God’s True Feelings About False Religion.

13 “But woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you shut the kingdom of heaven in people’s faces. For you neither enter yourselves nor allow those who would enter to go in. 15 Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you travel across sea and land to make a single proselyte, and when he becomes a proselyte, you make him twice as much a child of hell as yourselves.

16 “Woe to you, blind guides, who say, ‘If anyone swears by the temple, it is nothing, but if anyone swears by the gold of the temple, he is bound by his oath.’ 17 You blind fools! For which is greater, the gold or the temple that has made the gold sacred? 18 And you say, ‘If anyone swears by the altar, it is nothing, but if anyone swears by the gift that is on the altar, he is bound by his oath.’ 19 You blind men! For which is greater, the gift or the altar that makes the gift sacred? 20 So whoever swears by the altar swears by it and by everything on it. 21 And whoever swears by the temple swears by it and by him who dwells in it. 22 And whoever swears by heaven swears by the throne of God and by him who sits upon it.

23 “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you tithe mint and dill and cumin, and have neglected the weightier matters of the law: justice and mercy and faithfulness. These you ought to have done, without neglecting the others. 24 You blind guides, straining out a gnat and swallowing a camel!

25 “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you clean the outside of the cup and the plate, but inside they are full of greed and self-indulgence. 26 You blind Pharisee! First clean the inside of the cup and the plate, that the outside also may be clean.

27 “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you are like whitewashed tombs, which outwardly appear beautiful, but within are full of dead people’s bones and all uncleanness. 28 So you also outwardly appear righteous to others, but within you are full of hypocrisy and lawlessness.

29 “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you build the tombs of the prophets and decorate the monuments of the righteous, 30 saying, ‘If we had lived in the days of our fathers, we would not have taken part with them in shedding the blood of the prophets.’ 31 Thus you witness against yourselves that you are sons of those who murdered the prophets. 32 Fill up, then, the measure of your fathers. 33 You serpents, you brood of vipers, how are you to escape being sentenced to hell? 34 Therefore I send you prophets and wise men and scribes, some of whom you will kill and crucify, and some you will flog in your synagogues and persecute from town to town, 35 so that on you may come all the righteous blood shed on earth, from the blood of righteous Abel to the blood of Zechariah the son of Barachiah, whom you murdered between the sanctuary and the altar. 36 Truly, I say to you, all these things will come upon this generation. – Matthew 23:13-36 ESV

Brooklyn_Museum_-_Woe_unto_You,_Scribes_and_Pharisees_(Malheur_à_vous,_scribes_et_pharisiens)_-_James_Tissot

At this point, Jesus makes His message much more direct by turning His attention directly to the Pharisees and teachers of religious law. This is the part where He pronounces His seven woes or warnings against them. It is important to recognize that this is all about two distinctly different ways to approach God. What Jesus has to say is less about their behavior than the focus of their ministry.

Woe #1: They had a false view of the Kingdom of Heaven and how to enter it. Not only was their errant view making entrance into God’s Kingdom impossible for them, it was  slamming the door in the face of every person under their influence. They had made the attainment of righteousness all about human effort. In their minds, entrance into the Kingdom of Heaven was reserved for law-keepers, and they viewed themselves as the quitessential keepers of the law.

Woe #2: Their false view of the Kingdom of Heaven was having deadly consequences, because their refusal to accept Jesus as Messiah was condemning themselves and others to hell. They were eager to convert others to their way of thinking and to their view of the Kingdom, but the result was that these individuals ended up as lost as they were. By following the teaching of these men, the people of Israel were being deceived into believing a lie. They were placing their faith in the faulty confidence professed by these false teachers.

Woe #3: In spite of all their knowledge of the Mosaic Law, they were blind to that which the law and the prophets pointed. Jesus had already told these men that He was the primary focal point of the Hebrew Scriptures.

“You search the Scriptures because you think they give you eternal life. But the Scriptures point to me!” – John 5:39 NLT

But in their arrogance and prideful knowledge, they had missed the  whole point. They had misunderstood what really was of value in the Kingdom of Heaven. It was the Temple, that God had set apart as His own, that was holy, not the gold used to cover it. It was the altar, the place God had set aside for sacrifice, that was holy, and made anything placed on it holy. Ultimately, it is God who makes heaven holy and gives it its value. They focused their attention on the wrong things. They were materially minded, not spiritually focused. Their whole practice of making and keeping oaths was little more than a series of man-made loopholes and escape clauses designed to give them an easy out from having to do what they swore to do. They could appear holy and righteous, without having to accept any of the cost or consequences. And Jesus pointed out that they were really minimizing and trivializing the holiness of God.

Woe #4:They misunderstood the true nature of the Kingdom because they tended to major on the minors. Since they believed that entrance into the Kingdom was based on keeping of the law, they ended up nitpicking the law to death. Jesus accused them of being meticulously observant of laws concerning tithing of fruit, grain and other produce – to the point of absurdity. But in doing so, they conveniently overlooked the more important commandments: Justice, mercy and faith.

Jesus borrowed from their own Scriptures to remind them of God’s own words concerning this matter.

No, O people, the Lord has told you what is good,
    and this is what he requires of you:
to do what is right, to love mercy,
    and to walk humbly with your God. – Micah 6:8 NLT

In all their zeal to tithe unscrupulously, they were failing to keep the two greatest commandments To love God and love others.

Woe #5: They had a false understanding of what constitutes righteousness in the Kingdom. God was interested in the INSIDE, not the OUTSIDE. Yet their focus was solely on the externals. They made behavior modification their goal, rather than heart transformation. But Jesus had taught just the opposite. “But the things that come out of the mouth come from the heart, and these things defile a person. For out of the heart come evil ideas, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false testimony, slander. These are the things that defile a person; it is not eating with unwashed hands that defiles a person” (Matthew 15:18-20 NLT).

These men were all about appearances. They lived to impress and were addicted to the praise of men. As long as they looked good, they believed that they were good. External appearances and outward behavior were the criteria by which they judged a man’s righteousness, but God looks at the condition of the heart.

Woe #6: This one supports the previous one. It reveals their false concept of what it took to become clean or righteous. Again, they had replaced heart transformation with behavior modification. They spent all their time obsessing about outward appearances, while ignoring the internal state of their souls. Rather than heart-felt repentance, they focused on outward reformation. Rather than acknowledge their sin, they simply attempted to cover it up with good deeds and religious effort.

Jesus described them as painted tombs. Not exactly a compliment. Their outward display of righteous behavior was like putting makeup on a pig. It didn’t change reality. A well-manicured grave, covered with flowers and its tombstone meticulously clean, can’t change the fact that beneath the surface lies death and decay.

Woe #7: In failing to recognize their own sinful condition, they had become just like their ancestors – rebellious, stubborn and resistant to God. The Israelites had built tombs and monuments to honor the prophets of God, but had failed to listen to them. In fact, they had killed many of them. And Jesus made it clear that the religious leaders of Israel had done the same thing in His day, rejecting the most recent prophet of God: John the Baptist. And in just a matter of days, they would arrange to have the very Son of God put to death, just as Jesus had predicted. After Jesus was out of the way, they would end up persecuting and killing the disciples as well.

“Therefore, I am sending you prophets and wise men and teachers of religious law. But you will kill some by crucifixion, and you will flog others with whips in your synagogues, chasing them from city to city.” – Matthew 23:34 NLT

Misplaced passion

Why was Jesus so upset with these men? What drove Him to treat them so harshly? They were passionate. They were zealous. They were religious. BUT THEY WERE DANGEROUS! They had become obstacles to the Kingdom of Heaven. Their misplaced zeal had led to them to become stumbling blocks.

“Jesus said to his disciples, ‘Stumbling blocks are sure to come, but woe to the one through whom they come! It would be better for him to have a millstone tied around his neck and be thrown into the sea than for him to cause one of these little ones to sin.’” – Luke 17:1-2 NET

These men DID NOT represent the way to the Kingdom of Heaven. They didn’t even know the directions. But where do we see this today? In the myriad of false and pseudo-Christian religions. We see it in anyone who denies that salvation is through faith alone in Christ alone. We need to learn to look for these characteristics.

  1. Posing as spokesmen for God, but denying people access to the Kingdom of God
  2. Giving people false hope by offering them a false gospel
  3. Providing easy work-arounds to true holiness and commitment to God
  4. Judging righteousness based on their own standards, rather than God’s
  5. Refusing to acknowledge sin, while emphasizing self-righteousness
  6. Putting undue emphasis on the praise of men, rather than that of God
  7. Failing to see their status as enemies of God

The spirit of the Pharisees is alive and well today. It’s evident in every religion that refuses to acknowledge Jesus Christ as the only way. It’s prevalent in many main-stream denominations that preach a gospel of works, not grace. It can be found anytime legalism and rule-keeping replaces love of God and others. It shows up whenever our religion becomes more important than our relationship with Christ. It takes the form of hypocrisy. When what we say we believe fails to impact the way we behave. When we love the praise of man more than pleasing God.

