IIT UBF - University Bible Fellowship at IIT





Date: Sep. 11, 2016

Author: Dan Bockenfeld

Matthew 23:1-39

Key Verse: Matthew 23:37

“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.”

Fifty years ago, on September 8, 1966, the cultural landscape began a seismic shift. On that date, the very first episode of Star Trek aired on television. It’s been fifty years since the start of Star Trek. Since then, there have been countless conventions and people dressing up as characters and learning Klingon. Through that series, and subsequent movies and spinoff television shows, we have had a glimpse of an ideal future. The cast of the show was diverse with a black character, an Asian character and a Russian character in the height of the Cold War, all a part of the main crew. It was unheard of at the time. The technology inspired advances that we see today. Their communicator was inspiration for our cell phones, and we are at the beginning stages of seeing if warp drive is even possible. At the heart of the series was the United Federation of Planets. The Federation, as it was known, was kind of like a cross between the United States and United Nations. It consisted of a bunch of planets in a single government, with various alien races. At the heart of the Federation was the Prime Directive. The Prime Directive stated that the Federation could not interfere with the internal politics of planets. It was primarily used to make sure that less advanced civilizations would not be preyed upon by more advanced ones. You don’t give technology to someone who isn’t able to handle it. If they aren’t ready, they could destroy themselves. The criteria that determined whether a civilization was advanced enough or not was when they developed warp drive (interstellar travel) on their own. Once they did that, they could be contacted by the Federation. Unfortunately, the Prime Directive could be easily twisted. The Federation boasted about exploration and advancement and being better, but the Prime Directive could hamper them from doing the right thing. If there was a catastrophic event about to happen on a less civilized world, they could not and would not do a thing to help, even if they were able to because of the Prime Directive. The Federation wanted people to be better, but their own main rule would not allow people to do the right thing. That’s pretty hypocritical. Likewise, there were many times in all the movies and television shows that the people talked about upholding the Prime Directive, but went ahead and interfered with the civilization anyway. That is pretty hypocritical, too. Even in a perfect fictional society there is much hypocrisy. Our society is not perfect, and we, too, are surrounded by hypocrisy. It is not something that is unique to our time. Jesus dealt with a lot of hypocrisy during his time on earth, too. The Pharisees were perfect examples of hypocrites and Jesus made sure the people knew about it.

Before we get into the passage, let’s take a look at how we got to this point. So, Jesus arrived in Jerusalem with great fanfare and went to the temple. There, he found people selling animals for sacrifice and people exchanging money, and he threw them all out. They weren’t supposed to be there in God’s eyes. The religious leaders were not amused and began to question Jesus about what authority he had to do all those things. Jesus gave them a question in return. He wanted to know what they thought about John the Baptist. They didn’t say anything, so Jesus didn’t answer them. Instead, Jesus told a bunch of stories which showed the religious leaders were being selfish and not giving to God what was God’s. They were not being good leaders of the people. This ticked the religious leaders off, and they started looking for ways to erode Jesus’ support among the people. They wanted to discredit him, so they created what they thought were perfect traps, but Jesus maneuvered through them with little effort. In the end, Jesus asked the Pharisees a question and it was one that they could not answer. They were stumped and they didn’t dare ask Jesus any more questions. That was where we ended last week.

This week, Jesus goes on the offensive and, boy, does he mean to offend. He doesn’t beat around the bush or dilly dally. Jesus cuts to the heart of the problem. We start out, “Then Jesus said to the crowds and to his disciples: ‘The teachers of the law and the Pharisees sit in Moses’ seat. So you must be careful to do everything they tell you. But do not do what they do, for they do not practice what they preach.’” (1-3) Jesus was talking to the Pharisees that were there trying to trap him, but he silenced them. Maybe some of them left. Maybe they didn’t leave. At any rate, Jesus turned his attention to the crowd and his disciples. With all that had just been going on, Jesus has something to teach the people. He honors the teachers of the law and the Pharisees by saying that they sit in Moses’ seat. Now, Moses was highly respected. He was the first real leader of the Jewish people and he led them from Egypt to the Promised Land. Moses had directly talked with God on multiple occasions. In the spiritual pecking order, there weren’t many higher than Moses. So you can take what Jesus says as the Pharisees have Moses’ authority, but it is also more literal than that. In the temple, there was an actual chair that was called Moses’ seat, and the teachers of the law and Pharisees would be the ones who actually sat in that seat.

