“Emmanuel’s Woe Part 1” – Matthew 23:1-14

June 12th, 2016

Matthew 23:1-14

“Emmanuel’s Woe Pt 1”

Auxiliary Text: John 13:1-17

Call to Worship from: Psalm 143


Service OrientationGod is love.  Great, godly, loving leaders demand and want what is best for their constituents.  We must look to Jesus to find the only, true, great, godly, loving leader Who had 100% integrity.


Bible Memory Verse for the Week:  To this you were called, because Christ suffered for you, leaving you an example, that you should follow in his steps.  — 1 Peter 2:21


Background Information:

  • We are now beginning a chapter which in one respect is the most remarkable in the four Gospels: it contains the last words which the Lord Jesus ever spoke within the walls of the temple.  Those last words consist of a withering exposure of the teachers of the law and the Pharisees, and a sharp rebuke of their doctrines and practices.  Knowing full well that his time on earth was drawing to a close, our Lord no longer keeps back his opinion of the leading teachers of the Jews.  Knowing that he would soon leave his followers alone, like sheep among wolves, he warns them plainly against the false shepherds by whom they were surrounded.  (J.C. Ryle, The Crossway Classic Commentaries: Matthew, 214)
  • The whole chapter is a signal example of boldness and faithfulness in denouncing error. It is a striking proof that it is possible for the most loving heart to use the language of stern reproof:  above all, it is an awful evidence of the guilt of unfaithful teachers.  So long as the world stands, this chapter ought to be a warning and a beacon to all ministers of religion:  no sins are so sinful as theirs in the sight of Christ.  (J.C. Ryle, The Crossway Classic Commentaries: Matthew, 214)
  • The content of this passage concluded Jesus’ public ministry, and also His interchange with the scribes and Pharisees. The passage begins with a message to the crowd about the scribes and Pharisees, exposing them as the false shepherds spoken of by the prophets (Jer 23; Ex 22-23; Amos 7; Zech 13; Zeph 3).  (Myron S. Augsburger, The Communicator’s Commentary: Matthew, 261-2)
  • The literary context of the chapter is extremely important. Not only does Matthew 23 climax a series of controversies with the Jewish religious authorities (21:23-22:46), but it immediately follows the christologically crucial confrontation of 22:41-46.  The question “What do you think about Christ?” raised by Jesus (v. 42) “was not simply a theological curiosity which could be thrashed out in the seminar room,” as Garland (p. 24) puts it:  it stands at the heart of the gospel.  The failure of the Pharisees to recognize Jesus as the Messiah prophesied in Scripture is itself already an indictment, the more so since they “sit in Moses’ seat;” and the woes that follow are therefore judicial and go some way toward explaining the prophesied destruction of Jerusalem in the Olivet Discourse (24:4-25:46).  (Frank E. Gæbelein, The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Vol. 8, 470)
  • There are many places in the gospels where Jesus’ language is far from “meek and mild,” but nothing else at this level of invective except perhaps in the dialogue with “the Jews” in John 8. (R.T. France, The New International Commentary on the NT: Matthew, 867)
  • Jesus was self-consciously using a form of speech that was associated with pronouncements delivered by OT prophets. These pronouncements were known as oracles.  Oracles were simply messages from God, and there were two types.  There were oracles of weal, which announced prosperity or blessedness, good news of God’s blessing.  The Beatitudes were oracles of this type.  Also, there were oracles of woe, which announced doom from God, declarations of divine judgment.  (RC Sproul, St. Andrew’s Expositional Commentary: Matthew, 657)
  • (v. 2) There was actually a stone seat at the front of most synagogues, and rabbis sat down to teach. Jesus had done this himself when he preached his first sermon in the synagogue at Nazareth (Lk 4:20).  We preserve the idea when we speak of a professional “chair” at a university.  The Pharisees had been using their position as teachers to get praise for themselves while making it nearly impossible for those they taught actually to learn the Bible’s truths and come to God, and Jesus strongly condemned them for those sins.  (James Montgomery Boice, The Gospel of Matthew, Vol. 2, 491)
  • (v. 2) This would imply that the “teachers of the law” are Moses’ legal successors, possessing all his authority–a view the scribes themselves held (M Sanhedrin 11:3; cf. Ecclus 45:15-17; M Aboth 1:1; M Yebamoth 2:4; 9:3). (Frank E. Gæbelein, The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Vol. 8, 472)
  • (v. 2) Chair is from kathedra, the Greek term from which we get cathedral, which originally referred to a place, or seat, of ecclesiastical authority. The same idea is found today in such expressions as “chair of philosophy” or “chair of history,” which refer to the most esteemed professorships in a college or university.  When the pope of the Roman Catholic church speaks in his full ecclesiastical authority, he is said to be speaking ex cathedra.  (John MacArthur, The MacArthur NT Commentary: Matthew 16-23, 357)