English Standard Version (ESV)
The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT)
Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

(MSG)Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

Follow the Leader.

1 Then Jesus said to the crowds and to his disciples, “The scribes and the Pharisees sit on Moses’ seat, so do and observe whatever they tell you, but not the works they do. For they preach, but do not practice. They tie up heavy burdens, hard to bear, and lay them on people’s shoulders, but they themselves are not willing to move them with their finger. They do all their deeds to be seen by others. For they make their phylacteries broad and their fringes long, and they love the place of honor at feasts and the best seats in the synagogues and greetings in the marketplaces and being called rabbi by others. But you are not to be called rabbi, for you have one teacher, and you are all brothers. And call no man your father on earth, for you have one Father, who is in heaven. 10 Neither be called instructors, for you have one instructor, the Christ. 11 The greatest among you shall be your servant. 12 Whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and whoever humbles himself will be exalted.” – Matthew 23:1-12 ESV

Christ-and-the-pharisees_by-Ernst-Zimmerman.jpegJesus had left the Pharisees speechless. Matthew records that, “no one was able to answer him a word, nor from that day did anyone dare to ask him any more questions” (Matthew 22:46 ESV). They had come with their questions, designed to trip Jesus up and expose Him to. the people as a fraud and a fake. But Jesus had turned the tables on them, asking them a question of His own and exposing their ignorance of the Scriptures they revered and their blindness to the reality of His position as their Messiah.

There men were part of the spiritual leadership of Israel. They were the revered and looked up to by the people. They, along with the Sadducees and scribes, were experts in the law of Moses. And yet, Jesus revealed that their knowledge of the Scriptures was insufficient and incomplete. In fact, in John’s gospel, we have these powerful words of Jesus, pointing out their obsession to the written word of God, but their stubborn refusal to accept the incarnate Word of God who came that they might have life.

“You pore over the Scriptures because you presume that by them you possess eternal life. These are the very words that testify about Me, yet you refuse to come to Me to have life.” – John 5:39-40 BSB

Immediately after His latest and last confrontation with the Pharisees, Jesus turned to those around Him and delivered a blistering attack on the scribes and Pharisees. Chapter 23 of Matthew is one of the harshest sections found in the Scriptures. In it, we find Jesus unloading on the Pharisees in a rather uncharacteristic way. But this is NOT a personal attack. He was dealing with those who had become roadblocks to the Kingdom. By rejecting Him, they were rejecting the rule and reign of God Himself. These men were supposed to be pointing people to God, but were actually doing just the opposite!

Earlier in His earthly ministry, the Pharisees had accused Jesus of working for and by the power of Satan. But He had responded to their accusation by saying, “Anyone who isn’t with me opposes me, and anyone who isn’t working with me is actually working against me. So I tell you, every sin and blasphemy can be forgiven – except blasphemy against the Holy Spirit, which will never be forgiven.” (Matthew 12:30-31 NLT).

The religious leaders had positioned themselves against Jesus and therefore, against God. They were denying the work of God as manifested by the power of God (the Holy Spirit), and attributing it all to Satan. So, in this particular teaching moment, Jesus pronounced a series of warnings or “woes” against the religious leaders of Israel. But rather than direct His attack at the source of the problem, Jesus chose to speak to those who were the unsuspecting victims of the Pharisees’ influence.

All of the warnings found in this passage would have come as a shock to the average Jew because they looked up to and admired the religious leaders as icons of virtue and the keepers of religious law. But Jesus gives His audience a few pieces of advice regarding these men.

Don’t follow their lead

The Pharisees had set themselves up as the official interpreters of the Law of Moses. They were the “experts.” But they were usurpers to the title. God had not appointed them as such. They were a man-made organization, and their name was derived from an Aramiac word that means “separated.” They were separatists and saw themselves as the true keepers of the law of Moses. And they certainly KNEW the law, which is why Jesus told the people to listen to and obey what the Pharisees SAID concerning the law.

“So practice and obey whatever they tell you…” – Matthew 23:3a NLT

But notice what Jesus said next:

“…but don’t follow their example. For they don’t practice what they teach.” – Matthew 23:3b NLT

In other words, don’t follow their example. As long as they are talking about the content of the Law, listen. But when it came to conduct based on the Law, the people were not to use them as a model.

Don’t do what they do

Jesus made it painfully clear. These men were nothing but hypocrites. The Greek word Jesus used was a term commonly used of actors in a Greek play. In those days, the actors would commonly play multiple roles and simply don a different mask to assume a new character. So, the word hypocrite made its way into the common vernacular to refer to anyone who was a “mask-wearer.” They were not what they appeared to be. For the Pharisees, everything was all about appearances. They had perfected the art of performance. Which is why Jesus warned, “Everything they do is for show” (Matthew 23:5 NLT).

Don’t love what they love

These men loved recognition and being noticed for their “spirituality.” In fact, they were addicted to being the center of attention. It showed up in their obsession with titles. They enjoyed being called “rabbi” or “teacher.” They took great pride in being recognized for their knowledge and expertise. Not only that, they saw their superior intellect and spiritual elitism as deserving of the peoples’ praise. They expected to be served, not serve. They loved themselves more than they loved God or others. In essence, these men were religious exhibitionists! They were little more than performance artists who had perfected the art of impressing others. But they failed to impress God and His Son.

A higher standard

Jesus seems to have focused His attention directly on His disciples when He said, “But you are not to be called rabbi, for you have one teacher, and you are all brothers” (Matthew 23:8 ESV). He didn’t want His followers to be obsessed with titles. He didn’t want them seeking the praise of men. They were to be brothers. Their role in the Kingdom of God was not to be about rank and privilege or power and position. In fact, their whole perspective was to change, as they recognized the heavenly nature of their new relationship with God.

“…call no man your father on earth, for you have one Father, who is in heaven…” – Matthew 23:9 ESV

And they were not to seek the title of “teacher” or “instructor.” In other words, they were not to covet the role of the expert like the Pharisees did.

“Neither be called instructors, for you have one instructor, the Christ…” – Matthew 23:10 ESV

Contrary to what the Pharisees believed, Jesus was to be their sole instructor in the things of God. The word Jesus used is kathēgētēs and it means, “master, guide, or instructor.” The Messiah was to be their source of all wisdom. Even the written word of God points to the incarnate Word of God. To become an expert in the Scriptures, but fail to obey the One of whom the Scriptures speak, would be futile and, ultimately, folly.

Finally, Jesus reminded His disciples of their need to live lives of servitude, not significance.

“The greatest among you shall be your servant. Whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and whoever humbles himself will be exalted.” – Matthew 23:11-12 ESV

Their lives were to mirror His own, not those of the Pharisees. This was not new information to the disciples. Jesus had already told them, “For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve others and to give his life as a ransom for many” (Matthew 20:28 ESV). They were to model their lives after His. And in just a matter of days, they would stand by and watch as their rabbi, teacher, friend, and Messiah gave His life as a ransom for many. They would see Him betrayed, unjustly tried, brutally beaten, wrongly accused, and violently crucified. All so that they might have eternal life. Jesus was anything but a play actor. He was far from a hypocrite. He would prove to the way, the truth and the life. And the role model for every Christ-follower.

You must have the same attitude that Christ Jesus had.

Though he was God,
    he did not think of equality with God
    as something to cling to.
Instead, he gave up his divine privileges;
    he took the humble position of a slave
    and was born as a human being.
When he appeared in human form,
    he humbled himself in obedience to God
      and died a criminal’s death on a cross. – Philippians 2:5-8 NLT

English Standard Version (ESV)
The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT)
Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

(MSG)Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

Blind Guides.

1 Then Pharisees and scribes came to Jesus from Jerusalem and said, “Why do your disciples break the tradition of the elders? For they do not wash their hands when they eat.” He answered them, “And why do you break the commandment of God for the sake of your tradition? For God commanded, ‘Honor your father and your mother,’ and, ‘Whoever reviles father or mother must surely die.’ But you say, ‘If anyone tells his father or his mother, “What you would have gained from me is given to God,” he need not honor his father.’ So for the sake of your tradition you have made void the word of God. You hypocrites! Well did Isaiah prophesy of you, when he said:

“‘This people honors me with their lips,
    but their heart is far from me;
in vain do they worship me,
    teaching as doctrines the commandments of men.’”

