Romans 3:10-11, ESV
...as it is written: “None is righteous, no, not one; no one understands; no one seeks for God.
MATTHEW 9:9-13, NIrV
9 As Jesus went on from there, he saw a man named Matthew. He was sitting at the tax collector’s booth. “Follow me,” Jesus told him. Matthew got up and followed him.
10 Later Jesus was having dinner at Matthew’s house. Many tax collectors and sinners came. They ate with Jesus and his disciples. 11 The Pharisees saw this. So they asked the disciples, “Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?”
12 Jesus heard this. So he said, “Those who are healthy don’t need a doctor. Sick people do. 13 Go and learn what this means, ‘I want mercy and not sacrifice.’ (Hosea 6:6) I have not come to get those who think they are right with God to follow me. I have come to get sinners to follow me.”
In the Bible, the Pharisees often look like bad guys, but they were actually trying to be good guys! Because they wanted to follow God’s laws, they made extra rules about how to follow God’s rules. One day, Jesus did something that broke one of the Pharisees’ extra rules: he ate with a bunch of sinners. Why? Because sinners were the kind of people he’d come to save! These guys knew they were “sick” with sin and needed someone like Jesus to heal them. But the Pharisees believed following all their extra rules made them “healthy.” They didn’t think they needed anyone to save them!
+ Jesus asked a tax collector to follow him. What was his name? (vs. 9)
+ What did Jesus say he came to do? (vs. 13)
MARK 7:1-8, NIrV
1 The Pharisees gathered around Jesus. So did some of the teachers of the law. All of them had come from Jerusalem. 2 They saw some of his disciples eating food with “unclean” hands. That means they were not washed. 3 The Pharisees and all the Jews do not eat unless they wash their hands to make them “clean.” That’s what the elders teach. 4 When they come from the market, they do not eat unless they wash. And they follow many other teachings. For example, they wash cups, pitchers, and kettles in a special way.
5 So the Pharisees and the teachers of the law questioned Jesus. “Why don’t your disciples live by what the elders teach?” they asked. “Why do they eat their food with ‘unclean’ hands?”
6 He replied, “Isaiah was right. He prophesied about you people who pretend to be good. He said,
“ ‘These people honor me by what they say.
But their hearts are far away from me.
7 Their worship doesn’t mean anything to me.
They teach nothing but human rules.’ (Isaiah 29:13)
8 You have let go of God’s commands. And you are holding on to teachings that people have made up.”
In his law, God gave his priests special rules about washing their hands as they worked at God’s temple. The Pharisees created their own list of instructions describing exactly how people were supposed to wash their hands and dishes. When Jesus and his disciples ate without following the Pharisees’ fancy hand-washing rules, they asked him why. Jesus called them “hypocrites” or pretenders. On the outside, the Pharisees were pretending like they loved God by following their long lists of made-up rules. But inside their hearts, they didn’t love God one bit. Even worse, they hated God's Son Jesus!
+ Why were the Pharisees upset with Jesus this time?
+ It’s a sin to disobey God’s laws. Was it a sin to not follow the Pharisees’ extra rules?
LUKE 18:9-14, NIrV
9 Jesus told a story to some people who were sure they were right with God. They looked down on everyone else. 10 He said to them, “Two men went up to the temple to pray. One was a Pharisee. The other was a tax collector. 11 The Pharisee stood by himself and prayed. ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other people,’ he said. ‘I am not like robbers or those who do other evil things. I am not like those who commit adultery. I am not even like this tax collector. 12 I fast twice a week. And I give a tenth of all I get.’
13 “But the tax collector stood farther away than the Pharisee. He would not even look up to heaven. He brought his hand to his heart and prayed. He said, ‘God, have mercy on me. I am a sinner.’
14 “I tell you, the tax collector went home accepted by God. But not the Pharisee. All those who lift themselves up will be made humble. And those who make themselves humble will be lifted up.”
In Jesus’ time, people thought of Pharisees as good guys who followed God’s rules. Tax collectors were bad guys who stole money and helped Israel’s enemies. One day, Jesus told a story of two prayers. In his prayer, the “good” Pharisee bragged about the good things he did. But the “bad” tax collector wouldn’t even look up as he begged, “God, have mercy! Forgive my sins!” Which of these two prayers was God pleased with? Jesus’ answer shocked the ears of the crowd. The Pharisee was pleased with himself, but God was only pleased with the greedy tax collector who begged to be forgiven!
+ What was the difference between the two prayers? (vs. 11-13)
+ If you were a Pharisee hearing this story, what would you think?
MATTHEW 23:25-28, NIRV
25 “How terrible for you, teachers of the law and Pharisees! You pretenders! You clean the outside of a cup and dish. But on the inside you are full of greed. You only want to satisfy yourselves. 26 Blind Pharisee! First clean the inside of the cup and dish. Then the outside will also be clean.
27 “How terrible for you, teachers of the law and Pharisees! You pretenders! You are like tombs that are painted white. They look beautiful on the outside. But on the inside they are full of the bones of the dead. They are also full of other things that are not pure and ‘clean.’ 28 It is the same with you. On the outside you seem to be doing what is right. But on the inside you are full of what is wrong. You pretend to be what you are not.
