LIFE OF CHRIST
In in our last lesson, we finished up looking at Matthew 22. In this lesson, we begin looking at Matthew 23. Please keep in mind that we are looking at all the events and teachings that occurred on the last Tuesday of Jesus’ earthly life, which began in Mt. 21:18.
Matthew 23 can be broken down in to three main sections.
First, in verses 1-12, Jesus teaches His disciples to follow the teaching of the Scribes and Pharisees when they teach the Law of Moses, but not to follow their examples because they do not practice what they preach.
Second, in verses 13-36, Jesus pronounces eight woes on the Scribes and Pharisees for their hypocrisy.
Third, in verses 37-39, Jesus expresses His sorrow over the Jews for rejecting Him because He knows what this means for them and for Jerusalem itself.
I am going to take a little extra time with this chapter and dig a little deeper with what it says. Now, I do not normally do this, but before I start breaking this chapter down verse by verse, I want to read it in its entirety so that you can have the complete picture of what Jesus has said in your minds. So, let’s begin.
Matthew 23:1 Then Jesus spoke to the multitudes and to His disciples, 2 saying: "The scribes and the Pharisees sit in Moses' seat. 3 "Therefore whatever they tell you to observe, that observe and do, but do not do according to their works; for they say, and do not do. 4 "For they bind heavy burdens, hard to bear, and lay them on men's shoulders; but they themselves will not move them with one of their fingers. 5 "But all their works they do to be seen by men. They make their phylacteries broad and enlarge the borders of their garments. 6 "They love the best places at feasts, the best seats in the synagogues, 7 "greetings in the marketplaces, and to be called by men, 'Rabbi, Rabbi.' 8 "But you, do not be called 'Rabbi'; for One is your Teacher, the Christ, and you are all brethren. 9 "Do not call anyone on earth your father; for One is your Father, He who is in heaven. 10 "And do not be called teachers; for One is your Teacher, the Christ. 11 "But he who is greatest among you shall be your servant. 12 "And whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted. 13 "But woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you shut up the kingdom of heaven against men; for you neither go in yourselves, nor do you allow those who are entering to go in. 14 "Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you devour widows' houses, and for a pretense make long prayers. Therefore you will receive greater condemnation. 15 "Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you travel land and sea to win one proselyte, and when he is won, you make him twice as much a son of hell as yourselves. 16 "Woe to you, blind guides, who say, 'Whoever swears by the temple, it is nothing; but whoever swears by the gold of the temple, he is obliged to perform it.' 17 "Fools and blind! For which is greater, the gold or the temple that sanctifies the gold? 18 "And, 'Whoever swears by the altar, it is nothing; but whoever swears by the gift that is on it, he is obliged to perform it.' 19 "Fools and blind! For which is greater, the gift or the altar that sanctifies the gift? 20 "Therefore he who swears by the altar, swears by it and by all things on it. 21 "He who swears by the temple, swears by it and by Him who dwells in it. 22 "And he who swears by heaven, swears by the throne of God and by Him who sits on it. 23 "Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you pay tithe of mint and anise and cummin, and have neglected the weightier matters of the law: justice and mercy and faith. These you ought to have done, without leaving the others undone. 24 "Blind guides, who strain out a gnat and swallow a camel! 25 "Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you cleanse the outside of the cup and dish, but inside they are full of extortion and self-indulgence. 26 "Blind Pharisee, first cleanse the inside of the cup and dish, that the outside of them may be clean also. 27 "Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you are like whitewashed tombs which indeed appear beautiful outwardly, but inside are full of dead men's bones and all uncleanness. 28 "Even so you also outwardly appear righteous to men, but inside you are full of hypocrisy and lawlessness. 29 "Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! Because you build the tombs of the prophets and adorn the monuments of the righteous, 30 "and say, 'If we had lived in the days of our fathers, we would not have been partakers with them in the blood of the prophets.' 31 "Therefore you are witnesses against yourselves that you are sons of those who murdered the prophets. 32 "Fill up, then, the measure of your fathers' guilt. 33 "Serpents, brood of vipers! How can you escape the condemnation of hell? 34 "Therefore, indeed, I send you prophets, wise men, and scribes: some of them you will kill and crucify, and some of them you will scourge in your synagogues and persecute from city to city, 35 "that on you may come all the righteous blood shed on the earth, from the blood of righteous Abel to the blood of Zechariah, son of Berechiah, whom you murdered between the temple and the altar. 36 "Assuredly, I say to you, all these things will come upon this generation. 37 " O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the one who kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to her! How often I wanted to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, but you were not willing! 38 "See! Your house is left to you desolate; 39 "for I say to you, you shall see Me no more till you say, 'Blessed is He who comes in the name of the LORD!' "
Some might read this chapter and think that Jesus was
having a bad day or that He finally let His anger with the Scribes and
Pharisees get to Him, so He did like many of us have done and unleashed the
beast within on those who are frustrating us. While I will agree that Jesus was
certainly strongly rebuking these men at this time, I can know with certainty
that He was not out of control like some of us when we get frustrated. He
certainly did not sin by what He did. Instead, based on the context, especially
the last few verses, I see a very passionate rebuke that was done with a heart
of compassion for their souls.
