Beware the Leaven of the Pharisees

(Mark 8:14-21)

When Jesus gives us a warning we should listen. When he warned the disciples to beware the leaven of the Pharisees and Herod, they misunderstood. Thinking Jesus was talking about bread, they began discussing the fact that they had brought none with them. Jesus then pulled them up to get their thinking right.

beware-of-yeast-Pharisees-and-SadduceesIf we look at what the Lord said, it becomes obvious that he was not talking about bread. He was talking about the nature of bread, and more specifically, the nature of leaven or yeast used to make bread.

Leaven or yeast is used to make bread rise. It ferments and generates gas that adds body and air to the bread so that it become light and soft. It works slowly and anyone who has made bread knows that you must add your yeast and mix it in, then wait for some time to allow the yeast to work through the mix and rise.

Now it is this action that Jesus was comparing the Pharisees and Herodians to. The Herodians were essentially a political party and followers of Herod. They looked to him for hope and protection from the Roman conquerors and we see that they considered Herod a god as was shown in Acts 12:21-23. God however struck him down for his arrogance and pride for he did not give glory to God.

But the Herodians and the Pharisees were leading and teaching the people at this time. Like yeast, they were hidden amongst the people and working slowly to influence them against Christianity. They were spreading their poisonous teachings among the people using their power and privilege to turn the people away from the Lord, and were seeking by deception and stealth how to get rid of Jesus.

Jesus knew this only too well. That is why he warned the disciples to beware of them. The Pharisees and Herodians with their false teachings were dangerous. They were insidious and under-handed and designed to undermine the power and authority of the Christ. They did this to prop up their own positions and power, which they did not want to lose.

Jesus and his disciples represented a point of opposition for both the Pharisees and the Herodians. The Pharisees saw him as taking away their religious power for he was the Messiah and they wanted to deflect the people from him. And the Herodians opposed him politically for the Messiah was to be king, which meant that the kingship of Herod was exposed and would fall. In their self-interests they banded together against the common enemy of Jesus and his disciples for they did not want the status quo to change as they would lose their places of privilege.

False teaching today will do the same to us. Christians today have a need to understand the truth just as the disciples needed to understand Jesus was not talking about bread in this situation. The leaven of the Pharisees, which is about power and privilege over the people is not a lot different to the way some church leaders exalt themselves over those people in their flock. Rather than leading the people to a greater understanding of Christ and how to walk in his ways, they are concerned with the things of this world. Money, tithes, building big churches as a monument to their own glory rather than the glory of God.

God does not want your money. God does not want a fancy church hall. God is not looking for you to be rich in the things of this world. God wants you. As you are, regardless of your flaws, faults or weaknesses. He is prepared to overlook all of those things for the sake of your salvation. You cannot buy it or get it any other way than by coming to him through Jesus Christ.

So don’t let the fancy churches amaze or dazzle you. Don’t let the promise of riches in this world lead you into their clutches. Look at Jesus. After all, he came as a carpenter and his first disciples were fishermen. He came to serve, not be served and that is the attitude we all need to develop today.

Lord of the Sabbath

(Mark 2:23-28)

One of the laws under the Old Covenant was the keeping of the Sabbath. On the Sabbath no person in Israel was permitted to work including the preparation of food. It was meant to be a day of rest and a time for the worship of God. In addition no beast of the field was to be employed in labour of any kind so that they too had rest. Here we see as Jesus’ disciples pluck and rub grain to prepare as food while they walked through some grain fields on the Sabbath day. The Pharisees who were walking with them took the opportunity to condemn the disciples to Jesus. They said, “Look, why are they doing what is not lawful on the Sabbath?” (Verse 24)

This is typical of many people today also. Non-Christians will look at Christians and make assumptions and judgements of them based on what they see them doing. In some cases they are quite wrong for they do not understand the basis and truth of Christianity, but only have a vague notion of what a Christian is supposed to be. The general perception of what a Christian is or is not is often based upon fallacy, lies, half-truths and ignorance.