10 And he called the people to him and said to them, “Hear and understand: 11 it is not what goes into the mouth that defiles a person, but what comes out of the mouth; this defiles a person.” 12 Then the disciples came and said to him, “Do you know that the Pharisees were offended when they heard this saying?” 13 He answered, “Every plant that my heavenly Father has not planted will be rooted up. 14 Let them alone; they are blind guides. And if the blind lead the blind, both will fall into a pit.” 15 But Peter said to him, “Explain the parable to us.” 16 And he said, “Are you also still without understanding? 17 Do you not see that whatever goes into the mouth passes into the stomach and is expelled? 18 But what comes out of the mouth proceeds from the heart, and this defiles a person. 19 For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false witness, slander. 20 These are what defile a person. But to eat with unwashed hands does not defile anyone.” – Matthew 15:1-20 ESV

Matthew now moves the scene from Jesus walking on water to Him walking the streets of Jerusalem, where He was confronted by a contingent of Pharisees and scribes. These self-righteous religious leaders had a bone to pick with Jesus, and were anxious to expose what they believed to be His blatant disregard for the tradition of the elders. This was a reference to the man-made rules and regulations established by men and found in the Mishnah. In this case, the Pharisees and scribes were wanting to know why the disciples of Jesus did not follow the regulations concerning ceremonial cleansing. This had nothing to do with personal hygiene, but was about cleansing from defilement, including that which resulted from contact with Gentiles.

These men were not accusing the disciples of violating the Mosaic law, but of failing to keep the rabbinical interpretations of the law. So, Jesus responds to them with a question of His own, asking them, “why do you break the commandment of God for the sake of your tradition?” (Matthew 15:3 ESV). This was a bold move on the part of Jesus, because it exposed the real issue at hand and blatantly accused these religious leaders of breaking the Mosaic law.

But before they could respond, Jesus provided proof for His accusation, explaining their tradition of korban. This was a form of offering that entailed the dedication of a gift to God that was to be offered at a later date. Think of it as a kind of tax-free savings plan. According to the tradition of the elders, someone could dedicate money or an item of value to God, but not be required to offer it immediately. The actual offering was postponed indefinitely, allowing the individual to continue to benefit from the item in the meantime. And Jesus gave an example of this interesting loophole that allowed someone to openly disregard God’s command to honor your father and mother.

This man-made rule allowed someone to circumvent their God-given responsibility to care for their aging parents by simply claiming that their resources had been dedicated to God. But all the while, they would retain full access to those resources. And Jesus exposes this clever plan for what it was: Hypocrisy and an open disregard for the law of God.

“So for the sake of your tradition you have made void the word of God.” – Matthew 15:6 ESV

And Jesus used the words of God, found in the writings of Isaiah the prophet, to condemn them.

8 “These people honor me with their lips,
    but their hearts are far from me.
Their worship is a farce,
    for they teach man-made ideas as commands from God.” – Matthew 15:8-9 NLT

These men were revered for their apparent righteousness. They were respected for their knowledge of and adherence to the Mosaic law. But Jesus exposed them as hypocrites. They were all about appearances. Their concern for what men thought about them took precedence over how God perceived them. And Jesus revealed that the real issue here had nothing to do with ceremonial cleansing, but defiled hearts.

“…it is not what goes into the mouth that defiles a person, but what comes out of the mouth; this defiles a person.” – Matthew 15:11 ESV

While the Pharisees and scribes were concerned about defiling themselves by failing to properly following the prescribed forms of ritual purification, Jesus revealed that their problem was an internal one. And the religious leaders were fully aware of what Jesus was implying and offended by it. His disciples, somewhat naively asked Jesus, “Do you know that the Pharisees were offended when they heard this saying?” (Matthew 15:12 ESV). Yes, He knew and that had been His intention all along.

According to Jesus, these men may have been religious leaders, but they had not been commissioned by God. They were self-appointed and little more than blind guides. In other words, they were worthless leaders. They had no idea where they were going and anyone who followed them would end up in a ditch. This would not be the last time Jesus attacked the hypocrisy of these men. Later on in his gospel, Matthew records even more scathing words from Jesus aimed at the Pharisees and scribes.

23 “What sorrow awaits you teachers of religious law and you Pharisees. Hypocrites! For you are careful to tithe even the tiniest income from your herb gardens, but you ignore the more important aspects of the law—justice, mercy, and faith. You should tithe, yes, but do not neglect the more important things. 24 Blind guides! You strain your water so you won’t accidentally swallow a gnat, but you swallow a camel!

25 “What sorrow awaits you teachers of religious law and you Pharisees. Hypocrites! For you are so careful to clean the outside of the cup and the dish, but inside you are filthy—full of greed and self-indulgence! 26 You blind Pharisee! First wash the inside of the cup and the dish, and then the outside will become clean, too.

27 “What sorrow awaits you teachers of religious law and you Pharisees. Hypocrites! For you are like whitewashed tombs—beautiful on the outside but filled on the inside with dead people’s bones and all sorts of impurity. 28 Outwardly you look like righteous people, but inwardly your hearts are filled with hypocrisy and lawlessness.– Matthew 23: 23-28 NLT

Peter, most likely speaking on behalf of all the disciples, asked Jesus to explain Himself. Peter felt like Jesus was using yet another parable and was anxious to understand what He meant. But Jesus, expressing surprise at their lack of understanding, explained, “For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false witness, slander” (Matthew 15:19 ESV). This was all about the condition of the heart, not the keeping of man-made rules. Ritual purification could do nothing to change the inner state of a man. Keeping rules regarding outward purity will not produce a clean heart. But a defiled heart will produce all kinds of unclean behavior. The religious leaders were focusing all their attention on the outside, but Jesus had come to renew the inside. He was offering true cleansing from sin that began with a new heart.

As will be the case from this point on, Jesus is attempting to teach His disciples some very important truths regarding righteousness. It begins in the heart. Our outward behavior cannot make us righteous before God, because He sees the true condition of our hearts. And His assessment is that the human heart is in bad shape.

“The human heart is the most deceitful of all things,
    and desperately wicked.
    Who really knows how bad it is?
10 But I, the Lord, search all hearts
    and examine secret motives.
I give all people their due rewards,
    according to what their actions deserve.” – Jeremiah 17:9-10 NLT

No man can make himself righteous before God through outward adherence to rules and regulations. Our good behavior, even on our best day, is viewed by God as tainted by sin.

We are all infected and impure with sin. When we display our righteous deeds, they are nothing but filthy rags. – Isaiah 64:6 NLT

The problem with the Pharisees and scribes was that they were blind to their need for a Savior. They viewed themselves as right before God because they were religious about rule-keeping. They were ritually pure, but sadly, inwardly defiled because of their sin-filled hearts. And they refused to accept the remedy for their heart problem: Jesus Christ.

English Standard Version (ESV)
The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT)
Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

False Professions.

“Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?’ And then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.’– Matthew 7:21-23 ESV

Jesus is not done addressing the danger of false prophets, those ravenous wolves in sheep’s clothing, whose appearance may be deceptive, but whose fruit is not. They can disguise their true nature, but they can’t hide what comes out of their heart. They can claim to be followers of Christ, but Jesus makes it clear, “You will recognize them by their fruits” (Matthew 7:16 ESV). And in today’s passage, Jesus will go on to describe their fruit as lawlessness. The Greek word is anomia, and it literally means “without law.” It can be translated iniquity or wickedness, but refers to contempt for and violation of law. These false prophets may claim to prophesy in the name of Jesus, but He refers to their actions as lawless and, therefore, wicked. And they are not alone. Jesus lists others who will claim to be His followers, but who will prove to be nothing more than fakers and posers. Calling Jesus “Lord” is not what gets you into heaven. Expressing allegiance to Him is not what saves you. It is not what brings you the approval and blessing of God.

Later on in Jesus’ ministry, He is approached by a group of Jews who had been in the crowd the day He had miraculously fed the crowd with nothing more than a few loaves of bread and a couple of fish. Jesus knows why they are there and exposes their motives:

“Truly, truly, I say to you, you are seeking me, not because you saw signs, but because you ate your fill of the loaves.” – John 6:26 ESV

In other words, they were there for more food. So, Jesus tells them:

“Do not work for the food that perishes, but for the food that endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man will give to you.” – John 6:27 ESV

Jesus is trying to offer them something far greater and more beneficial than temporary food. He is inviting them to discover eternal life. But their minds are stuck on a horizontal plane, and are driven by their base desire for more food. So, they respond:

“What must we do, to be doing the works of God?” Jesus answered them, “This is the work of God, that you believe in him whom he has sent.” – John 6:28-29 ESV

The work of God, that which God would have them do, is to believe in Jesus as their Savior. Calling Him, “Lord, Lord” is not necessarily an expression of belief. And Jesus makes it clear that the day is coming when there will be those who claimed to be His followers will be exposed for what they really were: Hypocrites. The difficult thing is that these very people will appear to be doing all that they do in Jesus’ name. They will prophesy in His name, cast out demons in His name, and do mighty works in His name. But Jesus describes as of it as lawless, because they do not truly represent Him.