While Jesus spoke strong words against them, it exactly what they needed to hear whether they wanted to hear it or not. We have all heard the expression, “you can catch more flies with honey than vinegar.” While the meaning of this expression is general true, sometimes the best method to make an impact in a person life that will change is them is straight talk with no honey.
Obviously, Jesus has a great advantage over any of us because He knew the heart of man. So, He knew exactly the perfect time to either speak with a soft voice and gently lead someone to the right conclusion or when to rebuke someone strongly. While we might fail at reading a certain situation and say the wrong thing, we just have to make the best decision we can at the moment at how we should deal with a person or a situation. If we fail, we can learn from our mistakes, but we should not think that all we can do is use honey because honey just doesn’t work with certain people and certain situation. However, we should always have the same compassionate attitude that Jesus had even if we find ourselves being angry at a particular sin.
There are at least three reasons Jesus needed to rebuke these Scribes and Pharisees in the way that He did. These are the same reasons that we may rebuke sinners over as well.
1. The evil way needs to be exposed.
Amos 5:15 Hate evil, love good;
Romans 12:9 Let love be without hypocrisy. Abhor what is evil. Cling to what is good.
Ephesians 5:11 And have no fellowship with the unfruitful works of darkness, but rather expose them.
As Christians, we should also hate the evil way. In fact, the more despise evil, the easier it will be for us to stay away from sin and understand just how bad it is. One of the reasons, Jesus was exposing the sin of the Scribes and Pharisees to everyone present is our second point.
2. The people needed to see what kind of men these were so they could know that what they were doing was sinful.
We have to understand that these Scribes and Pharisees were the leaders of their people. When you lead, people are going to follow your example whether good or bad. When leaders are living a sinful lifestyle, those following them need to know that what they are doing is not right. Otherwise, those following them will start practicing the same sin. Notice what Paul taught Timothy regarding elders in the church.
1 Timothy 5:19 Do not receive an accusation against an elder except from two or three witnesses. 20 Those who are sinning rebuke in the presence of all, that the rest also may fear.
We can see that elders have some protection against the loan person who has issue with them. However, if an elder is living in sin and others know about it, then Paul says that two or three witnesses must bear witness of this sin and that the elder is it to be rebuked in front of everyone, so that anyone who might have thought the sin he was doing was acceptable, will know that it is not.
A great example of this comes from the apostle Peter who found himself caught up in sin as we read in:
Galatians 2:11 Now when Peter had come to Antioch, I withstood him to his face, because he was to be blamed; 12 for before certain men came from James, he would eat with the Gentiles; but when they came, he withdrew and separated himself, fearing those who were of the circumcision. 13 And the rest of the Jews also played the hypocrite with him, so that even Barnabas was carried away with their hypocrisy. 14 But when I saw that they were not straightforward about the truth of the gospel, I said to Peter before them all, "If you, being a Jew, live in the manner of Gentiles and not as the Jews, why do you compel Gentiles to live as Jews? 15 "We who are Jews by nature, and not sinners of the Gentiles, 16 "knowing that a man is not justified by the works of the law but by faith in Jesus Christ, even we have believed in Christ Jesus, that we might be justified by faith in Christ and not by the works of the law; for by the works of the law no flesh shall be justified. 17 "But if, while we seek to be justified by Christ, we ourselves also are found sinners, is Christ therefore a minister of sin? Certainly not! 18 "For if I build again those things which I destroyed, I make myself a transgressor. 19 "For I through the law died to the law that I might live to God. 20 "I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me. 21 "I do not set aside the grace of God; for if righteousness comes through the law, then Christ died in vain."
We can clearly see that Peter’s hypocrisy was influencing others like Barnabas to follow his lead, but thankfully, like Jesus, Paul rebuked Peter before them all, so that they could all know what Peter was doing was wrong and they should not follow him in his hypocrisy. Now this leads us to the third reason Jesus rebuked the Scribes and Pharisees.
3. The Scribes and Pharisees needed to repent.
Not only did Jesus expose their sin and teach those looking up to them a great lesson, He was also trying to reach them with the truth so that they would repent.
