Jesus knew His time was short and spent His final days delivering His most urgent teachings. You might have thought He would level His cannons at the Romans, the pagan oppressors of God’s people. But He ignored them. Jesus also mostly ignored the crooks and swindlers in Jerusalem. He didn’t pick on the wealthy or those who seemed lost in sin. No. Jesus spent most of His final time on earth scolding religious people, especially the highest leaders.
He did not mince words. He called them “blind guides”, “snakes” and “vipers,” “fools” and, more than any other name, the H-word: “hypocrites.“ Jesus’ most biting criticism was against religious people who tried to look holy on the outside while, on the inside, they were morally and spiritually decaying and dying. He compared them to tombs, whitewashed on the outside but full of dead men’s bones.
But why, when the city of Jerusalem was overrun with violent soldiers and scoundrels, liars and low-life’s, did Jesus pick on people who had focused their whole lives on being religious?
One reason He gave is that the religious leaders were tying people up with all their do’s and don’ts, keeping people away from God with all the ritual and legalism, when God’s intent is to invite us into a loving, intimate relationship with Him. He said:
““Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You travel over land and sea to win a single convert, and when he becomes one, you make him twice as much a son of hell as you are.” (Matthew 23:15)
When religious leaders care more about their own authority and controlling people than they do about truly connecting people with God, they are working against God’s purposes.
Another criticism He leveled against them was that they were not living in step with God’s ways. God does not want us to be prisoners of rules, but champions of grace and love.
“Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You give a tenth of your spices—mint, dill and cummin. But you have neglected the more important matters of the law—justice, mercy and faithfulness. You should have practiced the latter, without neglecting the former.” (Matthew 23:23)
Compare those spankings to what Jesus was teaching His followers just before He died:
“My children, I will be with you only a little longer. You will look for me, and just as I told the Jews, so I tell you now: Where I am going, you cannot come. “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another.” (John 13:33-34)
Each of us makes a choice about Jesus, deciding whether He is One we will follow or not. Too often, the only things we’ve heard about Jesus come from religious leaders who are trying to control us. How about going straight to Jesus’ own words, before you decide?
Quotes: The Holy Bible : New International Version. 1996, c1984 (electronic ed.). Grand Rapids: Zondervan.