The Pharisees were the representatives of the Divine law — not only of that given to Israel on Mount Sinai, but also of those more secret ordinances which were only verbally communicated to Moses, in explanation of, and in addition to the law. “(Edersheim)
Their numbers were incredibly small…. Yet this inconsiderable minority could cast Judaism in its mold, and for such terrible evil gave its final direction to the nation! Edersheim)
Acts 23:12-13, When it was day, the Jews made a plot and bound themselves by an oath neither to eat nor drink till they had killed Paul. There were more than forty who made this conspiracy.
Part of the very nature of Pharisaical religion is tradition. The Roman Catholic church is very much today’s prime example – it has a body of tradition that it openly declares to be the authoritative word of God. It has its priesthood and its rites. It adds works to the gospel. I realize that in this era of extreme ecumenicity, those words sound harsh and judgmental. But there it is. Rome is a counterfeit church preaching a counterfeit gospel led by a counterfeit bishop and priests exercising counterfeit sacraments.
However, the expression of the religion of the Pharisees that we particularly want to expose here is not that of Rome, but that which has infected the evangelical, professedly Bible-believing church. Man-made traditions accepted as God’s Word. A false priesthood. The elements are to be found among us as well as in Rome. As it was in Jesus’ day, as Edersheim notes, so it is today — the small numbers of the Pharisees have pressed us into their mold and are giving direction to our churches. And this needs to change. It will not change easily. Pharisees don’t go down without a fight.
Let’s return now to Matthew 3 where John the Baptist encounters this breed of religionist and see what more we can learn about them:
Matthew 3:1-10, In those days John the Baptist came preaching in the wilderness of Judea, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” For this is he who was spoken of by the prophet Isaiah when he said, “The voice of one crying in the wilderness: ‘Prepare the way of the Lord; make his paths straight.’” Now John wore a garment of camel’s hair and a leather belt around his waist, and his food was locusts and wild honey. Then Jerusalem and all Judea and all the region about the Jordan were going out to him, and they were baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins. But when he saw many of the Pharisees and Sadducees coming to his baptism, he said to them, “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? Bear fruit in keeping with repentance. And do not presume to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father,’ for I tell you, God is able from these stones to raise up children for Abraham. Even now the axe is laid to the root of the trees. Every tree therefore that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.
Alright, what characteristics of this false religion can we identify in this passage? Remember, we can expect to find the very same qualities today wherever the religion of the Pharisees is “sold” –
- As soon as the true Gospel of Christ comes, expect the Pharisees to show up shortly. The Gospel makes the way of the Lord straight. It makes Christ’s way clear and visible. It opens up the way for Christ to come to us. It invites Him to meet us and speak to us. Pharisaism hinders the Word of God and the work of His Spirit.
- The true Gospel of Christ is preached by those who are foolish. John is a kind of mountain man. His clothing is wild. His food is wild. Everything about him is wild as he preaches in the wilderness. The Gospel is not traditional. The religion of the Pharisees is robed in fine garments, adorning the exterior of men. Its adherents exalt themselves. Their religion appeals to the world.
- The true Gospel of Christ is at war with the religion of the Pharisees. It has nothing in common with it and it loudly exposes Pharisaism for what it is – poisonous and devilish. A viper den.
- The true Gospel of Christ is concerned with the heart — with faith and repentance. It calls people to repent of their sin and turn in faith to Christ. The religion of the Pharisees has no concern with heart issues like repentance. It is exterior in its nature. It hates the call to repentance and it shows no fruit of repentance.
- The true Gospel of Christ gives birth to children by faith and regeneration. Pharisaical religion rests its confidence in externals, including heritage, nationality, and culture.
So then, what can we expect Pharisaical religion to look like today? Why don’t you tell us? Take these qualities of the Pharisees, contrast them with the true gospel of Christ and the true church, and describe for us how these traits are evidencing themselves in our churches today. Give us examples of how the way to Christ is being hindered by it, and how it appeals to the world. In what ways do you see its lack of repentance evidencing itself among us. And how does “Cultural Christianity” appear among us today? Let’s see how many of these things we can expose.