Now when the Pharisees chose to condemn the disciples before Jesus they got a response based upon a truth that they should have known, but failed to recognise. Jesus told them of several cases where people broke the Sabbath but were not condemned. Then he made the statement that the Sabbath was made for man and not the other way around. God established the Sabbath under the Ten Commandments so that men (and beasts) would have a day of rest each week.

It was not God’s intention that man should work continuously. We know ourselves today that when people overwork they get tired both physically and mentally and become run-down. When this happens their efficiency and effectiveness fall and can lead to poor productivity and lower quality and quantity of outputs. God in his wisdom recognised this fact, after all he created man and knew what his capabilities are, and so he made allowance for man in His law by giving man one day off each week. He also made allowance for man to give him annual leave by establishing the various feasts and special holidays that were encapsulated in the law. All of these things were done not for God’s benefit, but for the benefit of man. The Sabbath day rest was provided so that man could recharge and spend the time in worship and learning the ways of God so that he could improve his life both physically and spiritually.

The Pharisees failed to understand this point. They took a legalistic approach to the Sabbath and the law in general. They became inflexible and failed to understand that the law was given to provide man with insight and wisdom. The law was not meant to be a big stick to hit man over the head with when they did something wrong. They did not recognise the need for compassion, justice, mercy and faith, which are encapsulated in God’s law, but instead chose to use the law as a means of gaining power and control over the people.

For these reasons Jesus condemned the approach of the Pharisees calling them hypocrites in many places. They failed to rightly use the word of God to teach and train the people. When Jesus showed them the errors of their thinking it became quite clear that he was the Lord of the Sabbath.

The Authority of Jesus

(Mark 1:21-28)

When Jesus had called the disciples he went from Galilee into Capernaum and taught the people. On a Sabbath as he stood and taught in the synagogue the people were astonished for he taught them as one who had authority. In this section of Mark we see the beginning of the authority of Jesus.

The people noted that Jesus did not teach them like the scribes taught, but taught with authority. The scribes had a position of authority and yet the people discerned a different style of teaching coming from Jesus compared to the scribes. This is interesting for it shows a significant change. The Greek word translated here as “authority” has the sense of: power, force, mastery, competence and strength. This was how Jesus taught the people, as one who was master and competent to teach these things.

By contrast the scribes did not teach with power and authority. They taught the people by giving them the words but no explanation. They provided information but did not give answers. In another place Jesus speaks of the teachings of the scribes and Pharisees saying, “They bind heavy burdens, hard to bear, and lay them on men’s shoulders; but they themselves will not move them with their finger.” (Matthew 23:4) Jesus also branded the lawyers in this same way in the Luke 11:45 version of this event. The way they taught the people was to put them into bondage whereas Jesus taught them how to be free. The scribes and Pharisees were the keepers of the law and charged with teaching the people. Jesus said for the people to listen to what they said, but not to do as they did for they were hypocrites. (Matthew 23:1-3)

When you consider today the way lawyers operate you can understand this teaching and why Jesus spoke of them as he did. Lawyers do not provide answers; they give opinions. If you go to a lawyer over some matter of law they will offer a range of opinions saying a matter may go one way or another. But if you want a decision in the matter you need to go before a judge or a magistrate to get a decision. The lawyer will provide arguments to justify a course of action, but there will be opposing lawyers who will offer an alternative course of action, but neither group of lawyers will offer an answer.

In the same way the scribes, lawyers and Pharisees of Jesus time were not offering the people answers. They had the law, which was quite clear, but they confused it and made it complex by adding their own traditions and interpretations. Look at what Jesus said about their teachings in Mark 7:7-13;

7 in vain do they worship me, teaching as doctrines the precepts of men.’
8 You leave the commandment of God, and hold fast the tradition of men.”
9 And he said to them, “You have a fine way of rejecting the commandment of God, in order to keep your tradition!
10 For Moses said, ‘Honor your father and your mother’; and, ‘He who speaks evil of father or mother, let him surely die’;
11 but you say, ‘If a man tells his father or his mother, What you would have gained from me is Corban’ (that is, given to God) —
12 then you no longer permit him to do anything for his father or mother,
13 thus making void the word of God through your tradition which you hand on. And many such things you do.”

