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Why Jesus’s Harshest Rebukes Were Necessary – Matt. 23:13-39

Updated: Dec 7, 2019

May 6, 2012

INTRODUCTION – One of if not the most fiery passages or addresses by Jesus recorded in the Bible. Matthew 23:13-39 What is behind such passion and fiery language and riveting rebukes?

1. Because of the impact a shepherd (spiritual shepherd over people trying to connect with and please God) has on the sheep. These Pharisees and Scribes knew the law and the prophets like the back of their hand. There is no possible way they could not have seen the continual theme of God’s expectations for shepherds and His many rebukes to the shepherds in the Old Testament days.(Jeremiah 10:21, 12:10, 23:1,2, 50:6; & Ezekiel 34:1-10)

One of the many things Jesus Christ came to correct was the rampant abuse of the sheep by the shepherds of His day. Jesus revealed Himself as the good Shepherd early in His ministry and He made it very clear that there were shepherds that saw themselves merely as hired hands – meaning they were just in it for the paycheck, and had no genuine concern much less willingness to sacrifice for the sheep. (John 10)

2. Because of the presence of children and youth and twenty somethings who would be the future leaders of the church. If you remember from the beginning of this chapter – Jesus was addressing the crowds and His disciples. There were always children and young people present in these crowds; and the last thing in the world Jesus wanted these children and young people to believe is that God was in any way behind or in favor of or approving of these religious leaders and the way they conducted themselves.

3. This was pretty much Jesus’s parting shot to these leaders who were all headed for hell and for a judgment that would be far worse than the average person because of all those they neglected, abused, deceived, and misled. Pretty much from this point on, Jesus directed His time, energy and teaching to His 12 disciples. Thus all the woe to you pronouncements. With the destruction of Jerusalem coming in AD 70, these men didn’t have a ton of time to repent and get right with God.

4. What about all the names He called these religious leaders?: – hypocrites – vs. 13, 14, 15, 23, 25, 27, 29; noted their hypocrisy in vs. 28 – blind guides – vs. 16, 24 – fools – vs. 17 – blind men – vs. 17, 19 sons of hell – vs. 15 “You blind Pharisee” – vs. 26 “serpents” – vs. 33 brood of vipers – vs. 33

All of these names were reflective of their behavior and lifestyle; and were necessary to drive home how serious their corruption was. “fools” (vs. 17) surprised by this??

Matt. 5:21,22 “You have heard that the ancients were told, ‘You shall not commit murder’ and ‘Whoever commits murder shall be liable to the court. But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother shall be guilty before the court; and whoever says to his brother ’You good-for-nothing,’ shall be guilty before the supreme court; and whoever says, ‘You fool,’ shall be guilty enough to go into the fiery hell.”

(same greek word) context = anger/rage road rage “You idiot”! “You jerk”! not necessarily reflective of their lifestyle or behavior – – spoken at a high adrenaline level. Jesus was not out of control and not reacting to any dangerous sudden irresponsible action. He was teaching in the synagogue. One big reason Jesus could righteously get away with this and we can’t so easy is He walked in utter purity and blamelessness. He modeled the opposite of everything that He rebuked them for.

In saying this, I do think the mature spiritual leaders (not necessarily holding pastor titles) of any given city do need to grapple with the fact that by far Jesus’s harshest rebukes were for religious leaders; and there were many of them (that is – rebukes).

When someone who claims to be speaking for God and acting as His representative or servant – – willfully chooses to break His commandments and rewrites scripture in his mind to support his sinful lifestyle – – his or her lifestyle will have a very confusing and damaging effect on especially children and young people; and Jesus’s words have to be reckoned with when He said in Matt. 18:6 “but whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in Me to stumble, it would be better for him to have a heavy millstone hung around his neck, and to be drowned in the depth of the sea.”

Observations/Applications: 1. Importance of praying for our leaders (whatever is at the top trickles down & few have been trained up character wise to handle influence, power, money, etc.)

2. Importance of living by principles and not by polls. If we pastors, elders, deacons, priests – – all those who lead the church – – were to give ourselves more to being much alone with our God and allowing Him to daily make us like Christ in every aspect of our character and lifestyles; and then more aggressively praying for and building into our families; and only after that and out of those relationships with God and family – carrying out our ministries – – the church would once again turn the world upside down. But when we neglect those priorities; and operate on the basis of the squeaky wheels and the loudest voices or the opinions of the biggest givers – – then the church suffers and spirals in ungodliness and skewed priorities.

3. Can you imagine what our government would accomplish if every politician put their relationship with God first; family second; and then carried out their responsibilities out of the life and perspective that comes from those relationships instead of operating by polls or the loudest voices out there?

So what was it about their lifestyles and their leadership that Jesus was so grieved at?

