Becoming a Good Pharisee

Oct 22, 2023

Becoming a Good Pharisee

Passage: Matthew 22:34-40

Preacher: Jeff Crotts

Series: Matthew

Category: Sunday Morning


Matthew 22:34-46 - Becoming a good Pharisee.

Intro: Last week's focus was on the last days, considering attack on Israel by Hamas.

  • Answering, Israel's present and future as a nation.
  • Considering history of God's chosen, in view of Bible.


[KEY] W/Jews in view, go right to point of our passage: Conversion.

  • Answer: “What does it take to evangelize a religious Jew?”
  • Narrowing focus to evangelizing Jews.
    • X’s target audience @/Matthew 22 and 23.
    • Remaining paragraphs and next chapter.

[KEY] X will go dark on teaching, making final appeals to Jews as Messiah.

  • Before death and departure.
    • Matthew, purpose to reveal the Jew’s Messiah.
      • X answering and asking questions.
      • Win Jews to X.


  • Imp; see X’s heart for Jews.
    • Not a passionless Savior, moving to Cross.
    • Symbolizing I’s rejection.


  • X grieves Israel’s unbelief.

ESV  Matthew 23:37 "O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it! How often would I have gathered your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing! (Mat 23:37 ESV)

ESV  Romans 9:1-3 I am speaking the truth in Christ-- I am not lying; my conscience bears me witness in the Holy Spirit--

2 that I have great sorrow and unceasing anguish in my heart.

3 For I could wish that I myself were accursed and cut off from Christ for the sake of my brothers, my kinsmen according to the flesh. (Rom 9:1-3 ESV)


  • Though chap. 23 are woes; likewise lament for Jews.
    • Yes, under spirit of stupor.
    • Delusion of false teaching of Phar’s.


ESV  Romans 11:8 as it is written, "God gave them a spirit of stupor, eyes that would not see and ears that would not hear, down to this very day." (Rom 11:8 ESV)

  • As prophecy stated in Isaiah 6.


  • Still hope for Jews.
    • Bc/ these dynamics, verses 34-46, on Wed.
      • Virtually eve of X’s capture, X evangelizing Pharisees.

[Appl] Often, overcomplicate life’s mission, instead move w/in flow of God’s providence. X seizing final opportunity to reach Jews, (eg. Pharisees).


Prop: Conversion Questions

  1. Answering a question, going to the heart (vv. 34-40)


  1. An unusual inquirer (vv. 34-35)

[Context] Next and final round of X’s questioners.

  • Questioned by Herodians, Sadducees, and now Pharisees.
    • Other groups.
      • Essenes, cultic and Zealots, anti-government by force.
      • [Now] Pharisees, front and center.


  • Phar’s most significant sect (X’s day).
    • Only a few thousand.

History showed that they were the only Jewish sect to survive the destruction from Rome in AD 70, meaning today’s Orthodox Jews are their modern descendants [Varner, Passionate about the Passion Week].

Will Varner in his book, Passionate about the Passion Week makes case for “good” and “bad” Pharisees.


  • Chafes w/X’s excoriating rebukes @/chap. 23.
    • 7 woe judgments.
    • English synonym (for good reason) for hypocrite.

[Question] Where find anything “good” @/Phar’s?

  • 2 groups of Pharisees.
    • 2 schools of thought: Hillel and Shammai.
      • Shammai, rigid, inflexible appl’s of Law.
      • Hillel, freer applications


[eg. Shammai, abusive applications; license to abandon wife under any circumstances; “burned dinner”].


  • “Good” Pharisees, converted: Nicodemus, Joseph of Arimathea, Saul/Paul (John 3:1; 7:50; 19:38-39, Acts 22:3; Phil. 3:5).