  • (v. 2) Since the teachers of the law were not salaried employees, they were dependent upon the generosity of their students and patrons. This arrangement was obviously open to abuse, and Jesus’ accusation indicates that widows were especially vulnerable to exploitation.  Like the OT prophets, Jesus was especially concerned about the widows and orphans.  (See 1 Kgs 17:7-24 and Jer 22:3.)  (G. J. and M. J. Albrecht, The People’s Bible: Matthew, 327)
  • (v. 3) The verb poiseō (do) is an aorist imperative and demands an immediate response. Tēreō (observe) is a present imperative and carries the idea of continuing action.  Jesus was therefore saying, “Immediately obey and keep on obeying whatever the scribes and Pharisees teach if it follows God’s Word.”  (John MacArthur, The MacArthur NT Commentary: Matthew 16-23, 359)
  • (v. 5) By “phylacteries” are meant the small leather cases, boxes, or capsules holding slips on which were written passages from the law; Ex 13:3-10, 11-16 (memorializing God’s glorious deed in delivering Israel from Egyptian bondage and instituting the Passover); Dt 6:4-9 (“Hear O Israel, Jehovah our God is one Jehovah, and you shall love Jehovah your God with all your heart . . .”); and Dt 11;13-21 (how Jehovah will reward obedience to his law, and how children should be instructed in his ways: “You shall teach them to your children, speaking of them when you sit in your house . . .”).  One of these capsules was fastened to the forehead, the other to the left arm (near the heart!), during prayer.  This is still the practice of the members of the orthodox Jewish faith.  It is based on Ex 13:9, 16; Dt 11:18.  These phylacteries, then, were marvelous deeds in the interest of his people.  (William Hendriksen, NT Commentary: Matthew, 823)
  • (v. 6) The best seats in the synagogue were those in front of the raised platform, on which stood the prayer leader and the reader of the Scriptures. Thus seated, a person had the double advantage of being near the person reading or leading in prayer, and of facing the congregation and thus being able to see everybody.  Besides, being ushered to such a seat was regarded as a mark of honor.  (William Hendriksen, NT Commentary: Matthew, 823)
  • (v. 8) By Talmudic times a rabbi’s status was immense: his disciple had to obey him without question, never walk beside or in front of him, never greet him first, and so forth.  (Frank E. Gæbelein, The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Vol. 8, 474)
  • (v. 13) Here begin The Seven Woes. Why did Jesus utter them?  Probably because his soul was deeply stirred by the impenitence of so many of the scribes and Pharisees, and this in spite of all the evidences he had furnished of the fulfillment of Messianic prophecy in himself.  Also, because he knew that they had so many followers among the people.  His heart and mind were filled with sorrow when he thought of this.  He knew that exposing his opponents was in the interest of the people.  Add one more fact:  this was going to be Christ’s final public address, hence his last opportunity personally to warn the people against these enemies of the truth.  So he must make the best use of it.  (William Hendriksen, NT Commentary: Matthew, 826)
  • (v. 13) Woe is from ouai, which is not so much a word in the ordinary sense as an onomatopoeic, interjection, suggesting a guttural outcry of anger, pain, or both. It is used in the Septuagint (Greek OT) to express grief, despair, sorrow, dissatisfaction, pain, and fear of losing one’s life.  In the NT it is used to speak of sorrow and of judgment, carrying the mingled ideas of punishment and pity, cursing and compassion.  (John MacArthur, The MacArthur NT Commentary: Matthew 16-23, 375)
  • (v. 13) “Woe” is a term that warns of judgment to come but also conveys a feeling of regret because the listeners refuse to repent. (Bruce Barton, Life Application Bible Commentary: Matthew, 452)
  • (v. 13) A woe is a lament or wail concerning the final end for evil people. (James Montgomery Boice, The Gospel of Matthew, Vol. 2, 492)
  • (v. 13) Hypocrites is from jupokritēs, whose original meaning was that of answering or replying. It later came to refer to actors, who answered one another back and forth in dialogue, and from there it came to mean deceitful pretense, the putting on of a false front.  (John MacArthur, The MacArthur NT Commentary: Matthew 16-23, 375)
  • (v. 14) Verse 14 must be taken as an interpolation, derived from Mk 12:40; Lk 20:47. This is made clear, not only by its absence from the best and earliest Matthew MSS, but from the fact that the MSS that do include it divide on where to place it–before or after v. 13.  (Frank E. Gæbelein, The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Vol. 8, 477)
  • Those who see Matthew 23 as inconsistent with the Sermon on the Mount (esp. 5:43-48) neglect two things. First, they overlook the limitations inherent to the sermon itself:  the love Jesus demands of his followers is more radical and more discriminating than modern liberal sentimentality usually allows.  Second, the Sermon on the Mount, not less than Matthew 23, also presents Jesus as eschatological Judge who pronounces solemn malediction on those he does not recognize and who fail to do his word (7:21-23).  (Frank E. Gæbelein, The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Vol. 8, 470)


The questions to be answered are . . . Why is Jesus so ticked?  What are we to learn from this passage?


Answers:  God is love.  Jesus is God.  Jesus is ticked because the spiritual leaders were neither loving nor a good example.  Their actions were selfish in nature; not loving.


