Woe To You Hypocrites – 2

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See full series: the-teachings-of-jesus-2020-21

Woe To You Hypocrites – 2

Sermon by  Thomas Thornhill Jr

Passage: Matthew 23:23-36


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Teachings of Jesus (61)


Last week we began an examination of Jesus in what was likely His final public teaching.  And it a transition in our study of the teachings of Jesus – addressing some of His teachings on the final week.  It was some of His strongest teaching and exposing of religious leaders.  This teaching came in the midst of the week that would result in the crucifixion of Jesus.  It came after cleansing the temple, confounding attempts to entrap Jesus in His words, and various parables that the corrupt leaders knew were directed at them.  Matthew 23 is likely, “the straw that broke the camel’s back”.  But it was done because it was time according to God’s plan (Galatians 4:4).

With this backdrop, last week we noted that the word hypocrite originally described an actor, which is a good description of a hypocrite – a pretender.  We then began noting various descriptions of their hypocritical behavior included: 1) Double standards; 2) Pride – loving recognition and thinking they were superior; 3) Self-imposed rules and laws – they shut up the kingdom to others; 4) Greed and self-serving decisions – as they devoured widow’s houses; 5) Self-promoting worship – for a pretense, they made long prayers; 6) Self-proselytizing religion; 7) Deceptive oaths and wording – they believed it was acceptable to lie to some.  That brings us to verse 23 where we will continue our study.


