Clones or Disciples?
Modern Day Pharisees Clones or Disciples? Matthew 23:13-15 Pastor Pat Damiani June 30, 2019 NOTE: This is a manuscript, and not a transcript of this message. The actual presentation of the message differed from the manuscript through the leading of the Holy Spirit. Therefore, it is possible, and even likely that there is material in this manuscript that was not included in the live presentation and that there was additional material in the live presentation that is not included in this manuscript. Over the last 20 years or so as I’ve officiated high school and college sports, I’ve had the privilege to work with some really great officials. And I’m very grateful to a few of them who took me under their wing and helped me to become a better official. For me personally, the officials that helped me the most were the ones who helped me see the big pictures and made suggestions, but also gave me the freedom to develop my own way of doing things. But I also worked with some excellent officials who really aren’t very good at helping develop less experienced officials because they are so rigid and demanding. They insist that these new officials do everything exactly the way they do – even when that might not be consistent with the rules or established protocols and procedures. In a sense those officials were more interested in making clones of themselves than they were in developing good officials. And it’s possible for the same thing to occur in the church. Perhaps you’ve known some Christians who operate a lot like that. They are anxious to bring others on the same journey that they have been on, sometimes even for some very good reasons, like their zeal for God. But they tend to think that the way they have navigated that journey is the only way and they are so rigid and demanding that others do it exactly the same way they do. So instead of making disciples of Jesus, what they end up doing instead is trying to make clones of themselves. Today, we’ll see that the Pharisees tended to operate like that. They were quite set in their ways and they expected others to be just like them. So we’ll see what Jesus said to them about that and see what we can learn from Him so that we don’t become a “modern day Pharisee”. This is the third message in our current sermon series that we have titled “Modern Day Pharisees”. We are studying Jesus’ sermon in Matthew 23 where He confronts the scribes and Pharisees about the things they are doing to deter people from becoming His disciples and applying what we learn to the church in America in 2019 and to each of us as individuals. So let me remind you once again of the six ways to tell that you might be a “modern day Pharisee”. You might be a “modern day Pharisee” if… • You judge the Scriptures rather than being judged by them • You think you’re better than other Christians • You are more interested in making clones of yourself than disciples of Jesus • You look for loopholes in God’s Word in order to excuse your sin • You major in minors and minor in majors • You work harder at looking good than being good This morning, we’re going to focus on the third indication that you might be a “modern day Pharisee”: Before we read this morning’s passage, I need to call your attention to something that many of you may have already noticed. If you haven’t already done it, go ahead and turn in your Bibles to Matthew chapter 13 and go to verse 13. If you’re using the ESV translation, you’ll notice that there is no verse 14, but only a footnote that indicates that some manuscripts include that verse either after verse 12 or as verse 14. This is what is known as a textual variant and if you’d like to know more about it, I’d be happy to discuss it with you in more detail in person. But we don’t really have time to do that in the message today. There is also a link in this week’s newsletter that I sent out on Monday that provides some more information. But what I can tell you is that we find almost the exact same wording in both Mark chapter 12 and Luke chapter 20, so we can be confident that Jesus did in fact say those words, even if it wasn’t in this exact context. So I’m going to include verse 14 in the message today, that is if I can read the 2 point font in my footnote, which is a challenge even with my reading glasses. [Read Matthew 23:13-15] You probably noticed a significant change in verse 13, one that I mentioned a couple weeks ago at the beginning of this series. For the first 12 verses of this chapter, Jesus has been speaking to the crowds and particularly to His disciples, although obviously in a way that the scribes and Pharisees would have heard what He said. But beginning in verse 13, He turns and begins to speak directly to the scribes and Pharisees. As we begin this section, this is a good time for us to make sure we understand a couple key words that Jesus will continue to use through the rest of this chapter. The first is the word “woe”. Jesus uses this word seven times in this section. “woe” (Greek ouai) = [Interesting Greek word that sounds more like a guttural cry than a word. It also sounds very much like the Hebrew word that is translated “woe” in the Old Testament. It has two somewhat different meanings