What do you think of when you hear the word pharisee. I'm mainly asking christians this question but I think that even unbelievers can relate to hearing this word in a condescending light. But let's take a minute to sit down and really think of what/who a pharisee was. The dictionary definition states that a pharisee was a member of an ancient Jewish sect that emphasized strict interpretation and observance of the Mosaic law in both oral and written form. In short, a pharisee was a keeper and lover of the law.
Now why is this a bad thing. Why do we instantly jump to distaste and contempt for the pharisees when we read of them in the Bible. Why does is seem like the Pharisee were just a bunch of stately-dressed haters who walked around trying to ruin everyone's day. and WHY does it seem like every time we read about the pharisee we shriek at how blind they were to the truth, balk at their silly arguments with Jesus and just wish that they would plain go away.
But I encourage you to scrape a little deeper.
They weren't just keepers of the law for fun you know. They believe in God and believed that the Law was given by God. They looked up to Moses and His teachings. They prayed and helped the poor and went to church and read and studied the Law. They probably tucked their kids in at night and taught them how to pray. They did the right things. They were faithful. They not only strictly upheld the Law, they made sure others did as well.
They were taught that that was how they pleased the Lord. Its what they were taught. Its what they read and knew to be true, that The Law was what saved them.
And then Jesus came along.
He healed on the Sabbath. He mingled with sinners. He touched the unclean. He not only broke the Law that they held so dearly, but told them that He has come to fulfill it and that HE is the only way for them to be saved. HE is the only one that IS and EVER will be righteous by works. Jesus tells them that they are sinners and in need of His Saving Grace.
So, what's the problem? Wouldn't they be happy to hear all of this?
The problem is that they think they have kept the Law. They think they have followed it thoroughly and completely and are righteous in and of themselves. They think they do not need a Savior.
Their sin was not that they followed the Law and enforced it. Their sin was thinking that they themselves were good enough.
Well that's just it. That's just ME.
Oh, I'll tell you differently. I'll tell you that I'm a sinner and that I need Jesus. But then, in my heart of hearts aren't I still trying to be good enough. Aren't I still trying to do enough good, read enough of the Word, spend enough time with God, help enough people, give enough money and know enough about the Law and the Lord to be righteous? Am I not still trying to build up my resume to earn my way to good standing with the Lord?
If I truly sit down and think about it, I am still a slave to the Law just as the pharisees were. I still hold myself to its standards, am held to its standards by others and view my relationship and position with God according to how I am upholding the Law.
I am just like the Pharisee in Luke 18 verse 9-14.
"To some who were confident of their own righteousness and looked down on everybody else, Jesus told this parable. Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee stood up and prayed about himself: 'God, I thank you that I am not like other men--robbers, evildoers, adulterers-- or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week and give a tenth of all I get.'
But the tax collector stood at a distance. He would not even look up to Heaven, but beat his breast and said 'God, have mercy on me, a sinner.'
I tell you that this man, rather than the other, went home justified by God. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted."
The tax collector had nothing to offer. He had been evil, taking from the poor and seeking his own personal gain. He hadn't gone to church, or prayed or righted any of his past wrongs yet. He had absolutely nothing to offer to the Lord. He wasn't righteous in any way, and yet he walked away as justified. Why? Because its not about us. The Gospel isn't about us.
Jesus was righteous in His place. Jesus determines our standing with God. We are declared righteous because of Jesus. Jesus. Jesus. Jesus. Not some of our goodness combined with the goodness of Jesus. Not half and half. Not just Jesus covering the little sins that we just couldn't master and us getting the rest of the way on our own. Nope, its all Jesus. He is the ONLY Way, Truth, and Life. HE is righteous and takes on OUR sin and therefore we are justified.
Jesus is scandalous. He justifies the dirty, the unclean, the broken, the evil, the distasteful sinners. Not after they are clean. No, He meets them right where they are. In the middle of their filth. He saves them and He washes them clean.
It truly is a love story. The most beautiful one I know....
"On hearing this, Jesus said to them, "It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners."