Images of the Savior (36 â€“ His Eating with a Pharisee)
Whenever we see our Savior in his dealings with the Pharisees and experts in the law, we must be struck with the immeasurable wisdom and authority that he possesses, as well as the boldness and clarity with which he denounces their wicked teachings and practices. Let us note that they who consider themselves religious leaders, and who bind others with very many rules and regulations that God never commanded, always demand of others unquestioning loyalty and obedience; and if it is not forthwith rendered by anyone under their sway, they threaten him with the terrible curses which are due to anyone who turns aside from God's own commandments, and wresting from their clarifying contexts many verses about the godliness of submitting to those in authority, they demand submission on the basis of God's word, when in fact their doctrines set aside God's word; and it is utterly manifest that no person on earth has the religious authority to command God's children to do other than that which he has prescribed for them in his holy scriptures â€“ although we admit that the civil government has authority from God to demand things which are indifferent with respect to inherent morality, and not in violation of God's positive commands. Now let us be sure that, no matter how loudly such may assert their authority to bind other believers with things that God has not said, it is never godly to submit to such a perversion of true religion; and if we would follow the example of our Savior, we must rather expose and condemn it on the basis of the scriptures, which God has vested with authority beyond that of any man on earth. To see how our wise and fearful Savior thus exposed the folly of these wicked men, and laid out the progression that false religion would ever follow, let us now look to the text.
We note first that our Savior did not submit himself to those things which the religious leaders prescribed, but which God had not commanded in his word. We are certain that Jesus did indeed â€œfulfill all righteousnessâ€ (Matthew 3:15), obeying perfectly every jot and tittle that God had commanded; but he would not follow the arbitrary and self-assumed religious authority that others had claimed, no doubt because that, to submit to the authority which they had unjustly usurped from the true Lawgiver and Judge would be the same thing as to admit that they held a legitimate title to the office which God has reserved for himself, and hence would be idolatry. Let us always remember that, to judge men from one's own personal standard is in fact to speak evil of the law, and supposes that one may find a more accurate standard of judgment in himself than in the infallible truth which God has condescended to reveal to us. It is to cast God from his Judgment seat and set oneself up in his stead. Woe to all who dare to do so blasphemous a thing! There is but one Lawgiver, and he will judge all mankind on the basis of his law alone (see James 4:11-12)!
And we see next that Jesus is quick to expose the foolish wickedness of the arrogant usurpers of the divine prerogative, and he lays out in brief the progression of such man-made religion. First, all such false religion begins with a lack of the heart, or inward essence, which true worship demands. It is not enough merely to do those external things which God has commanded, but have no heart for it. On the contrary, the essence of religion is summed up in this command, â€œYou shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mightâ€ (Deuteronomy 6:4). But it is equally evident that no one is naturally sufficient to fulfill this law by his own nature. Man may do outward acts by his own will, but he may never change the things in which his nature delights by this means; for his will is always subject to his nature and its innate desires. Let us remember the poignant observation of Jonathan Edwards, â€œMan does as he pleases, but he cannot please as he pleasesâ€. And it stands to reason that, as the true demand of religion is to be pleased with God, that is, to love him with one's affections, it is manifestly an affair beyond the natural capacity of fallen man. Hence, although the Pharisees did very many outward acts of devotion, within they were still full of plunder and evil, and it is certain that they had always to remain in that condition, unless God himself were to give them a new heart of love.