that are both wrapped in this one word] “warning/expression of grief” Woe serves the same function as a yellow traffic light. It is a warning against imminent danger if one doesn’t either get through the light or stop. It is important to note here that these are not curses pronounced by Jesus, but rather warnings combined with a feeling of grief and sorrow for the self-inflicted harm that the scribes and Pharisees are bringing upon themselves. When Jesus says “woe” to the scribes and Pharisees, He is not wishing judgment upon them, but rather reporting the fact that they are already under condemnation. And Jesus grieves about that fact. The second word is “hypocrite”. If you’ve been in church for any time at all, you’ve probably heard this word defined many times before. But for those who haven’t and as a reminder for those who have, let’s go ahead and define it again. hypocrite (Greek hupokrites) = hupo (under) + krino (to judge) = to judge under → an actor or stage player (who spoke from under an oversized mask that was painted to represent the character they were portraying) It came to refer to anyone who wore a figurative mask and pretended to be something he is not or to one who deceives others. With that preliminary work completed, we are now ready to dig into the passage. As we’ve done each week so far, we’ll try to accomplish two things with the message. First, we’ll see if we can identify those characteristics that the Pharisees displayed that might help us recognize our own tendencies to become “modern day Pharisees” and then we’ll talk about some Biblical remedies that will help us overcome those tendencies. HOW TO TELL IF I’M A “MODERN DAY PHARISEE” 1. I suppress the truth The scribes and Pharisees were in danger of missing out on the kingdom of God themselves. But even worse, they also shut the door to the kingdom in people’s face and prevented them from entering, too. They believed, and they taught others, that the key that unlocked the door to the kingdom of heaven was obedience not only to the Mosaic Law, but to the hundreds of man-made laws they had created. But by demanding that kind of perfect obedience, they actually ended up putting up a barrier to the only true pathway to the kingdom – the grace of God through faith in Jesus. Although the scribes and Pharisees were considered to be “experts” in the Scriptures, because they were convinced that their own understanding of those Scriptures was the only possible interpretation, they had missed out on the fact that those Scriptures pointed to Jesus as the Messiah. Jesus attested to that fact earlier in His earthly ministry when He addressed the Jewish religious leaders with these words: You search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; and it is they that bear witness about me, yet you refuse to come to me that you may have life. (John 5:39–40 ESV) Although the Scriptures that the scribes and Pharisees worked with every single day pointed to Jesus as the Messiah, because of their own preconceived ideas about the Scriptures, they refused to accept that Jesus was the Messiah about whom the Scriptures testified. And because in that culture, most people did not have access to the Scriptures other than through the teaching of those scribes and Pharisees, those religious leaders prevented others from discovering the truth as well. Today, especially here in the United States where the Bible is available to anyone who wants to have their own copy, no one is completely dependent on what someone else says about the Bible because we can all read it on our own if we want to. However, that does not in any way diminish the importance of the teaching of God’s Word that takes place in the local church. But ironically, often out of a desire not to turn people away from Jesus, there are a lot of churches who are guilty of doing exactly what the Pharisees did and suppressing the truth. At one end of the spectrum, there are religious institutions – I won’t call them “churches” – who peddle the same kind of religion that the Pharisees did that claim that one earns favor with God by their obedience to a set of rules. Some of them might even mix in Jesus as part of the equation, but ultimately “salvation” – whatever that might mean – is “earned” based on one’s behavior. At the other end of the spectrum are those who teach that God is love and therefore He just accepts everyone regardless of how they attempt to approach them. They are okay with Jesus, but they don’t view Him as the only way to God. There is a so called “church” right here in northwest Tucson that takes that approach. If you go to their website, you find this explanation of what they believe: We are deeply rooted in the Christian faith, but we appreciate the wisdom of other traditions. Too often, faith communities make exclusive claims on God and spiritual Truth. At ________________, we make no such claims. And then there are those churches who do believe that Jesus is the only way to God, but in order to avoid offending anyone, they don’t really give a complete picture of who God is and what is required for salvation. So they intentionally make sure not to talk about things like God’s righteousness, sin, judgment, God’s wrath and