Jesus is approaching the climax of His life and ministry — His sacrificial death on the cross. Up to this point He has been bold but careful — even so He has escaped a couple of times (Lk. 4:28-30, John 7:32-45, and John 10:39). Now, Jesus is speaking very boldly; let’s listen in…
Sledge hammers for concrete hearts — Matthew 23
Effective, godly correction and rebuke is not a “one size fits all” king of thing. For example, when Jesus dealt with the woman at the well (John 4) or the woman caught in adultery (John 8), we find Him gentle. But with the religious leaders, whom He had debated so often without effect, He now uses spiritual nuclear, bunker busting missiles. With the broken-hearted He used a scalpel, but with the stone-hearted He used a sledge hammer. There are things to learn here, because every Christian is called upon to help another who is lost; but effective, godly correction and rebuke is not a “one size fits all” king of thing. Unfortunately, we sometimes hold our correction and rebuke until we’re ready to explode — and then we do — crushing the fragile while barely denting those who’ve barricaded themselves behind reinforced concrete. Follow Jesus’ lead on this.
Religious titles — Matthew 23:8-10
Religious leaders have a real fondness for their titles. From the days of the rabbis to the present era of pastors, bishops, and eminences. The titles of respect stroke the ego and lie to the heart about one’s real importance — they feed pride. Jesus discouraged this for this very reason; but religious leaders still insist — not prefer, not accept; they insist — on the titles. On one hand, their argument that respect for authority is necessary to encourage men to follow them has some merit; but on the other hand, Jesus wants the authority to be God’s and God’s alone. Isn’t that the meaning of Matthew 23:8-10: “But do not be called Rabbi; for One is your Teacher, and you are all brothers. Do not call anyone on earth your father; for One is your Father, He who is in heaven. Do not be called leaders; for One is your Leader, that is, Christ.” Giving men too much respect, makes them mistakenly think that they have authority to make rules on their own apart from God’s word and will. As a preacher for many years, I have occasionally been called reverend or pastor or even father and depending on the person and the situation I’ve occasionally let it pass, because I know that it is done with an honorable desire to show me some respect. But on the basis of what Jesus says here, “Park” or “brother” works much better.
Woe — Matthew 23:13-36
First, what is “woe”? Woe is sort of an old-fashioned word, but it means “sorrow”, “distress” “unhappiness”. In this context, it is a warning of the punishment and condemnation that God would bring down on these religious leaders, because of their teachings and deeds.
Second, we know who the Pharisees and scribes were, but what is a “hypocrite”? The common definition is someone who says one thing and does another, but that definition needs a little tweaking, I believe. The word Jesus uses here was the ordinary word for a Greek actor. The job of an actor is make you believe that he is something that he knows he is not — e.g., Harrison Ford never really thought that he was Indiana Jones; he only wanted you to believe he was. This definition is different from “inconsistency”. Inconsistency indicates good faith tries with occasional failures. I would caution us all — especially teens — to be careful how we use the term hypocrite; it assumes that we know the other person’s heart and intentions.
So, why so much woe?
- Matthew 23:13 — Their public opposition to Jesus was not only keeping them from entering Heaven, but also those who might have believed, but listened to them instead. The same could be said for those who oppose anything that the Bible teaches — bringing God’s judgment down on themselves and their listeners.
- Matthew 23:14 — They intentionally (it’s hard to accidentally foreclose on a widow) acted immorally and then tried to look religious to others later.
- Matthew 23:15 — The very nature of false teachings (and these guys were full of them) is that they generate more false teachings to justify the first false teachings — like any sort of lie, you can’t tell just one.
- Matthew 23:16 — The tangled mess of traditions that they had made into laws made it virtually impossible to know what to do. A little like our own IRS tax system, not even the writers of the tax codes know exactly what the proper thing to do is anymore.
- Matthew 23:23 — They were people who were majoring on minors and minoring on majors.
- Matthew 23:25 — They were people who were focused on how things looked, not how things really were — a very common problem for people, even today.
- Matthew 23:27 —They had the look of purity and cleanness, but the corruption of the dead inside their hearts.
- Matthew 23:29 — They were people who were lying to themselves about their own piety. While they were bemoaning the persecution of the prophets of old, they were heading down the road of crucifying the Messiah!
Double prophecy of the end — Matthew 24
To many this is a confusing chapter. It seems clear that references to the end of time and the AD 70 destruction of Jerusalem and the Temple are intertwined, but the difficulty is knowing which passages refer to what event. This is a classic double prophecy, in the tradition of the many double prophecies that we’ve seen in the Old Testament. Like those OT prophecies, it will sometimes be hard to suss out all the references, since they refer to the future. There are mysteries even in the New Testament — things that God has decided to give us only broad outlines of, like shadows behind a curtain. Revelation is full of such mysteries. But here are a few things that we can know from what Jesus says here about the end of time…
- Earthquakes, wars, famines, etc. are not the signs of the end.
- An abomination of desolation must happen first. The first reference was to the Temple, the secondary “abomination of desolation” may refer to the church, the Temple of God today.
- It will be unexpected; everyone will be going about their business like any other day.
- No one — not the angels, not even Jesus Himself — will know the day or the hour. It will be the Father’s call.
- When it happens, there will be NO DOUBT. No one will be asking, “Was that it?”
Be ready — Matthew 24:42—25:30
Because of the fact that it will be unexpected, Jesus emphasizes through three successive parables to get ready and stay ready. Sadly too many people want to put it off a little longer — the world has such a hold on their hearts. But there will be no “do overs” or “I wasn’t ready” or other childish excuses; the parable of the 10 virgins tells us plainly, when the door is shut, it stays shut, forever. Get ready and stay ready.
When we see Him
The last teaching of this chapter is one with a very powerful point. We don’t mind serving Jesus, but we do mind serving — well, those guys. The ones in trouble, the ones that might give us their disease, the ones who are in dirty circumstances, the poor ones who are easy to overlook — you know, “those” guys. The point of the story is simple, when you serve “those guys” you serve Jesus. When you don’t, you don’t serve Jesus. Are you serving?
See you tomorrow, Lord willing.