A. Matthew 5:20
The modern perception of the Pharisees is that their strict adherence to the Law of God is what made them so reproachable. On the contrary, Jesus affirmed their “righteousness” and insisted that our entrance to heaven depends on being even more righteous than them.
B. Matthew 23:1-3
The Lord even taught His contemporaries to do what the Pharisees required, but pointed out the Pharisees themselves did not, and therein lay the problem. They were hypocrites for not doing what they asserted others must do.
I. “THEY THEMSELVES WILL NOT MOVE THEM WITH ONE OF THEIR FINGERS”
A. Matthew 23:4
Christ was less concerned with the Pharisees binding heavy burdens than He was with their unwillingness to lift those same burdens.
B. Romans 2:21-24
Blasphemy results when those who teach morality are actually immoral.
II. “ALL THEIR WORKS THEY DO TO BE SEEN BY MEN”
A. Matthew 23:5
“Phylacteries” were like lockets worn around the neck which contained scrolls on which were written the Scriptures memorized by the wearer, which seems to be a rather literal, and unnecessarily literal, application of what Moses said regarding binding the words on oneself (Deuteronomy 6:6-9). Of course, one could enlarge a phylactery without actually filling it with scrolls, or could fill it with scrolls without having actually learned the Scriptures written thereon. These men simply wanted to be recognized for their supposed religious devotion.
B. Matthew 6:1-8, 16-18
Jesus was thoroughly opposed to showing off religion. He mentioned praying, fasting, and almsgiving for publicity. It is right to do those things, but privately. Oversized checks to charitable organizations just draw attention to the givers. Recording your donations to beggars and posting the video online just draw attention to the givers. Fasting doesn’t need to be accompanied by smearing ash on your forehead for everyone to see. Praying should be about pouring out our hearts to God, not scripting the most flowery prose to impress the hearers.
C. 1st Corinthians 8:1
Even if those phylacteries were full of passages actually committed to memory by the wearers, that knowledge was a “puffed up” knowledge. It was an expression of pride, not love.
III. “THEY LOVE THE BEST PLACES”
A. Matthew 23:6-12
Many religious leaders crave exaltation. They are called by titles not authorized in Scripture, like “Reverend” or “Father”; or they may be called by actual positions on the church they are not qualified to fill, like “Pastor”, “Bishop”, or “Apostle”. They park in reserved parking places at church buildings, or sit in reserved pews. They wear weird collars or vestments, never mentioned in God’s word.
B. James 2:2-3
The New Testament plainly condemns the practice of reserved seating arrangements in the assemblies of the church.
C. Luke 14:7-11
Even in social settings, with no religious context whatsoever, it is wrong to presume favored seats. Even if Jesus hadn’t said this, it would be plain, practical advice to avoid awkwardness at parties.
D. Matthew 20:20-28
Exaltation in heaven comes through humble service, not demanding it. We must simply do our duty (Luke 17:10).
IV. “YOU SHUT UP THE KINGDOM OF HEAVEN AGAINST MEN”
A. Matthew 23:13
It’s bad enough when stubborn hearts refuse to accept the message of salvation. It is even worse when those same stubborn souls inhibit others from obedience. The Pharisees were in the practice of intimidating their peers, coercing them to refrain from confessing Christ in whom they believed (John 12:42-43).
B. 1st Thessalonians 2:13-16
It is a common practice to forbid Christians to speak salvation to others. This is often the case with those who self-identify as “atheists”, but are, in fact, “antitheists”, those who hate God. Real atheists just don’t care because they don’t believe. Antitheists hate God and won’t let others believe.
C. Proverbs 22:10
Scoffers only stir up strife.
V. “YOU DEVOUR WIDOWS’ HOUSES”
A. Matthew 23:14
They brought harm to the most vulnerable in society.
B. Matthew 15:1-9
The Pharisees created a tradition whereby they excused people from providing for their parents if they would instead make a religious donation, which caused them to directly disobey the command of God. They would bind their own traditions, and fault those did not comply, but would not obey what the Lord actually required.
C. 1st Timothy 5:8, 16
The one who fails to provide for needy family members is worse than the unbeliever! Helping the needy starts at home.
VI. “FOR A PRETENSE MAKE LONG PRAYERS”
A. Matthew 23:14
Here Jesus echoes what He has already said on conspicuous prayers (Matthew 6:5-8).
B. Luke 18:9-14
Pharisees thought they could brag to God and impress Him, when what the Almighty really wants is humble supplication.
C. James 5:16b
Prayers are effective when they come from righteous men.
VII. “YOU MAKE HIM TWICE AS MUCH A SON OF HELL AS YOURSELVES”
A. Matthew 23:15
Pharisees would go to great efforts to convert souls, only to condemn them afterward by having converted them to ungodly practices. Not every conversion story is something to rejoice over, when we realize what the new convert has been won to.
B. Matthew 15:14; 18:6
There is great potential for harm in following the wrong teacher, both for the student and the teacher!
C. James 3:1
A stricter judgment awaits the teacher.
VIII. “BLIND GUIDES WHO SAY, ‘WHOEVER SWEARS...’”
A. Matthew 23:16-22
We hear people say, “I swear on my mother’s grave”, “I swear on the Bible”, or “I swear on a stack of Bibles”. It’s like the kids in A Christmas Story; nothing trumps the triple dog dare! This is nonsense.
B. Matthew 5:33-37; James 5:12
Jesus and James make clear to us that we should be simply honest all the time, such that oaths are unnecessary. We can be taken at our word.
IX. “YOU HAVE… NEGLECTED THE WEIGHTIER MATTERS”
A. Matthew 23:23-28
The sect was faulted for having emphasized details to the neglect of major issues. It is not that the details were irrelevant minutiae, for Jesus said, “These you ought to have done”. It’s that they were so hung up on giving precisely ten percent of the tiniest kitchen herbs, and not a bit more, that they forgot to be fair, merciful, and faithful – attitudes whereby detailed obedience would come easily.
B. Matthew 22:36-40
Jesus explained that every command is dependent on either loving God or man. Right attitudes produce right actions; whereas right actions do not necessarily produce right attitudes.
C. Proverbs 30:5; Acts 20:27
Not one word of inspiration is to be disregarded. Every verse of Scripture is worthy of attention.
X. “YOU SAY… ‘IF WE HAD LIVED IN THE DAYS OF OUR FATHERS’”
A. Matthew 23:29-36
They claimed that they would not commit the sins of their fathers if they had lived in the past. They merely speculated they would resist the same temptations their ancestors yielded to.
B. Matthew 26:33-35
Similarly, Peter and the rest of the apostles claimed they would never be unfaithful to Christ even if everyone else fell away. It was speculation on the future, about which they couldn’t be certain. When Alexander the Great’s father Philip of Macedon was conquering Greece and consolidating power over the many city States, he sent warning to Sparta that they should surrender because they’d be annihilated if Philip’s army came to Sparta. The Spartans simply replied, “If”. Philip never came to Sparta. Speculation isn’t worth much.
C. 1st John 3:18
Faithfulness isn’t about what we say we would do, but we actually do in the moment.
By Bryan Matthew Dockens
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