Don’t Be a Hypocrite

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Understanding the Word

Matthew 23:13–36 (ESV)

13 “But woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you shut the kingdom of heaven in people’s faces. For you neither enter yourselves nor allow those who would enter to go in. 15 Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you travel across sea and land to make a single proselyte, and when he becomes a proselyte, you make him twice as much a child of hell as yourselves.

16 “Woe to you, blind guides, who say, ‘If anyone swears by the temple, it is nothing, but if anyone swears by the gold of the temple, he is bound by his oath.’ 17 You blind fools! For which is greater, the gold or the temple that has made the gold sacred? 18 And you say, ‘If anyone swears by the altar, it is nothing, but if anyone swears by the gift that is on the altar, he is bound by his oath.’ 19 You blind men! For which is greater, the gift or the altar that makes the gift sacred? 20 So whoever swears by the altar swears by it and by everything on it. 21 And whoever swears by the temple swears by it and by him who dwells in it. 22 And whoever swears by heaven swears by the throne of God and by him who sits upon it.

23 “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you tithe mint and dill and cumin, and have neglected the weightier matters of the law: justice and mercy and faithfulness. These you ought to have done, without neglecting the others. 24 You blind guides, straining out a gnat and swallowing a camel!

25 “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you clean the outside of the cup and the plate, but inside they are full of greed and self-indulgence. 26 You blind Pharisee! First clean the inside of the cup and the plate, that the outside also may be clean.

27 “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you are like whitewashed tombs, which outwardly appear beautiful, but within are full of dead people’s bones and all uncleanness. 28 So you also outwardly appear righteous to others, but within you are full of hypocrisy and lawlessness.

29 “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you build the tombs of the prophets and decorate the monuments of the righteous, 30 saying, ‘If we had lived in the days of our fathers, we would not have taken part with them in shedding the blood of the prophets.’ 31 Thus you witness against yourselves that you are sons of those who murdered the prophets. 32 Fill up, then, the measure of your fathers. 33 You serpents, you brood of vipers, how are you to escape being sentenced to hell? 34 Therefore I send you prophets and wise men and scribes, some of whom you will kill and crucify, and some you will flog in your synagogues and persecute from town to town, 35 so that on you may come all the righteous blood shed on earth, from the blood of righteous Abel to the blood of Zechariah the son of Barachiah, whom you murdered between the sanctuary and the altar. 36 Truly, I say to you, all these things will come upon this generation.

Understanding and Applying the Word

After warning his disciples about the Pharisees and scribes in the first twelve verses, Jesus turned to the religious leaders and told them what he thought of their religion. Jesus pulled no punches and repeatedly called the scribes and Pharisees “hypocrites.” Even today, no one would like to be labeled in this way. In Greek culture, the word hypocrite was used to speak of the actor who played many roles in stage performances. An actor would change roles by simply changing masks.

In calling the Pharisees and scribes hypocrites, Jesus condemned them for saying and teaching one thing, but living differently. Often, their external actions may have seemed holy and righteous, but their true inner identities were far from what their external actions indicated. All they did was for religious observance or to be noticed by others. They were not sincere followers of God who were motivated by love. The danger in their teaching and in their own lives was that it was easy to mistake external rule keeping with true devotion to the Lord.

We must be careful even today that we do not fall into the mistake and trap of these leaders. Religious observance for the sake of religion does not please God. Our Lord desires worshipers who follow and obey out of love and a sincere heart. This is only possible when we realize we cannot do that on our own and that we need the Lord to change us from the inside out. When we repent of our sin and call out to be saved, God pours out his Spirit into our lives and gives us new life as a new creation. Through our transformed life and the continual presence of the Holy Spirit, we are able to love the Lord and worship him in sincerity.

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Is Your Burden Great?