They mixed their man-made traditions with the word of God and negated the law through their false teaching. Is it any wonder the people were confused and that in Jesus they saw someone who taught with authority for his teachings were truth.

We also see evidence of his power and authority in this same section. A man with an unclean spirit was in the synagogue and the demons in the man recognised Jesus and his power and authority. They spoke to Jesus saying, “What have you to do with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are, the Holy One of God.” (Verse 24) Jesus rebuked the demons telling them to be silent and to come out of the man, which they did. This was clear evidence of the authority of Jesus for the people questioned and wondered about his teaching, as they had never seen anyone do the things he did before.

Jesus said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me.” (Matthew 28:20) So we can confidently go to him and find the truth if we are prepared to look. He has promised that if we seek his truth we will find it for he will show it to us.

The Trial of Jesus before Caiaphas

(Matthew 26:57-68)

The trial of Jesus before Caiaphas could only be described as a kangaroo court. They had already pronounced judgement before he was brought to trial. All they needed was for someone to provide a reason for taking their drastic action and give them reason to put the Lord to death.

However this was not as easy as they presumed. Many false witnesses were brought forward to accuse him, but none of their testimonies corroborated. Under the Law of Moses, judgment could be made on the evidence of two witnesses. However they could not find two that agreed. Their witnesses were false and their legal process was a mockery.

Eventually two people came forward testifying that Jesus had said, “I am able to destroy the temple of God, and to build it in three days.” (Verse 61) However they were wrong for Jesus was not saying he would destroy the temple of God. In John 2:19 it shows he said, “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.” Then in Mark 14:58 it says, “I will destroy this temple that is made with hands, and in three days I will build another, not made with hands.” In both instances he is not speaking about the destruction of the temple of God in Jerusalem, but as John showed, “…he spoke of the temple of his body.” (John 2:21) Their testimony was wrong for they misinterpreted his words for they could not understand what Jesus was speaking about.

In fact what the Lord was telling them was that when he was put to death he would rise after three days. His death and resurrection would then indeed have the effect of destroying not the temple of God, but the temple worship. All of the practices and customs followed under the Law of Moses would cease to be relevant when the New Covenant was ratified in the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. People would no longer need to go to worship God at the temple in Jerusalem under the processes of the law. Instead they would need to worship God in spirit and truth. Jesus explained this matter in some detail in his conversation with the woman at the well in John 4:20-24.

20 Our fathers worshiped on this mountain; and you say that in Jerusalem is the place where men ought to worship.”
21 Jesus said to her, “Woman, believe me, the hour is coming when neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem will you worship the Father.
22 You worship what you do not know; we worship what we know, for salvation is from the Jews.
23 But the hour is coming, and now is, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for such the Father seeks to worship him.
24 God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth.”

When Jesus was standing before Caiaphas, his accusers had no understanding of what this statement meant. And despite all of the miracles, healings and wonders he performed, not to forget the teachings of life that he brought to the people, they still did not recognise him as the Christ. In verse 63 we see the high priest ask again saying, “I adjure you by the living God, tell us if you are the Christ, the Son of God.” When Jesus said that it was so and that they would only see him in future coming on the clouds and seated at the right hand of Power, that is the Father, his accusers called his statements blasphemy. Jesus was speaking the truth and they called his truth a lie. They used their lie then as justification for putting the Lord to death and treated him shamefully, striking him and spitting in his face.

This was indeed a low time and a time of great sorrow. Jesus did not deserve this treatment for he had spoken the truth. He is the Son of God, he is the Christ and he is the Lamb given as a sacrifice so that we may be set free from sin and death. He is the Saviour of mankind and the death he was about to go through at the hands of these men would be their undoing and our pathway to righteousness and freedom. He is the door to life and we enter life through him and through his death when we enter baptism. The power of his blood as a sacrifice is greater than the power of the blood of goats and bulls offered under the law for the forgiveness of sin. The power of his blood was to remove sin once and for all and forever and to set us free from the law so that we could walk in righteousness and stand in the presence of God. His sacrifice was our blessing and we should praise him always and forever for what he did on our behalf, for we are undeserving of this wondrous gift. May we praise the Lord always and thank him for his inexpressible gift of grace and love that we could find life in Jesus Christ.

