Summary: Jesus never liked bullies - still doesn’t either. Today we get a look at how Jesus dealt with the religious bullies of His time, the very people who would soon be His worst enemies.
Have you ever heard somebody let somebody else “have it” and feel a sense of glee over it? Ever seen someone let a bully “have it” and felt a sense of awed relief that bordered on giddiness?
I can remember an incident back in my early youth when a bully who had been picking on a friend of mine and me for what seemed like forever finally got his comeuppance…and it delighted me more than if I had gotten the Roy Rogers matching six-shooters for Christmas that I had wanted for like forever.
In the text we are studying today, Jesus has just done to the Pharisees what was done to that bully so long ago in my own life – He has publicly put them to shame. He has done this because they are bullies. They are guilty of misappropriation and misapplication of the Law of God and for weighing down God’s children with burdens they themselves won’t lift a finger to help them carry, then for harshly judging those very same people for their inability to carry that burden.
Jesus has just chastised them in front of crowds of the common people for distorting the Law of God and writing their own laws, then foisting them on the people they were supposed to lead in love.
When Jesus turned away from the Pharisees who had come with a plan to disparage Him in front of the crowds, He speaks directly to the crowd and in full hearing of the Pharisees. And the people cannot help but feel a bit delighted.
The Pharisees were respected, but they were feared, also. A ruling by the Pharisees against a person could get them expelled from the synagogue. Re member the significance of that? The Jews were not allowed to conduct business or to have anything else to do with one who had been expelled from the synagogue.
Have you ever been on the receiving end of a much-deserved, public lesson in humility? I assure you; I have. It is the most uncomfortable feeling in the world! How about you? Perhaps that shows the tendency in our hearts toward being Pharisees ourselves, hm? Something to think about.
At any rate, Jesus turns to the multitude – which we learned before means a very great number of people, probably in the thousands – and talks about the Pharisees, yet indirectly. His intention is not to talk about them, per se, it just happens by proxy.
What He is addressing, really, is the error in their reasoning and their understanding about why God had given the regulations about cleanliness and purity in the first place. To the Pharisees, the externals were the issue. To God – to Jesus – it was the internals that were the issue. The externals were merely the sign of what was going on inside of a person.
This is, of course, where we can so easily get confused, too. The problem with the Pharisees is that they, being the studious students of the Law that they were, should have known better. Just as we, as serious students and disciples of Jesus Christ and His teachings, should know better. Yet, we so often do not.
The externals are so much easier to judge, are they not? Go back with me, if you will, to a passage that we have looked at before. We find it in 1 Samuel 16:7: “But the LORD said to Samuel, ‘Do not look at his appearance or at the height of his stature, because I have rejected him; for God sees not as man sees, for man looks at the outward appearance, but the LORD looks at the heart.’"
The context of this is when God sends the prophet Samuel to the house of Jesse in Bethlehem to anoint the one who would be the next king of Israel after Saul was gone. Samuel looks at the very strong and handsome eldest son of Jesse and thinks to himself, “Surely the Lord’s anointed is before Him (verse 6).”
By all outward appearances, Eliab was the perfect choice. Samuel, God’s prophet and the one man in the country who would be most likely to know the mind and heart of God, was far from it at this point.
In our passage today, Jesus brings this message home in a deeper and more personal way. He publicly castigates the Pharisees, then turns to the people around Him and says, in essence, “What you put into your mouth isn’t what matters. This is what really matters – what comes out of your mouth.” He explains this a little later, but He gives a very clear summary of which perspective is right from God’s point of view.
This is a clear and direct contradiction of a great deal of the lifestyle and teaching of the Pharisees. They had to be beside themselves.