Rev. Toh Nee Lim | On 24, Feb 2015
Scriptures Reading: Matthew 23:1-2; 5; 9; 8; 13; 15-16; 19; 23; 25; 27; 29
‘Then Jesus said to the crowds and to his disciples: “The teachers of the law and the Pharisees sit in Moses’ seat. “Everything they do is done for people to see: They make their phylacteries wide and the tassels on their garments long. “But you are not to be called ‘Rabbi,’ for you have one Teacher, and you are all brothers. And do not call anyone on earth ‘father,’ for you have one Father, and he is in heaven. “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. “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. “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. You blind men! Which is greater: the gift, or the altar that makes the gift sacred. “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. “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. “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. “Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You build tombs for the prophets and decorate the graves of the righteous.’
I. The Beatitudes Vs the Woes
We are all familiar with the beatitudes. It is more commonly known as the Sermon on the Mount. The beatitudes showed how a person who is in a right relationship with God should conduct his life. It applies to Jesus” followers today because it demonstrates the standard of righteousness that Jesus demands of His followers. It is called beatitudes because it means ‘blessed are’. You are blessed, happy, and fortunate if you manifest these 7 qualities. What are these 7 Beatitudes? The poor are those who consciously depend on God, not on themselves. Those who mourn are those recognise their needs and present them to the One who is able to assist. Those who are meek are truly gentle and humble and have a proper appreciation of their position. Those who thirst and hunger for righteousness are those who have a spiritual appetite. The merciful extends mercy to others. The pure in heart are those who are inwardly clean from sin through faith in God. The peacemakers are instruments of peace in this world.
Well later in the same book of Matthew, Jesus gives 7 woes as opposed to 7 blessings. It is called the sermon of 7 woes. When Jesus came 2000 years ago he came to save the sinners. He ushered in the age of grace. He was full of truth and full of Grace. He went about doing good. He was full of compassion and encouragement. That is His calling. But here we see Jesus using the harshest language in the entire word of God. A. T. Robertson called it ‘the rolling thunder of Christ’s wrath’. As Plummer has written, these woes are ‘like thunder in their unanswerable severity, and like lightning in their unsparing exposure.’ And He seldom pronounced woes. But here He not only pronounced Woes but 7 woes. He is telling us that those who wants to be His followers must not manifest these contrary attitudes.
II. The Definition of Woe and Hypocrites
The word “woe” is a very strong word. The Greek word for ‘woe’ is ‘ouai’. It is hard to translate because it includes not only wrath, but also sorrow. When Jesus pronounced woe, there is righteous anger here, but it is the anger of the heart of love, broken by the stubborn blindness of men. That is the Pharisees. They are so blinded that they don’t know they are evil, cruel and hypocrites. The word hypocrites is used again and again in this chapter. It is the Greek word for an actor. It came to mean an actor in the worse sense of the term, a pretender, one who acts and put on a show while inwardly his thoughts and feelings are very different. It is an exclamation of grief, lamentation, distress. In some translation woe is replaced by ‘you are in trouble’. In others it says how terrible for you. But the KJV is still the best. Woe means grievous distress, affliction, and trouble. Jesus denounces them as false religion and worthy of severe punishment. The two group people Jesus was addressing are the Pharisees and the Sadducees. Who are they representing today? The Christian circle love to call them the ‘fair to see’ and the ‘sad to see’. They are religious leader in the Church. In verse 2 Jesus says “The scribes and the Pharisees sit on Moses’ seat. Moses is the giver of the Law. The “seat of Moses” was one of authority. The teachers of the law and Pharisees were, therefore, authoritative and legal successors of Moses as interpreters and teachers of the law. So we can safely say they teach the scriptures in the church. They believe they have the monopoly of the Word of God. Let’s make it very practical. In this church there are the Senior Pastors, the Pastoral Staff, the leadership advisory team, the DJ Cell Leaders. Recently we have made connection with so many leaders of other churches. I would say that they are all authorities in the Word of God. But God was telling me that even that, we should put them in a proper place when it comes to relationship with them. We are all placed in different role for the sake of order and function. Jesus even told us to recognize them as authority in the Word of God. But in the church but in terms of relationship, we are all brothers and sisters, all classmates, all members of one family. I came to understand why a Christian Group is called the Brethren. It emphasizes that we are all brothers and sisters in Christ, equal to one another. And in the