Proverbs 9:8 … Rebuke a wise man, and he will love you. 9 Give instruction to a wise man, and he will be still wiser; Teach a just man, and he will increase in learning.
Proverbs 28:23 He who rebukes a man will find more favor afterward Than he who flatters with the tongue.
While nobody really likes to be wrong or admit that they are wrong, we should listen carefully when someone rebukes us and take it to heart because sometimes we lose sight of ourselves and many times we can learn a great deal from examining the rebuke toward us. If we find that there some truth to the rebuke, then we should make some changes. We should have the attitude expressed in:
Psalm 141:5 Let the righteous strike me; It shall be a kindness. And let him rebuke me; It shall be as excellent oil; Let my head not refuse it. For still my prayer is against the deeds of the wicked.
One of the main themes of Matthew 23 is hypocrisy. As I said earlier, Jesus had advantage over us today because He knew with certainty if a person was playing the hypocrite. However, we should be careful at jumping to conclusion with little or no facts, but this does not mean that we can never know when one is being a hypocrite because all you have to do is watch what fruit a person produces. You can put up a sign and call a tree an apple tree all day long, but if it produces oranges, then it becomes clear that it is not an apple tree. Now let’s get into our text.
Matthew 23:1 Then Jesus spoke to the multitudes and to His disciples, 2 saying: "The scribes and the Pharisees sit in Moses' seat. 3 "Therefore whatever they tell you to observe, that observe and do, but do not do according to their works; for they say, and do not do.
Here we see Jesus is rebuking the Scribes and Pharisees in the midst of His disciples and others that were there. When Jesus said that they sit in Moses’ seat, He is saying these men are the ones who are supposed to be leading the people in the way of the Law.
Some synagogues actually contained a chair called Moses’ Seat and were usually made of stone or marble. Traditionally, when the synagogue leader would read Scripture he would stand, but when he expounded on the Scripture, he would sit down in this seat. There are examples of this teaching style found in Scripture such as Lk. 4:20 where Jesus stands to read Scripture and the sits to explain that Scripture He read being fulfilled by Him.
When He tells them to observe what they say, He is referring to when they speak about the Law of Moses and not their traditions. Jesus never had a problem with the Scribes and Pharisees teaching the truth. No, His problem with them was hypocrisy, and He gives a great definition of what hypocrisy is, when He said, “they say, and do not do.”
The ESV says: For they preach, but do not practice.
In other words, they preach the truth concerning Moses’ law, but they do
not keep it. This is great message for all because it teaches us that just
because the preacher or teacher does not follow what he is teaching is no
excuse for us not to keep the truth that the he is teaching.
This same principle is true when it comes to teaching our children. We can teach them the right way every time, but if our actions do not match up with our teaching, they are not going to respect us, and many times they will do those same things we told them not because they we do them. So, there has to consistency. If you are teaching something for someone to follow and you expect the follow it, then you better be following it as well.
However, unlike some children who think it ok to do the wrong thing if their parents do the wrong thing, we must not be like that. Instead, we should hear the truth and keep the truth despite the actions of those who teach it.
Next Jesus says:
Matthew 23:4 "For they bind heavy burdens, hard to bear, and lay them on men's shoulders; but they themselves will not move them with one of their fingers.
The Law of Moses by itself was quite the burden because it required perfect
obedience according Galatians 3:10. In Peter said this about the Law of Moses:
Acts 15:10 "Now therefore, why do you test God by putting a yoke on the neck of the disciples which neither our fathers nor we were able to bear?
I believe the heavy burden mentioned here also includes all the traditions the Jewish leaders had added to the Law of Moses. For example, they had made the command to keep the Sabbath Holy into a very burdensome day because they invented all kinds of crazy things as part of this law such as saying that a man cannot spit on the ground on the Sabbath because it might plow the ground.
We learn from Jesus that these Jewish leaders had a double standard. This reminds me of our national leaders who play their part in passing laws for the people to follow, but then exempt themselves from some of those same laws. So, the Jewish leaders would bind everything they taught on the people and make them suffer every consequence of any broken law or tradition, but they excluded themselves from this burden. However, Jesus says this about them next:
Matthew 23:5 "But
all their works they do to be seen by men. They make their phylacteries broad
and enlarge the borders of their garments. 6 "They love the
best places at feasts, the best seats in the synagogues, 7 "greetings in the
marketplaces, and to be called by men, 'Rabbi, Rabbi.'