The Word for the Day is . . . Example


Why is Jesus so ticked that He pronounces woes?:

I-  The religious leaders have no integrity nor any true convictions other than self-promotion.  They say one thing but do another.  They are hypocrites.  (Mt 23:2-12; see also: Prv 16:18; 29:23; Jer ch 23; Ez ch 34; Mt 6:1-18; 7:3-5; 15:1-20; 18:1-4; 22:18; ch 23; Mk 7:6; 12:15; Lk 6:42; 12:1, 56; 13:15; 18:9-14; 2 Cor 8:9; Gal 2:11-13; 1 Tm 4:1-2; 1 Pt 2:1; 1 Jn 3:17-18)


The intention of the Pharisees was to dress and act in such a way as to draw attention to themselves; the intention of Christians should be to obliterate themselves, so that if others see their good deeds, they may glorify not the Christians but their Father in heaven.  Any religion which produces ostentation in action and pride in the heart is a false religion.  (William Barclay, The Daily Study Bible Series: Gospel of Matthew, Vol. 2, 335)


The true leader places his or her needs last, as Jesus exemplified in his life and in his death.  Being a servant did not mean occupying a servile position; rather, it meant having an attitude of freely attending to others’ needs without expecting or demanding anything in return.  Trying to exalt oneself by seeking honor, respect, and the attention of others runs contrary to Jesus’ requirements for his servants.  Only those who humble themselves in an attitude of service will find true greatness in God’s kingdom.  This completely opposed the attitudes and actions of the Jewish religious leaders.  Jesus challenged society’s norms.  To him, greatness comes from serving–giving yourself to help God and others.  Service keeps us aware of others’ needs, and it stops us from focusing only on ourselves.  (Bruce Barton, Life Application Bible Commentary: Matthew, 451)


The scribes and the Pharisees were in the habit of widening the straps by means of which these phylacteries were tied to the forehead and to the left arm.  Making these thongs broader would cause them to stand out, so everyone could see what a law-observing and devout man was wearing them!  (William Hendriksen, NT Commentary: Matthew, 823)


They also enlarged or lengthened their tassels–and this for the same reason, namely, to make also these reminders of God’s law more conspicuous, so that others, seeing these scribes and Pharisees, would honor them for their marvelous devotion, their celestial piety.  (William Hendriksen, NT Commentary: Matthew, 823)


With astonishing humility, Jesus, their Lord and Teacher, washed the feet of His disciples as an example of how all His followers should serve with humility.

In this life there will always be a part of us (the Bible calls it the flesh) that will say, “If I have to serve, I want to get something for it.  If I can be rewarded, or gain a reputation for humility, or somehow turn it to my advantage, then I’ll give the impression of humility and serve.”  But this isn’t Christlike service.  This is hypocrisy.  (Donald S. Whitney, Spiritual Disciplines for the Christian Life, 115-16)


Their character was the exact opposite of that required of the citizens of Christ’s kingdom (Mt 18:1-35), which meant that in spite of their religious professions and stringent legal practices, they did not actually know God and had not been changed inwardly by him.  They should have been humble, compassionate, loving, and forgiving, as Jesus was.  But they were actually:  (1) hypocritical (“they do not practice what they preach,” v. 3); (2) indifferent (“they tie up heavy loads and put them on men’s shoulders, but they themselves are not willing to lift a finger to move them,” v. 4); and (3) proud (“everything they do is done for men to see,” v. 5).  (James Montgomery Boice, The Gospel of Matthew, Vol. 2, 491)


According to one passage in the Talmud (Sanhedrin, 88b), it was considered more punishable to act against the words of the scribes than against the words of the Scripture.  (John MacArthur, The MacArthur NT Commentary: Matthew 16-23, 366)


Their conduct was motivated by ostentation, the desire “to be seen of men” (5).  The hypocrite spares himself, but is merciless to others (4), and has no real concern for their welfare.  (J. Oswald Sanders, Bible Studies in Matthew’s Gospel, 123)


The true servant of God will not demand deferential treatment and titles of honor as a matter of right (6-8).  (J. Oswald Sanders, Bible Studies in Matthew’s Gospel, 123)


To “make their phylacteries broad” could refer either to widening the strap around the forehead (so as to make it more noticeable) or to wearing the phylacteries all day long (instead of just during prayer times).  But the phylacteries had become more important for the status they gave than for the truth they contained.  (Bruce Barton, Life Application Bible Commentary: Matthew, 449)


People desire positions of leadership in the community, at work, and in the church.  It is dangerous when love for the position grows stronger than loyalty to God.  This is what happened to the Pharisees and teachers of the law.  Jesus is not against all leadership–we need Christian leaders–but against leadership that serves itself rather than others.  (Bruce Barton, Life Application Bible Commentary: Matthew, 450)


If you hold a title, don’t depend on it for self-respect. (Billy Graham, for example, was often introduced as “Doctor Graham,” to which he would typically respond, “I’m just Billy.”) if you don’t hold a title, don’t covet one.  Leadership in God’s kingdom goes to servants first.  (Bruce Barton, Life Application Bible Commentary: Matthew, 450)


