“Emmanuel’s Woe Part 3” – Matthew 23:29-39

June 26th, 2016

Matthew 23:29-39

“Emmanuel’s Woe Pt 3”

Auxiliary Text: 1 John 4:7-12

Call to Worship from: Psalm 51


Service Orientation: God is love.  We barely know what real love is.  By looking to Jesus we can better know how to deal with the unlovely and unlovable.


Bible Memory Verse for the Week:  This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins. — 1 John 4:10


Background Information:

  • It is possible that the sense of completeness often associated with the number “seven” (woes) in Jewish thought is intended to underline the message of the final culmination of Israel’s guilt in “this generation,” but that thought is clearly expressed in its own right in vv. 29-36, and needs no numerical symbolism to support it. (R.T. France, The New International Commentary on the NT: Matthew, 868)
  • (v. 29) In the first century A.D., burial customs underwent a transformation. Secondary burials were commonly practiced, in which a person’s decomposed bones were removed from a burial tomb and placed in ossuaries.  Funerary art became rich and varied, with widespread ornamentation of tomb facades, ossuaries, and sarcophagi, as well as wall paintings and graffiti.  The well-known tombs of esteemed figures from Israel’s history (cf. Acts 2:29) benefitted from this development of funerary beautification.  (Clinton E. Arnold, Zondervan Illustrated Bible Backgrounds Commentary: Vol 1, 145)
  • (v. 29) The hypocrisy which Jesus signalizes refers to the fact that these very scribes and Pharisees who occupied themselves with the task of thus honoring the prophets, at the same time were making plans to murder the greatest Prophet of all! (William Hendriksen, NT Commentary: Matthew, 835)
  • (v. 30) They prided themselves that they would never have been guilty of killing the prophets, as their ancestors had done, (30), but how little they knew of the deceitfulness of their own hearts. (J. Oswald Sanders, Bible Studies in Matthew’s Gospel, 125)
  • (v. 32) In these words, Jesus showed that the religious leaders were no different from their ancestors who had killed God’s messengers, for they were plotting to kill another messenger from God–the Messiah himself. “Fill up, then, the measure of your ancestors” means, “Go ahead and finish what your ancestors started by killing me too” (see 23:34).  These words may also reflect the Jewish belief that the kingdom will come when the sins of the people have “filled” the cup of God’s wrath.  (Bruce Barton, Life Application Bible Commentary: Matthew, 458)
  • (v. 32) What the Lord was saying to the stubborn and unrepentant men of His day was solemn indeed. He was telling them that if God were to take all the innocent blood shed in OT times and heap it on their heads, if God were to hold them accountable for all the murders and massacres of former times, they would still be less guilty than they now were, because they were about to shed the blood of God’s beloved Son.  (John Phillips, Exploring the Gospels: Matthew, 441)
  • (v. 33) Vipers therefore had the understandable reputation for being both deadly and deceitful. (John MacArthur, The MacArthur NT Commentary: Matthew 16-23, 388)
  • (v. 34) In mentioning both kill and crucify, Jesus was probably referring to Jewish and Roman means of execution, respectively. Jesus was crucified, of course, as also was Peter according to tradition.  Stephan was stoned, and James was put to death by the sword (Acts 7:58-60; 12:2).  Other believers in the early church were murdered by those and countless other methods.  (John MacArthur, The MacArthur NT Commentary: Matthew 16-23, 391)
  • (v. 34) The Jews were always on the heels of the Christian missionaries. They never tired of pursuing them: at Pisidian Antioch (Acts 13:45, 50), Iconium (14:2), Lystra (14:19), Thessalonica (17:5), Berea (17:13), Corinth (18:12; 20:3), Jerusalem (21:27; 23:12), and Caesarea (24:1-9).  (William Hendriksen, NT Commentary: Matthew, 837)
  • (v. 34) And as far as we know, the only one of the apostles who died a natural death was John. According to historical tradition, the rest were all put to death because of their preaching of the gospel.  (G. J. and M. J. Albrecht, The People’s Bible: Matthew, 335)
  • (v. 35) By mentioning these two martyrdoms, Jesus was encompassing all the ungodly killings in the Hebrew canon. He was saying that from Abel to Zechariah, from A to Z, the history was the same–the Jewish religious authorities killed the people God sent to speak His word, because they did not want to be ruled by Him.  (RC Sproul, St. Andrew’s Expositional Commentary: Matthew, 676)
  • (v. 35) Opinions differ about who “Zacharias” was. One unsupported view is that he was the father of John the Baptist.  Another view is that he was the prophet Zechariah, who was the son of Berechiah (Zech 1:1); this Zechariah was one of the last of the OT prophets, but nothing is said in the OT to indicate that he was martyred.

