A religious scholar could tear this article essay apart. I’m not writing a definitive essay on what Pharisees and Sadducees were in the first century AD. I’m only focusing on a couple of specific attributes that are widely discussed from the pulpit.
Both groups had created a list of rules by which were essentially impossible to live. The key difference between the groups is that the Pharisees believed in life after death, while the Sadducees did not.
Considering the Sadducees, in Matthew 22: 23-33, Jesus is tested by the Sadducees. They give an obscure scenario with one husband after another dying, and the next younger brother marrying the widow. This is a custom shown in Genesis 38, where Judah’s first son died, and then the second. Tamar eventually tricked Judah into being the father of her two sons. In the case of the Sadducees, the woman dies after being married to all of the sons. The question was then, “To whom is she married in the next life?” It’s an odd question coming from people who did not believe in the next life. Besides trying to trick Jesus, they were mocking His belief in the next life.
I have discussed the next life with a lot of people. Many have the same response, “Until someone comes back from the dead and I can talk to them about their experience, I will stick to my belief. I believe that when you die, that’s it. Nothing.”
My wife has had a vision where she saw herself after death. She communicated with her guardian angel in the vision. The next day, she was a completely different person in the most fundamental aspect of her life. She was suddenly totally dedicated to spend every ounce of her strength in praise of God. She had always thought of others before she thought of herself, but now she was third on the list: God, others, herself. All of this change was based on a single request to God, “If I die, I don’t want to be alone.” What she got as her answer was a glimpse into the afterlife. She didn’t learn anything about what heaven was like, just that her guardian angel would be there with her when she made the journey.
Why does God respond to her request and not others? That is God’s prerogative. I am simply blessed knowing this wonderful woman to whom God talks. She has lamented that maybe her faith was weak and she needed to see for herself while others just take God at His word that there is a life after this one. In either case, it is of utmost importance that we believe that God really did save us from the second death. That is the entire point of the resurrection and Jesus making himself known to so many people after His death. Note that not a single Apostle recanted their testimony that Jesus was raised from the dead, even though they were tortured and killed in many different ways.
I had a man on a casual basis at my place of work a little over thirty years ago. I was at a friend’s office and he stuck his head in the door to ask me a simple question, “If you discovered that there was no life after death, would the Christian life be worth it?” My reply was how Jesus was my guide and strength. Jesus gave me the strength to face the hard times and the wisdom to know to celebrate the few good times. The acquaintance then said, “Oh, don’t be deceived. There will come a time when Jesus’ promise of making a mansion for you in heaven will be the most important thing on earth. Otherwise, all of the hardships to that point would not be worth it.”
His prophecy shook me. When I look back on my life and all of the decisions that I made, considering what God wanted of me, I wonder if I would be living in comfort today with a bank account that was overflowing with extra cash. Would I have friends and family close by that I could rely upon? Indeed, I am rich in blessings, but not the blessings that most professionals in the USA would consider blessings. This essay is not about what I don’t have, but the prophecy is on point. If the afterlife is not real, it would be hard to justify the hardships. I’m lucky though. If God’s word isn’t enough, I have my wife’s word as well. Have you listened for the answer from God today?
Now let’s move on to the Pharisees. Jesus did most of His sparring with them.
The Pharisees had rules, a lot of them. In Mark 2, they put Jesus down for eating with sinners, not having His disciples fast, and picking grain on the Sabbath. In Mark 3, the Pharisees began to plot to kill Jesus after Jesus healed the man with the withered hand. In Mark 7, the disciples eat without ceremonially washing their hands. After Jesus rebukes them, the disciples question why Jesus is angering them (at least in the Matthew 15 version). Jesus didn’t like their silly rules.
Who are the modern Pharisees? A lot of us are. The hypocrites that Jesus talks about in Matthew 6: 16 are the Pharisees who make a big deal out of fasting. There are a lot of us that make a big show at church. God will see through the motivation and determine who was touched spiritually and who was making a show for dramatic effect. But, the key to the modern Pharisee is rule-making.
What rules do we make up? We make up rules that pertain to safety. Those are good. We make up rules that pertain to manners. Okay, there are books on the subject, but most people choose which are okay, and which are over-the-top.
We each need to examine our rules. A lot of our rules are the rules we had as children. What happens when a man marries a woman? They have to find common ground with their list of rules. The man comes from a home that doesn’t make a sound while eating. The woman comes from a family that slurps their soup. The sound of slurping soup means that the soup was fit to eat. What do they do? Never eat soup? The rules are polar opposites. Are both rules valid? Are both rules necessary? Can a common ground be found? This sounds silly. It’s soup.
I’d like to take this opportunity to apologize to my two sons. I had too many ‘soup’ rules. You can’t eat a potato chip without making a little bit of sound. You could have stayed up a little later and t wouldn’t be a catastrophe. Actually, both of the boys had occasions to slip off to bed early, especially our elder son who didn’t like the fuzzy headed feeling the next day.
Why do we have rules? Because we love our children.
Why are too many rules bad? Because we substitute showing that love with a tote board of which rules we’ve followed and which we’ve violated. We need to establish boundaries for our children. There need to be consequences for stepping outside those boundaries. Yet, we cannot show God’s love adequately if we have so many rules that it makes daily life impossible.
Is it possible to obey God’s rules? No. Romans 3: 23 says that all have sinned. Yet, John 3: 16 says that God so loved the world that He sent His Son. God has washed us white as snow (Is. 1:18). Safety rules, manners, laws of the land, and other such rules are important. As for religious rules, we need to watch out. Read Romans. He who lives by the law, dies by the law. Does that mean that we can violate the law? Heavens, no. We must confess our sins and repent. We must turn away from sin. What did Jesus tell the woman caught in adultery? He said that He did not condemn her and to leave her life of sin. Some translations say, “and sin no more.”
The key is why you are following the Biblical law. Are you doing so out of duty? You will fail. Are you doing it to not anger God? If you are one of God’s children, He has already forgiven you. Or are you doing it, because God saved you and you have a deep relationship with our savior. You try your best out of love. Each time you are confronted with another sin, you turn from it, because you want to be more like Jesus. Sanctification is hard.
We have modern Pharisees and Sadducees, because they have forgotten to love, not because they have silly rules. Let us see the Pharisee in ourselves and repent of that as well.