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Reading the Word

Matthew 23:1–12 (ESV)

1 Then Jesus said to the crowds and to his disciples, 2 “The scribes and the Pharisees sit on Moses’ seat, 3 so do and observe whatever they tell you, but not the works they do. For they preach, but do not practice. 4 They tie up heavy burdens, hard to bear, and lay them on people’s shoulders, but they themselves are not willing to move them with their finger. 5 They do all their deeds to be seen by others. For they make their phylacteries broad and their fringes long, 6 and they love the place of honor at feasts and the best seats in the synagogues 7 and greetings in the marketplaces and being called rabbi by others. 8 But you are not to be called rabbi, for you have one teacher, and you are all brothers. 9 And call no man your father on earth, for you have one Father, who is in heaven. 10 Neither be called instructors, for you have one instructor, the Christ. 11 The greatest among you shall be your servant. 12 Whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and whoever humbles himself will be exalted.

Understanding and Applying the Word

Jesus warned his disciples about the scribes and Pharisees. These teachers of the law were known for putting great burdens on people. They taught rules and regulations that were difficult for the people to live under. However, these teachers often did not practice their own teachings. What they required of others, they did not require of themselves. The Pharisees were known for their extra rules and regulations that “put a fence around the Law.” They desired so much to protect the Law that they came up with extra regulations of their own to make sure people did not break the Mosaic Law.

In contrast to the Pharisees’ burdensome teaching, Jesus said:

Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” (Matthew 11:28–30, ESV)

The legalism of the Pharisees was a weight no one could bear, not even the Pharisees. It only discouraged and condemned those who tried. Jesus did not come to add to our burden by adding to the Law. He came to fulfill the Law for us and give us life through his name. In Christ, we are free from the Law and can serve our Lord from a motivation of love, thanksgiving, and praise. Praise Christ for the rest we find in him!

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A Question about Paying Taxes

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Reading the Word

Matthew 22:15–22 (ESV)

15 Then the Pharisees went and plotted how to entangle him in his words. 16 And they sent their disciples to him, along with the Herodians, saying, “Teacher, we know that you are true and teach the way of God truthfully, and you do not care about anyone’s opinion, for you are not swayed by appearances. 17 Tell us, then, what you think. Is it lawful to pay taxes to Caesar, or not?” 18 But Jesus, aware of their malice, said, “Why put me to the test, you hypocrites? 19 Show me the coin for the tax.” And they brought him a denarius. 20 And Jesus said to them, “Whose likeness and inscription is this?” 21 They said, “Caesar’s.” Then he said to them, “Therefore render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.” 22 When they heard it, they marveled. And they left him and went away.

Parallel Texts: Mark 12:13-17; Luke 20:20-26

Understanding and Applying the Word

The religious leaders wanted to trap Jesus into saying or doing something that would get him into trouble, so the Pharisees hatched a plan. They, and a group of Herodians, approached Jesus to ask him about whether or not Jews should pay taxes to Caesar. The Pharisees and many others thought paying such taxes was wrong because the Romans were the oppressors of the Jewish people and thought of as the enemies of God. On the other hand, the Herodians supported Herod, who was closely connected to the Roman government and they thought such taxes should be paid. By asking Jesus this question, the hope was to put him between a rock and a hard place. He would either anger the Jewish people or the Romans.

Jesus’ answer surprised everyone and put the religious leaders in their proper place. Jesus asked whose image was on the coins they used to pay taxes. Of course, the answer was Caesar’s. Jesus instructed them that it was proper for them to pay taxes to the governing authorities, but that they should also be sure to give to God what belonged to God. We see this teaching elsewhere in Scripture where we find that Christians should submit to the authorities over them, pray for their political leaders, and only refuse submission when pressed to disobey the laws of God (cf. Romans 13:1-7; 1 Peter 2:13-17; Acts 5:27-29).

Christians understand that all power and authority belong to God. He establishes nations and brings them to an end. He sets leaders in place and removes them. All of these things are in God’s timing and for his purposes. As we seek to live in this world and honor our Lord, we do so by submitting to those in authority because doing so is acknowledging God’s sovereignty. The only time it is right for a Christian to refuse to obey the governing authorities is when obedience to our human rulers would equate to disobedience to God. In such a case, we must obey God, not man. In everything we do, we seek to bring glory to the One who is King of kings and Lord of lords.

