You know when you're reading the Bible and a verse hits you between the eyes. Wham! It could be for a lot of reasons. Maybe it's a guilt/conviction thing... like I'm such a looser. I've been fighting so against what God wants for me. Maybe it's what I like to call an "ahhhhh moment." Kind of like, "Wow God, You are amazing. That verse was exactly the encouragement I needed." Maybe it's not guilt or "ahh", but it's just a neat verse.
I was reading in Matthew a few days ago, and I had one of those "wham" verses. This one was unique because it was a "conviction" wham and an "ahh" wham. Matthew 23:1-3:
Then spake Jesus to the multitude, and to his disciples, saying The scribes and the Pharisees sit in Moses' seat: All therefore whatsoever they bid you observe, that observe and do; but do not ye after their works: for they say, and do not.
Yup, that's the passage that hit me. Sometimes I get feeling a little sorry for the Pharisees. They got a pretty bad wrap in the N.T., and they get a pretty bad wrap from most Christians today! NO ONE wants to be called a Pharisee. That carries a whole slew of negative connotations: judgemental, legalist, works-salvation, stuck-up, holier-than-thou, etc. Sometimes I wonder if maybe we extended that grace, love, and forgiveness we like to talk about so much to some of the perceived Pharisees of our day, maybe we would see more of a change for the better in them.... Just a thought. You can't say anything bad about any other "Christian", church, or false teaching, but Pharisee slamming is okay in pretty much anyone's books from the fundamentalist to the evangelical to the liberal. Grace? Love? Forgiveness anyone?
Back to my verses. The Pharisees, it says, sat in Moses' seat. I wondered about that? Moses was God's chosen leader to His people Israel. Does that mean the Pharisees were chosen by God to lead? Moses was also chosen to receive the law. The connection between the Pharisees and the law is pretty logical. They had A LOT of laws. Moses was a man whom the Bible describes as being meek above all men on the earth (Num 12:3). That's a pretty nice compliment :). I wonder of maybe some Pharisees fall into this category? We know for sure that there were Pharisees who were followers of Christ. Nicodemus is an example (John 3). They couldn't have ALL been so bad.
My conviction part about this passage was to avoid the warning Jesus gives about the Pharisees. "Do ye not after their works, for they say and do not." Whew... that's harsh. Actually it's hypocritical. Saying one thing and doing another is essentially lying, and we know what God thinks about that (Rev. 21:8)!
The ahhh part was where Jesus says "all therefore whatsoever they bid you observe, that observe and do." Wait a minute. Weren't the Pharisees a bunch of hypocritical, legalistic, judgemental, arrogant, proud, people? You mean there's actually things we can learn from them? There's actually things that they teach that we should do?! Hmmm... I wonder what would happen if more of us applied this part of Jesus saying to the "Pharisees" that we know today? The point here is that Jesus was saying there are parts of these people's preaching that we would do WELL to take heed too. In fact Jesus went so far as to say that ALL the sayings of the Pharisees should be observed and done. I heard once that they had something like 600 laws and commands. Jesus says to observe ALL of them. REALLY? WOW!
We fail to realize is that being a Pharisee (at least in Christ's eyes), is a matter of the heart and not of actions. How quick we are to label those who have a conservative, fundamental, (dress wearing, long hear, white shirt on Sundays, no facial hair, no drinking, no dancing, hymns only, etc.) style of Christianity as Pharisees. Jesus DID NOT condemn the Pharisee's teachings (outward actions). He APPLAUDED them!!! He told His followers to DO them. He condemned their heart and attitude. Being a "Pharisee" is not about what you wear, or what you eat, or where you go, or what kind of music you listen too. Just read the chapters where Jesus speaks the Pharisees, and notice what He really condemns them for (Matt 23, Luke 11).
The fact is that maybe, just MAYBE, there's something we can learn from those Pharisees (present day and biblical). Jesus told the crowd he was speaking to that day (Matt 23), to observe and do their sayings. Maybe by us having such a negative view of a Pharisee, we are missing out on a truth that God is trying to use them to show us.