When confronted with his sin

Jesus said to them, “Truly I say to you that the tax collectors and prostitutes will get into the kingdom of God before you. For John came to you in the way of righteousness and you did not believe him; but the tax collectors and prostitutes did believe him; and you, seeing this, did not even feel remorse afterward so as to believe him.”
– Matthew 21:31-32 NASB

What is the mark of the Pharisee?

His legalism? Yes…

His self-righteousness? Yes…

His misuse of the Law? Yes…

But what does it all mean? It gets so foggy.

Surely the mark of the Pharisee isn’t that he seeks to obey the Ten Commandments, is it? — meaning a mark of the true Christian would be that he doesn’t seek to obey the Ten Commandments? That can’t be right. Yet some of the law is clearly abrogated in the New Covenant, so what’s left?

There’s much to say on that topic, but today I would like to focus on a mark that is clearer:

A mark of the Pharisee is his response when confronted with his sin.


This difference is hard to miss in the gospels.

1. Repentance and gross sin

Here’s the Matthew 21 passage again:

Jesus said to them, “Truly I say to you that the tax collectors and prostitutes will get into the kingdom of God before you. For John came to you in the way of righteousness and you did not believe him; but the tax collectors and prostitutes did believe him; and you, seeing this, did not even feel remorse afterward so as to believe him.”
– Matthew 21:31-32

Here we see that the gross sinners of Jesus’ day were closer to the kingdom of God than the Pharisees were. This is confirmed elsewhere:

“For I say to you that unless your righteousness surpasses that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will not enter the kingdom of heaven.”
– Matthew 5:20

But how can this be? Is it that the gross sins are not serious sins? Was Jesus blessing gross sinners in their sin?

By no means. The Holy Spirit through Paul explains this:

Or do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived; neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor effeminate, nor homosexuals, nor thieves, nor the covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers, will inherit the kingdom of God.
– 1 Corinthians 6:9-10

Pharisees and gross sinners alike must repent of their sin. How is it, then, that the gross sinners are closer to the kingdom of God than the Pharisees are?

It is this: When confronted with their sins, these gross sinners repented and believed.

2. A message of repentance

The gospel writers Matthew and Mark both record that once John the Baptist was imprisoned, Jesus began his ministry exhorting His hearers to repent:

Now after John had been taken into custody, Jesus came into Galilee, preaching the gospel of God, and saying, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel.”
– Mark 1:14-15 (cf. Matt. 4:12-17)

And when Jesus sent out the disciples by twos, “They went out and preached that men should repent” (Mark 6:12).

3. The Pharisees

3.1. Offended

Jesus did not limit His message of repentance to the Pharisees, but He certainly gave them much attention. Over and over again, Jesus confronted the Pharisees and teachers of the law with their sin. But over and over again, instead of humbling themselves and repenting, they hardened their hearts against the words of life.

See their reaction:

After Jesus called the crowd to Him, He said to them, “Hear and understand. It is not what enters into the mouth that defiles the man, but what proceeds out of the mouth, this defiles the man.” Then the disciples came and said to Him, “Do You know that the Pharisees were offended when they heard this statement?”
– Matthew 15:10-12

3.2. Sought to seize Him

And

“Therefore I say to you, the kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a people, producing the fruit of it. And he who falls on this stone will be broken to pieces; but on whomever it falls, it will scatter him like dust.” When the chief priests and the Pharisees heard His parables, they understood that He was speaking about them. When they sought to seize Him, they feared the people, because they considered Him to be a prophet.
– Matthew 21:43-46

3.3. Plotted to trap Him

Jesus warns again in the parable of the wedding feast, that the original invitees who refused to obey the summons to the feast and who mocked and killed the messengers would be rejected and destroyed because of their wickedness:

“But the king was enraged, and he sent his armies and destroyed those murderers and set their city on fire. Then he said to his slaves, ‘The wedding is ready, but those who were invited were not worthy. Go therefore to the main highways, and as many as you find there, invite to the wedding feast.’ … For many are called, but few are chosen.”
– Matthew 22:7-9, 14 (cf. Luke 20:14-20)

But see what the Pharisees do with the warning:

Then the Pharisees went and plotted together how they might trap Him in what He said.
– Matthew 22:15

In another place, Jesus rebukes a Pharisee:

