Matthew 23

Thursday Evening Bible Study

May 10, 2007


We are in the final week of Jesus’ life before the crucifixion. Jesus arrived in Jerusalem on Sunday, with the cheers and adulation of the crowd. It was His “Triumphal Entry”, we know it as “Palm Sunday”. Jesus immediately went to the Temple where He threw out the merchants that were ripping off the worshippers. Then Jesus began a pattern He would keep throughout the week – every evening He’d walk back across the Kidron Valley up to the Mount of Olives, where He and the disciples would spend the night as Galilean pilgrims. In the morning Jesus would get up and come back across the Kidron to the Temple where He would spend the day teaching the people.

Jesus has faced some opposition from the Sadducees and the Pharisees. They don’t like this preacher from Galilee. Jesus not only answered their questions aimed at trapping Him with His words, but He’s effectually silenced them.

(Mat 22:46 NKJV) And no one was able to answer Him a word, nor from that day on did anyone dare question Him anymore.

:1-36 Woe to Pharisees

:1 Then Jesus spoke to the multitudes and to His disciples,

:2 saying: "The scribes and the Pharisees sit in Moses' seat.

They act as teachers of the Law of Moses.

:3 "Therefore whatever they tell you to observe, that observe and do, but do not do according to their works; for they say, and do not do.


Do the right thing

Regardless of the examples before you of people who don’t do the right thing, we need to do the right thing.
The cry of “but they’re hypocrites” doesn’t wash with God. They may be hypocrites, but you don’t have to be one.

:4 "For they bind heavy burdens, hard to bear, 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 to be seen by men. They make their phylacteries broad and enlarge the borders of their garments.

phylacteries – leather boxes bound to the head and right hand with leather straps. The boxes had strips of Scriptures in them. They based this practice on:

(Deu 6:8 NKJV) "You shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes.

borders – blue fringe tassels were added to the garments of Jewish believers to follow the instruction of Num. 15:38-41, the tassels were supposed to be a reminder to remember to do all of God’s commandments.

Jesus had these tassels on His garments.

(Mat 9:20 NKJV) And suddenly, a woman who had a flow of blood for twelve years came from behind and touched the hem of His garment.
It was these “tassels” that the gal wanted to get a hold of. When she grabbed the tassels, she was healed.

Jesus wasn’t saying it was wrong to do these things, but He’s speaking to the fact that the Pharisees made their phylacteries and borders EXTRA LARGE so people were sure to see them.


A Texan Rancher In Australia

A Texan farmer goes to Australia for a vacation. There he meets an Aussie farmer and gets talking. The Aussie shows off his big wheat field and the Texan says, “Oh! We have wheat fields that are at least twice as large.” Then they walk around the ranch a little, and the Aussie shows off his herd of cattle. The Texan immediately says, “We have longhorns that are at least twice as large as your cows.” The conversation has, meanwhile, almost died when the Texan sees a herd of kangaroos hopping through the field. He asks, “And what are those?” The Aussie replies with an incredulous look, “Don’t you have any grasshoppers in Texas?”

Some people just like to do things large to show off…

:6 "They love the best places at feasts, the best seats in the synagogues,

So that everyone can see them in their place of prominence.

:7 "greetings in the marketplaces, and to be called by men, 'Rabbi, Rabbi.'

Rabbirhabbi – my great one, my honorable sir; Rabbi, a title used by the Jews to address their teachers (and also honor them when not addressing them)

:8 "But you, do not be called 'Rabbi'; for One is your Teacher, the Christ, and you are all brethren.

We love to get attention. We love it when people take notice of us.


Palm Monday Donkey
The donkey awakened, his mind still savoring the afterglow of the most exciting day of his life. Never before had he felt such a rush of pleasure and pride. He walked into town and found a group of people by the well. “I’ll show myself to them” he thought. But they didn’t notice him. They went on drawing their water and paid him no mind. “Throw your garments down,” he said crossly. “Don’t you know who I am?” They just looked at him in amazement. Someone slapped him across the tail and ordered him to move. “Miserable heathens!” he muttered to himself. “I’ll just go to the market where the good people are. They will remember me.” But the same thing happened. No one paid any attention to the donkey as he strutted down the main street in front of the market place. “The palm branches! Where are the palm branches!” he shouted. “Yesterday, you threw palm branches!” Hurt and confused, the donkey returned home to his mother. “Foolish child,” she said gently. “Don’t you realize that without him, you are just an ordinary donkey?”
Edited from More Hot Illustrations for Youth Talks by Wayne Rice. Copyright 1995 by Youth Specialties, Inc.
We can be a little like that donkey at times. It’s a wonderful thing when you find yourself being used by God. But the truth is, without Jesus, I’m just a donkey.

:9 "Do not call anyone on earth your father; for One is your Father, He who is in heaven.

I find it very interesting how those in the Catholic church address their “priests”. Even the word “pope” means “father”.

:10 "And do not be called teachers; for One is your Teacher, the Christ.

We ought to be careful about “titles”.

I know that some folks are raised to call the pastor of the church “Pastor”. And I understand the importance of teaching our children respect, and even showing respect ourselves.

But it’s really okay if you just call me “Rich”. I’m not going to correct you too much if you forget and call me “pastor”, but it’s good to remind ourselves of what Jesus is saying – we are all brothers and sisters, the one that we all look up to is Jesus.

:11 "But he who is greatest among you shall be your servant.

:12 "And whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.



Humility is a difficult quality to nail down. Sometimes we equate humility and “humiliation” with embarrassment …
I walked into the rest stop bathroom and had barely sat down when I heard a voice from the other stall saying, “Hi, how are you?” Now, I’m not the type to start a conversation in restrooms, at a rest stop no less. But I answered, somewhat embarrassed, “Doing just fine.” And the other guy says, “So what are you up to?” What kind of question is that?! I’m thinking this is too bizarre, so I say, “Oh, I’m like you, just traveling.” At this point I’m just trying to get out of there as fast as I can when I hear another question: “Can I come over to your place for awhile?” Okay, this question is just plain wacky, but I figured I should be polite, answer him, and end the conversation. So I say, “Well, I have company, so today is a bad day for me.” Then...I hear the guy say nervously: “Listen, I’ll have to call you back, there’s an idiot in the next stall who keeps answering my questions. Bye!”
Now that’s embarrassing and humiliating, but I’m not sure it’s the same thing as humility.
Here’s a verse that puts it in perspective:
(Phil 2:3-4 NKJV) Let nothing be done through selfish ambition or conceit, but in lowliness of mind let each esteem others better than himself. {4} Let each of you look out not only for his own interests, but also for the interests of others.

I’d summarize it this way:  Where are your eyes focused on?

If I have my eyes on myself in a situation, I’m not humble.  If I have my eyes on you, I’m learning humility.

I think it’s a mistake to say that a person who is constantly criticizing their own life or actions as being a humble person.  Their eyes are on their own self.

Who does our conversation revolve around?  Me or you?  Do I get upset when all we ever talk about is YOU?  Am I always trying to make sure you talk a little about ME?

Jesus gave a great illustration on humility (John 13) when He took a towel, a basin of water, and began to wash the disciples’ feet.  He acted out of love for them, not out of thought for Himself.

:13 "But woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you shut up the kingdom of heaven against men; for you neither go in yourselves, nor do you allow those who are entering to go in.

There are going to be eight “woes”.

Their legalism makes it so hard to get to heaven that no one can do it.

:14 "Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you devour widows' houses, and for a pretense make long prayers. Therefore you will receive greater condemnation.

devour widows’ houses – They used their position as judges to adjust claims against wealthy widows or to get them to bestow on them their estates.

pretenseprophasis (“forward” + “to shine”) – a pretext (alleged reason, pretended cause); show; in pretence, ostensibly

They try to impress people by their prayers rather than trying to impress God.

(Mat 6:5-6 NKJV) "And when you pray, you shall not be like the hypocrites. For they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the corners of the streets, that they may be seen by men. Assuredly, I say to you, they have their reward. {6} "But you, when you pray, go into your room, and when you have shut your door, pray to your Father who is in the secret place; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you openly.

It’s not wrong to pray in public. It’s not wrong to pray long prayers.

The issue is the heart – who are you praying to? Whose attention are you trying to get with your prayers? Man or God?

:15 "Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you travel land and sea to win one proselyte, and when he is won, you make him twice as much a son of hell as yourselves.

proselyteproselutos (“proselyte”) – a newcomer; a proselyte; a Gentile convert to Judaism.

There is nothing wrong with traveling over land and sea to bring someone to Christ.

The question is, what are you making of him? A follower of Christ? Your follower?

:16 "Woe to you, blind guides,

blind guide – A “guide” is someone who is supposed to show you the way. When you are traveling in a foreign land, you don’t want to hire a “blind guide”.

The Pharisees considered themselves “guides” – they knew the right way people should live. But Jesus considered them “blind guides”. They’re not very helpful at guiding. They have some “blind spots”.

:16 who say, 'Whoever swears by the temple, it is nothing; but whoever swears by the gold of the temple, he is obliged to perform it.'

:17 "Fools and blind! For which is greater, the gold or the temple that sanctifies the gold?

Here’s an example of the blindness.

The Pharisees said that if you swore an oath by the temple or the altar, that you were not obligated to fulfill that oath, but if you swore an oath by the gold of the temple or the sacrifice on the altar, then you were obligated to fulfill that oath.

They must have had lots of “fine print” on their contract.

:18 "And, 'Whoever swears by the altar, it is nothing; but whoever swears by the gift that is on it, he is obliged to perform it.'

:19 "Fools and blind! For which is greater, the gift or the altar that sanctifies the gift?

:20 "Therefore he who swears by the altar, swears by it and by all things on it.

:21 "He who swears by the temple, swears by it and by Him who dwells in it.

:22 "And he who swears by heaven, swears by the throne of God and by Him who sits on it.


Keep your word

People swear oaths for one reason – to get another person to believe that they will keep their promise.
Jesus said,
(Mat 5:33-37 NKJV) "Again you have heard that it was said to those of old, 'You shall not swear falsely, but shall perform your oaths to the Lord.' {34} "But I say to you, do not swear at all: neither by heaven, for it is God's throne; {35} "nor by the earth, for it is His footstool; nor by Jerusalem, for it is the city of the great King. {36} "Nor shall you swear by your head, because you cannot make one hair white or black. {37} "But let your 'Yes' be 'Yes,' and your 'No,' 'No.' For whatever is more than these is from the evil one.
It’s not the “oath” that’s the problem – it’s the person making the oath. We need to be men and women of integrity, people who keep their promise.
Don’t be quick to make a promise.
Don’t be slow to keep a promise.

:23 "Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you pay tithe of mint and anise and cummin, and have neglected the weightier matters of the law: justice and mercy and faith. These you ought to have done, without leaving the others undone.

tithe – a “tenth”. The Scriptures talk about our obligation to give God a “tenth” of our income. The Law even spoke to tithing from your crops:

(Lev 27:30 NKJV) 'And all the tithe of the land, whether of the seed of the land or of the fruit of the tree, is the Lord's. It is holy to the LORD.

mint and anise and cumin – spices. The Pharisees went so far in their tithing that they were careful to give God a tenth of the spices growing in their garden.

justice and mercy and faith – these are the things that shouldn’t have been neglected.

(Micah 6:8 NKJV) He has shown you, O man, what is good; And what does the LORD require of you But to do justly, To love mercy, And to walk humbly with your God?

These you ought to have done, without leaving the others undone – Jesus does not say that they should stop tithing. He’s saying that these other issues are more important and if you’re going to focus on anything, focus on these.

Focus on what’s important.

Tithing is still important.


What is important?

It’s not uncommon for us to get distracted from what’s important.

There’s a story told of a pastor who was officiating at a funeral. When he was done, he was asked to lead the funeral procession as it made its way to the cemetery. So he got into his car, and he started driving at the head of the funeral procession. He flipped on his radio and became preoccupied, lost in thought; he forgot where he was going. About that time, he passed a K-Mart and thought about something he needed to pick up. So he turned into the parking lot. As he was looking for a parking space, he just happened to glance into the rear-view mirror—and saw a string of cars following, all with their lights on! So self-absorbed, and then so humbled.

We can lose our focus on what is really important. Sometimes we focus on such small things, when there are much bigger, more important things for us to be thinking about.

:24 "Blind guides, who strain out a gnat and swallow a camel!

The law of Moses states:

(Lev 17:10-11 NKJV) 'And whatever man of the house of Israel, or of the strangers who dwell among you, who eats any blood, I will set My face against that person who eats blood, and will cut him off from among his people. {11} 'For the life of the flesh is in the blood, and I have given it to you upon the altar to make atonement for your souls; for it is the blood that makes atonement for the soul.'

The Pharisees were so careful to do this that if they accidentally had a gnat fly into their soup, they would try their hardest to strain it out so they didn’t swallow it’s flesh with it’s blood still in it.
Yet they would swallow much bigger things (like a camel).
It is a kind of funny picture isn’t it? I wonder if Jesus had the people laughing at this point.

:25 "Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you cleanse the outside of the cup and dish, but inside they are full of extortion and self-indulgence.

:26 "Blind Pharisee, first cleanse the inside of the cup and dish, that the outside of them may be clean also.


Soap and Water

A pastor was asked to dinner by one of his parishioners who he knew as being an unkempt housekeeper. When he sat down at the table, he noticed that the dishes were the dirtiest that he had ever seen in his life. “Were these dishes ever washed?” he asked his hostess, running his fingers over the grit and grime. She replied, “They’re as clean as soap and water could get them”. He felt a bit apprehensive, but blessed the food anyway and started eating. It was really delicious and he said so, despite the dirty dishes. When dinner was over, the hostess took the dishes outside and yelled, “Here Soap! Here Water!”

The Pharisees treated their lives like a cup – but they only washed the outside, the part people saw. They didn’t bother to deal with the inside, the part that God sees and the part that really affects life.


Inside out

This is the way Jesus works in a person’s life. He wants to start on the heart.
Some folks think they need to clean up the “outside” of their lives, the things people see, like the old adage, “I don’t smoke, I don’t chew, I don’t go with girls that do”.
It’s not wrong to take care of those outer things, but God wants your focus to be on your heart.

:27 "Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you are like whitewashed tombs which indeed appear beautiful outwardly, but inside are full of dead men's bones and all uncleanness.

:28 "Even so you also outwardly appear righteous to men, but inside you are full of hypocrisy and lawlessness.

If Jesus was sitting on the “steps of teaching”, the “southern steps” of the Temple where teachers often taught their followers, then just across the Kidron Valley they could see the hillside of Jewish tombs. Even though their bones were buried deep in the ground, their tombs were covered with white stone boxes. The tombs on the hillside are covered these white stone boxes.

Play Video “Whitewashed Tombs”


Judging a book…

You can’t judge a book by it’s cover.
We can fall into the trap of thinking that if a person dresses a certain way or fixes their hair a certain way, then they must be a good person.
This isn’t always the case.

I’ve got a friend who’s covered with tattoos, and if you saw him in a sleeveless t-shirt, you might get a little scared. But he’s the nicest, sweetest person you’d ever want to meet.

There are plenty of people in the world who dress conservatively who are the meanest, ugliest people on the inside.

:29 "Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! Because you build the tombs of the prophets and adorn the monuments of the righteous,

:30 "and say, 'If we had lived in the days of our fathers, we would not have been partakers with them in the blood of the prophets.'

:31 "Therefore you are witnesses against yourselves that you are sons of those who murdered the prophets.

:32 "Fill up, then, the measure of your fathers' guilt.

:33 "Serpents, brood of vipers! How can you escape the condemnation of hell?

Jesus is talking to the most religious people of His day. And He’s warning them about escaping from hell.

:34 "Therefore, indeed, I send you prophets, wise men, and scribes: some of them you will kill and crucify, and some of them you will scourge in your synagogues and persecute from city to city,

Remember the parable that Jesus had taught about the wealthy land owner with the vineyard … possibly earlier in that day …

(Mat 21:34-41 NKJV) "Now when vintage-time drew near, he sent his servants to the vinedressers, that they might receive its fruit. {35} "And the vinedressers took his servants, beat one, killed one, and stoned another. {36} "Again he sent other servants, more than the first, and they did likewise to them. {37} "Then last of all he sent his son to them, saying, 'They will respect my son.' {38} "But when the vinedressers saw the son, they said among themselves, 'This is the heir. Come, let us kill him and seize his inheritance.' {39} "So they took him and cast him out of the vineyard and killed him. {40} "Therefore, when the owner of the vineyard comes, what will he do to those vinedressers?" {41} They said to Him, "He will destroy those wicked men miserably, and lease his vineyard to other vinedressers who will render to him the fruits in their seasons."

Now Jesus uses some of that same language and connects the dots. These religious rulers are like those vinedressers.

:35 "that on you may come all the righteous blood shed on the earth, from the blood of righteous Abel to the blood of Zechariah, son of Berechiah, whom you murdered between the temple and the altar.

Abel … Zechariah – like saying, “from A to Z”

Abel – the son of Adam, the first person murdered, by his brother Cain (Gen. 4), over jealousy of his relationship with the Lord.

Zechariah – a priest who was murdered by Joash (2Chr. 24:20-22) because he had rebuked Joash and the people for forsaking the Lord.

:36 "Assuredly, I say to you, all these things will come upon this generation.

:37-39 Lament over Jerusalem

:37 "O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the one who kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to her! How often I wanted to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, but you were not willing!

The compassion of God.

:38 "See! Your house is left to you desolate;

The Temple and Jerusalem would one day be destroyed, just like the parable.

:39 "for I say to you, you shall see Me no more till you say, 'Blessed is He who comes in the name of the LORD!'"

This language sounds like the language used on Palm Sunday, when the people cheered Jesus as He entered the city. On that day, the language was clearly linked with Psalm 118 …

(Psa 118:25-26 NKJV) Save now, I pray, O LORD; O LORD, I pray, send now prosperity. {26} Blessed is he who comes in the name of the LORD! We have blessed you from the house of the LORD.

But apparently this Psalm won’t just have a single fulfillment, which was initially pretty much of a dud since the people ended up rejecting the Messiah.
There will be a true fulfillment when Jesus comes back the Second Time. Zechariah prophesies:
(Zec 12:10 NKJV) "And I will pour on the house of David and on the inhabitants of Jerusalem the Spirit of grace and supplication; then they will look on Me whom they pierced. Yes, they will mourn for Him as one mourns for his only son, and grieve for Him as one grieves for a firstborn.