Many of us have been told that all of the Pharisees and religious leaders were prideful and arrogant to a man, that they did not practice what they preached, and were in general fake people. These are the chief reasons that I usually hear preachers and teachers attribute the criticism and chastisement of Jesus towards these men.
And why not? I mean it is a fun and popular message that the masses will love, right? You know, tell those pesky old self-righteous, overly religious Bible-thumpers off and make the sinner seem like the hero, right?
I have heard all kinds of reasons for this from a variety of preachers and teachers, yet these always seem to rank at the top. It is quite frustrating to sometimes see teachers who just don’t seem to get it.
Jesus certainly took them to task for pride and hypocrisy. And God takes all of us to task for being fake too. However, those really weren’t the chief reasons that Jesus condemned the Pharisees and their teachings at all.
“Then Jesus said to the crowds and to his disciples: “The teachers of the law and the Pharisees sit in Moses’ seat. So you must be careful to do everything they tell you. But do not do what they do, for they do not practice what they preach. They tie up heavy, cumbersome loads and put them on other people’s shoulders, but they themselves are not willing to lift a finger to move them.”
Why would I take this passage to try and prove a point that’s not to do with pride and hypocrisy? Because in Matthew 23 those weren’t the real issues that Jesus was getting at, they were only part of the problem.
We see in verse 4 that He is starting to let the crowds and His disciples know that a lot of his criticism had to do with the Pharisees adding to God’s laws their own laws that were cumbersome, and then refusing to even help them obey either God’s laws or their own made up laws. Furthermore, to get to the heart of the problem, in verses 13-15 we see that this had made the Pharisees and their laws an obstacle to salvation and reconciliation with God, which He hates. Their false teachings were making people either flee God or they became servants of the devil.
He continues further in chapter 23 to address their false beliefs and their system of trying to buy God’s favor and His salvation with their tithe and outward appearances. Jesus told them that they had neglected the important matters of the law.
And in verses 34-38 Jesus makes it clear that their chief sin is not believing in Him and the message that He would give them about Himself through the prophets. So their lack of faith was the chief cause of his anger with them and their teachings, as it led others astray and further alienated them from Him.
Let’s not try and make all of the other sinners out to be paragons of virtue and praise. There was not usually a lot that Jesus would praise about the other sinners, just their faith in contrast with the Pharisees.
They weren’t real people. They weren’t the good guys. They weren’t doing everything right. They just put their trust in the words of Jesus and that pleased Him more than anything.
Look at all of the confrontations between Jesus and the Pharisees or religious leaders. Several of these can be found in passages such as Matthew 21, 22, and 23 - Mark 3, 7 and 11 - and John 2. The chief points of his contention were always one of three things: the lack of faith, driving people away from Him with false teachings, and neglecting to truly honor the law that He had given them.
And all of that can really be boiled to a lack of faith. So remember, the thing that God really desires from us more than anything is our trust, faith and obedience.
Consider what I have said here, and God bless you!