The four Bible books about Jesus’ life (Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John) tell the gospel (good news) about what Jesus did to save sinners. But in today's bit from the Bible, Jesus had nothing but bad news for the Pharisees! He wanted them to understand the extra rules they followed on the outside couldn’t change how sinful their hearts were on the inside. They were like cups that were squeaky clean on the outside, but gross and disgusting on the inside. He compared them to painted tombs. On the outside, they were beautiful and white. But on the inside, they were full of spooky skeletons!
+ Look at beginnings of verses 23, 25, 27, and 29. What words do they have in common?
+ How were the Pharisees like cups and white-painted tombs? (vs. 25 and 27)
JOHN 11:45-53, NIRV
45 Many of the Jews who had come to visit Mary saw what Jesus did. So they believed in him. 46 But some of them went to the Pharisees. They told the Pharisees what Jesus had done. 47 Then the chief priests and the Pharisees called a meeting of the Sanhedrin.
“What can we do?” they asked. “This man is performing many signs. 48 If we let him keep on doing this, everyone will believe in him. Then the Romans will come. They will take away our temple and our nation.”
49 One of the Jewish leaders spoke up. His name was Caiaphas. He was high priest at that time. He said, “You don’t know anything at all! 50 You don’t realize what is good for you. It is better if one man dies for the people than if the whole nation is destroyed.”
51 He did not say this on his own because he was high priest at that time. He prophesied that Jesus would die for the Jewish nation. 52 He also prophesied that Jesus would die for God’s children scattered everywhere. He would die to bring them together and make them one. 53 So from that day on, the Jewish rulers planned to kill Jesus.
Moments before these verses, Jesus raised a man named Lazarus to life after he’d been dead four days. Seeing such a sight, you’d think that the Pharisees would believe that Jesus was the Christ: God’s special savior sent to rescue his people. But you’d be wrong! Instead, they made plans to put Jesus to death. Why? Their country, Israel, was controlled by the mighty Roman empire. If crowds of Israelites started following Jesus, the Romans might think his disciples were preparing for war. The Pharisees were ready to do anything to make sure that didn’t happen, even if it meant killing Jesus!
+ After watching him raise Lazarus, what did Jesus’ people, the Jews, do? (vs. 45)
+ Instead of believing in Jesus, what did the Pharisees do? (vs. 53)
MATTHEW 5:17-20, NIRV
17 “Do not think I have come to get rid of what is written in the Law or in the Prophets. I have not come to do this. Instead, I have come to fulfill what is written. 18 What I’m about to tell you is true. Heaven and earth will disappear before the smallest letter disappears from the Law. Not even the smallest mark of a pen will disappear from the Law until everything is completed. 19 Do not ignore even one of the least important commands. And do not teach others to ignore them. If you do, you will be called the least important person in the kingdom of heaven. Instead, practice and teach these commands. Then you will be called important in the kingdom of heaven. 20 Here is what I tell you. You must be more godly than the Pharisees and the teachers of the law. If you are not, you will certainly not enter the kingdom of heaven.
The Pharisees were very concerned about “righteousness”: doing what God says is right. To show his people the righteous way to live, God gave them his Law. There were commands about worshiping God, obeying parents, telling the truth, and not stealing. But above all, God’s laws were about love: loving Him and loving people.
Trying to be righteous, the Pharisees made extra rules – rules about how to obey God’s rules! And their long list of laws all had something in common: they were things you could see on the outside. From rules about what kind of work was okay on the Sabbath or rules about washing your hands before eating, every extra rule the Pharisees made was something other people could see.
The verses we just read from the book of Matthew come from a time when Jesus spoke to a huge crowd of people. He spent an entire day teaching them about God’s kingdom. Jesus said, “I didn’t come to get rid of God’s laws – I came to fulfill them!” Jesus’ goal was to follow every single one of God’s commands perfectly, from his first cry as a tiny baby to his last breath as he died on the cross. His mission was a success – Jesus was totally and perfectly righteous every single second of his life!
But Jesus said something at the end of these verses that spelled big trouble for the Pharisees (and for you and me, too). He said that no one could enter God’s kingdom unless their righteousness exceeded (or was even greater than) the Pharisees’ rule-following righteousness! How could that even be possible?
The Pharisees may have had perfectly clean hands each time they ate. They might have rested just the right amount on the Sabbath. But on the inside, there was something missing, something human eyes couldn’t see. They didn’t have hearts that loved God more than anything else. And they didn’t have hearts that loved people as much as they loved themselves. Instead, their hearts were filled with hatred for God’s Son!
Because of their sin-sick hearts, the Pharisees had no hope of entering God’s kingdom and spending forever with God. They just weren’t righteous enough. The truth is – none of us are! On the inside and the outside, we fail to do what God commands us to do. On our own, we have no hope of ever entering God’s kingdom!
But that’s where Jesus comes in. He knew we’d never be righteous enough to save ourselves. Just like he died on the cross in our place, he also lived a perfectly righteous life in our place. The only way we can enter God’s kingdom is by trusting in Jesus, not ourselves. Because he lived a perfect life in our place, died in our place, and rose from the dead, we can have forever life in God’s good kingdom!
+ Were the Pharisees righteous enough to enter God’s kingdom? Why not? (vs. 20)
+ Who is the only person who lived a completely righteous life?