So one reason there is no need for lofty teacher titles in the church is because there is only “one” Father (God) and “one” instructor (Jesus Christ).  The other reason is that “you are all brothers.”  While there are different roles in the church, there is an equality of status.  (Douglas Sean O’Donnell, Preaching the Word: Matthew, 680)


What the men who were here rebuked were always looking and longing for was not a mere token of friendliness but rather a demonstration of respect, a public recognition of their prominence:  they wanted to be addressed as “rabbi,” a word derived from the Hebrew and literally meaning “my lord,” but subsequently used in addressing those who had attained a high reputation as teachers of God’s law.  (William Hendriksen, NT Commentary: Matthew, 824)


What Jesus is here condemning is the yearning for rank, for special recognition above one’s fellow members.  He is declaring that he alone is their Teacher.  “The Father in heaven” alone is their Father; Christ alone, their Leader.  It is not wrong, or course, to address one’s immediate male ancestor as “father.”  However, here in 23:9 Jesus is not speaking about physical or earthly fatherhood, but about fatherhood in the spiritual sphere.  (William Hendriksen, NT Commentary: Matthew, 824)


Jesus warns his disciples against seeking titles of honor, such as “Rabbi” and “Father” and “Teacher,” because they tend to reinforce the sinful pride he is condemning.  It should be said, however, that an overly literal application of these words tends to foster the same kind of sinful pride.  People who refuse to accept any title often fall prey to the temptation to regard themselves as superior to people who do permit the use of such titles.  (G. J. and M. J. Albrecht, The People’s Bible: Matthew, 325)


The objection may be raised, however, that Paul, by implication, calls himself the “father” of the Corinthians and of Timothy, and even the “mother” of the Galatians (respectively in 1 Cor 4:15; 1 Tm 1:2, and Gal 4:19).  However, to state a fact is one thing; to yearn for distinctions and honors above one’s fellowmen, and unrelated to the glory that is due to Christ, is something different.  It is the latter that Jesus condemns.  (William Hendriksen, NT Commentary: Matthew, 824)


To determine just what is meant by this term “hypocrites” it is well to review its use in other Matthean passages.  Does the evangelist merely mean that Christ’s enemies opposed him because they did not know any better?  Or does he mean that they willfully and wickedly slandered him; that is, that they were dishonest, were fighting their own inner convictions?  The use of the word  in 6:2, 5 favors the latter meaning, for in these passages men are described who, while pretending to be generous toward the poor and to be praising God in prayer, are actually intending to garner honor for themselves.  According to 6:16 they are putting on an act when in fasting they artificially disfigure their faces so as to appear very sorry for their sins, while what they are really after is praise from men.  In 15:7, 8 they honor God with their lips, while their hearts are far from him.  In 22:18 they are called hypocrites because they are addressing Jesus with words of flattery though their real purpose is to trip him up, so that a formal charge may be leveled against him.  (William Hendriksen, NT Commentary: Matthew, 827)


It was impossible to treat the Law of God with greater contempt, than when they imagined that they kept it by pompous dress, or pronounced masks contrived for enacting a play to be a keeping of the Law.  (John Calvin, Commentaries, Vol. XVI, 78)


Jesus is saying that the attention of his followers must not be fixed on human titles and distinctions but on God in Christ, worthy of all reverence, praise, and honor.  (William Hendriksen, NT Commentary: Matthew, 824)


Human teachers who faithfully proclaim and interpret God’s Word are to be appreciated, loved, and highly esteemed by those they serve (1 Thes 5:12-13).  But remember that they are neither the source of truth, which is God’s Word, nor the illumination of truth, which is God’s Spirit.  Human teachers, including the apostles whom Jesus addressed on this occasion, are all brothers with every other believer.  No man’s calling, however unique, justifies his being given a title intended to portray him as being spiritually superior.  (John MacArthur, The MacArthur NT Commentary: Matthew 16-23, 367)


Although it would have been possible for these phylacteries to serve as useful reminders of God’s presence with them, the Pharisees and the teachers of the law had turned them into religious theater.  Their piety had become a performance designed to evoke admiration and applause from the common people they despised.  (G. J. and M. J. Albrecht, The People’s Bible: Matthew, 324-5)


Verses 8-11 appear to be addressed to Jesus’ disciples only.  He cautions them that they (the Greek is emphatic) are not to claim the title Rabbi, because for them there is only one “great one” and they are all brothers of equal rank.  No one on earth is to be called father because they have but one Father and he is in heaven.  What Jesus is speaking against is the tendency to develop ecclesiastical hierarchies that elevate certain persons above others.  The only hierarchy that the church is to know is Jesus as Teacher and God as Father.  (Robert H. Mounce, New International Biblical Commentary: Matthew, 215)


In his well-known book Mere Christianity, C.S. Lewis devotes an entire chapter to pride.  He calls pride, or self-conceit, “the great sin.”  Lewis says, “If you think you are not conceited, it means you are very conceited indeed” (Lewis, Mere Christianity, 114).  He then provides the remedy for pride:  “If anyone would like to acquire humility, I can, I think, tell him the first step.  The first step is to realize that one is proud” (Lewis, 114).  Finally, it is relevant for our purposes to see how Lewis links pride with competition:

Now what you want to get clear is that pride is essentially competitive–is competitive by its very nature. . . Pride gets no pleasure out of having something, only out of having more of it than the next man.  We say that people are proud of being rich, or clever, or good-looking, but they are not.  They are proud of being richer, or cleverer, or better-looking than others.  If every one else became equally rich, or clever, or good-looking there would be nothing to be proud about.  It is the comparison that makes you proud:  the pleasure of being above the rest. (Lewis, 100)

We are naturally prone to compete with one another, to measure ourselves against our neighbor, and this sinful habit cuts both ways.  If I’m doing better than the person next to me, I feel good about myself spiritually.  If I’m doing worse than the person next to me, I feel bad about myself spiritually.  But this is the wrong perspective altogether; we are brothers and sisters in Christ, equal before God through Christ, and He alone is superior.  (David Platt, Christ-Centered Exposition: Exalting Jesus in Matthew, 301-2)


No man in the church today has authority to make us do anything that is out of harmony with the Word of our heavenly Father.  In the last analysis there is only one Father over us all.  (R.C. Lenski, The Interpretation of St. Matthew’s Gospel, 900)


Earn respect and honor, don’t demand them.  (Michael J. Wilkins, The NIV Application Commentary: Matthew, 763)


II-  The religious leaders prevent others from entering the Kingdom because they are not acting out of the spirit of the Law, which is love.  (Mt 23:4, 13; see also: Mt 20:25-28; 22:37-40; 23:15-28; Lk 11:52; 22:24-27; Acts 15:10-28; Rom 2:17-24; 1 Thess 2:7-16)


Jesus’ complaint against the teachers of the law and the Pharisees was that they slammed the door of heaven in other people’s faces.  They were not content simply to reject Jesus themselves; they did all they could to discourage others from following and believing in Jesus.  Perhaps the most prominent example of this attitude is Saul of Tarsus (see Acts 8:1-3; 9:1, 2).  His conversion to the faith he had formerly persecuted and his call to become an apostle to the Gentiles cast some light on the words Jesus speaks here.  Although this condemnation is harsh, it is still a summons to repentance.  (G. J. and M. J. Albrecht, The People’s Bible: Matthew, 326-7)


The privileges of leadership carry with them a heavy corresponding responsibility.  Jesus denounces the teachers of the law and the Pharisees not only for their own sins, but especially for leading others astray.  (G. J. and M. J. Albrecht, The People’s Bible: Matthew, 323)


The first “woe” in the list is directed against the systematic opposition of the teachers of the law and Pharisees to the progress of the Gospel.  (J.C. Ryle, The Crossway Classic Commentaries: Matthew, 217)


The picture Jesus gives here reflects the common custom of that day, and of people in many underdeveloped countries today, of loading up a donkey, camel, or other beast of burden to the point where it can hardly move.  As they traveled down the road, the owner would walk alongside, carrying nothing himself, berating and beating the animal if it happened to stumble or balk, with no concern for the animal’s feelings or welfare.  (John MacArthur, The MacArthur NT Commentary: Matthew 16-23, 361)


After giving the people all these impossible commands, the leaders were unwilling to lift a finger to move them.  In other words, they lived in their “ivory towers,” teaching their lofty commands and interpretations.  Yet, they offered the people no practical advice in working these out in their lives or in building a relationship with the heavenly Father.  (Bruce Barton, Life Application Bible Commentary: Matthew, 448)


When men’s eternal souls are at stake, the church cannot be passive and indifferent.  Nor can it hide behind false humility that fears being judgmental or behind false love that fears offending.  Christ was supremely humble, yet He never withheld a warning that might save His hearers from hell.  And He had nothing but intense anger for those who by their false teachings led men away from God and directly toward hell.  (John MacArthur, The MacArthur NT Commentary: Matthew 16-23, 378)


What parent tells a child to “fix that bike,” then refuses to show how to do it?  That would be setting up that child for sure failure.

Likewise in spiritual growth.  To teach Bible truths but then refuse to help along the way is to (1) accentuate your own importance in contrast to others’ failures, (2) make students needlessly dependent upon you, and (3) create frustration with and eventually resignation from spiritual growth.