Since the Pharisees and teachers of the law had that position of authority, Jesus says that the crowd should listen to them and do everything that they say. They were teaching the word of God and the word of God, no matter who speaks it, should be followed because the source is God. Now, the problem with the Pharisees and teachers of the law was not their words as much as it was their actions. Jesus tells the crowd, “But do not do what they do, for they do not practice what they preach.” (3) Their actions do not line up with what they taught. This is actually a very simple definition of hypocrisy, when you do not practice what you preach. You are a hypocrite when what you say you believe does not line up with how you live. For example, a person who says that drinking and smoking is bad but goes out drinking like a fish and smoking like a chimney is a hypocrite. How can they go on and on about the negative effects of alcohol and tobacco and still use and abuse them? That’s hypocrisy.

For the Pharisees, Jesus says, “They tie up heavy, cumbersome loads and put them on other people’s shoulders, but they themselves are not willing to lift a finger to move them.” (4) The Pharisees and teachers of the law were in charge of teaching the people about God’s word and his rules. And if you have ever read a book of rules, it can get a little daunting. “Do this, do this, do this, don’t do that or that or that.” It’s enough to make your head spin. The Pharisees would talk about the laws and make everyone feel like they were tied down by heavy weights, but they themselves did not follow everything. In fact, as Jesus continues, “Everything they do is done for people to see: They make their phylacteries wide and the tassels on their garments long; they love the place of honor at banquets and the most important seats in the synagogues; they love to be greeted with respect in the marketplaces and to be called ‘Rabbi’ by others.” (5-7) The Pharisees and teachers of the law were all about keeping face. It is an outward measure that is meant to bolster themselves in society. It is all flash without any substance. As an example, the Pharisees has phylacteries and tassels on their garments. Phylacteries were small boxes worn on the head and left arm that contained verses of scripture and they were meant to be a part of their morning prayers. If you had them, that meant you had participated in morning prayers. Big ones were particularly noticeable. Tassels were supposed to be a reminder about God, but they became a badge of honor and the bigger the more special people thought you were. It’s a case of keeping up with the Jones’. You begin to feel better about yourself if you have a bigger television than your neighbor. In this time, it was tassels. The Pharisees loved the honor and feeling important. They liked the titles that people would give them.

We’ve probably have known many people like this. They are people who talk big, but act little. Maybe you have been one of those people at some point of time. You try to wear a mask of perfection in order to cover a multitude of imperfection. That is an interesting word “mask”. Did you know that the word “hypocrite” had its origin in Greek plays? A hypocrite was an actor. In some plays, the actors played multiple parts and used masks for each part. To use a mask meant that you were a hypocrite, an actor, and it is not that much different in today’s context. When we put up the brave face, it is merely a mask to cover up what is underneath. A hypocrite says everything is fine when the world is burning all around them. You know it is not fine, but you say it anyway because you don’t want to seem weak or broken. In financially tough times, you keep acting like you have no problems when, in fact, your accounts are almost dry. You don’t want to feel the shame. Other people pull answers out of their butt because they don’t want to admit that they have no idea what the answer is. They want to appear smart, so they give an answer that makes no sense and hope that people don’t realize that what they pulled out of their butt is a load of what comes out of your butt. Some people want to appear as a great worker of God so they have so many Bible studies, but what people don’t realize is that each week, it is entirely new people and the people from the last week never return. To them, it is not about bringing people to Christ. It’s about looking good.

After this part, Jesus starts to go in to the seven woes concerting the Pharisees and teachers of the law. Each one of these woes gives a facet of their hypocrisy and give us a better sense of why their hypocrisy was such a big deal. The first one is, “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.” (13) Jesus begins nearly all of these woes with “Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites!” Jesus calls attention to their hypocrisy. In this one, they shut the door to the kingdom of heaven. They don’t enter and they prevent others from entering too. As Jesus mentioned earlier, the Pharisees were all about putting on a show for the people. They were great actors. They were so interested in getting attention, praise and honor that they didn’t actually care about God’s kingdom. They had no interest in it, which is why they constantly rejected Jesus and his invitation. They claimed to be God’ people, but didn’t want to go to God. Even worse, they also prevented people from going to God. If anyone wanted to follow Jesus to God, the Pharisees would even threaten to have them removed from the synagogue, from society.