the need for repentance. But the fact is that any religious system or teaching that fails to point people to Jesus as “the way, the truth, and the life” (John 14:6) and the only way to God and that fails to complete a complete picture of the nature of God is slamming the door to the kingdom of God in people’s faces. And we can do the same thing individually by failing to help people learn the truth that is in God’s Word when we are given the opportunity to do so. 2. I prey on the vulnerable This is where verse 14 comes in. We read there that the scribes and Pharisees would “devour widows’ houses”. What is really ironic here is that we know how they did that because of their own records. When a woman became a widow and wanted to make sure her estate was secure, she would bring in a scribe to take care of all the legal work necessary to protect her estate. But while pretending to protect the estate, the scribes would actually mismanage the property for their own personal benefit. They would often live in the houses and leech off these widows, taking up their space and eating their food. They often took the house as collateral for the money they would lend to the widow to pay her legal expenses. So when the widow died there was nothing left for her children. And then they covered their unjust acts by praying long prayers that were intended to show others just how righteous they were. No wonder Jesus called them hypocrites! Right after these words are recorded in both Mark’s and Luke’s gospel accounts, we find the account of the widow giving her two small copper coins in the offering box. And we usually use that story to urge people to give sacrificially, even beyond what they can afford. While the Bible does consistently teach that we are to give generously and joyfully, given the context, I don’t think that is the point Jesus is trying to make there. He is actually using that example as evidence of how the religious leaders preyed on the vulnerable widows to the point that they felt compelled to give their last two coins to the religious leaders. The obvious example of this trait in today’s culture are the televangelists and other charismatic leaders who urge their followers to give sacrificially with the promise that God is going to give back to them and meet their financial needs. In the meantime those same leaders are living lavish lifestyles with huge mansions and private jets while their followers have nothing left. But that is not the only way we can prey on those who are vulnerable. While we don’t have time to cover all of those today, I do want to focus on just one of them before we move on. While I certainly haven’t seen evidence of this here at TFC, one of the ways we can prey on the vulnerable is in the way we treat those who are spiritually less mature than we are. And one of the forms that takes is to tell those who are less mature that if they want to be a good, mature Christian, that they need to do things exactly the same way I do. So rather than helping them understand the need to read the Bible consistently and helping them to find a reading plan that works for them, we expect them to use the same plan we’re using and then make them feel guilty if they don’t keep up with their reading. Or if they are struggling in their prayer life, instead of helping them get started by just talking to God for a few minutes each day, we expect them to develop elaborate prayer journals and pray for long periods of time because that’s how we do it. And when they have questions in a Bible study, instead of helping them discover the answers, we just jump in and impress them with our own Bible knowledge and make them feel stupid. Obviously, it is a good thing to help less mature disciples read their Bible and pray and study the Bible. But when we insist they do it our way, then we might be “modern day Pharisees” who are trying to make clones of ourselves rather than disciples of Jesus. 3. I want to make myself look good One of the good things that you can say about these scribes and Pharisees is that they were zealous about winning new converts to the Jewish religion. They went to great lengths to make proselytes – a fancy word that just means a Gentile who became converted to Judaism. In that culture, there were two kinds of proselytes. There were the “proselytes of the gate”. They got that name because they just barely got in the gate. They attended the synagogue and stopped worshiping their pagan deities. But they didn’t commit wholeheartedly to following the Jewish Law. Those proselytes were numerous. Then there were the “proselytes of righteousness”. They were the ones that fully bought in to being a Jew. They were circumcised and often became just like the Pharisees – self-righteous, legalistic, tradition keeping Jews. There weren’t near as many of them, but that is the kind of proselytes the Pharisees were after. The problem wasn’t that the Pharisees were zealous about making new converts. The problem is why they were doing that, which was to make them look good and to broaden their power and influence. They wanted to add to their numbers, not because that meant more people who would submit their lives to God, but rather because it would benefit them