Hypocrisy of the Pharisees

Jesus said to His disciples, “Beware of the leaven of the Pharisees which is hypocrisy” (Luke 12:1).

Jesus gave a long list of reasons for calling these religious leaders hypocrites.

  • They don’t do as they say (don’t practice what they teach)
  • They load people down with heavy burdens but don’t lift a finger to help ease these burdens
  • They do things in public in order to be seen
  • They love to sit in the best places and seats at feasts and in the synagogues
  • They like to be greeted in the marketplaces and called, “Rabbi”  Only Christ, God’s anointed, the Messiah was supposed to be called, “Rabbi”.
  • They shut the door of the Kingdom of Heaven in people’s faces. They themselves won’t go in yourselves but they don’t let others enter either.  One Bible commentator explains it this way:  Here they are charged with shutting heaven against men: in Luk 11:52 they are charged with what was worse, taking away the key–“the key of knowledge”–which means, not the key to open knowledge, but knowledge as the only key to open heaven. A right knowledge of God’s revealed word is eternal life, as our Lord says ( Jhn 17:3 5:39 ); but this they took away from the people, substituting for it their wretched traditions.
  • They take advantage of widows and in an attempt to legitimize what they are doing, they say long prayers.
  • They pay tithes of mint and anise and cummin but neglected the weightier matters of the law which are justice, mercy and faith.  These are the things which they should make sure are being done while still doing the other things.
  • They are more concerned with their outer appearance (Jesus likens this to the washing of cups and dishes).  It doesn’t make sense to have the outside of a cup or dish clean and left the inside dirty.  Same way it doesn’t make sense for people to look Christian or act Christian but their hearts are far from God.  Their thoughts are far from Him.
  • They are like whitewashed tombs which appear beautiful on the outside but inside they are full of dead men’s bones and all uncleanness.  So basically, they look beautiful outside but are rotten inside.
  • They appear righteous to men but inside they are full of hypocrisy and lawlessness.  If they were truly righteous, they would have shown mercy to those who were less fortunate.  They would have been happy when Jesus healed the sick, cast out demons and cured diseases.  They would not look down on people who were different but show them God’s love.  If they were truly righteous they would have kept the law but not at the expense of mercy.

The Pharisees condemned Jesus for breaking the Sabbath yet they plotted to kill Him.  He preached openly but they secretly arrested Him.  They called themselves children of God but their hearts were far from Him and they rejected Him whom God sent.  They laid aside the commandment of God to hold on to the tradition of men.  It seemed to me as if they worshipped the law instead of the Lawgiver.

They claimed that Abraham was their father but they were nothing like him.  Being Jewish was not enough.  Being circumcised was not enough.  Keeping the law was not enough.  They had to be like Abraham–he was righteous and he rejoiced to see Jesus’ day.  He saw it and was glad.  They needed to be circumcised in their hearts and not just in the flesh.

They needed to keep the principles of the law not just the letter.  The law is about love-not just a list of do’s and don’ts.  It is about love for God and love for people.  The law was supposed to be a delight not a burden  Jesus was sensitive to the needs and hurts of the people while the Pharisees were not.  They condemned people.  My Open Bible says, the word “Pharisee” means separated.  Their burning desire was to separate themselves from those people who did not observe the laws of tithing and ritual purity–matters they considered very important.

Their interpretation of the law of God had become more binding than the law itself.  Jesus often challenged these traditional interpretations and the minute rules that had been issued to guide the people in every area of their behavior (Open Bible, p. 1146).

They clashed with Jesus over the Sabbath.  They strongly objected to Him healing people on the Sabbath.  They did not believe that it was lawful to heal on the Sabbath.  Jesus’ response was wonderful.  He said to them, “What man is there among you who has one sheep, and if it falls into a pit on the Sabbath, will not lay hold of it and lift it out?  Of how much more value then is a man than a sheep?  Therefore it is lawful to do good on the Sabbath” (Matthew 12:10-12).

God places great value on people so it is expected that He would want us to care for them at all times, even on the Sabbath or especially on the Sabbath.  God’s work of love and mercy does not cease on the Sabbath as Jesus tried to show the religious leaders.  He said to them, “My Father has been working until now, and I have been working” (John 5:17).  They missed the point of what He was saying to them about healing on the Sabbath–it was work God Himself did and that was why it was lawful to heal and do good on the Sabbath.  They were too busy fuming at the fact that He had said that God was His Father, making Himself equal with God.

As Christians, we must be careful not to be so anxious to be “not of the world” that we neglect to reach out to those who are in the world as Jesus did.  Or so particular about keeping the law that we neglect to show love and mercy and compassion as Jesus did.  Like Jesus we must practice what we preach.  We cannot call ourselves God’s children or Christians and we reflect nothing of God’s goodness or Jesus’ character.   We cannot say we love God or Christ but show no love for people.  We cannot appear to be one thing but are something else.  It’s not enough to say that we are followers of Christ, we must act as such.  Our words and deeds must reflect this.

Let us not replace God’s teachings with the traditions of men.   God’s Word transforms, encourages and saves while the traditions of men does none of these things.  The traditions of men also places additional burdens on the people who are observing them.


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