If you volunteer to teach, be prepared to help.  (Bruce Barton, Life Application Bible Commentary: Matthew, 448)


Is it not true of ministers who lead Christian congregations but who never explain the way of salvation through faith in Christ alone?  Is it not a just indictment of seminary professors who undermine belief in the authority of the Bible, the deity of Christ, miracles, the efficacy of Jesus’ atoning death, and the bodily resurrection, while pretending to serve the church of Christ that pays their salaries?  Is it not a proper assessment of professors who write destructive books masquerading as explanations of the Bible’s teaching?  I know of countless examples of such Pharisaic evils, and I can echo Christ’s judgment when he calls down woe on such people for their conduct.  (James Montgomery Boice, The Gospel of Matthew, Vol. 2, 492)


The last controversy (22:41-46) reveals the real failure–the teachers of the law and the Pharisees do not enter the kingdom because they refuse to recognize who Jesus is.  When the crowds begin to marvel at Jesus and suggest he may be the Messiah, the authorities do all they can to dissuade them (cf. 9:33-34; 11:19; 12:23-24; 21:15).  The sheep of Israel are “lost” (10:6; 15:24) because the shepherds have led them astray.  The “woe” pronounced on the authorities is therefore of a piece with 18:6-7.  (Frank E. Gæbelein, The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Vol. 8, 477-8)


Thus the Pharisees are unlike Jesus, whose burden is light and who promises rest.  But this means that v. 4 does more than illustrate v. 3b:  it shows how the Pharisees are by their teaching doing more harm than good.  (Frank E. Gæbelein, The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Vol. 8, 473)


By saying and not doing (v. 3) they imposed rules on other people but gave them no help in coping with them.  So in contrast to experiencing the “kind yoke” and “light burden” of following Jesus (11:30), those who follow the scribes and Pharisees find themselves “toiling and heavily loaded” (11:28), struggling under the weight of a hugely expanded legal code which enslaves rather than liberates those who follow it.  (R.T. France, The New International Commentary on the NT: Matthew, 861)


To “enter the kingdom of heaven” has been used in 5:20; 7:21; 8:11; 18:3; 19:23-24; 21:31 as a term for ultimate salvation (cf. “Enter [eternal] life” in 7:13-14; 18:8-9; 19:17), for belonging to the true people of God, those who are under his kingship.  The same metaphor is now graphically developed in the idea of a door to the kingdom of heaven (cf. 7:13-14) which can be shut against those who wish to enter; the same imagery will be used in an eschatological context in 25:10, “the door was shut.”   (R.T. France, The New International Commentary on the NT: Matthew, 869)


In Jesus’ day, the title Rabbi carried the exalted ideas of “supreme one, excellency, most knowledgeable one, great one,” and such.  One rabbi insisted that he be buried in white garments when he died, because he wanted the world to know how worthy he was to appear before the presence of God.  (John MacArthur, The MacArthur NT Commentary: Matthew 16-23, 366)


Worship Point:  Worship Jesus who is the only leader, ever, Who showed true integrity, righteous convictions and genuine love by His sacrificial service.  His yoke is easy and His burden is light because He transforms our hearts. (Jer 31:31-34; Mt 11:28-30; Rom 8:28-30; Gal 5:22-23; Phil 2:1-11; Heb 10:11-18)


As Jesus piles one woe on top of another, we sense that his harsh words are not merely an angry tirade, for his wrath is mingled with grief.  The merciful heart of the Messiah is broken by his people’s callous rejection of the gospel.  (G. J. and M. J. Albrecht, The People’s Bible: Matthew, 323)


There is righteous anger here, but it is the anger of the heart of love, broken by stubborn human blindness.  There is not only an air of savage denunciation; there is also an atmosphere of poignant tragedy.  (William Barclay, The Daily Study Bible Series: Gospel of Matthew , Vol. 2, 336)


Our Lord’s solemn words may seem harsh, but read in the light of His patient pleading with the nation, it will be seen that only after every other plea had failed, did He pronounce judgment.  Read in the context of Christ’s lament in v. 37, the pathos of His heartbreak in thus denouncing the Pharisees becomes evident.  (J. Oswald Sanders, Bible Studies in Matthew’s Gospel, 124)


He therefore declares that the highest honor in the Church is not government, but service.  (John Calvin, Commentaries, Vol. XVI, 81)


Gospel Application:  Your pastor can be a jerk.  Your FM leaders are sinners.   There is none truly righteous, no not one.   Look to Jesus to be your example and all you expect and desire from a leader.  We are truly loving, righteous and a good example to the extent that  we are “In Christ.”  (Jn 13:1-17; Rom 3:9-21; 1 Cor 11:1; Heb 12:2)


We must be very careful that we do not give to ministers, unawares, a place and an honor which do not belong to them.  We must never allow them to come between ourselves and Christ.  The very best are not infallible.  They are not priests who can atone for us; they are not mediators who can undertake to manage our soul’s affairs with God:  they are human just like us, needing the same cleansing blood and the same renewing Spirit; they are set apart to a high and holy calling, but still after all only human.  (J.C. Ryle, The Crossway Classic Commentaries: Matthew, 216)


It is good to know the true characters of men, that we may not be imposed upon by great and mighty names, titles, and pretensions to power.  People must be told of the wolves (Acts 20:29, 30), the dogs (Phil 3:2), the deceitful workers (2 Cor 9:13), that they may know where to stand upon their guard.  And not only the mixed multitude, but even the disciples, need these cautions; for good men are apt to have their eyes dazzled with worldly pomp.  (Matthew Henry’s Commentary on the Whole Bible: Vol. V, 328)