The second woe is similar to the first, “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.” (15) The Pharisees loved to be right and, on occasion, they would be convincing enough to convert someone to Judaism, but when the succeeded, the converts would follow their track and be just as hypocritical as their teachers. Think about it this way, if you were taught by a person to preach about one thing and live another way. You would follow that teaching very well, but now you are active peaching about hypocrisy. Both of these lead people away from the right path to God’s kingdom and it shows the danger of hypocrisy. You might wonder what the big deal about hypocrisy is. When you read the passage, you can see that Jesus is very emphatic about what he is saying. There are exclamation points all over the place. Hypocrisy in the church prevents people from coming to God. It might be actively pushing people down the wrong path, causing people to follow in your hypocrisy. Or people just might not be able to stomach the hypocrisy and not want to come near. One of the common complaints about the church is that the church is filled with hypocrites and who would want to be around a bunch of hypocrites? You couldn’t trust what they told you because they didn’t believe it either.

Jesus continues on, “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.’” (16) Jesus calls them blind guides. They were supposed to lead the people to God, but they were more interested in earthly things. They saw more value in the gold than the temple, and they saw more value in the sacrifice than the altar. They didn’t care about the godly things and didn’t recognize that it was the godly that gave value to the earthly. Much like their tassels and phylacteries, they didn’t realize that that the show wasn’t the important part. Those things were just reminders of God’s greater kingdom. Nothing comes close to God, nothing and no one comes close. God and God alone, nothing could ever come close, but it was lost on the blind guides.

The hypocrisy continues, “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. You blind guides! You strain out a gnat but swallow a camel.” (23-24) The Pharisees and teachers of the law were awesome givers. When they tithed, they even went into their spice rack and gave a tenth of what they had, and I’ve got to tell you that I have never seen a single person here drop some spices into the weekly pot. There has been change, but no mint, maybe some chewed mint gum, but no actual mint or dill or cumin or salt or pepper or paprika or even thyme. There is always time for thyme, but you don’t do it. The Pharisees were very exacting in their regimen, but they neglected what was truly important. Again they were outward in their giving, but they did not have justice, mercy or faithfulness. If they caught people in sin, they were ruthless in pointing it out and ostracizing the sinners. They should have brought people back to God through repentance, instead of a chiding “tsk tsk tsk”. If they were so holy before God, then they should have the mind of God, but it was all outward again.

It was at this point that Jesus tackled that outward issue. “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. Blind Pharisee! First clean the inside of the cup and dish, and then the outside also will be clean.” (25-26) Again, the Pharisees were like a cup and dish that looked clean on the outside, but was really dirty on the inside. Who here cleans their dishes like that? It is the inside of the cup that is most important to clean because that is where the food or drink goes. If it is filthy, it would be nasty to drink out of. You could get sick. The Pharisees were the same way. They were filthy inside, filled with greed and self-indulgence. They were the ones milking the people who were coming to worship. People needed an animal to sacrifice. Why drag the sacrifice with you when you could buy the sacrifice at the temple for three times the price? They wrung their hands at the prospect so they let the tables in the temple.

Jesus continued, “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. In the same way, on the outside you appear to people as righteous but on the inside you are full of hypocrisy and wickedness.” (27-28) This is similar to the other woe. Outside looks beautiful, but the inside is dead. It is just a façade. If you drive down State Street, you will see building after building, but if you ride the Green Line down to Roosevelt, you see that one of those buildings is just a façade for a power substation. There is no building there. It is fake. The Pharisees were worse. Their pristine exterior hid the death that was inside. This is something that is really prevalent today. There are so many people out there that are trying to put up the walls, but secretly they are dying inside. We are bombarded with advertisement that shows that we will be happy if we party or drink a particular vodka or Coke. If we had what we wanted, then we would be happy, but it is just a façade hiding the death within. We are alone and depressed. We are tired and stressed and we caffeinate ourselves to perk us up and hide the fact that we can’t handle everything going on. We go on Facebook and curate our lives, picking and choosing the best parts so that everyone can believe that our lives are perfect, but we are dead, unclean, we are deviant and evil. And it is dangerous. When we put up that perfect face, that mask, the disease that is killing us is progressing further and further. If you had a cancer that was eating you from the inside out and did nothing about it, you would die no matter how much makeup you put on.

