Matthew 23:1-4, 23-26
A man can have a full mind and an empty heart. Such was the case for many of the Pharisees.
In what Matthew records as the final public address by Christ Jesus, there is a stern rebuke of the scribes and Pharisees because their hearts were empty of sincere reverence for God.
As far as the public and Pharisees were concerned, the most righteous people in the land were Pharisees. The title Pharisee comes from “separatist,” and they made sure to separate themselves from publicans, sinners and Gentiles.
There were thousands of Pharisees at the time Christ spoke these words. While not every Pharisee was self-serving, most of them were interested only in drawing attention to themselves and whatever they could get materially from the people.
The duty of scribes and Pharisees was to “sit in Moses’ seat.” They knew the Law so well, and they taught it to people in the synagogues. It was their honor to be able to help people to understand and apply the Law, but it was an honor they abused by the way they lived.
There were traditions and applications, though, that originated with man and those became at least as authoritative as God’s Law. Jesus said hearers of the Law and prophets should “observe and do.” This was as God intended for His people, but they should not fall under the influence of the Pharisees’ works because they were empty. “They say and do not,” said Jesus.
The Pharisees were placing burdens on the people they were unwilling to bear themselves. When they believed no one was looking, the Pharisees freed themselves of the unnecessary burdens they expected others to carry.
Their works were done for one purpose – “to be seen of men,” the Lord said. Leather boxes containing Scriptures were worn on the Pharisees’ heads and arms, and those leather containers grew larger and larger as the Pharisees attempted to show their holiness. In enlarging the borders of their garments, Jesus was talking about how there were fringes bearing blue ribbons that were sewn on the hems of their garments as constant reminders to obey the commandments. In the twelfth chapter of Mark’s gospel, Jesus called this “long clothing” that drew attention to them in public places.
Jesus said, “Woe unto you” eight times in this chapter because the scribes and Pharisees “shut up the kingdom of heaven against men.” They did not repent of their own sins and believe in Christ Jesus as the Messiah, and they discouraged other people from coming to Jesus and believing in Him as their Savior. It is a terrible thing for men to be lost, but it is even worse for them to take company with them into that lost state.
Scribes and Pharisees were meticulous to the point they attended to things that were minute, while ignoring the “weightier matters of the law, judgment, mercy and faith.” Attention to the finest of details is okay, but God never intended for man to ignore the “weightier matters.”
Their religion was outward and hypocritical. Believing in Christ Jesus as our Lord and Savior, and yielding our lives to Him will help us to truly understand the weightier matters in life. Within the surrendered life there is a heart of love and service to God and man.
“But be ye doers of the word, and not hearer only, deceiving your own selves” (James 1:22).
The Sunday school lesson is written by Ed Wilcox, pastor of Centerville Baptist Church. He can be reached at [email protected]