“You search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; and it is they that bear witness about me, yet you refuse to come to me that you may have life.”(John 5:39-40 ESV)
Jesus said this to Jewish religious leaders. As you read the Gospels, it seems that if Jesus had a bone to pick with anyone, it was the religious leaders.
Among the religious leaders in Jesus day, the Pharisees were the most faithful to the law, the most zealous, the most “righteous”, and also the most conservative. They had the entire Torah (Genesis to Deuteronomy) memorized and were extremely well versed and educated in every detail of the law, the histories, and the prophets. And yet, with all their zeal and Bible knowledge, they were missing the point. They had lost the plot.
If you ever have the chance to see the movie, Matthew – Visual Bible, you should! Bruce Marchianno was brilliant in the role of Jesus. I have read his biography, In the Footsteps of Jesus, in which he shares that his goal was to play every scene as a love scene. God is love, after all, and Jesus is God. The way he portrayed Matthew 23 was so powerful!
Matthew 23 is a rebuke to the Pharisees and teachers of the law. He starts out by saying that no one should be called “teacher” or “father”, and that we all are brothers. All are equals in the kingdom of God!
Start at 3:05:00
The “woe to you” portion of Matthew 23 starts out with Jesus saying, “Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You shut the door of the kingdom of heaven in people’s faces. You yourselves do not enter, nor will you let those enter who are trying to.” (vs 13)
Watching him portray Jesus speech to the religious leaders made me both uncomfortable and inspired. What was it that made Jesus so upset and angry? What was at stake that caused this confrontation? What was the big deal?
Would you be angry and upset if someone was trying to seduce your spouse into leaving you? That’s sort of what was happening here, only far more serious. People for whom Christ came to rescue were at stake, including you and me. These religious leaders were misrepresenting God to the people. The fact that God wanted to love and be loved and have us live in love toward each other, was all but lost in all the hypocrisy and hoop jumping and demands made by the Pharisee’s religion.
Legalism says that obedience to the law, not faith in God’s grace, is the pre-eminent principle in redemption. That seems to be the problem here with the Pharisees. They were careful to dot every “i” and cross every “t” in their efforts to keep every detail of the law in order to win God’s approval, and so save themselves. Yet they neglected love and justice, mercy and faithfulness altogether.
Based on the amount of divine revelation they had thus far, would the Pharisees have come to any other conclusion? How would they have known that it was faith in God’s grace rather than strict adherence to every detail of the law that “saves” us? Here are three things they had:
- In Genesis it says that Abram “believed God and God credited to him as righteousness”. So they knew righteousness comes by faith in God.
- They had the commands of Moses to love God with their all, and to love their neighbor as themselves. They ought to have known that love was at the center of a life of faith.
- They had a conscience which convicted them of guilt. When Jesus said, let him without sin cast the first stone in the story in John 8, not a single one could say they were guiltless. Every last one of them dropped their stones and walked away. Would not guilt drive anyone to God to seek his forgiveness and grace?
The Pharisees practically had the Bible memorized and from sun up to sun down their lives were consumed at every moment with God and his word. They were experts in all-things-God! But apparently the point of a life of faith is not to become Bible experts. In fact Jesus said to these bible experts, “You snakes! You brood of vipers! How will you escape being condemned to hell?” (Matthew 23:33 NIV)
Did Jesus love the Pharisees? Of course he did! The apostle Paul was an especially devout Pharisee and it is likely that some of these same men who heard his “woe to you” speech were among those who eventually came to believe in him (Acts 6:7). Of course many (perhaps most) who heard his “woe to you” speech that day were the ones spitting on him, beating him, mocking him, and condemning him to a cruel death on a Roman cross just a short time later.
As I read through the Torah I wondered, “Would they get it? Would they get that this is all about love?” Cause I sure didn’t! Even though I went to Bible college and became a “Bible expert” myself, I struggled for years with a self-righteous judgmental religion and ended up loathing myself.
The Scripture that I started this post has echoed in my ears for years. I have spent most my life studying the Scriptures diligently, trying to formulate a philosophy (a world view) that would help me make sense of God and the world, and how I fit with either one. I was fairly content with all my philosophizing… and justifying myself… until I realized that my heart was empty when it came to grace. Empty when it came to love. Empty of life. Empty of Jesus. I was a proud “bible scholar” and the Lord needed to give me a much needed spanking! Thankfully, he did.
Eventually I came to realize I knew nothing at all if I didn’t love, and Jesus is the source of love. We must come to Jesus! The one to whom all of Scripture testifies about.
Jesus is the point! His love is the point! Without Jesus and his love we are nothing. Without Jesus and love we have lost the plot. Without Jesus and his love, our lives become meaningless and empty.
The following story is the Scripture that God put on my heart to share to end this post:
The Parable of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:25-37 NIV)
25 On one occasion an expert in the law stood up to test Jesus. “Teacher,” he asked, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?” 26 “What is written in the Law?” he replied. “How do you read it?”
27 He answered, “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind’; and, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’”
28 “You have answered correctly,” Jesus replied. “Do this and you will live.”
29 But he wanted to justify himself, so he asked Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?”
30 In reply Jesus said: “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, when he was attacked by robbers. They stripped him of his clothes, beat him and went away, leaving him half dead. 31 A priest happened to be going down the same road, and when he saw the man, he passed by on the other side. 32 So too, a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. 33 But a Samaritan, as he traveled, came where the man was; and when he saw him, he took pity on him. 34 He went to him and bandaged his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he put the man on his own donkey, brought him to an inn and took care of him. 35 The next day he took out two denarii and gave them to the innkeeper. ‘Look after him,’ he said, ‘and when I return, I will reimburse you for any extra expense you may have.’
36 “Which of these three do you think was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of robbers?”
37 The expert in the law replied, “The one who had mercy on him.”
Jesus told him, “Go and do likewise.”