In our current age, there are many who claim to be speaking on behalf of Jesus. They speak His name and call Him, “Lord, Lord”. Some even do miracles and perform mighty works in His name. But Jesus would have us investigate their fruit – the fruit of their hearts. They may not be all that they appear to be. And the outward display of their allegiance to Christ may be nothing more than a cover-up for their true motives. The trouble is that, while we are here on this earth, we will be surrounded by fakers and charlatans. And many of them will be placed in our midst by Satan himself. Jesus makes this clear in a parable He told.

“The Kingdom of Heaven is like a farmer who planted good seed in his field. But that night as the workers slept, his enemy came and planted weeds among the wheat, then slipped away. When the crop began to grow and produce grain, the weeds also grew.

“The farmer’s workers went to him and said, ‘Sir, the field where you planted that good seed is full of weeds! Where did they come from?’

“‘An enemy has done this!’ the farmer exclaimed.

“‘Should we pull out the weeds?’ they asked.,

“‘No,’ he replied, ‘you’ll uproot the wheat if you do. Let both grow together until the harvest. Then I will tell the harvesters to sort out the weeds, tie them into bundles, and burn them, and to put the wheat in the barn.’” – Matthew 13:24-30 NLT

We will not always be able to tell the wheat from the tares. But they will be there. It is a guarantee. But when Jesus says, “On that day…”, He is referring to a future day when the wheat and the tares will be divided and those that don’t belong will be judged and dealt with. There is a judgment coming and God will separate the sheep from the goats, the saved from the lost. And there will be those who will claim, “Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?”, and they will hear Jesus say, “‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness” (Matthew 7:23 ESV).

There have been and always will be those who claim to followers of Christ, but who are really nothing more than false professors. Their spirituality is not what saves them. Their use of Jesus name and regular attendance in church do not bring them approval with God. They refuse to do the will of God, to believe on Jesus as their Savior and Lord. Instead, they believe that their religious fervor will save them. They put their trust in their good deeds, prayers, fasts, and acts of generosity. They go to church. They attend Bible studies. They listen to countless sermons. But they refuse to do the one thing God has commanded that all would do if they desire to be made right with Him and gain His approval: Believe in His Son as their sin substitute. When the Philippian jailer asked Paul and Silas what he must do to be saved, they simply stated: “Believe in the Lord Jesus and you will be saved” (Acts 16:31 NLT). Belief, not behavior is the key to salvation. That is not to say that behavior is not important, but that behavior is a byproduct of true belief. That is why Jesus said, “You will recognize them by their fruits” (Matthew 7:16 ESV). The fruit of the Spirit is what flows out of the life of the one who has placed His faith in Christ. But those who have refused to believe in Him, their “fruit” has a completely different character: “sexual immorality, impurity, lustful pleasures, idolatry, sorcery, hostility, quarreling, jealousy, outbursts of anger, selfish ambition, dissension, division, envy, drunkenness, wild parties, and other sins like these” (Galatians 5:19-21 NLT).

There will be false professions. There will be those who claim to be followers of Christ, but their motives are wrong. They will say all the right things. They will do many of the things a Christ-follower would be expected to do. They will sit next to us in the pews on Sunday morning, attend our small groups, go on mission trips, give their money and devote their time to worthy causes. But the day will come when they will say, “Lord, Lord” and He will say, “‘I never knew you; depart from me.”

Remember, Jesus has already warned us that the gate is narrow and the path is difficult that leads to the kingdom of God. And while there are few who will take that path, there will still be some who appear on it who don’t belong there. Their presence on the path will have nothing to do with faith in Christ, but will be based on human effort. They will profess to be followers of Christ, but will really be relying on their own merit to get themselves into the kingdom. They will appear to be on the path, but rather than relying on the power of the Holy Spirit, they will be walking in the flesh. Rather than depending upon the guidance of the Holy Spirit, they will be following desires of their own hearts and the counsel of men. And the day will come when their false profession will come face to face with the truth of the gospel and Jesus’ claim, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me” (John 14:6 ESV).

English Standard Version (ESV)
The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT)
Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

Pray Like This.

“Pray then like this: Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name. Your kingdom come,
your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread, and forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors. And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.

“For if you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you, but if you do not forgive others their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses. – Matthew 6:9-15 ESV

Jesus has just told His audience how not to pray. They were not to pray hypocritically, pretending to be concerned with God, but actually trying to impress those around them with their prayerful piety. And He told them not to pray lengthy, repetitive prayers, in the hopes that God might see them as more holy, and answer their prayers more readily. Jesus knew there was a lot about the practice of prayer that was misunderstood by His listeners and causing them to misuse and abuse it. They had turned prayer into little more than an outward display of their own apparent righteousness. They prayed to impress and to gain the approval of men. So, what should proper prayer look like? That is the question that Jesus answers in these verses. He opens with the statement: “Pray then like this…” (Matthew 6:9 ESV).  What follows is a model for prayer. It was not intended to be a stand-in for your own prayers or to become some kind of daily recitation that we pray routinely and mechanically. In these verses, Jesus provides us with a model to be followed, not a prayer to be recited. It contains the key elements that should be found in all of our prayers. And it provides a simple, easy-to-follow outline for proper prayer.

First of all, Jesus would have us remember that prayer is not about us. It is, first and foremost, about God and our relationship with Him as child to Father. We are more than free to come to God with our needs, wants, and even our desires. But we must attempt to bring those needs, wants and desires within His will. So, Jesus begins His model prayer with the words:

Our Father in heaven…

Jesus sets up an interesting juxtaposition. He refers to God as our Father, but reminds us that His residence is in heaven. The term “father” communicates intimacy. We are to come before God as a child, recognizing that He loves and cares for us. Realizing that He is our provider and protector. He loves and cares for us, and He is also responsible for us. Which is why Jesus would have us never forget that, in prayer, we are talking to the transcendent God of the universe. He is in heaven. We are on earth. The word, “heaven” is intended to remind us of God’s divinity. He is divine and we are human. He is eternal and we are temporal. He is holy, while we are marred by sin. And yet, we can come before Him and talk with Him. In fact, the author of Hebrews tells us to “come boldly to the throne of our gracious God. There we will receive his mercy, and we will find grace to help us when we need it most” (Hebrews 4:16 NLT). But we must always remember that God is both good and great. He is approachable, but we must never come into His presence flippantly or disrespectfully. One of the problems that can develop from the father/child relationship is a spirit of over-familiarity. Children can become too comfortable with their parents and begin to treat them like peers. A parent who refuses to maintain their proper position of authority may end up with a child who becomes demanding toward them, even demeaning. The old phrase, “familiarity breeds contempt”, can become true of the parent/child relationship. It can produce an attitude of flippancy and disrespect. And the same thing can happen in our relationship with God the Father. We are His children, but that relationship should not cause us to forget about His sovereignty over us. We are never to forget that it is Christ who provides us with access to God. Jesus would later say, “No one comes to the Father except through me” (John 14:6 ESV). And Paul reminds us:

Because of Christ and our faith in him, we can now come boldly and confidently into God’s presence. – Ephesians 3:12 NLT

But let us do so respectfully, honoring Him as both God and Father. We must not let our newfound familiarity with God breed contempt for Him.

Next. Jesus provides us with an interesting way to address our Father God.

…hallowed be your name…

Now, why would Jesus insert this line in His model prayer? Think about what this statement is saying. The word translated “hallowed” is from the Greek word hagiazo, which means “to separate from profane things and dedicate to God.” The English word “hallow” means “to honor as holy; consider sacred; venerate.” But why would we need to say to God that His name be treated as holy? Isn’t His name always holy? One of the things we must understand is the extreme importance a man’s name held in the Hebrew culture. A man’s name was tied to his character. So to say to God, “hallowed be your name” was a statement of desire. We are not asking God to keep His name holy, but that we, as His children, might live in such a way that we do nothing to profane His name. To say, “hallowed be your name” is to express to him our desire and intention to live in such a way that we bring honor and glory to Him. We are pledging to treat His name as holy, and we do so by our actions. God will never do anything that will discredit or dishonor His own name. But as His children, we can do immeasurable harm to the character of God by the manner in which we conduct our lives on this planet.

