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Don't be a Pharisee or Sadducee!

We read in the Bible of different factions of Jesus day, apart from the priests and the Herodians (the rulers of the Palestine region, which included Israel and Judea). Yet one that confuses many are the divisions of the Sadducees and the Pharisees. Many of us, though, who are 2,000 years (or so) removed from Israel find these men baffling! Who were they? What is a Sadducee, and what is a Pharisee? These, along with some of the elders and priests, made up Sanhedrins, which were both local and national governing bodies, primarily concerned with the Law and the traditions. There were local governing bodies for each region in Israel and Judea, and there was one over all in Jerusalem. We see Jesus constantly at odds with them (and the Pharisees and Sadducees at odds with one another). There were more divisions than this, but for now, we'll focus on these two. The Pharisees were concerned with keeping the traditions set as a hedge of protection around the law. Nicodemus was a Pharisee, as was Paul. They believed in Spiritual things, but believed, mostly, that the Law and tradition must be upheld, even going so far as to let the traditions supersede the Law to uphold the traditions. To them, tradition was everything: you were more spiritual by how you followed!

The Sadducees on the other hand were called the "Keepers of the Law." They believed only in the books of Moses (the Torah, Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy). They didn't believe in the Resurrection of the Dead (It's why they're sad-you-see), and didn't trust the Prophets as authoritative. As one popular show put it, the Sadducees believed that God stopped speaking after Moses. As I study these two groups (and yes, I know this is a very simplistic representation of both), I see that the Pharisees and Sadducees still exist within Christ's own church. We have some who, like the Pharisees, uphold tradition, are perceived to be super spiritual, and seek to manufacture the works of God by their own righteousness. We have some who are much like the Sadducees: God stopped working openly when the Bible was completed (which, if you know your history, was around the end of the 4th century). They believe that God lies within carefully structured church services and observances, and does not operate on an individual level any more. There is no more mystery or wonder. There is only the rigidity of what we have in writing. Now, I'm not trying to openly denounce anyone, but if I recall the Gospels, these groups, for the most part, missed out on Jesus Christ. They had their promised Messiah, but because of their rigid codes and beliefs on God, could not accept Him, regardless of all the evidence before them. How often do we do the same? How often, because things do not fit within our spiritual world view, do we miss out on what God is trying to point us toward? Don't mistake me, God will not contradict His word. He stands by it, and has fulfilled it in His Son. And God is always drawing us in to His Glory, and a deeper relationship with Him as we do the work of the Gospel. Yet. the Pharisees and Sadducees largely missed out on the Messiah who was for them (though there's some exceptions, as some were followers of Jesus), even going so far as to crucify the One who wanted their own eternal good. Are we missing out on Jesus, who is still working, still moving openly, still operating, still healing, and still speaking today because His works do testify to His presence. Don't miss out! Don't be a Pharisee or Sadducee! Matthew 23: Then Jesus said to the crowds and to his disciples, “The scribes and the Pharisees sit on Moses' seat, so do and observe whatever they tell you, but not the works they do. For they preach, but do not practice. They tie up heavy burdens, hard to bear, and lay them on people's shoulders, but they themselves are not willing to move them with their finger. They do all their deeds to be seen by others. For they make their phylacteries broad and their fringes long, and they love the place of honor at feasts and the best seats in the synagogues and greetings in the marketplaces and being called rabbi by others. But you are not to be called rabbi, for you have one teacher, and you are all brothers. And call no man your father on earth, for you have one Father, who is in heaven. Neither be called instructors, for you have one instructor, the Christ. The greatest among you shall be your servant. Whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and whoever humbles himself will be exalted.

“But woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you shut the kingdom of heaven in people's faces. For you neither enter yourselves nor allow those who would enter to go in. Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you travel across sea and land to make a single proselyte, and when he becomes a proselyte, you make him twice as much a child of hell as yourselves.

“Woe to you, blind guides, who say, ‘If anyone swears by the temple, it is nothing, but if anyone swears by the gold of the temple, he is bound by his oath.’ You blind fools! For which is greater, the gold or the temple that has made the gold sacred? And you say, ‘If anyone swears by the altar, it is nothing, but if anyone swears by the gift that is on the altar, he is bound by his oath.’ You blind men! For which is greater, the gift or the altar that makes the gift sacred? So whoever swears by the altar swears by it and by everything on it. And whoever swears by the temple swears by it and by him who dwells in it. And whoever swears by heaven swears by the throne of God and by him who sits upon it.

“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you tithe mint and dill and cumin, and have neglected the weightier matters of the law: justice and mercy and faithfulness. These you ought to have done, without neglecting the others. You blind guides, straining out a gnat and swallowing a camel!

“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you clean the outside of the cup and the plate, but inside they are full of greed and self-indulgence. You blind Pharisee! First clean the inside of the cup and the plate, that the outside also may be clean.

“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you are like whitewashed tombs, which outwardly appear beautiful, but within are full of dead people's bones and all uncleanness. So you also outwardly appear righteous to others, but within you are full of hypocrisy and lawlessness.

“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you build the tombs of the prophets and decorate the monuments of the righteous, saying, ‘If we had lived in the days of our fathers, we would not have taken part with them in shedding the blood of the prophets.’ Thus you witness against yourselves that you are sons of those who murdered the prophets. Fill up, then, the measure of your fathers. You serpents, you brood of vipers, how are you to escape being sentenced to hell? Therefore I send you prophets and wise men and scribes, some of whom you will kill and crucify, and some you will flog in your synagogues and persecute from town to town, so that on you may come all the righteous blood shed on earth, from the blood of righteous Abel to the blood of Zechariah the son of Barachiah, whom you murdered between the sanctuary and the altar. Truly, I say to you, all these things will come upon this generation.

“O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it! How often would I have gathered your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing! See, your house is left to you desolate. For I tell you, you will not see me again, until you say, ‘Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.’”

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