Matthew 23:1-39

THEN JESUS said to the multitudes and to His disciples, “The scribes and Pharisees sit on Moses’ seat [of authority]. So observe and practice all they tell you; but do not do what they do, for they preach, but do not practice. They tie up heavy loads, hard to bear, and place them on men’s shoulders, but they themselves will not lift a finger to help bear them. They do all their works to be seen of men; for they make wide their phylacteries (small cases enclosing certain Scripture passages, worn during prayer on the left arm and forehead) and make long their fringes [worn by all male Israelites, according to the command]. And they take pleasure in and [thus] love the place of honor at feasts and the best seats in the synagogues, and to be greeted with honor in the marketplaces and to have people call them rabbi.

But you are not to be called rabbi (teacher), for you have one Teacher and you are all brothers. And do not call anyone [in the church] on earth father, for you have one Father, Who is in heaven. And you must not be called masters (leaders), for you have one Master (Leader), the Christ. He who is greatest among you shall be your servant. Whoever exalts himself [with haughtiness and empty pride] shall be humbled (brought low), and whoever humbles himself [whoever has a modest opinion of himself and behaves accordingly] shall be raised to honor.

But woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, pretenders (hypocrites)! For you shut the kingdom of heaven in men’s faces; for you neither enter yourselves, nor do you allow those who are about to go in to do so. Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, pretenders (hypocrites)! For you swallow up widows’ houses and for a pretense to cover it up make long prayers; therefore you will receive the greater condemnation and the heavier sentence. Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, pretenders (hypocrites)! For you travel over sea and land to make a single proselyte, and when he becomes one [a proselyte], you make him doubly as much a child of hell (Gehenna) as you are. Woe to you, blind guides, who say, If anyone swears by the sanctuary of the temple, it is nothing; but if anyone swears by the gold of the sanctuary, he is a debtor [bound by his oath]. You blind fools! For which is greater: the gold, or the sanctuary of the temple that has made the gold sacred?

You say too, Whoever swears by the altar is not duty bound; but whoever swears by the offering on the altar, his oath is binding. You blind men! Which is greater: the gift, or the altar which makes the gift sacred? So whoever swears by the altar swears by it and by everything on it. And he who swears by the sanctuary of the temple swears by it and by Him Who dwells in it. [I Kings 8:13; Ps. 26:8.] And whoever swears by heaven swears by the throne of God and by Him Who sits upon it.

Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, pretenders (hypocrites)! For you give a tenth of your mint and dill and cummin, and have neglected and omitted the weightier (more important) matters of the Law–right and justice and mercy and fidelity. These you ought [particularly] to have done, without neglecting the others. You blind guides, filtering out a gnat and gulping down a camel!

Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, pretenders (hypocrites)! For you clean the outside of the cup and of the plate, but within they are full of extortion (prey, spoil, plunder) and grasping self-indulgence. You blind Pharisee! First clean the inside of the cup and of the plate, so that the outside may be clean also. Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, pretenders (hypocrites)! For you are like tombs that have been whitewashed, which look beautiful on the outside but inside are full of dead men’s bones and everything impure. Just so, you also outwardly seem to people to be just and upright but inside you are full of pretense and lawlessness and iniquity.

Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, pretenders (hypocrites)! For you build tombs for the prophets and decorate the monuments of the righteous, saying, If we had lived in the days of our forefathers, we would not have aided them in shedding the blood of the prophets. Thus you are testifying against yourselves that you are the descendants of those who murdered the prophets. Fill up, then, the measure of your fathers’ sins to the brim [so that nothing may be wanting to a full measure]. You serpents! You spawn of vipers! How can you escape the penalty to be suffered in hell (Gehenna)?

Because of this, take notice: I am sending you prophets and wise men (interpreters and teachers) and scribes (men learned in the Mosaic Law and the Prophets); some of them you will kill, even crucify, and some you will flog in your synagogues and pursue and persecute from town to town, so that upon your heads may come all the blood of the righteous (those who correspond to the divine standard of right) shed on earth, from the blood of the righteous Abel to the blood of Zechariah son of Barachiah, whom you murdered between the sanctuary and the altar [of burnt offering]. Truly I declare to you, all these [evil, calamitous times] will come upon this generation. [II Chron. 36:15, 16.]”

