DUNCAN/Woe to the scribes and Pharisees
Please turn with me in your Bibles to Matthew 23:13-36. In this great passage, the Lord Jesus Christ pronounces curses upon those religious leaders of His people who were hypocritical, who were outwardly holy, but who inwardly loved not God and cared not for the souls of His people. He specifically catalogues the chief sins which they had committed. And then He delivers what is simultaneously a gracious response and a terrifying warning. In verses 13-33, you will see Christ, on eight occasions, pronounce a woe, a denunciation, a curse. That curse is against hypocrisy. But you will also see eight particular sins which reflect that hypocrisy denounced by the Lord Jesus Christ. And then finally in verses 34-36, you'll see Jesus' response to that hypocrisy, in both a word of grace and a word of judgment. In this text I want to show you two things. First, that we must appreciate that the truly loving thing is not to ignore but to confront or denounce soul-killing error. Second, we must examine our own hearts and pray for our spiritual leaders in light of Jesus’ words here.
I. We Must Appreciate That the Truly Loving Thing is Not to Ignore but to Confront/Denounce Soul-Killing Error
If you would turn your attention first to verses 13-33, I want you to see a very important truth and that is we need to appreciate that the truly loving thing for a man of God is not to ignore soul-killing error, but to confront it and denounce it. Jesus' words are strong, even in our nonchalant world where we think we have heard everything and seen everything, but, when we read Jesus saying these kinds of things, it's shocking. These are the words of the Lord Jesus Christ. He's not name-calling. He's not simply venting anger and frustration. His words are well chosen; and in fact, they are pastorally chosen for the sake of His people. And that's the very first thing I want you to see today.
Jesus is not engaging in name-calling. This is calculated, spiritual confrontation. What in the world was Jesus doing? Jesus was showing God's people God's attitude towards hypocrisy. Jesus is saying, I want you to know what God thinks about the hypocrisy of these men. Don't be fooled. God is not mocked. He knows. He sees. He will judge. You see the people might be tempted to think, well, God has allowed these kinds of men to minister in the life of the kingdom of heaven. Well maybe He doesn't know. Maybe somehow, they fooled God. And the Lord Jesus is saying, I want you to know that God knows exactly what these men are about.
But secondly, the Lord Jesus Christ is offering another general warning to these scribes and Pharisees. His own disciples are going to preach this same message again to the scribes and Pharisees after the resurrection and after Pentecost. And so, the Lord Jesus Christ in His graciousness is once again warning these men to flee from their own sins and to flee to him and to the gospel. And so, in denouncing them, He is actually telling them the things that they need to know in order to be saved. Just as the prophets confronted wicked kings in the days of Israel, the Lord Jesus Christ is confronting wicked religious leaders and He is doing it, not because He hates them, but because He desires them to turn from their sins and be saved.
II. We Must Examine Our Own Hearts and Pray for Our Spiritual Leaders in Light of Jesus’ Words Here
Then as we look at the catalogue of sins that the Lord Jesus lists for us here in verses 13-33, we are reminded that we need to examine our own hearts. We need to examine our own hearts in accordance with these things that Jesus says about the scribes and the Pharisees and we need to pray for our religious leaders, our elders, our deacons, our ministers, not to fall prey to these sins and correspondingly to grow in grace in the opposite virtues.
All of these charges the Lord Jesus Christ brings against the Pharisees and scribes. And let me say that that's a prayer list for you. You say, how so? You need to pray that those that God has put in positions of spiritual authority in your life would be delivered from those tendencies, those temptations, those sins. Because I want to say, just studying this passage is a convicting process for any minister of the word. Because we can see in our own hearts the seeds of sin and we need God's people praying that we would be delivered from that kind of hypocrisy. But not only negatively that the Lord would deliver us from this, but He would cultivate in us the opposite virtues. I say you pray through this list and you can see the opposite virtues. Instead of refusing people entrance into the kingdom of heaven, we would pray that our leaders would love the gospel and would long for people to embrace it.
One last thing we see. In verses 34-36, Jesus makes an incredibly gracious response, even in light of the wickedness of the Pharisees and the scribes. But at the same time, He issues a terrifying warning. He makes it clear that those who reject the gospel message, do so at their own eternal peril. What is Jesus' response to all the wickedness of the scribes and the Pharisees? He says, I'm going to send you My own disciples. And I'm doing it because I want you to turn from your sins. But let me tell you what you're going to do to them. You're going to persecute some of them. You're going to reject others of them. You're going to follow and pound others of them and you are going to crucify some of them. And because you do that, God's judgment is going to fall on you. See what the Lord Jesus Christ is saying to this generation, this generation of Jewish people standing before Him. He is saying, God is about to bring a tremendous judgment. You must flee to me and to my gospel now. Because the judgment is coming in your lifetime.
The Lord Jesus Christ desires a people who not only look outwardly holy but who have been transformed by His grace, because they have trusted in him alone for their salvation and by grace through faith they have been justified. And because they have been justified, the Spirit has continued to work in them, transforming them into the very image of the Son.
This, my friends, is what is necessary for eternal fellowship with the living God. The Lord Jesus Christ is warning these religious leaders and us against accepting a false substitute. May God drive that truth home to us today. Let's pray.