“Words For The Church” Matthew 23:1-39

After shutting all the mouths of his adversaries, Jesus now turns to address the crowd around him and his disciples.  He’s going to say quite a bit about what the scribes—experts in Jewish law, including the Bible—and the Pharisees are doing wrong, but wrapped up in his words are also rules regarding how the Church should behave.

He sounds very much like an OT prophet in this passage:

  • Rebuking the people who abuse their power—v.4 they tie up heavy burdens on others but don’t do anything to help them
  • Gives some shadowy allusions to God’s servant—v. 11 the greatest among you will be your servant
  • Pronouncing “woes”—deadly serious warnings against people who are doing wrong, here the scribes and Pharisees
  • Finally, when he laments the state of Jerusalem—weeping for these people who have rejected him, Jesus says “see your house is left to you desolate”
    • Reminiscent of Ezekiel 10 where the glory of the Lord rises up and leaves from the temple
    • An act of judgment against God’s rebellious people
      • For Ezekiel it symbolized the Exile
      • For Jesus it was spiritual exile for rejecting him and a prediction of the destruction of the temple and Jerusalem in AD 70

Even here, in this warning, in God’s judgment which is always right and just, Jesus shows us just how much he loves the church—weeping over it, “how often would I have gathered your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings”.

  • God’s steadfast love never fails—Jesus’ love for his bride never fails
  • Our Lord’s lament reflects Psalm 36:7-9 How precious is your steadfast love, O God! The children of mankind take refuge in the shadow of your wings. They feast on the abundance of your house, and you give them drink from the river of your delights. For with you is the fountain of life; in your light do we see light.

As we are bathed in Jesus’ love and called together to be his church, He gives us directions, he gives us “words for the church”.

