• Daniel Mayfield

Seven Woes for Heaven's Foes


Why So Much About Pharisees?

It’s a lengthy read, but let’s begin with Christ’s most confrontational dialogue in Matthew. Turn to Matthew 23, and I’ll read verses 13-36.

13 “But woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you shut the kingdom of heaven in people’s faces. For you neither enter yourselves nor allow those who would enter to go in. 15 Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you travel across sea and land to make a single proselyte, and when he becomes a proselyte, you make him twice as much a child of hell as yourselves.

16 “Woe to you, blind guides, who say, ‘If anyone swears by the temple, it is nothing, but if anyone swears by the gold of the temple, he is bound by his oath.’ 17 You blind fools! For which is greater, the gold or the temple that has made the gold sacred? 18 And you say, ‘If anyone swears by the altar, it is nothing, but if anyone swears by the gift that is on the altar, he is bound by his oath.’ 19 You blind men! For which is greater, the gift or the altar that makes the gift sacred? 20 So whoever swears by the altar swears by it and by everything on it. 21 And whoever swears by the temple swears by it and by him who dwells in it. 22 And whoever swears by heaven swears by the throne of God and by him who sits upon it.

23 “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you tithe mint and dill and cumin, and have neglected the weightier matters of the law: justice and mercy and faithfulness. These you ought to have done, without neglecting the others. 24 You blind guides, straining out a gnat and swallowing a camel!

25 “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you clean the outside of the cup and the plate, but inside they are full of greed and self-indulgence. 26 You blind Pharisee! First clean the inside of the cup and the plate, that the outside also may be clean.

27 “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you are like whitewashed tombs, which outwardly appear beautiful, but within are full of dead people’s bones and all uncleanness. 28 So you also outwardly appear righteous to others, but within you are full of hypocrisy and lawlessness.

29 “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you build the tombs of the prophets and decorate the monuments of the righteous, 30 saying, ‘If we had lived in the days of our fathers, we would not have taken part with them in shedding the blood of the prophets.’ 31 Thus you witness against yourselves that you are sons of those who murdered the prophets. 32 Fill up, then, the measure of your fathers. 33 You serpents, you brood of vipers, how are you to escape being sentenced to hell? 34 Therefore I send you prophets and wise men and scribes, some of whom you will kill and crucify, and some you will flog in your synagogues and persecute from town to town, 35 so that on you may come all the righteous blood shed on earth, from the blood of righteous Abel to the blood of Zechariah the son of Barachiah, whom you murdered between the sanctuary and the altar. 36 Truly, I say to you, all these things will come upon this generation.

Don’t be a Pharisee. If your first thought at that was, “Oh, I’m not,” then you’re probably a Pharisee. Why does a gospel bent on proving Jesus is the King—and therefore you must fall at his feet and worship him—work so tirelessly to define pharisaism? The Pharisees are in chapters 3, 5, 9, 12, 15, 16, 19, 21, 22, 23, 27. From the spark igniting Christ’s ministry at the Jordan River to the temple halls where his death was procured, the Pharisees are at hand.

This tells me that if Christ is present, a Pharisee is probably very nearby—like in a church building. The folks out there aren’t Pharisees. Pharisees are the people closest in proximity to things of God. 2,000 years ago the Spirit of Christ filled a disciple named Matthew and said, “Say much of the Pharisees, for the sake of my sheep. I don’t want them to be unaware of that disease which spreads like cancer through the spirit and destroys life. Yes, Matthew, say much of the Pharisees.”

We ought to arise each day with the prayer, “Lord, make me not a Pharisee! Deliver me from self-righteousness, from naturalism which denies your power, from blindness, from lifelessness, from faulty weights which deny justice and mercy and faithfulness. Deliver me, O God!”

I can’t recall many times through these 116 weeks I’ve fallen on my knees before Christ and said, “Lord, I’m one of them! Crucify within me these worthless notions of outward religiosity but inner hypocrisy!” And I find the more I’m aware of my pharisaism, the less I’m like them. And yet, when I knew definitively that I wasn’t a Pharisee, I was their hellish offspring. Thank God for grace.

Now, I read 21 verses a moment ago, and there’s a lot packed into those verses. There are seven symptoms pronounced by Jesus by way of woes. What in the world happened to these guys such that seven miserable states befell them? How did they hear great wisdom and reject it? How did witness see miracles yet deny Christ’s power? What was the core cancer? Jesus said it five times.