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Rejecting the Cornerstone

1 Peter 27 [widescreen]

Reading the Word

Matthew 21:33–46 (ESV)

33 “Hear another parable. There was a master of a house who planted a vineyard and put a fence around it and dug a winepress in it and built a tower and leased it to tenants, and went into another country. 34 When the season for fruit drew near, he sent his servants to the tenants to get his fruit. 35 And the tenants took his servants and beat one, killed another, and stoned another. 36 Again he sent other servants, more than the first. And they did the same to them. 37 Finally he sent his son to them, saying, ‘They will respect my son.’ 38 But when the tenants saw the son, they said to themselves, ‘This is the heir. Come, let us kill him and have his inheritance.’ 39 And they took him and threw him out of the vineyard and killed him. 40 When therefore the owner of the vineyard comes, what will he do to those tenants?” 41 They said to him, “He will put those wretches to a miserable death and let out the vineyard to other tenants who will give him the fruits in their seasons.”
42 Jesus said to them, “Have you never read in the Scriptures:

“ ‘The stone that the builders rejected
has become the cornerstone;
this was the Lord’s doing,
and it is marvelous in our eyes’?

43 Therefore I tell you, the kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a people producing its fruits. 44 And the one who falls on this stone will be broken to pieces; and when it falls on anyone, it will crush him.”
45 When the chief priests and the Pharisees heard his parables, they perceived that he was speaking about them. 46 And although they were seeking to arrest him, they feared the crowds, because they held him to be a prophet.

Parallel Texts: Mark 12:1-12; Luke 20:9-19

Understanding and Applying the Word

The key to understanding this parable is knowing who Jesus is addressing through it. The passage gives us this information. In verse 45, we are told that the chief priests and the Pharisees perceived that Jesus was speaking about them. This is no surprise as he has been in a constant face-off with them since he entered Jerusalem for Passover week.

The parable tells us that the religious leaders and the religious system that they represented had failed the people. The leaders, who had been assigned by God to take care of his vineyard (i.e. the people of Israel), had failed to respond to the Lord’s servants that he had sent (referring to the prophets of the Old Testament). Lastly, the Lord had sent his own Son, Jesus, but the religious leaders would not listen to him either. Instead, they were planning to put Jesus to death, which they will do in just a few more days. What the religious leaders did not realize is that they were rejecting the very cornerstone of God’s salvation plans.

As a result, the religious leaders were rejected by God, as well as the system that they represented. God was moving to replace these things with something different. This new thing would prove to be the Church, made up of Jew and Gentile and no longer tied to the temple, the sacrificial system, or the priesthood. Instead, Jesus would be the great high priest who offered the once-for-all sacrifice of himself for all who believe. Big changes were coming because of Christ!

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Trouble Ahead

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Reading the Word

John 11:54–57 (ESV)

54 Jesus therefore no longer walked openly among the Jews, but went from there to the region near the wilderness, to a town called Ephraim, and there he stayed with the disciples.

55 Now the Passover of the Jews was at hand, and many went up from the country to Jerusalem before the Passover to purify themselves. 56 They were looking for Jesus and saying to one another as they stood in the temple, “What do you think? That he will not come to the feast at all?” 57 Now the chief priests and the Pharisees had given orders that if anyone knew where he was, he should let them know, so that they might arrest him.

Understanding and Applying the Word

Jesus knew of the plot to kill him, so he he withdrew to Ephraim along with his disciples. Shortly after raising Lazarus, it was time for Passover. This Passover would be the one that all other Passovers had pointed to. The Lamb of God would be sacrificed to deliver the people of God from their sins. During this time, many Jews would travel to Jerusalem for the holiday and the population would go from around 70,000 to nearly 250,000.

As the people spent the week leading up to Passover in Jerusalem, many were wondering what Jesus would do. Would he dare show up? Would he stay away to avoid trouble? The religious leaders had put out word that if anyone saw Jesus, they should let the leaders know. They wanted to seize him when the opportunity presented itself.

This Passover would be the most important one in history. It would be the one that all of the others had looked forward to in anticipation of fulfillment. The true Lamb of God was about to be sacrificed for the sins of the people, which would bring eternal deliverance and life in a new world. Jesus would soon enter Jerusalem for the final time on his way to the cross where he would lay down his life for all who will believe. Have you ever stopped to consider why he would do this? It was all because of his love for you and me. That is an amazing thing!

