Read Matthew 23:1-39
They were perhaps the most highly regarded among most of their Jewish contemporaries. Unfortunately, they were also the most heavily reprimanded by the One who truly counted. They were the scribes and Pharisees.
What was it that made them highly regarded? They held positions that empowered them to speak with authority. From the outside looking in, they seemed to have their own lives together. Their list of rules for living and traditions for religion made life . . . well . . . measurable. Their attention to even the detailed minutiae made them seem holistic. As a result, their fellow Jews tended to look up to them.
Jesus, however, saw them differently. More than those who were living blatant lives of sin, these were the ones most often in the crosshairs of His criticism. Why? In part, it was their hypocrisy. Six times, Jesus uses the term “hypocrite” in reference to them in this chapter. They had expectations of others that somehow didn’t apply to themselves. They had a better external showing than what was really happening on the inside. Their walk, you see, was inconsistent with their talk.
But there was more. The scribes and Pharisees also seemed to place an emphasis on the wrong things. Rather than a strong emphasis on biblical content, they developed man-made traditions, which they placed on the same level as Scripture. Rather than majoring on the majors, they often focused on the fine points. The resultant legalistic expectations were a far cry from what the God of heaven desired for His children.
If I were to summarize the missing ingredients in the ministry of the scribes and Pharisees, I would say they needed a much heavier dose of grace and truth. They were void of the kind of grace that reaches out to people who are far from God instead of writing them off. They needed to focus more on the truth of God’s word rather than a convenient man-made list of do’s, don’ts, and exactly this much.
Be careful, there is a certain appeal to a Pharisaic life. But one based on grace and truth is what your Heavenly Father had in mind!