LUKE records our Lord’s burning denunciation of Pharisaism (11:37-54). Invited out to dine, He observes no nicety of etiquette but condemns the external formalism of His host and all like-minded who put great care on the externals of religion but whose hearts were “full of ravening and wickedness.” Those who see only the meek and gentle side of our Lord should balance that with His fearless attack on the religiousness of His day.
Would He not say the same today in many churches where we go through all the motions, tithe and pray and seek upper seats, honor God with our lips while our hearts are far from Him? For Pharisaism calls itself now by different names, but it is still here. Jesus had no soft-tongued tolerance for such hypocrisy, and neither should we if we love Him. There is much loose thinking going the rounds today under the guise of tolerance and broad-mindedness that needs to remember 2 John 10-11, where we are commanded not even to receive into our houses those who teach false doctrine.
Of course, we must remember the other side, expressed in Mark 9:38-40, where we learn not to condemn others who are working in Christ’s name. Between these two poles the Christian must stand.
Jesus also rebuked the lawyers—that is, those versed in the Mosaic Law, who cluttered it up with their interpretations and kept it not themselves. How true to life today is that practice. He condemned their practice of building sepulchers for prophets whom their fathers slew. We so often condemn God’s prophets while they live—and succeeding generations honor them. We cast stones at them, but our children pick up the stones and build monuments to their honor!
The Lord accused these lawyers of taking away the key of knowledge. Supposed to know the law, they kept it not, and, knowing the prophecies, they refused to see Christ as the fulfillment—and hindered those who would. What a heavy condemnation rests today upon those who are teachers of the Word and yet do not believe its truths, and hinder others by their own unbelief and false teaching.
We read that such withering denunciation incensed the scribes and Pharisees and led them to try to provoke the Lord. He did not deal with them gently. Nowhere in the Gospels does He take any other attitude but that they are “blind leaders of the blind” and are to be let alone, having sinned against the Holy Ghost. Like Ephraim, they were joined to idols, and our Lord knew they could not be won, so He constantly reproved them and sentenced them to judgment. Their counterpart in any age has always opposed the true work of Christ, even while using Christian phraseology and claiming to reverence His name. Our Lord condemned both Pharisaism—lifeless orthodoxy—and Sadduceeism—Spiritless liberalism. The modern prophet can do no less and be true to his Lord.