The “Christian” Sanhedrin
By Dr. Mike Murphy
There was a little, old cleaning woman that went to the local church. When the invitation was given at the end of the service, she went forward wanting to become a member. The pastor listened as she told him how she had accepted Jesus, wanting to be baptized and to become a member of the church. The pastor thought to himself, “Oh my, she is so grungy, smells a little, and her fingernails are not clean. She picks up garbage, cleans toilets, what would the members think of her?” He told her that she needed to go home and pray about it, then she could decide.
The following week, here she came again. She told the pastor that she had prayed about it and still wanted to be baptized. “I have passed this church for so long. It is so beautiful, and I truly want to become a member.” Again the pastor told her to go home and talk to Jesus about it some more.
A few weeks later while out eating at a local restaurant, the pastor saw the little, old lady. He did not want her to think that he was ignoring her, so he approached her and said, “I have not seen you for a while. Is everything alright?” “Oh, yes,” she said. “I talked with Jesus like you said, and he told me not to worry about becoming a member of your church.” “He did?” said the pastor. “Oh, yes” she replied. “He said even He has not been able to get into your church yet, and He’s been trying for years.”
How many of our churches would we find Christ in today? If Christ were to write a letter to each of the churches across this country, what would the message be? Would the letter to each church sound more like the one Christ sent to Philadelphia (Revelation 3:7-13), or the one He sent to Laodicea (Revelation 3:14-22)? Would He see the leadership in our churches today as a continuation of His disciples? Or would He see them reflecting the leadership of the Sanhedrin in His day?
In the days of Christ, there were many groups that made up the face of Judaism. But three found themselves in the spotlight, and were the focused attention of much of the Jewish world. The Sadducees, the Pharisees, and the Herodians were the voices that spoke loudest to the Jewish people, and the religious leaders Rome expected the most out of.
The Sadducees were the aristocrats of the day. They valued their wealth and prestige, and often saw themselves above the average man. They would often find themselves in agreement with Rome, focusing more on politics than religion. Because of their positions of power and influence with Rome, they made up the majority of the Sanhedrin, the ruling religious council of Judaism. Their religious beliefs carried a very mixed bag. Although they believed in the authority of God’s Word, they denied that God was involved in everyday life. They did not believe in an afterlife , in resurrection, or in a spiritual world (Acts 23:8). In 70 AD, when Roman destroyed the temple and the city of Jerusalem, the Sadducees came to an end. No longer needing to control the Jewish people, Rome no longer needed the Sadducees.
The Pharisees were the voice of the common man. Even though they were in the minority on the Sanhedrin, they carried an incredibly strong voice because of the influence they had within the Jewish society. They believed that God’s Word was inspired, given directly to man by the Almighty. But they also put as much weight in their own rules, known as oral tradition, as they did God’s Word. They saw no difference in the laws given by God, and those created by them (Deuteronomy 4:2). They would often use these ‘man-made’ rules to bring attention to themselves, feeding their own ego in the name of God. They reduced man’s relationship with the Lord to one of rituals and self-created rules.
Last, but not least, were the Herodians. They were the political power of the day, followers of Herod, the appointed leader of Judea by Rome. They saw Herod as a ‘messiah’, thinking he could bring them favor from the Roman Empire, thus bringing ‘blessings’ to their lives. Religion to the Herodians was nothing more than a tool or instrument, one to bring the people under control, and to institute the social and political changes they saw as needed.
Though each of these groups were bitter rivals, one thing did bring them together. Christ! God’s true Messiah, the One who would bring true change, offer all a path to an eternal afterlife in God’s presence, and fulfill the laws and promises the Lord had given to His people. But they saw Christ not as hope, but as a threat (Mark 3:6, John 11:48-50). A threat to their power, lifestyle, and influence over the Jewish people. It is no wonder that Christ often referred to them as nothing more than frauds and hypocrites (Matthew 23:1-36, Matthew 7:15).
So let us take a close look at what the religious leaders of Jesus’ day believed and what they were doing with those beliefs. We had one group that would pick and choose the parts of God’s Word that suited them best, more than willing to ignore the rest. We had another group that put their own teachings and beliefs on an equal level with the Lord’s. And we had a final group that saw God’s Word as nothing more than a political tool, to achieve their own goals. It is no wonder Christ had so little use for these religious leaders?
When we look around us at the church today, the surroundings may be different than those when Christ walked this world, but we see so many similarities in the players! Many of the religious leaders that fill our churches today, have many of the same similarities to those men that filled the halls and courts of the Temple almost two thousand years ago.
In many of our churches today, we see leaders that are unwilling to teach the full Word of God. Those who ignore parts they feel may be controversial to society, often more afraid of who they might offend than who they might reach with the truth. Other leaders have developed their own interpretation of God’s Word. They teach their own beliefs on an equal level with the Word of God. Although their teachings may be contrary to the words Christ taught while walking this earth, they speak them anyway.
Often with a voice so loud those who speak the truth are drowned out and completely overlooked. We even see other leaders who are more than willing to take the necessity of God out of the Word of God. They see salvation in looking to perfect man into their view of what man should be. To many of these leaders, God is nothing more than a means to an end. God and His Word are but instruments to influence society towards their view of a utopia that can be built here on Earth. To them, God is nothing more than a way to reach their political and social ends.
When Christ looks at the state of the Church today, what do you think we would hear Him say? As He hears the words spoken from or pulpits, and the silence coming from our pews, what word do you think he would use to describe us? Only one word comes to mind, Hypocrites! And those of us who know the truth and allow His church to continue to be tarnished, would not fare much better in the Lord’s eyes. Two thousand years ago, Christ warned His followers that they would see the Temple destroyed, that not one stone would be left unturned (Mark 13:1-2). A few years later they saw the words of Christ come to life, as the Temple was torn to the ground in front of them. It is time that we heard those same words being spoken today. Word that drive us to get out the mortar and the trowels, and began to repair the walls of the Church. Because if we do not act on His words quickly, If we do not take to heart what He is telling us seriously, we could begin to see the walls begin to crumble, and not one stone will be left in place.
It is time to once again make Christ the cornerstone of the Church (Ephesians 2:20-22)!