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Matthew 23:1-15: They do not practice what they preach

Posted by adventbiblestudy on July 7, 2012


Matthew 23:1-15 Then Jesus said to the crowds and to his disciples, (2) “The teachers of religious law and the Pharisees are the official interpreters of the law of Moses. (3) So practice and obey whatever they tell you, but don’t follow their example. For they don’t practice what they teach. (4) They crush people with impossible religious demands and never lift a finger to ease the burden. (5) “Everything they do is for show. On their arms they wear extra wide prayer boxes with Scripture verses inside, and they wear robes with extra long tassels. (6) And they love to sit at the head table at banquets and in the seats of honor in the synagogues. (7) They love to receive respectful greetings as they walk in the marketplaces, and to be called ‘Rabbi.’ (8) “Don’t let anyone call you ‘Rabbi,’ for you have only one teacher, and all of you are equal as brothers and sisters. (9) And don’t address anyone here on earth as ‘Father,’ for only God in heaven is your spiritual Father. (10) And don’t let anyone call you ‘Teacher,’ for you have only one teacher, the Messiah. (11) The greatest among you must be a servant. (12) But those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted. (13) “What sorrow awaits you teachers of religious law and you Pharisees. Hypocrites! For you shut the door of the Kingdom of Heaven in people’s faces. You won’t go in yourselves, and you don’t let others enter either. (15) “What sorrow awaits you teachers of religious law and you Pharisees. Hypocrites! For you cross land and sea to make one convert, and then you turn that person into twice the child of hell you yourselves are!

 

The entire day was spent teaching in the temple courtyard. No one noticed they had not eaten all day as Jesus told one parable after another, while preparing to teach more. The priests questioned Him about taxes, the Sadducees about marriage and the resurrection, the Pharisees asked Him what the greatest commandment was. It seemed like a long day, but it was only the beginning. It was now time for Jesus to teach a number of plain and simple lessons.

 

Jesus motioned for the crowds to gather close around Him. He looked up at James and John at the gate. The look in His eyes, and the movement of the crowd told them their presence was required at the feet of their Teacher. Once everyone was gathered and settled, Jesus said to the crowds and his disciples, “The teachers of religious law and the Pharisees are the official interpreters of the law of Moses. So practice and obey whatever they tell you, but don’t follow their example. For they don’t practice what they teach.”

 

Each of the disciples began to think of things they had seen the priests and Pharisees do that did not seem quite right. As the disciples thought about the way they had been treated by the religious leaders, they also began to relate other examples. The way they dressed was one thing that came to mind. To Peter, Andrew, James, and John, it appeared the religious leaders went out of their way to dress in a fashion to announce they were too good, too important to work for a living. They presented an attitude their work was more important than what most people did to earn a living. As they thought about this, they looked at Jesus, remembering how He went out of His way to answer each and every question a person asked Him.

 

The disciples looked at one another scattered throughout the crowd. They looked at the little children quietly seated with their mothers in the front. This reminded them of the synagogues Jesus taught in. The priests and Pharisees sat in the choice seats in the front reserved for them, and the privileged wealthy class. They remembered the times Jesus had healed the most needy in the synagogue, and the commotion that caused.

 

Some of the disciples remembered the times Pharisees questioned Jesus’ authority to teach and heal, while the poor and needy sang praises and worshipped God.

 

While one example after another drifted through their minds, Jesus continued His Lesson. “They crush people with impossible religious demands and never lift a finger to ease the burden.”

 

This brought a low key chuckle from the crowd. Everyone present had been repressed by the priests and Pharisees firsthand. The disciples remembered how Jesus had traveled and taught on the Sabbath. He and His followers were ridiculed for not keeping the tradition of the Sabbath by picking and eating grain on the side of the road. The priest and Pharisees used this tradition to turn them away from Jesus by attempting to cast guilt on His followers.

 

Everyone knew how the priests ran the sacrificial system. There seemed to be little reason to bring your own sacrifice. No matter how carefully anyone inspected it themselves, the priest would always find some defect and pronounce it unacceptable. As a convenience they would offer a price next to nothing to buy the animal, while offering to sell an acceptable sacrifice at an inflated price. Everyone suspected the unacceptable animals went right into the bin of cattle pronounced clean to be resold, but no one could prove it. The cost of a clean sacrifice was always set at a very high fee, barely affordable for common people.

 

Jesus moved forward in His lesson. “Everything they do is for show. On their arms they wear extra wide prayer boxes with Scripture verses inside, and they wear robes with extra long tassels. And they love to sit at the head table at banquets and in the seats of honor in the synagogues. They love to receive respectful greetings as they walk in the marketplaces, and to be called ‘Rabbi.'”

 

The disciples listened to Jesus’ description of the priests, looked at them across the court, then back at Jesus. They looked at one another. The stark contrast was forever engraved in their minds. They were beginning to recognizee the difference between how and what Jesus taught compared to the priests and Pharisees. They had not realized the connection between Jesus’ dress, actions, and His compassion, the way He reached out to common people every moment. They once again glanced back to the priests. There was nothing there to attract them. Looking back at Jesus, they finally realized, there is nothing in this world more dearer to them then the company and words of their savior.

 

By the expressions on the faces looking at Him, Jesus could tell He had presented His point, and their minds were on every word He spoke. “Don’t let anyone call you ‘Rabbi,’ for you have only one teacher, and all of you are equal as brothers and sisters. And don’t address anyone here on earth as ‘Father,’ for only God in heaven is your spiritual Father. And don’t let anyone call you ‘Teacher,’ for you have only one teacher, the Messiah.”

 

The disciples instantly understood Jesus’ lesson. The priests and Pharisees separated themselves by placing their position above their followers in dress and demeanor. Jesus dressed, talked, ate, and slept under the same roof and stars as His followers. Everything began falling into place for the disciples. They began to see the Kingdom Jesus was going to share with them was much different than the world they had known. Much different than what they had first expected. To be like Jesus, they had to learn to be equals with all His followers.

 

Jesus knew His disciples were considering the details they needed to improve their own lives. He did not want them to dwell on the defects of others, but avoid the mistakes others have made. “The greatest among you must be a servant. But those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted. What sorrow awaits you teachers of religious law and you Pharisees. Hypocrites! For you shut the door of the Kingdom of Heaven in people’s faces. You won’t go in yourselves, and you don’t let others enter either. What sorrow awaits you teachers of religious law and you Pharisees. Hypocrites! For you cross land and sea to make one convert, and then you turn that person into twice the child of hell you yourselves are!”

 

Jesus knew His ministry would soon pass to the people in front of Him. There was a reason God had waited to gather all three religious factions together on this day. He wanted Jesus’ followers to see how the priests, Pharisees, and Scribes misinterpreted the scriptures, God’s love, and the plan of salvation. The disciples did not know or understand the plan of salvation at that moment, but Jesus knew they would never forget the lessons He taught. They would soon be adding this knowledge to the scenes they were about to witness. Soon the disciples will witness the greatest act of love the world would ever see. Actions speak louder than words, and God was about to put His plan into action. God was ready. The Holy Spirit was ready. Jesus was preparing for the final act. Were the disciples prepared? Once the plan was revealed to them, were they ready to carry the message in the manner Jesus had taught them? If the disciples relied on any of the methods used by the priests, Pharisees, and Scribes, all could be lost. The fate of the world would soon depended on the small group in front of Him.

 

 

 

 

 

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