If the first-century people in Judea had Facebook then, what would they have posted? Selfies with Roman soldiers? Or a photo of a convict nailed to a cross? Or a picture of their children on their first visit to Solomon’s temple in Jerusalem? Would they have posted memes about Jesus? Compared to our posts today, would theirs have been entirely different compared to ours? We doubt it.
But it really depends on you and your friends – if you are quite open about your life and your faith, your friends tend to open up to you as well. Conversely, if you do not open up to others, neither will they. Unfortunately, there is a general resistance to any talk about Christ in public circles. The easy and light bits of reference to Jesus can readily get a “like” or a “share” – and even a lot of “amens”. But go any deeper into a discussion of mature and higher stuff and you get bypassed by the latest viral videos and photos.
The truth is, people then would not “talk openly about Jesus because of the Jewish leaders”. How sad!
Since there are such people as Pharisees, Scribes and Sadducees who grind their teeth when you mention Jesus’ name, many people avoid any talk about Him. Pharisees (who represent the Jewish leaders as a whole) are the “cause” for the silencing of the minds and hearts of many people with respect to Jesus. And considering many of these people are in a position to silence you (they can throw you out of the temple, the city, the marketplace or your place of work), you keep your peace and do as they say. On the other hand, they will praise those who follow their line of thinking.
However, the real cause for the silencing of people, as well as the ultimate decision-maker in the “silencing”, is the person himself or herself who refrains from speaking freely. That is, if because of others we will not speak, we allow these people to have power over us. So, instead of letting God be the final authority we should look up to, we allow others to dictate upon us how we behave. As the apostles said, “Whether it is right in the sight of God to listen to you more than to God, you judge. For we cannot but speak the things which we have seen and heard.”
Christ’s message is silenced in many instances because we have allowed others to close our minds and our eyes to the clear message of life and salvation preached a long time ago to the poor. This message will not benefit those who want to preserve their way of dispensing the benefits of Heaven. Because of the Pharisees, Jesus said many are barred from entering the kingdom; many are carrying burdens they should not be carrying; and many are drifting and lost in the wilderness of sin along with the Pharisees who are misleading them.
And because of the ancient Pharisees, we still have modern Pharisees. That is why we talk of them in the present tense. They are alive — and wicked! And we will continue to have Pharisees in the future. Isaiah referred to them as those whom God had closed their ears and their eyes so that they could not hear and see. And because they could not hear and see, they do not want others to hear and see as well. Or they teach only their traditions over and above the laws of God; and these traditions are what they choose to believe and practice and not the whole counsel of God. They prefer to show off their righteousness through ritual washing of hands and dishes and fail to uphold the cause of truth and mercy. Because of the Pharisees, people walk in darkness.
Hence, we see as much confusion today about the message of Christ as in ancient days. We even have so many more denominations who contend among themselves as to how we should teach Christ and how we should shepherd the flock. And because of this confusion, many would rather not talk about such things. What to do?
Jesus told His disciples to “listen to what the Pharisees say; but do not do what they do”. Listen! He was actually saying the Pharisees spoke the truth (for they read and preached Scriptures) but did not do the good deeds required of the truth. It is obvious that Jesus was simply saying: You can listen to God with your own ears, especially now that the Holy Spirit has been given to all those who would believe and receive Him. (I John 2:20-27) Moreover, the record of Christ’s ministry of the word has been published and made accessible to everyone. Hence, there is no more need for us to teach one another, as Jeremiah prophesied. John and Jeremiah are one in proving this vital point and privilege which Pharisees and their followers will deny you. They would not dare teach this vital point because it will make them irrelevant.
Jesus, having thus condemned the Pharisees, took away the greatest hindrance to belief during His time and set the way clear and free for all who want to gain access to Heaven’s doors. Blind guides! Brood of vipers! Hypocrites! Because of the Pharisees, masses of people then were denied from receiving the blessings of Heaven. And for that very reason, Jesus condemned the Pharisees, putting the final nails to their coffin in order to spare the masses from God’s wrath as well. But like the Lord Himself Who rose from the dead, the Pharisees resurrected and continued to do their work of fleecing the flock dry and cold, leaving them lying on the blood-stained floors of the temple.
So, did Christ die in vain if the Pharisees still roam our streets? Although they remain, they have been exposed in the open arena to be exalted by their followers but to be avoided by those who abide in Christ. It was because Jesus condemned them before the people that they sought to kill Him. Their sins were made public – cut and dried under the Sun to be burned by the wrath and judgment of God. Today, although their murderous rage remains, they have changed their strategy and pretend they serve Christ as well. What better way to deceive the millions.
And so, people easily forget that the Pharisees murdered Jesus and continue to hound His disciples wherever they reign as masters and not as true servants. As ravenous wolves in sheep’s clothing ready to take prey. Remember Christ’s words: Blind guides! Brood of vipers! Hypocrites! Indeed they act like animals, maybe even worse!
