What is a Pharisee? How do we know if we’re in danger of becoming like one?
There is no better phrase to describe the Pharisees than the one we read in Luke 20:20-26.
They were those “who pretended to be righteous.”
As things heated up with His opposition, Jesus stayed away from Jerusalem because His time had not yet come. But after telling His disciples repeatedly that He would go to Jerusalem and die, and now being in Jerusalem, He held nothing back. Jesus said what needed to be said the the Pharisees, even though it would infuriate them and lead to His death.
In Mt 21, Mk 11 and Luke 19, Jesus confronted the wickedness and hypocrisy of the religious leaders by cleansing the temple. He began His public ministry turning tables and chasing out money changers (extorters), and here He does it a second time.
The Pharisees and Herodians try to trap Him with a question about paying the despised poll tax. He asked for a coin, points out Caesar’s image, and says “give to Caesar was is Caesar’s.” Such wisdom! The people marvel.
The Sadducees see the Pharisees’ failure, so they gave it a try. They asked Jesus a question about marriage in the resurrection (they didn’t believe in the resurrection). Again, His answer was full of wisdom. The multitudes were astonished.
Where did this kind of wisdom come from? Remember Luke 2:52, “He grew in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and man.” Jesus had a growing wisdom because He immersed Himself in Scripture and spent hours in communion with the Father in prayer.
Next, a Scribe (a lawyer) and a Pharisee tried to trap him. “Which is the greatest commandment in the law?” Rabbis had determined there were 613 commandments contained in the Law. John MacArthur notes that the origin of the number 613 was that there was one command for each letter of the 10 commandments (interesting). There were 248 affirmative and 365 negative commands. They were divided into heavy and light categories, with the heavy ones being more binding. However, the Rabbis couldn’t agree on the list of what was heavy and what was light. This was how they were trying to trap Jesus. Get Him to take sides.
Again, Jesus answered wisely. Love God. Love people. Surprisingly, no one else dared to ask another “challenging” question.
So Jesus then had a question of his own. “Whose Son is the Christ?” The Pharisees believed the Messiah would be a mere man. They replied, “The Son of David.”
And here’s the crux of why they wanted to kill him. It’s what Jesus says next. “David himself said, ‘The LORD said to my Lord…'” Two different words are used for Lord here. Yahweh, all caps, was God’s covenant name. Then the second “Lord” was a title the Jews used for God. This phrase was taken from a Messianic Psalm, and Jesus used it to point out that God the Father (LORD) is speaking to the Messiah, God the Son (Lord). They considered Jesus’ claims of Deity to be blasphemy, worthy of death.
And so, the Pharisees were those “who pretended to be righteous.” Isn’t that the whole point of his “woes” in Mt 23, Mk 12 and Lk 20.
What does it look like to pretend to be righteous?
- You’re more concerned about what people think than what God thinks.
- You might do the “right things,” but your motive is pride rather than love.
- You justify yourself by your actions without consideration of your heart.
- You justify your actions by the results (the ends justify the means).
- You twist scripture to make it say what you want it to say, so you only see what you want to see and hear what you want to hear.
So that’s what a Pharisee looks like? What do I see when I look in the mirror? Can any of that ever be said of me? Unfortunately, I think the honest answer is “yes.” But isn’t that the first step away from being a Pharisee… seeing the truth about ourself.
Father, I want to put heart first. I don’t want it to ever be said of me that I was one “who pretended to be righteous!”
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