The New Pharisees

There are a great many identifiable reasons why Y’shua (that is Jesus’ Hebrew name) came to the land of Isra’el when He did. He tells us some of the reasons Himself:

“Do not think that I came to destroy the Law or the Prophets. I did not come to destroy but to fulfil.” [Matthew 5:17 NKJV]

“Do not think that I came to bring peace on earth. I did not come to bring peace but a sword.” [Matthew 10:34]

“I was not sent except to the lost sheep of the house of Isra’el.” [Matthew 15:24b]

“…He has anointed Me to preach the gospel to the poor; He has sent Me to heal the broken-hearted, to proclaim liberty for the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed; to proclaim the acceptable year of the Lord.” [Luke 4:18-19]

“I must preach the kingdom of God to the other cities (of Isra’el) also, because for this purpose I have been sent.” [Luke 4:43b (my brackets)]

“I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners, to repentance.” [Luke 5:32]

“I came to send fire on the earth…Do you suppose that I came to give peace on earth? I tell you, not at all, but rather division.” [Luke 12:49a + 51]

“…For the Son of Man has come to seek and to save that which was lost.” [Luke 19:10]

“For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through Him might be saved.” [John 3:17]

“My food is to do the will of Him who sent Me, and to finish His work.” [John 4:34b]


“For I have come down from heaven, not to do My own will, but the will of Him who sent Me.” [John 6:38]

“For judgement I have come into this world, that those who do not see may see, and that those who see may be made blind.” [John 9:39b]

“I have come that they (the lost sheep of Isra’el)may have life, and that they may have it more abundantly. [John 10:10b (my brackets)]

“I have come as a light into the world, that whoever believes in Me should not abide in darkness.” [John 12:46]

“You (Pilate) say rightly that I am a king. For this cause I was born, and for this cause I have come into the world, that I should bear witness to the truth.” [John 18:37b (my brackets)]

Of course, there were many more reasons why He came than He mentioned Himself. Today, I would like to draw your attention to one in particular. But first a little history and background.

At the time when Y’shua came to the lost sheep of Isra’el, the entire land was under Roman occupation. The typical way in which Rome dominated the countries which she occupied was to basically allow some kind of self-rule (there was usually a vassal king put in place whom Rome could control). Isra’el was no exception. This helped to solidify the Pax Romana – the Roman Peace, which had been declared since the rise of Augustus. It wasn’t a peace as we understand it today – a peace between nations based upon a mutual understanding of each other. No. The Pax Romana was based entirely upon the fact that Rome had crushed and destroyed every military force across two continents and there was literally no one left to fight with.

Of course, when you have a nation like Isra’el, whom God Himself had chosen, the embers of struggle always glowed beneath the surface. At the time of Y’shua’s appearance on the banks of the Jordan in approximately AD 26-27, Isra’el was polarised into four distinct sects. Two of the sects were deeply religious, and two were more political in nature. The political sects were the Zealots, of whom the apostle Paul was counted amongst their number, and the Sadducees, who controlled a great deal of the ruling council of Isra’el. Whilst the ruling council had little real power in the wider world, it dominated the Hebrews and was allowed to exist by Rome. The council also comprised members of another of the four sects, that of the Pharisees. The fourth sect, the Essenes, were, in very nature, not part of the established order and had long since removed themselves to the wilderness of Judea.

Whilst all four sects lay claim to the correct worship of God, it is clear from the events that unfolded in Jerusalem, that only the Essenes were favoured by God. It is highly likely that John the Baptist was a member of the Essenes, and it is more likely that they were responsible for the guardianship of the Holy Scriptures, as evidenced by the discovery of what is called the Dead Sea Scrolls in 1949.

