Grace Bible Church Expository Sermon Notes
Jesus Rebukes Religious Hypocrisy
cf. Matt. 23:1-4 The Lords Day 8/17/97 AM
Chapter Twenty-three records the final public sermon of the Lord which is a scathing rebuke of the religious hypocrisy of the scribes and Pharisees. The first four verses contains Jesus introduction to this sermon, which includes His main point of the entire message, i.e., dont be like the hypocritical scribes and Pharisees who are headed for damnation. Jesus makes two points in His introduction: 1. The Authority of the Scribes and Pharisees, 2. The Hypocrisy of the Scribes and Pharisees.
The Authority of the Scribes and Pharisees
Matthew 23:1-3a Then spoke Jesus to the multitude, and to His disciples, saying, The scribes and the Pharisees sit in Moses' seat. All, therefore, whatever they bid you observe, that observe and do.
We can almost picture Jesus turning from the "scribes, Pharisees and Sadducees," whom He silenced with the question of His own, concerning the identity of the Messiah. Speaking to the crowds in the temple Court of the Gentiles and His disciples, but no doubt still within ear to the religious leaders, He introduced His final public sermon with a strange statement, i.e., "The scribes and the Pharisees sit in Moses' seat."
A. Who are the Scribes and Who are the Pharisees? It is imperative that we have a good understanding of these two groups, in order to understand Jesus rebuke in this chapter.
1. The Scribes. The scribes were the professional theologians of the day, going back to Ezra (cf. Neh. 8:1-8). The Jews believed that God had given the law to angels, who in turn gave it to Moses, who passed it on the Joshua; then Joshua gave the law to the elders, who in turn gave it to the prophets. The prophets then passed the law on to various leaders of the synagogue who eventually became known as the scribes. These scribes would carefully preserve the law by making meticulous copies of it and teaching it. To become a scribe, a person had to qualify by a lifelong study of the law and oral traditions, leading to a special ordination at the age of 40 years old. Once a person became a scribe, they had the power to bind or to loose, for all time the Jews of the entire world. So scribes held considerable power and respect among the Jewish nation! No doubt what agitated these professional theologians most, was the fact that neither John the Baptist nor Jesus of Nazareth had graduated through the system leading to scribal ordination, but the people were hanging on their every word. The temple was crowded as Jesus taught and the scribes among both Pharisees and Sadducees, had been stung by the Lord's insightful and profound answers! No doubt they remained agitated, but Jesus began His sermon by zeroing in on them specifically.
2. The Pharisees. The Pharisees, were the second group and represented the opposite of Jesus' genuine righteousness. The Pharisees are mentioned 86 times in the four Gospels, with the vast majority of these references dealing directly or indirectly with some area of conflict with Jesus. It is not easy to understand the mindset of the Pharisees of the NT. Some have said, "No one, but a Jew of whom it may be said that the Talmud runs in his blood, can fully realize the spiritual meaning of Pharisism." No doubt during Jesus' day there were some sincere godly Pharisees, like Nicodemus but the majority, at least from the evidence of the NT, were not genuine. When they came into contact with Jesus, it produced the inevitably tension between genuine righteousness and religious hypocrisy.
B. What Does it Mean to Sit in Moses Seat? Jesus said these two groups sit in Moses seat, which was emblematic of the place of authority. Moses as the great leader of Israel and the distributor of the Law, was somehow represented by these "scribes and Pharisees." A possible translation is, "they have seated themselves in Moses' seat," suggesting that they arrogated to themselves this position of authority or respect. God didn't place them there but they placed themselves there. This harmonizes with the Lords denunciation of them. But either sense, speaks of a place of authority over the Jewish nation. Then Jesus reveals
The Hypocrisy of the Scribes and Pharisees
Matthew 23:3b-4 But do not after their works; for they say, and do not. For they bind heavy burdens and grievous to be borne, and lay them on men's shoulder's, but they themselves will not move them with one of their fingers.
Josephus said the Pharisees were "considered the most accurate interpreters of the laws." But what did he mean by laws? The singular (i.e., law) would refer to the Torah or Five Books of Moses, but the plural (i.e., laws) referred to both the written law and the oral laws or the Jewish Halakoth. This is why Jesus and the Pharisees were in constant conflict with one another, because the Pharisees added to the Word of God, many man-made traditions, which they considered binding. As matter of fact they consider the traditions as just as binding as the Word of God. They "bind heavy burdens and grievous to be borne and lay them on men's shoulder's." Jesus commanded that the crowds obey the scribes and Pharisees teaching, but not to follow their works or lifestyle, because they didn't do what they told others to do. Obviously, Jesus wasn't placing the whole burden of the scribes and Pharisees oral law on the back of the crowds, to be kept, but only those aspects that represented the true Word of God. Throughout Jesus' own ministry He was careful to neglect and ignore the oral traditions, especially when they got in the way of obeying the clear commandment of God in the Law of Moses. e.g., Matt. 15:1-20. The scribes and Pharisees didn't keep the thousands of traditional laws, which they tried to impose on the Jewish people.
This is the central problem with the religious hypocrite, who commands of others a standard that they are unwilling or unable to perform personally. They taught a system of terrible bondage, but didn't practice its demands in their own personal life and Jesus saw right through the hypocrisy. In contrast, the Lord Jesus Christ offered the people His own yoke of submission, which was easy instead of difficult. Jesus earlier had prayed in thanksgiving to God and then taught about this vivid contrast.
At that time Jesus answered and said, I thank thee, O Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because thou hast hid these things from the wise and prudent [i.e., those who are such in their own eyes], and hast revealed them unto babes [humble submissive disciples]. Even so, Father: for so it seemed good in thy sight. All things are delivered unto me of my Father: and no man knoweth the Son, but the Father; neither knoweth any man the Father, save the Son, and he to whomsoever the Son will reveal him. Come unto me, all ye that labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart, and ye shall find rest unto your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light. (cf. Matthew 11:25-28)
The rest of soul Jesus promises is from the burden of sin, along with the extra burden of religious traditions imposed on the Jews by the scribes and Pharisees. Paradoxically, this rest comes only by a complete surrender to the Lordship of Jesus (i.e., His yoke) which is the key to the Christian life. When this invitation is obeyed, the various commands of God are not burdens!
Main Idea: Religious hypocrites tend toward personal preferences and try to impose them on others as proof of their spirituality but they themselves are not able to keep their own rules; genuine righteousness tends toward personal conformity to the Word of God, encouraging others by a lifestyle of integrity. Like the growing antagonism between Jesus and the Jewish religious leaders, there is always a personal clash between the religious hypocrite and man/woman of integrity.
Exploring the Bigger Picture
The Power of Integrity by John F. MacArthur, Jr. (Crossway Books, 1997) is a group study guide on the subject of honesty and integrity. In an age of increasing tolerance of compromise, every believer must think through the issues mentioned in this brief paperback book.
What Should We Do About this Passage?
- Application Recommendations -
The personal quest for integrity includes fighting against areas of religious hypocrisy, which the flesh will suggest.
As children grow they become increasingly aware of our integrity or hypocrisy. This can have a powerful impact for righteousness or a devastating impact for wickedness.
Holding consistently to our ethical standards is a challenge but absolutely essential to guard the Christian faith from being diluted into a pose struck.