Matthew 23:13-39 (NIV)
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. 14 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.’”
Blind Guides, religious leaders, woe, terror, punishment. Now that is the plot of a great story isn’t it. Just imagine entrusting yourself to a ‘blind guide’! Jesus saves some of His greatest condemnations for the ones who should know better, the religious leaders. The Pharisees and Sadducees majored on minors. They had rules for every minute area of life, while at the same time they forgot about the important things. This is not uncommon, legalists are sticklers for details, but blind to great principles. I find myself conflicted as I write this blog. Being a pastor in our church I am very aware of the great weight of responsibility that leadership in the Christian community necessarily entails. Whenever I hear of a Christian brother or sister fail through some form of moral, ethical, or spiritual failure it pains me to my heart. Yet like them I am made of clay, frail, tempted, sinful. How I need the Saviour – Jesus, we all do! On the other hand, I know that we need to lift the standard of following Christ to the level that He calls us to, not some culture infused lifestyle where comfort and compromise win out over Christ. I am sure, that at least in part, the intention of the Pharisees and Sadducees rules and regulations was to promote righteousness! Yet here in lies the conundrum. Righteousness and godliness are of the heart. The rules are external. We need to know the standard then in God’s grace seek to fulfil it! And it is here that I think we need fresh revelation – that Jesus empower us to fulfill His plan, His life, His way – grace and truth, truth, and grace – Jesus was full of both and wants us to be full of both and know just when and how to bring them out.
May we not be pharisees or Sadducees by our actions and attitudes, yet live in true holiness, measured by God’s grace and truth.
Father help us in our weaknesses – which are many and varied. Help us to live godly lives in Christ to reflect His grace and truth!
Written by Ps. Richard Botta