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Matthew 3:7

Religious People

7 But when he saw many of the Pharisees and Sadducees come to his baptism, he said unto them, O generation of vipers, who hath warned you to flee from the wrath to come?

Frederick Buechner said that "The trouble often times with religious people is that they try to be more spiritual than God himself."

I don't know if I could find a more accurate description of the Pharisees than Buechner's. The Pharisees were a sect probably formed during the reign of Antiochus Epiphanes, who tried to force his brand of humanism on the Jewish people. During that time, the Jews were divided into three primary sects.

The Sadducees believed that it was not wrong to compromise certain religious principles in order to get along with the authorities. They, of course, were trusted by the government and often given positions of authority over the other Jews.

The Essenes believed that God had abandoned mankind and had allowed evil to run unchecked throughout the world. They isolated themselves from the rest of society and gave up sexual contact so as not to bring a child into this evil world.

The Pharisees, on the other hand, were very aware of the reasons that God had sent their people into captivity. They were adamant about the strict keeping of God's law no matter what. As a result, many died for their faith at the hands of Antiochus Epiphanes.

John, however, had this encounter with their descendants about one hundred and forty-five years later. These people were proud of what their ancestors did, maintained strict adherence to the law (with their own hypocritical modifications), and were the most religious people of their day. They were also very involved in the politics of the day and sometimes were even feared by those who ruled over them. As Buechner said, they almost thought themselves to be more spiritual than God Himself.

It should now be evident that John preached with a degree of boldness that only the Holy Spirit can provide. Calling them a "generation of vipers", he pointed out that, although they seemed to be spiritual people, they were in fact very dangerous. Their mouths often spewed the venomous speech of hypocrisy, malice, and erroneous doctrines.

John was not fooled by them. They came to participate in his baptism, but their hearts were proud and unrepentant. Their purpose was either to parade their righteousness before others or to find some wrong doing or error which they could use against John.

Neither was John frightened by them. Imagine their shock when this shabbily clad preacher called them a bunch of snakes in front of everyone whom they had come to impress! "Why are you here? Did someone warn you of the coming wrath of God? What are you trying to gain now? Who warned you?" the tone of his voice implying that he knew all about their hypocritical ways. He knew the ways that they manipulated the law, the people, and even God.

What would preachers in similar circumstances say to the likes of these Pharisees in our modern churches? (There are plenty self-righteous hypocrites around.) We have been programmed by society to be tolerant of sin and to try not to offend anyone. Our pulpits pour out pretty speeches, filled with cute jokes and tips on how to win friends and influence people. Our emphasis is on church marketing, filling the pews, filling the offering plate and building multimillion dollar complexes to fill the egos of church leaders, many of whom are as lost as most of the members of their congregations.

The truth will always offend the sinner. The only way to avoid offending someone with the gospel is to not preach it or to so disguise it that the sinner doesn't understand. My friends, whether we are pastors or laymen, worship leaders or choir members, Sunday school teachers or ushers, we must always speak the truth and leave the results to God.

Before The Throne:

Pray for your pastor; that he will have a spirit of boldness and never compromise the truth. Pray for yourself to be the same kind of witness wherever you go. Pray for the generation of vipers that infests your church and mine with hypocrisies, legalities, power struggles, but no true love for or commitment to Christ.

For Further Study:

** the Pharisees. Matt 5:20; Matt 12:24; Matt 15:12; Matt 16:6, 11-12; Matt 22:15, 23, 34; Matt 23:13-28; Mark 7:3-5; Mark 8:15; Mark 12:13, 18; Luke 7:30; Luke 11:39-44; Luke 16:14; Luke 18:11; John 1:24; John 7:45-49; John 9:40; Acts 4:1; ** Acts 4:2; Acts 5:17; Acts 15:5; Acts 23:6-9; Acts 26:5; ** O generation. Matt 12:34; Matt 23:33; Gen 3:15; Ps 58:3-6; Isa 57:3-4; Isa 59:5; Luke 3:7-9; John 8:44; 1John 3:10; Rev 12:9-10; ** who. Jer 6:10; Jer 51:6; Ezek 3:18-21; Ezek 33:3-7; Acts 20:31; Rom 1:18; Heb 11:7; ** flee. Rom 5:9; 1Thess 1:10; 2Thess 1:9-10; Heb 6:18; Rev 6:16-17;


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