The most probable view is that the martyr of Mt 23:35 was Zechariah, the son of the godly priest Jehoiada.  Jehoiada was the man who hid baby Joash from Athaliah’s murderous hate and eventually put the young prince on the throne of David.  It was not at all uncommon for a man to have two names, so it is likely that Zechariah’s father Jehoiada had two names, one of them being Barachias.  (John Phillips, Exploring the Gospels: Matthew, 441)

  • (v. 35) As he died, Zechariah called out for God to see and avenge; taken with the statement that Abel’s blood cries out from the ground (Gn 4:10), this marks out these two deaths as not merely martyrdoms, but martyrdoms requiring retribution. Their blood remains to be accounted for.  (R.T. France, The New International Commentary on the NT: Matthew, 880)
  • (v. 35) The Hebrew OT is not arranged in the same order as our English OT. The Jews divided it into three categories:  the Law of Moses, the Prophets, and the Writings.  So the first book in Jesus’ Bible was Genesis and the last book was 2 Chronicles.  The murder of Abel is recorded in Genesis 4, and the murder of Zechariah son of Berekiah is in 2 Chr 24:20-22.  Thus Jesus is saying, “Every drop of righteous blood that has been shed upon the earth, from the first murder in the first book of the Bible to the last murder in the last book of the Bible, will surely come upon this generation.”  Only a couple days later, the people screamed, “His blood be on us and on our children” (Mt 27:25).  (G. J. and M. J. Albrecht, The People’s Bible: Matthew, 333-4)
  • (v. 36) The term “generation” is somewhat elastic. We cannot pinpoint exactly when a generation begins or when it ends.  It is generally thought of as a time span of thirty or forty years.  In the context of 23:36 a generation could last a hundred years.  The Lord spoke these words of judgment around A.D. 33, and the final dissolution of Jewish national life did not come until the time of the Bar Kokhba rebellion in A.D. 135.

It is of passing interest to note that in the terrible struggles that marked the doom of Jerusalem, another “Zacharias” was martyred.  He was called Zacharias the son of Baruch and he was slain by the Zealots in the temple.  (John Phillips, Exploring the Gospels: Matthew, 442)

  • (v. 37) Jesus used a literary device that is exceedingly rare in Scripture, the repetition of a personal address. It occurs only about fifteen times: “Abraham!  Abraham!”  “Jacob!  Jacob!”  “Moses!  Moses!”  “Martha, Martha.”  “Simon, Simon.”  “My God!  My God!”  I showed that when we see a name repeated in this fashion, it is a suggestion of intimacy.  Jesus was saying that people will come to Him at the last day and address Him as “Lord, Lord,” suggesting: “Jesus, I know you, I know You intimately.  I have a deep personal relationship with You.”  Sadly, they will be deceived.  They actually will not know him at all.  Rather, He will not know them.  That is why His words are so terrifying.  (RC Sproul, St. Andrew’s Expositional Commentary: Matthew, 677)
  • (v. 38) He predicts the destruction of Israel’s “house,” an expression for the temple in the OT (1 Kgs 9:7-8; Isa 64:10-11; cf. Jn 12:7). This is possibly its meaning here as well, although it may point more widely to judgment on Jerusalem’s leadership.  Jewish authority will be lost with the destruction of the temple in A.D. 70.  This is the theme to which Jesus turns next (chs. 24-25).  (Michael J. Wilkins, The NIV Application Commentary: Matthew, 758)
  • (v. 39) The people of Jerusalem had cried these words as He came into the city only a few days before (21:9). Jesus seems to have been foretelling His future return, when His people truly would be ready to receive Him.  (RC Sproul, St. Andrew’s Expositional Commentary: Matthew, 678)
  • The scene is this: Jesus is the divine judge.  I say divine because Jesus speaks here only as God would speak in the OT.  The four “I” statements show his hand.  “Therefore I send you prophets and wise men and scribes . . .” (v. 34).  Who does he think he is–God?  “Truly, I say to you, all these things will come upon this generation” (v. 36).  Who does he think he is–God?  “How often would I have gathered your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings . . .” (v. 37).  Who does he think he is–God?  “For I tell you, you will not see me again, until you say, ‘Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord” (v. 39).  Who does he think he is–God?  Does the Lord Jesus think he is the Lord God?  Yes!  (Douglas Sean O’Donnell, Preaching the Word: Matthew, 690)