ESV  John 3:1 Now there was a man of the Pharisees named Nicodemus, a ruler of the Jews. (Joh 3:1 ESV)

ESV  John 7:50-51 Nicodemus, who had gone to him before, and who was one of them, said to them, 51 "Does our law judge a man without first giving him a hearing and learning what he does?" (Joh 7:50-51 ESV)

ESV  John 19:38-39 After these things Joseph of Arimathea, who was a disciple of Jesus, but secretly for fear of the Jews, asked Pilate that he might take away the body of Jesus, and Pilate gave him permission. So he came and took away his body. 39 Nicodemus also, who earlier had come to Jesus by night, came bringing a mixture of myrrh and aloes, about seventy-five pounds in weight. (Joh 19:39 ESV) (Joh 19:38 ESV)

ESV  Acts 22:3 "I am a Jew, born in Tarsus in Cilicia, but brought up in this city, educated at the feet of Gamaliel according to the strict manner of the law of our fathers, being zealous for God as all of you are this day. (Act 22:3 ESV)

ESV  Philippians 3:5 circumcised on the eighth day, of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; as to the law, a Pharisee; (Phi 3:5 ESV)

  • X’s condemnation of Pharisees nt/universal.
    • Herodians, Rome’s “puppet kings” @/Caesar’s tax?
    • Sadducees @/hopeless heaven, w/o resurrection.


  • Now an unlikely Pharisee.

[TRANS] Verse 34, stage set in wake of X defeating Sadducees.

  • Pharisees call a caucus to take X down.
  • Argumentative, desperate state of mind.
    • X evades ev/trap set by every other religious group

(cff. Matt. 16:1; 19:3; “to test Jesus”).

  • Thwarting Phar’s ensuring loss control of Jewish populous.
  • Not let that happen.


  • Phar’s “gathered together” (v. 34) to develop counter strike.


  • Perhaps energized since, arch-rival Sadducees failed @/X!
    • An opportunity?


  • As grinding off to the side, a “And one of them, a lawyer” (v. 35), approaches X.
    • Phar’s arguing, strategizing in their war room.


  • Mark says, “…one of the scribes came up and heard them disputing with on another, and seeing that he answered them well, asked him, ‘Which commandment is the most important’” (cf. Mk. 12:28).


  • Matthew, in verse 35, “And one of them” meaning one of the Pharisees who was designated, “a lawyer” (v. 35).
    • He’s also, “a scribe” (cf. Mk. 12:28).
    • Came up to X to “…ask him a question, to test him” (v. 35).


  • “lawyer’s” approach frames “test” @/hybrid temptation.


  • “Good” Pharisee, w/genuine question.
    • Phar’s debate w/X opens the opportunity to come clear on question only Messiah could answer.


  • This was the “Lawyer’s” Question!
    • Question, mounting inside heart.
      • “lawyer/Phar” more sympathetic than his Senior Pharisees.
        • Mark’s focus, on lawyer’s heart.
        • Matt’s on lawyer’s test.


  • “Lawyer” “Scribe” “Pharisee” were masters of Law.
    • Pentateuch (Sadducees only believed in).
    • And civil, ceremonial, prophets of Law.


  • Wisdom lit. and all Talmud and oral traditions.
    • Enforceable applications of the Law; cff. Matt. 15:1-3; Mark 7:1-13).
      • Fastidiously copied the Law and as a lawyer.
      • Scrupulously read, interpreted, adjudicated Law.



  1. An unanswerable question (v. 36)

[Drama] w/would-be Messiah, at the Temple steps, w/Phar’s swirling in debate, “a lawyer” comes forward w/question.

  • Soul-searching challenge, only Messiah could answer,
    • “Am I missing the forest for the trees?”
    • “What is the one thing the whole thing is saying?”
    • “What is the true point of all this religion?”
    • “What is the main idea?”

“The Pharisees were constantly occupied with the Law (Torah). They counted, classified, weighed and measured all the separate commandments of the moral, ceremonial, and civil law. Through their computations, they had concluded that there were 613 commandments, consisting of 248 positive precepts (…members of the body [bones?])!

Some…considered heavy…some considered light.” [Varner].

  • Pharisees must have seen what’s happening, assuming X would be stumped.
    • Honest questioner, asking an honest question.
      • “What is truly the meaning of life; the meaning of this life.”
      • BTW, not an uncommon question.


