"The only people Jesus criticized were the religious people."
They mean the Pharisees. They were religious people, and Jesus was awfully hard on them. But was it because they were religious? What did Jesus have against the Pharisees?
Jesus said, “They tie up heavy, cumbersome loads and put them on other people’s shoulders, but they themselves are not willing to lift a finger to move them” (Matt 23:4). The problem wasn’t that they wanted people to be holy; it was that they made up their own rules. They believed the 613 commands in the Hebrew scriptures weren’t enough to make a person holy, so they made more.
With respect to God’s actual Law, they were very concerned about the minutia, but they didn’t care about people: “You give a tenth of your spices—mint, dill and cumin. But you have neglected the more important matters of the law—justice, mercy and faithfulness. You should have practiced the latter, without neglecting the former” (Matt 23:23). Notice, Jesus wasn’t saying they shouldn’t have tithed of their garden herbs, but that these little things don’t take the place of justice and mercy.
No, frequently they didn’t care about God’s actual Law. As Jesus said to them, “You have a fine way of setting aside the commands of God in order to observe your own traditions” (Mark 7:9). They set up rules to allow people to avoid taking care of their parents (Mark 7:10-13) or lie (Matt 23:16-23).
They focused on the externals. They loved being thought highly of: “Everything they do is done for people to see: They make their phylacteries wide and the tassels on their garments long; they love the place of honor at banquets and the most important seats in the synagogues; they love to be greeted with respect in the marketplaces and to be called ‘Rabbi’ by others” (Matt 23:5-7). But they didn’t worry about the internals: “You are like whitewashed tombs, which look beautiful on the outside but on the inside are full of the bones of the dead and everything unclean. In the same way, on the outside you appear to people as righteous but on the inside you are full of hypocrisy and wickedness” (Matt 23:27-28).
Can modern Christian be like Pharisees? Absolutely. We can elevate religious trappings over doing good. We can certainly add rules to the scriptures (eg, Thou shalt not dance), and we can pick the rules we like to follow and ignore the rest. Some desire to be respected without bothering to be respectable. Don’t be like that.
Defending the unborn is not being a Pharisee. Opposing same-sex marriage is not pharisaical. Calling out sin as sin is not being a Pharisee. We have to avoid judging hypocritically (Matt 7:1-5). We have to follow the example of Jesus and be full of grace and truth (John 1:14). But our Lord expects us to stand for the truth.
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