One of the things I love to do is read the gospels. Jesus is so completely different from who I would picture the perfect Son of God without reading a written account. I would picture a popular man in a suit, who taught crowds of happy people eternal life. What we see in the gospels instead is that Jesus was hated, not popular, was poor, not rich, and taught people who would later crucify him, not happy people.
However, one of the things that shines through so obviously in the gospels is Jesus' hatred for one particular sin, and the scary part is, it's one of the most popular sins in the church today, the sin of hypocrisy. And the strange thing is, Jesus seems to take this one more seriously than any other sin while He was on the earth.
In Matt. 23, Jesus is speaking to the crowds in reference to the scribes and Pharisees (v. 1). In verse 13-17, Jesus seems incredibly harsh, possibly more harsh than in any other instance in the gospels. "But woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye shut up the kingdom of heaven against men: for ye neither go in yourselves, neither suffer ye them that are entering to go in. Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye devour widows' houses, and for a pretence make long prayer: therefore ye shall receive the greater damnation. Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye compass sea and land to make one proselyte, and when he is made, ye make him twofold more the child of hell than yourselves. Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, ye blind guides, which say, 'Whosoever shall swear by the temple shall swear by the gold of the temple, he is a debtor.' Ye fools and blind: for whither is greater, the gold, or the temple that sanctifieth the gold?"
After reading that, a question jumped into my head. Why is Jesus so much more angry about the Pharisees, who were probably the most loyal followers of the Law in their day, than He was about, say, the woman caught in adultery? (John 8:1-11) Or the woman at the well with five husbands? (John 4) Or Judas, the betrayer? (John 18:3-9) In each of the cases I mentioned, we have sinners in the most heinous of sins: adultery and betrayal, against the Son of God, no less. Yet Jesus responds with astounding gentleness. For the woman caught in adultery, He considers His simple response, "Go and sin no more" adequate, and even less for Judas, although Judas committed probably the worst sin possible.
So why, in the face of his gentleness in response to outright sin, is Jesus so infuriated by the Pharisees's, arguably the "good" people of the day, sin? In my understanding, there are two reasons for this.
The first is that the Pharisees had more information. They knew more. They researched the law; they were the scholars. They should have known better. To me, that reason adds to the fear this story puts in me. We, as the collective American church, have access to greater knowledge than any other church in the world, right at our fingertips, in the form of the Internet, DVD's, and huge libraries. The second part of Luke 12:48 addresses this, "For unto whosoever much is given, of him shall be much required: and to whom men have committed much, of him they will ask the more." More is required of those who have been blessed with more, and access to more.
But secondly, the Pharisees contented themselves with the knowledge, instead of the actions of the law. Jesus had already told them that the entirety of the law hung upon greatest commandent, to love the Lord your God, and the second commandment, to love your neighbor as you would yourself. (Matt. 22:36-40) Sure, the Pharisees practiced outward conformity to the law for the sake of self-glorification (Matt. 6:1-2), but the heart change that would result in actual love for their neighbors and the sinners that Jesus demonstrated (John 4:1-24) was obviously lacking.
As long as the law could be used as a platform to flaunt their own righteousness to others, they loved the law. But when the law became a tool to show love for other people, an action that wouldn't bring glory and great honor and wealth, the law was forgotten.
How often have I done that? How many times have I gone to church to listen to the deeper matters of the Scripture, while purposefully avoiding the simpler, but harder actions that go with it: love, generosity, patience? How is it any different for me than it was for the Pharisees?
So as you go about your life this week, think about why you do what you do. Don't be content with the head knowledge of Scripture, go out and do it. Don't just talk about the Bible; demonstrate it.