Remember: Because of the Pharisees, Jesus died on the cross. They saw to it that the Roman rulers would take the matter into their hands and execute Jesus. To silence Him as well and enclose Him in a tomb where He will remain cold and dead. Having done that, the Pharisees hoped to remain in power, free from any rebellious citizen who would dare question their position and reputation before the people. They hoped to live because their enemies will all be dead, just as their fathers murdered the prophets and the servants of God.
Yet, the real reason for Jesus’ death and resurrection was not to take revenge on the power-hungry Pharisees but to empower believers to live eternally. Our own sins sent Christ to the cross, being the reason or purpose for His sacrifice. The temple and all the grand structures (standing or not, solid or not, seen or not) which people have put up for the cause of Christ have led to one or more souls to be diverted from the simple message of Jesus. Destroy this temple! Not one stone will remain on top of the other! I will raise up a new one that will remain forever! What then can we build that will remain standing when the elements burn out with all the stars? Nothing!
The small Pharisee in each of us is the cause for our attachment to forms and patterns of things which had already been done away with. We have enough Olympic buildings to show off our prowess in breaking records in sports and yet we still have not eliminated wars, but rather used such conflicts to perpetuate our penchant for destroying lives and nations. We have so many majestic cathedrals and churches already to give any more reason for anyone to worship God according to the rites and ceremonies we have invented; and yet we have not paid enough effort to bring together more believers in one common faith, one common hope and one common love. Like the Pharisees, Scribes and Sadducees, we revel in the diversity of our opinions, thinking that there is unity in diversity. Yes, there is also diversity in the forest; but there, live also the predators and preys. We still reside in the jungle where death is the final arbiter (otherwise, the predators will not die and all their prey will perish before they all die as well).
And so, because of the Pharisees, the law of sin (and the laws of the jungle) still applies. For sin can only lead to error and confusion. And what we see today is nothing but the products of centuries of error and confusion that the Pharisees have bred throughout the centuries. When Jesus said He came to establish a highway to Heaven, He meant a Way of Life free from the controls of the Pharisees and their descendants. He gave each one of us a stream of living waters that flows from the heart. If so, why should anyone tell you to drink from his or her stream when you have your own stream? Why should anyone go anywhere else to drink of Christ’s life-giving blessings when right in your own heart you can gain access to His empowering presence? Why go to a bigger and more expensive closet made of concrete, marble, steel or glass if your own humble closet at home is sufficient for God to hear your prayers?
But the Pharisees will have nothing to do with such words of Jesus for they want you to believe they alone have the right to show others how to please God and how to serve others. Because of the Pharisees, Jesus’ genuine Way (of doing things and seeking God) has been made irrelevant, obnoxious or even dangerous. Because of the Pharisees, the true freedom we have in Jesus has been denied and we remain chained to the ancient ways of doing things a-la-Pharisees.
The result? People can no longer “worship” God if they do not enter a building where people are supposed to “worship” God. People can no longer “sing praises” to God unless they join an assembly that does that. People can no longer “give tithes” to serve the needs of the needy (not the collectors) unless they do so in the manner told them. And so many other pharisaical rules upon which the souls of millions have been taught to live with and adhere to.
If the temple had been a perpetual thing, Jesus would not have destroyed it. Or did you not know that it was Jesus Who destroyed the temple? No, it was not the Romans. Neither did the Romans kill Him; He laid down His life voluntarily into His Father’s hands. Do you not remember what He told Pilate? You would have no power over Me if it were not given to you by My Father in Heaven. The temple was indeed “destroyed” at the very moment He died when the heavy curtain was torn apart. Finally, in AD 70, the temple was burned, no longer to rise again. And remember what He said about raising back the temple? In three I will raise it up again. What He raised was His body, in order to someday raise the bodies of those He redeemed to become His spiritual temple and dwelling place on Earth.
If we are then the temple of the Holy Spirit, where – or who – is the temple? Why do we need others to lead us to the “proper” way of worship? Because of the Pharisees, we would rather deny that question a real answer. We quibble and quaff instead of finally accepting that what Jesus did was to give us genuine freedom of worship in spirit and in truth. It was first taught to a deceived Samaritan by a righteous Jew by the well. The true worshippers will worship in . . . .
Because of the Pharisees, many do not know what it means to worship or serve God in spirit and in truth. Why? Because no one talks openly about it as it is. And as we should.
If Christ had indeed condemned the Pharisees, what will you do with the small Pharisee in you? Decide and do what is necessary, before Jesus comes and does what you fail to do within your lifetime. In ancient times, because of the Pharisees many did not feel free to serve Jesus. You have every reason to free your own life into a wholehearted service to Jesus, unfettered by human chains of error and blindness. It is your responsibility to the One Who gave up His life for you, not to those who did not die for you.
Jesus died to give us this absolute freedom here and now. Many will try to take that away from you by imposing unnecessary burdens. Do not let them!
(Photo above: A video grab of Jesus condemning the Jews from The Book of Matthew (The Visual Bible)