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The Danger Of A Religious Spirit

By Lionel Leslie, June 16, 2001 Printer Friendly Version

Now so it was that after three days they found Him in the temple, sitting in the midst of the teachers, both listening to them and asking them questions. And all who heard Him were astonished at His understanding and answers.
This text from Luke 2:39-49 shows us how Yeshua interacted with the religious leaders of His day. He was about 12 years old and the fact that the scholars listened to Him suggests He may have received His bar mitzvah before His 13th birthday. Already at this age He discussed the scriptures with the leading religious authorities in Jerusalem.

Although His understanding of the scriptures was fully developed at an early age, His full-time teaching ministry did not begin until many years later in Galilee. After His wilderness experience with Satan, Yeshua departed to Galilee and dwelt in Capernaum in the regions of Zebulun and Naphtali, that the prophesy spoken by Isaiah The people who sat in darkness saw a great light would be fulfilled. From that time Jesus began to preach and to say, Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand. He travelled throughout Galilee, teaching in their synagogues, preaching the gospel of the kingdom, and healing all kinds of sicknesses and diseases. And great multitudes followed Him everywhere he went. In a short period of time His fame as a teacher and healer came to the ears of the Jewish authorities, and they questioned him on matters of the law and the traditions. Even His deity they questioned to try and trip Him up.

When Yeshua healed and pronounced forgiveness to sinners, the scribes called out to the listeners, This Man blasphemes! When Jesus and His disciples had fellowship with tax collectors and sinners, and the Pharisees saw it, they said to His disciples Why does your Teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners? What was Yeshua’s response? Those who are well have no need for a physician, but those who are sick. And He quoted Hosea 6:6. ‘I desire mercy and not sacrifice.’ For I did not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance. Matthew 9. For the three and a half years of His ministry, Jesus spoke out against the religious leaders in Israel, as they followed and questioned Him from place to place and tried to discredit Him and His doctrines, until the very last moments when Yeshua nailed to the cross could hardly defend Himself.c;And those who passed by blasphemed Him, wagging their heads and saying, You who destroyed the temple and build it in three days, save yourself! If you are the Son of God, come down from the cross. Likewise the chief priests, also mocking with the scribes and elders, said, He saved others; Himself He cannot save. If He is the king of Israel, let Him now come down from the cross, and we will believe Him. He trusted in God; let Him deliver Him now if He will have Him; for He said, ‘I am the Son of God.’ (Matthew 27 verses 39-43). Such was the hardness of their hearts.

As we continue our narrative we will notice the cunning of this people and the way the Lord dealt with them, and we may wonder if there was any hope for them. But, thanks be to God; for the records show that many leaders, scribes, as well as Pharisees, repented, believed and received, the gift of the Spirit. Even today among the church we have much the same spirit of religion and formalism. But the Lord is forever gracious; and for them who have ears to hear, the Holy Spirit of God, will come and convict of sin, righteousness and judgement.

Turn to the Gospel of Matthew chapter 23., and we will follow some of the questions put to the Lord by the scribes and the Pharisees, and the Lord’s response to them. In Matthew 23:1-14 Yeshua pronounces woe upon the scribes and pharisees. In verses 1-3 He spoke to the multitudes and to His disciples saying: The scribes and the Pharisees sit in Moses’ seat. THEREFORE whatever they tell you to observe, that observe and do, but do not do according to their works, for they say, and do not do. In the following verses the Lord personally illustrates the manner and the life of such people so that we who digest His words, would not be deceived.

I would like for us this morning to search these admonitions and warnings, so that we may be better prepared and able to defend ourselves against the trappings and subtleties of the scribes and Pharisees, in our day. First of all, we should note that the Lord spoke to the multitudes as well as to His disciples, which means that He was not selective, and that He is speaking to everyone of us; for the message is the same yesterday, today, and forever. But what is meant by the scribes and the Pharisees sit in Moses seat?

Nehemiah 8: verses 4 and 5. An elevated platform made of wood was built; and Ezra opened the book [of the law] in the sight of the people, and taught, for he was standing above the people; and all the Levites continued to teach the people thereafter.

From this time onward to the present day, schools of learning, Yeshiva’s or Seminaries, were formed to produce teachers and interpreters, and commentators of the law, or lawmakers.  These were the ones called the Scribes. Many spoke in truth, but the Lord said to the people in Matthew 23 v.3 and 4 (read): What burdens ? (read verse 5.): They, in effect ‘widened’ or ‘enlarged’ the laws contrary to the Lord’s command in Deuteronomy 4 verse 2: You shall not add to the word which I command you, nor take anything from it... Is there not an element of this with us today as we listen to much preaching and teaching, from a high place, down, as it were, at the multitudes? Such people we may call ‘modern day scribes’, having the same mentality as the ones the Lord rebuked in these passages. Men of learning. ‘Doctors’ of the law. What an apt phrase! They were supposed to devote themselves to the preservation, transcription and exposition of the law. But what did many do in that ancient period? They usurped the truth in the Law of the Lord, which is perfect and righteous, and added to it interpretations and laws of their own making, thereby taking upon themselves some of the Glory which is solely God’s; as it is written, And My glory I will not give to another.

What they did in effect to safeguard the sanctity of the law was that they gradually developed an extensive and complicated system of theological studies. I often wonder why some theologians have to make it so complicated, when the Lord himself set out to inform us of His Gospel in such simplicity. In biblical times these scribes were considered layman not priests, and performed their duties without payment. Most of them followed some trade as they were not expected to receive money for their services. But in today’s world, wealth and knowledge, many times without the unction of the Holy Spirit, is a preferred qualification.