The question to be answered is . . . What is Jesus trying to say in His last words with the teachers of the law and Pharisees?


Answer:  That even though they resist and oppose God’s loving advances, God continues to pursue them because God is love.   All we have to do to enjoy God’s provision and protection is to be willing to come under His wing.


The Word for the Day is . . . Persist


Jesus speaks out of love.  He will not force his way in; the only weapon he can use is the appeal of love.  He stands with outstretched hands of appeal, an appeal which men and women have the awful responsibility of being able to accept or to refuse.  (William Barclay, The Daily Study Bible Series: Gospel of Matthew, Vol. 2, 349)


What can we learn from Jesus’ last words to the teachers of the law and Pharisees?:

I-  God demonstrates true love by persistently pursuing us even though we resist, oppose, and even violently reject Him.  (Mt 23:29-37; see also: Ez 18:32; Mal 4:2; Lk 23:34; 2 Pt 3:9)


The connection is strange; “You are a generation of vipers, not likely to escape the damnation of hell;” one would think it should follow, “Therefore you shall never have a prophet sent to you any more;” but no, “Therefore I will send unto you prophets, to see if you will yet at length be wrought upon, or else to leave you inexcusable, and to justify God in your ruin.”  (Matthew Henry’s Commentary on the Whole Bible: Vol. V, 341)


He desired intimacy with His people, and they spurned His advances.  (RC Sproul, St. Andrew’s Expositional Commentary: Matthew, 677)


Jerusalem had killed the prophets and stoned the messengers of God; yet God did not cast her off; and in the end he sent his Son.  There is a limitless patience in the love of God which bears with human sinning and will not cast people off.  (William Barclay, The Daily Study Bible Series: Gospel of Matthew, Vol. 2, 349)


Love in response to goodness is not love at all, but reward.   You can never really  know if you have been loved until you are unlovable.   Love is a choice of loving in spite of behavior or circumstances. —  Steve Brown


Grace is God’s free and unmerited favor shown to guilty sinners who deserve only judgment.  It is the love of God shown to the unlovely.  It is God reaching downward to people who are in rebellion against him.  (Jerry Bridges; Transforming Grace; Living Confidently in God’s Unfailing Love, 21-2)


Both John the Baptist and Jesus had previously branded the Pharisees as a “brood of vipers” in Mt 3:7 and 12:34.  This imagery is reminiscent of Genesis 3, where the devil appeared in the form of a serpent and talked Eve into eating some of the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.  The urgent question that Jesus puts to this brood of vipers is:  “How will you escape being condemned to hell?”  And the answer to that question is the Man who is standing right in front of them.  (G. J. and M. J. Albrecht, The People’s Bible: Matthew, 335-6)


How could they be healed and saved, who could not bear to have their wound searched, nor the balm of Gilead applied to it?  Publicans and harlots, who were sensible of their disease and applied themselves to the Physician, were more likely to escape the damnation of hell than those who, though they were in the high road to it, were confident they were in the way to heaven.  (Matthew Henry’s Commentary on the Whole Bible: Vol. V, 341)


