This morning we will return our attention once again to Matthew 23. This chapter contains the woes of Jesus upon the scribes and the Pharisees. Time after time after time, Jesus pronounced strong condemnation upon the scribes and the Pharisees. In recent weeks, we have been looking at these woes. In my messages, I have taking the slant that if Jesus condemned the scribes and Pharisees for these things, then these are the things that we ought to avoid to escape our own condemnation. Appropriately, my messages have been entitled, "How to Avoid Condemnation." For each woe that Jesus spoke, I have sought to draw out a lesson for us.
In recent weeks, we have seen the following lessons:
1. Get the Gospel Right (verse 13).
2. Serve Others, and not Yourself (verse 14).
3. Don't Follow False Leaders (verse 15).
4. Be Truthful (verses 16-22).
5. Focus on the Right Things (verses 23-24).
This morning, we come to the last three woes.
If you want to avoid condemnation, ...
1. Clean Your Insides (verses 25-26)
Jesus said, "Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you clean the outside of the cup and of the dish, but inside they are full of robbery and self-indulgence. You blind Pharisee, first clean the inside of the cup and of the dish, so that the outside of it may become clean also" (verses 25-26).
Jesus uses the analogy here of washing dishes. So, I want for you to think a bit about washing dishes. I trust that you all have some experience with washing dishes. Men? Do you know about washing dishes? If you don't, you should. How about you children, do you know about washing dishes? If you don't, you should. Obviously, in the days of Jesus, He isn't talking about putting the dishes in the dishwasher and turning the knob. He's talking about filling your sink with some soapy water, taking the cup (or dish) in your hand, washing it with a rag (or brush), putting the cup (or dish) away in the cupboard for next time.
Now, let me ask you, when you take that cup (or dish) into your left hand, and you have a rag (or brush) in your right hand, where do you scrub? You scrub on the inside of the cup, right? How much time do you spend on the outside of the cup? Not much. I don't spend too much time worrying myself about the outside of the cup. Certainly, it is important that the outside of the cup gets cleaned. (You don't want to sit down at the table and notice this big hunk of macaroni casserole sauce on the outside of the cup, do you?) But, generally, it's the inside of the cup that gets dirty, where the food is placed.
Now, imagine that I am at home washing the dishes and spend all of my time on the outside of the cup. I make it sparkling clean. But, I neglect the inside of the cup. Would this be good? Furthermore, when the cup is examined, imagine that inside is filled with food scum and dirt and worms and manure. Would this be good? Of course not! If I did that with our dishes, I think that Yvonne would be doing dishes from now on (perhaps I'm on to something here ... <smile>).
We may laugh at how ridiculous such activities are. But, this is exactly what the scribes and Pharisees were doing. In verse 25, Jesus said, "You clean the outside of the cup and of the dish, but inside they are full of robbery and self-indulgence." This was the religion of the scribes and Pharisees: all external. They didn't deal with the matters of the heart! They simply dealt with the externals of how one looked on the outside. In their minds, as long as everything looked clean on the outside, the man was considered clean.
They took great care to make sure that their Sabbath observances were done according to the letter of the law. And Jesus told them, "I desire compassion, and not sacrifice, ... It is lawful to do good on the Sabbath" (Matt. 12:7, 12). They took great care in their worship, to make sure that everything was said and done properly on the outside. And Jesus told them, "This people honors Me with their lips, but their heart is far away from Me" (Matt. 15:8). They took great care to make sure that they washed their hands according to the tradition of the elders, so that they wouldn't be defiled. And Jesus told them, "Hear and understand. Not what enters into the mouth defiles the man, but what proceeds out of the mouth, this defiles the man" (Matt. 15:10-11).
Lest you think that this was only a problem of the scribes and Pharisees, think again. This was entrenched in the Jewish mind. After Jesus said these things about defilement coming from the inside rather than the outside, His disciples privately asked Jesus about His teaching. And Jesus had to put the matter straight before His disciples, ...
"Everything that goes into the mouth passes into the stomach, and is eliminated. But the things that proceed out of the mouth come from the heart, and those defile the man. For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murders, adulteries, fornications, thefts, false witness, slanders. These are the things which defile the man; but to eat with unwashed hands does not defile the man" (Matthew 15:17-20).
