Thursday, February 11, 2021

Matthew 23 - Part 9 - Woe unto you...


Read Matthew 23

Do as I say.  Not as I do.

Many of us old folks remember that saying.  Most won’t argue that such an attitude is not effective leadership. Lead by example is much better.

This is the exact attitude that Jesus pronounced upon the teachers of the law and the Pharisees.  But Jesus didn’t leave it there.  He told the people that they had to obey these men with poor examples of leadership.

Do what they say but not what they do.  Ouch!

The instructions that they gave still came from God’s law even though they did not understand God’s heart.  They were terrible shepherds but they had memorized the rules.

They do not practice what they preach!

They will list ad infinitum the rules that one must follow but won’t help the least little bit.

Everything that they do is done for show.

Jesus continued—don’t think that you will ever know enough to be called teacher or rabbi.  There is a sermon title that has been passed down for decades, surely going well back into the previous century, maybe further.

It is called, Titles or Testimonies.  I don’t know the text of the original message but for many of us, the title fully conveys the message.

When we stand before Jesus, he does not want to see our curriculum vitae. He doesn’t want to see our resume.  He doesn’t want our business card and he sure doesn’t care how many titles you can put before and after your name.

Our credentials are our love and service.  Use your gifts and talents to serve the Lord, mostly by loving one another and serving others. In this service you will find obedience to the Lord, though it will not feel restrictive as the world knows obedience.

 When the roll is called up yonder, titles won’t mean diddly.  It’s will be our testimonies that will be the substance of our discussion with our Lord.

Here is something to think about.

And whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.

It’s got a last will be first and first will be last ring to it, don’t you think?

Jesus was not content just to tell his disciples and whatever crowd may have been gathered not to follow these hypocrites.  He provided substantial evidence against them.  We will look at what we might call the 7 Woes of Chapter 23.

The first of the woes—the kingdom of heaven.

They—the Pharisees—don’t want people to live in the kingdom of heaven; yet, you don’t live there yourself.  What’s up with that?

If anyone truly entered the kingdom of heaven, the rules of the world and the secular demands of the religious hypocrites would have no hold on anyone.

The Pharisees enjoyed their high standing.  They didn’t want anyone cutting into that.  They wanted to use God’s word to control and not to empower the people who sought after him.

Did they not understand how much greater it would be to live among people empowered by God to do God’s will? 

Do we understand that making someone less does not make us more?  We know many people like this.  They want to bring down, discredit, gossip about someone else so they feel better than those they have disparaged.

This section is a protracted monologue by our Lord about the Pharisees and other religious hypocrites.  It is one chastising after another without counsel to us.

So, here is our counsel from the full biblical witness.

Love one another.

Pride leads us to shame.  Humility keeps company with wisdom.

He who despises his neighbor lacks sense.

Do nothing out of vain ambition or selfish deceit.

Seek justice, love mercy, walk humbly with your God.

We are not in competition with others.  We serve God by serving others.  We should celebrate when the lost come home.  We should rejoice as others seek to follow the Lord.

We only have to think back a few verses in this chapter.

Whoever exalts himself shall be humbled, and whoever humbles himself shall be exalted.

The second of the woes—a son of hell.

We have liberty in Christ. Not everything is profitable in that liberty, but we do have freedom.  We are charged to live wisely.

We have abundance in Christ Jesus.  He came to give us life and life abundant through him.  Let’s throw in life eternal as well.

We know the truth in Christ Jesus.  Our charge is to live in the light and live in the truth.  To know him and make him known.

The Pharisees would go to great lengths to make a convert and then heap laws and rules on top of them so as to suck the life out of life.

We reach people with these words:  Repent and believe the good news.  Yes, people must turn away from the ways of the world—from evil—and believe in and embrace the ways of the Lord.

The response of people is to be liberating.  They cross over from sin and death to life and purpose. They will never live another day without God-given purpose.

The Pharisees stuck to their model.  New converts were just people that could be subjugated to their authority.

We receive new believers as brothers and sisters in Christ.

The third of the woesblind fools.

In government, politics, and war there is something called mission creep.  This is where a well-defined mission adds something else to the initial tasking, then something else, then something else, so much so that the initial mission is obscured.

I will abuse the term mission creep and say the Pharisees had righteousness creep.  They started with what God had prescribed and ordained and then they added something and then something else and then they lost sight of the sacred nature of God’s instructions.

They had become obscured by their own mandates, so much so that not even the Pharisees could distinguish between God’s law and their own directives.

The quote often attributed to Mark Twain is: “It’s easier to fool people than to convince them that they have been fooled.”  The Pharisees easily fooled themselves.  Power is seductive like that, but it left them helpless to hear the truth.

They had become blind.  They were not born blind.  They became blind.

We are to have eyes to see and ears to hear.  We must know the voice of the Good Shepherd. We will not follow any other.

We are not to become blind.  We must keep our eyes to see and ears to hear by putting the words of our Master into practice.

The fourth of the woes—you hypocrites.