To Serve the Lord, Serve His People

(Matthew 25:31-46)

If you want to serve the Lord, serve his people. This is the message of this section of scripture. It is an important lesson and one we must remember. It is clear from this section of scripture that judgement will be based in part upon how we have treated our brethren.

The Lord has made it clear that the primary message under both the Old and New Covenants is about relationships. Firstly, it is about our relationship with God, and secondly it is about our relationship with our fellow man. In this section of scripture he shows that when we do any kindness or provide any service to one of our brethren, we are doing it to him. We serve the Lord by serving his people. The contrary also applies. When we fail to serve his people and ignore the needs of his people, we are failing to serve the Lord.

The essence of our relationship with both God and man is love. When asked by the lawyers, which was the greatest of the laws he replied, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it, You shall love your neighbour as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the law and the prophets.” (Matthew 22:37-40) Under the law the basis of all the commandments rested on these two: to love God and to love your neighbour.

Under the New Covenant it is the same principle underlying the teachings of Jesus. Jesus taught that we are to love one another. Paul wrote in 1 Corinthians 13:1-8,

1 If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal.
2 And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing.
3 If I give away all I have, and if I deliver my body to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing.
4 Love is patient and kind; love is not jealous or boastful;
5 it is not arrogant or rude. Love does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful;
6 it does not rejoice at wrong, but rejoices in the right.
7 Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.
8 Love never ends

Without love towards God and our fellow man we are nothing and have nothing. Love is the basis of life and the essence of relationships, for God is love as John wrote. (1 John 4:8, 16) In 1 Corinthians 13 we see the love of God defined and described. This love is a love that is about action. It is not emotional love but action based and behavioural love. We do good things and behave with compassion and care towards those we love. When we do the things expressed in this scripture we show that we love our neighbours, brethren and our fellow man.

Likewise in this section of Matthew 25:31-46 we see that all of the things Jesus is saying to the people in this parable are based on love. He will judge his people on the basis of their love for their fellow man based upon how they treat their neighbour.  This is about action. It is about what you do, not what you say.

In Matthew 23 Jesus upbraided the Pharisees for their hypocrisy. A hypocrite is someone who speaks but does not do what they say. They say one thing and do another. They are rightly condemned for their false ways. Christians who hear the words of God and the teachings of Jesus but do nothing about them are likewise on shaky ground. He says in the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 7:21-27;

21 “Not every one who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ shall enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven.
22 On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?’
23 And then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you evildoers.’
24 “Every one then who hears these words of mine and does them will be like a wise man who built his house upon the rock;
25 and the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat upon that house, but it did not fall, because it had been founded on the rock.
26 And every one who hears these words of mine and does not do them will be like a foolish man who built his house upon the sand;
27 and the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell; and great was the fall of it.”

The key here is not about hearing the words of God, but doing them. Acting on the teachings of Jesus so that we can grow and mature in Christ. Part of this is about how we treat our fellow man and this is the teaching being brought forth in this section of Matthew 25.

Learn what you need to know to live a life based on love. Learn the teachings of Jesus that will enable you to walk in love. And make sure that you fulfil the call of a Christian, which is to live a life of love for God by showing love towards him, Jesus and your fellow man. If you want to serve the Lord, serve his people.

Killing the Prophets

(Matthew 23:29-39)

The greatest hypocrisy Jesus condemned the Pharisees and scribes over concerned killing the prophets. They said that had they lived in the days of their fathers they would not have taken part with them in shedding the blood of the prophets. However Jesus condemns them out of their own mouths.

He shows that they witness against themselves. In their statements they have shown their guilt for they witness that they are the sons of murderous fathers. Their fathers killed the prophets and righteous men sent by God to aid his people. And they would do the same and worse. Already they had consented to the death of John the Baptist. They were about to condemn Jesus and have him put to death. And they would also stone Stephen and put to death James the brother of John when the apostles commenced their ministry.

