Amazingly, when Jesus arrived on the scene, something incredible took place. Not only did He free men from the law of sin and death, He also set people free from the religious seesaw they’d been chained to by the Pharisees and Sadducees. He gave the human race something they’d been lacking for a long, long time: an accurate picture of what God is really like.
Who Were The Pharisees?
Let’s look at the Pharisees. The most important thing you need to remember about the Pharisees is that they were truly men of the Word. These men committed to memory all 39 books of the Old Testament, including the full texts of Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, and Deuteronomy! But despite all their knowledge, they missed Jesus. How many people like that do you know? They are committed to the truth of God yet they somehow miss the living Christ.
The Pharisees of Jesus’ time missed Jesus because of the attitude in which they held truth. The Bible talks in Ephesians 4:15 about “speaking the truth in love.” Although the Pharisees excelled in “truth,” they fell sadly short when it came to love.
The Pharisees were harsh. They continually misrepresented God as a “can’t wait to rain fire and brimstone on you” type of deity. They were men that Jesus said would strain at a gnat, but then swallow a camel. In other words, they majored on minor points. They made a big deal about things that really didn’t matter. They were committed to truth at any cost, and they didn’t care who they destroyed in order to protect that truth.
Even the disciples battled that attitude. When Samaritans in a certain town refused to receive Jesus, two disciples went to Him and said, “Lord, do You want us to command fire to come down from heaven and consume them?” (Luke 9:54) But Jesus answered, “You do not know what kind of spirit you are of; for the Son of Man did not come to destroy men’s lives, but to save them.” (Luke 9:55-56)
I don’t know exactly what to call that spirit, but it’s still alive in America today. Remember when heretics were burned at the stake during the Middle Ages? Well it isn’t socially acceptable to burn people at the stake today, so now we just write books against them! Call it what you will, friends, but I call that a pharisaical spirit.
And that spirit is widespread in the body of Christ right now. There are books being written today on things that really don’t matter. It just isn’t that big a deal to prove yourself right on minor points of theology when billions of people are perishing without Jesus!
But the Pharisees taught us all a valuable lesson: that it is entirely possible to be committed to the truth of the Word, and yet not be walking in the greatest of all God’s commandments – love.
You see, I can say that because for years that described me! I was so insistent on the accuracy of the Word, I was often very harsh and judgmental. It took a fresh breath of the Holy Spirit (and some time of great humbling), to shake that attitude out of me. (Although I still cling to some habits that are hard to break, as evidenced by my continual rants that my wife has to listen to).
Who Were The Sadducees?
In contrast, the Sadducees were different. First, they didn’t accept to teachings of a resurrection (hence the joke: that’s why they were sad-you-see) (hee hee) But they were a very wealthy group of guys who sat around and dialogued on philosophical ideas – sort of a wealthy and powerful men’s club. They had a “let’s not rock the boat” mentality which caused them to live a life of compromise.
They were the ones who held most of the power – and all of the money. They were more concerned with outward appearance than with eternal values. A Sadducee’s reputation in society was more important to him than a personal relationship with God.
What about today?
If you look at the Body of Christ today, you’ll see we have both Pharisees and Sadducees in an overwhelming abundance. We have people who will kill you for what they consider to be “incorrect doctrine” (which I recently encountered on a post on another blog) And then we have others saying, “Hey, let’s just embrace everything and reach the lowest common denominator. If you sin a little, what difference does it make? We’re just human after all!”
Well, 2,000 years ago Jesus Christ walked right into the middle of this same religious situation. Here was God in human form, walking upon the earth for the first and only time in history – and guess what? He wasn’t a Pharisee or a Sadducee!
God’s True Representative
Before Jesus came on the scene, there was no accurate representation of God. God had been misrepresented by the legalism of the Pharisees, and His character had been watered down by the compromising philosophy of the Sadducees. You might think, “What a sad situation those people must have been in!” And you’re right! But, sadly, many Christians today are in that same situation.
The Body of Christ is plagued by extremes. Sometimes new Christians who have just come out of sinful lifestyles tend to be hard-line and Pharisee-like (been there, done that). Or young people who have come to Christ after being raised in a harsh or legalistic home may tend more towards being like the Sadducees: “Hey, everything’s cool. Let’s just get rid of all the nuclear warheads and fundamentalists – then we can fully enjoy the earth experience.”
That is a natural pattern of growth in our spiritual life. We used to say that every new believer should be locked up for a few years to settle into the Truth.
You see, the Pharisees and Sadducees were the opposite extremes – but is it possible to hate sin and not be a Pharisee? Is it possible to be compassionate and not compromise like the Sadducees? YES! It must be possible – because Jesus did it! He is our perfect example. He hated sin yet majored in love and compassion. And He never compromised. He was never a Pharisee, and never a Sadducee. He was the true representation of the character of God.
