Centered on Christ
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Centered on Christ

5 Accusations Jesus Brought Against the Scribes and Pharisees

A judge’s wooden gavel against a dark background.
Photo by Tingey Injury Law Firm on Unsplash

Jesus pointed at the ones all the people believed were the best followers of God and made a statement that likely shocked them.

For I say to you, that unless your righteousness exceeds the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees, you will by no means enter the kingdom of heaven. (Matthew 5:20)

The scribes and the Pharisees were the ones who spent the most time studying the Scriptures, and they seemed to live such holy lives. How could Jesus say this?

Jesus knew the heart — and He knew the scribes and Pharisees had some big problems.

Problem #1: Their religion was entirely external and formal.

Jesus addressed the condition of the Pharisees’ hearts.

Now the Pharisees, who were lovers of money, also heard all these things, and they derided Him. And He said to them, “You are those who justify yourselves before men, but God knows your hearts. For what is highly esteemed among men is an abomination in the sight of God. (Luke 16:14–15)

Jesus referred to the scribes and Pharisees as “whitewashed tombs,” which look beautiful on the outside but are full of dead people’s bones and rotting flesh on the inside (Matthew 23:27–28).

So long as they were at church wearing their “Sunday best” every time the doors were open and gave their money as they should, they believed they were fine.

Problem #2: Their religion was more concerned with the ceremonial than the moral.

The scribes and Pharisees approached Jesus outraged that He allowed His disciples to eat without practicing the ceremonial washing first (Matthew 15:1–2).

Another time they complained that Jesus wasn’t conducting Himself as a “good teacher” should be by sitting and eating with sinners (Luke 15:1–2). The Pharisees considered tax collectors and sinners unclean, and to be around them was to risk becoming ceremonially unclean.

They put more stock in following all the ceremonies than living godly, moral lives.

Today this person has no problem gossiping about “so-and-so,” but if the song leader dares lead an additional song — the elders will hear about it! Or they will be outraged if the preacher shows up without a tie, but never mind they are embezzling from their employer.

Problem #3: Their religion exalted their own rules and regulations while diminishing God’s law.

Jesus responded to the scribes and Pharisees in Matthew 15 by pointing out that they violated God’s commandments because of their traditions (Matthew 15:3). He strongly condemned this behavior.

You hypocrites! Well did Isaiah prophesy of you, when he said: “‘This people honors me with their lips, but their heart is far from me; in vain do they worship me, teaching as doctrines the commandments of men.’” (Matthew 15:7–9)

The scribes and Pharisees acted like they exalted God’s law — when they cared far more about their own traditions and made-up rules.

Some of their traditions and man-made rules existed to justify their own sins.

We must take a step back and consider: Are we following what God says, or are we following our own traditions?

Problem #4: Their religion was about glorifying themselves rather than God.

The Pharisees appeared to live holy lives so that others would look at them and think highly of them.

“Two men went up into the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee, standing by himself, prayed thus: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I get.’ (Luke 18:10–12).

They wanted to make sure everyone knew just how many good things they were doing for God. Jesus knew what was in their hearts.

They do all their deeds to be seen by others. For they make their phylacteries broad and their fringes long, and they love the place of honor at feasts and the best seats in the synagogues and greetings in the marketplaces and being called rabbi by others. (Matthew 23:5–7)

Who are you trying to glorify with your life?

Are those social media posts of you reading your Bible with a cup of coffee about glorifying God — or yourself? Is that Facebook post about the person you helped at Walmart about glorifying God — or yourself?

You will have to answer that question for yourself by taking an honest look into your own heart. But know that God knows your heart, even if you’ve fooled everyone else.

Problem #5: Their religion was nothing like the Beatitudes.

Putting Jesus’ statement from Matthew 5:20 in context, their problem was they were nothing like those who are “blessed” in Matthew 5:3–10.

“The trouble with the Pharisees was that they were interested in details rather than principles, that they were interested in actions rather than in motives, and that they were interested in doing rather than in being…It is the principle, not the action only, that matters; it is what you think and desire, it is the state of your heart that is important.” — Lloyd-Jones, Studies in the Sermon on the Mount.

It’s not that the details, the actions, and the doing don’t matter. Jesus’ point is that these things are supposed to pour forth from a right heart with God — a mind like Christ’s (Philippians 2:5).

The Pharisee’s heart was not right with God — therefore, their actions were hypocritical.

What about your heart? Is your heart right with God?

We should all consider our hearts — because the Lord knows our hearts.



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Jameson Steward

Jameson Steward

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