Now when He had spoken, a Pharisee asked Him to have lunch with him; and He went in, and reclined at the table. When the Pharisee saw it, he was surprised that He had not first ceremonially washed before the meal. But the Lord said to him, “Now you Pharisees clean the outside of the cup and of the platter; but inside of you, you are full of robbery and wickedness. – Luke 11:37-39

He goes on to pronounce woes on the lawyers:

One of the lawyers said to Him in reply, “Teacher, when You say this, You insult us too.” But He said, “Woe to you lawyers as well! For you weigh men down with burdens hard to bear, while you yourselves will not even touch the burdens with one of your fingers.
– Luke 11:45-46

The Pharisees and teachers of the law are in danger of judgment and damnation and Jesus faithfully points it out. But look how they respond:

When He left there, the scribes and the Pharisees began to be very hostile and to question Him closely on many subjects, plotting against Him to catch Him in something He might say. – Luke 11:53-54

Is this repentance unto life? Certainly not.

4. Others – the near and dear

Jesus also confronts the church people of his hometown with their sin. See how they speak of Him before He rebukes and warns them:

And all were speaking well of Him, and wondering at the gracious words which were falling from His lips; and they were saying, “Is this not Joseph’s son?”
– Luke 4:22

Now the rebuke:

And He said to them, “No doubt you will quote this proverb to Me, ‘Physician, heal yourself! Whatever we heard was done at Capernaum, do here in your hometown as well.'” And He said, “Truly I say to you, no prophet is welcome in his hometown. But I say to you in truth, there were many widows in Israel in the days of Elijah, when the sky was shut up for three years and six months, when a great famine came over all the land; and yet Elijah was sent to none of them, but only to Zarephath, in the land of Sidon, to a woman who was a widow. And there were many lepers in Israel in the time of Elisha the prophet; and none of them was cleansed, but only Naaman the Syrian.”
– Luke 4:23-27

Jesus has just warned of danger from Israel’s own past. This is kindness. But see the reaction:

And all the people in the synagogue were filled with rage as they heard these things; and they got up and drove Him out of the city, and led Him to the brow of the hill on which their city had been built, in order to throw Him down the cliff.
– Luke 4:28-29

5. Godly sorrow

Contrast all this with the Corinthians’ response to the many rebukes with which Paul had reached out in love to them in his previous letter:

For the sorrow that is according to the will of God produces a repentance without regret, leading to salvation, but the sorrow of the world produces death. For behold what earnestness this very thing, this godly sorrow, has produced in you: what vindication of yourselves, what indignation, what fear, what longing, what zeal, what avenging of wrong! In everything you demonstrated yourselves to be innocent in the matter.
– 2 Corinthians 7:10-11

This is godly sorrow producing repentance. This is saving faith.

5.1. The kings

Look at the examples of Jeroboam, Ahab, Amaziah, and Uzziah, who remained proud when confronted by the word of the Lord (1 Kings 13:1-4; 2 Chron. 18; 2 Chron. 25:14-16; 2 Chron. 26:14-21) versus the examples of David, Hezekiah and Manasseh, who humbled themselves under the word of the LORD (2 Samuel 12:1-14; 2 Kings 20:1-6; 2 Chron. 33:9-13).

5.2. A sinful woman

Look at the example of the notoriously sinful woman at Jesus’ feet:

Turning toward the woman, He said to Simon, “Do you see this woman? I entered your house; you gave Me no water for My feet, but she has wet My feet with her tears and wiped them with her hair. You gave Me no kiss; but she, since the time I came in, has not ceased to kiss My feet. You did not anoint My head with oil, but she anointed My feet with perfume. For this reason I say to you, her sins, which are many, have been forgiven, for she loved much; but he who is forgiven little, loves little.” Then He said to her, “Your sins have been forgiven.” Those who were reclining at the table with Him began to say to themselves, “Who is this man who even forgives sins?” And He said to the woman, “Your faith has saved you; go in peace.”
– Luke 7:44-50

6. Conclusion

O brothers and sisters, when a messenger from the Lord comes to you, points to your sin and warns you of judgment to come, don’t hate him — don’t harden your heart to the damnation of your soul! Humble yourself before the Lord and repent, though you be superior to the messenger in every way and though he have feet of clay. Repent, and be saved!

This entry was posted in faith, legalism-antinomianism-obedience. Bookmark the permalink.

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