[Appl] This lawyer is not alone in his quest for meaning. This is a modern question of our younger generation.

What the research says about Gen Z job satisfaction 

Gen Z has certainly earned itself a reputation. At worst, they’re perceived as unmotivated, unskilled or a bit contentious. A survey from Resume Builder found that 3 in 4 managers find it difficult to work with Gen Z employees, the top reasons being a lack of motivation, focus and (interestingly) technological skills. At best, they’re seen as innovative, tech-savvy and socially conscious. 

  • They’re disengaged. A Gallup survey found Gen Z is the most disengaged at work of any generation (54%) and does not feel a close connection to their coworkers, manager or employer. Moreover, they’re the most likely generation (alongside younger millennials) to experience high levels of stress (68%) and burnout (34%). 
  • They’re exhausted. Similarly, Deloitte reports that 36% of Gen Z employees experience exhaustion or low energy at work. 35% say they’re mentally distanced from their job and harbor feelings of negativity or cynicism toward work. Possibly as a result, more than 4 out of 10 Gen Z employees say they struggle to perform to the best of their ability. 
  • They’re willing to job hop. And if Gen Z is unhappy at their workplace, they don’t hesitate to quit (or “quiet quit”) and find something new. According to a survey from Bankrate, 78% of Gen Z employees say they will search for a new job in the coming year.   

At its core, this may be a story about each generation's differing expectations. The New York Times describes Gen Z demands that older employees find baffling: paid time off for anxiety and period cramps, displaying gender pronouns in Slack profiles or flexible working hours.

[Appl] This is a problem within our age. Gen Z’ers see the futility of work-o-holism but conclude the answer is not to work, whereas both social categories of Boomers, Millennial hybrids, and Gen Z busted are missing the bigger picture.

Life’s meaning comes down to hearts, “In relation to our Creator God.” What makes the religious man’s question impossible to answer is when it is framed in terms of work’s righteousness.

When someone uses the Law as a measurement for their own righteousness, then that someone is crushed by all the Law, because perfectly obeying the Law is unachievable, making no one Law better than another.  


[Illus] This question’s been asked before. Josephus (1st Cent. Pharisee), said Rabbi Hillel, 50 yrs. Pre-X, was asked same question by Gentile. Promised to convert, if Hillel could boil down whole Law while standing on one foot (mocking question).

Hillel: “What you yourself hate, do not do to you neighbor; this is the whole Law, the rest is commentary, go learn it!”

Reverse Golden Rule, minus single key requirement: Heart change.


[TRANS] This brings us to Jesus’ answer.

  1. An unassailable answer (vv. 37-40)

X gives an obvious answer to the question, answering w/an unassailable answer.

  • When Law is defined by self-achievement it binds, soul.
  • When Law is defined by love, it is freeing, transforming.
    • w/Clarity and Wisdom, X quotes the one passage from Law, summarizing it all.
    • Entirety of Law, by quoting the Shema of Deuteronomy 6.


  • Confessional prayer of all Judaism (cf. Mark 12:29 also quotes Dt. 6:4).

ESV  Deuteronomy 6:4 "Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one. (Deu 6:4 ESV)   

  • Shema from Hebrew word “to hear”, “to give ear to” meaning “full attention.”

[Illus] Jewish men took literally, binding w/small scrolls on head w/phylacteries.  

ESV  Deuteronomy 6:8 You shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes. (Deu 6:8 ESV)

[KEY] Jesus’ answer was so obvious, it was misunderstood/misapplied

[Why church jettisons OT; as irrelevant; cf. 2 Timothy 3:16 “all Scripture”]  

  • Obeying the Law is synonymous with Love.
    • Applied by the heart.
    • Heart remade by Conversion.


  • The Law was always meant be obeyed in terms of a heart of love for God.
    • Love from someone’s whole self.


  • Emphasis on word “all” ὅλῃ (Mat 22:37 BGT) which means “whole” and is repeated 3x. “all your heart” “all your soul” and “all you mind” (v. 37).


  • Overlapping terms (heart, soul, mind).


  • Believers called to hold nothing back in terms of love for God.


