Why did Jesus save his harshest words for the Pharisees and religious rulers of his day? After all, they were keeping all the rules and striving to do all that God asked them to do. You gotta give them some credit!?!
But Jesus was teaching us something very important by addressing the hypocrisy of the Pharisees in his eight “woes” to the Scribes and Pharisees. They start out with “Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites …” . The word “hypocrisy” means someone who wears a mask and pretends to be someone they are not. The Bible calls hypocrisy a sin. Jesus challenged the Pharisees – their outer conformity and lack of inner heart-felt love for God. Jesus took their meticulous adherence to Jewish food laws as an example. He said that it was not what went into a man that made him unclean for that just goes into his stomach and doesn’t touch his heart. But it is what comes out of a man that makes him unclean. “For from within, out of men’s hearts, come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, greed, malice, deceit, lewdness, envy, slander, arrogance and folly. All these evils come from inside and make a man ‘unclean’”. (Mark 7:21) We often do this when we do the right thing outwardly toward someone or something while still having a totally different attitude in our heart. And that someone could be another person or it could be God. In fact, this is the definition of the word hypocrisy.
Once an acquaintance, after finding out that I was a minister, said to me, “I’m not a religious person”. To which I replied, “Neither am I but I am a spiritual person”. Which are you? This is important because the Bible teaches that just being religious outwardly does us no good – hence the “Woe to you ….” . What we really need is a new heart, a change of heart in the core of our being.
Jesus’ emphasis was not on religious ritual. He knew that such an approach was far too superficial to elicit change in us. Jesus is saying that spiritual change is a paradox. If you want to change your outward behaviour then you must work on the inside, heart attitude toward God. You must develop your relationship with a God who loves sinners and invites them to humbly come to Him and learn all about how he loves them. That is why crowds of people followed Jesus around to hear him teach and preach about His heavenly Father. They wanted to know this God who was over them yet loved them so greatly that he gave his only Son for them.
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