The next part of Jesus’ model prayer states:

…your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven…

Notice the emphasis: His kingdom. His will. Not ours. Prayer is not to be focused on us, but on God. Prayer is not primarily when we get to tell God things all the things we think He doesn’t know and the lengthy list of things we think we need. Jesus has just said, “your Father knows what you need before you ask him” (Matthew 6:8 ESV). Prayer is an opportunity to align our will with His. It is a chance to remind ourselves that we exist for the good of His kingdom, not the other way around. And to ask that His kingdom and will be done “on earth as it is in heaven” is to say to God that we want His rule and reign to permeate every area of our life, just as it does in heaven. It is a will submission to His authority over us.

One of the things Jesus seems to want us to know is that prayer is about sharing our hearts, not information. Prayers allows us to…

…realign our perspective

…refocus our attention

…reveal our sin

…refresh our commitment

…request His assistance

Prayer should focus on His kingdom, not ours. It should stress His will, not ours. But that does not mean we are not free to ask of God. But Jesus provides us with a sobering reminder of just what we should focus on when we ask of God.

Give us this day our daily bread…

Here is the interesting thing about Jesus’ model prayer. Wanting God’s will to be done should change what we ask for. If we truly believe that God is all-knowing, all-powerful, all-loving and fully capable of providing for us what we need for life, we will trust Him to do so. Our priorities will change. Rather than seeking significance and satisfaction from those things the world offers, we will be content to trust God to meet our daily needs. Thomas L. Constable describes our daily bread as:

“the necessities of life, not its luxuries. This is a prayer for our needs, not our greeds. The request is for God to supply our needs day by day.” – Thomas L. Constable, Notes on Matthew, 2008 Edition

The next request Jesus makes in His prayer is that of forgiveness.

…and forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors…

But weren’t all our sins paid for on the cross? Why do we need forgiveness? Because we still have sin natures. Because we still sin. And sin creates a barrier between God and us. The forgiveness Jesus is talking about has nothing to do with salvation, but with restoring fellowship with God. Sin indebts us to God. When we confess those sins, it brings forgiveness.

If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgives us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. – 1 John 1:9 ESV

Confession restores fellowship. Fellowship with God should mean more to us than anything else. But is Jesus teaching that our forgiveness from God is tied to our willingness to forgive others? To refuse to forgive others shows open disregard for the forgiveness of God. To refuse to forgive is sin. It is against the will of God for His children.

Since God chose you to be the holy people he loves, you must clothe yourselves with tenderhearted mercy, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience. Make allowance for each other’s faults, and forgive anyone who offends you. Remember, the Lord forgave you, so you must forgive others. – Colossians 3:12-13 NLT

The next part of His prayer is intriguing.

…and lead us not into temptation…

Is Jesus suggesting that we ask God not to tempt us? If so, He would be contradicting what James would later write, “Let no one say when he is tempted, ‘I am being tempted by God,’ for God cannot be tempted with evil, and he himself tempts no one” (James 1:13 ESV). Paul seems to muddy the waters even more:

No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation he will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it. – 1 Corinthians 10:13 ESV

The Greek word for “temptation” is peirasmos and it can mean a trial or testing. It can refer to an inner temptation to sin, but also to a trial that tests the character. So what is Jesus suggesting? That we have an awareness of our dependence upon God. That we recognize that God’s way never leads us to sin. That doesn’t mean we WON’T sin. It is to ask God to protect us from falling into sin along the way. We need His help not to sin as He leads us. Following God’s leadership will not be easy. There will be trials along the way. Which is what Jesus is referring to when He adds:

…but deliver us from evil…

God will not only lead us, He will deliver us. He can keep us from committing evil. He can protect us from the evil committed against us. Remember what Jesus prayed in the garden:

I do not ask that you take them out of the world, but that you keep them from the evil one. – John 17:15 ESV

Jesus ends this section by revisiting the issue of forgiveness. It was obviously important to Him. An unforgiving person has never fully understood or appreciated the forgiveness of God. How can we, who have been forgiven so much, be unwilling to forgive others? The key to receiving God’s forgiveness is confession – an acknowledgement of our sin. To not forgive others is to sin against them. And we can’t just confess that sin, we need to rectify it. We need to forgive, as we have been forgiven. In fact, we demonstrate whether we have been forgiven by whether or not we will forgive others.

English Standard Version (ESV)
The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT)
Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

Praying For Praise.

And when you pray, you must not be like the hypocrites. For they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and at the street corners, that they may be seen by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward. But when you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you.

“And when you pray, do not heap up empty phrases as the Gentiles do, for they think that they will be heard for their many words. Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him. – Matthew 6:5-8 ESV

The Jews were a praying people. Prayer was an important part of their religious practice. They had prayers, like the Shema, that were to be recited both morning and evening. Services were held throughout the day at the synagogue where the people of Israel could gather for prayer. So, prayer was not uncommon among those who heard Jesus speak that day. Jesus was not promoting the need for prayer. He was trying to expose the false motivation behind their prayers. Once again, He warns them against hypocrisy – a form of play-acting, where outward appearances were meant to be deceiving. The Greek word is hypokritēs and was used to describe an actor in a play. An actor’s job was to pretend to be someone else, and a good actor was successful when the audience became convinced that he was who he was pretending to be.

The problem Jesus is attempting to address is the presence of hypocrisy in matters of faith. Posing and pretending were not to be part of the life of a child of God. Prayer was important to God. Communication between Almighty God and man was important to Him. Prayer was a means by which men could express their needs to God, but also declare the glories of God. They could ask things of Him, but were also expected to offer praises to Him for all He had done for them already. And yet, prayer had become just another means of promoting personal piety. Praying in public, where others could see and hear you, was a way to not only get noticed, but admired for your obvious spirituality. Public praying was a way to put your righteousness on display, for all to see. But Jesus says, “When you pray, don’t be like the hypocrites who love to pray publicly on street corners and in the synagogues where everyone can see them” (Matthew 6:5 NLT). The purpose of prayer is not to get noticed by men, but heard by God. Prayer was not meant to be a public display of your piety or personal righteousness. Remember what Jesus said? “Beware of practicing your righteousness before other people in order to be seen by them” (Matthew 6:1 ESV). Like alms-giving, prayer had become nothing more than a means to an end, and the end was the praise of men. When Jesus warns them not to practice “your righteousness” before other people, He is not complimenting them on what they are doing. He is not telling them that their giving of alms and public prayers were righteous acts. He is describing what they were doing as self-righteousness. It was their own, self-produced brand of righteousness. And just so we’re clear, Jesus is not saying that alms-giving or public prayer are wrong. He is simply using these two things as examples of good and godly things that had become misunderstood and misused by men and women who were desperately wanting others to see them as something they were not. They wanted to be viewed by their peers as righteous and holy, so all they did, they did to get noticed.

But Jesus is out to tell them that they are focused on the wrong audience. They are trying to convince the wrong people of their righteousness. It should have been God they were worried about, not men. He should have been the focus of their prayers. And rather than spending their time trying to convince others that they were something they were not, they would have been better off letting God know exactly who they were. It was Os Guinness who wrote, “I live before the audience of One – before others I have nothing to gain, nothing to lose, nothing to prove.”

It is important that we recognize that Jesus is not condemning public prayer. But prayer is intended, first and foremost, to be a spiritual activity. It is meant to be a conversation between man and God. Prayer is intended for adoration, confession, thanksgiving and supplication. It is meant to give to God (glory, honor, adoration). But it also provided as a means by which men can get from God (forgiveness, healing, guidance). Jesus is rejecting the idea of righteousness being inextricably linked to public prayerfulness. Jesus is saying that, if you pray to impress men, you will fail to gain approval from God. Acts of righteousness done with nothing more than recognition in mind are not acts of righteousness at all, but right things done for the wrong reason. Jesus is exposing the kind of prayer that is self-focused, and meant to get you seen and heard. It’s prayer meant to impress, not confess. It’s prayer meant to gain the praise of men, not offer praise to God. It’s prayer designed to boost our reputation before men, not confess our transgressions before God.

So, what are we to do? Not pray? No, Jesus says that we are to go into our room, shut the door and pray to God – in private – where no one else can see. And God, who sees all, will not only see you, He will hear you, and reward you. He will bless you, approve of you, and express His pleasure with you by answering your prayers. The apostle John tells us,

And we are confident that he hears us whenever we ask for anything that pleases him. And since we know he hears us when we make our requests, we also know that he will give us what we ask for. – 1 John 5:14-15 NLT

In essence, Jesus is telling us that if prayer in order to impress men and to get their praise, we will get what it is we desire: Their praise. But we won’t get what we prayed for from God. If getting noticed for our prayers is more important to us than getting our prayers answered by God, we will become well-known and revered for our prayer life, but God won’t become known for His answers to our prayers. Prayers prayed to get noticed by men, will always fail to get men to notice God. But our responsibility as God’s children is to bring Him glory, not us. We are here to point men and women to God, not to us. We are meant to lift Him up, not ourselves.

