I Would Have Been a Pharisee – Musings on Good Friday

When I imagine the picture of Jesus dying, I can’t help but believe I would have been a pharisee. I see him wounded and in pain, making effort after effort to breathe – literally suffocating – on the cross. And then I see myself to the side, mocking him and believing he got what he deserved. I see myself denying his identity, convinced in my heart he wasn’t the messiah.

This may be a dismal portrait, but it definitely displays the human condition without Christ. If not for his grace, I would be a pharisee today.

Reflecting on Passover and Good Friday is especially moving for me this year as I’ve been studying the Old Testament law and gospels for the last few months. In light of these readings, I can completely understand how the teachers of the law would get so stuck on the actions and sacrifices they were required to carry out that they would miss the entire point of Christ’s message. Honestly, it’s not surprising they found him an outrage to the Jewish religion.

They were used to strict punishments for not following the laws exactly. They were used to God saying stone the man who picks up sticks on the sabbath (see Numbers 15:32-36). And there Jesus was, healing people and picking food on the sabbath. He was breaking all the rules. Except…

Jesus kept the law perfectly. Could it be the pharisees simply didn’t understand the whole reason for the law? That no one could keep it perfectly? That being clean and pure required more than we could ever sacrifice or accomplish? That our sin required a never-ending line of offering and repentance? That the blood and guts of animals couldn’t cover all of our sin? That God cares more about our hearts than merely what we do?

Being an Old Testament priest was such a bloody job. Animal blood spattered everywhere, all of the time. For every person on a regular basis there was a sacrifice. The bloody smell of metal, the body parts, the job of a modern hunter. And then this radical man came, a teacher and prophet – the Savior – but these pharisees were so caught up in their works, others sin, and carrying out the law that they missed him. The man. The only man who took away the sins of the world. The one man who could end the bloody mess of the sacrifice.

His body broken for us. His blood shed for our sins.

What must it have been like – that final meal – the passover supper in the upper room? To the disciples, it’s just another holiday, another year passing by. A heritage steeped in tradition. Yet, they were on the brink of something earth changing, curtain ripping, soul cleansing.

Jesus broke the bread and poured the wine, he spoke of what was to come, and yet the disciples obviously didn’t get it because just hours later, they were asleep in the garden.They didn’t understand the harsh and yet glorious reality of what their passover meal meant – what it would come to represent. It was a communion they wouldn’t understand until after his death. Maybe even after his resurrection, maybe on the beach the morning he made them breakfast, maybe even when they received the Holy Spirit.

And now? Two-thousand years later, where do I find myself?

Often I’m off balance. I get caught up in counting and tallying my sins and the sins of those around me. Though I’m naturally a rule breaker, I still feel this intense pressure to measure up, to perfectly fit into the shape of not only what God desires for me but of what others expect, even what our culture claims is the true purpose of life – glorification of the self.

I lose the balance between living in the freedom of Christ’s forgiveness and following his laws because of my freedom.

I’m like the pharisee because I care too much about earning my way to heaven, but I’m also like the disciple in that while I know Jesus is so much more than I understand, I still limit him to what I can grasp, to what I can imagine.

Thank heavens he is so much more.

Enjoy your Good Friday, and may you truly come to understand and grasp the depth of Christ’s love for you as he lay down his life for our sake.