The Religion of the Pharisees (Part 7)
Matthew 5:17-20, Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. For truly, I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not an iota, not a dot, will pass from the Law until all is accomplished. Therefore whoever relaxes one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do the same will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever does them and teaches them will be called great in the kingdom of heaven. For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.”
Let’s remind ourselves once more that the New Pharisaism in our churches is, in my opinion, responsible to a large extent for the sorry treatment that abuse victims are receiving at the hands of their fellow Christians. That is the reason for this series of articles.
What do we find here in this second mention of the Pharisees in Matthew’s Gospel? Well, the Lord Jesus says that the “righteousness” of this religion is deficient. It is not a righteousness that can bring a single person into the kingdom of heaven. You can’t be saved by it. And that means that anyone who is an adherent of this religion has embraced a false gospel and cannot be saved in it. That is not to say that genuine Christians cannot be affected and mislead by it. I am sure this happens more than we would like to think.
Jesus also says here that the religion of the Pharisees — ironically — “relaxes” the Law of God. It does not “do” the commandments of God. Jesus, in contrast, upholds the Law and fulfills it. Ironic, we say, because the Pharisees prided themselves in their so-called Law-keeping. Largely that is what they were all about. But Jesus says that they came up empty.
As Jesus will go on in Matthew 5-7, we will hear Him explain what He means. While the Pharisees and scribes (hypocrites) focused on the letter of the Law, they totally ignored its spirit. “You have heard that it was said…. But I say to you…”. Jesus shows that God is concerned with the heart. With the inside of the cup, not with a mere external whitewash job. And that is how the Pharisees actually short-circuited the Law that they claimed to so zealously keep.
The Apostle Paul spoke of the right kind of righteousness and contrasted it with the old kind that he used to boast in when he was a practicing Pharisee –
Philippians 3:7-9, But whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ. (8) Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ (9) and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith–
Understand? We don’t need the righteousness of the Pharisees. We need the perfect righteousness that infinitely exceeds it — that which was established by the Lord Jesus Christ’s perfect obedience to the Law and by His taking upon Himself our curse. In the end, there is our own self-manufactured righteousness which will never give us entry into God’s kingdom, or there is the righteousness that comes through faith in Christ. One is garbage. The other is the priceless pearl.
Wherever a “church” exists that is overrun by the religion of the Pharisees, you can be quite confident that abuse victims will not receive justice and mercy. Pharisees have never been known to be very long on those traits. Mercy and justice lie in the spirit of the Law. Pharisees never get past the letter.
Posts in this series
Part 7: Is this post.