Matthew 23 - Woe to the Pharisees

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Turn in you Bibles to Matthew 23:1;

 

23 Then Jesus spoke to the multitudes and to His disciples, 2 saying: “The scribes and the Pharisees sit in Moses’ seat. 3 Therefore whatever they tell you to observe,[a] that observe and do, but do not do according to their works; for they say, and do not do. 4 For they bind heavy burdens, hard to bear, and lay them on men’s shoulders; but they themselves will not move them with one of their fingers. 5 But all their works they do to be seen by men. They make their phylacteries broad and enlarge the borders of their garments. 6 They love the best places at feasts, the best seats in the synagogues, 7 greetings in the marketplaces, and to be called by men, ‘Rabbi, Rabbi.’ 8 But you, do not be called ‘Rabbi’; for One is your Teacher, the Christ,[b] and you are all brethren. 9 Do not call anyone on earth your father; for One is your Father, He who is in heaven. 10 And do not be called teachers; for One is your Teacher, the Christ.11 But he who is greatest among you shall be your servant. 12 And whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.

 

13 “But woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you shut up the kingdom of heaven against men; for you neither go in yourselves, nor do you allow those who are entering to go in. 14 Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you devour widows’ houses, and for a pretense make long prayers. Therefore you will receive greater condemnation.[c]

 

15 “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you travel land and sea to win one proselyte, and when he is won, you make him twice as much a son of hell as yourselves.

 

16 “Woe to you, blind guides, who say, ‘Whoever swears by the temple, it is nothing; but whoever swears by the gold of the temple, he is obliged to perform it.’ 17 Fools and blind! For which is greater, the gold or the temple that sanctifies[d] the gold? 18 And, ‘Whoever swears by the altar, it is nothing; but whoever swears by the gift that is on it, he is obliged to perform it.’ 19 Fools and blind! For which is greater, the gift or the altar that sanctifies the gift?20 Therefore he who swears by the altar, swears by it and by all things on it. 21 He who swears by the temple, swears by it and by Him who dwells[e] in it. 22 And he who swears by heaven, swears by the throne of God and by Him who sits on it.

 

23 “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you pay tithe of mint and anise and cummin, and have neglected the weightier matters of the law: justice and mercy and faith. These you ought to have done, without leaving the others undone. 24 Blind guides, who strain out a gnat and swallow a camel!

 

25 “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you cleanse the outside of the cup and dish, but inside they are full of extortion and self-indulgence.[f] 26 Blind Pharisee, first cleanse the inside of the cup and dish, that the outside of them may be clean also.

 

27 “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you are like whitewashed tombs which indeed appear beautiful outwardly, but inside are full of dead men’s bones and all uncleanness. 28 Even so you also outwardly appear righteous to men, but inside you are full of hypocrisy and lawlessness.

29 “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! Because you build the tombs of the prophets and adorn the monuments of the righteous, 30 and say, ‘If we had lived in the days of our fathers, we would not have been partakers with them in the blood of the prophets.’

 

31 “Therefore you are witnesses against yourselves that you are sons of those who murdered the prophets. 32 Fill up, then, the measure of your fathers’ guilt. 33 Serpents, brood of vipers! How can you escape the condemnation of hell?34 Therefore, indeed, I send you prophets, wise men, and scribes: some of them you will kill and crucify, and some of them you will scourge in your synagogues and persecute from city to city, 35 that on you may come all the righteous blood shed on the earth, from the blood of righteous Abel to the blood of Zechariah, son of Berechiah, whom you murdered between the temple and the altar. 36 Assuredly, I say to you, all these things will come upon this generation.

 

37 “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the one who kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to her! How often I wanted to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, but you were not willing! 38 See! Your house is left to you desolate; 39 for I say to you, you shall see Me no more till you say, ‘Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord!’ ”[g]

 

May God bless the reading of His word.

 

Let us pray.

