Encounters with Jesus: The Pharisees

Not every encounter with Jesus was a positive one!  Early in his ministry Jesus locked horns with the Pharisees, noted for their strict adherence to the law and quick to criticise and condemn anyone seen to be breaking it.  They were particularly strict with laws pertaining to the Sabbath.

At that time Jesus went through the grainfields on the Sabbath. His disciples were hungry and began to pick some heads of grain and eat them. When the Pharisees saw this, they said to him, “Look! Your disciples are doing what is unlawful on the Sabbath.”  – Matthew 12:1, 2

Jesus’ reply must have incensed them:  “If you had known what these words mean, ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice,’ you would not have condemned the innocent. For the Son of Man is Lord of the Sabbath.”  vss. 7, 8. The battle lines were drawn and the conflict continued.

Going on from that place, he went into their synagogue, 10 and a man with a shriveled hand was there.  Looking for a reason to bring charges against Jesus, they asked him, “Is it lawful to heal on the Sabbath?”  11 He said to them, “If any of you has a sheep and it falls into a pit on the Sabbath, will you not take hold of it and lift it out? 12 How much more valuable is a person than a sheep!  Therefore it is lawful to do good on the Sabbath.”  vss. 9-12

These issues were never just theoretical for Jesus.  Concern for the individual would always come first.  Then he said to the man, “Stretch out your hand.” So he stretched it out and it was completely restored, just as sound as the other. 14 But the Pharisees went out and plotted how they might kill Jesus.  vss. 13, 14

The Pharisees should have been the first to welcome Jesus with open arms!  Instead, they saw him as a threat to their way of life and their precious laws.  Their behaviour, and especially their treatment of Jesus, serves as a warning to Christians in our time.  Misplaced zeal, placing principles ahead of people, and a willingness to sacrifice individuals on the altar of expedience show how far the Pharisees were out of touch with the God they claimed to serve.  Eventually, they succeeded in their plot to kill Jesus, only to have their short-lived victory overturned by his resurrection.

Beware the danger of legalism and legalists!  Jesus told Peter how to deal with them:  Leave them; they are blind guides.  If the blind lead the blind, both will fall into a pit.”  Matthew 15:14

PRAYER: Father, sometimes in our desire to obey and serve you, we overlook the needs of those around us.  Forgive us for these times.  Give us hearts of compassion.  Help us to be true followers of Jesus in this.  Let there be real consistency between the words we say and our daily actions.  Thank you for the example of Jesus, our guide to daily living and the one in whose name we pray.  Amen

(Written by Alan Akers)

SONG:  Amazing Grace (My Chains are Gone) by Gaither Studio  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Q5_5MB-btCk