Indeed they were not only just like their fathers, but they were worse. As Jesus said, all the righteous blood shed would come upon his generation. It was their generation that would put the Christ to the stake and to this day they have been condemned.

They opposed the Lord and the prophets of God down through the generations because they wanted the power to themselves. They sought to rule and control the people for their own gain and benefit. They misused the power they had, which was given to teach the people the ways of God. Instead they used and abused the people and it would be required of them. This was the message he showed to them in various parables. It was stated in the parable of the vineyard let out to tenants (Matthew 21:33-41). It was also the essence of the parable of the marriage feast in Matthew 22:1-10. And yet still the Pharisees could not or would see the evil in their hearts and turn for repentance.

This persecution of God’s people by those who claim to be his but are not is still occurring. Many have been thrown out of churches, excommunicated and shut out because they chose to follow God rather than the false doctrines of religious teachers. Many have suffered when they need not have because they failed to recognise these falsehoods for what they were.

A church or religious leader has tremendous power. They have power over people’s lives and people listen to them for guidance, advice and teaching. If this power goes to their heads it is a dangerous situation, both for the teacher and the flock of God. That is why the Lord says through James, “Let not many of you become teachers, my brethren, for you know that we who teach shall be judged with greater strictness. For we all make many mistakes, and if any one makes no mistakes in what he says he is a perfect man, able to bridle the whole body also.” (James 3:1-2) Above all else they must find the truth themselves and then communicate it to those in their care. They cannot afford for error in the ministry and so must take the greater pains to validate what they are teaching. Their teachings must align with the truth of the words of God. It must be scripture based and it must lead to life and freedom in Jesus Christ.

And yet many preachers continue to teach bondage as did the scribes and Pharisees. Bondage to the law, bondage under sin, condemnation and a ministry based upon works. These are not the teachings of Christ or the New Covenant. They are teachings developed by men for their own devices and to achieve their own ends. The aim of ministry should be growth. Not necessarily the growth of the church in terms of great numbers, but rather the growth of the individual to maturity in Jesus Christ. Ministry should bring us all to that place described in Ephesians 4:11-14.

11 And his gifts were that some should be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, some pastors and teachers,
12 to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ,
13 until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ;
14 so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the cunning of men, by their craftiness in deceitful wiles.

If the ministry of any minister is not leading to this end, they are not teaching the truth of the New Covenant. Thus it is essential that we all learn the scripture, learn the truth and seek the Lord to guide us into all truth so that we may be able to stand. As a simple test of ministry and teachings, Jesus came to give us freedom, not to bring us into bondage. If the ministry being fed to you is bringing you into bondage in any way, you must question it and resist it. We are not captives in Christ but free men. Let no one put you back into slavery under false teaching.

You Are like Whitewashed Tombs

(Matthew 23:27-28)

Jesus continues his analogies of the hypocrisy of the religious people of his day by comparing the Pharisees and scribes to whitewashed tombs. There are some today who also fit this description and we have seen the fall of some of the supposed leaders of the church where they too were like whitewashed tombs.

It would be a horrible thing for the Lord to say to you, “You are like whitewashed tombs.” He then defines what he means by this description. A whitewashed tomb looks good on the outside but within is full of dead men’s bones. If we look at some of the famous tombs and burial grounds we get a picture of this. The pyramids for all their wonder and glory were tombs. The many cemeteries that have beautiful gardens and monuments are just resting places for dead men’s bones. Arlington cemetery in Washington, which is a remarkably ordered, tidy and beautiful place, is still also just a place full of dead man’s bones. Man frequently builds these shrines to their dead, especially their heroes and great people, but to all intents and purposes they are still just places full of dead men’s bones. Inside these places they are musty, potential sources of sickness from evil bacteria and full of rotting flesh and bone. They are not really nice places to be and belie the outward appearances of these places.