  • Fruit of true conversion is only satisfying when loving God w/whole self.
    • To love the one true God.
      • Israel’s God, Yahweh.
      • The one God who stands unique in polytheistic culture.


  • Christ lists categories to describe the complex inner man.

[Appl] Someone’s “heart” “soul” and “mind” are distinct in terms of description, but all reflect the same source.

Term “heart” nuances affections and “soul” nuances man’s eternal nature and “mind” his thinking bearing the image of God.

Man is not 3 or more parts inside, never trifurcate the inner man.

  • Scripture describes man in terms of him having an outer man and inner man.
    • The outer man, Paul describes as a tent.
      • One day cast off.
      • Inner man is eternal.


  • Jesus leaves “might” out bc/nt his emphasis.
    • “might” or “strength” combines outer man.
      • Man, both physical and spiritual, always while on earth.
      • X’s emphasis is loving God with all your faculties.


  • Over compartmentalizing or Under compartmentalizing love for God leads to error in terms of relating to God.
    • Under-emphasizing affections can lead to intellectual pride.
    • Over-emphasizing emotions can lead to experientialism.


[Illus] Charismatic movement emphasized the “heart” in terms of feelings and experiences to the detriment of thinking or engaging the mind.


Liberal theology has emphasized an equally dangerous version of stoicism where someone only must engage his mind in his devotion. Social action as a matter of someone’s conscience.

[KEY] True conversion calls for both heart and mind.

  • [Quote] Conversion bears fruit of clear understanding of the gospel, complete contrition over sin, joyful engagement to Christ, with the full assurance for your soul.


  • Exactly the point of the Shema, why X quotes it.

[KEY] Why X says: “This is the great and first commandment” (v. 38).

[TRANS] Not that he’s asked but X opens the second with verse 39: “And a second is like it: You shall love you neighbor as yourself” (v. 39).

  • X ties vertical love w/horizontal love.
    • When you have one, you have the other.
    • When you love God.
      • Self-sacrificial love for your “neighbor” overflows (v. 39).
      • “neighbor” meaning the people closest to you.
        • Israelite or resident alien (cf. Luke 10:29-37).
        • Horizontal application from Leviticus 19:18.


  • Assumes you love yourself bt/nt in fleshly sense.
    • Inner selfish pull from flesh.
    • To be fought against.


  • X sites inner pull built within man’s survival instinct.
    • Within man, needs met like eating and sleeping.
    • Demands everyone naturally prioritizes when otherwise unmet mean disaster.


  • Someone’s heart transformed to love God.
    • Same heart will (flower) to love others.
    • Based on new capacities.


  • Meeting others with self-sacrificial love is the fruit of saving grace.

[Illus] Foundation for Christian marriage.

ESV  Ephesians 5:28 In the same way husbands should love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. 29 For no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as Christ does the church, (Eph 5:28-29 ESV)


[Appl] 2 years ago, woke agenda miss applied, “Love your neighbor” as leverage to enforce political agendas. Mostly influencing unbelievers by guilt, for causes.  

[Stand to Reason, Clear-thinking Xianity, Oct. 2022]

In recent weeks, one California politician running for office launched an ad campaign involving the placement of multiple billboards in several states. The message? Come to California and get an abortion.

One of the billboards is especially offensive due to its misappropriation of Scripture. The sign reads, “Need an abortion? California is ready to help.” In small letters, the ad cites Jesus from the Gospel of Mark: “Love your neighbor as yourself. There is no greater commandment than these” (Mark 12:31). The billboard misrepresents the Scriptures as well as what it means to love.

[Point] God’s great commandments are both ordered (first, second) and symbiotic.

  • God-centered love will flow out to others but never to the contradiction of God himself or God’s Word.


  • Following X will never be to the neglect of others; never a form of stoicism or solely experientialism.

ESV  James 2:26 For as the body apart from the spirit is dead, so also faith apart from works is dead. (Jam 2:26 ESV)

[KEY] Finally, X summarizes the entire Law on these two commands.

