Matthew chapter 23

Woe to you! – Vs 13 (NASB)

Chapter 23 is an extension of Jesus verbal blasting of the Pharisees He began in chapter 22. In fact, it is an even more personal attack than ever. But while Jesus is addressing the faults and failings of the Pharisees and scribes, His real message seems to be one of warning to His own followers. He is exposing to His disciples the characteristics of the Pharisees that He detests. He is warning them to “not do according to their deeds” (Vs 3), or better yet, not follow their example. There are some sobering warnings for us in these verses as well.

Just look at some of the terms Jesus uses for these men: hypocrites, blind guides, fools and blind men. He accuses them of being glory seekers, attention grabbers, power mongers, and religious nit-pickers. He exposes their pseudo-righteousness, religious hypocrisy, legalism, abuse of power, neglect of the poor and powerless, pious externalism, and self-deception. It would be really easy to look at this chapter and just focus in on the faults of the Pharisees – to gang up on them and blast them as religious losers who are well-deserving of what is coming to them. But I think Jesus is trying to warn us that we are all prone to the same tendencies. The disciples themselves had grown up idolizing these men. They were the religious elite of their day. If there had been Pharisee baseball cards, the disciples would have tried to collect the whole set – even get their autographs to increase the card’s value. They stood in awe of what these men said and how they lived. They feared them and revered them. Now Jesus was blasting them. Why? Because He wanted to expose their hearts to His followers. Jesus had come to turn the religious world on its ear. It was not longer going to be business-as-usual. No more religious hokem-pokem and spiritual smoke and mirrors. No more self-righteous fakery and pious pretending. Jesus came to bring heart transformation, not some pathetic attempt at behavior modification.

Everything Jesus slams the Pharisees for we can be guilty of – even as Christ-followers. We can be guilty of saying things and not doing them. We can teach the Word and not live it. We can spout God’s truth and not even believe the words that are coming out of our mouth. We can demand that our kids be godly, but then fail to show them how with our own lives. We can burden down others with our own brand of legalistic rules and regulations: Don’t dance, don’t play cards, don’t go to movies, don’t … you get the picture. But we won’t come alongside those same people and help them live the life God has called them to live. We can be guilty of seeking the attention of men, the places of honor, the positions of power, the mantle of leadership, and the service of others – all within the walls of the church. We can be guilty of turning others away from Christ by the way we live our lives. Our hypocrisy becomes a turn-off to the lost. We can easily neglect the poor and powerless around us, whether its the single mom trying to raise her kids on a limited income, the widow who can’t maintain her home, the couple who’ve lost their income, or the lonely individual who comes to church every Sunday just hoping someone will give them the time of day. We can be guilty of making our own rules and silly regulations that have little or no basis in Scripture. We want everyone to follow our rules and regulations. Whether it’s our arbitrary time requirement for a proper quiet time, our expectation that everyone attend Bible study as often as we do, pray as much as we do, or dress like we do. We can be guilty of looking good on the outside when the inside is a totally different story. We can reject the words of God’s appointed teachers by sitting in sermons and classes, hearing the truth of God, but refusing to apply it to our lives.

Every one of the accusations Jesus levels at the Pharisees can be leveled at us. We can be guilty of the very same things. That is the danger. We all the spirit of the Pharisee within us. It is the spirit of religious formalism and self-righteousness. It reeks of pride, arrogance, and self-sufficiency. It rejects Christ’s call for humility and death to self. It loathes the idea of serving rather than being served. It despises all that Jesus represents. It sees Him as a threat to its well-being. And the Pharisee is alive and well today – in all of us. So we have to take Jesus’ woes to heart. Woe was an expression of grief, not anger. Jesus is grieved by this kind of attitude, especially in His people. It is dangerous, deceptive, and destructive. And it is a real threat to each one of us today.

Father, open our eyes so that we can see the Pharisee within us. Don’t let us accuse others when we have those same traits within ourselves. May we be just as grieved as Jesus was over the Pharisee-like attitudes and actions that exist in our own lives. Expose them to us so that we can repent of them. Give us hearts of humility so that we might serve You.  Amen

Ken Miller
Grow Pastor & Minister to Men

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