"With everybody listening, Jesus spoke to His disciples.’Watch out for the religion scholars. They love to walk around in academic gowns, preen in the radiance of public flattery, bask in prominent positions, sit at the head table at every church function. And all the time they are exploiting the weak and helpless. The longer their prayers, the worse they get. But they'll pay for it in the end.'" Luke 20:45-47 (The Message).
Why did Jesus issue such a strong warning to His disciples about the danger of coming under the influence of the religion scholars? These men had power because of their so-called 'learning' which they used to subjugate ordinary people and exploit them for their own ends.
When we examine His motive for warning His disciples, we have to ask ourselves, 'Was Jesus jealous of their power? Was He trying to turn public opinion against them because of their opposition to Him or was He sincerely alerting His disciples to the danger of being impressed and coming under their influence?'
History would give them the answer. Both their Master, and later they, would suffer at the hands of the Jewish religious leaders. Jesus had no personal axe to grind with them. He knew them. He knew the depth of their hypocrisy that fooled ordinary people. He knew how dangerous their power was, how ruthlessly these men would use it to protect their own position.
John Emerich Edward Dalberg Acton, first Baron Acton (1834-1902) said, "Power tends to corrupt and absolute power corrupts absolutely..." This is true when we see what power religious leaders have over the hearts and consciences of people. Terrible things happen because of the use of this power - massacres like the Inquisition - when millions of believers were slaughtered by the Church in the Middle Ages, the Crusades - the slaughter of Muslims in the name of Jesus, the Jim Jones suicides, the Waco Texas, tragedy, and many more.
Jesus neither pulled rank nor used emotion to persuade people to believe Him. He had one weapon that was infallible - the truth. Real power lies, not in intimidation, manipulation or domination, which are the ways of the devil, but in revelation. God's intention is not to enslave by fear but to set us free by the knowledge of the truth. "To the Jews who believed in Him, Jesus said, 'If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples. Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.'" John 8:31-32 (NIV).
Jesus was so sure of the power of the truth of His words that He could say, "'As for the person who hears my words but does not keep them, I do not judge him. For I did not come to judge the world but to save it. There is a judge for the one who rejects me and does not accept my words; that very word which I spoke will condemn him at the last day.'" John 12:47-48 (NIV).
There is a sob in Jesus' voice as He warns of the ways of the hypocrite. 'Be careful,' He said, 'not to be taken in by the image they portray. The real test is in their fruit.' Their fruit was slavery to the rules and ritual they imposed on the people because they were the 'educated ones', but they distorted the understanding of God until He appeared as a slave driver, not a loving Father.
Any spiritual leader, who rules over people instead of connecting them to Jesus, is as suspect as the Jewish religious leaders of Jesus' day. Jesus warning is as relevant today as it was then. Whoever they are, if a Christian leader ties people to himself and his teaching and not to Jesus, he is suspect and dangerous. Stay away from him.
How can we identify them? Simply by measuring them against our infallible test - the Word of God, both Jesus, the living Word, and the Bible, the written Word. Jesus said, "'Take my yoke and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.'" Matthew 11:29 (NV).
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