My first graders LOVED playing the opposite game! I would say a word and they would shout the opposite with gusto. Salt, PEPPER! Open, SHUT! Good, BAD! You get the picture. The Pharisees did not. They were blind to all Jesus was trying to teach about the Kingdom of God.
We all know as we join God, by His invitation to help people find and follow Jesus into reconciliation with God, not all will follow. We will never be able to convince or persuade all people to follow the real, abundant living with God as we pointe them to the reconciliation work of Jesus Christ. For some people, no one will tell them what to do. Their only desire is to live for self, even though it is a lonely life.
God did give free will to choose. God wants us to come to Him because of our love for Him, not mere obligation to following rules. Who doesn’t want a relationship that is unconditionally loving, full of grace and mercifully kind? Well, apparently there are quite a few.
Even Jesus, Son of God, could not convince the hard-hearted Pharisees. Jesus gives the religious leaders who left God long ago, one more sermon that clarifies their sin condition. He describes who they are and what they are doing which is the opposite of Kingdom of God living. We read this carefully for we, too can fall into the trap of living life only for ourselves.
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.’”
WHAT DO WE LEARN?
We must not read this series of denunciations with the idea that Jesus lost His temper and was bitterly angry. Certainly, He was angry at their sins and what those sins were doing to the people. But His attitude was one of painful sorrow that the Pharisees were blinded to God’s truth and to their own sins. Perhaps the best way to deal with these eight “woes” is to contrast them with the eight beatitudes found in Matthew 5:1–12. In the Sermon on the Mount the Lord described true righteousness; here He described a false righteousness. Opposite Kingdom of God living is dangerous and painful, harmful and leads only to death.
- Entering the kingdom—shutting up the kingdom (v. 13; 5:3). The poor in spirit enter the kingdom, but the proud in spirit keep themselves out and even keep others out.
- Mourners comforted—destroyers condemned (v. 14; 5:4). While this verse is not in some manuscripts of Matthew, it is found in Mark 12:40 and Luke 20:47. Instead of mourning over their own sins, and mourning with needy widows, the Pharisees took advantage of people in order to rob them.
- Meek inherit the earth—proud send souls to hell (v. 15; 5:5). A proselyte is a convert to a cause. The Pharisees were out to win others to their legalistic system, yet they could not introduce these people to the living God. Instead of saving souls, the Pharisees were condemning souls!
- Hungering for holiness—greedy for gain (vv. 16–22; 5:6). “Blind guides” is a perfect description, one that must have brought a smile to the lips of the listeners. Jesus had used it before (Matt. 15:14). The Pharisees were blind to the true values of life.
- Obtaining mercy—rejecting mercy (vv. 23–24; 5:7). The Pharisees majored on minors. They had rules for every minute area of life, while at the same time they forgot about the important things. The principles of Christian giving under grace are given in 2 Corinthians 8—9. We are not content simply to give a tithe (10 percent), but we also want to bring offerings to the Lord out of hearts filled with love.
- Pure in heart—defiled in heart (vv. 25–28; 5:8). Jesus used two illustrations: the cup and platter, and the sepulcher. They both stated the same truth: it is possible to be clean on the outside and at the same time defiled on the inside. Imagine using dishes that were defiled! Whatever you put into the dish or cup would also become defiled. The Pharisees were careful to keep the outside very clean, because that was the part that men would see, and they wanted the praise of men. But God sees the heart (1 Sam. 16:7). When God looked within, He saw “greed and self-indulgence” (Matt. 23:25 niv).
- Peacemakers and persecuted are God’s children— persecutors are the devil’s children (vv. 29–33; 5:9–12). When Jesus called the Pharisees “serpents generation of vipers,” He was identifying them with Satan, who is the serpent (Gen. 3:1). In His parable of the tares, Jesus made it clear that Satan has a family (Matt. 13:38). Satan is a murderer and a liar (John 8:44), and his children follow his example. The Pharisees were liars (Matt. 23:30) and murderers (Matt. 23:34). It was traditional for the Pharisees to build, improve, and embellish the tombs of the martyrs. But it was “their fathers” who killed the martyrs! Not their biological fathers, of course, but their “spiritual fathers”—the hypocrites of the past ages.
WRAPPING IT UP…
As we review these tragic woes from the lips of our Lord, we can see why the Pharisees were His enemies. He emphasized the inner man; they were concerned with externals. He taught a spiritual life based on principles, while the Pharisees majored on rules and regulations. Jesus measured spirituality in terms of character, while the Pharisees measured it in terms of religious activities and conformity to external laws. Jesus taught humility and sacrificial service, but the Pharisees were proud and used people to accomplish their own purposes. The holy life of Jesus exposed their artificial piety and shallow religion. Instead of coming out of the darkness, the Pharisees tried to put out the Light, and they failed.
D. L. Moody used to say, “If I take care of my character, my reputation will take care of itself.” The Pharisees lived for reputation, not character.
What or who do I live for?
What is most important to me?
I chose you. You chose me. You loved me first then I loved you. I love you with all my heart, mind and soul. The more I learn about You, the more I learn I need to know. But one thing is for certain, and like Paul I have “not arrived” , but will continue to allow you to transform me into all you created me to be…your servant child. I believe. I want no part of fake, unclean living that only hurts me and those around me. I want to live for you!
In Jesus Name, Amen.