7 things to avoid like the plague as you seek to grow in your usefulness to the Master; and things to pray for the leaders of Christ’s church I. Shutting the door to the kingdom for those under your influence – vs. 13 A. John the Baptist’s main message was “Repent for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” When Jesus Christ began His ministry He immediately took up where John left off and greatly enlarged upon it. The scribes and Pharisees heard these messages, but not only did they refuse to enter Jesus’s kingdom and come under His rule and reign, but they also kept those under their influence from entering it by changing the subject and keeping the focus on their own little kingdoms. Jesus says the Scribes and Pharisees actually would see people in the journey or process of entering the kingdom of heaven; and would stop them from going further. They wanted the devotion and the resources of these people; and they knew if these people entered the kingdom of heaven they would then have a new Master, who might divert some affections and resources away from them to Him and His kingdom purposes.

II. Taking advantage of widows’/vulnerable people – vs. 14 A. You might have noticed in some of your Bibles that this second woe in vs. 14 has brackets around it. Those brackets are there to inform us that this verse is not in the earliest and most reliable copies of the greek manuscript of the gospel of Matthew. If you have an NIV or RSV you probably don’t even have this verse. I want to comment on it, because even though its authenticity in the original matthew manuscript is questionable, it is repeated almost word for word in Mark 12:40 and Luke 20:47, and both of those passages are not in doubt as to their authenticity in the original mark and luke manuscripts.

B. There is one primary reason why a religious leader would have the audacity to stop people from entering the kingdom of God – and that is money and power. One of the ways these guys filled their pockets is by taking advantage of weak and vulnerable widows. These guys were shrewd and hard hearted; and it mattered not to them at all that these widows could hardly pay their bills after they gave all the offerings required of them to attain God’s favor.

C. To make matters worse, they could do this and turn right around and offer long flowing prayers – as if they actually knew and were close to God – even though they were miles away based on how they were treating God’s sheep.

III. Corrupting proselytes – vs. 15 A. These corrupt religious leaders did not have people banging down their doors to join their movement. So they had to travel far and wide to find a follower or convert. And once they found them – Jesus said they made them “twice as much a son of hell as themselves”. So what in the world does that phrase mean? The JB Phillips translation reads, “You scour land and sea to make a single convert, and then you make him twice as ripe for destruction as you are yourselves.” Perhaps what Jesus is getting at here is because the Pharisees and Scribes would put burdens and demands on people that they themselves were not even willing to follow or abide by, that were not inspired by God, but by their own religious corruption and control, when they made converts – – these people would become even more legalistic and judgmental and hateful and hardened than they were; and thus more likely to spend eternity in hell. So as sad and corrupt and hard hearted and deceitful as the Pharisees and Scribes were – their disciples were often even worse (think of Saul of Tarsus as exhibit A).

IV. The truth about swearing (not cursing) – vs. 16-22 A. These principles of religious practice devised by the Pharisees and Scribes were typical of the kinds of things they came up with that never originated with God or His word. There is something in our nature that when we are placed in authority and we do not fear God and are really in it for ourselves, we just naturally gravitate towards creating more and more laws and more and more regulations.

B. Jesus got pretty animated about the utter foolishness and ridiculousness of their logic or reasoning (or lack of). Then He explained why swearing is just not a good idea at all in vs. 20-22. If you have to swear to convince people of your integrity, you probably don’t have much if any.

V. Focusing on tithing to the exclusion of godliness; focusing on one good thing to the exclusion of many other good and even more important things – vs. 23, 24 A. Religious leaders who are in this profession because of selfish and ungodly reasons will consistently be inconsistent in their religious practice. They will emphasize some things that do have some importance, but will totally ignore other things that are even more important. Especially things that would cause them to have to stand up for unpopular moral positions, and thus Jesus’s reference to their neglecting justice. Justice requires courage, and these guys were as about as weak spined as they come. And they will almost always focus on things that help their pocketbook like tithing.

VI. Focusing on the external at the neglect of the internal – vs. 25-28 A. Religious leaders who are in this profession for selfish and ungodly reasons will almost always focus on external things – not internal transformation; social causes rather than growing in Christ like character. The busier you are with external things, the easier to ignore and compensate for the lack of internal transformation. The problem with a focus on external things at the expense of internal transformation is – it is the internal transformation that gives meaning and fruitfulness and authenticity and safety to the external things we get involved with. I’ve seen this a number of times with ministry to the poor.

VII. Pontificating while ignoring the reality of our own hearts and guilt – vs. 29-33 A. Big at blaming others in bygone days and overlooking the fact that they are even worse and are carrying out today the sins of their fathers in yesteryear.

VIII. God’s judgment on Jerusalem – vs. 34-39 A. The judgment Jesus pronounced would be meted upon that present generation = vs. 36

B. Jesus in vs. 37 revealed the deep compassion He had for Jerusalem or its citizens throughout His ministry and the reason they did not embrace Him, which was their unwillingness or rebellion.

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