Unholy holiness

Mark 12:35-40

“Beware of the scribes…” v. 38

There is a kind of holiness that is repulsive to God, in fact it only appears holy until you go beyond outward appearances. We see a hint of it here in Jesus warning about the scribes. Is it possible to be so right, you’re wrong? From Jesus warning about the scribes it would appear so.

First, who were the scribes? In Jesus day, they were the Bible scholars. They would study and interpret the law for Israel. If you wanted an answer to a Bible question, or wanted to know what certain laws meant, you would ask a scribe. The equivalent in our day, professionally speaking, would be a theologian or a Bible professor, or perhaps a teaching pastor. The people of Israel had a high view of scripture and it’s teachings. They would fit in nicely in a church that views the Bible as a source of authority. But there was a problem with the scribes, that gave Jesus reason to say, “Beware.” “Watch out!” “Don’t go there.” In today’s passage we see three criticisms Jesus makes of these men, who had become so Biblical they were unbiblical. They were so holy they were becoming unholy, so righteous they were unrighteous. It happened to them and it can happen to us.

  1. They know about God, but don’t know God. In verses 35-37 Jesus points out that the scribes call Jesus the Son of David, being his descendant, which is actually true, but refuse to call him Lord, which David called him, in the Psalms. So they are all about David being the ancestor of the messiah, but ignore what David said about him, before Jesus was even born. The scribes had God all figured out, on the surface. Even today it is possible to be so devoted to your ideas about God, biblical though they may be, that you never experience more of God than you know right now. For some people God is no larger than a set of doctrines. At best this limits your experience of God. At worst it becomes idolatry. Do you spend too much time arguing for a particular doctrine? Are you more known for your opinions about God than your service to him?
  2. They use God rather than being used by God. Second, Jesus warned of the scribes, who love the privilege of being treated with honor by others. In other words they love being scribes because of what they get out of it personally in terms of popularity and prestige. For the scribes, it was all about the show. I love ministry. I love praying with people. I love preaching. I even love being known as a minister of the gospel. But herein lies the danger. I can be so caught up in what I get out of ministry that I love it more than I love people, or God. When I find myself clutching on to my position or privileges, or protecting “MY ministry” I know I need to head back to the prayer closet and get some perspective. I don’t want to use God. I want God to use me. What about you?
  3. Then they use their religious activities to cover up wicked deeds. They would kick a poor widow out of her home, for some contrived legal reason, then as she was being put out on the street, they would stand and say long beautiful prayers to appear concerned for her. Jesus said, “They will receive the greater condemnation.” There is a kind of pride that is very subtle as Christians grow, and start doing ministry. It’s the kind of pride that says, “I’m a servant of God, so I can indulge myself in ways, others cannot.” This is repulsive. The minster who thinks his years in service give him license to entertain sin is in for a rude awakening some day. The Christian who mistreats people all week long, who does crooked business, or acts deceitfully, then comes to church, lifting up hands in worship, singing, ” I surrender all ” is no better than the scribes, who destroy people then hide behind long prayers. Nothing I do inside the church can hide what I am outside the church for long.

Jesus warned us to beware of the scribes. We must beware of people who are so right, they’re wrong, so good they’re bad, so Biblical, they’re unbiblical. We need to watch out for the scribes out there, lest they mislead us into thinking that being a Christian is all about appearances. But more important than watching out for the scribes out there, is the need to watch out for the scribe that lurks inside all of us. We all have the tendency to limit God to our ideas, to use God for our own self promotion, and to use our faith to cover up what we do in the dark. We all must come to the cross each day and ask our Lord to help us keep it real. Watch out for the scribes today.


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