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The Desire to Kill Jesus

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Reading the Word

John 11:45–53 (ESV)

45 Many of the Jews therefore, who had come with Mary and had seen what he did, believed in him, 46 but some of them went to the Pharisees and told them what Jesus had done. 47 So the chief priests and the Pharisees gathered the council and said, “What are we to do? For this man performs many signs. 48 If we let him go on like this, everyone will believe in him, and the Romans will come and take away both our place and our nation.” 49 But one of them, Caiaphas, who was high priest that year, said to them, “You know nothing at all. 50 Nor do you understand that it is better for you that one man should die for the people, not that the whole nation should perish.” 51 He did not say this of his own accord, but being high priest that year he prophesied that Jesus would die for the nation, 52 and not for the nation only, but also to gather into one the children of God who are scattered abroad. 53 So from that day on they made plans to put him to death.

Understanding and Applying the Word

When the people saw Jesus raise Lazarus from the grave, many believed in him. When the religious leaders heard about Lazarus, they did not attempt to deny the legitimacy of the miracle. There was really no way for them to do that. Instead, they determined to put Jesus to death because they feared that “everyone will believe in him, and the Romans will come and take away both our place and our nation.” The religious leaders feared that they would lose their power and influence over the Jewish people and their standing in the eyes of the Roman government. They wanted to keep things the way they were because it benefited them to do so. Jesus had to go.

Caiaphas, the high priest, commented that it would be better for one man (i.e. Jesus) to die for the people than for the whole nation to perish. Little did Caiaphas know that his words were prophetic and that Jesus would die for the people. The religious leaders conspired and sent Jesus to the cross where he died as a sacrifice for all of mankind. Through his death, Jesus saved all who will believe in him. He died so that many would live.

Since his arrival on this earth, Jesus has been a polarizing figure. People tend to either see Jesus as the Savior of the world or the biggest problem with the world. Some think the best thing for this world would be a turn to Christ in faith and obedience, while others think the best thing for our world would be to rid ourselves of Jesus, his teachings, and his followers. Some worship. Others scoff. The reason that Jesus will not go away is because of the testimony we have about the things he did while on this earth. Jesus healed the sick, restored sight to the blind, turned water into wine, calmed the storms, walked on water, raised a man who was in the grave for four days, and then rose from his own grave after being crucified on a cross. Such a man cannot simply be dismissed. We owe it to ourselves to look into these things. If these things are true, how can we do anything other than believe?

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The Kingdom through Jesus

The Pharisees Question Jesus

The Pharisees Question Jesus (Public Domain)

Reading the Word

Luke 17:20–21 (ESV)

20 Being asked by the Pharisees when the kingdom of God would come, he answered them, “The kingdom of God is not coming in ways that can be observed, 21 nor will they say, ‘Look, here it is!’ or ‘There!’ for behold, the kingdom of God is in the midst of you.”

Understanding and Applying the Word

The Pharisees asked Jesus when the kingdom would come. His response was that the kingdom was not coming in a visual way, as they were expecting. The were likely expecting some type of apocalyptic events surrounding the kingdom’s arrival. Instead, Jesus said, “[T]he kingdom of God is in the midst of you.”

The phrase “the kingdom of God is in the midst of you” can also be translated “is within you.” If you compare the most popular Bible translations you will find both translations represented. What did Jesus mean by this statement? Some take the phrase “is within you” to mean that the kingdom is within your heart. However, that makes no sense since Jesus is speaking to the Pharisees who have rejected him. They do not have the kingdom within their hearts. Also, nowhere in the rest of Scripture is the kingdom spoken of as something that is internalized. It seems better to translate the phrase as “in the midst of you.” In this sense, Jesus is saying that the kingdom has come and is present in his teaching and works. Jesus made the same point in Luke 11:20.

By telling the Pharisees that the kingdom had arrived with his coming, Jesus was emphasizing that belonging to the kingdom would be dependent on how one responded to him. Would the Pharisees accept Jesus or would they continue to reject and resist him? We have the same choice before us today. Jesus presents the kingdom to all who will repent and believe. What will we do?

