Lord God, today may your eternal light and your enduring truth lead me to know and love you more.
Read MATTHEW 23:13–39
Seven Woes on the Teachers of the Law and the Pharisees
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.  [a]
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.
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. 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. 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.
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? 34 Therefore I am sending you prophets and sages and teachers. Some of them you will kill and crucify; others you will flog in your synagogues and pursue from town to town. 35 And so upon you will come all the righteous blood that has been shed on earth, from the blood of righteous Abel to the blood of Zechariah son of Berekiah, whom you murdered between the temple and the altar. 36 Truly I tell you, all this will come on this generation.
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. 38 Look, your house is left to you desolate. 39 For I tell you, you will not see me again until you say, ‘Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.’[b]”
New International Version (NIV)Holy Bible, New International Version®, NIV® Copyright ©1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.® Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.
Reflect‘Search me, God, and know my heart … See if there is any offensive way in me…’ (Psalm 139:23–24).
This detailed exposé of the hypocrisy of the Pharisees is a blistering attack by Jesus. He pulls no punches as he lays out the evidence for his earlier charge that they fail to practice what they preach (23:3). So consumed have they become with the tiniest details of the application of the Law that they have completely lost sight of its intended purpose – to produce the fruit of a life orientated toward love for God and neighbor. Their heart is in the wrong place. If only it were in the right place, then many of the outer details over which they agonize would take care of themselves. That the gaping inconsistency between the Pharisees’ ritual posturing and the reality of their relationship with God should provoke such harsh criticism from Jesus, should give us pause for thought.
Christ’s words, however, are not motivated by hatred; his own heart is well and truly in the right place. Read again the arresting maternal imagery he uses to describe his ministry to Jerusalem (v 37). He feels keenly his responsibility for the salvation of his people, and so feels equally keenly the pain of their rejection of him, for which they must take responsibility (v 38). Anger that is genuinely righteous arises not from wounded pride, but from a broken heart.
Meditate on Jesus’ words in verse 37. What do these convey to you about God, and the expression of his love in Jesus?
There are times, Lord, when I need to speak out, sometimes bring a word of rebuke. May my words come from a broken heart, not wounded pride.
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