  1. Correct teaching—this point isn’t about the Pharisees and scribes missing the gospel, that’ll be next.  What I mean here is that correct teaching is always authoritative.
    1. V. 2 “The scribes and Pharisees sit on Moses’ seat, so do and observe whatever they tell you, but don’t do what they do.”
      1. Moses’ seat—the seat of authority in the synagogue, the office of authority
        1. It’s not given to the person—like the individual elder in Presbyterian churches
        1. The Bible gives the authority to the office, to the ones who hold the office
        1. “Decisions are made jointly not individually”
        1. The office retains authority as far as it teaches God’s Word accurately
      1. As far as they Pharisees and Scribes are teaching what the Bible says, you have the duty to obey it
      1. Even as far as how they tell you to apply it, if it is in accord with God’s word
    1. What this means for us:  The church is under the authority of God and Jesus is her head
      1. God’s will is revealed in the Bible
      1. Every part of our life, especially church life
        1. Worship
        1. Doctrine
        1. Relationships among us
        1. All of these are dictated by the Bible
      1. The Elders are the shepherds watching over all of this—
        1. Pray for us
        1. Support us
    1. If there’s one doctrine most neglected or abused in the modern church, it’s this one
      1. Walking a tight rope—there’s 358 degrees of wrong…
      1. Respect the authority God has placed over you
      1. Elders respect and be responsible to exercise the authority and duties God has given you
  2. Second point is keep the gospel central we see that in v.11 don’t we?
    1. “The greatest among you shall be your servant”
      1. The gospel—Jesus, our greatest served us better than we will ever serve him
    1. Stated another way:  The mystery of God’s love for sinners is the heart of the gospel—
      1. From the hymn “And Can It Be?”
      1. “died he for me, who caused his pain? How can it be that thou, my God, should die for me?”
    1. Or from the Philippian creed:  Christ Jesus, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.
      1. Jesus died for his people
      1. His people are defined by their faith in him
      1. Are you actively believing in Jesus for your salvation?
        1. Realizing your sin
        1. Trusting in who he is and what he did and is doing
        1. Repenting daily—confessing, turning, obeying, putting your sin to death
  3. The Truth sets you free—verses  13-15  “you travel across sea and land to make a single proselyte, and when he becomes one, you make him twice as much a child of hell as yourselves.”
    1. The Scribes and Pharisees had proselytes, (disciples who had converted from paganism to follow them.)
      1. Jesus’ condemnation to the hypocrites—your proselytes are worse off for all of your teaching
      1. Twice as much a child of hell.
      1. The Scribes and Pharisees were Fastidious– Thorough and Demanding–in keeping the smallest of laws and traditions, tithing dill and mint and so on, but they weren’t really seeking the goal of the law
    1. Which means they didn’t truly keep the law at all, they didn’t keep the law by faith—that’s the real goal of the law, it always was and still is
    1. Romans 9:30-32  What shall we say, then? That Gentiles who did not pursue righteousness have attained it, that is, a righteousness that is by faith; but that Israel who pursued a law that would lead to righteousness did not succeed in reaching that law. Why? Because they did not pursue it by faith, but as if it were based on works.
      1. They didn’t pursue righteousness by faith
      1. They used the law without faith
      1. That’s why they missed the Messiah who would have set them free from their bondage to sin
    1. How do we apply this?  Keep the law of God, but do so out of faith and according to your faith in Jesus—looking for constant forgiveness through him.
      1. He has set you free to obey God—you didn’t get your freedom by your obedience, Christ is your freedom
      1. Obey out of dependence, repentance, and thankfulness
  4. God is your sanctification—vv. 16-22
    1. Jesus uses this weird quotation of the Pharisees, “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.” And “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.”
    1. Jesus is referring to the common mistake—common to all of us, not just the Scribes and Pharisees, the common mistake of thinking that what I do, what I think, or what I offer to God—whether its gold that furnished the temple, or the gift I lay on the altar—thinking that those things make me holy.
    1. Jesus is saying you got it backwards, bucko. 
      1. God makes your gift holy—“Which is greater, the gift or the altar that makes the gift sacred? Whoever swears by the temple swears by it and by him who dwells in it.”
    1. The Word for us here:  Seek holiness but seek it correctly—through your communion with God
      1. Ex. 33:14 “I the Lord sanctify you”
      1. Commune with God in worship, engaging all of your being in worship, body and soul; in work, doing all things to the glory of God; and in leisure, “ whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.”
  5. Make the main thing the main thing;  vv.23-25
    1. They’re worried about tithing the smallest particle of their herbs, but they won’t lift a finger to help someone keep the law of God.
    1. Jesus in the upper room
      1. Love in washing the disciples’ feet
      1. Love in preparing them for what would happen the next day
      1. Jesus gives tells his church what the main thing is for them.  John 13:34-35  A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”
    1. The main thing is to love one another—in the ways they need to be loved, with an eye that looks to serve your brother and sister
  6. Examine your heart; this combines the next three “woes” so it’s vs. 25-36
    1. Guard against your flesh—
      1. V. 25 The outside was of the cup and plate were clean but the inside full of greed and self-indulgence even though the sinful nature was crucified, its effects on your soul remain until Jesus returns
      1. For the person who is outwardly righteous, greed probably didn’t begin as greed, but as a desire to care for his family well and then it turned into greed
      1. Similarly self-indulgence is probably best understood as self-care gone sinfully wrong—we all need rest (Sabbath is good) and times to relax, but it’s all too easy to let that become indulgence
      1. Those are just two examples:  We all have to guard against our flesh abusing good things and making them into sinful things.
    1. Remove the death of sin from your soul—the scribes and Pharisees were whitewashed tombs, pretty on the outside but full of death on the inside
      1. “Be killing sin or it will be killing you”.  John Owen
      1. John Flavel, referring to the saved person as having a gracious heart, wrote, the “gracious heart is like a musical instrument, which though it be exactly tuned, a small matter brings it out of tune again.”[1]
      1. Only the regenerate person, the one saved by grace, can kill sin in his heart by the Holy Spirit’s influence. 
        1. Now that you have been saved, though, are you going to try to do this by yourself?
        1.  I hope not, because that is nonsense.  Killing sin, mortifying the flesh is a work of the Holy Spirit in you— He applies the death and resurrection of Christ to your soul, to justify and to sanctify.
      1. Rom. 6:9-12  We know that Christ, being raised from the dead, will never die again; death no longer has dominion over him. For the death he died he died to sin, once for all, but the life he lives he lives to God. So you also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus. Let not sin therefore reign in your mortal body, to make you obey its passions.
      1. And Romans 8:13-14 “For if you live according to the flesh you will ide, but if by the Spirit you put do death the deeds of the body, you will live.  For all who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God.”
    1. Be honest with yourself vv. 29-36—the scribes and Pharisees could see their ancestors’ sins in killing the prophets, but they couldn’t see they were doing the same thing with Jesus.
      1. Sinners live between two dangerous rivers:  denial and delusion
      1. We deny our sinfulness and we’re self-deluded enough to think we’re better than we are
      1. Be honest with yourself
        1. Don’t be satisfied with outer righteousness
        1. Look to your heart
        1. Find your weaknesses, ask God for help—ask your friends for help
          1. Wynton Marsalis—students don’t want to learn they just want to be praised
          1. Find friends who will really help
        1. Don’t only find what’s broken, also remember the answer—Jesus
          1. From the end of our prayer of confession today:
          1. Father, keep me ever mindful of my natural state, but do not let me forget my heavenly title, or forsake the grace that can deal with every sin.
          1. Remember your heavenly title and the grace of Christ
  7. Love the Church—it’s dumbfounding to me that Jesus cries for Jerusalem here
    1. It just shows how much I fall short, because Jesus’ compassion for sinners goes so much deeper than mine
    1. They’re about to crucify him in just a few days and he knows it, yet he cries
    1. “How often would I have gathered your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and yet you were not willing”
      1. I wouldn’t be crying for them, that’s for sure
    1. Jesus gives us this example—showing us what it means to truly love
      1. Being true to the truth—if he compromised the gospel they wouldn’t need to believe Jesus and then he wouldn’t be crying for them
      1. Still having a heart for the covenant people of God that seeks them, even when he’s rejected.

Steadfast love that endures forever—be committed to the church, Jesus died for her, and Jesus protects her, nurtures, and prays for her—if you are his, you should love her as if She were your mother.

[1] Flavel, Keeping the Heart, 18.