This is exactly the issue of the scribes and the Pharisees for which Jesus condemned them. The outside may have been clean. They may well have kept the Sabbath observances. They may well have worshiped the Lord, using the right words and celebrating the right feasts. They may well have washed their hands every time before they ate their meals. But, their hearts were full of sin! And because of that, they faced their condemnation.
Jesus said that their hearts were full of robbery and self-indulgence. Certainly, he could have picked more things at this point. But, He focussed upon two: "robbery and self-indulgence." Your version may say, "greed and self-indulgence" (NIV, ESV). Or, it may say, "extortion and self-indulgence" (NKJV). Or, it may say, "extortion and excess" (KJV, MKJV, ASV). Let's spend a few moments thinking about these terms.
This is talking about taking what is not rightfully yours. The idea of the Greek word is that these men were grabbers. If ever there was an opportunity to take, they took. If ever there was something for them to have, they grabbed. But notice that Jesus said that this was in their hearts. This is where you get the idea of being "greedy." Jesus is talking about having a heart that wants other things and covets other things.
Is your heart covetous? Is your heart desirous of more and more and more? This is the American sin. Wealth abounds all around us. Sadly, the passions don't ever seem to be quenched! You would think that we would say, "enough" at some point. But we haven't. Our society is seemingly never satisfied in the amount of things that we have.
What's your heart? Are you clenching tightly to things? Or, do you freely give them away? As the Lord prospers you, do you freely give it away? Randy Alcorn has put it very well, "God prospers me not to raise my standard of living, but to raise my standard of giving." 1
The Greek word here literally means that you can't control yourself. I believe that Jesus is here talking about the passions of the heart.
He is saying that these scribes and Pharisees may look nice and religious. But the passions of their heart are out of their control. This may be exhibited in envy, by not being content with who you are and what you have. This may be exhibited in anger, by not being able to control your rage. This may be exhibited in sexual sin (this is the context of the word in it only other New Testament usage in 1 Cor. 7:5), by not being able to control your body. This may be exhibited in over-eating, by not being able to curb your appetite. This may be exhibited in gossiping, by not being able to tame your tongue.
When they came to the synagogue, all was well. Smiles were on their faces. The hymns were sung. The scriptures were heard. But their appetites were never under control.
Such things will lead to condemnation. But Jesus would tell you to Clean Your Insides (verses 25-26). In fact, this is exactly what Jesus says in verse 26. "You blind Pharisee, first clean the inside of the cup and of the dish, so that the outside of it may become clean also."
This teaching is entirely consistent with the teaching of Jesus. He always went after their heart! Back in Matthew 22, when Jesus was asked about the greatest commandment, Jesus replied, "You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind" (Matt. 22:37). It's the inside that is important to God. "The second is like it, 'You shall love your neighbor as yourself'" (Matt. 22:39). With these words, Jesus spoke about an internal love that expresses itself in love to God and love to others. This is how God has built us. What is on the inside will come out.
God has always placed highest priority on our hearts. It's not like Jesus was bringing some new teaching to them. It's not like the Old Testament never taught these things. (In fact, the commandments that Jesus spoke come from the law!) It is just as clear in other places as well. God is interested in our hearts!
Proverbs 4:23, "Watch over your heart will all diligence, for from it glow the springs of life." (see Pro. 17:3).
Jeremiah 17:10, "I, the LORD, search the heart, I test the mind."
Isaiah 66:2, "To this one I will look, to him who is humble and contrite of spirit, and who trembles at My word."