  • Verse 40, “On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets” (v. 40).
    • Everything hangs on these vertical and horizontal commands.
      • Utter simplicity subsuming all 613 commands!
      • This Pharisee’s [Lawyer’s] mind must have been blown away.
        • Everything, legal, civil, and ceremonial.
        • Every application, every tradition, everything about his entire life boiled down to this level of simplicity.


  • This simplicity is why a young child or teenager can be converted.

[Illus] The Gospel, like the ocean can be ventured out in by a child, touching his or her toes in two inches of water in the sand, while massive ocean vessels steam slowly by with massive tonnage and ballast on the distant horizon. Simplicity met with unfathomable depth.

[Illus] Think about the decalogue. The ten commandments while move from the vertical about God to the life commands of the horizontal. Love God and love neighbor. Commands not only to not be disobeyed by fear of retribution but to be obeyed by love on the basis of internal transformation.

ESV  Romans 13:8-14 Owe no one anything, except to love each other, for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law.

9 For the commandments, "You shall not commit adultery, You shall not murder, You shall not steal, You shall not covet," and any other commandment, are summed up in this word: "You shall love your neighbor as yourself."

10 Love does no wrong to a neighbor; therefore love is the fulfilling of the law.

11 Besides this you know the time, that the hour has come for you to wake from sleep. For salvation is nearer to us now than when we first believed.

12 The night is far gone; the day is at hand. So then let us cast off the works of darkness and put on the armor of light.

13 Let us walk properly as in the daytime, not in orgies and drunkenness, not in sexual immorality and sensuality, not in quarreling and jealousy.

14 But put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to gratify its desires. (Rom 13:8-14 ESV)

[TRANS] Finally, I want to dip over to Mark’s account to finish the story about this unlikely convert. Mark records this man’s response.  

ESV  Mark 12:32 And the scribe said to him, "You are right, Teacher. You have truly said that he is one, and there is no other besides him.

33 And to love him with all the heart and with all the understanding and with all the strength, and to love one's neighbor as oneself, is much more than all whole burnt offerings and sacrifices."

34 And when Jesus saw that he answered wisely, he said to him, "You are not far from the kingdom of God." And after that no one dared to ask him any more questions. (Mar 12:32-34 ESV)

[KEY] Not far from the kingdom, meaning not far from conversion.

  • Literally not far from X himself (see: Matt. 22:41-46 next time!)


Conclusion: We do not know whether this “lawyer” “scribe” “pharisee” came to Christ, but we do know he was clear on what X requires.

  • This is all we can ask for when we try to win people to believe in the Savior.


  • This man was not far in that he was beginning to see the Law as grace.

[Illus] There was a young man who I led in my time at TMU. He was a remarkable thinker, Ben Shapero like, in wit demeanor and personality. He was always pretty wound up on Christian debates and had a know reputation for being intimidating to Bible professors, because he knew his Bible. I would visit with him, finding him reading extra biblical works like the book of Mormon or the New Century Bible, to which he would justify saying, “I want to win others to Christ who are skeptical to my not having read their position.” This can be understandable when using care and discernment, but his caviler spirit made him vulnerable to his own skeptical heart. He knew the Bible and could debate with skill but one thing began to concern me and that was that he began to only approach his Bible in terms of willing debates. One day, I asked him, “Do you realize that you only speak of God and God’s Word in terms of winning controversies?”

He went on to marry, and go to a liberal seminary, to become a liberal pastor. He later boasted that he was one of the first in his area to marry a gay couple in his church. I had called him to reach out when I saw he had posted a testimony blog titled: “My un-testimony.”

In our conversation I remember quoting back to him the favorite quote from John Piper he would quote to me. “God is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in him.” I asked if he still believed this, and he sat in silence. Later, tragically his sister, whom he loved dearly died in a car wreck. The last conversation I had with him expressing condolences found him with nowhere to go (left hopeless w/o God).

[Point] No amount of knowledge, performance, and law-keeping will change the heart.

Our only hope is to be transformed to love God with our whole selves and then this will flow into a life of Christlikeness.

Self-sacrificial love that endures to heaven.


Previous Page