Why does God hate hypocrisy so much? Why did Jesus speak so strongly against the Pharisees? Today’s passage gives us some more insight.
What is it that angers God, that really gets him riled up? Well, sin will do the trick, but there’s something that might even get him even more upset. If we sin against him that’s bad, but if we keep others away from him, that’s far worse. Not only did the Pharisees not accept the Truth, but they did everything within their power to keep others away from salvation as well. The most dangerous thing in the world is to stand between God and someone who's honestly seeking him.
One of the strange things about this modern age is the value placed upon zeal. It matters very little what a person does, whether the impact from their lives has been positive or negative, as long as they really put their “all” into it. Everyone supposedly wants to "make a difference." As someone pointed out to me several years ago, however, Hitler “made a difference.”
Now the Pharisees were certainly zealous about what they were doing. Zeal in itself is not a bad thing. In fact, it’s a huge asset, but only if pointed in the right direction. Paul, who was “a Pharisee, descended from Pharisees,” was very zealous before he encountered the Christ on the road to Damascus. When he was converted, did Jesus change Paul's personality to reflect less zeal? Of course not! The Lord took all that zeal and just channeled it into his service.
Why is this important? Because zeal in the wrong direction is worse than a merely sinful lifestyle—It brings others down with you. Jesus said that the disciples of the Pharisees were “twice as much a son of hell as [they were].” These converts were actually better off before the Pharisees got to them.
Here are some hard lessons for me. I’m not a naturally zealous person. I’m better than I used to be, but the Lord has had to work on me with that. I’m pointing in the right direction, but no one ever accused me of being a fanatic on anything. Now, the Pharisees were doing more harm than good, but can I actually learn something from them? Do I “travel over land and sea to win a single convert”? Do I even cross the street?
I know that I’m in God’s kingdom, but am I inviting others to come in through the door after me, or am I “[shutting] the kingdom. . .in people's faces”? Brennan Manning once said "The biggest cause of atheism is Christians who acknowledge Jesus with their lips and deny him with their lifestyle.”
My Lord had some really tough words for the Pharisees, but a lot of what he’s condemning them for is sounding awfully--uncomfortably--familiar. How about you?
Lord Jesus, please, please, please—may every word I speak, every action I take, draw other people towards you instead of away from you. Make my life a clear reflection of you, of your holiness, your grace, and your love.