 

After running the gauntlet, addressing the chief priest, Pharisees and the Saducees, Jesus then speaks to the multitudes and to His disciples her in chapter 23. He begins talking by showing reverence to the position that the Pharisees hold, saying;

 

“The scribes and the Pharisees sit in Moses’ seat. 3 Therefore whatever they tell you to observe,[a] that observe and do,”

 

This statement shows that Jesus did not come to destroy the law, whose giver was Moses. Moses was chosen by God to lead Israel and to judge and uphold God's law. I know it's been quite some time since we started studying the book of Matthew. If you don't remember, Jesus made His intent toward the law very clear in the sermon on the mount. In Matthew chapter 5 verses 17-20 Jesus says;

 

17 “Do not think that I came to destroy the Law or the Prophets. I did not come to destroy but to fulfill. 18 For assuredly, I say to you, till heaven and earth pass away, one jot or one tittle will by no means pass from the law till all is fulfilled. 19 Whoever therefore breaks one of the least of these commandments, and teaches men so, shall be called least in the kingdom of heaven; but whoever does and teaches them, he shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven. 20 For I say to you, that unless your righteousness exceeds the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees, you will by no means enter the kingdom of heaven.

 

But while Jesus is reverent toward the law itself, His regard for the scribes and Pharisees is far less, for He goes on to warn the crowd;

 

but do not do according to their works; for they say, and do not do.

 

In essence Jesus is calling the scribes and Pharisees hypocrites who tell people one thing and then do something different. What's more than that, as we discussed last week, the Pharisees were known for extending the law into places of which it does not speak. The example of going from the priests washing before offering the sacrifice to the Pharisiacal law that said everyone should wash before every meal is a perfect example of this “over thinking” God's word. Jesus addresses this saying;

 

For they bind heavy burdens, hard to bear, and lay them on men’s shoulders; but they themselves will not move them with one of their fingers.

 

We have to remember that Jesus knows not just the Pharisee's public lives, but He is also intimately familiar with their private lives and private thoughts, something most regular people would not be privy to. Jesus speaks to the outward hypocrisy of the Pharisees when He says;

 

But all their works they do to be seen by men. They make their phylacteries broad and enlarge the borders of their garments.

 

Of course it would help if we knew what a phylactery was, right.

 

Well first of all, no Jew would call it a phylactery. Phylactery is a Greek word that is a translation of the meaning of the Jewish word from which these devices get their Jewish name, which is tefililah or prayer.

 

Phylacteries, or more appropriately tefillin can still be seen on orthodox Jewish men. They are the small leather boxes worn both on the forehead and the arm. The one on the head is called shel rosh and contains 4 passages of scripture, Exodus 13:1–10, 11–16; Deuteronomy 6:4–9, 11:13–21 in four separate compartments. The one on the arm is called shel yad and has a single compartment with all four verses written on a single piece of parchment.

 

Like most things that the Pharisees did, the tefillin are a literal interpretation of Deuteronomy 6:8 which says;

 

"And you shall bind them as a sign on your arm, and they shall be as frontlets on your head between your eyes."

 

The Saducees and even the strict Karaites who both held to the authority of the written Torah alone understood, as we do, that this admonition is a figurative way to say that we should be preoccupied with God's word both in our minds and in our hands or work.

 

Of course the Pharisees weren't satisfied with that, so they invented the tefillin and all the rules that go around it.

 

It's probably not a coincidence that Jesus mentions the tefillin as they are another abhorrent contamination in the interpretation and enforcement of God's word. Indeed you can look all over Scripture and you will not find a single instruction on how to make a tefillah or what to put in it.

 

It's all made up by the Pharisees, and passed down until modern times.

 

Jesus says that Pharisees' tefillin were broad, an outward sign of their superior holiness.

 

He also says that the Pharisees and scribes made the hem of their garment wide. Once again, it helps to understand what Jesus is talking about. Jesus is talking about the outer garment worn by all men and the commandment in Numbers 15:38 and Deuteronomy 22:12 which reads;

 

2 “You shall make tassels on the four corners of the clothing with which you cover yourself.

 

These tassels are known as tzitzit and were supposed to be blue according to the commandment in Numbers. Once again, the Pharisees took this simple commandment and then turned into not only a bunch of other laws, but they also used these tassels as a means of pointing out their holiness.

 

Of course Jesus isn't having any of it. He emphasizes these customs that are not in the Bible but which the Pharisees had turned into the laws of man.

 

They are also simply outward signs and have nothing to do with a relationship with the living God.

 

Jesus goes on to point out the motivations for their outward signs of holiness. He tells the multitude;

 

They love the best places at feasts, the best seats in the synagogues, 7 greetings in the marketplaces, and to be called by men, ‘Rabbi, Rabbi.’