Jesus goes on to describe an aspect of prayer with which we all struggle. How do you get God to hear and answer you? So, even if you prayer in private, where no one can hear you but God, how do you make sure He really does hear you? Once again, Jesus exposes a misconception. He tells them, “When you pray, don’t babble on and on as the Gentiles do. They think their prayers are answered merely by repeating their words again and again” (Matthew 6:7 NLT). When you talk to God, don’t try to impress Him with the length of your prayer or your choice of words. Don’t drone on and on, somehow thinking that God will be more prone to hear you if your prayer comes across as intense. It is neither the intensity or longevity of our prayers that cause God to answer. It is the motivation or our heart. James tells us, “when you ask, you don’t get it because your motives are all wrong – you want only what will give you pleasure” (James 4:3 NLT). Wrong methods. Wrong motives. That’s the problem. Later on in this same message, Jesus will say:

“Keep on asking, and you will receive what you ask for. Keep on seeking, and you will find. Keep on knocking, and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks, receives. Everyone who seeks, finds. And to everyone who knocks, the door will be opened.

“You parents—if your children ask for a loaf of bread, do you give them a stone instead? Or if they ask for a fish, do you give them a snake? Of course not! So if you sinful people know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your heavenly Father give good gifts to those who ask him.” – Matthew 7:7-11 NLT

We are to ask. And we are to trust God for the answer. He isn’t going to give us something we don’t need or can’t use. But it’s important to remember that God is not going to give us everything we ask for, because too often our motives are wrong. Also, we don’t always know what it is we actually need. We may think we need healing, but God knows we need to learn faith. We may ask God for a financial solution to our problem, when He knows that the real issue is spiritual in nature. We have a greed problem. So, rather than give us money, He teaches us to live within our means, learning to trust Him for our needs.

Sometimes, we spend far too much time asking God for things. But Jesus reminds us, “your Father knows exactly what you need even before you ask him!” (Matthew 6:8 NLT). This doesn’t mean we don’t have to ask God for things, but that the purpose behind our prayer is not to share information with God, but to communicate our dependence upon God. We don’t pray to keep God up to speed with all that is going on in our life. He already knows. We pray in order to convey to Him our complete reliance upon Him for everything in our life. Prayer is an act of submission to God. It is the adoration of God. It is a means by which we offer up our thankfulness for all that God has done and is doing in and around our life.

Prayer wasn’t meant to get you noticed by men. It also wasn’t intended to get you noticed by God. He already knows everything there is to know about you. Prayer is an expression of humility to God, showing Him that we are completely dependent upon Him for all things. But how easy it is to make prayer an expression of pride and self-promotion. So, Jesus warns us not to pray that way. But then He gives us an example of how we are to pray. But that’s for tomorrow.

English Standard Version (ESV)
The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT)
Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

Day 106 – Matthew 23:1-39; Mark 12:38-40; Luke 20:45-47

The Seven Woes.

Matthew 23:1-39; Mark 12:38-40; Luke 20:45-47

“What do you think about the Messiah? Whose son is he?” They replied, “He is the son of David.” – Matthew 22:42 NLT

Chapter 23 of Matthew is one of the harshest sections of the Scriptures. In it, we find Jesus unloading on the Pharisees in a rather uncharacteristic way. But this is NOT a personal attack. He is dealing with those who had become roadblocks to the Kingdom. By rejecting Him, they were rejecting the Kingdom, rule, and reign of God Himself. These men were supposed to be pointing people to God, but were actually doing just the opposite! Remember what Jesus had said to the Pharisees back when they accused Him of working for and by the power of Satan: “Anyone who isn’t with me opposes me, and anyone who isn’t working with me is actually working against me. So I tell you, every sin and blasphemy can be forgiven–except blasphemy against the Holy Spirit, which will never be forgiven.” (Matthew 12:30-31 NLT).

The religious leaders had positioned themselves against Jesus and therefore, against God. They were denying the work of God manifested by the power of God (Holy Spirit), and attributing it all to Satan. So Jesus pronounces a series of warnings or “woes” against them. But rather than direct His attack directly at the Pharisees, He speaks to the crowd surrounding Him. All of these warnings would have been shocking to the average Jew because they looked up to and admired the religious leaders as icons of virtue and the keepers of religious law. But Jesus gives His audience a few pieces of advice regarding these men:

Don’t follow their lead

The Pharisees had set themselves up as the official interpreters of the Law of Moses. They were the “experts.” But they were usurpers to the title – God had not appointed them as such. They certainly KNEW the Law, so Jesus told the people to listen to what the Pharisees SAID. The problem was, they failed to KEEP the Law, so Jesus said don’t do what they DO. In other words, don’t follow their example. As long as they are talking about the content of the Law, listen. But when it comes to conduct based on the Law, don’t use them as a model. “So practice and obey whatever they tell you, but don’t follow their example. For they don’t practice what they teach” (Matthew 23:3 NLT).

Don’t do what they do

Jesus makes it clear. These men are nothing but hypocrites. The Greek word Jesus uses was a term commonly used when referring to actors in the Greek plays. In the plays of those days, the actors would commonly play multiple roles and simply don a different mask to change characters. So the word became common for referring to anyone who was a “mask-wearer” or hypocrite. They were not what they appeared to be. For the Pharisees, everything was all about appearances. They had perfected the art of performance. “Everything they do is for show” (Matthew 23:5 NLT).

Don’t love what they love

They loved recognition and getting noticed for their “spirituality.” In fact, they were addicted to being the center of attention. It showed up in their obsession with titles. They enjoyed being called “rabbi” and recognized for their knowledge and expertise. They wanted to be served, not serve. They loved themselves more than they loved God or others. In essence, these men were religious exhibitionists! WHICH WOULD NOT BE AS BIG A PROBLEM – EXCEPT FOR THEIR ROLE AS LEADERS

God’s true feelings about false religion

At this point, Jesus makes His message much more direct by turning His attention directly to the Pharisees and teachers of religious law. This is the part where He pronounces His seven woes or warnings against them. It is important to recognize that this is all about two distinctly different ways to approach God. What Jesus has to say is less about their behavior than the focus of their ministry.

Woe #1

“What sorrow awaits you teachers of religious law and you Pharisees. Hypocrites! For you shut the door on the Kingdom of Heaven in people’s faces. You won’t go in yourselves, and you don’t let others enter either.” – Matthew 23:13-14 NLT

They had a false view of the Kingdom of Heaven and how to enter it. It was keeping them out AND everyone else they influenced.

Woe #2

“What sorrow awaits you teachers of religious law and you Pharisees. Hypocrites! For you cross the land and sea to make one convert, and then you turn that person into twice the child of hell you yourselves are!”Matthew 23:15 NLT

Their failure to accept Jesus as Messiah was condemning others to hell. Their false view of the Kingdom of Heaven was having deadly consequences. They were zealous to convert others to their way of thinking and to their view of the Kingdom, but the result was that these individuals ended up as lost as they were.

Woe #3

“Blind guides! What sorrow awaits you! For you say it means nothing to swear ‘by God’s Temple,’ but that it is binding to swear ‘by the gold in the Temple.’” – Matthew 23:16 NLT

In spite of all their knowledge of the Law, they were blind and couldn’t see the point of it all. They had misunderstood what really was of value in the Kingdom of Heaven. It was the Temple, that God had set apart as His own, that was holy, not the gold used to cover it. It was the altar, the place God had set aside for sacrifice, that was holy, and made anything placed on it holy. Ultimately, it is God who makes heaven holy and gives it its value. They focused their attention on the wrong things. They were materially minded, not spiritually focused.

Woe #4

“What sorrow awaits you teachers of religious law and you Pharisees. Hypocrites! For you are careful to tithe even the tiniest income from your herb gardens, but you ignore the more important aspects of the law – justice, mercy, and faith.” – Matthew 23:23 NLT

They misunderstood the true nature of the Kingdom because they tended to major on the minors. They nitpicked the Law to death, but missed the two most important commandments: Love God and love others (Justice, mercy and faith).

Woe #5

“What sorrow awaits you teachers of religious law and you Pharisees. Hypocrites! For you are so careful to clean the outside of the cup and the dish, but inside you are filthy – full of greed and self-indulgence!” – Matthew 23:25 NLT

They had a false understanding of what constitutes righteousness in the Kingdom. It was the INSIDE God was interested in, not the OUTSIDE. Their focus was on the externals rather than the internal. They made behavior modification their goal, rather than heart transformation. But Jesus had taught just the opposite. “But the things that come out of the mouth come from the heart, and these things defile a person. For out of the heart come evil ideas, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false testimony, slander. These are the things that defile a person; it is not eating with unwashed hands that defiles a person” (Matthew 15:18-20 NLT).

