13th June 2023
Read (Matthew 23v1-12)
Message (Scott Woodburn)
You probably haven't heard of Major Dick Winters but in the dying days of World War II, Winters led his men in the successful capture of Adolf Hitler's Eagle's Nest at Berchtesgaden. In later years his exploits inspired the TV series "Band of Brothers" which told the story of Major Winters' company and the great suffering they endured. Winters died in 2011 with one of his colleagues paying tribute in this way "When he said 'Let's go,' he was right in the front. He was never in the back. A leader personified. He was a good man, a very good man. I would follow him to hell and back." Imagine that as a tribute at you funeral..."I would follow him to hell and back"...it seems like Dick Winters was a leader worth following.
Tragically the Pharisees categorically failed to offer the people of Israel any substantive leadership. They took the teaching of Moses seriously and therefore they "sat in his seat" but at their core it was all style without substance (v2-3). Jesus said that the Pharisees taught one thing but did another, indeed the things they preached were not the same as the things they practiced (v3). Everything the Pharisees did was to be seen by others (v5) and yet they were happy to force heavy religious burdens on the shoulders of the people without offering them so much as a raised finger in help (v4).
Jesus continued and stated that the Pharisees had broad phylacteries and long fringes (v5). What did the Lord mean? A phylactery was a little box containing verses of Scripture and was worn on the forehead and on the left arm close to the heart. A fringe was added to a garment as a reminder to the wearer to keep God's commandments (Numbers 15v37-38). A broad phylactery and a long fringe was a public display of the Pharisees desire to be noticed - they had taken good things and used them in a display of arrogance.
No surprise then that Jesus tells is that the Pharisees loved to have the place of honour at feasts, the best seat in the synagogue and to be greeted as "rabbi" in the marketplace (v6-7). Teddy Roosevelt was the 26th President of the United States of America. His daughter Alice described him in this way “My father always wanted to be the corpse at every funeral, the bride at every wedding and the baby at every christening.” It seems that President Roosevelt and the Pharisees shared a similar attitude - "Look at me!"
Needless to say, the Lord had no regard for the actions of the Pharisees. Instead the followers of Christ were and are to be marked by servanthood and humility (v11-12). If the Pharisees loved to be seen and called "teacher" by the people, then Christ's followers have no need for such things. God is our Father, Christ is our Teacher and we are united as brothers and sisters in the faith (v8-10). The true Christian attitude is one that seeks to serve others and one which walks the path of humility rather than exaltation.
I don't know what will be said at my funeral but I'm reminded of what was said about Charles Hodge by his friend Henry Boardman "Christ was not only the ground of his hope, but the acknowledged sovereign of his intellect, the soul of his theology, the unfailing spring of his joy, the one all pervading, all glorifying theme and end of his life." I hope my life might be accurately described in a similar way. We don't need to follow Christ to hell and back, His work is finished and it is glorious indeed. Nevertheless, we do need to follow Him and when all others fail or disappoint us, Jesus never will. Christ is all, follow Him.
Q71 What is required in the seventh commandment? The seventh commandment requireth the preservation of our own and our neighbor’s chastity, in heart, speech, and behaviour.