15th June 2023
Read (Matthew 23v13-36)
Message (Scott Woodburn)
Jesus isn't an optional extra and when all is said and done the Gospel won't be just another trivial question. What an individual does with the free offer of the Gospel is a matter of life and death. Sadly, despite all of their advantages, the Pharisees provided Jesus with nothing but constant opposition.
In response the Lord pronounced seven "woes" upon his harshest critics. The number seven denotes perfection in the Scriptures and so Christ's judgement should be seen as all encompassing and complete. Furthermore, in pronouncing "woes" upon the Pharisees, Jesus was standing in the line of Isaiah who pronounced six woes upon the wicked (Isaiah 5v8-23) and Habakkuk who pronounced five woes upon the Chaldeans (Habakkuk 2v6-20).
Christ's seven woes are recorded for us in a chiastic pattern. In simple terms this means that the first and seventh woe match, the second and sixth woe match, the third and fifth woe match and the fourth woe stands as the central point. What did Jesus say?
The first woe described how the Pharisees had failed to recognise the coming of the kingdom and they had in effect shut the doors of the kingdom in the faces of the people. They didn't enter the kingdom nor did they allow others to enter (v13). The seventh woe compares well with the first (v29-31). The Pharisees boasted that if they'd lived in the days of old then they wouldn't have killed the prophets as their forefathers once did. Jesus declared that this testimony showed the Pharisees to be the sons of those who murdered the prophets. Nothing had changed - the Pharisees stood in the lineage of those who rejected the prophets and ultimately rejected Christ. They were spiritually blind and failed to see what was at the end of their nose.
The second woe stated that the Pharisees would have travelled to the ends of the earth in order to convert someone to their cause but tragically the "gospel" of the Pharisees was unable to do any spiritual good. The convert so fully embraced the ways of the Pharisees that they became "twice as much a child of hell" (v15). The sixth woe describes the Pharisees as "whitewashed tombs" - outwardly beautiful but inwardly rotten (v27-28). Christ's opponents looked zealous and passionate but their hearts were rotten and their "fruit" was bad.
Woe three showed the Pharisees as "blind guides" who sought and found loopholes in their oaths (v16-22). For them swearing by the temple didn't bind a man but swearing by the temple's gold did. Equally swearing by the altar did not bind a person but swearing by the gift on the altar certainly was considered binding. Jesus had no time for such wordplay calling upon the Pharisees to let their yes be yes and their no be no. Jesus said "So whoever swears by the altar swears by it and by everything on it. And whoever swears by the temple swears by it and by him who dwells in it. And whoever swears by heaven swears by the throne of God and by him who sits upon it." According to the fifth woe (v25-26), the Pharisees were clean on the outside but inwardly "full of greed and self-indulgence". Their words, oaths and vows were twisted and evasive because their hearts had not be transformed by the Gospel.
How can we summarise the Pharisees? Woe four offers a clear picture of the issues at stake and stands as the pinnacle of Christ's seven woes. Jesus called the Pharisees hypocrites who focused on the minor issues of the law at the expense of the heavier matters. The Pharisee made sure to honour God with a tenth of their herbs and spices but completely neglected justice, mercy and faithfulness (v23). To give a vivid picture of the Pharisees condition, Jesus said they strained out a gnat but swallowed a camel. In other words the Pharisees did their best to avoid a tiny unclean animal like the gnat but unwittingly swallowed a giant unclean animal like the camel - in fussing over the small matters they had completely missed the big matters of the faith.
Tragically the Pharisees were continuing on the work of those who had gone before (v32). They were "serpents" and "vipers" and certainly on their way to hell (v33). The Pharisees and those from ages past had opposed God's messengers throughout history, even shedding the righteous blood of God's servants (v35). This spirit of opposition had led to the death of righteous Abel and prophets like Zechariah (2 Chronicles 24v20-22) but it would certainly receive its due punishment (v36).
Opposition to Christ and His Gospel is not a noble pursuit - it always ends the same way in the pits of hell itself. Brothers and sisters, be zealous in prayer for those like the Pharisees who have no regard for Jesus. But take time to pray for your own heart that it might not be deceived by the deceitfulness of sin. May the Lord cause us to love justice, mercy and faithfulness for Christ's sake.
Q73 Which is the eighth commandment? The eighth commandment is, Thou shalt not steal.