Jesus compares the scribes and Pharisees to such places saying, “You are like whitewashed tombs.” He says they look good on the outside but inside are full of iniquity and hypocrisy. They dress in the robes of the clergy and have the appearance of righteous men, but they do not act and behave like people of God. A good example of what he was showing here can be seen in Mark 12:38-40. “Beware of the scribes, who like to go about in long robes, and to have salutations in the market places and the best seats in the synagogues and the places of honour at feasts, who devour widows’ houses and for a pretense make long prayers. They will receive the greater condemnation.”

These supposed men of God looked like holy men, but they used their position to take advantage of those least able to defend themselves. Instead of assisting and helping the weak, they were using them for their own gain. They would, “…devour widows houses and for a pretense make long prayers.” They took but did not give in return.

In the church today we see some who are doing this exact same thing. They go to the homes of their flock seeking gain and advantage. They take excessive sums of money and goods from the flock for their own gain and purposes. They wear expensive clothes and jewellery, drive expensive cars and live in luxurious houses while their flock often struggle from day to day. They preach messages of prosperity, contrary to the gospel, for the riches in Christ are not about the things of this world, but the things of the Kingdom of God. The true riches that come from righteousness, faith, love, joy in the Holy Spirit and fellowship with Christ and his people. It is not about money and the wealth of this world. Those things are temporary and will pass away, but God’s love is eternal.

As Jesus described the Pharisees in this section saying they are like whitewashed tombs, so too there are whitewashed tombs among the clergy and the churches today. Not all ministers are in this mould of hypocrisy, but many are tempted down that path by the lure of the love of money. The prosperity movement in the church can be deadly for as Paul wrote to Timothy, “For the love of money is the root of all evils; it is through this craving that some have wandered away from the faith and pierced their hearts with many pangs. But as for you, man of God, shun all this; aim at righteousness, godliness, faith, love, steadfastness, gentleness.” (1 Timothy 6:10-11) It is the love of money and the craving for the riches of this world that have led some in the church to fall away from the purity of the gospel of Christ. As Paul said to Timothy, shun all of this. Get your own priorities right and aim at the things of God, not the things of this world.

And finally, beware of those who are like whitewashed tombs. Jesus said “You will know them by their fruits,” (Matthew 7:15-20) so watch carefully. If the ministers in your church are preaching a message of prosperity in the things of this world, beware. The true riches are permanent and come from God. As for the things of this world, the Lord does and will provide all of our needs in abundance. Our focus and aim is not wealth here and now, but entry into the kingdom of heaven.

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Straining Out a Gnat and Swallowing a Camel

(Matthew 23:23-24)

Jesus calls the Pharisees to account for their hypocrisy using the analogy of straining out a gnat and swallowing a camel. What is interesting in this teaching is what he is referring to, for he is speaking of the comparison between tithing in the minutest amounts, in relation to justice, mercy and faith.

The Jews would have been aware of the significance of gnats and camels. Under the Law of Moses there were clean and unclean foods. Virtually all insects were considered unclean and should not be eaten with only a few exceptions, such as locusts. As for meats, only animals that had hooves that were parted and chewed the cud could be eaten. A camel chews the cud but it does not have hooves and so it was not a clean meat.

If a gnat fell into someone’s drink they would normally flick it out and continue drinking. If a larger insect, say a fly or bee fell in; they would usually throw out the drink and make another. If a camel fell in it would crush the cup and the person drinking it as they weigh up to 700kg or 1,500 lbs, and stand about two metres tall (six to seven feet). The Jews would have considered it disgusting to even think about the idea of swallowing a camel because of their food laws.

Now when Jesus used this analogy he was making a comparison. He was saying that the Pharisees were tithing the smallest amounts of produce, herbs such as mint, dill and cumin, but were neglecting the things that were really important under the law, justice, mercy and faith. The tithing was a show of works of law. The comparison was that tithing was so miniscule, so unimportant in comparison to the other matters that it was like a gnat compared to a camel. God is not looking for us to do works of law such as they were doing. He is not interested in such high degrees of legalism that a person should tithe the herbs they might grow on their window shelf. God wants man to be just and merciful and faithful to him. He wants man to treat others with respect and dignity; to do unto others as they would do unto themselves.