We know from Paul’s letters that he was both a Zealot and a Pharisee, so we must expect some cross-over in all aspects of day to day life. Isra’el was fragmented. Divided. God had been silent for 400 hundred years, just as He had been previously when they were in Egypt. The two main sects of the Pharisees and the Sadducees had been locked in battle with one and other for many years. There is evidence of this throughout the New Testament. Despite this evidence, we seem to miss something very important about this division – we often see them as the same entity. We shouldn’t, because they had clearly very different views. Of course, we know that both sects believed that righteousness could only be attained by strict observance of Torah (the five books of Moses – Torah means instruction), but they nevertheless remained divided over issues such as the existence of angels and the resurrection of the dead.

Y’shua came, as we know from the verses above, to the lost sheep of Isra’el, to divide, to bring a sword, to judge, to fulfil, and all the other reasons too. I think it is vital that we also acknowledge that much of His ministry was to pull apart the arguments of both the Pharisees and the Sadducees. Y’shua deliberately attacked what is known as their Oral Traditions – the rules and laws that the teachers of Torah had added onto the written Law. We can see this when He said things like, “You have heard it said…”, before following up with what God really expected from us, as opposed to man. Throughout His ministry, not only did He bring down their arguments and show the people what God had truly meant, but He showed us that we can live entirely by God’s way, if we trust in Him. In Matthew 11:28, the burdens He referred to from which He promised rest, were the burdens that the likes of the Pharisees and Sadducees had placed upon the people. They taught that Torah was attained by observing rules. Y’shua came to show everyone a better way. God’s way.

If you are living in the UK, you will be aware that this nation has, over the past month or so, been made aware of a great divide in the people’s view of the European Union. Everyone has an opinion. Isra’el was like that back then over how to worship God. The trouble was, both sides had got it wrong.

Add to this national division, the tussle for control of the ruling council, the vassal king in the shape of Herod and the heavy Roman presence under the control of Pilate, and you have a real tinderbox waiting to be set alight.

The Hebrews knew that the promised Christ was due to appear. The book of Daniel enabled them to calculate His arrival to the very day (Daniel chapter 9 holds a prophecy concerning 70 ‘weeks’ of suffering for Isra’el. The ‘weeks’ were actually weeks of years so when it makes there being 69 ‘weeks’ from the command to rebuild Jerusalem through to the Christ arriving there, the Hebrews could pinpoint it exactly. 69 ‘weeks’ is actually 483 years, or 173,880 lunar cycle days). And they also knew from scripture that it was prophesised that one would come in advance to herald the Christ’s coming. When John the Baptist arrived, many true believers understood clearly what he represented, and they flocked into the Kingdom of God when he announced its arrival.

The Pharisees and the Sadducees, however, were not so open-minded. Part of their problem is that they were convinced that they were both right. They both needed to protect their own interests. This impasse, in any walk of life, causes blindness. Neither side will budge, mainly out of pride and no longer because of conviction. After all, how could they unite with a man like John, when it would mean conceding ground to each other. Instead, both sides united against John, and then Y’shua – providing, of course, they weren’t seen to be in agreement.

The gospel of Matthew provides us with a clear example of Y’shua’s approach to the Pharisees and the Sadducees and their interpretations of Torah. In today’s church we love to read and teach about Y’shua bashing the Pharisees and the Sadducees. We love it when we can point the finger against a hypocrite. The trouble is, I suspect that the modern church is actually no different from the Pharisees and Sadducees of Y’shua’s day. Today’s church seeks to protect its own interests too, regardless of where that might leave them in the eyes of God. In Mark chapter 7, Y’shua gives us an example of what this approach does:

“He said to them (the Pharisees and the Scribes), “All too well you reject the commandment of God, that you may keep your tradition.” ” [Mark 7:9 NKJV]

How often does this happen now? Y’shua’s command to us was to love one another. We break that if one person leaves our church to join another. We break many of God’s commandments in order to keep what man has made.

Christ will return soon. And, when He does, I suspect He will find exactly the same resistance to His message as He did at His first coming. Today, whether we like it or not, the church is divided. Not into a mere four sects as was the case in the early first century AD. No. Four would be easy to deal with. There are, in fact, a reputed 40,000 different denominations all of whom claim to have the monopoly on how God wants to be worshipped. 40,000. That means that the body of believers are ten thousand times more fragmented than the Hebrews were when John the Baptists arrived.

