Today: [Matthew 23] Does Your Righteousness Exceed that of the Pharisees? In chapter 23 of Matthew Jesus condemns the outward show of the religious pride of the Pharisees and scribes of His day. They looked good outwardly but in their private lives and heart of hearts were deeply corrupt. Because of this the culture of Judaism would ultimately reject Jesus and be scattered through all the world at the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 AD, a fate that could have been averted, and a sad example that Christianity should learn from lest we suffer the same fate.
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[Mat 23:1-39 KJV] 1 Then spake Jesus to the multitude, and to his disciples, 2 Saying, The scribes and the Pharisees sit in Moses’ seat: 3 All therefore whatsoever they bid you observe, [that] observe and do; but do not ye after their works: for they say, and do not. 4 For they bind heavy burdens and grievous to be borne, and lay [them] on men’s shoulders; but they [themselves] will not move them with one of their fingers. 5 But all their works they do for to be seen of men: they make broad their phylacteries, and enlarge the borders of their garments, 6 And love the uppermost rooms at feasts, and the chief seats in the synagogues, 7 And greetings in the markets, and to be called of men, Rabbi, Rabbi. 8 But be not ye called Rabbi: for one is your Master, [even] Christ; and all ye are brethren. 9 And call no [man] your father upon the earth: for one is your Father, which is in heaven. 10 Neither be ye called masters: for one is your Master, [even] Christ. 11 But he that is greatest among you shall be your servant. 12 And whosoever shall exalt himself shall be abased; and he that shall humble himself shall be exalted. 13 But woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye shut up the kingdom of heaven against men: for ye neither go in [yourselves], neither suffer ye them that are entering to go in. 14 Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye devour widows’ houses, and for a pretence make long prayer: therefore ye shall receive the greater damnation. 15 Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye compass sea and land to make one proselyte, and when he is made, ye make him twofold more the child of hell than yourselves. 16 Woe unto you, [ye] blind guides, which say, Whosoever shall swear by the temple, it is nothing; but whosoever shall swear by the gold of the temple, he is a debtor! 17 [Ye] fools and blind: for whether is greater, the gold, or the temple that sanctifieth the gold? 18 And, Whosoever shall swear by the altar, it is nothing; but whosoever sweareth by the gift that is upon it, he is guilty. 19 [Ye] fools and blind: for whether [is] greater, the gift, or the altar that sanctifieth the gift? 20 Whoso therefore shall swear by the altar, sweareth by it, and by all things thereon. 21 And whoso shall swear by the temple, sweareth by it, and by him that dwelleth therein. 22 And he that shall swear by heaven, sweareth by the throne of God, and by him that sitteth thereon.

In chapter 23 of Matthew Jesus addresses the common people in the multitude that followed after Him. He reminds them that the scribes and Pharisees, though known to be corrupt they nonetheless sit in Moses seat and as such not everything they teach is to be disregarded. Nonetheless Jesus instructs the people not to follow the personal example these authorities set, for while they say correct things, their lives do not reflect the principles they espouse. Thus, we come to the issue of religious authority and how to respond to leadership. God ordains leadership this is true, but Jesus in His teachings make it clear that personal accountability ultimately is between the believer and God Himself. We are not to take the failures of our leaders such as the Pharisees and Sadducees as an excuse to exempt ourselves from the mandates of God’s word and even the teachings of corrupt leaders, but only insofar as what they teach actually reflects true teaching of the word of God.

What is wrong with the leadership examples of the scribes and Pharisees? Verses 4-5 tell us that their piety is an outward show only, and that the burdens of discipleship that they impose upon others they in reality do not obey even in the slightest. What can we learn from this? Here we see the difference between leaders after God’s own heart, and those leaders that we cannot benefit from.

Teachers and ministers often lay out for us their ideas about what God requires or how we can come to the place of blessing in our lives. However, if you look at their example you will find that they did not come to blessing in the same way they are insisting that we conduct ourselves. In 1 John chapter 1, the apostle commands that when we teach, we must teach what WE have seen and heard, not theories or our ideas that do not reflect our own experience with God. To preach to others that which has not be walked out in our lives is a form of deception and it is a very common practice in Christian leadership. When a leader instructs you, look at what you can know about their lives. Have they walked the path that they insist is incumbent upon you? If they have not, then you should consider very carefully whether you want to follow after that person’s teaching. Look for men and women who are as John exhorts, telling what they have seen and heard, what they have tasted of the things of God and are willingly sharing with you that you might benefit just as they have.

In verse 7 Jesus said that we should call no man Rabbi or Master. The word Rabbi means teacher. This is something to think about. In Psa. 111:9 the psalmist says concerning God Himself that “holy and reverend is HIS name…” Is it wrong to think of someone as a spiritual father, or to call even your natural progenitor “father”? Some people interpret it this way, yet Paul himself spoke of being the spiritual father of the Corinthian church and thought of them as his sons, saying “though you have 10,000 instructors in Christ, you have not many fathers, for I have begotten you through the gospel…” The point being, is that no man, woman, teacher or leader originates the blessing of God in your life. There is only one ultimate authority and that is who God is on the inside of you. The leader or church system that suggests or implies that you cannot be rightly related to God without being rightly related to them is in error and you should separate yourself from them as an unsafe influence no matter how orthodox they may seem to be in the faith.