But the Pharisees wanted to be seen by men. They wanted the glory of man and so they carried out works of the law to the most ridiculous lengths. They were under the law and so it was right that they should tithe. Tithing was required under the Jewish law. But not at the expense of what the law really represented, which was the nature of God. The law was meant to teach man right from wrong so they would learn to be just, merciful and faithful. By failing to follow these truths of the law, they may as well have swallowed a camel for they have missed the point of the law.

However under the New Covenant we have been freed from the Old Covenant laws through Jesus Christ. Tithing is not part of the New Covenant, and in fact it is quite damaging to the New Covenant. Space does not permit me to go into this in depth here, but if you are interested in an in-depth study of tithing and the problems it causes to the New Covenant Christian, I recommend my free eBook on this matter, which you can find here.

In the Old Covenant Jesus was showing that in the total scheme of things, although tithing was important, it was not nearly as important as those things he called the weightier matter of the law. The Pharisees though had this twisted and were putting the greater emphasis on tithing. They were wrong.

Today we see a great many churches with a heavy emphasis on tithing. They are wrong too. Tithing is not part of the New Covenant and in fact it prevents a church from finding the truth. Tithing is a bondage, but the truth of the New Covenant is about freedom, not bondage. By accepting just one law, the law of the tithe, a person has bound themselves to all of the laws. Paul wrote in Galatians 5:3 that, “I testify again to every man who receives circumcision that he is bound to keep the whole law” James also wrote that, “For whoever keeps the whole law but fails in one point has become guilty of all of it.” (James 2:10) So accepting any one of the Old Covenant laws such as the law of the tithe causes a person to be bound to the whole law. And if they are under the law they caught up again in the bondage that Jesus has set them free from when he died.

We must learn the wisdom of the law but not be bound under it. We must learn about truth, justice, mercy and faith but without being caught under the law. We can achieve this only when we accept the gift Jesus gave us when he died on Calvary. His gift was to set us free from sin and to release us from the bondage of the law.

Woe to You Blind Guides

(Matthew 23:16-22)

Jesus condemns the priests, Pharisees and scribes for being blind guides saying, “Woe to you blind guides.” He calls them this because their focus is wrong. The things they consider important are not what God considers important.

Jesus said elsewhere, “Let them alone; they are blind guides. And if a blind man leads a blind man, both will fall into a pit.” (Matthew 15:14) Again he was speaking of the Pharisees and it is clear that anyone who follows a blind man will stumble. If you cannot see where you are going you need guidance by someone who does see clearly. Think about a time when you have got up in the middle of the night and moved about the house without turning on a light. You bump into things, perhaps stub your toe or fall over. But these problems go away when you turn on the light.

In a spiritual sense it is the same. If you seek the light of knowledge that comes from the Lord you will see clearly to navigate the waters of life. But these blind guides, the Pharisees, were teaching wrongly. They focussed on the wrong things. When they said that a person is not bound by their oath if they swear by the temple, but only if they swear by the gold of the temple, they were quite wrong. The temple makes the gold sacred, not the other way around. Take the gold out of the temple and it is just gold. But the temple remained the house of God.

Furthermore, such teaching leads to loopholes in the law. They offer what is called “wriggle room” by lawyers today, which is anathema to God. They allow the people an “out” so they can renege on their vows, and in God’s sight this is wrong and comes from evil. In fact Jesus taught that a person should not even make oaths but let their yes be yes and their no be no. (Matthew 5:37, James 5:12) What he wants is that we should be a people who keep our word. He wants us to be trustworthy in what we say with no shades of grey or “wriggle room.”

But these Pharisees showed their lack of knowledge through what they were teaching. They were blind to the truth. As Jesus showed, because the temple is holy, so too is everything in it. Likewise, as the altar is holy, then so too is everything on it. There are no ifs, buts or maybes in God’s sight, but that is exactly what the Pharisees were preaching and were rightly condemned for it.

Is it any different today? Do teachers and preachers focus on the priorities of God or of men? Fortunately many teachers and preachers do focus on the right things, the things of God. But there are “Pharisees” still around today. When the preachers of today are focussed on the things of man, when they focus on money, works and power for themselves they are clearly blind. When they consider themselves as greater than others they show their blindness. As an example of the kind of church in this category look at what the Lord said to the church in Laodicea in Revelation 3:15-18.