 

So now we see clearly that the reason the Pharisees do all these things is for the respect of men and not of God.

 

Jesus rebukes this behavior, saying;

 

But you, do not be called ‘Rabbi’; for One is your Teacher, the Christ,[b] and you are all brethren. 9 Do not call anyone on earth your father; for One is your Father, He who is in heaven. 10 And do not be called teachers; for One is your Teacher, the Christ.11 But he who is greatest among you shall be your servant. 12 And whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.

 

So Jesus makes it clear. Men are not to be held in high regard or looked to as teachers, masters or even fathers, a title that is used for clergy in some denominations. Instead we are have only one Father and we have one Teacher and we need to be humble in the eyes of God and men.

 

It is interesting that Jesus starts this passage by referring to Moses and in an indirect manner He ends it by referring to Moses again because the Bible tells us that Moses was the humblest man on the Earth. Indeed this is the reason that he was chosen by God to lead the people of Israel.

 

Only a humble heart can give all glory to the One Who is deserving of all glory and honor.

 

Over the door of our church, and on our web site are the opening words of Psalm 115 which say;

 

Not unto us, O LORD, not unto us,
But to Your name give glory, Because of Your mercy, Because of Your truth.

 

This is the heart of the true believer who understands that they are nothing more than the creation of a sovereign and all powerful Creator. They are certainly not the watch words of the Pharisees though.

 

The fate of those who pretend to religious is clear. Jesus warns;

 

13 “But woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you shut up the kingdom of heaven against men; for you neither go in yourselves, nor do you allow those who are entering to go in. 14 Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you devour widows’ houses, and for a pretense make long prayers. Therefore you will receive greater condemnation.[c]

 

These men not only were not going to heaven, but they actually shut up the kingdom of heaven to men making it an obstacle that could not seemingly be obtained.

 

The mindset of the scribes and the Pharisees has not subsided since the time of Jesus. There are still many today who act religiously and who even make laws about righteousness and holiness that neither take into account the intent of God's word, nor take into account the fact that it is the righteousness of Jesus alone that allows anyone to enter the kingdom of heaven.

 

“Church people.” and churches that allow them, do more to harm the kingdom of heaven than to forward it. People who encounter such legalistic and hypocritical behavior are discouraged and either think that they cannot be good enough to enter heaven or seriously wonder why they would want to be in a place where such hypocrisy reigns.

 

The truth is quite the opposite though.

 

The Gospel or good news is that no one is good enough to get into heaven on their own merits, but the righteousness of Jesus is more than sufficient to allow even the vilest offender to enter into eternal rest in the presence of the Creator. What's more than that, heaven will not be full of hypocrites, as Jesus accurately points out. In fact, Jesus says that the condemnation of such men is greater than the condemnation of men and women who do not actively shut the doors of the kingdom to others.

 

Jesus continues;

 

15 “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you travel land and sea to win one proselyte, and when he is won, you make him twice as much a son of hell as yourselves.

 

This shows us clearly that those who are “won” to Christ by such hypocrites are not clearly won, but are they even more deceived and become worse than their teachers.

 

Jesus goes on, ridiculing the rules that the scribes and Pharisees have made. He warns;

 

16 “Woe to you, blind guides, who say, ‘Whoever swears by the temple, it is nothing; but whoever swears by the gold of the temple, he is obliged to perform it.’ 17 Fools and blind! For which is greater, the gold or the temple that sanctifies[d] the gold? 18 And, ‘Whoever swears by the altar, it is nothing; but whoever swears by the gift that is on it, he is obliged to perform it.’ 19 Fools and blind! For which is greater, the gift or the altar that sanctifies the gift?20 Therefore he who swears by the altar, swears by it and by all things on it. 21 He who swears by the temple, swears by it and by Him who dwells[e] in it. 22 And he who swears by heaven, swears by the throne of God and by Him who sits on it.

 

This is another example of the “rules” that are nowhere in the Bible but which the Pharisees have made more important than the holiness of God and His Temple. Jesus is showing how the rules of the Pharisees have turned the rules of the God and His holiness upside down.

 

Finally, Jesus says;

 

25 “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you cleanse the outside of the cup and dish, but inside they are full of extortion and self-indulgence.[f] 26 Blind Pharisee, first cleanse the inside of the cup and dish, that the outside of them may be clean also.

