jesus say to honest sinners?
- How did the Pharisees "shut up the kingdom of heaven"?