Many religions, sects, and cults have high moral standards, promote close family ties, and advocate generosity, neighborliness, and good citizenship.  But because all such systems are man-made, they work entirely in the power of the flesh, which can only produce the works of the flesh.  Only the new person in Christ can “joyfully concur with the law of God in the inner man” (Rom 7:22), and only the redeemed life, the life “created in Christ Jesus for good works” (Eph 2:10) is able to do good works.  (John MacArthur, The MacArthur NT Commentary: Matthew 16-23, 359)


The question for us, then, is whether we are content with the approval of God.  It is a deadly thing to desire the applause of men, for once you receive it your flesh enjoys it, and you want it more and more.  As a result, you become less and less content with the approval of God.  Scripture, on the other hand, calls us to be so content with God’s gracious smile that we are dead to what men say to or about us.  We need to pray for that kind of attitude for ourselves and for others in the church.  (David Platt, Christ-Centered Exposition: Exalting Jesus in Matthew, 300-1)


Spiritual Challenge:  Heed the teaching of Jesus.  Listen to and obey your spiritual leaders as much as they are faithful to God’s Word and Spirit.  But, look to Jesus for salvation.  (Jn 14:6; Acts 4:12; Heb 12:2; 13:17)


People schooled and devoted to the Scriptures deserve our ear.  To the degree that they teach the Scriptures, we can learn from them, even if their own faith is weak or their practice of faith is faulty.  (Bruce Barton, Life Application Bible Commentary: Matthew, 453)


The design of Christ was, that the people might not, in consequence of being offended at the vices of the scribes, throw away reverence for the Law.  For we know how prone the minds of men are to entertain dislike of the Law; and more especially when the life of their pastors is dissolute, and does not correspond to their words, almost all grow wanton through their example, as if they had received permission to sin with impunity.  (John Calvin, Commentaries, Vol. XVI, 71)


Any and all accurate interpretation of Scripture is to be obeyed.  (Michael J. Wilkins, The NIV Application Commentary: Matthew, 745)


When these false teachers say the divine words, the people are not to disregard them because they come from teachers of this kind.  The blessed power of these words is not derived from those who speak them truly, nor lost when false men do the speaking; it is due to the words themselves because they come from God.  (R.C. Lenski, The Interpretation of St. Matthew’s Gospel, 894-5)


What Jesus must have meant, therefore, was that whenever the scribes and the Pharisees faithfully interpreted “Moses,” their instructions should be obeyed.  (William Hendriksen, NT Commentary: Matthew, 821)


It is evident, that Christ exhorts the people to obey the scribes, only so far as they adhere to the pure and simple exposition of the Law.  For the exposition of Augustine is accurate, and in accordance with Christ’s meaning, that “the scribes taught the Law of God while they sat in the chair of Moses; and, therefore, that the sheep ought to hear the voice of the Shepherd by them, as by hirelings.”  To which words he immediately adds:  “God therefore teaches by them; but if they wish to teach any thing of their own, refuse to hear, refuse to do them.”  (John Calvin, Commentaries, Vol. XVI, 75)


However much we may disapprove of a minister’s practice, or dissent from his teaching, we must never forget to respect his position:  we must show that we can honor the commission, whatever we may think of the officer that holds it.  (J.C. Ryle, The Crossway Classic Commentaries: Matthew, 215)


The seven woes Matthew records fit into a neat chiastic pattern:

A: First woe (v. 13)–failing to recognize Jesus as the Messiah

B: Second woe (v. 15)–superficially zealous, yet doing more harm than good

C: Third woe (vv. 16-22)–misguided use of the Scripture

D: Fourth woe (vv. 23-24)–fundamental failure to discern the thrust of Scripture

C: Fifth woe (vv. 25-26)–misguided use of the Scripture

B: Sixth woe (vv. 27-28)–superficially zealous, yet doing more harm than             good

A: Seventh woe (vv. 29-32)–heirs of those who failed to recognize the prophets.

What stands out is the centrality of rightly understanding the Scriptures–a theme that is reflected in all the preceding controversies and is no less related to Jesus’ rejection of the claims of the teachers of the law.  (Frank E. Gæbelein, The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Vol. 8, 477)


In his Institutes of the Christian Religion, Calvin claims that Christ “alone is the schoolmaster of the church.”  In his commentary on the Gospels he writes, “The sum of this teaching is that all should depend on the lips of Christ alone.”  That captures the idea here.  There is one top teacher in the church, and that top teacher is Jesus.  In Jn 13:13 Jesus said, “You call me Teacher and Lord, and you are right, for so I am.”  (Douglas Sean O’Donnell, Preaching the Word: Matthew, 680)


So What?:  We tend to get disillusioned and reject the Gospel and God because leaders are jerks.  That reflects ignorant, irrational and irresponsible thinking.   Only Jesus is truly good.   The rest of us are (at best) merely Jesus wanna-bes.  ( Jn 13:1-17; 1 Cor 11:1; Eph 5:1; Phil 2:1-11; 1 Tim 1:16; 4:12; Tit 2:7; 1 Pt 2:21; 5:2-6; 3 Jn 1:9)


