Who were the Pharisees?
- Teachers of the law – Moses PLUS a multitude of rules developed out of much discussion.
- Sought to impose these rules – legalism
- On several occasions they approached Jesus to challenge him and Jesus responded to them :–
13 “Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You shut the door of the kingdom of heaven in people’s faces.
15 “Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You travel over land and sea to win a single convert, and when you have succeeded, you make them twice as much a child of hell as you are.
17You blind fools!
24You blind guides! You strain out a gnat but swallow a camel.
25 You clean the outside of the cup and dish, but inside they are full of greed and self-indulgence.
You are like whitewashed tombs, which look beautiful on the outside but on the inside are full of the bones of the dead and everything unclean. 28In the same way, on the outside you appear to people as righteous but on the inside you are full of hypocrisy and wickedness.
33 “You snakes! You brood of vipers! How will you escape being condemned to hell?
If that’s Jesus opinion of Pharisees then I will want to avoid being one
Now: Matthew 15:1-20
- Their complaint:
1Then some Pharisees and teachers of the law came to Jesus from Jerusalem and asked, 2“Why do your disciples break the tradition of the elders? They don’t wash their hands before they eat!”
By which they meant ritualistic washing (like saying grace?)
- Jesus response: You have misused and transgressed Scripture and tried to make it subservient to your own traditions, inventions and interpretations:
3Jesus replied, “And why do you break the command of God for the sake of your tradition? 4For God said, ‘Honour your father and mother’ and ‘Anyone who curses their father or mother is to be put to death.’ 5But you say that if anyone declares that what might have been used to help their father or mother is ‘devoted to God,’ 6they are not to ‘honour their father or mother’ with it. Thus you nullify the word of God for the sake of your tradition.
- “Honour your heavenly father first!” Useful way to avoid responsibility and to enrich the temple funds
- Jesus’ dismissal:
7You hypocrites! Isaiah was right when he prophesied about you: 8 “ These people honour me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me. 9 They worship me in vain; their teachings are merely human rules.’
14Leave them; they are blind guides If the blind lead the blind, both will fall into a pit.”
- Avoid the legalistic hypocrites
- They claim authority of laws and interpretations, twisting it to suit their ends and to impose them on others.
- They claim righteousness but break the Law of God, setting standards of righteousness for others to follow. They are hypocrites.
- They put the traditions of men’s rules above God’s word.
- They claim authority for themselves to rule over others and support their own tyranny over the consciences of men
Are there Pharisees around in our time?
- Seems none of the original sect.
- If Pharisees are people who want to tell you how to live your lives, are hypocrites who want to rule over others, are leading people astray, even into the pit, then Yes, there are modern forms of Pharisees.
- Church Pharisees:
- Believe showing up for church every Sunday and other good deeds make them right with God
- They spend more time talking about what they are against than what they are for
- Don’t need to repent because they don’t have any serious sins
- Find every issue is black and white
- Condone in secret what they preach against in public
- Use the Bible to substantiate convictions
- Insist on certain practices and rites
- Get angry if rebuked.
- Are we being pharisaical when we expect non-Christians to behave like Christians?
- There are behaviours which the Bible makes clear and simple that, as a follower of Jesus, I should not follow
- If someone who claims to be following Jesus does not follow them I don’t make rules for them – it’s up to the Holy Spirit using the Bible to do that.
- But 1 Corinthians 5:1-13 teaches we should be ready to mourn for that person; that if they will not change not to associate with them. The language in that passage is very strong.
- It also says 12: What business is it of mine to judge those outside the church?…God will judge those outside. We can tell them why we behave the way we do and why we believe God thinks it’s the best way for them, too, but we can’t lay down the law for them.
- Non-Christian Pharisees: Also want to set morals, beliefs, behaviour for Christians to follow
- How should we respond to Pharisees? Like Jesus did?
- To Christians, perhaps yes!
- To non-Christians with love, gentleness, mercy and grace. There is some hope: Nicodemus and Paul were Pharisees.
The Pharisees were offended by Jesus but he was not surprised:
12Then the disciples came to him and asked, “Do you know that the Pharisees were offended when they heard this?”
13He replied, “Every plant that my heavenly Father has not planted will be pulled up by the roots. 14Leave them; they are blind guides. If the blind lead the blind, both will fall into a pit.”
Jesus’ lesson to his disciples:
- Breaking Rituals and rules don’t make you a sinner!
17“Don’t you see that whatever enters the mouth goes into the stomach and then out of the body? 18But the things that come out of a person’s mouth come from the heart, and these defile them. 19For out of the heart come evil thoughts—murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false testimony, slander. 20These are what defile a person; but eating with unwashed hands does not defile them.”
- You would think even Pharisees, modern and historical, would see the seriousness of such evil thoughts and actions
- For us:
- avoid being defiled by what comes from your heart.
- Jesus on Mount: blessed are the pure in heart
- Psalm 51:
10Create in me a pure heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me.
11Do not cast me from your presence or take your Holy Spirit from me.
12Restore to me the joy of your salvation and grant me a willing spirit, to sustain me.
The Canaanite woman
Jesus travelled north into what is now Lebanon, the land of the Canaanites.
