When I was washing my cup out late last week, I washed the outside first and then the inside. I usually don’t do that. I usually wash it the other way around. I didn’t think anything of it until Holy Spirit reminded me of this verse:
“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you clean the outside of the cup and of the dish, but inside they are full of robbery and self-indulgence. You blind Pharisee, first clean the inside of the cup and of the dish, so that the outside of it may be clean also.” (Matthew 23:25-26)
The phrase “the hope of the Messiah” kept echoing in my head because of a comment I made on Steven Colborne’s page, in which I encouraged him to “spread the hope of the Messiah.” (Steven is an awesome Christian writer, go check him out!) I keep thinking about “the hope of the Messiah” in relation to the dirty cup analogy and wonder if the two could ever coincide. When I started to look at Scripture, particularly at Jesus’ interactions with the Pharisees, for the probably the first time in my life, I felt something other than disdain for them: pity. And I can’t help but wonder: Can the hope of the Messiah reach a Pharisee?
No doubt, the Pharisees (and Sadducees) were deserving of the judgement of Jesus, as they are described in the Scriptures as “vipers and snakes” and, if this were fiction, they’d be the obvious antagonists in our hero’s story. They piled on endless laws in addition to the law of Moses, which kept people from experiencing God the way He was meant to be experienced—wholeheartedly. They said one thing but did another. Do you know anyone like that? Are you like that?
Let me bring this a little closer to home: Do you or someone you know tithe in the church but refuse to give mercy to those who need it? Do you gossip about others and then get upset when you hear, through the grapevine, that someone has said untrue things about you? Do you lead in ministry and then come home and try to play God’s role as ultimate authority with your spouse and/or children? Do you pray for forgiveness for your own sins, while withholding forgiveness yourself? Do you pray long, elegant, and loud prayers that make people remark in either awe or envy of your “high spiritual standing/closeness to God” while you condemn those who sin differently than you? Have you ever thought, “I know I sin but at least I’m not as bad that person. He’s way more sinful!”? Do you look down on those who are less intelligent than you are regarding Biblical and spiritual things? Does any of this sound familiar?
I’m not trying to condemn or harp on you, I promise. I can’t do that because I’m guilty of at least two of those things. I just want you to look in the mirror. We all are like the unwashed, dirty cups Jesus accused the Pharisees of being. We all have things we would rather not bring to the surface, so we hide them and judge others in a vain attempt at appearing holy or saving face in front of people.
And yet, there may be hope.
Though many of the Pharisees despised Jesus and sought to kill him, there were some who believed in secret, yet did not confess their belief because they were afraid of the Jews and losing their standing with them and other religious leaders. We know from the Scriptures that Nicodemus, a Pharisee and teacher of the law, came to Jesus at night, according to John 3:1-2 which states:
There was a man from the Pharisees named Nicodemus, a ruler of the Jews. This man came to Him at night and said, “Rabbi, we know that You have come from God as a teacher, for no one could perform these signs You do unless God were with him” (HCSB).
Nicodemus recognized, even just for a second, that there was something different about this outlandish Jew from Nazareth.
And then there’s the greatest Pharisee of all: Paul.
You know Paul, right? Formerly Saul of Tarsus, the unforgettable poster boy for the Sanhedrin, and—oh, yeah!—killer of Christians. God blind sighted him on his way to Damascus and his life was forever changed (after regaining his sight three days after). God used Paul, who could easily be called the greatest assassin of the Biblical era, to not only give the Gospel to the Gentiles and write almost half of the New Testament, but to also teach the other Pharisees and religious leaders that there is no need for 600 additional man-made rules to complement the Gospel of the Messiah. So, take heed. There is hope yet for the Pharisee if they truly encounter Jesus and take His words to heart.