Woe #6

“What sorrow awaits you teachers of religious law and you Pharisees. Hypocrites! For you are like whitewashed tombs – beautiful on the outside but filled on the inside with dead people’s bones and all sorts of impurities.” – Matthew 23:27 NLT

This one supports the previous one. It reveals their false concept of what it took to become clean or righteous. Again, they had replaced heart transformation with behavior modification. They spent all their time obsessing about outward appearances, while ignoring the internal state of their souls. Rather than heart-felt repentance, they focused on outward reformation. Rather than acknowledge their sin, they simply attempted to cover it up with good deeds and religious effort.

Woe #7

“What sorrow awaits you teachers of religious law and you Pharisees. Hypocrites! For you build tombs for the prophets your ancestors killed, and you decorate the monuments of the godly people your ancestors destroyed. Then you say, ‘If we had lived in the days of our ancestors, we would never have joined them in killing the prophets.’” – Matthew 23:29-30 NLT

In failing to recognize their own sinful condition, they had become just like their ancestors – rebellious, stubborn and resistant to God. They built tombs and monuments to honor the prophets, but had failed to listen to God’s prophet: John the Baptist. In just a few days, they would arrange to have the very Son of God put to death, just as Jesus had predicted. And after Jesus was out of the way, they would end up persecuting and killing the disciples as well . “Therefore, I am sending you prophets and wise men and teachers of religious law. But you will kill some by crucifixion, and you will flog others with whips in your synagogues, chasing them from city to city” (Matthew 23:34 NLT).

Misplaced passion

Why was Jesus so upset with these men? What drove Him to treat them so harshly? They were passionate. They were zealous. They were religious. BUT THEY HAD BECOME DANGEROUS! They had become obstacles to the Kingdom of Heaven. Their misplaced zeal had led to them becoming stumbling blocks. “Jesus said to his disciples, ‘Stumbling blocks are sure to come, but woe to the one through whom they come! It would be better for him to have a millstone tied around his neck and be thrown into the sea than for him to cause one of these little ones to sin.’” (Luke 17:1-2 NET).

These men DO NOT represent the way to the Kingdom of Heaven. They don’t even know the directions. But where do we see this today? In the myriad of false and pseudo-Christian religions. We see it in anyone who denies that salvation is through faith alone in Christ alone. We need to learn to look for these characteristics.

  1. Posing as spokesmen for God, but denying people access to the Kingdom of God
  2. Giving people false hope by offering them a false gospel
  3. Providing easy work-arounds to true holiness and commitment to God
  4. Judging righteousness based on their own standards, rather than God’s
  5. Refusing the acknowledge sin, while emphasizing self-righteousness
  6. Putting undue emphasis on how men see them, rather than God
  7. Failing to see their status as enemies of God

The spirit of the Pharisees is alive and well today. It’s evident in every religion that refuses to acknowledge Jesus Christ as the only way. It’s prevalent in many main-stream denominations that preach a gospel of works, not grace. It can be found anytime legalism and rule-keeping replaces love. It shows up whenever our religion becomes more important than our relationship with Christ. It takes the form of hypocrisy, when what we say we believe fails to impact our behavior. It’s alive and well when we love the praise of man more than pleasing God.

Father, it’s easy to follow the lead of the Pharisees and become all about appearances. It is so tempting to try to deny our true condition by putting up a good front and acting the part. But You look for sincerity and integrity of heart. You are not impressed with our performance, because You can see into our hearts. Keep us from following the example of the Pharisees, but help us live humbly, obediently and dependently on You. Amen.

Ken Miller
Grow Pastor & Minister to Men
kenm@christchapelbc.org

Day 59 – Matthew 15:1-20; Mark 7:1-23

Silly Rituals. Serious Business.

Matthew 15:1-20; Mark 7:1-23

“These people honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me. Their worship is a farce, for they teach man-made ideas as commands from God.” – Mark 7:6-7 NLT

The Pharisees took themselves way too seriously. But in reality, they were silly. They had become so wrapped up in their “age-old traditions” that they lost sight of just how ridiculous it all appeared. They had all kinds of cleansing ceremonies they went through before they could eat. Mark tells his primarily Gentile audience just how silly it all was. “The Jews, especially the Pharisees, do not eat until they have poured water over their cupped hands, as required by their ancient traditions” (Mark 7:3 NLT). Notice he makes a point of saying that this was required by their ancient traditions, not God. He goes on to say that “Similarly, they don’t eat anything from the market until they immerse their hands in water. This is but one of the many traditions they have clung to – such as their ceremonial washing of cups, pitchers and kettles” (Mark 7:4 NLT). They had convinced themselves that all this madness somehow made them clean and acceptable before God. They lives in fear that they could have somehow become defiled by coming into contact with something unclean of unholy. But they gave no thought to what was going on in their own hearts. Jesus makes this distinction quite clear. When they confront Jesus and demand to know why His disciples don’t follow their traditions, Jesus pulls no punches. He quotes the prophet Isaiah who was quoting God Himself. “These people honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me. Their worship is a farce, for they teach man-made ideas as commands from God” (Mark 7:6-7 NLT). This was God speaking against the city of of Jerusalem and the people of Judah. Their religion had become routine. They were going through the motions. They thought that offering sacrifices was enough. But God was more concerned about their hearts than their offerings. And Jesus was more concerned about the hardened hearts of the Pharisees than He was their silly ceremonies for staying clean.

Their real problem was that they gave more credence to their own rules than God’s commands. They came up with all kinds of convenient work-arounds and loop holes that allowed them to ignore God’s commands and do what they wanted to do. And Jesus made it clear what they were doing. “And so you cancel the word of God in order to hand down your own tradition” (Mark 7:13 NLT). Their rules trumped God’s laws. Their silly rituals held more sway in their lives than the righteous demands of a holy God. And not only that, their rituals were worthless. They didn’t even accomplish what they hoped they would. Because the only impurity God is concerned about is that which is on the inside. God is obsessed with clean hearts, not clean hands. Jesus tells the crowd, “It is what comes from inside that defiles you” (Mark 7:20 NLT), not what comes from the outside. It is that which comes from a person’s heart that defiles him, and no amount of ceremonial hand washing is going to fix that problem.

These men had focused on the wrong thing. They were wasting their time obsessing over the externals, when inside they were corrupt, selfish, self-centered, egotistical, and in direct opposition to the will of God. They refused to acknowledge Jesus as the Messiah. They credited His power as having come from Satan. They called Him a drunk. They ridiculed Him and tried everything in their power to discredit Him and, ultimately, would go out of their way to see that He was put to death. Their example of ceremonial hand washing and ritualistic cleansing was sending a wrong message to the people, and Jesus cleared it up. He made it painfully obvious that these men were far from pure and anything but holy. And the list He gave was more than likely one that applied to these sanctimonious religious leaders. “For from within, out of a person’s heart, come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, greed, wickedness, deceit, lustful desires, envy, slander, pride and foolishness. All these vile things come from within; they are what defile you” (Mark 7:21-23 NLT). Interestingly enough, there is no recorded response from the Pharisees. No rebuttal. No defense. No denial. The conversation simply ends. Which speaks volumes. Jesus knew their hearts better than they did. And while they were content to play their silly games and pretend that they were holy, Jesus was letting them know that God takes holiness seriously and saw the true condition of their hearts.

Father, You can see into our hearts and You know things about us that we don’t even know ourselves. Forgive us thinking that the silly religious rituals we go through somehow make us right with You. Keep us focused on our own hearts and never let us forget that only You can cleanse the heart. We simply need to confess our sin and allow You to forgive and cleanse. You are in the heart transformation business. Don’t let us settle for the anything less. Amen.

Ken Miller

Grow Pastor & Minister to Men
kenm@christchapelbc.org

Day 32 – Matthew 5-7:29

The Narrow Gate.

Matthew 5-7:29

“You can enter God’s Kingdom only through the narrow gate. The highway to hell is broad, and its gate is wide for the many who would choose that way. But the gateway to life is very narrow and the road is difficult and only a few ever find it.” – Matthew 5:13-14 NLT

This is what is typically referred to as the Sermon on the Mount. Jesus finds Himself surrounded by a crowd of people, so He takes advantage of the situation and uses it as an opportunity to instruct them about His views regarding the Kingdom of God. It is important to keep in mind that His audience would have already had an understanding about God’s Kingdom and their part in it. More than likely, the majority in the crowd that day were Jews and they would have seen themselves as already members of God’s Kingdom as descendants of Abraham. They were God’s chosen people. They had the Law, given to them by God through Moses. They had the Temple, where they believed God dwelt and there they regularly offered their sacrifices and offerings. They saw themselves as set apart and different from the so-called pagans of the world, who worshiped false gods. If you would have asked them, they would have said that they were a blessed people. Not that they necessarily enjoyed their lives or were satisfied with how things had turned out for them, but they would have had a nationalistic pride in being Jews.

