Matthew Challenge Day 23
For the 28 days of February, a bunch of us are reading through the 28 chapters of Matthew (1 chapter a day). The purpose is to learn more about the life & teachings of Jesus ... and how those should be impacting our lives. We are going to post a short devotional guide each day on this spot so you can get a little help thinking through each chapter. Day 23 starts below.
Did someone ever tell you, “If you can’t say anything nice, don’t say anything at all”? That is good advice sometimes. At other times, something should be said and it may not seem “nice.” In chapter 22, the religious leaders had tried to make a fool of Jesus in front of the crowds by asking thorny questions. The chapter closed with Jesus asking them a question and then giving the answer they avoided. It silenced them. In 23:1-12, Jesus addressed the crowds and his disciples; it would be his final public address.
Because of their position of authority, Jesus said the people needed to listen to the teachers … but not follow their example because they didn’t practice what they preached. Furthermore, he said that the result of their teaching was to burden people’s lives with rules & regulations, but not do anything to help them.
He went on to say that the leaders lived for attention and praise; to be addressed as “Rabbi” (from a root word meaning “my master” or “my great one”) or “father” or “teacher” was a mark of distinction for them and put them above everyone else. Jesus said his followers were not to use those kinds of titles for each other because we have only one Master, Father, and Teacher; we are simply brothers and sisters in the family of God. Again he reminded them that we are to “aspire” only to be servants. If we humble ourselves, we can trust God to exalt us if he sees fit and when he sees fit and how he sees fit.
In 23:13-36, Jesus turned and addressed the leaders, and he pulled no punches. Seven times—eight if your Bible includes v14 in the text—he pronounced a “woe” upon them (an interjection expressing condemnation) while describing them as hypocrites, blind guides, and snakes. Why the criticism?
- Because they shut people out of the kingdom … and not even they were going to get in (v13).
- Because they impoverished widows trying to enrich their own spiritual appearance, which would lead to a severe punishment. (v14 is either in the text of your Bible or in a footnote.)
- Because they spared no expense and set no limitations on what they would do to gain a single follower, only to lead them to hell along with themselves (v15).
- Because they spent untold hours and effort trying to narrowly define, interpret, and apply the law but in the process promoted lawbreaking in whole or in part (vv16-22).
- Because they majored on minor things (like tithing on the smallest herb they brought into the kitchen) and totally missed the major things like living with justice, mercy, and faithfulness. He said, “You should tithe, but you cannot neglect the bigger things” (vv23-24).
- Because they made sure they “looked good” on the outside (public appearance & reputation) but inside were full of selfish and sinful things. He said that if they cleaned up what was on the inside, they would look a lot better on the outside (vv25-26).
- Because their “righteousness” was like a beautifully decorated tomb that housed a decaying body; they thought “decoration” would distract from their hypocrisy & wickedness (vv27-28).
- Because they acted like they honored the prophets of old by erecting beautiful monuments to them; he said if they had been living in the days of their fathers they would have joined them in killing the prophets. They would share the guilt of their ancestors (vv29-32). Verses 33-36 elaborate on this last “woe”— “prophets” would be sent to this new generation but they would persecute, kill, and crucify them … and the blood of all the martyrs would be on their heads.
Maybe surprisingly, this chapter closes with Jesus lamenting over Jerusalem who had rejected God’s word and mistreated his spokesmen … even as Jesus longed for them to come to him. Because they would not come to him “now” they would not know what they missed until the end of the age when he came to them “then.” But “then” it would be too late. Do we have any Pharisee-like characteristics we need to change?