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The Self-Righteous

Luke 157 [widescreen]

Reading the Word

Luke 15:1–7 (ESV)

1 Now the tax collectors and sinners were all drawing near to hear him. 2 And the Pharisees and the scribes grumbled, saying, “This man receives sinners and eats with them.”

3 So he told them this parable: 4 “What man of you, having a hundred sheep, if he has lost one of them, does not leave the ninety-nine in the open country, and go after the one that is lost, until he finds it? 5 And when he has found it, he lays it on his shoulders, rejoicing. 6 And when he comes home, he calls together his friends and his neighbors, saying to them, ‘Rejoice with me, for I have found my sheep that was lost.’ 7 Just so, I tell you, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance.

Parallel Text: Matthew 18:12-14

Understanding and Applying the Word

As we enter into chapter fifteen of Luke, it is important to keep in mind that Jesus is addressing the Pharisees and scribes who are grumbling about Jesus spending time with “tax collectors and sinners.” Jesus tells three parables to challenge the mindset of these religious leaders who felt they were more worthy of God’s favor because of their superior righteousness.

The first parable is about a shepherd and his sheep. The shepherd had one hundred sheep, but lost one. Unwilling to lose any of his sheep, the shepherd searched until he found the lost one. Upon finding the lost sheep, the shepherd threw a party. Jesus said this is what heaven is like when a sinner repents. There is much celebration over the lost person who is now found.

Why did Jesus say that there is more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance? Understanding this last verse is the key to understanding this parable. The message of Scripture is that there are no righteous persons who need no repentance. In fact, Romans 3:23 tells us that “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” Jesus’ statement then was to address the mindset of the scribes and Pharisees. They believed they were righteous and had no need to repent. In actuality, they too were sinners and no better off than the tax collectors and sinners that they looked down on. Heaven does not rejoice at those who believe they are righteous because it means they are still lost and in need of salvation.

It is clear that no one is good enough to please God. We are all sinners and must call out for forgiveness. It is the only way to be saved and the Shepherd is seeking out every lost sheep.

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Wash before You Eat

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Reading the Word

Luke 11:37–54 (ESV)

37 While Jesus was speaking, a Pharisee asked him to dine with him, so he went in and reclined at table. 38 The Pharisee was astonished to see that he did not first wash before dinner. 39 And the Lord said to him, “Now you Pharisees cleanse the outside of the cup and of the dish, but inside you are full of greed and wickedness. 40 You fools! Did not he who made the outside make the inside also? 41 But give as alms those things that are within, and behold, everything is clean for you.

42 “But woe to you Pharisees! For you tithe mint and rue and every herb, and neglect justice and the love of God. These you ought to have done, without neglecting the others. 43 Woe to you Pharisees! For you love the best seat in the synagogues and greetings in the marketplaces. 44 Woe to you! For you are like unmarked graves, and people walk over them without knowing it.”

45 One of the lawyers answered him, “Teacher, in saying these things you insult us also.” 46 And he said, “Woe to you lawyers also! For you load people with burdens hard to bear, and you yourselves do not touch the burdens with one of your fingers. 47 Woe to you! For you build the tombs of the prophets whom your fathers killed. 48 So you are witnesses and you consent to the deeds of your fathers, for they killed them, and you build their tombs. 49 Therefore also the Wisdom of God said, ‘I will send them prophets and apostles, some of whom they will kill and persecute,’ 50 so that the blood of all the prophets, shed from the foundation of the world, may be charged against this generation, 51 from the blood of Abel to the blood of Zechariah, who perished between the altar and the sanctuary. Yes, I tell you, it will be required of this generation. 52 Woe to you lawyers! For you have taken away the key of knowledge. You did not enter yourselves, and you hindered those who were entering.”

53 As he went away from there, the scribes and the Pharisees began to press him hard and to provoke him to speak about many things, 54 lying in wait for him, to catch him in something he might say.

Understanding and Applying the Word

The Pharisees were devout Jews who emphasized the keeping of the law as well as other rules they had put in place to make sure the law was kept. An example of such extra rules concerned washing in a certain way before meals. When a Pharisee observed that Jesus did not wash before dinner, he questioned Jesus about it. Jesus’ response was pointed and showed the hypocritical nature of the Pharisees.

