You hypocrites, rightly did Isaiah prophesy of you: “This people honors Me with their lips, but their heart is far away from Me. But in vain do they worship Me, teaching as doctrines the precepts of men.”
All of us get instructions from other people, don’t we? People tell us how to do everything, from how to rear our children to how to manage our finances. But it is very important that we evaluate any instructions we receive from people before we follow through on them. Many times, these instructions are not coming from the Word of God; they are coming from other people’s opinions and prejudices. And sadly, many times Christians equate their own opinions with the truth of God’s Word. They try to make their opinions about certain issues your obligation to follow. Today we call those people legalists, but in Jesus’s day they went by another name: Pharisees.
The Pharisees were Jesus’s harshest critics. In fact, they were the ones who plotted and arranged Christ’s crucifixion. But the Pharisees were also the recipients of Jesus’s harshest criticism. He didn’t criticize the adulterers and murderers and drunkards; His harshest criticism was for the religious people who elevated their opinions above the truth of God’s Word. And in the process, they turned a relationship with God into a sterile ritual.
This week we are going to look at how Jesus dealt with the party poopers of His day. As we do, we will discover how to deal with the legalism that people try to impose on our lives as well.
There is a lot of misunderstanding about the Pharisees. The Pharisees were not priests; they were laymen–dedicated laymen of the Jewish faith. The word “Pharisees” comes from a word that means “separated ones.” The Pharisees’ goal was to help the Jewish people live distinctive lives from unbelievers. That’s a worthy goal, isn’t it? Shouldn’t God’s people be distinctive from unbelievers? We think of Pharisees as villains, but they really weren’t. They had good intentions, but they used the wrong methods to do it.
You see, the Pharisees thought the way to separate people from the rest of the world, to keep people living godly lives, was through laws and regulations. They believed that the Law of Moses was not enough to keep believers and unbelievers separate, so they added hundreds of rules and regulations that they made up. And they said if you really want to be holy, you have to follow all these rules. They mistakenly thought that following rules could actually make a person holy. But as Paul said in Romans 7, the Law doesn’t make a person holy; if anything, it stirs up a person’s desire to be more disobedient. For example, when you are walking along and see a sign that says “Wet Paint–Don’t Touch,” what is your first inclination? You think, “Gee, I wonder how wet that paint really is.” That’s what laws and regulations do. The Law is powerless to change us. The Law doesn’t deal with the inward heart problem that we all have.
Today’s devotion is excerpted from “Jesus and the Party Poopers” by Dr. Robert Jeffress, 2016.
Scripture quotations are taken from the NEW AMERICAN STANDARD BIBLE®, Copyright © 1960, 1962, 1963, 1968, 1971, 1972, 1973, 1975, 1977, 1995 by The Lockman Foundation. Used by permission.