According to Mark 7:24-30
- he was looking for some privacy
- Approached by woman who was Greek, born in Syrian Phoenicia; she was Canaanite and a gentile.
She came with a desperate plea;
2A Canaanite woman from that vicinity came to him, crying out, “Lord, Son of David, have mercy on me! My daughter is demon-possessed and suffering terribly.”
- Typical of a parent: her daughter was suffering terribly which meant she suffered too. Hence she asked for mercy for herself.
Jesus did not answer a word.
- This seems so harsh – but why should he answer?
- Why should God respond to the prayers of those dead in sin, the rebellious? He does – as we shall see in this passage.
- Have you had the feeling of not being heard, even knowing that Jesus does hear our prayers?
- Perhaps Jesus pushed her to persist – persistence in prayer is encouraged in parables.
- Perhaps the lesson is for the disciples and us
- 1Peter 1: 6In all this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials. 7These have come so that the proven genuineness of your faith—of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire—may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed.
Persist she did!
- The disciples couldn’t cope with her So his disciples came to him and urged him, “Send her away, for she keeps crying out after us.”– are we sufficiently troubled by the problems others face to intercede with Jesus on their behalf?
- He seems to become even more harsh! — 24He answered, “I was sent only to the lost sheep of Israel.”
But she doesn’t give up and Jesus’ response seems even worse:
25The woman came and knelt before him. “Lord, help me!” she said.
26He replied, “It is not right to take the children’s bread and toss it to the dogs.”
27“Yes it is, Lord,” she said. “Even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their master’s table.”
- Calling someone a dog is even nowadays offensive!
- But she was prepared to humble herself to be likened to the family pet that scrounged food from under the meal table – and quite likely be fed by the children themselves!
28Then Jesus said to her, “Woman, you have great faith! Your request is granted.” And her daughter was healed at that moment.
What I learn from this event:
- No one has any right to expect Jesus to comply with their requests an prayers
- He will respond in his own way and according to his will for us (1 jn 5:14 This is the confidence we have in approaching God: that if we ask anything according to his will, he hears us.)
- We may need to persist in praying until we get an answer – even if we must learn something first.
- Humility, a sense of dependence, perhaps confession and repentance are called for.
- Even be prepared to argue your case about why your prayer should be answered.
- Is 1:15When you spread out your hands in prayer, I hide my eyes from you; even when you offer many prayers, I am not listening. Your hands are full of blood!
16Wash and make yourselves clean. Take your evil deeds out of my sight; stop doing wrong.
17Learn to do right; seek justice. Defend the oppressed. Take up the cause of the fatherless; plead the case of the widow.
18‘Come now, let us settle the matter,’ says the Lord. ‘Though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they are red as crimson, they shall be like wool.
- Job 13:3 3But I desire to speak to the Almighty and to argue my case with God.
Jesus Feeds the 4000
Jesus turns from, apparently reluctantly, healing one gentile child to a hillside where he healed many Israelites.
- Great crowds – variety of healings of many people.
- The people were amazed – to be honest I would have been, too. Why? At least of the power of God demonstrated.
- So people praised God.
Then the miracle of feeding 4000 men, beside women and children with seven loaves and a few small fish.
In the previous chapter of Matthew is the record of feeding 5000 people. Putting the 2 together and I learn about the breathtaking power of God in Jesus and that he is to be praised and worshiped.
But I also learn more about myself as a fellow disciple with those with Jesus at the time.
- In both cases the disciples saw the problem and brought it to Jesus
- They participated in the solution Jesus provided by feeding 5000 but they still did not know how to provide for the 4000. “Where could we get enough bread in this remote place to feed such a crowd?”
- The disciples came up with the few loaves and fishes that Jesus used to miraculously provide.
- They participated in distributing the blessing to the people.
- They cleaned up the basketfuls of leftovers. Not just environmentally thoughtful but being blessed by the generous grace Jesus had lavished on them all.
- In the feeding of 4000 they collected 7 basketfuls of food.
- When feeding 5000 there were 12 baskets of food. 12 Tribes? 12 apostles?
- After feeding 5000 the disciples were at sea and were terrified to see Jesus walking on the water – did the basketful of miracles each of them had tell them nothing
Now, if I indulge myself in criticising the disciples I run the risk of being judgemental, hypocritical, even pharisaical.
- I, too, need to take care of who I really am, avoiding have things come out of my mouth that I will regret.
- I am aware that out of my heart come evil thoughts so I need to seek to keep my heart clean and exercise self-control.
- Like the Canaanite woman I need to be persistent in prayer and to be prepared to explain why my prayer is reasonable an to be humbled by the Lord’s answers.
- When I come across someone who is having trouble getting through to Jesus I should pray on his or her behalf.
- I keep forgetting blessings and miracles Jesus has done in my life – I must remind myself of them so that my faith is not so weak when it is needed.
- And especially to remember the greatest miracle of all
- That God in Jesus died to take the penalty and power of my failures and sin to give me forgiveness and acceptance.
- That he was raised from the dead to reign forever as the King of kings
- And gave me his Holy Spirit as a guarantee of my eternal life.
The Gathering Bellingen, 28 May 2017