Join us this week as we look toward the cross and the empty tomb– Jesus’ death and resurrection. Our posts this week will follow some of the events leading up to Good Friday and Easter Sunday, as well as explore what these events and their implications mean to us. It all points to Jesus. In the Gospel of Matthew, we read a long series of discourses Jesus gives after his triumphal entry into Jerusalem (Matthew 21:23-25:46). In this concentration of red letters, we find Jesus telling parables, teaching lessons, answering the questions of skeptics, speaking about the end times, and even identifying the greatest commandments. He also spends a lot of words on those pesky Pharisees, part of the group that continues to try to undermine his authority and ultimately succeeds in getting him arrested and executed.
The Pharisees and their counterparts were the religious leaders of the day, but they didn't seem to lead as much as oppress and intimidate with their superiority. They went to extremes to follow God's law... and the manmade laws that had been tacked onto God's law over time. They followed the rules to the letter, but Jesus told them they missed the meaning entirely. To this day, to label someone a "Pharisee" is to call them a hypocrite, arrogant, and self-righteous.
Jesus said, "Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you are like whitewashed tombs, which outwardly appear beautiful, but within are full of dead people's bones and all uncleanness. So you also outwardly appear righteous to others, but within you are full of hypocrisy and lawlessness."
My favorite band just released a new album, and one of the new songs is called "Difference Maker." But this song isn't as plainly inspirational as it may sound at face value. Its writers have said that it is sarcasm, a sorrowful satire that shows how arrogant and foolish it is to think that we are able to be difference makers, leaders, perfect Christians on our own. The chorus goes, "'Cause I am the difference maker/ Oh, I am the only one that speaks to Him/ And I am the friendliest of friends of God."
The Pharisees were on the same track. They worked to create their righteousness, their lives, their religions, their positions before God, with their own two hands. They didn't use the law as something to point to God. In their arrogance, they used the law to point to themselves.
They didn't want Jesus around-- they were good with doing everything on their own. Jesus wasn't puffing them up or patting them on the back; He was asking them to change everything about how they thought and lived. He was preaching faith, not works. He was claiming the authority of God, not accepting their authority. He was showing them what it was for God to be with people. Jesus was God with us, but they wanted God for themselves. They wanted to be gods themselves.
Some say the Pharisees get too hard a time. Perhaps. But Jesus scolded them more than anyone else. And we know there were some who followed Jesus, so these generalizations aren't without exception. But I think the reason we down the Pharisees so much is that we see the same "difference maker" complex in ourselves. We have a tendency toward hypocrisy and arrogance, toward working for our righteousness apart from God's grace. A question we must ask is, "Do we really want Jesus to be God with us? Or do we want Jesus to be a God removed from us, a god we can shape in our image instead of being shaped in His?"
Jesus is God with us, but like the Pharisees, we choose whether or not we accept who He is in our lives.