 

Here Jesus is referring to their pretend holiness and their true nature. The tefillin, the tzazit, the titles are the outward cleansing of the unclean vessels, the men who pretend to be holy but who do not know the righteousness of God.

 

Jesus repeats His accusation of duplicity using another analogy;

 

27 “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you are like whitewashed tombs which indeed appear beautiful outwardly, but inside are full of dead men’s bones and all uncleanness. 28 Even so you also outwardly appear righteous to men, but inside you are full of hypocrisy and lawlessness. 29 “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! Because you build the tombs of the prophets and adorn the monuments of the righteous, 30 and say, ‘If we had lived in the days of our fathers, we would not have been partakers with them in the blood of the prophets.’

 

At the same time that He accuses them of hypocrisy He openly states the accusation that He has inferred in parables. The Pharisees are responsible for killing the prophets and have built their false religion and false righteousness on the tombs of those who are truly the servants of God.

 

Finally, Jesus pronounces judgment upon the scribes and the Pharisees and all those like them to this very day saying;

 

31 “Therefore you are witnesses against yourselves that you are sons of those who murdered the prophets. 32 Fill up, then, the measure of your fathers’ guilt. 33 Serpents, brood of vipers! How can you escape the condemnation of hell?34 Therefore, indeed, I send you prophets, wise men, and scribes: some of them you will kill and crucify, and some of them you will scourge in your synagogues and persecute from city to city, 35 that on you may come all the righteous blood shed on the earth, from the blood of righteous Abel to the blood of Zechariah, son of Berechiah, whom you murdered between the temple and the altar. 36 Assuredly, I say to you, all these things will come upon this generation.

 

More than that, the sin of the scribes and the Pharisees has become so pervasive, so much a part of that which is Jerusalem, that Jerusalem itself will suffer the wrath of God. This explains Jesus' final words in this chapter;

 

37 “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the one who kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to her! How often I wanted to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, but you were not willing! 38 See! Your house is left to you desolate; 39 for I say to you, you shall see Me no more till you say, ‘Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord!’ ”[g]

 

Approximately 40 years after the crucifixion of Jesus, God will unleash His wrath upon that generation which has given up true righteousness for a lie, giving time for a new generation to hear the Gospel and receive it before destroying the city which was dearest to God's heart, but which evil vinedressers desired for themselves.

 

If Jerusalem cannot be God's then it will not fall into the hands of these hypocrites.

 

If you confess Jesus as Lord then the lesson is once again clear.

 

Beware of the sin of the Pharisees.

 

Humble yourself before God and give Him all glory. Do not make rules to keep men from seeking the One True God. Men have enough motivation to avoid Him because of their own wickedness. Your legalism or hypocrisy are not helpful.

 

On a positive note, guard yourself from the teachings of men. God is your Father. Jesus is your teacher. Beware of any man that would tell you that he is holier than you or that you must follow his words to truly be holy. The world is full of scribes and Pharisees. Don't validate them. Do not shirk from confronting them.

 

No man is more righteous or holy than another.

 

All men are made holy only by the righteousness of Jesus, imputed to them by the Father in His infinite grace and mercy.

 

And if you have never confessed Jesus as your Lord, you need to understand these truths as well.

 

Perhaps you have had a bad experience with someone who purposefully or unwittingly made you feel that following Jesus is too hard or that you cannot be as holy as anyone else.

 

Perhaps you have had a bad experience with someone who claimed to be a follower of Jesus but who was hypocritical or prideful in their supposed holiness.

 

These men are no more than modern day scribes and Pharisees.

 

Their fate is sealed unless they repent, humble themselves, and accept that the only righteousness that is worthy of the kingdom of heaven is that of Jesus.

 

Look beyond those people and know that God is your Father and if you will confess Jesus as Lord He will be your teacher.

 

Without the righteousness of Jesus you must pay for your sins yourself. That means that you instead of enjoying eternal life, you will suffer death, which Jesus describes as a place of outer darkness where there is wailing and gnashing of teeth, where the flame is never quenched and were the worm never dies.

 

If the truth of your sinfulness is upon you and you are convicted of the righteousness of God then I urge you to quit fighting God and yield to His mercies this very day.

 

 

Let us pray.

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