This section has one of my favorites chastising phrases of our Lord: You strain out a gnat but swallow a camel.

You live the letter of the law while embalming the heart of the law.

Do these words sound familiar?  Seek justice, love mercy, walk humbly with your God.

The Pharisees and other religious hypocrites would give a tenth of what they received as their income, but kept their distance from mercy and humility.

Jesus didn’t say that they had to choose.  They should do both—tithe (tithe means tenth) and practice love and mercy and humility.

They nitpicked the details while missing the big picture.  You strain out a gnat while swallowing a camel.

Again, we must seek the full biblical witness if we want more than just chastisement of the Pharisees.

Should we tithe?  Absolutely, but not out of compulsion. 

Should we gather in the assembly and worship the Lord?  Absolutely, but not because we have to.  Our hearts should compel us to gather for worship.

Should we share the gospel?  Are you kidding me?  We should share it like it was the best news ever, mainly because it is.  We are commissioned to share the gospel but our hearts compel us to bring good news to the world.

We should study God’s word with great passion, focusing on every detail, but not to the exclusion of the divine heart that inspired every word. 

We should internalize God’s words so that we can serve as a certified workman for the kingdom of God, but must not work solely by regulation and checklists when God has loved us with an everlasting love and commanded us to love one another.

God’s directives have been given for our own good.  Obedience to God’s directives does not restrict living by love and we should never interpret them to do so.

Let’s not be people who strain out a gnat and then swallow camels.  Let’s be people of love.

The fifth and sixth of the woes—hypocrites again.

This is one of the more difficult sections for men of this century to understand.  If you cup is dirty, put it in the dishwasher.  That’s why you bought the thing.  Let it do the work. Why wash the cup so that it’s clean enough to wash.  What’s up with that?

Let’s leave the mechanical dishwashers out of the interpretation.  The Pharisees were all about appearances.  If the outside looked good, people might think that they were clean on the inside.

Jesus knew better. He continued by calling these religious hypocrites whitewashed tombs.  The tomb looks pretty on the outside but everyone knows that you don’t want to open a tomb.  The smell would be overpowering.  The inside of a tomb is not an appealing site.

We have looked at this inside out thing before. If God’s word is not at work in you from the inside—the heart and mind—then it doesn’t matter how pretty you make the outside.  God sees the heart.

We must take the words of our Lord, internalize them, and live them.

The seventh of the woes—you guessed it: hypocrites.

Have you ever thought if you were in Adam’s or Eve’s place, that I would not have done that?  That tree would still have all of its fruit.  I would have chosen differently.

And the world would be a better place…

You betcha!

Then we realize that we have only been awake for 10 minutes and need to confess to God for 15 minutes.  It is human nature to think that we would have done a better job.

The Pharisees had this sanctimonious—holier than thou—nature about them.  They didn’t really live according to God’s desire, but they wouldn’t tell you that.  If they made an error, it wasn’t really an error.

If you are the guys with all of the penalty flags, you know you can’t waste them on yourself.  You will surely need them before marking off 15 yards for some petty offense for those who are not sporting the pretty big boxes on their foreheads.

The Pharisees did not divorce themselves from the sinful world that they lived in.  Like their ancestors, they had grown accustomed to some of the comforts of the godless.  While they were sanctimonious, they were not sanctified.

They were not growing closer to God.  They made up their own rules so they didn’t need to be.

Here is the short version-hypocrites.

How do we apply this to ourselves?  Stay humble.  Let the word of God judge the thoughts and attitudes of the heart.

You snakes!  You brood of vipers!

After 7 woes to the Scribes and Pharisees and teachers of the law, Jesus was just getting warmed up.

Jesus asked a rhetorical question.  The hypocrites could not answer.  They had tried before with we are sons of Abraham, but Jesus didn’t give them any points for that answer.

 Jesus challenged them:  How will you escape being condemned to hell?

You know what God’s word says, but you do not know God or the One he sent to save the world.

It truly was a rhetorical question.  The only salvation is through Christ Jesus and these hypocrites had rejected him time and time again.  There was no other option than the one they repeatedly rejected.

Jesus recounted how many times God’s own people had rejected him and the prophets that he sent.  He noted how he longed to gather his children in loving embrace but they were not willing.

The very lives of those who claimed to be so righteous were desolate as so many who claimed godliness before them.  Without Jesus they remained without hope.

For I tell you, you will not see me again until you say, ‘Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.’

Repentance was the only way for those who thought they knew God best but knew only what served them.  They must call upon the name of the Lord to be saved.

How can we avoid becoming hypocrites?  What does the Lord require of us.

There’s more to it than this, but this is a good starting point.

Seek justice

Love mercy

Walk humbly with your God.

I will repeat that last phrase.

Walk humbly with your God.

Without humility, without the humble nature through which Christ entered the world, we are susceptible to becoming hypocrites.

Walk humbly with your God.

So as we continue into 2021, let’s love mercy, be generous towards God, have Christ as the cornerstone in our lives and be ready to learn from him, not relying upon our own understanding.

And let’s walk humbly with your God.


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