In 1 Samuel 16, the story is told of how Samuel the prophet came to select the king from the sons of Jesse. The Lord told him to go to "Jesse the Bethlehemite ... for I have selected a king for Myself among his sons" (1 Sam. 16:2). So, ... Samuel came to Jesse, who brought his oldest son, Eliab, before Samuel. Samuel was sure that Eliab was the Lord's anointed (1 Sam. 16:6). He was beautiful. He was tall, dark and handsome. He was T. D. and H! And yet, the LORDsaid, "Do not look at his appearance or at the height of his stature, because I have rejected him; for God sees not as man sees, for man looks at the outward appearance, but the LORDlooks at the heart" (1 Sam. 16:7). So, Eliab was rejected. Then, the next oldest son, Abinadab, passed before Samuel. But Abinidab was rejected also. Then, five other sons were paraded before Samuel. But, God hadn't selected any of them. So Samuel said, "Are these all the children?" (1 Sam. 16:11). Jesse said that there was one more ... the youngest. But, he was out tending the sheep. I believe that David was out there, because Jesse didn't think him at all to be qualified to be the Lord's anointed. But David was the man. By all outward appearances, it didn't look like it. He was the youngest. He had no commanding presence at the time. He was out tending the sheep. So, why was David selected? Because "the LORDlooks at the heart" (1 Sam. 16:7). It was said of David the he was "a man after [God's] own heart" (1 Sam. 13:14).
Is your heart clean before the Lord? The Lord is primarily concerned with your heart. It's not that He isn't concerned about your external behavior. He is. However, the way that God has made us is that the inside will creep out to the outside. When your inside is clean, your outside will also be clean as well. Jesus said, "Clean the inside of the cup and of the dish, so that the outside of it may become clean also." We are sort of like a semi-permeable cup, which will ooze it's cleanliness from the inside to the outside.
There is only one way to make your heart clean. It's by faith in Christ. We use soap to clean our bodies. We use shampoo to wash our hair. We use toothpaste to brush our teeth. For your souls, there is only one cleansing agent that will work. It's the blood of Jesus. When Christ Jesus died, He died for His church, with the purpose that he "might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word" (Eph. 5:26). The blood of Jesus is the only cleansing agent that will work on the heart. By faith in Christ, His blood is applied to you. Believe on Him.
My second point this morning comes from verses 27-28. Here it
2. Clean Your Insides (verses 27-28)
If you are observant, you will observe that my second point is exactly the same as my first point, because Jesus is making the exact same point in verses 27-28. Listen to them, ...
"Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites. For you are like whitewashed tombs which on the outside appear beautiful, but inside they are full of dead men's bones and all uncleanness. Even so you too outwardly appear righteous to men, but inwardly you are full of hypocrisy and lawlessness" (Matthew 23:27-28).
Jesus is saying the same thing, using a different illustration. Rather than using the common illustration of a cup and dish, Jesus talks about a coffin. This illustration would have been perfect for Jesus to use. If you go to Jerusalem today and stand where the temple would have been and look east, you will look upon the Mount of Olives. And on the Mount of Olives, you couldn't miss the tombs. It's like a giant cemetery. But, rather than tombstones, marking where those who had died were buried, they had tombs made of stone that sat above the ground. It was a burial ground back then as well.
It was the custom of the Jews to paint these tombs shiny white in preparation for the crowds that would come to Jerusalem to celebrate the Passover feast. They did this for a reason. It wasn't to show all of the pilgrims how beautiful Jerusalem was. It was to keep people away from the tombs, lest anyone touch a tomb, and become unclean, and thereby, be prohibited from celebrating the Passover. You can read about this in the book of Numbers, chapter 9, where some people were defiled for touching a corpse and were prohibited from celebrating the Passover with the people (see also Numbers 19:11). They needed to wait another month to observe it.
The city officials in Jerusalem wanted to make sure that those who were traveling from other areas in Israel would know clearly where the tombs are, lest they accidentally come near a tomb and touch it. If they did, they would become defiled and be unable to keep the Passover. And so, they painted the tombs white, lest anyone come near them. It has been said of Jerusalem that the city glistened during the time of the Passover, due to the work to whitewash all of these tombs, especially as the sun was setting and reflecting off of the newly painted tombs.
Jesus said that these lawless hypocrites were like these tombs. Great care was taken to make the outside beautiful! But, clean the outside all you want, and the inside is still rotten as can be. Within a few days after death, a body deteriorates, and causes a great stink. It's only a sealed tomb that can hope to keep the stink inside. Eventually, however, the stink will come out.
Jesus said that these scribes and Pharisees were full of two things: (1) they were full of hypocrisy, and (2) they were full of lawlessness. A whitewashed tomb is a perfect picture of hypocrisy, pretending to be something on the outside that you aren't on the inside.
