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Matthew 23:1-33  Then Jesus said to the crowds and to his disciples:  (2)  “The teachers of the law and the Pharisees sit in Moses’ seat.  (3)  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. 

Over the centuries, the Law given by God through Moses evolved into a religion led by the teachers of the law and the Pharisees—the religion which prevailed in Israel in the time of Jesus. Let’s see what Jesus had to say about those leaders. 

One mark of Pharisees in the time of Jesus was hypocrisy—they did not practice what they preached. Because of sinful human nature which does not change, what we saw in the Pharisees 2,000 years ago we can still see in various places in the New Testament Church today.

Are there Pharisees today as well in the Church of Jesus Christ? Are there preachers who do not practice what they preach? Are there those who preach against greed, yet they themselves in various ways essentially extort generous offerings from God’s people to finance their celebrity lifestyle—which of course they justify using Scripture? Are there preachers who preach against sexuality immorality, yet they themselves…? And when they are caught in adultery they warn us, “do not touch God’s anointed” and cite David’s sin with Bathsheba.

(4)  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.  (5)  “Everything they do is done for people to see: They make their phylacteries wide and the tassels on their garments long;  (6)  they love the place of honor at banquets and the most important seats in the synagogues;  (7)  they love to be greeted with respect in the marketplaces and to be called ‘Rabbi’ by others. 

There are also some (but not all) preachers today who love the limelight and the honor and popularity which it brings. Like a Hollywood celebrity, some will pay particular attention to how they look on camera.

(8)  “But you are not to be called ‘Rabbi,’ for you have one Teacher, and you are all brothers.  (9)  And do not call anyone on earth ‘father,’ for you have one Father, and he is in heaven.  (10)  Nor are you to be called instructors, for you have one Instructor, the Messiah.  (11)  The greatest among you will be your servant.  (12)  For those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted. 

But we are to humble ourselves before one another here on earth, so that in the next age we will be exalted by the Lord. What will we say before the Lord if here on earth our fame as preachers has skyrocketed to the point that we need bodyguards to protect us against the adoring crowds? Did Jesus need hired bodyguards?

(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.  (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. 

(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.’  (17)  You blind fools! Which is greater: the gold, or the temple that makes the gold sacred?  (18)  You also say, ‘If anyone swears by the altar, it means nothing; but anyone who swears by the gift on the altar is bound by that oath.’  (19)  You blind men! Which is greater: the gift, or the altar that makes the gift sacred?  (20)  Therefore, anyone who swears by the altar swears by it and by everything on it.  (21)  And anyone who swears by the temple swears by it and by the one who dwells in it.  (22)  And anyone who swears by heaven swears by God’s throne and by the one who sits on it. 

Are there Pharisees today who spend half an hour or more taking an offering from God’s people—whose focus is on the gold and the gifts more than on feeding God’s sheep? They feed God’s people mostly in expectation of receiving gold and gifts.

(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. 

There are preachers who put heavy emphasis on receiving tithes from God’s people. (They have a huge mortgage and other bills to pay.)  But less important are God’s people walking in holiness and aiming for perfection as Scripture commands. After all, we are saved by grace through faith and not by works.

(24)  You blind guides! You strain out a gnat but swallow a camel.  (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. 

There are preachers today who are full of greed and self-indulgence. (With regard to the latter, why are so many preachers overweight and consequently suffering from various health problems?)

(26)  Blind Pharisee! First clean the inside of the cup and dish, and then the outside also will be clean.  (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.  (28)  In the same way, on the outside you appear to people as righteous but on the inside you are full of hypocrisy and wickedness. 

Some preachers can appear to be so holy and righteous, especially if we listen to their powerful messages. But the Pharisees in our midst are full of hypocrisy and wickedness on the inside. Unfortunately, God’s people not knowing Scripture often lack discernment and will follow Pharisees.

(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.  (30)  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.’  (31)  So you testify against yourselves that you are the descendants of those who murdered the prophets.  (32)  Go ahead, then, and complete what your ancestors started!  (33)  “You snakes! You brood of vipers! How will you escape being condemned to hell?

Jesus rebuked the Pharisees most harshly, calling them snakes and vipers who would not escape being condemned to hell. Sadly, some preachers today will suffer in the same way. To him who is given much, much will be required.

James 3:1  Not many of you should become teachers, my fellow believers, because you know that we who teach will be judged more strictly.