Woe to You Scribes Part 1 – Practice What You Preach

Come to Me, All You Who Are Weary and Burdened

Opening Thoughts: Why are roses triple the price on Valentine’s Day, and why are hotels double the price on special holidays? I’m pretty sure it’s because there is an increased need for these products and services in which retailers see an opportunity to cash in on the demand during those times. Those weary family’s need a place to rest on their long  journey  home for Christmas, and that husband cannot go home without flowers in hand. Even without the price hike on a room a hotel may already be a financial burden for a travelling family on a budget, yet retailers take advantage of these times when legitimate needs are increased at an exponential rate and they add to the weight of an already heavy burden. In this post we will examine how this similarly relates to the Pharisees and Scribes (Lawyers) and how they added to and made the already tough, but necessary burdens of the law more difficult to bear.

Main Text: Luke 11:45-46 ESV …. One of the lawyers answered him, “Teacher, in saying these things you insult us also.” And he said, “Woe to you lawyers also! For you load people with burdens hard to bear, and you yourselves do not touch the burdens with one of your fingers.

Supporting Text: Matthew 23:1-4 ESV … 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.

Burdens Hard to Bear: Many times when we read passages like our text in Luke there is an assumption that everything the Pharisees taught, along with the Law and it’s legal religious requirements, were spoken of by Jesus in an invalidating way. In other words, many people think that Jesus was throwing out the law. This understanding is completely off base not to mention that it can be eternally damning as well. To misunderstand the use of the law, or even worse believe Jesus was tossing it out, leads us to a me-centred, “I’m a victim” (instead of a criminal) idea of the gospel. Jesus was emphatically affirming the law in Matthew’s text while at the same time in Luke reiterating how burdensome it was even without all the extra-biblical add ons from the Pharisees that made it torturous. It’s insane to think that on top of God’s literal commands the Pharisees increased the intensity with additional rules and regulations so that they were nearly impossible to bear. The story of Jesus clearing the temple is a very good example of how little these leaders cared for their own people. Hundreds of thousands of Jews would make the annual trek to Jerusalem to make sacrifice for their sins. Many travelled great distances on small amounts of money and had no way of bringing a living sacrifice with them, so what did the religious leaders do? Instead of helping them financially with a sacrifice they offered a service to the travellers and set up booths and tables in the Temple where they would sell live animals at exorbitant fees. In Mark 11 it says that Jesus specifically overturned the tables of “dove sellers“. Doves were the sacrifice for the poor and the widows, of whom they were taking well advantage of.

The bottom line is that the leaders God had placed in charge of His people should have been alleviating their hardships and helping bear their burdens, not making them worse. I fear that there are many leaders today that sit on the seat as Shepherd and are doing nothing more than building a huge ego for themselves. Please hear me when I say that this is not the condition of every church, and I say this with fear and trembling, however when you look around and see the ridiculous amounts of money (peoples hard earned money) being spent on modern, hi-tech buildings with all the latest and greatest gadgets, and the auditoriums look like you just walked into a space pod, with pastors making 6 figure CEO wages, the question should come up… Is this the church that Jesus built? Was this what he had in mind when He called 12 disciples? Is this how He hoped we would spend HIS money? Is this what Jesus’ mission was all about? Or is this what He was rippen’ at the Pharisees for?

Practice What They Preach Not What They Do: I included Matthew as a supporting text so that we could really grasp what these burdens were. Here Jesus is telling the crowds and disciples that the Pharisees and Scribes sit on the Seat of Moses, instructing all of the people to “do whatever they tell you”. I wonder what Jesus meant when He said “do whatever they tell you“? My guess is He meant “do whatever they tell you“, pretty simple, no throwing out the law, but doing it. Just to emphasise that the law was GOOD, David said that he “delighted in the law of the LORD, and on his law he meditated day and night” and Paul says in Romans 7:12 “So the law is holy, and the commandment is holy and righteous and good.” Jesus never intended for people to turn from the law, the law is good! However the reason He mentioned that they sit on the seat of Moses was so that the hearers would understand that He was limiting their obedience to “whatever they tell you about the Law of Moses” which does not include the Pharisees’ later ample additions to Mosaic laws which rabbinic teachers made. So He says, “As far as the Law of Moses goes, listen to them just don’t do what THEY are doing”. Why? Because they don’t practice what they preach, they’re hypocrites to the core, their souls are rotten and worm infested, they’re like fancy tombs on the outside who preach all the correct things yet on the inside they are dead and crusty.

The Heavy Burdens of Religion Were Instituted by God: Many people rightfully see Religion as though it equals a huge list of rules and regulations, and they’re right, because that’s what it was. This list of heavy burdens was instituted by God so that guilty criminals could be pardoned. They had cleansing laws for touching dead people, or touching a grave, cleansing laws for going through menstruation and sacrifices for completion, sacrificial laws for the forgiveness of sins, laws for unclean diseases, laws for tithing, laws for clothing, laws for eating, there were so many laws it would make our metro-Christian heads spin. So it’s not that Religion is bad at all, it’s that false religion is, and that adding to what God says in His Word is. These burdens were necessary for the forgiveness of sins and they serve today’s believers in giving us a clear understanding of the legal requirements that have been satisfied and taken care of on our behalf  when Jesus went to the cross. They should never be forgotten nor should they be overlooked or reduced to rubbish. God’s commands serve to reveal His holiness and scream out how depraved, wretched and unworthy we are.

The Burdens of the Law Become a Joy through the Gospel: Matthew 11:28-30 ESV .. “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden (burdened), and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” Jesus was speaking of a people that were weighted down by the burden of the law. You see a criminal must have the weight of the law bearing down on him in order to see Christ as his beautiful rescuer. Paul says that the Law leads us to Christ, it’s our teacher, our instructor.

Galatians 3:24 .. “Wherefore the law was our schoolmaster to bring us unto Christ, that we might be justified by faith.”

When we are pressed and burdened down by the law it has accomplished it’s work in full. The law serves to convict you, condemn you and sentence you. It does this not because it is bad, but because we are.

Romans 5:20 … Now the law came in to increase the trespass, but where sin increased, grace abounded all the more,

The Perfect Law of God was to increase the obvious state of our sin, when sin is increased and bearing down on us with all it burdensome force, grace is revealed and the cross is made powerful through sin. The law is useless without sin, and so is the cross. Both need sin to do their work, one condemns and the other forgives, empowers and sets free.

So when the law has fulfilled its job Jesus picks things up and says come to me all you who are burdened down under the law, and It’s weight and I will give you rest for your souls. Paul Washer beautifully put it this way, He fulfilled the law by “saving us for Himself, by Himself and from Himself”. Upon regeneration He placed His Holy Spirit in us so that we could could bear the burdens of this life in victory over sin, hell and ultimately death. All of our crimes and the penalty they so richly deserve were absorbed by Christ on that tree. As evidence that we are indeed saved, He wrote His law on our hearts and branded them in our minds so that we would hate sin and love righteousness.

1 John 5:3-4 ESV .. For this is the love of God, that we keep his commandments. And his commandments are not burdensome. For everyone who has been born of God overcomes the world. And this is the victory that has overcome the world—our faith.

The commandments are no longer a burden, because it’s not about us achieving a right standing, He has already made us right and through the power of the new Spirit He’s placed in us we can live for Him victoriously. Praise be to God!

Preparing The Way
~ Shane Martin

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