II-  If we persist in our rejection of God’s love towards us we will experience God’s reciprocal, rejection of us, which is a natural consequence of our decision.  (Mt 23:35-36, 38-39; see also: Gn 15:16; Isa 6:10; 30:15-16; 65:2; Jer 7:13, 25-29; 12:7; Mt 21:33-39; Lk 19:41-42; Jn 1:11; 3:16-21; 5:40; Acts 7:51; Rom 6:23; ch 11; Gal 6:7-8; 1 Thes 2:14-16; 2 Pt 2:21; 3:9)



Here we see the depth of Jesus’ feelings for lost people and for his beloved city that would soon be destroyed.  Jesus took no pleasure in denouncing the religious establishment or in prophesying the coming destruction of the city and the people that rejected him.  He had come to save, but they would not let him.  (Bruce Barton, Life Application Bible Commentary: Matthew, 461)


The imagery of a bird protecting its young is common in the OT (Isa 31:5; Ps 36:7).  Jerusalem, however, repeatedly resisted God’s love.  Jerusalem was invited to the messianic banquet but refused to come (cf. 22:3, 5-6).  (Robert H. Mounce, New International Biblical Commentary: Matthew, 219)


It is not that God desires for men to reject His grace and be condemned (2 Pt 3:9) but that when they persist in rejecting Him, they bring upon themselves the righteous outpouring of His wrath.  The more they hear of His truth, the more accountable and guilty they become if they continue to reject it.  (John MacArthur, The MacArthur NT Commentary: Matthew 16-23, 392)


But tell me, who exactly is Jesus judging here?  He is judging men who regularly attended worship services, were overseas missionaries, made religious vows, tithed their income, meticulously tried every hour of every day to observe God’s Law, and even built magnificent monuments to the heroes of the faith.  Surely such people get into the kingdom of heaven.  Jesus says, no they don’t.  Why?  The answer is their crime of hypocrisy.  The answer is their murder of the Messiah.  The answer is their rejection of Jesus as Christ–“you were not willing” (v. 37).  They would not come to Christ.  They would not believe in Jesus.  They would not bow to this Lord as the Lord.  (Douglas Sean O’Donnell, Preaching the Word: Matthew, 692)


Here is all the poignant tragedy of rejected love.  Here Jesus speaks, not so much as the stern judge of all the earth, as the lover of human souls.  (William Barclay, The Daily Study Bible Series: Gospel of Matthew, Vol. 2, 349)


Men and woman looked on Christ in all the splendor of his appeal–and refused him.  There is no handle on the outside of the door of the human heart; it must be opened from the inside; and sin is the open-eyed deliberate refusal of the appeal of God in Jesus Christ.  (William Barclay, The Daily Study Bible Series: Gospel of Matthew, Vol. 2, 349-50)


A privilege was given to Israel that is absolutely unique in the history of mankind, and with that privilege came great opportunity and responsibility.  The incarnate Son of God came into her midst as the Son of David, her own Messiah, Lord, and Savior.  He taught and healed and exhorted and entreated.  In His unparalleled truth and love He demonstrated God so perfectly that He could say, “He who has seen Me has seen the Father” (Jn 14:9. Cf. 12:45).  Yet Israel rejected that revelation and forsook that opportunity, and in so doing brought upon herself God’s wrath and judgment.  (John MacArthur, The MacArthur NT Commentary: Matthew 16-23, 401)


Only forty years were to pass, and in AD 70 Jerusalem would be a heap of ruins.  That disaster was the direct consequence of the rejection of Jesus Christ.  If only the way of power politics had been abandoned in favor of the Christian way of love, Rome would never had descended on Jerusalem with its avenging might.  As history has shown, rejection of God often brings with it disaster.  (William Barclay, The Daily Study Bible Series: Gospel of Matthew, Vol. 2, 350)


“You refuse to come to me to have life,” says Christ (Jn 5:40).

