Matthew 23 is one of the most intense chapters in all of Scripture. The entire chapter is a condemnation of the Pharisees by Jesus to the people. One of the things Jesus says to these Pharisees highlights some deep and important spiritual truths for us. In verse four, Jesus says:
“They bind heavy burdens, hard to bear, and lay them on men’s shoulders; but they themselves will not move them with one of their fingers.”
What was at the heart of Jesus’ rebuke to these guys? You see, at this time, the Pharisees were really the only people who could read and interpret Scripture. The Scriptures were still in Hebrew and the only people that could read Hebrew were the religious leaders. As a result, if someone wanted to know the words of God they were forced to go through their local religious leaders.
What the Pharisees had done that caused such a strong reaction from Jesus was to add to the Old Testament, known to the Jews as the Tanakh, their own oral traditions, called the Mishnah. They had taken the Scriptures and added to them their own interpretations of the Scriptures. For example, in the commandment of doing no work on the Sabbath, the Pharisees went to great lengths on defining what did and did not constitute “work”. In the Mishnah, it was spelled out that you can’t carry anything that weighs more than a dried fig, or else you are working on the Sabbath. If your sheep falls into a pit and is unharmed, then you must leave him there until the Sabbath passes. However, if he had a broken leg then it was permissible to pull him out. As a matter of fact, they had twenty-four chapters dedicated to what you could and could not do on the Sabbath. In other words, they had taken God’s Word and added to it their own, and they spent their time going around making sure everyone was maintaining the standard that they self-imposed on them.
Jesus condemns them, saying that they are not only ignoring the burdens others are already bearing, but in fact they are adding to them. As you read through the chapter, you will find that the words of Christ here are as harsh as any portion of Scripture. These words are as applicable to you and I as they were to the Pharisees. We have the Word of God, and we have a responsibility to walk with others through their struggles and help unload their burdens at the feet of Christ, not to lay a religious guilt trip on them because they are not living up to our standards, or taking the same course of action that we would take. God intersects our lives with others to impart HIS words into their life, and to pray for HIS guidance in their life. The Pharisees were speaking THEIR words and giving them THEIR guidance on what to do and what not to do. See the difference?
As Christians, we have the awesome responsibility of being ambassadors for Christ. As those who know Christ, He calls us to help others bring their burdens to Him so that they too may experience the awesome freedom offered by Christ. When you see someone carrying a burden, help relieve them of it in such a way that Christ is honored and glorified. In doing so, you are tangibly demonstrating to them the love of Christ. Be a good ambassador!
Each week this blog will be updated with a word for the week from my current studies.