As one reads through the gospels you cannot help but be amazed by the grace and kindness of Jesus. Yet, his boldness and audacity are equally amazing. Jesus was not afraid of confrontation. The majority of his conflicts seemed to take place with the Pharisees. He calls the Pharisees hypocrites, white washed tombs, and blind guides. Why did Jesus and the Pharisees have so many disagreements? Why did Jesus use such tough words for this group? What can we discover and learn from their many mistakes?
First, we learn that outward actions of religion do not necessarily equal a relationship with God. The Pharisees were models of piety. They were faithful to the dos and don’ts of Scripture. They were careful about their own purity. Yet, all their religious activity was fake. Jesus calls them “whitewashed tombs” because their beautiful outward appearance covered the emptiness of their inward lives. In similar fashion, Christians can fall into this same trap. We do all the right things and say all the right words, but ultimately it is all show. We are dead and empty on the inside. It is crucial that are religious activity be the overflow of our love relationship with Christ.
Second, the Pharisees lack of mercy and compassion bothered Jesus. The Pharisees were more concerned about the technicalities of the Law than the condition of people. They often missed the miracles of healing and forgiveness due to their own legalism. Jesus reminds them of the verse in Hosea, “I desire mercy and not sacrifice.” Again, Christians are tempted to make the same mistake. Often our religious activity can be divorced from our love for God and love for people. We can become so consumed with our own desires, wants, and traditions that we ignore and neglect the needs of people. If our faith begins to make us increasingly impatient and insensitive, we may need to examine who we are following. Scripture is clear…the fruits of the Spirit are “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness, faithfulness, and self-control.”
Third, the Pharisees remind us of the importance of losing our life in order to find it. The Pharisees had an agenda and were unable to give it up. Jesus showed a new vision of God’s kingdom and the Pharisees would not accept it. Of course we are not tempted to have the same thoughts and views as the Pharisees did. However, we are tempted to keep control of our own life. We have agendas and sometimes we do not want to give them up. There are times when Christ shows us areas in our life we have not surrendered. There are times when Scripture confronts our prejudices and faulty beliefs. God constantly desires to shape and sanctify our lives. In those moments we have a choice, give up our life and agendas or hold onto them. Jesus tells us, “Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it” (Matthew 10:39).