The Unchangeable Character Of God
Many times we interpret God’s character on the basis of what we have experienced in our own lives. But here’s a little principle to keep in mind: never interpret God by circumstances. Always interpret circumstances in the light of what you know the unchangeable character of God to be.
Take a look at Matthew 9:9-13:
“And as Jesus passed on from there, He saw a man, called Matthew, sitting in the tax office; and He said to him, ‘Follow Me!’ And he rose, and followed Him.
“And it happened that as He was reclining at the table in the house, behold many tax-gatherers and sinners came and were dining with Jesus and His disciples.
“And when the Pharisees saw this, they said to His disciples, ‘why is your Teacher eating with the tax-gatherers and sinners?’
“But when He heard this, He said, ‘It is not those who are healthy who need a physician, but those who are sick. But go and learn what this means, ‘I desire compassion, and not sacrifice,’ for I did not come to call the righteous, but sinners.”
Now Jesus Christ did some pretty unusual things. First of all, He called Matthew, a hated tax collector, to be His disciple. Not only did He call him, He went to eat at his house!
Think about Jesus, the holiest man who ever graced a human body, eating with tax collectors and notorious sinners. That would be today’s equivalent of Jesus sharing a pizza with drug dealers and pimps! But Jesus gained this reputation for being the friend of sinners, and the Bible says they came to eat with Him. He didn’t have to persuade them to come, they just enjoyed being near Him.
Today, if you walk out on the streets of any city in this nation and ask non believers what they think about Christians, you’ll usually get a response like, “They’re self-righteous and legalistic. They stab each other in the back.” But Jesus wasn’t like that! He couldn’t have been, otherwise sinners wouldn’t have come near Him! Jesus was every thing the Pharisees claimed to be, yet sinners liked to be around Him.
Do sinners like to be around us? It’s easy to be loving at church, but could we sit at the same table with a pimp or a drug dealer? It’s a hard call, friends – but Jesus did just that. And the fragrance of Christ overwhelmed the stench of sin.
Jesus Was Not Threatened By Sinners
Jesus absolutely hated sin, but isn’t it interesting that He was relaxed in the presence of sinners? This is almost impossible for us to imagine! The “norm” for Christians has too often been to totally withdraw from the world for fear of it wearing us down or overwhelming us. We’ve repeated that behavior over and over again in church history, even to the point where believers have totally withdrawn themselves from the world in order to be free of its stain. Strangely enough, Jesus Christ (who is in you, by the way!) never had to do that.
Jesus’ response to humanity was to show compassion. Everything He did in the Gospels was to exemplify the Father (John 14:9) and to serve the needs of humanity. This is portrayed in John 13:3-5 when Jesus washed the disciples’ feet during Passover. The disciples had a hard time grasping what Jesus was doing when He took off His outer garment (which basically meant He stripped down to His underwear!), girded Himself with a towel, filled a basin with water, knelt down and started washing their feet.
Now you may not be able to sense the intense emotion of this moment but you should see the eyes of people when I teach this message! In the Oriental culture, the foot is the lowest part of the body – the dirtiest and most unmentionable part.
Do you get the picture? Now let’s go back into the room and watch as this man stands m His underwear, fills a basin with water, kneels down, and starts washing feet. This is Jesus – the One who walks on water, raises the dead, heals blind eyes, and multiplies a boy’s lunch to feed 5,000. This is the eternal Messiah who is going to rule the universe forever! How could He pull a stunt like this?
Peter wouldn’t let Jesus touch his feet because the only people who ever touched feet in that culture were slaves! By washing Peter’s feet Jesus wasn’t just teaching servanthood and total loss of reputation -He was fully identifying Himself with the lowest human beings on the social ladder.
Jesus knelt down and held in his hands one of the dirtiest and most unmentionable parts of a human being – then He washed it clean. Many people probably thought, “Holy men don’t touch feet! There’s noway anybody’s ever going to think He’s the Son of God now!”
Jesus knew He was blowing their neat concept of holiness, yet He simply acted with compassion in response to a human need. Friends, if we don’t meet the needs of humanity, who cares if there is Christianity? Who cares if there is a church on every corner? Jesus Himself reminded us in Matthew 9:13: “I desire compassion and not sacrifice…” Have we really grasped what Jesus was saying here? Why are so many of us still concentrating on how “sold out” and spiritual we can be – even if that has nothing to do with compassionate concern for the needs of other human beings?
Selah . . .
(this was inspired by a teaching from Dean Sherman, dating back to 2007)
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