One of the great joys of being a Christian is the ability we gain to look at the Bible and, through the Bible, to see the world in the way God sees it. It is like the Bible is a pair of glasses through which we gain God’s vision and God’s perspective. The Holy Spirit illumines our minds so that suddenly we see God as He really is and we see ourselves as we really are. We see God and respond with fear and awe. We see ourselves and respond with sorrow or shame—and sometimes both.
The gospel of Matthew describes several occasions from the life of Jesus when He reacted with the full force of righteous indignation, when He exemplified justified anger that was free from any hint of sin. These culminate in chapter 23 when seven times He cries, “Woe!” to the scribes and Pharisees. Seven times He points out their hypocrisy and warns them of the judgment they are calling down upon themselves.
I am following a Bible reading plan and often listen to God’s Word in place of reading it. As I listened to Matthew 23 recently, I found myself laughing out loud as Jesus unleashed on these religious rulers. If words were sticks and stones, He would have left these men battered and bruised and bleeding. Of course, these words were more powerful and painful than sticks and stones, and the scribes and Pharisees would react to them by bruising and battering Jesus.
As I pondered Matthew 23, my laughter soon turned somber because God gave me eyes to see myself in those religious authorities who had so infuriated Jesus. I saw in myself the tendency that marked them.
The Pharisee looks at God’s commands and either takes them only at face value or shrinks them down to a manageable size. He reads God’s command to Israel that His people are to tithe, that they are to give to the Lord the firstfruits of their labor. The Pharisee responds by carefully measuring ten percent of everything he owns and making a big production of presenting it at the temple. He gives his ten percent, but neglects other parts of the law. He extends the law only as far as he is able to keep it, and he thinks he has done enough.
Jesus will not stand for this. He considers all of God’s law. He shows that no man can possibly keep all of it. Keeping one command is good, but insufficient. God’s law includes the tithe, when ten percent is counted and carried to the temple, but it includes other commands as well. It requires us to care for justice and mercy and faithfulness (Matt. 23:23). Jesus meant for His disciples to see that the Pharisees were not keeping the whole law. In fact, no man can keep all of God’s commandments. No man but Jesus, that is.
As my laughter turned to sorrow, I was able to respond by looking once more to the cross, to see the One who perfectly fulfilled the law on my behalf.