Verse 16: “Woe to you, blind guides;” Verse 17: “You blind fools!”; Verse 19: “You blind men!”; Verse 24: “You blind guides;” Verse 26: “You blind Pharisee!”

Blindness! So when I say, “Don’t be a Pharisee!” I mean, “Don’t be blind!” Blindness is the cancer from which seven woefully miserable states came upon men just like you and me. So this morning we will spend a few moments defining each aspect of blindness addressed by our King.

[Note: If you’re using the King James Version, you’ll have eight woes present in this text; but more than likely verse 14 is not in the original writing of Matthew. That being said, the sentiment in verse 14 is expressly written in Mark 12:40 and Luke 20:47, so it’s an inspired word from Christ. This morning, however, we won’t deal with it because it very likely doesn’t belong to this section of verses.]

Blind to Christ’s Kingdom and Reign (No. 1)

“But woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you shut the kingdom of heaven in people’s faces. For you neither enter yourselves nor allow those who would enter to go in” (v. 13).

In Matthew 13, Jesus said the ways of the kingdom of heaven are secret because the people’s eyes “they have closed” (v. 15). He then blessed the disciples in this way: “Blessed are your eyes, for they see” (v. 16).

The Pharisees shut themselves and others out of the kingdom because they couldn’t see it. In chapter 15, Jesus said of the Pharisees, “they are blind guides. And if the blind lead the blind, both will fall into a pit.”

Being blind to Christ’s reign and kingdom doesn’t mean you’re unchurched. It doesn’t mean you’re ignorant to Christ’s name. It doesn’t mean you denounce his authority expressly. It may mean those things, but a great many who attend church, who wear Christ’s name, who confess allegiance to him are also totally blind to his kingdom and reign. How so?

I look around and I see so many people compartmentalizing their lives into work and family and retirement and church, forgetting that Christ’s kingdom is without boundary. If you’re in the kingdom, you’re in the kingdom all day at work. If Christ is king, then his reign rules your heart at every passing moment. In Christ, there’s no longer “secular life” and “church life;” there’s no longer “work life” and “family life.” Having eyes enlightened to the kingdom of Christ to where it is no longer a blind spot is to conceive of everything from your morning toothbrush routine to nighttime relaxation as kingdom work. Christ reigns! Don’t be blind to it.

Blind to Hellish Conversions (No. 2)

“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you travel across sea and land to make a single proselyte, and when he becomes a proselyte, you make him twice as much a child of hell as yourselves” (v. 15).

Now, the word Jesus’ uses—proselyte—is a Greek word (προσήλυτος, proselytos), which plainly means “one who comes near,” but the word eventually just meant a convert to Judaism. The idea is, one who was far off is now near. They are now near to God, presumably.

Of those brought near to God, Jesus said, “They’re twice as much children of hell as the leaders who brought them.” So he means, “In bringing them near the temple, near the commandments, near Israel’s leaders, near God’s name, you have made them damned to a greater degree than before.” What a failure! I think Jesus means, one is furthest from God when they exist under his wrath yet feel a false sense of security due to a faulty conversion. That’s a very scary place to be. At least the ones who are far off can say, “Yeah, I know I’m going to hell.” There’s still a connection to reality in that person. But these proselytes feel saved on a train bound for hell.

So here’s a question to ponder: If the leadership in a church has only an artificial grasp on Christ’s reign and kingdom, what will be the character of their converts? For years the global church has been guilty of teaching doctrine prior to teaching what it means to bow to Jesus. “If you’ll do this and this (say, be baptized, take communion, come to church, worship this way), you’re justified.” Are we making disciples of Jesus or sit-ins who know perfect etiquette in this weekly play? I’d rather have zero new baptisms and a core who “gets it” than have so-called conversions in which case the converts are worse off than before, feeling secure though not really knowing the Savior.