A few years ago I read a story about a high-profile company that advertised in the New York papers to fill a vacancy in its sales force. One applicant replied, "I am at present selling furniture at the address below. You may judge my ability as a salesman if you will stop in to see me at anytime, pretending that you are interested in buying furniture. When you come in, you can identify me by my red hair. And I will have no way of identifying you. Such salesmanship as I exhibit during your visit, therefore will be no more than my usual workaday approach and not a special effort to impress a prospective employer." 2 There were more then 1500 applicants who applied for the job. The redhead got the job.
I don't know if that story is true or not, but it is illustrates perfectly the opposite of hypocrisy. Hypocrites will put on a show when they know that they need to perform. But, when they are unwatched, they are a different story. But, those who are true will be true regardless of who is watching. Learn well the lesson: what you are in secret, you are.
I can tell you that hypocrites can be deceitful. They can look really good. I remember my first year in seminary out in California encountering a hypocrite. I was meeting many people and having the time of my life studying the Bible in depth for the first time of my life. I remember one man particularly well. He was from down south and had a little bit of a sweet-sounding southern accent. He worked in the Book Shack, which was the book store for the seminary and for the church. Like me, he was involved in ministering to the college group of some 500 students that was the church. I didn't know this man very well, but I could see that he was a very friendly and happy guy. We knew each other's names and would greet one another when we saw each other. We had several classes together.
Well, one day we were sitting in Hebrew class, and there came to be a knock on the door (which doesn't usually happen too often when you are in class). In came a few policemen, in uniform. This guy who I am talking about was sitting in the back. These policemen pointed to him and called out his name and motioned for him to come outside to talk with them. These policemen also told someone in the class to take care of his books for him. I didn't know what was going on. The professor didn't know what was going on. So, we spent a few moments praying for him. And then, went on with the class.
Later, the story came out, this man was stealing books from the Book Shack. On several occasions, he had been confronted, but denied it. Eventually it reached a point where they had to bring in the police to press criminal charges, as he was unrepentant. He was dismissed from the seminary as a man who was no longer above reproach. This man was a hypocrite, who was filled with lawlessness, just as these scribes and Pharisees were. On the outside, he appeared to be the nicest guy. Here he was in seminary, training to be a man of God who would be sent out to preach the word of God. He put up a nice front. But, inwardly, the man was filled with iniquity.
Perhaps the story of my friend in seminary is a bit extreme. But the lesson is clear: the focus of our lives needs to be upon our inner-self. If you are one thing on the outside and another thing on the inside, you are headed for condemnation. You need a clean heart.
This is what God has promised to us in the New Covenant. God said to Israel, "I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit within you; and I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put My Spirit within you and cause you to walk in My statutes, and you will be careful to observe My ordinances" (Ezekiel 36:26-27). Sadly, these Pharisees didn't have new hearts. They had hearts of stone, but acted like they had new hearts. It's a difficult challenge as they tried to face everybody out.
Abraham Lincoln is famous for saying that "You can fool some of the people all of the time. And you can fool all of the people some of the time. But, you can't fool all of the people all of the time." Charles Spurgeon once said that "Hypocrisy is a hard game to play at, for it is one deceiver against many observers; and for certain it is a miserable trade, which will earn at last, as its certain climax, a tremendous bankruptcy." 3 If you are playing the part of the hypocrite like my friend attempted to do, you will eventually be found out.
The New Testament writers picked up on this promise of God giving us new hearts. Paul said that "if any man is in Christ, he is a new creature; the old things passed away; behold, new things have come" (2 Cor. 5:17). Jesus said, "Unless one is born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God" (John 3:3).
How about you? Are you different on the outside than on the inside? Plead with God that he would "clean your insides." Cry to the Lord as King David did, "Be gracious to me, O God, according to Your lovingkindness; according to the greatness of Your compassion blot out my transgressions. Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity, and cleanse me from my sin. Purify me with hyssop, and I shall be clean; Wash me and I shall be whiter than snow" (Psalm 51:1,2,7). Look to Christ alone. He is the one who is able to save you clean you from your polluting sins. He is the one who can transform your hearts. Look to Him and the cross.