23 Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye pay tithe of mint and anise and cummin, and have omitted the weightier [matters] of the law, judgment, mercy, and faith: these ought ye to have done, and not to leave the other undone. 24 [Ye] blind guides, which strain at a gnat, and swallow a camel. 25 Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye make clean the outside of the cup and of the platter, but within they are full of extortion and excess. 26 [Thou] blind Pharisee, cleanse first that [which is] within the cup and platter, that the outside of them may be clean also. 27 Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye are like unto whited sepulchres, which indeed appear beautiful outward, but are within full of dead [men’s] bones, and of all uncleanness. 28 Even so ye also outwardly appear righteous unto men, but within ye are full of hypocrisy and iniquity. 29 Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! because ye build the tombs of the prophets, and garnish the sepulchres of the righteous, 30 And say, If we had been in the days of our fathers, we would not have been partakers with them in the blood of the prophets. 31 Wherefore ye be witnesses unto yourselves, that ye are the children of them which killed the prophets. 32 Fill ye up then the measure of your fathers. 33 [Ye] serpents, [ye] generation of vipers, how can ye escape the damnation of hell? 34 Wherefore, behold, I send unto you prophets, and wise men, and scribes: and [some] of them ye shall kill and crucify; and [some] of them shall ye scourge in your synagogues, and persecute [them] from city to city: 35 That upon you may come all the righteous blood shed upon the earth, from the blood of righteous Abel unto the blood of Zacharias son of Barachias, whom ye slew between the temple and the altar. 36 Verily I say unto you, All these things shall come upon this generation. 37 O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, [thou] that killest the prophets, and stonest them which are sent unto thee, how often would I have gathered thy children together, even as a hen gathereth her chickens under [her] wings, and ye would not! 38 Behold, your house is left unto you desolate. 39 For I say unto you, Ye shall not see me henceforth, till ye shall say, Blessed [is] he that cometh in the name of the Lord

In verse 23 Jesus speaks about the practice of tithing among the Pharisees. They were very meticulous in this practice, but they left off the weightier matters of judging right judgment, exercising mercy and demonstrating faith. Should we tithe, or should we not tithe? In Rom. 14:23 Paul said whatsoever is not of faith is sin. If we are more amenable to cease the practice of tithing because it challenges our faith to give at that level, then to stop tithing is a sin, because in ceasing to tithe you would be expressing your unbelief. If you read the New Testament and cannot justify tithing in all honesty then remember the words of Jesus in Matthew 5:20:

[Mat 5:20 KJV] 20 For I say unto you, That except your righteousness shall exceed [the righteousness] of the scribes and Pharisees, ye shall in no case enter into the kingdom of heaven.

Therefore, if your understanding of the tithe is that it is under the law and you are therefore exempt, then you must accept the fact that your righteousness must then exceed the example set in the law and your giving should far exceed the 10 percent dictated in Moses. The sad fact is however that among those “deeper life” Christians who have the higher revelation that they are free from the tithe as those that are free from the law, their giving is far in excess of what Jesus said they should consider in their state of liberty in Christ as only the beginning place of a level of giving expressed as “give all”, sell all and come follow Him.

In verse 24, Jesus goes on to denounce those given to outward emphasis of legalized religion, saying that that they are blind guides who strain at a gnat and swallow a camel. They focus on outward conformity but inwardly they are full (v. 25) of extortion and excess. The focus should be Jesus continues (v. 26) on inward piety that reflects outward spiritual purity, not the pretense of holiness that is only a thin veneer covering up disgusting, hypocritical corruption within.

The Pharisees and scribes are deeply offended at this because they judged their forefathers as being sinful for killing the prophets such as Isaiah who was sawn asunder, or Jeremiah who was stoned to death in Egypt by Judean refugees, yet in condemning those that came before them they are affirming that they are sprang from those ungodly leaders. What is the point? The message is we must be born again. We must be willing to forsake our upbringing, our personal history, our cultural legacy and be grafted into the culture of the kingdom, forsaking all else that we might reflect the paternity of God and not the paternity of men. Because the Pharisees and Sadducees were unwilling to relinquish their religious culture they are condemned by Jesus as the generation of vipers, serpents themselves left only to be destroyed which in fact will happen in just a few short years.

Lastly Jesus in verse 37 laments over the city of Jerusalem, because they have killed the prophets and slain those that were sent to them. His heart was that He would have often gathered them as a hen protects her chicks during a storm under the shelter of her wings, yet because they refused then destruction is coming to the complete desolation of the city and Jewish culture itself, which will not turn or change until one day the Jewish people will say “blessed is He that comes in the name of the Lord…” What about our culture? What about Christianity? If first century Judaism lost out with God because they didn’t know the day of their visitation, could this happen in our religious culture? Could Christianity go the way of first century Judaism and something else be raised up to take its place? Paul spoke most eloquently of this possibility in Romans chapter 11 saying that if the natural olive branch was rejected, we should take heed lest Christianity as the wild olive branch grafted in might fall after the same example of unbelief.

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