Then along comes Jesus. In this sermon or message, He turns much of their world upside down. He does a data dump on them that would have left most of them reeling and wondering what this was all about. In fact, Matthew tells us, “the crowds were amazed at his teaching, for he taught with real authority – quite unlike their teachers of religious law” (Matthew 7:29 NLT). Jesus blew them away. He addressed everything, including their perspective on the blessings of God to the true meaning of the law and how to interpret it. Jesus upped the ante. He raised the bar and increased the standard. But what Jesus was sharing was not a list of things to do. He was not describing a new set of laws to keep. He was presenting a new way of life. His audience had lived their lives under the oppressive requirements of the law. They were stuck under a system that required them to keep the law in order to have a right relationship with God. But it was impossible. And yet, it would appear that Jesus is only adding the burden. He tells them to, “let you good deeds shine out for all to see” (Matthew 5:16 NLT) and “unless your righteousness is better than the righteousness of the teachers of religious law and the Pharisees, you will never enter the Kingdom of Heaven!” (Matthew 5:20 NLT). Talk about a shock to the system. Then Jesus went on to tell them that God’s standard for righteousness was even greater than they understood the law to be. Anger was just as bad as murder. Lust was equivalent with adultery. Rather than hate your enemy, you must love and pray for him. And when it came to things like prayer, fasting, and giving – you were to do it in secret, so no one could see what you were doing and be impressed with your efforts. In other words, righteousness was to come from the heart, and was not to be done for show. Which was a far cry from the way things were done in that day. Rather than seeking the accolades and appreciation of men, you were to look to God for your reward. He was to be your focus. Rather than worry about money, materialism and the things of this world. your focus was to be on God and His Kingdom. You were to trust Him for all your needs. You were to make His Kingdom and rule your highest priority. Your life was to be known for its fruitfulness. Not self-effort, but the fruit that is produced through you by God. Your actions should be an indicator and identifier of who you were and who you belonged to. “Yes, just as you can identify a tree by its fruit, so you can identify people by their actions” (Matthew 7:20 NLT).

This entire sermon was an attempt by Jesus to get the people in His audience to recognize their need for what He came to offer. Jesus did not come to abolish or do away with the law, but to fulfill it. He came to keep it in its entirety. He came to obey His Father completely. He was going to do what no man alive could ever do. He would be the righteousness of God. He would be the one to completely satisfy the just demands and requirements of God by keeping His law down to the last detail. In doing so, He would qualify as a worthy sacrifice for the sins of man. He would be able to be that spotless, sinless sacrifice to pay for the penalty required for man’s sinfulness and rebellion against a holy God. And in so doing, He would provide a way for men to live out what He was laying out in the Sermon on the Mount. The contents of this message were no less impossible for the people of His audience to keep than was the original law. He is painting a picture of life made available through faith in Him. That is why He says, “You can enter God’s Kingdom only through the narrow gate” (Matthew 7:13 NLT). Later on Jesus would make it clear when He said, “Yes, I am the gate. Those who come in through me will be saved. They will come and go freely and will find good pastures. The thief’s purpose is to steal and kill and destroy. My purpose is to give them a rich and satisfying life.” (John 10:9-10 NLT). What Jesus was describing in this message was the rich and satisfying life He came to offer. But it was only going to be available through faith in Him. It was only going to be made possible through His death and resurrection. This was a description of Kingdom life, made possible through the sacrifice of the Son of God. It would be life with a new perspective, a new foundation, a new purpose and a new source of strength.

Father, rather than lower Your standards, You provided a solution to our problem. We were unable to keep Your righteous standards and live our lives in faithful obedience to Your law. So You sent Your Son to do what we could never do. And in doing so, You made it possible for us to live the life you expected us to live all along. You have given us the capacity and the power to live just as Jesus described it in this passage. Sacrificially, selflessly, humbly, obediently, faithfully, dependently, and happily. All because of the life Jesus Christ lived and the death He died. Thank You. Amen.

Ken Miller

Grow Pastor & Minister to Men
kenm@christchapelbc.org

Day 29 – Matthew 12:9-14; Mark 3:1-6; Luke 6:6-11

Hardened Hearts.

Matthew 12:9-14; Mark 3:1-6; Luke 6:6-11

“He looked around at them angrily and was deeply saddened by their hard hearts.” – Mark 3:5 NLT

Another Sabbath and yet another confrontation between Jesus and the Pharisees. Jesus was teaching in the synagogue in the village of Capernaum. In the crowd there is a man there with a deformed hand. But there is also a group of Pharisees who are closely watching Jesus’ every move to see if He attempts to “work” on the Sabbath by healing someone, thus breaking the law. In fact, Matthew records the question they posed to Jesus, in hopes that His answer would condemn Him. “Does the law permit a person to work by healing on the Sabbath?” (Matthew 12:10 NLT).

Jesus knows their hearts and so he brings up the man with the deformed hand and has him stand in front of the crowd, in full view of everyone. Then Jesus confronts His antagonists and asks them a simple question in return: “Does the law permit good deeds on the Sabbath, or is it a day for doing evil? Is this a day to save life or to destroy it?” (Mark 3:3 NLT). His enemies are speechless, not knowing how to respond.  So Jesus continues, “If you had a sheep that fell into a well on the Sabbath, wouldn’t you work to pull it out? Of course you would. And how much more valuable is a person than a sheep! Yes, the law permits a person to do good on the Sabbath” (Matthew 12:11 NLT).

This exchange between Jesus and these religious leaders causes Him to be both angry and sad. He is angry at their insensitive hearts and their indifference to the needs of those around them. They are more concerned with their rules and regulations than they are for the people under their care. But who exactly were these men and what were their responsibilities. In essence, the Pharisees were a religious sect or order. Their name seems to mean “separated ones.” But what or whom were they separated from? The general consensus is that they separated from the ‘people of the land,’ the ‘am ha’ares. This was a designation of the illiterate and the unrefined people of the land, the peasants, whose illiteracy impeded any careful fidelity to the religious duties such as concerned tithes and cleanness” (Alan Ross, The Religious World of Jesus). They tended to view the common people as ignorant and cursed (John 7:49). They tended to equate their separateness with holiness. That’s why they were constantly shocked by Jesus’ decision to eat and associate with the common people, including all manner of sinners. These men also prided themselves in their refusal to be tainted by the influence of the Greeks and Romans. They considered themselves the few remaining “pure” Jews, who kept themselves untainted by outside influence. They were prideful, arrogant and brutally condemning of all those who disagreed with them.

Jesus is angered by their attitudes and saddened by their hard hearts. In all their religious fervor, they had become hardened to the real point of having faith in God. They didn’t share God’s heart. They were incapable of seeing the world from God’s perspective. In fact, they had attempted to fit God into their own mold, and force Him to operate according to their standards. To them, God was just another Pharisee or rule-keeper. And yet Jesus, as the Son of God, revealed to them the very heart and nature of God the Father. He was compassionate, caring, empathetic, loving, sensitive and responsive to the needs of men – all men. He had a special place in His heart for the condemned, disenfranchised, broken, helpless, hopeless, sinful and needy. It was God’s love for mankind that motivated Him to send His Son in the first place. It was not that God jettisoned His law and replaced it with love. No, God still had exacting standards and His requirement was still sinless perfection. But He knew that no man, Pharisee or other, could ever meet that standard. He gave His law to reveal to man his insufficiency and need. Then He sent His Son to do what no man had ever done before – keep the law of God perfectly and live His life sinlessly. He became the perfect, sinless sacrifice to pay for the sins of man. That is just how much God loves us.

But the Pharisees represent all self-righteous individuals who still believe that it is the keeping of rules that sets us apart from the rest, that our ability to perform earns us favor with God. But this attitude angers and saddens the Savior. It keeps us from recognizing our need for Him, and it prevents us from seeing ourselves as no better than any other man or woman who walks the face of the earth. We too, are sinners saved by grace. We are in need of the mercy of God every day of our lives. Of all people, we should share Christ’s passion for the lost and a heart for those still suffering from the effects of sin.

Father, give us a heart like Your Son had. Help us to see the world the way He did. Don’t let us live our lives or view ourselves as somehow better than everyone else. We have been transformed because of Your grace and mercy, not because we somehow deserved or earned it. Give us the ability to see others the way You do. Motivate us to extend grace in the same way it has been extended to us. Amen.

Ken Miller

Grow Pastor & Minister to Men
kenm@christchapelbc.org