Monday, November 29, 2010

A Meditation on the Scribes and Pharisees

Mark 7:1-8 (English Standard Version)

1 Now when the Pharisees gathered to him, with some of the scribes who had come from Jerusalem, 2they saw that some of his disciples ate with hands that were defiled, that is, unwashed. 3(For the Pharisees and all the Jews do not eat unless they wash their hands, holding to the tradition of the elders, 4and when they come from the marketplace, they do not eat unless they wash. And there are many other traditions that they observe, such as the washing of cups and pots and copper vessels and dining couches.) 5And the Pharisees and the scribes asked him, "Why do your disciples not walk according to the tradition of the elders, but eat with defiled hands?" 6And he said to them, "Well did Isaiah prophesy of you hypocrites, as it is written,

"'This people honors me with their lips,
but their heart is far from me;
7in vain do they worship me,
teaching as doctrines the commandments of men.'
8You leave the commandment of God and hold to the tradition of men."

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Did the Pharisees Love the Lord?

Mark 7:1-8 was the passage yesterday for our pastor’s sermon. His sermon raised an interesting point: Did the Pharisees and scribes love the Lord?

Often times, ministers will present the Pharisees as though they were orthodox theologians, who believed all the right things. Their only “little” problem was that they didn’t get the Jesus question right!

The problem with this theory, however, is that the Jesus question is the all important question! Jesus is the Lord-incarnate---He was Yahweh in human flesh! Since the Pharisees and the scribes hated Jesus and were plotting to murder him, I think it’s fair to say that the Pharisees and scribes did not love the Lord! The proof is in how they treated the Lord when He showed up in their midst in fulfillment of Scripture!

A Christian, by definition, then, is just the opposite of a Pharisee. A Christian is someone who has received and welcomed Jesus as the incarnate Lord, fully God and fully man in one person. Jesus is the Old Testament Lord, who came to earth in our human nature. In order to be a Christian, one must accept the person and work of Jesus Christ, and the Pharisees were not willing to accept His person or His work. When the Lord showed up they hated Him, which is just the opposite of the trust and love Christians have for Jesus their Lord.

But the Pharisees and scribes not only hated Jesus’ person, but they also hated Jesus’ work. Jesus came to save sinners, but the Pharisees self-righteously claimed not to be sinners! The Pharisees were so busy establishing their own righteousness via works, that they missed the righteousness of God that comes by faith to the person who believes in Jesus.

Two Possible Paths to God’s Favor and Blessing

There are only two possible paths to God’s blessing and favor. One way is to get God’s favor by being a good person and doing good deeds. There are two problems with this path, however. The first problem is that God’s justice and holiness will not allow a single failure. God does not grade on the curve. God must judge sin to maintain his justice. The second problem is that no person born after Adam has ever come close to being a truly good person who always lives for the glory of God. All of us have broken the Ten Commandment numerous times, and our inward being is inclined toward the love of self, not the love of God.

The only path for sinners that actually brings sinners to God is the path of faith in the Son of God’s work on the cross on our behalf. Only by condemning ourselves as sinners, who deserve only God’s judgment and wrath, and then looking to the grace and mercy Jesus earned for us by bearing our sin, can we enter into God’s blessing and favor. All other paths we devise are dead ends that lead us to the same sad situation of the Pharisees and scribes, who by seeking to establish their own righteousness by good works, actually came to hate and murder the Lord they said they worshipped!

The path of good works to earn God’s favor is a dead end that actually leads us to estrangement with, and hatred of, God! The true path into the favor and blessing of God is to judge ourselves in the light of God’s glorious law, and then embrace his justifying, life-giving gospel by faith. And, this is a path we must walk each day of our lives. It is a humble, self-deprecating path, but it leads us to love for the triune God and his glory.

Guarding Against the Idolatry of the Pharisees

The Pharisees did not love the Lord. Instead the Pharisees hated the Lord, as their treatment of Jesus showed. But if the Pharisees hated Jesus, then what did they love? If the Pharisees and scribes were guilty of false and vain worship (v. 7), then what did they truly worship? What did they trust and love more than the Lord --- more than Jesus?

Our pastor pointed us to Matthew 23:25-28. These verses give us some clues as to what they truly worshipped:
25 "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. 26You blind Pharisee! First clean the inside of the cup and the plate, that the outside also may be clean.

27 "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. 28So you also outwardly appear righteous to others, but within you are full of hypocrisy and lawlessness.
First, they were greedy, and this can be seen in Matthew 23:25. Greed can be for money or sex or power or reputation, but these were some of the idols of the Pharisees, according to Jesus. The apostle Paul calls greed idolatry in Colossians 3:5.

Second, the Pharisees had a problem with the worship of self/man. In verse 27 Jesus accuses them of being lawless. Instead of following the Lord’s Word, they followed their own word! This is Jesus’ point in Mark 4:7-8. They trusted in the word and understanding of men more than they did in God’s Word. Another way of saying it is that they worshipped tradition.

Third, their worship was false. This is the accusation Jesus makes in Mark 4:6-8. The scribes and Pharisees were not the true worshippers the Father seeks (John 4:23). Their worship was false or hypocritical because they simply went through the motions without truly giving their hearts to God. The New Testament describes true worship as offering ourselves to God in response to God’s mercy (Romans 12:1). If we come to church but don’t offer ourselves to the Lord, then our worship is false. If we say we love Jesus but live for idols, then our worship is false, and we need to repent and come to the Lord for mercy.

These idols and the false worship of the Pharisees and scribes are certainly things which Christians need to guard against. As John warns his fellow believers, so the Spirit continues to warn us: “Little children, keep yourselves from idols” (1 John 5:21).






Here is the beginning of my post. And here is the rest of it.

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