Blind to Greater Value than Gold (No. 3)

“16 “Woe to you, blind guides, who say, ‘If anyone swears by the temple, it is nothing, but if anyone swears by the gold of the temple, he is bound by his oath.’ 17 You blind fools! For which is greater, the gold or the temple that has made the gold sacred? 18 And you say, ‘If anyone swears by the altar, it is nothing, but if anyone swears by the gift that is on the altar, he is bound by his oath.’ 19 You blind men! For which is greater, the gift or the altar that makes the gift sacred? 20 So whoever swears by the altar swears by it and by everything on it. 21 And whoever swears by the temple swears by it and by him who dwells in it. 22 And whoever swears by heaven swears by the throne of God and by him who sits upon it.” (vv. 16-22).

Two times, Jesus said, “For which is greater…?” Which is greater, gold or the temple of God? Gold or God! Which is greater, your personal contribution or the means given by God to offer a gift at all?

What’s happening when men make rules like this (?): “If anyone swears by the temple, it is nothing, but if anyone swears by the gold of the temple, he is bound by his oath.” Or, “If anyone swears by the altar, it is nothing, but if anyone swears by the gift that is on the altar, he is bound by his oath.”

These rules are symptoms of a spiritual blindness of the worst sort, which sees gold as having greater value than the abode of God. It sees personal sacrifice as more important than God’s channel of grace. There are churches where the highest value amongst the leadership is the dollar; because teachings are catered to the preferences of donors. Never mind the decayed hearts of congregants—our bank is full.

Christ earlier said, the kingdom is like a treasure hidden in a field for which a man sold everything he had to obtain it. What is truly your highest value? Jesus, in verses 20-22, connects everything in the universe to God, the highest value.

Blind to God’s Scales (No. 4)

“23 “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you tithe mint and dill and cumin, and have neglected the weightier matters of the law: justice and mercy and faithfulness. These you ought to have done, without neglecting the others. 24 You blind guides, straining out a gnat and swallowing a camel!” (vv. 23-24).

Notice the symbolic scale Jesus relays. How do you get a tenth of your pile of mint or dill or cumin? A scale! With broad phylacteries and a monocle, the Pharisees painstakingly weighed their every spice down to the gram and felt justified. “But you’ve abandoned the heaviest matters of all, namely, justice and mercy and faithfulness.”

Now, tithing was commanded (Deuteronomy 14:22); Jesus even said in verse 23, “These you ought to have done.” But the weight of tithing compared to the weight of a heart filled with justice, mercy, and faithfulness is the difference between a gnat and a camel—in God’s eyes!

Here’s why the scales tip infinitely more in the direction of justice, mercy, and faithfulness: A tither who lacks those qualities will do nothing more for anyone. A tither who cares nothing for justice, for mercy, for faithfulness to God will feel no compulsion to help anyone because they’ve already checked off their box. This is what had happened earlier when the Pharisees refused to help their needy parents because they’d already given to God (see Matthew 15:1ff). When justice and mercy and faithfulness are absent from tithers, a billion other commands get totally trampled; like the command to honor your father and mother.

Blind to Inner Greed and Self-Indulgence (No. 5)

“25 “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you clean the outside of the cup and the plate, but inside they are full of greed and self-indulgence. 26 You blind Pharisee! First clean the inside of the cup and the plate, that the outside also may be clean.” (vv. 25-26).

Two things on this point: (1) Make note of how many woes have some connection to a love of money. Woe to those who see gold as the standard—not God! Woe to those who see personal financial sacrifice as more justifying than God’s grace. Woe to those who feel justified before God because they tithe. In other words, woe to those who love money so much that to give a minimal amount makes them feel good. Woe to those who are full of greed! There are a host of connections here to money. Luke 16:14 says the Pharisees were “lovers of money.”

Now, here’s the thing: (2) Those who love money don’t often know it. Jesus said, “inside [you] are full of greed…You blind Pharisee!” They were blind to their greed. Why were they blind? Because outwardly they did everything you’d expect somebody who didn’t love money to do. They gave 10% of everything, including spices. The clue is in their self-indulgence. They indulged themselves. When they wanted something, they got it. They indulged themselves with the 90% for which God gave no ordinance. There wasn’t a lick past the expected mark that went to God. The Pharisee walked past the beaten, nearly dead man on the side of the road because he’d already paid his dues.

Don’t be tempted to think after you’ve given your expected contributions, “Haven’t I done enough!?” Leave room for an inner cleanness that despises greed and that limits personal indulgences.