church certain respect and honour belongs to these leaders, (including your Senior Pastor, the District Pastor, the Youth Pastor, the executive Pastor, the leadership advisory team, the DJ Cell Leaders, but he or she is no different from anyone else. He is just one of your brothers. Please understand that the descriptions that I just shown; all classmates, brothers and sisters, members of one family, are quoted from various bible translation. And I also speak to the leaders here in this church. Leadership positions should never be a goal in and of themselves. It should be viewed as an opportunities to serve others. Who are the Pharisees? The Pharisees are the churchiest of church folks. They weren’t seemingly evil, demonic guys. They were religious men with a passion for the word of God. They attend church regularly. They tithed, prayed and worked hard to teach people the Law of God. These qualities manifest what I call Pharisaic righteousness. But the Pharisees were not poor in spirit, did not mourn in recognition of their need, are proud and harsh, not humble and gentle, they felt they had attained righteousness and therefore did not have a continual appetite or desire for it, they were more concerned with legalities of God’s and their own laws than with showing mercies. They were pure ceremonially but not inwardly. They create strife, rift, and not peace and certainly did not possess true righteousness. They are not persecuted but are the persecutor.
\III. Our proper position in the Church
Before Jesus goes about proclaiming 7 woes, He specifically warns us about our position and how we should conduct ourselves in relationship to others. Matthew 23:8-10 says, ‘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. In this church, we are not masters over you.
The message bible bring out this truth clearer. “Don’t let people do that to you, put you on a pedestal like that. You all have a single Teacher, and you are all classmates. Don’t set people up as experts over your life, letting them tell you what to do. Save that authority for God; let him tell you what to do. No one else should carry the title of ‘Father’; you have only one Father, and he’s in heaven. And don’t let people manoeuvre you into taking charge of them. There is only one Life-Leader for you and them—Christ. (Matthew 23:8-10 MSG)
I think one of the scariest organisation that tries to control people is the church. This is one of the biggest problem in the church today. I was studying the life of Christ and I realise that he never controls anyone. He gave us the power of choice and of course with the choices we made, come the consequences. But he never controls. The Pharisees and the Sadducees are the most controlling people. William Barclay says “The greatest of all Heresies is the sinful conviction that any church has a monopoly on God or His truth. Or that any church is the only gateway to God’s kingdom. Sounds familiar? We are the best church in the whole country. Our doctrines are the soundest. I was so wrong. And the church is made up of rules and traditions and false idea of what the church should be. They have added so much and taken so much from the scriptures and it brought miseries to the people. As I become a Christian longer and longer, I realise that I am not called to control people. I have to simply deliver the word, counsel you and you made the choice and of course with the choices come the consequences. What I am trying to say is that if I preach and counsel you according to the Rhema of God and the Word of God and if you go against it, the Word of God, itself will judge you in the future. But I am not to control people. And the church must not be made up of rules that has no biblical standing. And how often do we lay burdens on others that we ourselves do not carry them. I pray that Evangel Tabernacle will not be filled with modern Scribes and Pharisees.
Don’t let people call you father and don’t call anybody father. And call no one your ‘father’ on earth, for you have one Father, who is in heaven. The Word of God is so clear. I am not to be called father in this church. The word father gives the connotation of a life giver. A father is the giver of life to the children. But I am not a life giver. I am not the Saviour and should not presume to be the saviour of your life.
Please understand that the Pharisees were called hyprocrites. But I don’t think they believe they are hypocrites. I think they believe they are doing God a favour in the setting of the rules and traditions of the church, in their control. But Jesus gave them damning word; pretender, hypocrites, fraud. Brothers and Sisters, leaders of this church, including myself, we must not be hypocrites and we don’t even know it ourselves. We must not be Pharisees and we don’t even know it ourselves. Nobody reads the bibles in France. The whole population of France have a great dislikes of the church. Because the church leaders were hypocrites and fraud. They don’t have faith in the church. And I can understand why. Because the church leaders were hypocrites. Just look at the Catholic Church itself. I mean the molestation, sodomy committed by the priests all over the world upon the altar boys are mind boggling. And these boys were simply innocent, young, wanting to serve God and this vicious wolf took advantage of their spiritual desire for God.