If you want to avoid condemnation, ...
3. Recognize Your Sinfulness (verses 29-36)
Verse 29 starts like all of the other woes, "Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites!" And then, according to Jesus' pattern, it continues on, "For you build the tombs of the prophets and adorn the monuments of the righteous, and say, 'If we had been living in the days of our fathers, we would not have been partners with them in shedding the blood of the prophets'" (verses 29-30).
The scribes and Pharisees thought themselves to be righteous people. They knew that God's prophets down through the centuries were all persecuted by the Jews. For instance, consider Moses. In the wilderness, the people grumbled against him (Exodus 15-17). Consider Samuel. The people didn't listen to him either, but they demanded a king (1 Sam. 8). Isaiah was despised. Tradition has it that he was sawn in two (Heb. 11:37). Jeremiah was hated. On several occasions, he was placed in prison (Jer. 32, 37). At one time, he was even thrown into a well and left to die (Jer. 38). It was the people of Israel who seized him and told him, "You must die!" (Jer. 26:8). Elijah gave a good summary of the people of Israel, "the sons of Israel have forsaken Your covenant, torn down Your altars and killed Your prophets with the sword. And I alone am left; and they seek my life, to take it away" (1 Kings 19:10).
The curios thing is that the generation of Jesus' day honored people like Moses and Isaiah and Jeremiah and Elijah by building them monuments in their honor. We aren't sure exactly what these monuments looked like. But we do know that as these scribes and Pharisees looked at these monuments, they were convinced that they would have sided with the righteous prophets because of their righteousness. Their problem was that they didn't recognize their sinfulness. They thought themselves to be blameless.
I have often thought of myself living in the days of Jesus. If I were in the crowd and heard Pilate ask us, "Whom do you want me to release for you? Barabbas, or Jesus who is called Christ?" (Matt. 27:17). What would I say? I know my own heart, that I might very well say, "Barabbas" as the multitudes did (Matt. 27:21). If I were in the crowd and heard Pilate ask, "Then what shall I do with Jesus who is called Christ?" (Matt. 27:22). What would I say? I know my own heart, that I might very well say, "Let Him be crucified! ... Let Him be crucified!" (Matt. 27:23). As bold as I might say, "Lord, even though all may fall away because of You, I will never fall away" (Matt. 26:33), I know how like Peter I am. I am weak and feeble of heart. I believe that I would have denied Jesus three times that night as Peter did. (Matt. 26:75).
I know the weakness of my heart. But, these scribes and Pharisees didn't recognize their sin. They fooled themselves into thinking that they were more righteous than they were. When you think of yourself, do you recognize your own sinfulness? Do you realize that you have a sinful, prone to wandering, heart? Or, do you think of yourself as better than you are.
There is hope for the soul that realizes his sin. Remember, it was the publican, who beat his breast and cried to God for mercy, who went down to his house justified (Luke 18:9-14). But for the soul that thinks himself to be righteous, there is no hope. Remember, it was the Pharisee, who prayed about himself, "God, I thank You that I am not like other people: swindlers, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax-gatherer" (Luke 19:11). This Pharisee was not justified.
It is the same thing with here with these woes. These scribes and Pharisees thought themselves to be righteous. But, Jesus flat out denied what they had assumed. In verses 31-33, Jesus sets the matter straight. Far from being innocent, he said that they are guilty. Jesus said, ...
Consequently you bear witness against yourselves, that you are sons of those who murdered the prophets. Fill up then the measure of the guilt of your fathers. You serpents, you brood of vipers, how shall you escape the sentence of hell? (Matthew 23:31-33).
Jesus said that they were sons of those who killed the prophets. Their fathers were guilty. As they sinned, they would further add to the guilt of their fathers. And they would face an eternity in hell.
Jesus then gives them a test. He said, ...
Therefore, behold, I am sending you prophets and wise men and scribes; some of them you will kill and crucify, and some of them you will scourge in your synagogues, and persecute from city to city, that upon you may fall the guilt of all the righteous blood shed on earth, from the blood of righteous Abel to the blood of Zechariah, the son of Berechiah, whom you murdered between the temple and the altar. Truly I say to you, all these things shall come upon this generation (Matthew 23:34-36).
