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Understanding a Pharisee

In the 8 weeks we have been studying The Villains of the Bible, I have come to the conclusion that the Pharisees were possibly the greatest villains in all of the Bible. They had the opportunity of leading the nation of Israel in receiving their long awaited Messiah, but they refused. Instead they have been relegated to the trash bin of history and their once lofty title is now used as a pejorative slur. So what is a Pharisee? Someone is not a pharisee simply because they are more conservative than you, just as someone is not a liberal simply because they are more progressive than you. A true pharisee has several distinct characteristics, and if we are not careful, they can find their way into each of our hearts.

I. Preoccupied with the Outside
In Matthew 23:4-7, 25-28 the Lord Jesus gives us a glimpse into the dark heart of the pharisee. He tells us that the pharisee is motivated by the approval of men, works for the adulation of men, and cares too much about his appearance before men. He does what he does in order to draw attention to himself. Oh how convicting this is for a man like me. We begin serving Jesus because we simply love Jesus, but then we begin to love the praise of men and fear the possibility of that praise going away. Therefore, we continually attempt to keep up appearances so that everyone will love us, appreciate us and follow us. We neglect the heart and focus on outward appearance. We forget that God is more concerned with the heart than anything else – I Samuel 16:7. We love our title (pastor, deacon, evangelist) more than we love our Lord. On the outside we look great, but on the inside we are filled with anger, pride, envy, lust and every vile sin. In a word, we are hypocrites.

II. Violently Defend their Traditions
In Matthew 23:29-35 we see heaven’s view of a pharisee. The pharisees of Jesus day would spend their days garnishing the tombs of the martyred prophets while plotting the death of Jesus. What a joke! These Pharisees were so in love with their non-biblical traditions that they would verbally attack anyone who would disagree. This frustration over losing their cultural traditions peaked to the point of violence. Jesus told the Pharisees that the blood of the martyrs from Able to Zacharias was upon them. It was such a true prophesy that these same men were the ones shouting for the crucifixion of Jesus only months later. Why did they want Him dead? Why did they hate Jesus? Because Jesus was attempting to expose their traditions as merely that…traditions. And this brought an ungodly fire and hate that resulted in the death of Jesus. Read Matthew 15:7-9.

III. Would Rather have Religion than Jesus
In Matthew 23:37-38 Jesus laments the choice of the pharisee. How many times did God attempt to reach out to this self-righteous group of people? How many times did He attempt to gather them together as a hen gathers her chickens under wing? But they would not. This is so very sad. I sit here and contemplate how many times God has tried to speak with me about certain issues in my life but I refuse to listen because I know better. These dear people felt it an unfair trade to give up their religion for the Messiah. They held stubbornly to their sin. They held stubbornly to their religion. They should have repented of their unbelief and pride and turned to Jesus in faith. If you have yet to repent of your unbelief and receive Jesus into your life, would you please take a moment and watch this video.

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IV. Compelled to Correct Others
What is it in the heart of man that prompts us to point out the mistakes of others? In Matthew 7:1-5 we see the ridiculous picture of a man with a beam in his eye attempting to help another man pluck out a splinter. The visual is too perfect to ignore. We see the pharisees screaming about the disciples lack of hand washing before dinner while they ignore the bread of life (Mark 7:1-8). We see the pharisees’ moral outrage at Jesus for associating with sinners while they harbored dark and sinister sin in their very hearts (Matthew 9:10-13). Jesus clearly says, “Judge not, that ye be not judged.”
A friend recently wrote on this subject ( . He states that there is a difference between having judgment and being judgmental. We ought to determine what is right and wrong but we must focus that determination on self and not others. It seems that once we learn that something is sin we immediately begin looking for that sin in someone else. Judgement must first begin in the house of God and in the heart of the believer. What I have found fascinating is that once a Christian understands the sin of a judgmental spirit we immediately begin judging those who are judgmental. We become the pharisee to the pharisee, compelled to correct the judgmental heart of the judgmental. Wow, Satan’s traps are truly intricate.

V. Big on Law / Low on Grace
I love the law of God, for without it I would never have known that I was a sinner (Galatians 3:24). Though the law is amazing, how much more amazing is grace? Jesus had another interaction with the pharisees in John 8:1-11. They had found a woman taken in adultery and pleaded with Jesus to condone her stoning to death. After all, it was according to the law of God (Deuteronomy 22:22). Sadly, it was true, the guilty sinner deserved to die according to the law. But then grace appeared. Jesus did what Jesus does best. He rebuked the pharisees and pardoned the woman. He forgave her and released her to, “go, and sin no more.” What grace! What marvelous grace this is! The pharisee gets nervous with talk of grace. He is concerned that this type of grace may lead the sinner deeper into sin. However, grace has the opposite effect. Grace actually leads to godliness (Titus 2:11-12). I have seen this true in my life and the life of many Christians.

I truly am thankful for the pharisees of the Bible. They give the modern Christian a very clear picture of what they could become if they choose to walk away from God and back to religion.

What are your thoughts? Are you like me, have you ever caught yourself acting like a pharisee? Can you think of any pharisees in the Bible that chose to reject their religion and receive the grace of Jesus? Please Comment below:

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