In Matthew 23 Jesus begins a list of rebukes and woes to the scribes and Pharisees. One of the most interesting facts that I learned about Israel during the time of Christ is that the Pharisees were not completely running everything. In the gospels, Jesus seems to be in the greatest conflict with the Pharisees. They are depicted as being His primary enemies and opponents. In the Bible we can get the impression that the Pharisees were the dominant force in Israel.
The reality was that the Pharisees were a powerful conservative reform group, but they were not completely dominating all of Israel. It was the Pharisees who promoted the strictest adherence to the laws of God. They were, however, just one portion of the population.
The Sadducees were those with the most political power. They were corrupt and mostly concerned with preserving their own positions. The high priests were Sadducees. The Sadducees tended to have the best relationships with the Romans. In fact, if we were living in Israel at that time, many of us would have probably been more impressed with the Pharisees because of their zeal for God.
So why did Jesus have so much criticism for the Pharisees? He even offered limited support “Therefore whatever they tell you to observe, that observe and do.” (Matt 23:3) Jesus gives us an answer as to why He took so much issue with them. “But all their works they do to be seen by men. They make their phylacteries broad and enlarge the borders of their garments. They love the best places at feasts, the best seats in the synagogues, greetings in the marketplaces, and to be called by men, ‘Rabbi, Rabbi.” Jesus’ problem with them was that the Pharisees were concerned that men would be impressed; they weren’t focused on pleasing God.
The error of the Pharisees is one that is not difficult to fall into. Part of the problem is that living and doing things to impress other people can reap immediate rewards. Living and doing things to please the Lord reaps greater rewards which many times are not realized in this life. Instant gratification can be a powerful motivator.
“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you cleanse the outside of the cup and dish, but inside they are full of extortion and self-indulgence. Blind Pharisee, first cleanse the inside of the cup and dish, that the outside of them may be clean also."
“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you are like whitewashed tombs which indeed appear beautiful outwardly, but inside are full of dead men’s bones and all uncleanness. Even so you also outwardly appear righteous to men, but inside you are full of hypocrisy and lawlessness.”
Like the Pharisees, we too can be concerned with pleasing the wrong people. We become men pleasers rather than God pleasers. It doesn’t matter how much praise and compliments we get; what matters is have we been motivated by a pure heart of faith seeking to follow the commands of God for His glory not our own.
When Julie and I moved into our house here, we had a very elderly couple living next door. The lady was suffering for Alzheimer’s. We were working outside in our front yard, and our neighbor lady decided that she just had to refresh us. She brought out some wonderful cut up watermelon in a cup. I was wanting to be very friendly and develop a good relationship with the family so I just went ahead and ate a piece without thinking about it…or looking closely enough like I should have… The inside of the cup was…in desperate need of washing. The outside looked fine, but the inside made it gross.
God says that He perceives us the same way. He wants to clean up our insides so that inside and out we can honor Him.