I was sitting up, trying to go to sleep last night, thinking about Pharisees. I know, I know, it would probably seem like a good idea to most – a good way to fall asleep – but for me, it was keeping me awake.
You see, I think I understand Pharisees.
I have children. And sometimes my children see that I am in a grumpy mood, and when they are being thoughtful, they make sure to tiptoe around me. They do everything right. They clean up their rooms (or at least hide everything to give the appearance of a clean room). It makes them feel safe to do this – like if they don’t cross me, they won’t feel my wrath.
Isn’t this what Pharisees do? They have to make certain that they are following every rule, that every “T” is crossed and every “i” is dotted. Maybe it’s because on some gut level they think of God as being a grumpy dad, stomping around the house looking for an excuse to seek vengeance.
The Pharisees of Jesus’ day have every right to have acted the way they did. As far as they were concerned, according to the Jewish holy books of the time, God was pretty angry, pretty often. And so they did their best to keep the law. The problem is, if we can go back to the God as Father idea, that no parent wants his or her children to be obedient out of fear – fear of condemnation, fear of punishment, fear of wrath. I want my children to do the right thing for two reasons – out of love, and because doing the right thing is the right thing to do. And this is the picture we’re given about God in the New Testament.
What picture does the Word give us about God as father, compared to us as parents?
“Which of you, if his son asks for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a snake? If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him!” Matthew 7:9-11
So, if I want my children to do the right thing for the reasons given above, how much more would God desire that?
And this is where we get back to the Pharisees of our time.
Yes, it does seem like it would be safer if we did everything exactly right – exactly the way God wanted us to. The problem is first of all, that it is impossible for us to do so.
“As it is written, None is righteous, just and truthful and upright and conscientious, no, not one. No one understands [no one intelligently discerns or comprehends]; no one seeks out God. All have turned aside; together they have gone wrong and have become unprofitable and worthless; no one does right, not even one!” Romans 3:10-12
Does this mean we shouldn’t try to do the right thing? No, of course not. But it does mean that God is a God of grace, that if I understand when my kids screw up, how much more will God understand when we do? And if I forgive and continue to love my children when they disobey, how much more will God do so?
So, if you are a modern day Pharisee, I’d invite you to meditate on the words of Ephesians 1:3-14, and realize that God is not the grumpy, sleep-deprived dad looking for an excuse to smite his children.
“Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in the heavenly realms with every spiritual blessing in Christ. For he chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight. In love he predestined us to be adopted as his sons through Jesus Christ, in accordance with his pleasure and will— to the praise of his glorious grace, which he has freely given us in the One he loves. In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, in accordance with the riches of God’s grace that he lavished on us with all wisdom and understanding. And he made known to us the mystery of his will according to his good pleasure, which he purposed in Christ, to be put into effect when the times will have reached their fulfillment—to bring all things in heaven and on earth together under one head, even Christ.
In him we were also chosen, having been predestined according to the plan of him who works out everything in conformity with the purpose of his will, in order that we, who were the first to hope in Christ, might be for the praise of his glory. And you also were included in Christ when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation. Having believed, you were marked in him with a seal, the promised Holy Spirit, who is a deposit guaranteeing our inheritance until the redemption of those who are God’s possession—to the praise of his glory.”