Sadly, they are still with us! As the Lord Jesus once said, ‘If they persecute me, they will also persecute you’. The conflict between Cain and Abel is but a reflection of another greater conflict between the Seed of the woman and the seed of the serpent. Cain was a religious man and really believed he was right!
The bitter conflict between Christ and the Pharisees of His day reveals one aspect, one very sad aspect, of this same conflict. Sad because the Pharisees were different; they were not of the sordid, debauched world. They were very religious but so evidently not godly. They claimed God’s name but did not truly know Him. They claimed God’s word but never grasped its true meaning. They claimed to await their Messiah but crucified Him when He came. They claimed to keep God’s law as no others did, yet never from the right motives and, with the law of God in their mouths, they urged the murder of the only innocent Man. They advertised their religious observances yet never truly worshipped. They knew they were so right, and yet they were so desperately wrong. They would claim the support of Moses and the Prophets, really believing that they were on God’s side, and yet Jesus said, ‘Woe unto you, Pharisees’.
They had many followers and admirers but were blind guides. They were full of religious phraseology and long prayers, yet devoured widow’s houses. They rejoiced in converts to their cause and then made them double-dyed children of hell. They were meticulous about the law but could strain out a gnat and then swallow a camel. They were in reality far more concerned about the opinion of the important people of their day than they were about God’s view of them. They were great for tradition and the decorated tombs of the prophets but were the spiritual offspring of those who filled the prophets, in spite of their protestations to the contrary.
They were the most ardent and zealous for the cause of God and truth and yet did it the most harm by far.
Who are these men? Where do they hide? Look within and you may see one of them!
Beware the crusading spirit which ministers to one’s self-importance. Beware the dogmatic spirit which claims near infallibility. Beware the party spirit which derives assurance and pleasure from your acceptability in the party. Beware the fear of religious man as well as the fear of worldly man which both bring you into a snare. Beware the strong doctrinalist who tramples on the weak and tender. Beware the high religious claims and contentions which merely act as a sop to a guilty conscience and a cover for secret sin. Beware the hyper-sensitivity to justified criticism; when Jesus criticised the Pharisees they plotted to do away with Him. Beware the secret pride which cannot accept the possibility that you are tainted with the pharisee spirit.
Who are these men? Where do they hide? Strangely, and often, in the most public and most notable positions. They were the religious leaders, religious teachers, and prominent men of Christ’s day. And they were not, most emphatically not Sadducees! They were not tainted with the Sadducees’ looseness of life, they had not ‘gone wide’, they had not forsaken the ‘old paths’, in fact they believed themselves to be the last bastions of religious orthodoxy amidst atrocious laxity and moral decay.
‘O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, thou that killest the prophets, and stonest them which are sent unto thee, how often would I have gathered thy children together, even as a hen gathereth her chickens under her wings, and ye would not! Behold, your house is left unto you desolate’ (Matthew 23.37-38).
Listen also to the voice of a converted Pharisee, ‘Men and brethren, I am a Pharisee, the son of a Pharisee’ (Acts 23.6).
‘After the most straitest sect of our religion I lived a Pharisee’ (Acts 26.5).
‘If any other man thinketh that he hath whereof he might trust in the flesh, I more: Circumcised the eighth day, of the stock of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, an Hebrew of the Hebrews; as touching the law, a Pharisee; concerning zeal, persecuting the church; as touching the law, blameless. But what things were gain to me, those I counted loss for Christ. Yea doubtless, and I count all things but loss for the excellency of Christ Jesus my Lord: for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and do count them but dung, that I may win Christ, and be found in him, not having mine own righteousness, which is of the law, but that which is through the faith of Christ, the righteousness which is of God by faith’ (Phil. 3.4-9).