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“Then He said to them in His teaching, ‘Beware of the scribes, who desire to go around in long robes, love greetings in the marketplaces, the best seats in the synagogues, and the best places at feasts, who devour widows’ houses, and for a pretense make long prayers. These will receive greater condemnation.’”—Mark 12:38–40 (NKJV)
Up until now Jesus has been confronting the false motives and teachings of the religious rulers of that time. Pharisees, Sadducees, scribes, lawyers of Moses’ Law . . . they had been entrusted with the responsibility to lead the people of Israel in God’s Word and will. But over time, they’d drifted so far from His heart they didn’t even recognize God’s correction face to face!
At this point, Jesus turns from the leaders to the common people who were listening in and observing all of this. He tells them to beware of their spiritual leaders. Understand, for the average Jewish man or woman at the time, this was unthinkable! These men were considered the closest thing to God, Himself—trusted guardians of all that was sacred and true. Jesus was saying something radical; it was something they never anticipated hearing in their lifetime. “Did this man tell us not to trust the spiritual hierarchy that has held our very identity together for hundreds of years?”
Shocking as it was, Jesus goes on to elaborate why these rulers shouldn’t be trusted. As the Lord always does, He goes beneath the surface and exposes the underlying motives fueling their actions as He tells them these leaders, who had been entrusted with the role of serving the people, were actually using their privileged position to serve themselves! They were taking full advantage of the respect and authority that came with their role. Spiritual service was to be something sacred, untainted by the ways of the world or selfishness. But it had become a distorted means to get accolades, front row seats, and revenue from the most vulnerable of society. The shepherds had just become a band of hirelings.
Outwardly, most people saw something that resembled respectable religious service. But the Lord saw something quite different, because He looks upon the heart, not the outward appearance of man (1 Samuel 16:7). He saw something wicked and worth warning everyone about. He tells them these types of leaders “will receive greater condemnation.”
Not much elaboration on this is needed. God takes it very seriously when something as sacred as spiritual service is used as a pretense for selfish gain. It won’t go unchecked, and it’ll receive the punishment it deserves. In just a few years, the Romans would destroy the temple and the trappings they had come to take refuge in. Many were outright killed. The survivors would face unspeakable hardships—and that doesn’t even take their eternal punishment into account.
We, too, need to be careful, because that same underlying attitude can infect us as well. It’s easy to start serving God and His people with pure motives, only to eventually use serving as a means to be served. We need to take this warning to heart and continually ask God’s Spirit to search and refine our hearts from falling into the trap of serving to be served.
Pause: What did Jesus reveal about the rulers of His day, and why was it a such a big deal?
Practice: Discover ways you guard against this same tendency and then put them into practice.
Pray: Lord, please sensitize my conscience to the slightest deviation from what my service to You and other people should be. Amen.
Pastor Dan Hickling serves our online community, also known as the Calvary Chapel Online Campus. He and his wife Becky have been married for 22 years and have two children, Lauren and Danny. Both Dan and Becky have been part of the CCFL church family for 22 years and have served in full time ministry for 20 of those years.