He loved the unlovely

There is one group with whom Jesus talked more than anyone except his disciples: the Pharisees.

The Pharisees are mentioned 82 times in the gospels, and almost all of those are in connection with Jesus teaching them. Just in the book of Matthew, the Pharisees are referred to 27 times. In more than one chapter in that book, there are three or more uses of the word.

Mark L. Strauss wrote, “The term Pharisee is probably derived from a Hebrew word for ‘separatists,’ and was applied because of the dietary and purity laws which restricted table fellowship with the common people and non-Jews.”[1] Because Jesus had such close contact with “the common people,” Strauss wrote that this placed him in direct opposition to them.

To be sure Jesus criticized the Pharisees for their hypocrisy and legalism, but there is another reason why he spent so much time teaching them. Like everyone else, the Pharisees were lost. They needed a Savior. If their self-centered egos could be set aside, Jesus might have been able to reach them. He did reach some of them. Luke reported, “The word of God kept on spreading; and the number of the disciples continued to increase greatly in Jerusalem, and a great many of the priests were becoming obedient to the faith” (Acts 6:7 NASB). Most of those priests were probably Pharisees.

Jesus always loved those who were unlovely. He healed the demon-possessed man who lived in tombs (Mark 5:2-8). One could imagine what a frightening sight this man was who was living among the dead, breaking all of his chains and cutting himself. Spiritually, the Pharisees were just as unlovely.

But, then again, aren’t we all? We are all lost in sin and need a savior. The Pharisees’ problem was that they saw themselves as the only good in the world and refused to see themselves for what they really were. How many of us have had (or still have) that problem?

Jesus loved them. Bottom line. He loves everyone. He loves you, and he is waiting for you to surrender your will to his and obey the gospel.

[1] “Four Portraits, One Jesus,” by Mark L. Strauss, Zondervan Publishers, p. 132

Photo is a painting by Ernest Zimmerman entitled Christ and the Pharisees.

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