The Pharisees and Repentance

Yesterday in Jesus and the Pharisees, I shared some observations on Jesus’ Sabbath conflicts with the Pharisees*—which started in a grain field and came to a climax when Jesus healed a man with a withered hand in the synagogue.

I had a few more thoughts, but yesterday’s post was already a bit long winded…so I decided to continue exploring some of the implications of this story today.

*My use of the general term ‘Pharisees’ will refer to those members of the sect who are aggressive and antagonistic toward Christ. Though this seems to be representative of the overall attitude of this group, there were certainly those who did not fit the stereotype.

In the first years after I came to faith in Christ, my impression of the Pharisees was much more favorable than it is now. I saw them as men who were motivated by a genuine zeal for God, but suffering from misguided legalism. Sure they were hypocrites—but blind ones—unable to recognize Christ because they were understandably confused about the scriptural role of the Messiah.

I wondered why Christ was so blunt and abrasive with them. It seemed he was intentionally making it hard for them to accept him. It didn’t seem fair. Wouldn’t they see the truth if he calmly and systematically explained it to them? If anyone would be able to see that Jesus was the fulfillment of messianic prophecies, it would be the scripture-savvy Pharisees, wouldn’t it?

Yes.

And I have come to believe that is precisely why Jesus spoke so offensively to them. They should have recognized him and they didn’t. It wasn’t that they couldn’t—they wouldn’t. And those that did see, intentionally and aggressively suppressed the truth.

They liked to appeal to God’s ‘ancestral obligation’ to them, and they practiced and enforced a strict observance of the Law—but their hearts were not inclined toward God. Somewhere along the line social control, political power, wealth, and importance had taken priority over a love for God and a passion for truth. These leaders of God’s people were already a long way down the wrong path when Christ came on the scene.

Jesus was certainly angry with them for shutting people out of the kingdom of God with their hypocrisy and legalism, but offending them may also have been the most gracious thing he could do for them.

They were so accustomed to embracing and justifying their compromise that they had become incredibly stubborn and calloused. When people are in that condition, sometimes the only thing that will move them to repentance is the shock of their sin being exposed in plain, harsh, and graphic terms. Jesus wasn’t making it impossible for them to come to him, he was giving them an opportunity to repent.

But the Pharisees refused to budge.

John 3:19-21 (NASB)
19 “This is the judgment, that the Light has come into the world, and men loved the darkness rather than the Light, for their deeds were evil.
20 “For everyone who does evil hates the Light, and does not come to the Light for fear that his deeds will be exposed.
21 “But he who practices the truth comes to the Light, so that his deeds may be manifested as having been wrought in God.”

John 7:7 (NASB) 7 “The world cannot hate you, but it hates Me because I testify of it, that its deeds are evil.

Each time the Pharisees resisted an opportunity to repent, their hearts became harder, their motives more twisted, their actions more wicked. The enemy was given a very nice foothold indeed.

Very sad.

A sin corrupted world would have hated Christ no matter what. And it was necessary that he die for our redemption. But I don’t believe that the Pharisees had to play the part they did.

Luke 7:30 (NASB)
30 But the Pharisees and the lawyers rejected God’s purpose for themselves, not having been baptized by John.

They could have chosen differently. It grieved the heart of God that they were stubborn and would not—though they were given opportunity after opportunity.

A heart that is unwilling to repent is a scary thing.

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