Summary: The Pharisees were a group that wanted holiness in their lives and obedience to God, yet Jesus rebuked them more harshly than any other group. Where did they go wrong? How can we avoid their error?
Don’t Wanna Be A Pharisee
October 15, 2006
Let me tell you about two groups of people. The first group of people is deeply concerned about holiness. They are students of the Word of God. They are very careful about obedience to God. They take very seriously God’s admonishment to be holy. If they had a theme verse, it might be:
Leviticus 11:44 (NIV) 44 I am the LORD your God; consecrate yourselves and be holy, because I am holy.
Leviticus 20:26 (NASB77) 26 ’Thus you are to be holy to Me, for I the LORD am holy; and I have set you apart from the peoples to be Mine.
In fact, they take this idea of being set apart so seriously that the group’s very name is derived from this idea – a loose translation might be “the set-apart ones,” or “the separate ones.” They are known for their piety. They are known for being doctrinally sound – they believe the right things – the things you and I could affirm as far as many key doctrines are concerned.
Now, just from what I’ve told you, I think most of you would be like me – you would say, yes – that’s what I want in my walk with God, too! I want to be holy. I want my life to reflect the holiness of God. If this group was a church, you’d probably say, I can invest in that church.
OK, now let me tell you now about another group. This group is respected, but they’re not too well-liked. You might call them nit-picky. They’re extremely judgmental about a lot of things. When you’re around them, you feel as if everything’s out of bounds, and nothing you do is right, or at least not good enough. You have the feeling when you’re around people in this group that they look down on you. It seems as if they really think they are better than you. What’s more, you’re not so sure they’re as good as they seem to think they are. You wonder if they’re real. You wonder if their good deeds are genuine, or are done mostly to show off and make them appear good. They appear, in their seemingly righteous behavior, almost too good to be true. You can’t talk to them about anything, because they give off the impression that they already know it all.
This may or may not surprise you, but the first group, remember that group that you feel you might like to be a part of, and the second group, the one you probably wouldn’t want to be a part of, because they look down on you, is one and the same group.
And we all know who they are, even if you haven’t figured it out just yet. They’re the group that received the strongest rebuke from Jesus, many times in His earthly ministry.
Of course, I’m talking about the Pharisees. Here we have a Jewish group of Jesus’ time known for its piety. They’re mentioned 98 times in the New Testament, all but ten of those mentions are in the gospels.
The noted Jewish historian of that era, Josephus, wrote that the Pharisees maintained a simple lifestyle, were affectionate and harmonious in their dealings with others, especially respectful to elders, and quite influential throughout Israel.
They believed in divine sovereignty, and the human will, and the immortality of both good and evil persons. They were considered among the most accurate interpreters of the law. Holman Bible Dictionary says the name means “the separated ones.” They were deeply concerned, as group one mentioned at the beginning, with keeping the law.
Baker Theological Dictionary says:
The Pharisees developed their own body of interpretations, expansions and applications of the law that they came to regard as of divine origin. This was to understand and assist in keeping the law - often added regulations (fences or hedges) were designed to prevent even coming close to breaking the Law. Their social and political views were based on the premise that all of life must be lived under the control of God’s Law.
Holman Bible Dictionary says about the Pharisees:
The Pharisees were strongly monotheistic. They accepted all the Old Testament as authoritative. They affirmed the reality of angels and demons. They had a firm belief in life beyond the grave and a resurrection of the body. They were missionary, seeking the conversion of Gentiles (Matt. 23:15). They saw God as concerned with the life of a person without denying that the individual was responsible for how he or she lived.
So much of this we can agree with. If all this is true, where did they go wrong? What did the Pharisees miss?
We generally think of the Pharisees as evil people. That’s why it’s true when we say: