encouragement theology

Woe to the Hypocrites!

Thoughts from Matthew 23…

It happened again this year. And last year. And many times in the past.

It breaks my heart when I hear about it — yet another Christian leader has fallen. There are great men and women who have dedicated their lives to teaching God’s Word. Some have gained massive audiences, and are known worldwide as they teach about Jesus Christ. 

It is especially hurtful when one falls. An international preacher, whose secret sins were exposed, shortly after his death. A college president, who encouraged thousands of students for the Lord, all the while hiding his own secretly wanton lifestyle. I grieve for the victims that these men have left in their wake, and am horrified that they could so easily destroy others in the name of Jesus Christ!a

I also grieve for the gospel, and how these failures caused men to curse and ridicule God’s name. There are also many others who are damaged by these failures. These are the men and women who have given their lives to Jesus Christ, who work with honesty and integrity, and yet have lost some of their credibility after these public scandals.

But when I look at God’s word, I find that Jesus Himself addressed such scandals. He debated the religious leaders of His day and was well acquainted with both the honest teachers and the hypocrites. His words in Matthew are as important now as they were then.

First, He addressed the people. When you hear God’s Word, it is the message, not the messenger that is important. We are responsible to obey the word that is preached to us, even when the preacher does not obey it himself! We follow the authority of God’s Word, not the personality of the preacher!

Next, He addressed the religious leaders. The scribes and Pharisees were loved and respected by the people, but Jesus Christ called them hypocrites! Seven times He addressed them, saying, “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites!

They block the way of life for those who are seeking it!

They corrupt their own followers!

They are dishonest blind guides!

They pride themselves in keeping the law, but they have neglected justice, mercy, and faithfulness! 

They look clean and pure on the outside but are inwardly filthy!

They act like they are the path to God, but they are dead on the inside!

They think they are better than their wicked ancestors, while they plot the same atrocities!

This was the warning for the hypocrites, who acted religious and spiritual on the outside, but were nothing but corrupt and wicked leaders. Seven times The Lord denounces them. Seven times He warns them. Seven times He grieves for them!

And then the final warning is for all of us. The people of Jerusalem had the opportunity to repent, but they chose rather to reject Jesus Christ. They were happy to shout when He rode into the city on a donkey, but quickly left once He truly challenged them. They ignored Him, disregarded Him, and openly attacked Him!

As much as I like to hear about Jesus defeating the bad guys, these warnings hit too close to home for me. How many times have I been the hypocrite? How many times have I acted just like the wicked Pharisees? How many times have I disregarded or ignored Jesus Christ? 

Matthew 23 reminds me of God’s holiness. He is absolutely perfect, and we are all failures in His presence. When we are left to our own devices, we end up just as bad as the scribes and Pharisees of the first century. We all need to repent — to turn around — and to turn to Him!

Before it is too late!

Previous post: What is the Greatest Commandment?

encouragement theology

What is the Greatest Commandment?

Thoughts from Matthew 22…

“Hear, O Israel:
The LORD our God, the LORD is one. 
You shall love the LORD your God 
with all your heart 
and with all your soul 
and with all your might.”
Deuteronomy 6:4-5

During a time of great controversy, a lawyer came to Jesus Christ with this question, “What is the greatest commandment?” The Lord had just answered the leading religious thinkers of His day, silencing His critics, when the man came with this request. The Pharisees had hundreds of laws and they debated heavily regarding which laws were important to keep. How would this teacher answer this great debate? Would He weigh in on which laws were most important?

Jesus’ answer was immediate: the greatest commandment is to love the Lord your God with all your heart with all your soul and all your mind. This is the greatest and first commandment. But also, don’t forget the second commandment — to love your neighbor as yourself! Every other one of the laws point to these two commandments. Every other law is to instruct you to love God or love your neighbor.

The Pharisees and Sadducees in Jesus’ day failed both of these commandments. They were so caught up in their rules and their power that they totally missed when God himself walked by! They showed no love for God when they refused anything other than what fit their own agendas. They showed no love for their neighbors when they refused to show forgiveness or compassion to the needy multitudes around them.

Both of these religious factions came to Jesus that day, hoping to entrap him with their difficult questions. The Pharisees put the first question to Him, whether they should pay taxes to Caesar’s Roman government. The Lord‘s answer brought them back to the greatest commandment. They showed love for their fellow man by submitting to the government and giving them their due service. They showed their love for God by likewise submitting to God and giving Him His due service.

The Sadducees approached Him with the next question, expecting to find a hole in His theology. Since they didn’t believe in the resurrection, they had created a scenario where it conflicted with the laws on marriage. Seven brothers were each married to the same widow before they each died, so who would be her husband in the resurrection?  But in this question they show their ignorance and a lack of a love for the Lord. A love for the Lord would have brought them to His Scriptures, where they would have better understood the resurrection. We will be changed, with no longer a need for marriage relationships like we currently have on earth.

The lawyer had then come to Jesus with his question regarding the greatest commandment, hoping to test Him and to push Him into controversy. If He weighed in on this religious debate, He would surely make enemies among the dissenting factions. But rather than angered, this young man was stunned by the Lord’s reply. Unlike the great religious leaders, he showed a genuine desire to understand his answers. And for that Jesus said, “You are not far from the kingdom of God.” (Mark 12:34).

Jesus started out His ministry teaching that He came, not to abolish the law, but to fulfill the law. As shown in the post on Matthew 5:17 here, the Ten Commandments are an expression of love. The first four are about love for God, and the final six are about love for each other.a 

Jesus then showed how we show love for God and for each other when we keep the commandments:

  • We show love when we show forgiveness toward those who offend us (Matthew 5:21-26)
  • We show love when we show purity in our thoughts and actions (Matthew 5:27-30)
  • We show love when we show faithfulness in our marriage (Matthew 5:31-32)
  • We show love when we show honesty in our word and our promises (Matthew 5:33-37)
  • We show love when we show humility and refuse to retaliate when we are hurt (Matthew 5:38-42)
  • We show love when we show kindness to our enemies as well as our friends (Matthew 5:43-48)

May we remember to love God and to love others!

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