Jesus replied, “Now you Pharisees cleanse the outside of the cup and of the dish, but inside you are full of greed and wickedness.” Jesus’ point was that the Pharisees might have lived according to their lists of external rules, but their hearts were far from God. The Pharisees looked great to the outside observer, but their hearts were full of sin.

The Pharisees of Jesus’ day have much in common with those we would call “legalists” today. Legalists are those who make up lists of what is and is not allowed and base their spiritual maturity off of how well they can live by such lists. They also use the lists to judge the maturity of others. However, keeping a list of rules does not mean that a person’s heart is right, which is the main test of maturity and true devotion to God. May we ask the Lord to work in our hearts to desire what he desires so that he is glorified in both our actions and our passions.

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I Was Blind, Now I See

John 925 [widescreen]

Reading the Word

John 9:13–34 (ESV)

13 They brought to the Pharisees the man who had formerly been blind. 14 Now it was a Sabbath day when Jesus made the mud and opened his eyes. 15 So the Pharisees again asked him how he had received his sight. And he said to them, “He put mud on my eyes, and I washed, and I see.” 16 Some of the Pharisees said, “This man is not from God, for he does not keep the Sabbath.” But others said, “How can a man who is a sinner do such signs?” And there was a division among them. 17 So they said again to the blind man, “What do you say about him, since he has opened your eyes?” He said, “He is a prophet.”

18 The Jews did not believe that he had been blind and had received his sight, until they called the parents of the man who had received his sight 19 and asked them, “Is this your son, who you say was born blind? How then does he now see?” 20 His parents answered, “We know that this is our son and that he was born blind. 21 But how he now sees we do not know, nor do we know who opened his eyes. Ask him; he is of age. He will speak for himself.” 22 (His parents said these things because they feared the Jews, for the Jews had already agreed that if anyone should confess Jesus to be Christ, he was to be put out of the synagogue.) 23 Therefore his parents said, “He is of age; ask him.”

24 So for the second time they called the man who had been blind and said to him, “Give glory to God. We know that this man is a sinner.” 25 He answered, “Whether he is a sinner I do not know. One thing I do know, that though I was blind, now I see.” 26 They said to him, “What did he do to you? How did he open your eyes?” 27 He answered them, “I have told you already, and you would not listen. Why do you want to hear it again? Do you also want to become his disciples?” 28 And they reviled him, saying, “You are his disciple, but we are disciples of Moses. 29 We know that God has spoken to Moses, but as for this man, we do not know where he comes from.” 30 The man answered, “Why, this is an amazing thing! You do not know where he comes from, and yet he opened my eyes. 31 We know that God does not listen to sinners, but if anyone is a worshiper of God and does his will, God listens to him. 32 Never since the world began has it been heard that anyone opened the eyes of a man born blind. 33 If this man were not from God, he could do nothing.” 34 They answered him, “You were born in utter sin, and would you teach us?” And they cast him out.

Understanding and Applying the Word

The Pharisees interrogated the blind man whom Jesus healed and the blind man’s parents. How was he healed? Was he really blind? Who is Jesus that he could do such a thing? The religious leaders were witness to all of Jesus’ signs and wonders, yet they refused to acknowledge who he was. They sought instead to condemn him. The blind man (now healed) and his parents simply accepted that Jesus was from God. How else could he do such wonderful things. When the Pharisees reached their full frustration, they kicked the healed man out of their midst.

For some, truth is not really what they are after. Some will question, argue, and debate with no intention of actually engaging in a search for the truth. In fact, no amount of truth will matter because their minds are already made up. This was the case with the religious leaders who wanted Jesus killed. It is the case with many today who spend time arguing over Jesus. Their minds are made up and no amount of discussion will ever be enough.

So what are we to do? As the man who had his sight restored, we must simply tell the truth that we know: we once were blind, but now we see. Through Jesus, we have had our eyes opened. We have been born again. Whatever the Pharisees thought of Jesus, they could not deny that the blind man could now see. Whatever people may think of Jesus today, they should see that his followers are changed people because of his powerful work in our lives.

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