Let us leave the subject with the comforting reflection that with Christ nothing is impossible.  The hardest heart can be made willing in the day of his power.  Grace beyond doubt is irresistible; but never let us forget that the Bible speaks of people as responsible beings and that it says of some, “You always resist the Holy Spirit!” (Acts 7:51).  Let us understand that the ruin of those who are lost is not because Christ was not willing to save them, nor because they wanted to be saved but could not, but because they would not come to Christ.  Christ wants to gather people, but they do not want to be gathered; Christ wants to save people, but they do not want to be saved.  (J.C. Ryle, The Crossway Classic Commentaries: Matthew, 224)


The conclusion is defiant and ironical.  The idea behind “the measure of the sin” is that God can only tolerate so much sin; and then, when the measure is “full,” he must respond in wrath (cf. Gn 15:16; 1 Thes 2:14-16).  The idea is common in the intertestamental literature (e.g., Jub 14:16; 1 Enoch 50:2; 2 Esd 4:36-37; 4Q185 s:9-10), but never before was the concept applied to Israel.  (Frank E. Gæbelein, The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Vol. 8, 484)


It was national pride, not repentance, that motivated the scribes and Pharisees to “garnish the sepulchers.”  (John Phillips, Exploring the Gospels: Matthew, 439)


Every time the gospel is proclaimed, it either draws men to Christ or drives them further away.  Because it runs so contrary to popular notions about God, that truth is difficult for many Christians to accept.  But the NT makes abundantly clear that the purpose of the gospel is not always to bring salvation; it has the equally divine purpose of bringing judgment.  (John MacArthur, The MacArthur NT Commentary: Matthew 16-23, 393)


What those consequences are will be spelled out in v. 38 and in 24:2, and the first part of the following discourse in 24:4-35 will insist again that all the disaster which Jesus predicts will fall on “this generation” (24:34).  There the disaster will be linked with the “coming of the Son of Man” (24:30), and Jesus has already said that that “coming” will take place while some of those around him are still alive (10:23; 16:28); in 26:64 he will tell the members of the Sanhedrin that they themselves are soon to witness it (26:64).  (R.T. France, The New International Commentary on the NT: Matthew, 881)


“This generation,” which Jesus has already condemned repeatedly in 11:16; 12:39, 41-42, 45; 16:7; 17:17, is the generation which is about to reject the Messiah, God’s final messenger.  God’s judgment on his rebellious people can no longer be delayed.  (R.T. France, The New International Commentary on the NT: Matthew, 882)


The only real way to honor a prophet was to obey him.  (John Phillips, Exploring the Gospels: Matthew, 439)


Nothing in Scripture is more certain than the truth that God is sovereign over all things; but God’s Word nowhere teaches determinism, as this verse makes clear.  God was abundantly willing for Israel and all men to receive and follow His Son, but most of them were unwilling.  They did not turn from Christ because of fate but solely because of their own unwillingness.  When a person rejects Christ, it is never God’s desire or God’s fault but always his own.  (John MacArthur, The MacArthur NT Commentary: Matthew 16-23, 401)


They will never be convinced, till Christ’s second coming convince them, when it will be too late to make an interest in him, and nothing will remain but a fearful looking for of judgment.  (Matthew Henry’s Commentary on the Whole Bible: Vol. V, 344)


As Jesus contemplates what lies ahead of the people he came to save, it gives him no pleasure.  He had “wanted” to gather them, not to condemn them.  (R.T. France, The New International Commentary on the NT: Matthew, 883)


As we have noted before (see on 3:3, 11; 11:10, 14, 21:16, 44), for Matthew the presence of Jesus is the presence of God.  Once Jesus has physically left the temple (24:1), “from now on” his only connection with it will be to announce and explain its coming destruction (24:2, 4ff.), but he himself will have abandoned it.  This act of judgment can be averted only if the people of Jerusalem are prepared to follow the lead given by the Galilean pilgrims in 21:9 (the acclamation from Ps 118:26 is here given in the same words) and welcome Jesus as their Messiah.  As a matter of fact, some of them will probably “see” him within the next few days, when they stand outside the governor’s palace shouting “Crucify him,” and “His blood on us and on our children.”  The contrast with the welcoming words from Ps 118 could hardly be greater, and the one they welcome then will be Jesus Barabbas, not Jesus the Messiah.  (R.T. France, The New International Commentary on the NT: Matthew, 884)


When he returns, all will acknowledge him.  The context strongly implies that the Parousia spells judgment (cf. 24:30-41; Phil 2:9-11; Rv 1:7); but the quotation of Psalm 118 keeps open the way Jesus will be received–as consuming Judge or welcomed King.  (Frank E. Gæbelein, The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Vol. 8, 487-8)


Worship Point:  Worship the God of unreasonably and  unimaginably great love.   He loves us even though we are unloving and unlovable.  (Rom 5:8-10; 1 Cor 15:9; Gal 1:13-24; 1 Tm 1:13-14)


As we come to the climax of these condemnations of the scribes and Pharisees, as well as of the crowds who called for the crucifixion of the Messiah, we come face to face with a frightening conclusion:  We are they.