In effect, Jesus was saying, "Do you think that you are so good? You will do the same thing that your fathers did. "In your day, 'in this generation' (verse 36), you are going to be sent some 'prophets and wise men and scribes' (verse 34), just like your fathers. Rather than receiving them, like you think that you will, you will you will whip them with whips. You will beat them with clubs. You will crucify them upon crosses. You are just like your fathers, you, who claim otherwise."
All of this came to pass. Their fathers were sent prophets like Isaiah, Jeremiah, and Elijah. But the generation of Jesus would be sent prophets like Peter and John and Stephen and Paul. They would be sent the disciples of Jesus like Andrew, James, Thomas, Matthew, Philip, Bartholomew, James, Thaddeus, and Simon. You simply need to read through the book of Acts and you will see that Peter and John were flogged for preaching the gospel (Acts 5:40). Steven was killed for preaching the gospel (Acts 7). Paul spent his last years as a political criminal on account of the hatred of the Jews to the gospel of Christ. Last week, Steve Belonger went through a list of the 11 disciples of Jesus. All of them, (with the exception of John), suffered a martyr's death. And John spent his last years in political exile.
These scribes and Pharisees thought that they had all things under control. They thought themselves to be righteous. But, when the time of testing came, they failed the test. As a result, "the guilt of all the righteous blood shed on earth" fell upon them.
If you want to avoid condemnation, you need to Recognize Your Sinfulness (verses 29-36), so that when the day of trial comes, you will rest upon the Lord. These hypocrites failed to recognize their sinfulness. They proudly boasted in their righteousness, "Oh, we would never do what our fathers did!" They asserted, "We would never persecute the righteous." But they did.
The lesson for us that comes screaming out of here comes from 1 Corinthians 10, where I will bring my message to an end. In this chapter, Paul lays out the idolatry and immorality of the Israelites. God had poured out immense blessings upon them. He had been with them in the wilderness, miraculously feeding the millions of them everyday. Nevertheless, they were immoral. They were idolaters. They were grumblers. And so, God destroyed them.
Paul writes, "Now these things happened to them as an example, and they were written for our instruction, upon whom the ends of the ages have come" (verse 11). In other words, we are to learn from the Israelites. We are to learn not to do as they did, lest we too face God's condemnation. So also with the scribes and the Pharisees. We are to learn from their example and refuse to follow in their example. Here is the lesson that we ought to learn, , "Therefore let him who thinks he stands take heed lest he fall" (1 Corinthians 10:12).
If you think that you are righteous to stand on your own, you are setting yourself up for a big fall. You need to live your life continually trusting in God's strength, not your own. You need to "fight the good fight of faith!" (1 Tim. 6:12), by believing and trusting that in Christ, you are righteous before God (Rom. 8:1), and by depending upon Him for enabling power. Paul says, "I labor, striving according to His power, which mightily works within me" (Col. 1:29). Paul said, "I'm fighting the fight of faith. I'm laboring. I'm pursuing. But am I doing it on my own strength? Am I doing it with my own righteous heart? Of course not! I'm trusting the Lord, whose power is mightily working within me." This is the fight of faith. This is the only fight that you will ever be able to win regarding the future difficulties that come your way.
The promise then comes in verse 13, "No temptation has overtaken you but such as is common to man; and God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will provide the way of escape also, that you may be able to endure it." Notice again how the fight is the fight of faith, trusting that God has given you the way of escape through the temptation. The way of escape is the way of throwing yourself upon God and trusting Him to give you the strength to conquer it and endure it. This is the promise of Scripture.
How often do we fall into sin because the opportunity for sin comes and we simply say, "I can't help myself! I have to do it." At this moment, floods of excuses often come into our minds, seeking to justify ourselves in our behavior. But, you can conquer sin, because the Bible says, "He will provide the way of escape." This is the fight of faith. It is the grace of God working in us that will give us the ability to conquer. When we have his grace, we know our wickedness. When you see and know and recognize your own wickedness, you see the need to mightily trust in Christ, rather than in your own strength.
This sermon was delivered to Rock Valley Bible Church on
February 13, 2005 by Steve Brandon.
For more information see www.rvbc.cc.