Blind to a Dry, Dirty, Dead Spirit (No. 6)

“27 Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you are like whitewashed tombs, which outwardly appear beautiful, but within are full of dead people’s bones and all uncleanness. 28 So you also outwardly appear righteous to others, but within you are full of hypocrisy and lawlessness” (vv. 27-28).

This is why man looks on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart (1 Samuel 16:7). This is why many will say to Jesus, “Lord, Lord, did we not do all these mighty works in your name?” And Jesus will say, “I never knew you” (see Matthew 7:21-23).

No man on earth can look into you and verify what’s happening in there. There are clues, for sure (see Matthew 7:15-20), but sometimes you just can’t tell. Therefore, as much as you may rely on a spouse or family member or church member or friend to reveal your weak points, there’s a degree to which even they can’t do that.

Look inward. Spend some time inward. You may not like what you find; however, don’t let that paralyze you, for Paul said, “And you were dead in the trespasses and sins 2 in which you once walked…But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, 5 even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved” (Ephesians 2:1,2, 4-5).

God loves beautifully decorated sepulchers. He loves hollow souls. He resurrects dead spirits who turn in repentance after seeing there’s no life beyond the graces of Jesus.

Blind to a Murderous Likeness (No. 7)

“29 Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you build the tombs of the prophets and decorate the monuments of the righteous, 30 saying, ‘If we had lived in the days of our fathers, we would not have taken part with them in shedding the blood of the prophets.’ 31 Thus you witness against yourselves that you are sons of those who murdered the prophets. 32 Fill up, then, the measure of your fathers. 33 You serpents, you brood of vipers, how are you to escape being sentenced to hell? 34 Therefore I send you prophets and wise men and scribes, some of whom you will kill and crucify, and some you will flog in your synagogues and persecute from town to town” (vv. 29-34).

I remember as a young Christian, hearing of the faithlessness of the Israelites as they wandered in the wilderness, and thinking, “Had I been there and seen what they saw, I’d have never doubted God!” That same kind of thing is happening with the Pharisees here. They said, “If we had lived in the days of our fathers, we would not have taken part with them in shedding the blood of the prophets.”

For making that conclusion, Jesus said, “Therefore I send you prophets and wise men and scribes, some of whom you will kill and crucify, and some you will flog in your synagogues and persecute from town to town.”

They saw themselves so differently than they were. They were blind to their likeness to past sinful fathers. When I read Exodus, I’m usually sitting in an air conditioned environment, relaxing on a comfortable chair with a full belly. And in one sitting, I can read of the monumental power displayed by the hand of God in Egypt, after which God led Israel into the desert. And when they begin grumbling because of a lack of food or a lack of water or because of the fact that they’re in the desert, I can project my immediate comfort on them and think, “How faithless!” This isn’t an accurate assessment, though.

I see myself just the same as grumbling Israel when I’m tired at the end of the day and respond rudely to Miranda. I see myself like the murderous fathers of Israel when I get angry at a hard but true assessment from a peer. In my heart, I want to shut them out and find a reason to critique them. These are the same things—just a different scale, a different time, a different setting. Pray to God to see you as he sees you, even if he sees you like Israel’s murderous fathers.

Conclusion

Unless we’re also blind, more than one of these woes should weigh on us. In messages like this, it’s important to remember what Jesus said in last week’s text: “Whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and whoever humbles himself will be exalted.”

Come to Jesus in the humility which says, “I’m a Pharisee, and I wish to be transformed. This morning you laid against me seven heavy woes, and my spirit is crushed by their weight. Heal me.”

As these woes lay heavily on you, remember the testimony of a true Pharisee: “[I am] a Hebrew of Hebrews; as to the law, a Pharisee; as to zeal, a persecutor of the church; as to righteousness under the law, blameless. But whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ. Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith—that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, that by any means possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead” (Philippians 3:5-11).

Christ loves Pharisees; he loves us enough to show us a better way. Don’t let blindness befall you.

© Finding Canaan. All rights reserved. "Therefore, behold, I am against the prophets, declares the Lord, who steal my words from one another" -- Jeremiah 23:30

#Sermon #FindingCanaan #Matthew #Gospel #BibleStudy #SevenWoes #Pharisaism #Pharisees #Scribes #Hypocrites #Matthew24 #ExpositoryPreaching #ExegeticalStudy

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