The final woe concerns their attitude. “Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You build tombs for the prophets and decorate the graves of the righteous. 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.’ So you testify against yourselves that you are the descendants of those who murdered the prophets. Go ahead, then, and complete what your ancestors started!” (29-32) The Pharisees thought very highly of themselves. They envisioned that they would be better than their ancestors. God had sent prophets to his people to warn them about the fact that they were going astray. Instead of listening to them, the people had the prophets killed, sometimes in horrible ways. The Pharisees figured that they wouldn’t have had the prophets killed, but there was one problem. Someone greater than a prophet was standing right in front of them, and they had already begun to plot to kill him. So Jesus calls out for them to finish what their ancestors started. They said that they were better, but they were just as bad as the ones who killed the prophets.

Not every Christian is a hypocrite. We are all sinners, but not all hypocrites. The hypocrite is the one who hides his sin under a mask. You put on a show because you think that Christians aren’t supposed to have problems anymore and you only show the happy go lucky parts of your life. Again, if you profess piety and holiness, but find a way to cheat on your taxes then you are a hypocrite. If you profess clean living, but tell dirty jokes you are a hypocrite. If you say that everything is all right in your life, but holding a secret pain then you are a hypocrite. Everything is not all right and you need prayer. Jesus is very harsh with the Pharisees and that is because of the severity of hypocrisy. It is a disease that eats away at your soul and can infect others. It prevents people from coming to God and being honest.

Jesus desires for people to come back to God. That is why he came in the first place, and expresses it even here, “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.” (37) Jesus longed to protect the people of Jerusalem under his wings. He longed to bring them back to God, but they were not willing. He came to save them, but they would not listen. So he says to them, “You snakes! You brood of vipers! How will you escape being condemned to hell? (33) This verse seems very negative, but it is also Jesus pleading with the Pharisees. If they rejected the means of their salvation, then how will they escape the condemnation of hell? Jesus doesn’t give up on them and even mentions that he will continue to send people to bring them back, but that they would beat them, kill them and follow them from town to town. And all that would come true. After Jesus’ ascension, many followers of Christ were killed. Many were hunted down from town to town in search of them. They were imprisoned and murdered because they followed Jesus.

Jesus knew all that and still held out his arms to them. He still hoped that they would turn and accept the redemption he offered. All hope was not lost on them. The cure for hypocrisy is a simple one: humility. Hypocrisy is rooted in pride. The Pharisees were so proud of their position and desired the honor that they lifted themselves up. They put on an act to show how righteous they were, but they neglected everything that was important. If they just admitted to how broken and dead they really were, they would not have hypocrisy. There would be no façade. All they had to do was be humble about it. They wanted to be great, but Jesus said “The greatest among you will be your servant. For those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.” (11-12) Christ came so that we could have life. When we try to push ourselves up to a higher spot by us covering our sins, we only fall short. When we sit and admit to our sins and don’t try to hide them behind masks, Jesus raises us up. His death on the cross was the price for our transgressions. He paid the price for our sins and opened the door for our salvation. If we leave our hypocrisy behind, then through Christ we can leave our sins behind. If we are open about what we are going through and open about giving it to Jesus, then his grace washes over us, and we have peace and salvation from hell.

Hypocrisy is dangerous. We might just want to save face and not deal the with eyes of disappointment, but hypocrisy can lead people away from God and even destroy your own life. I don’t think that all Christians are hypocrites, but I think that all Christians have been hypocrites at some point in their lives. They have one room in their heart that is filled with junk and death and they close the door so that no one can see. They choose to ignore it, hoping it will go away, but it won’t. The only cure is the humility to see that we need Jesus for our salvation and to come to him. He is so gracious to us and constantly waits for us to come to him. He longs for us to drop the pretense.

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