To some small extent we have defined the scribe. Let us now move on to learn a little about the life of the Pharisee: In the first century the Lord’s criticism of Pharisaism was an indication that it had lost touch with the common people, and that their emphasis was on the letter, rather than the Spirit of the law. The New Covenant is even more emphatic and states categorically in 2 Corinthians 3 verse 6; for the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life. I have no doubt, from my own experience, that this same joyless religious spirit is with us today touching some, in the churches. Be vigilant!

Matthew 23: verses 6,7 and 8 read: Pharisees in the New Testament times and hundreds of years earlier, considered themselves a separate group from their brethren; the name in its Semitic form is translated ‘the separated ones’ or ‘separatists’. ‘Chassidim,’ is another name associated with them, especially in modern religious Jewish history. They became a closely knit society for ultra-orthodox religious people, loyal to each other; but other Jews of the same basic religion, are considered ‘outsiders’. These Pharisees or Chassid’s dressed in different fashion to the norm, so were easily recognizable. They despised those whom they did not consider equals and were haughty and arrogant because they believed they were the only true interpreters of God and His word. They strictly adhered to the minutest details of the traditional laws and the ceremonial purity it entailed. Salvation through good works alone, became their final reward to reserve a place in heaven. Yeshua clearly condemned their ostentation, hypocrisy and salvation by works, and their impenitence and lovelessness. ‘Mitzvot’, or good works, is central to the Pharisee tradition; and to do good to please God- is indeed good! But their reason for doing it is questionable, even unlawful! Let us read what the Lord has to say about it: Matthew 6: 1-8 (read): Don’t we find it has a present day familiar ring to it?

Verse 9 reads: But, if I may take the liberty and paraphrase in order to clarify, it could be read like this. Do not call anyone on earth ‘your Spiritual Father’; for one only is called our Father, He who is in heaven; and we must agree, His name is Hallowed!

Verse 10 reads:- And do not be called teacher..(the same as rabbi or master). The Lord is warning us to be careful not to fall into that terrible sin of PRIDE. For, again, one only is our Teacher who is the Messiah; and here, in verses 10, 11 and 12., the Lord is directing himself to His disciples and to the multitudes to remind them that He came as a servant, and in no way did He attempt to exalt Himself as men do naturally. Remember what the Lord asked of His disciples when He found them disputing who would be the greatest among themselves? But the Lord rebuked them saying, ..he who is greatest among you, let him be as the younger, and he who governs as he who serves. This should come as a reminder for us all that ...he who is greatest among you shall be your servant. And whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted...

Verse 13:(read). The Lord is saying here that such people have closed the door to the truth of the good news which comes by the Holy Spirit, who brings us the wisdom that is from above (which) is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, willing to yield, full of mercy and good fruits, without partiality and without hypocrisy. The Lord says By their fruits you shall know them the fruit of the Spirit (which) is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control. Against such there is no law. And those who are Christ’s have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. If we live in the Spirit, let us also walk in the Spirit. Let us not become conceited, provoking one another, envying one another Beware of the leaven of the Pharisees, which is hypocrisy. For there is nothing covered that will not be revealed, nor hidden that will not be known. Therefore whatever you have spoken in the dark will be heard in the light, and what you have spoken in the ear in inner rooms will be proclaimed on the housetops. You will find this in Luke 12: 1-3.

Beware Lest anyone cheat you through philosophy and empty deceit, according to the traditions of men, according to the basic principles of the world, and not according to Messiah. For in Him dwells all the fullness of the Godhead bodily; and you are complete in Him, who is the head of all rule and authority.(1st Cor. 2: 8-10). Avoid those who in this day and age are among us in the church, preaching and teaching self-imposed religion that comes from Worldly wisdom and not according to the Lord’s teachings in His Holy Word. Be aware of the pernicious subtlety that Satan, the enemy of our soul, lays before us. For that which touches the soul with its evil intent will permeate and thereby corrupt the body.

Note that the people, the Lord is asking believers to watch out for, have a particularly strong and overpowering type of religious spirit. And Yeshua throughout these scriptures and many others, warns us how we can become more aware and recognize their subtle and insidious methods of indoctrination. This pernicious spirit directly attacks the mind or intellect with carefully constructed false doctrine that could deceive the weak in faith; and even those who believe they would never fall for such deception, this religious spirit strikes quickly as an opening is made. It will then be in a position to cunningly interact with their own thoughts. In this situation it can easily spread like an infectious disease through the church, as it attempts to influence one person after another, calculated to undermine the truths as it is written in scripture. Finally, if it is allowed to take hold within a congregational setting, it will inevitably create divisiveness in the body of believers. These are my words! If you think this description is harsh or unwarranted; hear what our Lord has to say on these kinds of issues!:

Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ravenous wolves. You will know them by their fruits. Do men gather grapes from thorn bushes or figs from thistles? (Matthew 7v.15,16). And also: Matthew 23 verse 33: Serpents, brood of vipers! How can you escape the condemnation of hell? Therefore, indeed, I send you prophets, wise men, and scribes: Some of them you will kill and crucify, and some of them you will scourge in your synagogues and persecute from city to city, that on you may come all the righteous blood shed on the earth, from the blood of righteous Abel to the blood of Zechariah, son of Berechiah, whom you murdered between the temple and the altar. Assuredly, I say to you, all these things will come upon this generation.

God resists the proud, but gives grace to the humble. Therefore submit to God. Resist the devil and he will flee from you. Draw near to God and He will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners; and purify your hearts, you double minded. Lament and mourn and weep! Let your laughter be turned to mourning and your joy to gloom.

Humble yourselves in the sight of the Lord, and He will lift you up. (James 4:6-10.).

O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the one who kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to her! How often I wanted to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, but you were not willing! See! Your house is left to you desolate; for I say to you, you will see Me no more till you say ‘Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord!’

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