Friday, May 5, 2017

Matthew, part 2, Jesus' Last Public Speech

Let’s look at Matthew chapter 23 and really examine it. This is the last public speech that Jesus gives. It is Wednesday, two days before the crucifixion. In my Bible this chapter is headed the “Seven Woes” and it starts with a big slam of the current teachers of the law and the Pharisees. Read 23: 1 – 12:
1 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. 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.
   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.
Wow, what a speech. Jesus denounces the false leaders. He says in verse 2 that the Pharisees sit in Moses’ seat which gives them great authority. The Greek word here is kathedra which means bench and is the basis of our word cathedral. In verse 3 he says to obey them and to do what they preach, which is the Law, but don’t do what they do, because they don’t practice what they preach. There’s trouble coming otherwise; just look at verses 13 – 36:

   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] Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You devour widows’ houses and for a show make lengthy prayers. Therefore you will be punished more severely.
(Some manuscripts do not have verse 14.) Did you notice the first “woe”? What are the Pharisees doing wrong? Answer: They are shutting up the kingdom of heaven. If they had opened the kingdom, they would have recognized Jesus as the Messiah. There are more “woes:”
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.
It sounds like the Pharisees were zealous in winning converts, but being ardent and passionate is nothing if you are passionate about the wrong thing. Compare them to the Jehovah’s Witnesses and the Mormons. These two groups are quite passionate, but are they passionate in the wrong way? But wait, there are more “woes:”
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.
The Pharisees made false and deceptive oaths. You can kind of equate this with making a promise with your fingers crossed. But Jesus says that every oath is binding. (Some of the synonyms for woe are trouble, misfortune, calamity, disaster and despair.)
 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.
The Pharisees were obsessed over trivialities, but ignored the weightier matters that were much more important. Jesus gives a ridiculous and humorous comparison about straining out gnats and swallowing camels. (To be kosher they had to drain the blood and since a gnat was too small to be drained of it blood, it had to be strained or picked out of the food carefully.)
 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.
The Pharisees were concerned with their outward appearance, but their cleansing was superficial; they needed to be clean on the inside.
 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.
This sounds just like the last woe, so it must be important that Jesus again accuses them of being concerned with the outside appearance of righteousness, when they were not righteous on the inside.
   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!
In the last woe Jesus rebukes them for being the descendants of those who murdered the prophets of old. Though they claim they would not have taken part, it is obvious from their current rejection of Him that they are not guiltless.
Jesus does, however, end His denunciation with a show of His great love. His words are harsh; He loves them and is warning them. From verses 37 – 39 I can imagine that Jesus is probably weeping (we know from Luke 19:41 that He wept as He looked at Jerusalem).
  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.’”

Such great sorrow for the Jewish people. Read verse 39 again and pray for Israel and all Jews everywhere.