Woes to the scribes and Pharisees

Published 8:37 pm Tuesday, March 1, 2016

If you’ve ever been referred to as a Pharisee, it likely was not intended as a compliment. The scribes and Pharisees have a pretty negative reputation. We love to give them a hard time, and rightly so.  Jesus gives a whole list of reasons why in Matthew 23.

Matthew 23 contains seven woes against the scribes and Pharisees. Each woe focuses on the hypocritical practices of these religious leaders. “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you clean the outside of the cup and the plate, but inside they are full of greed and self-indulgence,” Jesus said.

The problem was not that they had laws. The problem was not that they expected obedience to these laws. The problem was that they themselves did not keep the Law as they should. Oh, they obeyed some of the laws.

They wanted everyone to look at them and see how righteous they were. But they were not really concerned with obedience to God. They were not worried about the issues of the heart that people could not see.

Jesus was always rebuking the Pharisees. He was always pointing out their hypocrisy. But people often misunderstand why Jesus rebuked the Pharisees.

He didn’t rebuke the Pharisees because they were too righteous. He didn’t rebuke them because they erected really high standards for themselves and kept those standards.  Instead, He rebuked them because they were not righteous enough. They did not meet the standards they had established, and they did not meet God’s standard.

Christians sometimes like to point to Jesus’ treatment of the Pharisees as a reason why we should not have high standards.

It is said that high standards of godliness lead to pride and self-righteousness.  Many assume that seeking to live a godly life means that you are like the Pharisees whom Jesus rebuked.

But God has given us a very high standard. He has given us His Law. Godliness and obedience to the Law is actually a standard so high that we cannot attain it on our own.

This was the problem with the Pharisees. They failed to recognize that they fell woefully short of obedience to the Law.

In fact, they were always trying to trap the only one who never sinned. Rather than placing their trust in Jesus and depending on His righteousness, they sought to destroy Him.

We have a lot to learn from Jesus’ interactions with the Pharisees. The lesson is that of not being hypocritical.

We do not avoid hypocrisy by lowering God’s standards for us. No, we avoid hypocrisy by striving to put off the works of the flesh and put on the fruit of the Spirit. We avoid hypocrisy by recognizing when we fail, and clinging tightly to the cross of Christ as our only hope.

Adam Blosser is the pastor of Drakes Branch Baptist Church. He can be reached at adam@drakesbranchbc.com.