O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, murdering the prophets and stoning those who are sent to you! How often would I have gathered your children together as a mother fowl gathers her brood under her wings, and you refused! Behold, your house is forsaken and desolate (abandoned and left destitute of God’s help). [I Kings 9:7; Jer. 22:5.] For I declare to you, you will not see Me again until you say, Blessed (magnified in worship, adored, and exalted) is He Who comes in the name of the Lord!

Jesus is not just articulating the view and standard of Heaven, He IS the Standard. And not any longer just a Law which cannot be attained, a list of divine Rules designed to expose our lost and rebellious nature. He is the Seed from which the Sons of Righteousness will be born. Yes, our Source Code, our DNA has been tampered with, BUT with Man’s willful choice. Right there in the perfect environment of the beauty and fruitfulness that only God can create, the Rule exposed the “weakness” in God’s design, the specific weakness which becomes surpassing Strength, once Redemption is revealed. That weakness also exposed the nature of the predator who always takes advantage of weakness in the Creature in order to malign the Creator. Like a shark to the taste of blood in the water, the serpent is there to devour. But Jesus is the Stone, not cut with human hands, that will roll down and crush the works of the evil one and draw to Himself those who have overcome him by the Blood of the Lamb and the power of their testimony – those who become His flesh-and-blood Heel which crushes the serpent’s head. What a future He has forged for we who have ears to hear what He says with the faith to persistently reach up and take the grace He provides to share in this Victory of all victories!

Jesus says, “Do what they say, but do not do what they do.” There are two very important points He is making.
The first is verified by the history of the Pharisees. Yes, their influence was mixed with “leven,” pride, averice and deceit. But history and also the language Jesus employs in these scorching rebukes (Remember, rebukes come from a caring father, not one that has written off the child), tell us that the Scribes and Pharisees were the guardians of the Torah. Had it not been for their white hot passion to preserve and interpret the Word of God to His people, we would not have, today, at our fingertips, the Living Two Edged Sword which does surgery on every soul who is exposed to it. “Do what they say…” was clear pronunciation of the veracity of what they proclaim from Torah. Then He says, “But, beware the leven!”

This brings us face to face with the second point: His injunction – “… do not do what they do.” This means they (we) are to pay attention and distinguish between what they teach from the Torah and their life-style, attitude and influence. This comparison and expectation that we can actually make the distinction is rich with implications. Jesus is not only suggesting, but commanding, that His disciples have the wits, which then suggests that they are able to do it. Also, this whole interaction with the religious leaders clearly shows that we are not to throw out the Baby with the dirty bath-water. The common response today to a fallen servant of God, yet who has faithfully delivered and interpreted the Word of God is, in affect, the teaching is thrown out along with the person. Jesus is suggesting that we have a larger spirit than that. His Spirit. That we can discern and apply the wisdom and grace of God through faith placed in His Spirit. Jesus was clearly not throwing out the teaching and though the rebuke was stinging, His love and grace for them was the motive for the warning. He didn’t want them to continue to suffer His wrath. They have been left desolate by these evil practices, and as a result, they will not see him again until they will say of Him, “Blessed is He who comes in the Name of the Lord!”

We must be careful not to make the mistake of deifying our own perspective, presuming it is insight into God’s Word. Our natural perspectives are programmed by a world of experience outside the Reality that God lives in. We must attain to the stature of the fullness of Yeshuah. From there we can have deep fellowship, with understanding and capacity for pertinent conversation, walking with Him.

May I point to several scriptures that will help this scene become intimately personal to we who read it over and over. Let Jesus’ point sink deeply into our crusty and self-justifying hearts so that we will not glibly read through His words but passionately seek after Him and His perspective. His words are alive and powerful to the pulling down of strongholds – dullness in our hearts.

Isaiah 55:6-9 “Seek the Lord while he may be found; call upon him while he is near; let the wicked forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts; let him return to the Lord, that he may have compassion on him, and to our God, for he will abundantly pardon. For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, declares the Lord.