IV. The 7 woes
Matthew 23:13; “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.’
1. Prevent other from entering the kingdom of God.
They brought nothing but misery to their converts. You see, the Pharisees believed that to do God’s will was to observe their thousands of petty rules and regulations. When people tried to find entry into the Kingdom the Pharisees presented them with these rules and regulations, which was as good as shutting the door in their faces. I would say that the gravest danger for any teacher or preacher is that he erect his own prejudices and substitute his own ideas for the truth of God. When he does that he is not a guide, but a barrier to the Kingdom, for, he misled himself, he misleads others.
Matthew 23:15; ‘“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.’
2. They go to enormous trouble to make converts, and then burden them with legalism and pretence.
This woe addressed the zealous activity of the religious leaders for they actively travelled not only over land but also over the sea to make even a single convert (proselyte). The problem with this was that by their actions they were condemning many individuals to eternal damnation. By imposing external restrictions of rabbinic traditions on their converts, they were preventing these people from seeing the truth. In fact, such a convert became twice as much a son of hell as the Pharisees, that is, he became more pharisaic than the Pharisees themselves! The phrase “A son of hell” literally means “a son of Gehenna”. They are zealous in their activity but by their actions they are condemning others to hell.
A stranger feature of the ancient world was the repulsion which Judaism exercised over men. There was no more hated people than the Jews. Their separatism and their isolation and their contempt of other nations gained them hostility. It was, in fact, believed that a basic part of their relation was an oath that they would never under any circumstances give help to a Gentile, even to the extent of giving him directions if he asked the way. Their observance of the Sabbath gained them a reputation for laziness; their refusal of swine’s flesh gain them mockery, even to the extent of the rumour that they worshipped the pig as their god. Anti-Semitism was a real and universal force in the ancient world. Look at our church today. Is it in our heart we feel that the unbelievers are second class citizen because they don’t have God. Is it true that we have an inward belief that we should not help an unbeliever? During the Typhoon Yolanda, when we wanted to do R & R in Barbaza, we couldn’t quite understand why BFEC just wanted us to help the community and not the people within the church. Many times Pastor Rizaldi just wanted to give all the boats, all the pigs, all the cows to his members and we told him that BFEC would be very unhappy because they specifically wanted to help the community. I would say that we obey their instructions. What happened? The community have a better understanding of the Church of Jesus Christ. Today whenever Barbaza Church have some Christian special gathering, you will be shocked that the church is always filled with community people. I think Look at Jesus. He is a friend of the tax collectors, the prostitutes, the fisherman, the Samaritan woman. He came to save that which is lost. We must look at the unbeliever in a different light from today. We are not higher class citizen than them. We should help them when they are in need and from there they will have a better understanding of God.
Matthew 23:16; ‘“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. You blind men! Which is greater: the gift, or the altar that makes the gift sacred.’
3. Casuistry in regards to oath
In the third woe Jesus pointed out the tricky character of the leaders. The religious authorities taught that oaths based on the temple, the altar, and heaven were not binding; however, oaths sworn by the gold of the temple, the gift on the altar, or God were binding. Jesus pointed out the absurdity of such teaching, and called the leaders blind guides. All oaths are binding in the sight of God when made.
When taking oaths, they made fine lines of distinction that could possibly invalidate their oaths. If one swore by the temple, or by the altar of the temple, it meant nothing to them. While thus appearing to be making a binding oath, they inwardly had no intention of keeping it. But if one swore by the gold of the temple or the gift on the altar, he would be bound by the oath. But Jesus said they were wrong in suggesting that gold was greater than the temple and a gift greater than the altar. Jesus pointed out that any oath based on the temple or things in it was binding for behind the temple was the One who dwelt in it. This was parallel to making an oath by God’s throne, for that oath was also binding because of the One who sat on the throne. Such distinctions by the religious leaders were condemned by Jesus, for they were clearly deceptive and dishonest. Jesus denounced those leaders as blind guides (v. 16), blind fools (v. 17), and blind men (v. 19)
Matthew 23:23; ‘“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.’
