Of all the different classes of people that Jesus encountered as he taught and healed, there was only one class that he would be harsh with. When he spoke to this class of people, he would be extremely critical of them and their practices. It wasn’t the tax collectors, prostitutes or those who had some sort of physical ailment. This class of people knew better when it came to their actions and words, but they chose to do something else. It is sort of the same thing we see today by some politicians, “Rules for thee and not for me.”
The class of people I am referring to are the religious leaders of Jesus’ time. This class was made up of the Pharisees and Sadducees. These groups were trained and selected to be the religious leaders for the Jews and provide guidance. But, somewhere along the path of righteousness, they went their own way. They became corrupt and did what they saw best for themselves. I’m not saying that all of them became this way. But, as the old saying goes, it just takes a few bad apples to spoil the bunch.
Even today, we see the same sort of thing. Television evangelists who should know better committing sin, church leaders taking advantage of their congregation and a whole list of other things that have caused sin to flourish in the House of the Lord.
You can easily say that they should know better and that congregations should forgive them. In many cases, it may be a one-time lapse in judgment. I understand that situation. After all, people aren’t perfect. However, when sin goes unchecked it begins to infiltrate all aspects of not only church leadership but also the congregation. Something must be said and ultimately done.
In chapter twenty-three of the Gospel of Matthew, Jesus, while addressing his followers and disciples, tells them about “the teachers of religious law and the Pharisees are the official interpreters of the law of Moses”. Jesus tells them to practice and obey whatever they say, but don’t follow their example.
The religious leaders would teach the Word of God, but they themselves would not follow what they taught. They didn’t practice what they preached and, quite often, crushed people with demands and didn’t even try to help people with their burdens.
When you look back to the time of Jesus and now, you will see many parallels to our day. Some present day religious leaders do much the same thing. Instead of living their lives in a pious way, some preach a gospel that is false. They make demands of the congregation to donate more and more money and time to the church and teach their flocks that God will reward their money and effort with more wealth and prosperity. When things don’t exactly work out for members of the flock, those charlatans will tell them that they didn’t give enough to the church. In time, believers will become disillusioned and give up their faith. Many will call Christianity a “con game for suckers”.
Jesus further goes on to say, “Everything they do is for show. On their arms they wear extra wide prayer boxes with Scripture verses inside, and they wear robes with extra long tassels. And they love to sit at the head table at banquets and in the seats of honor in the synagogues. They love to receive respectful greetings as they walk in the marketplaces, and to be called ‘Rabbi.’”
Instead of living a life dedicated to the Kingdom and preaching and living the Word of God, they were dedicated to themselves and loved how they were treated by others. In short, they lived for the honor they received from their flocks. It didn’t matter to them what people did in their lives. As long as they paid their tithes and respects, all was well with the world.
I’m here to say that it wasn’t righteous then and it is certainly not righteous now. When pastors and ministers of churches begin to act this way, it sets a bad example for others. Members of the congregation begin to compromise their faith by using the example of their church leaders as their template in conducting their lives and faith. They begin to justify their actions and words by saying to themselves that if it is fine for the pastor or minister to do whatever, then it must be fine for me. When that occurs, sin enters the church and finds a new home in the hearts of the congregation.
Jesus, in his criticism of the religious leaders of his time, said, “What sorrow awaits you teachers of religious law and you Pharisees. Hypocrites! For you shut the door of the Kingdom of Heaven in people’s faces. You won’t go in yourselves, and you don’t let others enter either.”
When religious leaders do things that they want to do instead of following the Will of God, then they have denied the Kingdom and, at the same time, they have led people astray. It is one thing to make a choice for yourself, but it is an entirely different thing when you lead others away from God.
When I first entered the ministry, a dear friend of mine, Dave, who was a retired pastor, reminded me of the words of Jesus when he spoke to Peter.
In chapter twenty-one of the Gospel of John, Jesus asks Peter, “Simon son of John, do you love me?”
Peter replies that he does, and Jesus responds, “Then feed my sheep.”
As a new chaplain, Dave’s words gave me a moment of pause and emphasized the importance of my role as a pastor to the congregation there at a small retirement community in Cedar Park, Texas. My life had to reflect the example and teachings of Christ Jesus all the time. I couldn’t be a part of saying one thing and doing something else. If I did that, I could have not only closed the door to the Kingdom for myself but also for those I fed on a daily basis.
To those who lead Bible studies, Sunday School classes or have the awesome responsibility of preaching the Word of God, I say to you, “Feed and take care of the flock. Don’t let the position go to your head, but, rather, let it go to your heart. Be a servant first and foremost.”
To those who are Christian, I ask that you live as Christ Jesus lived. Be an example by dedicating your life to God and loving those who need to be loved and cared for. When you do those things, you are standing firm in His grace as His child and believer.
The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ be with your spirit.