We must not think the worse of good truths for their being preached by bad ministers; nor of good laws for their being executed by bad magistrates.  Though it is most desirable to have our food brought by angels, yet, if God send it to us by ravens, if it be good and wholesome, we must take it, and thank God for it.  Our Lord Jesus premiseth this, to prevent the cavil which some would be apt to make at his following discourse; as if, by condemning the scribes and Pharisees, he designed to bring the law of Moses into contempt, and to draw people off from it; whereas he came not to destroy, but to fulfill.  (Matthew Henry’s Commentary on the Whole Bible: Vol. V, 329)


Not one good word will he bestow upon the scribes and Pharisees as such, but he says the law must not suffer because its interpreters are weak or vile men.  The law is an eternal quantity, a perpetual dignity that can never be impaired even by the vilest behavior of those who interpret it and enforce it; that law must stand.  (Joseph Parker, Christ’s Finished Work, Studies in Matthew 16-28, 113-4)


You have found a counterfeit coin, and therefore you give up the currency of the realm.  Some man has forged the signature of another, and therefore you will not believe a single letter which your child writes to you.  There is falsehood, therefore there is no truth.  (Joseph Parker, Christ’s Finished Work, Studies in Matthew 16-28, 114-5)


We must not therefore pull down Moses’ seat, because scribes and Pharisees have got possession of it; rather than so, let both grow together until the harvest, ch. 13:30.  (Matthew Henry’s Commentary on the Whole Bible: Vol. V, 329)


Saint Augustine said it something like this:  “By exalting yourself you cannot reach up to God, but when you humble yourself, God reaches down to you.”  (G. J. and M. J. Albrecht, The People’s Bible: Matthew, 326)


In this exhortation Christ touches and refutes a sophism that has found its utterance in all ages of civilized history.  What is that sophism?  That if a man shall do anything bad, everything good that he touches is to be condemned along with himself.  Is not that the sophism of today?  A man who reads the Bible has been found to do something wrong: instantly there are persons who say, “This comes to your Bible-reading, then no more Bible-reading for me.”  Such is the witless assault that is made on the eternal Book!  The Bible reader is bad, therefore the Bible is bad–such the dishonest logic, the corrupt and consciously corrupt reasoning of men who want to escape biblical morality and biblical discipline.  (Joseph Parker, Christ’s Finished Work, Studies in Matthew 16-28, 114)



Quotes to Note:

Let us also learn from this, how ingenious men are in mixing up vain deception, in order to conceal their vices under some pretext and cloak of virtues, by turning to the purposes of their own hypocrisy those exercises of piety which God has enjoined them.  (John Calvin, Commentaries, Vol. XVI, 78)


The general meaning is, that his authority must remain entire, and that no mortal man ought to claim the smallest portion of it.  Thus he is the only Pastor; but yet he admits many pastors under him, provided that he hold the pre-eminence over them all, and that by them he alone govern the Church.  (John Calvin, Commentaries, Vol. XVI, 79)


The OT is full of the gospel which requires and works faith in God and in his Messiah (22:41-45).  This grand part of the Word the scribes and the Pharisees never saw.  So they failed altogether “to do” this part, to believe.  And this naturally ruined also the other part, the law in the Word.  They missed its supreme purpose:  the knowledge of sin and true contrition; they abused the law by their rank work-righteousness.  How often had Jesus held up the true sense of the Torah before them, but, even when they had to admit the validity of this sense, they barred their hearts against its saving effect.  (R.C. Lenski, The Interpretation of St. Matthew’s Gospel, 895)


Christ’s statement must not be interpreted absolutely, as if without any qualification whatever the precepts of the scribes and the Pharisees were to be obeyed.  If that had been the meaning, Jesus would here be contradicting himself.  See 5:21-48; 15:3-11.  (William Hendriksen, NT Commentary: Matthew, 821)


The punishment intended for the proud; Whosoever shall exalt himself shall be abased.  If God give them repentance, they will be abased in their own eyes, and will abhor themselves for it; if they repent not, sooner or later they will be abased before the world.  Nebuchadnezzar, in the height of his pride, was turned to be a fellow-commoner with the beasts; Herod, to be a feast for the worms; and Babylon, that sat as a queen, to be the scorn of nations.  God made the proud and aspiring priests contemptible and base (Mal 2:9), and the lying prophet to be the tail, Isa 9:15.  But if proud men have not marks of humiliation set upon them in this world, there is a day coming, when they shall rise to everlasting shame and contempt (Dn 12:2); so plentifully will he reward the proud doer! Ps 31:23.  (Matthew Henry’s Commentary on the Whole Bible: Vol. V, 332)


It is not the Son’s will any more than the Father’s that a single person perish, because it is the gracious divine desire that everyone would come to repentance and salvation (2 Pt 3:9).  At the end of His denunciation, Jesus extended by implication another last invitation for belief, suggesting that He would still gladly gather any unbelievers under His wings as a mother hen gathers her chicks, if only they would be willing (Mt 23:37).  (John MacArthur, The MacArthur NT Commentary: Matthew 16-23, 375)





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