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The Pharisees' Fatal Flaw
Mark Roberts
Tuesday, January 19, 2016

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The Pharisees' Fatal Flaw

But the Pharisees and teachers of religious law said to themselves, "Who does he think he is? That's blasphemy! Only God can forgive sins!"
—Luke 5:21

In many of the gospel stories, the Pharisees are pictured as the antagonists, and for good reason. They are often, though not always, disagreeing with Jesus and seeking to squelch his ministry of the kingdom of God. Yet the Pharisees did care about God, as they understood him, and sought to honor him in their daily lives. Moreover, they valued God enough to become experts in his law, both the written Torah found in the Bible and the oral Torah passed on from teacher to teacher.

When I read Luke 5:17-26, I can understand why they found Jesus to be so troubling. On the one hand, he was like them in his conviction that God is to be part and parcel of everyday life. Moreover, he, like the Pharisees, stood solidly upon the monotheistic theology of Judaism. On the other hand, Jesus was getting many things wrong, terribly wrong. He seemed lax about Sabbath observance. He would share meals with "tax collectors and sinners," thus compromising his own holiness. But, worst of all, he did things that seemed to be outright blasphemy, like telling a man his sins were forgiven. The Pharisees knew the Scriptures. Thus, they knew that only God can forgive sins (e.g., Isa. 43:25). Their conclusion: Jesus must be a blasphemer because he puts himself in the place of God.

Ah, how close the Pharisees were to the truth about Jesus! Yet, even when Jesus healed the paralytic, a clear demonstration of God's presence in Jesus, they were still unwilling to consider the possibility that he was, in fact, much more than just a man. Jesus simply didn't fit the Pharisees' expectations for how God would act. God would not heal on the Sabbath. God would not hang out with sinful people. And God would certainly not come to earth as a human being. Thus, the expectations of the Pharisees kept them from seeing the truth—better, the Truth—that was right in front of their noses.

I wonder how many times I do this very thing. I wonder how often I am so sure I know who God is and how God should act that I miss the real God and what he is really doing. I wonder if, even now, God is moving in my life in a way that I am simply not seeing because it doesn't match my expectations.

Mark Roberts is the Executive Director of the Max De Pree Center for Leadership at Fuller Seminary. He writes digital daily devotions at Life for Leaders. This article is adapted with permission from his original article "Walking Around in the Skin of the Pharisees" at All rights reserved.

Unless otherwise noted, Scriptures quoted are taken from the New Living Translation.

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Patrick Antos

February 15, 2016  3:32pm


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