4. Their meticulous Tithing
Their meticulous tithing. The fourth woe related to the pharisaic practice of meticulously tithing all their possessions. They went so far as to carry the practice down to the smallest spices from plants: mint, dill, and cumin. Just end of last year, we were planting Chia Seed and harvesting them. Can you imagine one of us measuring of a little patch of Chia Seed produce and taking a tenth of it to give to the Lord? While meticulously following the Law in this area (Lev. 27:30), they failed to manifest the justice, mercy, and faithfulness demanded by the Law. A pastor share this example, ‘I remember a dear lady who used to argue about the use of lipsticks (you cannot put on lipsticks). She thought it was awful, and yet she had the meanest tongues of any person I know. She didn’t think that was bad, but lipstick was terrible. Frankly the paint of gossip on the end of the tongue – especially when it is used to blacken somebody’s reputation – is lots worse than a little paint on the lips. It is amazing how people can strain at a gnat and swallow a camel! They were majoring on minors, straining out a gnat, while minoring on majors, swallowing a camel. Being so busy with small details, they never dealt with the important matters. Jesus was not saying tithing was unimportant; He was saying they were completely neglecting the one area at the expense of the other. They should have been doing both. Since they were not, they were blind guides.
God looks for justice, mercy and faithfulness in our characters. When we deal with people in general it must be justice (equity; fairness; truth). We also must be simply merciful to others. And of course there must be faithfulness in our dealings with our own people, own family as well as others. I believe nothing pleases God than having justice, mercy and faithfulness in our life.
Matthew 23:25; “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.’
5. They wash cups and dishes with the greatest care — as though clean habits make holy lives.
The fifth woe emphasized the hypocritical action of the Pharisees. They were concerned with external cleanliness, such as the outside of the cup and dish from which they would eat. But in their hearts were greed and self-indulgence. Their cleansing was primarily for the sake of being seen by men. But they were not above robbery and excesses in their own lives. If cleansing would take place internally, their outside would also be affected. This is a picture of the average church today that is so busy making the outside of the cup and platter clean. They go through all the ceremonies. They want to have the best equipment. They talk so nice and piously on the outside, but inside they do not deal with sin. In most cases, they do not even like the word sin. But all the external ceremonies cannot clean up their inner corruption. The Pharisees substituted ritual for reality, formality for faith and liturgy (ritual) for God.
Matthew 23:27 “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.’
6. These Pharisees and teachers are blind guides, incapable of leading others.
In the sixth woe Jesus continued the thought of the previous statement about external purification. The fifth woe stressed their actions; the sixth, their appearances. He called the teachers of the Law and the Pharisees . . . whitewashed tombs. A custom then was to keep tombs painted white on the outside so they would appear beautiful. But inside the tombs was the decaying flesh of dead people. Similarly, while the Pharisees appeared beautiful on the outside because of their religious conformity, they were corrupt and decaying inside. They were full of hypocrisy and wickedness and lawlessness. It is still happening today. As Shakespeare had it, a man may smile and smile and be a villain. A man may walk with bowed head and reverent steps and folded hands in the posture of humility, and all the time be looking down with cold contempt on those whom he regards as sinners.’
Matthew 23:29; “Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You build tombs for the prophets and decorate the graves of the righteous.’
7. They are responsible for the death of innocent people
The final woe also emphasized the religious leaders’ hypocrisy. They spent time building tombs and decorating the graves of the righteous. They were quick to say that if they had lived in the time of the prophets, they would never have been involved in shedding the blood of these righteous men. But it is precisely what they would have done and precisely what they are going to do. Jesus knew they were already in the process of planning His death. They were responsible for the death of many godly. It is a very sad thing but the history of religious leaders is the history of murders of the men of God, shipwrecked the faith of the innocent, ordinary people and persecutor of the servants of God. It really makes me think, that as a pastor of this church, when I am judged one day, will the verdict be that I am the hinderers or the helper of God. As individuals do we persecute, destroy servants of God, men of God? Are we responsible for the downfall of some Pastors?