We too have hearts that would murder the Messiah, and to think anything different is to flatter ourselves in the same way these scribes and Pharisees did.  (David Platt, Christ-Centered Exposition: Exalting Jesus in Matthew, 307)


Gospel Application:  The more we see the love of Jesus for us, the more He is able to transform us to be more loving and more lovable.  (Mt 1:21; 26:28; Rom 6:23; 12:1-2; 1 Cor 15:9; Gal 1:13-24; 1 Tm 1:13-14; 1 Jn 3:16-5:12)


How does God produce the fruit of the Spirit in our lives?  By putting us in the exact opposite circumstances so we have a choice to make!  God teaches us how to really love by putting us around unlovable people.  (It doesn’t require any character to love people who have it all together.)  He teaches us joy in times of sorrow.  (Joy is internal.  Happiness depends on what’s happening, but joy is independent of circumstances.)  He develops peace within us by placing us in the midst of chaos so we can learn to trust him. (It doesn’t require character to be at peace when everything is going your way.)  (Rick Warren, The Purpose Driven Church, 361)


Spiritual Challenge: Identify and internalize God’s great love for us in light of our being unlovely and unlovable.  (Lk 7:47; Rom  ch 8; 1 Jn chps 3-5)


Never think that you are so bad, so undeserving, so much a failure that God could not possibly love you.  If such thoughts trouble you, read Matthew 23 again.  It’s filled with bad guys, but Jesus would gather all of them in.  He wants to gather you too.  Never doubt that.  (Bruce Barton, Life Application Bible Commentary: Matthew, 461)


So What?:  You will have neighbors, family members, co-workers, roommates, and even spouses who will occasionally (and sometimes not so occasionally) be unlovely or unlovable.  Jesus shows you the loving response to unloveliness.


The only true and enduring motivation for the ministry of mercy is an experience and a grasp of the grace of God in the gospel.  If we know we are sinners saved by grace alone, we will be both open and generous to the outcasts and the unlovely.  (Timothy J. Keller, Ministries of Mercy, 58)


Quotes to Note:

This tendency was illustrated in the Pharisees’ refusing to enter Pilate’s house on the day before the Passover, lest they be defiled, but who were nevertheless quite ready to murder Jesus.  (J. Oswald Sanders, Bible Studies in Matthew’s Gospel, 124)


The Christological implications of Jesus’ quotation of Ps 118:26 are profound.  The same words were cited in 21:9 at Jesus’ entrance to Jerusalem, shouted by those identifying him as the messianic Son of David.  Now as Jesus cites the same passage, he identifies himself with God’s Messiah, Israel’s Savior, the “Coming One,” who will once again return to his people after a time of great judgment, when they will have no other choice but to acknowledge him as Lord, either in great joy or in great sorrow.  (Michael J. Wilkins, The NIV Application Commentary: Matthew, 758)


This verse teaches us nothing about election, only about the natural state of all people, which is unwillingness.  Yes, we have wills that are free to do what we want to do.  But our wills cannot will obedience to God.  We cannot will to come to Christ.  Jesus explained this truth when He said, “No one can come to Me unless it has been granted to him by My Father” (Jn 6:65).  The people of Jerusalem refused to come to Jesus because they simply did not want to come.  (RC Sproul, St. Andrew’s Expositional Commentary: Matthew, 678)


Just as they would be ministers of salvation they would also be ministers of judgment.  Just as they would lead many to accept Jesus as Savior and Lord, they would also lead others to confirm their rejection of Him as Savior and Lord.  (John MacArthur, The MacArthur NT Commentary: Matthew 16-23, 392)



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