But second, one's incapacity to fulfill the inward essence of religion often leads him to multiply those things which he is in fact able to do, so that he might soothe his troubled conscience by his many and mighty works. This leads him to a worse condition than before, for not only is his fundamental problem not thereby resolved, but it is, moreover, hidden from his eyes so that he can no longer see it. A blind man who recognizes his inability to heal himself might cry out for help to the one who is able to do what he cannot. A blind man who thinks that he has healed himself already is still blind, but also unwilling to apply for aid where it may be found. He is doubly lost. So a person who does not love God may cry out to the Father for a new heart, and be given it. But one who does not love God, yet thinks that he is made pleasing to him by the things that he has done, still does not love God, and has made himself unwilling to ask for the strength to love him indeed. He is doubly condemned. Why do we think that we are acceptable to God? By what means do we believe that we may be made more like him? If the answer to either of these question involves our own works, and not the sight of Christ, who alone can make us essentially like him, causing us to reflect his image more and more through the whisperings of his Spirit, as he uncovers his nature to us in the pages of his word; then let us be certain that we are Pharisees indeed, and the list of good Christian standards which we have received by tradition from the leaders of our movement or denomination is weighing us down and casting us upon the very brink of hell, all the while we think we are becoming more sanctified by it!
Third, those who have thus traded outward religion for its true essence are never ultimately content to keep it to themselves, but will seek to bind all others with the same heavy yoke of man-made laws. They have locked up heaven against themselves so that they might not enter, and they hide away the key so that no one else may enter either. Do you know one whose preaching assumes many external and man-made standards, who thunders his own convictions against the flock no matter what text he turns to, who supposes that a mature Christian is one who has submitted to a greater list of things which are not found in God's word, a list which is exceedingly difficult to bear but may with great effort be born by one's own natural capacity for it involves merely external things; one who minimizes the gospel of Christ's free grace, or at best relegates it to the merest initial act of entering the Christian life, while making the entire process of perseverance and Christian growth a matter of one's own will, and thus severs believers from their only ongoing source of life and sustenance, namely, abiding in Christ â€“ do you know such a one? Then know that, for all his outward holiness, and for all those poor blinded sheep that fawn at his feet and acknowledge him to be someone great and a religious leader, he is a false teacher, and his evil deeds must be exposed, lest he turn others down the same pathway to hell that he himself is running upon.
Fourth, these false religious leaders fiercely oppose all who speak the truth. Which of the prophets did the fathers of these evil men not murder? The truth exposes their lies, makes insecure their foundation of hope which has such an illusive appearance of strength, and robs them of their claim to be great in the Kingdom, and leaders of God's people. When a man who preaches always the gospel of God's free grace is railed against by leaders of the Church, because his influence causes others to cast off their heavy yoke of traditions, and to trade for it instead the easy yoke of Christ; then be certain that these leaders are indeed Pharisees, and ought not to be submitted to for one second. They have exposed their own shame by their opposition to the gospel. Such men plot against Jesus; for even as these Pharisees plotted to crucify Jesus' physical body, their children today plot against Christ's mystical body, seeking how they might destroy it and all true religion.
And fifth, we must note that these false teachers will bear their own guilt, and likewise bloodguilt for all whom they have deceived. It was upon that wicked generation who rejected Christ that the bloodguilt of their true fathers, who had killed all the prophets, came down. In the same way, they who oppose Christ today, and that in the name of Christ, will not only bear their guilt; but the blood of all whom they have turned away from the doors of the kingdom will cry out against them in the final judgment. â€œIt is necessary that offenses should come, but woe to the man through whom the offense comesâ€ (Matthew 18:7). Would it not be better for that man if a millstone were hanged about his neck, and he were cast into the depths of the sea; or rather, that he had not even been born?
Ah, let us beware of false teachers. They are so convincing, and hold forth such comforting hope that we can soothe our troubled consciences before the Father if only we have followed their list of regulations. But they set up their own god of man-made works upon the throne of Christ, and they blaspheme his name, and commit wicked whoredoms with the false gods of their own will and works. They have despised the blood which is able to make all men pure, and have chosen their own evil natures instead. Turn away from such! Do not believe them when they tell you that, to disobey their standards is to rebel against God. God is both the Lawgiver and the Judge, and he will judge both you and them; would you rather have these false teachers plead your case before him, saying, â€œbut he did all these works I commanded him, which never entered into your own mindâ€ â€“ or would you rather hear Jesus our great High Priest plead your case with his own perfect works and precious blood?