I read this and wondered how often we put our religion and doing extra things "for God" over God Himself and what He truly wants from us. How often do we focus on external things and appearances of religiosity rather than the things that truly matter to God?
To the eye of a superficial observer, the religious culture the Pharisees had cultivated in first-century Israel might have appeared to represent a kind of golden age for Jewish law. It was certainly not the same variety of overtly false religion we read about so frequently in the Old Testament -- those repeated epochs of backsliding and idolatry with golden calves, Asherah worship, and worse.
No one could accuse a Pharisee of any overtolerance for pagan beliefs, right? They were, after all, strongly opposed to every expression of idolatry and totally committed even to the incidental minutiae of Jewish law. Plus, for safety's sake they had added many surplus rituals of their own making, as extra shields against accidental defilement. If biblical law demanded ceremonial washings for priests offering sacrifices, why not add extra washings for everyone, and make them an essential part of common daily routines? That is precisely what they did.From a human perspective, these things all had the appearance of profound devotion to God. Looked at in that way, the Pharisees might have been thought the least likely men of their generations to become Messiah's worst enemies. They were profoundly religious, not careless or profane. They certainly weren't avowed atheists openly undermining people's faith in God's Word. They promoted piety, not licentiousness. They advocated zeal, rigor and abstinence - not worldliness and indifference to spiritual things. They championed Judaism, not the sort of pagan syncreticism their Samaritan neighbors and so many earlier generations of Israelites had dabbled in. Their religion was their whole life.It even took precedence over God Himself.
And therein lay the problem. The Pharisees had devised a slick disguise, concealing their self-righteousness and hypocrisy under a veneer of religious zeal. They were careful to maintain the appearance of - but not the reality of - sincere devotion to God. (pg. 9,10*)
11 “The multitude of your sacrifices—
what are they to me?” says the LORD.
“I have more than enough of burnt offerings,
of rams and the fat of fattened animals;
I have no pleasure
in the blood of bulls and lambs and goats.
12 When you come to appear before me,
who has asked this of you,
this trampling of my courts?
13 Stop bringing meaningless offerings!
Your incense is detestable to me.
New Moons, Sabbaths and convocations—
I cannot bear your worthless assemblies.
14 Your New Moon feasts and your appointed festivals
I hate with all my being.
They have become a burden to me;
I am weary of bearing them.
15 When you spread out your hands in prayer,
I hide my eyes from you;
even when you offer many prayers,
I am not listening. Your hands are full of blood!
"But go and learn what this means: 'I desire mercy, not sacrifice.' For I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners." ~ Jesus (Mt. 9:13)
*The Jesus You Can't Ignore by John MacArthur