Text: Matthew 23 : 1 - 39
The facade put up by the scribes and Pharisees may even be described as admirable. At first glance, they appeared to be greatly devoted to the study of the Scriptures. They were experts in Mosaic Law. However, on closer inspection, things did not appear to ring true. Jesus analysed the religion of the scribes and Pharisees in the following words.
“But all their works they do to be seen by men.
They make their phylacteries broad and enlarge
the borders of their garments. They love the best places
at feasts, the best seats in the synagogues, greetings
in the marketplaces, and to be called by men, ‘Rabbi, Rabbi.'”
1. Essential differences between a God-centered religion and a man-centered one
What are some essential differences between a truly God-centered faith and a mere man-centered religion?
A God-centered Faith
i) The focus is on honouring God.
ii) The chief concern is to know God and then to obey His will.
iii) The foundations of faith are based on the Scriptures.
A Man-centered Religion
i) The focus is on the applause of men.
ii) The chief concern is self.
iii) The foundations are man-made rules and regulations.
2. The Roots of Faith
How did Israel end up with such a man-centered faith? The nation had corrupted what God had originally planned for His people.
What are phylacteries? In giving instruction for the celebration of the Passover, Moses made the following remark.
“It shall be as a sign to you on your hand
and as a memorial between your eyes, that the Lord’s law
may be in your mouth…”
Taken simply, this text could be read as instruction to keep the Passover. This memorial feast would be the Lord’s law to the nation.
Taken in another way, the Jews interpreted the text as God insisting that the nation wear “phylacteries”. The law of Moses was written in small pieces of parchment and then put into little boxes. These were placed on the left arm and on the forehead. By the time of Jesus, these phylacteries had become ostentatiously used in the religion promoted by the scribes and the Pharisees.
b) Border of garments
In the days of Moses, God gave instructions to wear tassels on their garments. We read about this in the following text.
“Again the Lord spoke to Moses, saying,
‘Speak to the children of Israel: Tell them
to make tassels on the corners of their garments
throughout their generations, and to put a blue thread
in the tassels of the corners. And you shall have the tassel,
that you may look upon it and remember all the
commandments of the Lord and do them…”
Blue was probably chosen because it would remind them of heaven. That in turn would help them to remember the Lord and His commandments. If the heart is right with God, things like wearing a tassel would have personal significance. However, if the heart is not right with God, things like that would be stretched in such a way that they are utilized to further personal agenda. The scribes and Pharisees made broad the borders of their garments to accentuate their love to keep God’s commandments – a fact that was non-existent!
c) Public adulation
The scribes and Pharisees on the one hand avoided crowds, lest their shadows are contaminated by sinful people. On the other hand, they like to appear in public because they want to receive public acclaim. They select the place where they want to appear so that their presence would be publicly acknowledged by all who knew them.
Feasts, even in synagogues would have specially reserved seats for people of great reputation. Many of the scribes and Pharisees fancied themselves to be people who deserved such celebrity status. Their day would be made, if walking along the streets, people recognized them and greet them with due and elaborate respect!
TOTAL DISDAIN OF SUCH THINGS!
Jesus had total disdain of such things! This was not the religion that Moses taught. This was not the kind of faith that he sought to teach Israel. God was meant to be the focus, and not man!
If ever there was a truly GREAT Person, that would be Jesus! Yet, He chose the path of a servant of God! The disciples must learn this lesson well!