Read Matthew 23
A Warning Against Hypocrisy
23 Then Jesus said to the crowds and to his disciples: 2 “The teachers of the law and the Pharisees sit in Moses’ seat. 3 So you must be careful to do everything they tell you. But do not do what they do, for they do not practice what they preach. 4 They tie up heavy, cumbersome loads and put them on other people’s shoulders, but they themselves are not willing to lift a finger to move them.
5 “Everything they do is done for people to see: They make their phylacteries wide and the tassels on their garments long; 6 they love the place of honor at banquets and the most important seats in the synagogues; 7 they love to be greeted with respect in the marketplaces and to be called ‘Rabbi’ by others.
8 “But you are not to be called ‘Rabbi,’ for you have one Teacher, and you are all brothers. 9 And do not call anyone on earth ‘father,’ for you have one Father, and he is in heaven. 10 Nor are you to be called instructors, for you have one Instructor, the Messiah. 11 The greatest among you will be your servant. 12 For those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.
Seven Woes on the Teachers of the Law and the Pharisees
13 “Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You shut the door of the kingdom of heaven in people’s faces. You yourselves do not enter, nor will you let those enter who are trying to. 
15 “Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You travel over land and sea to win a single convert, and when you have succeeded, you make them twice as much a child of hell as you are.
16 “Woe to you, blind guides! You say, ‘If anyone swears by the temple, it means nothing; but anyone who swears by the gold of the temple is bound by that oath.’ 17 You blind fools! Which is greater: the gold, or the temple that makes the gold sacred? 18 You also say, ‘If anyone swears by the altar, it means nothing; but anyone who swears by the gift on the altar is bound by that oath.’ 19 You blind men! Which is greater: the gift, or the altar that makes the gift sacred? 20 Therefore, anyone who swears by the altar swears by it and by everything on it. 21 And anyone who swears by the temple swears by it and by the one who dwells in it. 22 And anyone who swears by heaven swears by God’s throne and by the one who sits on it.
23 “Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You give a tenth of your spices—mint, dill and cumin. But you have neglected the more important matters of the law—justice, mercy and faithfulness. You should have practiced the latter, without neglecting the former. 24 You blind guides! You strain out a gnat but swallow a camel.
25 “Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You clean the outside of the cup and dish, but inside they are full of greed and self-indulgence. 26 Blind Pharisee! First clean the inside of the cup and dish, and then the outside also will be clean.
27 “Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You are like whitewashed tombs, which look beautiful on the outside but on the inside are full of the bones of the dead and everything unclean. 28 In the same way, on the outside you appear to people as righteous but on the inside you are full of hypocrisy and wickedness.
29 “Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You build tombs for the prophets and decorate the graves of the righteous. 30 And you say, ‘If we had lived in the days of our ancestors, we would not have taken part with them in shedding the blood of the prophets.’ 31 So you testify against yourselves that you are the descendants of those who murdered the prophets. 32 Go ahead, then, and complete what your ancestors started!
33 “You snakes! You brood of vipers! How will you escape being condemned to hell? 34 Therefore I am sending you prophets and sages and teachers. Some of them you will kill and crucify; others you will flog in your synagogues and pursue from town to town. 35 And so upon you will come all the righteous blood that has been shed on earth, from the blood of righteous Abel to the blood of Zechariah son of Berekiah, whom you murdered between the temple and the altar. 36 Truly I tell you, all this will come on this generation.
37 “Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you, how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, and you were not willing. 38 Look, your house is left to you desolate. 39 For I tell you, you will not see me again until you say, ‘Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.’”
In today’s passage, we see Jesus speaking boldly to (and about) the Pharisees and other teachers of the law. Reading these words, we can pick up on the frustration Jesus must have felt in that moment due to the hypocritical way they were living, only concerned about their outer appearance and not their inner spiritual lives.
If our highest priority is not intimacy with Jesus by abiding in Him (through our prayerful keeping of His commandments), then we are limiting the joy that our lives could be filled with! In John 15, Jesus talks of this idea. He speaks of abiding in Him as He abides in the Father through the keeping of His commandments. We can be near to Him, in union with Him, as we do what He has told us. He has told us in His Word and by His Spirit what is asked of us. It is no secret and there is no hidden formula! We are told daily by our conviction and our time in His Word. This is all for our sake, our fullest joy, our enriching intimacy with Him.
We just must ask and listen consistently! Asking in prayer, hearing response in His Word and our convictions. It is not a set of rules or restrictions, but rather His desire to provide the most beautiful life through His Grace and our obedience. Jesus urges and commands us to keep His commandments. He Who created us knows what is best for us! He Who created us knows what will leave us scarred and unfulfilled. It is our best interest to pursue Jesus with a heart of devotion, not simply for the sake of perception.
Jesus withholds no harsh truth when addressing those bound in legalism. It is clear that the priority of our King Jesus is in His exhalation and the posture of our hearts. Reread the woes and warnings given by Jesus in this chapter. In reading each one, let’s ask ourselves the following questions:
- What issue(s) is this addressing?
- How does this apply to me?
- Have I been doing anything similar to this so that I can pray and labor to be changed?
Let’s take the opportunity to learn from Jesus’s words today and repent from the ways we, too, have lived as whitewashed tombs (v. 27).
- Are you worshiping God or are you worshiping what He provides you?
- Is public perception more important than keeping His commandments?
- Do you believe that He personally wants you to be free, loved, purposed, and fulfilled.
Help me to recognize where I have lost pure intention. Direct me and guide me into my fullest life of joyously following you. I ask that you reveal to me more of You great love for me and purpose in my life. Help me to follow You and guide others towards You out of the purest and most devoted heart.
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