I know many claim that there is cross-denomination unity, but there isn’t. If there was, we simply wouldn’t need a single denomination, let alone 40,000. And what keeps the denominations in place is no different to the issues that kept the Pharisees and Sadducees at odds with each other. Oh dear.

Each of today’s church leaders believe they have an exclusive monopoly on being right. There is no longer any humility but only arrogance and flint-headed stubbornness. Of course, we could leave all this for Y’shua to sort out when He returns…or we could make a start now.

I can hear some of you saying for me to “hang on a minute. We’re not like the Pharisees or the Sadducees. They were legalistic and religious and traditional. We’re not like that. We have lively services and great bands and big screens and are seeker-friendly and have dry-ice machines and nice coffee and and“…Good for you. I’m pleased for you. Mazel tov.

The trouble is that we have been systematically making new laws out of single verses of the New Testament which have been taken out of the original context. We have built denominations on foundations of sand, and not upon the chief Cornerstone of Christ. We have erected cathedrals to ourselves and neglected to realise that God favours the humble and opposes the proud. We do everything ‘in His name‘ but take the glory for it ourselves. We have developed an unwritten law and turned it into a franchise model of how to do church. We sell it to others like a franchise, as if God has approved it. Let me tell you now, that it is all built upon sand and straw. What we do in church today, in God’s name, has no foundation whatsoever in the pages of the New Testament, or even the Old, for that matter.

It is time for the people who lay claim to being of God, to start behaving as if that were actually true. God called no one to start a club on a Sunday for the sole purpose of tickling our ears or making us feel all warm and fuzzy. He didn’t call anyone to make Sunday services into evangelistic events. We have missed the point. He called us to follow Him. And that, my friends, is the path of humility.

I can tell you, from our own experience, that you may well be convinced that what your church is doing is ‘of God’ because He allows it to continue, but if you are, then you simply don’t know God very well. He will let you run off ahead, without His blessing, just so you will learn to follow Him. Read Deuteronomy chapter 8.

What He has called all of us to is a life of surrender and self-sacrifice, not a career path with wages and cars and parking spaces and expense accounts.

We, with Cornerstone, made a basic mistake two years ago and ran ahead of God. He let us do it. Thankfully for us, He caused the money to dry up. He produced a drought in our finances. We struggled on, thinking it was ‘opposition‘. But it wasn’t. He brought us to a place where we had to beg Him to show us our mistakes so that we could repent. That took two years. And we have learned something very important from all of this: God gives us salvation and deliverance for the consequences of our sins. In return, He only asks us to trust in Him fully. We have learned that it means we have to commit everything we do to Him; every pound we spend; every decision we make. There is nothing that we don’t seek God about now. You might think that He doesn’t want to be bothered by you about the little things, but He does. Who of us can claim to know the mind of God? And yet, our church leaders lay claim to having God’s approval for what they are doing today. Just as the Pharisees and the Sadducees did back then.

He is coming soon. What will He find when He comes? My guess is, unless we radically change our ways and humbly seek Him, then it will be more of the same.

Seek the Lord, while He may be found. Ask Him what He wants from you. Don’t accept what the leaders of your church are saying unless the Holy Spirit confirms it in your spirit.

When Y’shua came, He tore apart the arguments and the Oral Traditions of both the Pharisees and Sadducees. He went out of His way to condemn their hypocrisy and legalism. They had missed the point of Torah – they had failed to see God’s heart in the Law, and stuck to the letter of the Law. The same is happening today. Pride makes division. All the division we see between churches is built upon man-made foundations that will not survive. It is time to seek what God wants, not what man has been claiming that He wants. In the early church, they only had the Holy Spirit for guidance. That is where we need to get back to, before it’s too late.

Shalom

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