  1. The Hypocrisy of the Pharisees and scribes
    1. 23-24 – Overbearing legalism
      1. They pay tithe of spices, but have neglected the weightier matters of the law.
      2. The Jews had set many religious rules intended to ensure that they did not cross lines in the Law of Moses. So when a principle was presented, they would think of scenarios and legislate those scenarios.
      3. Their problem was NOT with taking measures to ensure they kept the law, or even staying away from “the line” – BUT they would move the “line” often far to the right (more conservative) and then BIND their new line. They went overboard and became overbearing in their rules, which was addressed earlier.
      4. Furthermore, they failed to consider the spirit (actual intent) of the law OR to show compassion for others in their enforcement (giving benefit of the doubt, acknowledging the possibility of being in error, etc.). This was a HUGE deal.
      5. Understand, Jesus did NOT condemn the exactness of keeping these laws. But Jesus did note that they had neglected the “weightier matters of the law” – justice, mercy and faith.
        1. Justice – indicates fairness and consistency. It is praising what is right and condemning what is wrong.  The emphasis is on consistency without prejudice.   One of the problems with these corrupt leaders was their inconsistency – they would show favoritism toward their own and bend the rules in their favor.  This is unjust.  Society very quickly sees through a lack of true justice.
        2. Mercy – this is compassion and kindness. This has to do with showing pity and tenderness in dealing with others, especially those struggling or disadvantaged.  Again, we have already seen the corrupt leaders devoured widows houses and burdened the people with heavy loads.
        3. Faith – or in this case, faithfulness – this is about trusting God to the point of obeying Him. WHY do we submit to His will?  It is because of our faith.  When our faith is as it ought to be, we will faithfully serve Him in everything – not just outward acts, but with a loyal heart.  BTW, you CANNOT have faith without obedience – James 2:14-22.
          Again, these rulers failed to show due faithfulness to God in the way they administered His law.
      6. NOTE that He then said, “These you ought to have done WITHOUT leaving the others undone.
        1. Did Jesus believe the little things were important? Consider: Matthew 5:19, Whoever breaks one of the LEAST of these commandments…; Luke 16:10, He who is faithful in what is LEAST is faithful also in much…. The answer is absolutely!
        2. BUT, getting all the small details right without properly considering the intent or without proper motives is like mere noise to God (cf. 1 Corinthians 13:1-3 and love).
        3. WHEN our heart is right, the small things will come naturally.
        4. Consider Micah 6:6-8, With what shall we come before the LORD?… 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? This describes our text.
      7. He then described their behavior as “blind guides, who stain out a gnat and swallow a camel.
        1. Both gnats and camels were unclean. And it is said that some Jews would drink their wine through a cloth, or strain it first to make sure they did not drink an unclean insect.
        2. Here Jesus with irony exposes their failures and inconsistencies – they would go that far in drinking, but then they would turn around egregiously violate the most fundamental of commands.
        3. Again consider the greatest commandment – Matthew 22:37-39 – ALL the law hinged on these. Much of what they did was without love.
      8. NOTE: This verse is open to great abuse in both directions.
        1. Many are guilty of the very thing Jesus describes here – binding where God has not bound. They establish standards of morality, worship practices, doctrinal teaching and general living that are far more restrictive than what the text actually teaches.  Then they use the expression, “these you ought to have done…” as justification for their standard.   WHEN someone asks, “Where is the authority for what you are doing?”, realize that it is a legitimate question.  How do we answer that?
        2. On the other hand, many today use this verse to challenge those who ask for “book, chapter and verse” and try to be as exact as possible (without the previous mentioned excess). Often times they will use derogatory descriptions (legalists, Pharisees, etc.) to villainize. Far too many today believe that as long as we are sincere and keep the principle of the law (of course they define what the principles are) then God will overlook the little details (e.g. how the work of the church is done, how we worship, etc.).
        3. As we make determinations as to how to serve God, we need to strive to be as exact as possible, BUT we must NEVER forget the underpinnings of those laws (e.g. loving God and your neighbors, intent of qualities, etc.), which in some instances may leave room for some judgment and even liberties.
        4. Note: For those sincerely striving to be right with God, determining where to draw the line is not always an easy thing to do. We want to be cautious and flee from temptations realizing that Satan loves the fence straddler, but we must temper that with the foundational values of scripture (justice, mercy, faith, love, integrity, sincerity, etc.) AND respect for others who are also trying to do the right thing but may not see things exactly as we do.  This will NOT ignore errors, even the “small stuff”
    2. 25-28 – False appearances –
      1. Two more woes are pronounced as Jesus describes their hypocrisy.
      2. They cleaned the exterior of the cup and were like the outsides of tombs externally – appearances that they were pious and godly.
      3. But inside, they were full of extortion, self-indulgence, and uncleanness (dead men’s bones).
      4. This is the definitive description of hypocrisy – outwardly, they were acting and pretending to be the most upright of Jews. People would look at them, admire them (for the most part) and desire to be like them (e.g. as righteous as they are).   BUT, inside they were the opposite of the appearance they were portraying.  They were doing ungodly things, had ungodly attitudes and thoughts.  IOW, they were putting on a show!
      5. God is NOT impressed with such behavior. If He emphasizes anything, it is consistency that emanates from the heart.   And God knows your heart – Psalm 44:21, Acts 15:8
    3. Self-condemning witnesses (29-36) – in these verses, Jesus summarizes their condemnation by noting how their hypocrisy will be known and exposed. He notes:
      1. They built the tombs of the prophets and righteous and adorn them – showing honor
      2. They declared that they would not have killed those righteous prophets – in that they thought themselves better than their ancestors
      3. Therefore you are witnesses against yourselves – Jesus notes that they will fill up the measure of their father’s guilt by killing and persecuting God’s teachers and people in various ways and bring upon themselves the coming destruction which cried out from the blood of ALL the prophets from Abel to Zechariah (the order here is based upon the Hebrew Bible with Abel in the first book and Zechariah in the last – 2 Chronicles 24:20-21)
  2. Lessons
    1. Comparing the beatitudes with the woes of Jesus in Matthew 23.
      1. As noted previously, there is contrast between the Beatitudes, the first recorded public sermon of Jesus in Matthew, and the condemnation of our text, the final recorded public sermon of Jesus in Matthew. Consider: Blessed are:
        1. The poor in Spirit (Matthew 5:3) – The Pharisees were prideful
        2. Those who mourn (5:4) – they loved places of honor
        3. The meek (5:5) – they bound heavy burdens on the people – anything but gentle and mild.
        4. Hunger and thirst after righteousness (5:6) – they devoured widow’s houses
        5. Merciful (5:7) – neglected weightier matters – mercy
        6. Pure in Heart (5:8) – The Pharisees called hypocrites, outward appearances, inside full of extortion and indulgence
        7. Peacemakers (5:9) – They would declare war on God’s people (vs. 34)
        8. Persecuted (5:10-12) – They would persecute God’s prophets and righteous
        9. Other observations:
          1. (5:3) “Theirs is the kingdom” – “You shut up the kingdom” (23:13)
          2. (5:9) “Called sons of God” – “a son of hell” (23:15)
          3. (5:8) “They shall see God” – “blind…blind…blind” (23:16-24 – 4x)
          4. (5:5) “They shall inherit the earth” – “on you may come all the righteous blood shed on the earth…” (23:35)
        10. NOTE: We should not press this too far, but it is an interesting observation, and the texts CLEARLY are contrasts with one another.
    2. Are we hypocritical in our conduct?
      1. We can learn much about the character of hypocrisy by examining this text. We see qualities the tend toward hypocrisy OR are outright hypocritical.
      2. God has no place for hypocrisy. He demands integrity and truth from each of us.
      3. As we read texts like these it is a good time for a spiritual inventory of our lives – 2 Corinthians 13:5
    3. Concerning leaders
      1. God has no place for hypocrites in the church anywhere. But this is doubly true of those in positions of leadership – James 3:1.
      2. As Jesus presented this most scathing of messages, it was directed primarily at the leaders who had failed both in their personal lives and in properly directing the people toward God. No wonder they were to be held accountable.
      3. Biblical leaders rise to their positions FIRST by example, and then ability – 1 Peter 5:2-3, 1 Timothy 4:12-16, 3:1-13, etc. It is in our unhypocritical examples that we gain respect over those we have been entrusted with leadership.

This occasion essentially brings to an end the public teaching of Jesus.  He still had plenty to say, especially to His disciples, but we find here conclusion.   Of interest as we bring this lesson to its conclusion is to contrast the Beatitudes of Matthew 5 at the beginning of His preaching and teaching as recorded by Matthew, and the woes pronounced upon the leaders here at the end.

Because of the teachings of Jesus on this occasion, they were not going to wait any longer so they sought opportunity to take Him (they would succeed because of Judas Iscariot).

Is your heart and soul consistent with your outer conduct?