personally. And so, they tried to develop these new converts to look like them, rather than live in a way that was pleasing to God. And Jesus saved His harshest condemnation for that, claiming that the Pharisees made these proselytes to be “twice as much a child of hell” than they were themselves. In today’s culture, we see the same thing happening in many of the cults, who are focused on seeking outward conformity rather than inward devotion to God. But unfortunately, we also see this happening in the church. Like me, you’ve probably run into some Christians who “keep score” and they can tell you exactly how many people they have “won to the Lord”. I think in most cases, these people are well meaning, but by keeping those kinds of statistics they are putting the focus on themselves and not on God. The other way this commonly happens is when we become focused on trying to convert people to a denomination or a system of theology. When we do that we are essentially doing what the Pharisees did and asking people to follow a set of man-made rules rather than the Bible. So we end of making clones of ourselves rather than disciples of Jesus. I know we’ve spent a lot of time describing the things that we do that might indicate that we’ve fallen into that trap. So I’m going to be pretty brief in discussing… THE REMEDY 1. Be a student of the Bible Every disciple of Jesus is called to be a dispenser of the truth that is found in the Bible. That is not just the job of the pastor or the Elders. Every one of you here this morning will have opportunities to share Biblical truth with people that I will never meet. And when we have those opportunities, we will either share the truth or suppress the truth. And there are two things that will cause us to surpass the truth: 1) We just don’t know the truth because we haven’t put in the time and effort to learn it, or 2) we have an inaccurate view of the Scriptures, just like the Pharisees did. And the remedy to both situations is to make sure that we are students of the Bible. That means that we’re reading it on our own, we’re sitting under good Bible teaching and that we’re studying the Bible with others in a setting that allows us to learn from them and where we can also contribute to their learning. 2. Don’t approach the Bible with my own preconceptions All of us can easily fall into this trap. If you’ve been a disciple of Jesus for any time at all, you’ve certainly developed your own ideas about certain things in the Bible based on what you’ve been taught and what you’ve learned on your own over the years. And there are certainly some things that are black and white in the Bible that we ought to hold on to firmly. But there are probably a lot more gray areas, where we need to be careful that our own preconceived ideas don’t keep us from considering other viewpoints or allowing for the fact that there might be other equally valid ways to do things. That idea leads us to our third remedy… 3. Don’t insist on my way There are a lot of things that we do in church where the Bible leaves a lot of leeway. • The Bible does teach that we are to use a variety of types of music in our worship, but it doesn’t specify which exact songs we are to sing. • The Bible teaches that we are to give to bring the kingdom of God near to others, but it doesn’t specify whether we are to do that by passing a plate, or putting a collection box in the back or giving online. • The Bible command us to observe the Lord’s Supper, but it doesn’t specify how often that is to be done or the exact format. When it comes to those kinds of practices where the Bible leaves us some leeway, we all have our personal preferences. And that is fine. But we need to make sure that we don’t try to force those personal preferences on to others and insist that they do those things the way we want. As we close this morning, I’d like to encourage everyone to consider right now one thing that you could do this week to make sure that you don’t become a “modern day Pharisee” by trying to make clones of yourself instead of disciples of Jesus. Let’s all start by considering the three remedies we just looked at and circling one of those that you’d like to work on this week. And then once you’ve done that, would you spend some time praying about that this week and asking God to help you take one concrete step to apply that principle personally. Essentially our choice comes down to this. I can either build my kingdom or I can build God’s kingdom. I can either try to develop people who will look like me or people who will look like Jesus. Obviously the only one that has any lasting value is to build God’s kingdom by helping others to look like Jesus. Discussion questions for Bible Roundtable 1. What are some important truths about God and the gospel that we are often reluctant to share with others? Why do you think we tend to avoid those truths? 2. What are some of the benefits and drawbacks of denominations and systematic theologies? 3. What are some examples of our own preconceived ideas that might influence how we interpret the Bible? How do we overcome that tendency? 4. How would you deal with someone in the church who insisted that “their way” is the only right way to do something?