“15 “‘I know your works: you are neither cold nor hot. Would that you were cold or hot!
16 So, because you are lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I will spew you out of my mouth.
17 For you say, I am rich, I have prospered, and I need nothing; not knowing that you are wretched, pitiable, poor, blind, and naked.
18 Therefore I counsel you to buy from me gold refined by fire, that you may be rich, and white garments to clothe you and to keep the shame of your nakedness from being seen, and salve to anoint your eyes, that you may see.”

They are blind but believed they had it all. By contrast the Lord says they are blind. They cannot see that they have gone astray and are chasing the things of the world rather than the things of God. They are seeking wealth, power and riches, but have ignored the truth. So the Lord counsels them to seek the truth and the righteousness that comes from God.

For us we need to look out for those who would take us into captivity with false teaching. We must be aware of what we are listening to and seek the light of the knowledge of truth. Place your focus on the things of God and not the things of men so that the Lord will not say to us, “Woe to you blind guides,” as he said to those Pharisees.

You Shut the Kingdom of Heaven Against Men

(Matthew 23:13-15)
 
Jesus said, “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! Because you shut the kingdom of heaven against men; for you neither enter yourselves, nor allow those who would enter to go in.” (Verse 13) What does he mean by this saying? How do you shut the kingdom of heaven? To understand this we need to look at a few other scriptures.
 
The analogy of a door is used in many places throughout the bible. Jesus said of himself, “I am the door; if any one enters by me, he will be saved.” (John 10:9) It is through Jesus that we gain entry into the kingdom of heaven. After Jesus had died we see that he took his place seated at the right hand of the Father. (Colossians 3:1) Jesus has direct access to the Father in the kingdom of heaven for he acts as a high priest on our behalf. (Hebrews 8:1-3) Prior to Jesus only the high priests and they only once each year had access to the Father when they entered the Holy of Holies to offer sacrifices for the sins of the people.

The role of the priests was to administer the law and the Old Covenant. They were to teach the people the law and to ensure the proper running of the nation of Israel in mater of worship. However they did not do this as they were supposed to do. They used their role as priests for the purpose of gaining power, position and authority over the people. They became rather than a source of knowledge, help and learning for the people, an overbearing bureaucracy that were pompous, proud and arrogant. They bound the people up in regulations and ordinances, many of which were not in the Law of Moses and sometimes contrary to the law, thus gaining Jesus’ condemnation of their actions as hypocrisy. They set themselves up as being the only access to God and one of the greatest punishments they served up to people who did not follow their ways was to cast them out of the synagogues.
 
We saw an interesting occurrence when Jesus was put to death. “And behold, the curtain of the temple was torn in two, from top to bottom.” (Matthew 27:51) This indicates that the access to the Father is now open to all mankind, not just the priesthood. This access is attainable through Jesus Christ. It is through him that we now have access to the Father and there is no other intermediary between man and God but Jesus Christ.

However the priests of the Old Covenant temple did not realise that the age of the Old Covenant had ended and the New Covenant had begun with the death of Jesus. They were not prepared to give up their power and control. So they sewed up the torn curtain and continued on their way. It is an excellent allegory of how they shut the kingdom of heaven against men. They did not enter because they rejected the messiah. They also could not enter under the Old Covenant for they did not follow the law but were hypocrites. Thus any person who chose to follow in their ways was twice a child of hell as they were. By this method they closed the kingdom of heaven against men for the closed the door of knowledge.

We are fortunate today that we can enter the kingdom of heaven by accepting Jesus Christ as our Saviour. Through him we can come to that open door to God’s Kingdom. When we allow man to stand between ourself and Jesus Christ, then we allow them to close the door just as the priests and Pharisees closed the door to the kingdom in Jesus’ day. No man stands between you and God. No man can intervene between you and God. Every person has individual and unique access to God through Jesus Christ and this was achieved when Jesus died for our sins and was raised for our justification.