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I apologize for the late posting of this sermon. We had lightning strike near the church and it took out our Internet Connection.
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Whenever we encounter the Pharisees and the scribes, as we do in today's Gospel, we have a tendency to stereotype them. We tend to think of Pharisees as these old, stubborn, pompous, men whose main goal in life was to make themselves look good and everybody else look bad. Because of this, it is good from time-to-time to examine the image we have of the scribes and Pharisees and get a little clearer picture of who we are really dealing with in passages like today's Gospel.
First of all, it is good to remember that not all Pharisees were enemies of Jesus. We have the Gospel record of Joseph of Arimathea who claimed Jesus' body after the crucifixion and placed it in his own tomb. Joseph was a minority member of the ruling council. He had tried to stop Jesus' crucifixion. Then there was Nicodemus who helped Joseph prepare Jesus' body for burial. In addition, there are many accounts outside of the Bible of Pharisees who saw how Jesus fulfilled the prophets and believed him to be the promised Messiah. I expect to see many of these Pharisees in heaven.
The scribes were people who wrote things. They didn't have word processors or printing presses or photocopy machines in the first century. If you wanted a copy of something, someone had to do it by hand. If you didn't want to deal with the tedious monotony of copying documents, you hired a scribe to do the copying for you. If you were writing a letter to someone, you might have a scribe take down the letter at your dictation. Temple scribes spent their days making copies of the Holy Scriptures. You can imagine that that you would get to know the Scriptures pretty well, if you spent day after day copying it from one scroll onto another.
So, not all Pharisees and scribes were enemies of Jesus. The problem is that the hypocrites among the scribes and Pharisees had gained control. The hypocrites set the agenda for them as a group and it was the hypocrites who set out to discredit and eventually kill Jesus.
You see the hypocritical Pharisees did not study the Scriptures in order to learn God's teachings. Instead, they studied the Scriptures in order to find loopholes. They had developed over six hundred laws as they debated the Scriptures. At first glance, it would seem that keeping track of six hundred and some laws would be an even greater task than keeping just the Ten Commandments, but this was not the case. These six hundred and some laws actually softened God's law. While God's law makes it clear that we cannot keep it, these laws that the Hypocritical Pharisees had developed were actually doable. It was quite a task to learn all those laws, but once you did, you could actually do them.
This paved the way for the idea that salvation was the result of God's mercy plus man's obedience. Because they taught that human works contributed to salvation, the hypocritical Pharisees had to make the Law more user friendly. The Hypocritical Pharisees diluted the Law's requirement of perfect obedience with manageable human rules that could be kept.
A compromised Law means a compromised Gospel. Jesus condemned these Pharisees because they abandoned God's Word for the word of man. In this sense, these Pharisees were really the Liberals of their day.
Jesus condemned these Pharisees for their hypocrisy and self-righteousness. He cited an example of their hypocrisy: He said to them, "You have a fine way of rejecting the commandment of God in order to establish your tradition! For Moses said, 'Honor your father and your mother'; and, 'Whoever reviles father or mother must surely die.' But you say, 'If a man tells his father or his mother, "Whatever you would have gained from me is … given to God — then you no longer permit him to do anything for his father or mother, thus making void the word of God by your tradition that you have handed down. Here Jesus tells these Pharisees that they had played so many word games with the Holy Scriptures that they had actually developed a tradition that allowed them to break the clear word of God and yet declare that they had kept God's Law.
Do we still deal in this sort of thinking today? Of course we do. Some things never change. Consider the command we have in today's Epistle. Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her. Guys, how is that working for you? Are you sacrificing your lives so that your wife can become the best that she can be? I'm not. I can't. I can try, but I won't succeed. No one can live up to the example that Christ gives to us in this or any other area.
So, how do we, in this day and age, do the same thing that the Pharisees did back then? Consider the huge market in self-help books for marriages. Some titles include, "Marriage by the Book," "7 Vital Relationship Insights," "Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work," "Five Love Languages," and there are hundreds, perhaps thousands, of other books in this self-help category. Do these books have useful information for us? Many of them do, but when we begin to think that following the advice in these books makes it possible for us to actually keep the command that we have in today's Epistle, we are following in the foot steps of the Pharisees from today's Gospel. We are teaching as doctrines the commandments of men.
As sinful human beings, we tend to see God's law as guidelines for living. We tend to see God's law as what we must do in order to get God to like us. When we see that no one can keep the law, we want to water it down, soften it up, shave off the rough edges, so that we can keep it. That is exactly what the hypocritical Pharisees did at the time of today's Gospel.
Does God's Law contain guidelines for living? Of course it does, but that is NOT its primary function. The law's primary function is to show our sin, to teach us that we are bad people, to grind down that arrogant pride that believes we can actually lead God-pleasing lives. Its function is to terrify us with the sure and certain knowledge that our efforts have only succeeded in earning God's wrath - His eternal punishment both here in time and forever in eternity. If you read God's law and feel absolutely miserable, good! That means that the law is doing its job.
Why does God give us the law if it makes us so miserable? Is God some sort of sadist who enjoys seeing people suffer? Not at all! Instead, God uses the misery of the law to open up the Gospel for us. The law, by showing us how sinful we are, shows us our need for a savior. It knocks down our natural resistance to the Good News of Jesus Christ. It totally obliterates any thought on our part that we somehow cooperate with God in order to save ourselves from sin. The law puts us to death in order that we might be brought to life by the Gospel.
The gospel that brings us to life is this: [1 Corinthians 15:3-4] That Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures, and that he appeared to many people after His resurrection. Those who believe that Christ's suffering and death on the cross forgives them of their sins and that His resurrection from the dead opened up the way to eternal life for them - these people have this new life. Those who follow in the footsteps of the hypocritical Pharisees by trying to earn all or part of their salvation, reject God's Gospel. They remain dead in their trespasses and sins.
Our sinful pride has such a desire to earn its own way into heaven. This world is full of plans that deceive us into believing that we can actually pull it off. These plans are all clever lies that the devil will use to drag us down to destruction. The only way to salvation is Jesus Christ, His perfect life, and His perfect sacrifice. The only way to receive this perfect salvation is through the Holy Spirit's gift of faith. The only way that the law can help us is when the Holy Spirit uses it to show our total inability to save ourselves. It is then that the Holy Spirit can use the Gospel to show us that our salvation is in no one other than Christ Jesus. It is Jesus Christ alone who can give us eternal life. Amen
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