Though these Jewish leaders excluded themselves from practicing what they preach, they would take the opportunity to do some good deed as long as plenty of people were watching because it was all about looking good and receiving praise from men. Jesus also pointed this out in the Sermon on the Mount, where He talked about how these Pharisees would give, pray, and fast in front of others to receive their praise.
Phylacteries were small leather boxes containing Scripture, which the Jews wore on their foreheads and left arms. Michael J. Wilkins described two intact phylactery cases, as well as fragments of others, that were discovered at Qumran in Cave 1. One type was about an inch long, with four small compartments for housing four tiny scrolls. On these would have been written Exodus 13:9, 16; Deuteronomy 6:8, 11:18 respectively. This type of phylactery was worn on the forehead. The other type was about 1/3 inch and had only one compartment. One tiny scroll would have contained all four verses in minute script. This phylactery was worn on the left arm (Truth for today commentary on Matthew p.277).
The rabbis had taken the symbolic text of Deut. 6:8 and 11:18, which meant that God’s people were to always have God’s Word in their hearts and minds, and took it literally. So, this is the reason they would wear these phylacteries. You will notice that Jesus said they made them broad. In other words, they thought the bigger they made them, the more righteous they were.
In a similar way, they enlarged the borders of the garments. Other translations make this clearer because they use the word tassels or fringes. Unlike the phylacteries, the Law of Moses did tell the men to wear these tassels on all four corners of their garment to remind them of the Law (Deut. 22:12; Num. 15:38-39). However, they would make sure their tassels were longer and bigger than others. Again, it was simply a show to others about how righteous they were. Mark and Luke both add this about these Jewish leaders.
Mark 12:38 Then He said to them in His teaching, "Beware of the scribes, who desire to go around in long robes, love greetings in the marketplaces, 39 "the best seats in the synagogues, and the best places at feasts, 40 "who devour widows' houses, and for a pretense make long prayers. These will receive greater condemnation."
So, we learn that also would make sure that their robes were longer than everyone else’s robes. They wanted to make sure that they looked different so that everyone would know that they were special because, they were the leaders. They also expected to have the praise of men and wanted special treatment such as being greeted in the market place with honor. The expected to have the best seats at feast to show how high up they were in the social status. They wanted to be called rabbi, which was honorary title suggesting that you were an outstanding teacher.
These Jewish leaders were so materialistic that they would devour widows’ houses. What this means is that they would convince them to leave their houses to the temple, but instead, they would have it setup to go to them instead, so they could have the money from the sale of the home instead. These Jewish leaders were despicable, and they remind me of supposed religious leaders today that you see on TV, who live huge mansions, have airplanes, and other expensive toys that they buy from those who follow them. As Jesus said, these will receive greater condemnation.
Next, Jesus says:
Matthew 23:8 "But you, do not be called 'Rabbi'; for One is your Teacher, the Christ, and you are all brethren. 9 "Do not call anyone on earth your father; for One is your Father, He who is in heaven. 10 "And do not be called teachers; for One is your Teacher, the Christ. 11 "But he who is greatest among you shall be your servant. 12 "And whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.
Now some might read this and think that Jesus was saying that you should not use the term father or teacher in any way, but that is not true. I think Truth for today Commentary explains this text well. It says:
When Jesus said not to call people “father,” or “leader,” it was not a condemnation of those terms in every case. The New Testament refers to those who do the work of a “teacher” (Heb. 13:17, 24), and there is nothing wrong with calling your male parent your “father” (Eph. 6:2). Paul refereed to himself as the spiritual “father” of those whom he taught (1 Cor. 4:15 – but they still did not bestow on him the title of “Father Paul.” Rather, Christ was condemning the use of religious titles: using special designations to elevate a “select few” above the rest. Jesus emphasized, “You are all brothers.” The great apostle was just “brother Paul” (Rom. 16:1). This kind of family terminology should be sufficient for any Christian. (The Life of Christ 2, p. 311)
So, the whole idea is
for them to not be like these self-serving, self-promoting Scribes and
Pharisees. Instead of trying to elevate yourself, just be humble and be a
servant of God. As Jesus said earlier:
Matthew 20:26 … whoever desires to become great among you, let him be your servant. 27 "And whoever desires to be first among you, let him be your slave -- 28 "just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many."
So, I hope you will take what we have learned in the lesson so far and put into practice. Don’t ever be afraid to rebuke people or a practice as publically as they have made it. If someone rebukes you, examine yourself and make any necessary changes that will make you be right with God. Always do your best to practice what you preach. Realize that there are no valid excuses for you not keeping the Word of God. Finally, never allow pride, money, or fame motivate you to be a Christian. Instead, just love God and humbly submit to His will and be a servant to all.