Today’s selected reading continues in the New Testament gospel account of the life and ministry of Jesus Christ as recorded by the apostle Matthew. More specifically, today’s passage is found in the first seventeen verses of the twenty-third chapter. When you come to this particular passage of scripture you will find a passage that is long awaited and much anticipated. As you come near and approach the twenty-third chapter of the New Testament gospel of Matthew you will find Jesus transitioning from speaking directly to the disciples of the Pharisees together with the Herodians, as well as the Sadducees and the Pharisees themselves to now speaking unto the great multitudes of people before Him, as well as His disciples. After experiencing enough interactions and having enough altercations and run ins with the Pharisees we finally find Jesus indirectly confronting them and their hypocrisy. Within this particular passage of scripture you will find Jesus taking the time to speak directly unto His disciples and directly unto the crowds of people—but not concerning the kingdom of heaven, but concerning the righteousness of men which is according to the law of Moses, as well as the hypocrisy that is oftentimes masked as righteousness. As you come near and approach this particular passage of scripture you will find that hypocrisy is more often than not masked and hidden behind religion and a false appearance and false sense of righteousness. If we are being honest with ourselves and with the Lord who authored the book, we must come face to face with the reality that more often than not legalism, religion and hypocrisy are more often than not veiled by that which is perceived as following and obeying the commands of God. What’s more, is that it is more often than not directly linked and connected to a strong and powerful sense of deception and delusion as those who are caught up and entangled in its dark web believe the lies they tell themselves, as well as the lies they tell others. It is absolutely necessary and imperative that we pay close attention to the tremendous reality that religion, legalism and hypocrisy are more often than not the greatest dangers that face the church of Jesus Christ and those who are His true disciples and follow Him.
The more I read and the more I study the New Testament gospel of Matthew the more I am directly confronted with and by the reality that the greatest opposition within the life and ministry of Jesus Christ was not opposition from the demonic forces of darkness, nor was that opposition coming from the evil spirits and demons which so oppressed and tormented men, women and children. As you read the New Testament gospel of Matthew you will quickly come to the reality that the greatest source of opposition toward and against Jesus the Christ came from those who claimed to walk in obedience to the commands and statutes found within the law of Moses. It is absolutely imperative that we recognize and understand that those who believed themselves to be walking in obedience to the commands and laws of Moses were those who found themselves guilty of hating, despising and utterly abhorring Jesus the Christ. We dare not miss or lose sight of this absolutely tremendous reality, for to do so would be to fault mil to recognize and understand the dangers that lurk within the very depths of our heart. It would be very easy to raise our hands and point our own fingers of judgment and condemnation at the Pharisees and at the religious community—much like the Pharisees and scribes did when they declared that if they were alive during the days of the prophets, they would not have struck them down and killed them. The Pharisees, the scribes and the religious community believed their own lie and deception that if they were alive during the days of the prophets they would have heeded and listened to their words and would not have stoned and killed them. Yet, the reality we find present within the New Testament is that they found themselves at a decisive point and moment within history when the very Word of God took on the form of human flesh and dwelt among us. The Pharisees and the entire religious community found themselves encountering the very embodiment of the God whose law they processed to obey and give their lives to teaching unto others. The Pharisees found themselves face to face with the very image of the invisible God and utterly and completely despised and abhorred Him with an utter disgust and hatred.
I find it absolutely and incredibly interesting when reading the twenty-third chapter of the New Testament gospel of Matthew that the words and language we find in the previous chapter appear to have been a final confrontation between Jesus and religion. What we find and what we have in the twenty-third chapter of the New Testament gospel of Matthew is a powerful indictment—not merely of a specific group of individuals which were present during the life and ministry of Jesus, but also an indictment of an entire religious system and movement within and upon the earth. While we don’t call them Pharisees anymore, and while we don’t have scribes and chief priests among us in our day, we must recognize and understand that the same spirit which animated them have been present within the hearts and minds of individuals ever since then. In fact, if you read the New Testament book of Acts you will find that not only did the apostles of Jesus Christ, but also the apostle Paul Himself faced tremendous opposition from the religious community and system that was in place during those times. What’s more, is that if you turn and direct your attention to the New Testament epistle which the apostle Paul wrote unto the Roman saints, you will find words which directly confront the same spirit which Jesus the Christ confronted and indicted on this particular occasion when speaking to the crowds, as well as His disciples. In fact, if you turn and direct your attention to the second chapter of this particular epistle you will find tremendous and incredible language that directly concerns and applies to this concept. If you turn and direct your attention to the second chapter of the New Testament epistle which the apostle Paul wrote unto the Romans, you will find very specific language concerning those who would not only judge others, but those who spent a considerable amount of time judging others while refusing to ever turn the finger and point it at themselves. Beginning with the first verse of the second chapter of the epistle which the apostle Paul wrote unto the Romans you will find the following words which were written unto these dearly beloved saints and followers of Jesus Christ:
“Therefore thou art inexcusable, O man, whosoever thou art that judgest: for wherein thou judgest another, thou condemnest thyself; for thou that judgest doest the same things. But we are sure that the judgment of God is according to truth against them which commit such things. And thinkest thou this, O man, that judgest them which do such tings, and doest the same, that thou shalt escape the judgment of God? Or despisest thou the riches of His goodness and forbearance and longsuffering; now knowing that the goodness of God leadeth thee to repentance? But after thy hardness and impenitent heart treasurest up unto thyself wrath against the day of wrath and revelation of the righteous judgment of God; who will render to every man according to his deeds: to them who by patient continuance in well doing seek for glory and honour and immortality, eternal life: but unto them that are contentious, and do not obey the truth, but obey unrighteousness, indignation and wrath, tribulation and anguish, upon every soul of man that doeth evil, of the Jew first, and also of the Gentile; but glory, honour, and peace to every man that worketh good, to the Jew first, and also to the Gentile: for there is no respect of persons with God. For as many as have sinned without law shall also perish without law: and as many as have sinned in the law shall be judged by the law; (For not the headrests of the law are just before God, but the doers of the law shall be justified. For when the Gentiles, which have not the law, do by nature the things contained in the law, these, having not the law, are a law unto themselves: which shew the wor,k of the law written in their hears, their conscience also bearing witness, and their thoughts the mean while accusing or else excusing one another;) IN the day when God shall judge the secrets of men by Jesus Christ according to my gospel…”
“Behold, thou art called a Jew, and restest in the law, and mayest thy boast of God, and knowest His will, and approvest the things that are more excellent, being instructed out of the law; and art confidence that thou thyself art a guide of the blind, a light of them which are in darkness, an instructor of the foolish, a teacher of babes, which hast the form of knowledge and of the truth in the law. Thou therefore which teachest another, teachest thou not thyself? Thou that preaches a. man should not steal, dost thou steal? Thou that sayest a man should not commit adultery, dost thou commit adultery? Thou that abhorrent idols, dost thou commit sacrilege? Thou that makest thy boast of the law, through breaking the law dishonourest thou God? For the name of God is blasphemed among the Gentiles through you, as it is written. For circumcision verily profiteth, if thou keep the law: but if thou be a breaker of the law, thy circumcision is made uncircumcision. Therefore if the uncircumcision keep the righteousness of the law, shall not his uncircumcision be counted for circumcision? And shall not uncircumcision which is by nature, if it fulfill the law, judge thee, who by the letter and circumcision dost transgress the law? For he is not a Jew, which is one outwardly; neither is that circumcision, which is outward in the flesh: but he is a Jew, which is one inwardly; and circumcision is that of the heart, in the spirit, and not in the letter, whose praise is not of men, but of God” (Romans 2:1-29).
It is quite clear and quite obvious when reading the words which the apostle Paul wrote in this particular passage of Scripture that he was writing to those who professed to be Jews, and those who professed to walk in obedience to the law of Moses, and yet broke the very things they declared and professed they had obeyed. That which we find in this particular passage of Scripture is a wonderful and powerful picture of those who trust in the law of Moses, and those who rest in the law of Moses, and as such, believe that they are somehow righteous in the sight of the living God. The apostle Paul writes unto a very specific group of people—those people whom we would undoubtedly call “righteous” according to men’s standards, and yet such individuals are actually the most judgmental and hypocritical individuals among the saints of God. In fact, in the nineteenth verse of this chapter we find the apostle Paul writing unto those who are confident in and of themselves that they are a guide of the blind, and a light of those which are in darkness, an instructor of the foolish, and a teacher of babes, and yet such individuals have merely a form of obedience and merely a form of righteousness before both God and men. I can’t help but be reminded of the words which the prophet Isaiah prophesied in the Old Testament book which bears his name concerning those who lived and were present during the days in which Jesus the Christ walked upon the earth. What we must recognize and realize, however—before we even entertain the words which the prophet wrote in this particular passage of Scripture—is that his words weren’t merely a reference to those who were present during the days in which Jesus the Christ walked upon the earth, but were in fact present even after Jesus walked upon the earth, and are still in existence in the earth today. If you turn and direct your attention back to the twenty-ninth chapter of the Old Testament prophetic book of Isaiah you will find the following words which were written and recorded by the prophet. Consider if you will the words which the prophet Isaiah both wrote and spoke beginning with the ninth verse of the twenty-ninth chapter of this prophetic book:
“Stay yourselves, and wonder; cry ye out, and cry: they are drunken, but not with wine; they stagger, but not with strong drink. For the Lord hath poured out upon you the spirit of deep sleep, and hath closed your eyes: the prophets and your rulers, the seers hath he covered. And the vision of all is become unto you as the words of a book that is sealed, which men deliver to one that is learned, saying, Read this, I pray thee: and he saith, I cannot; for it is sealed: and the book is delivered to him that is not learned, saying, Read this, I pray thee: and he saith, I am not learned. Wherefore the Lord said, Forasmuch as this people draw near me with their mouth,a nd with their lips do honour me, but have removed their heart far from me, and their fear toward me is taught by the precept of men: therefore, behold, I will proceed to do a marvelous work among this people, even a marvelous work and a wonder: for the wisdom of their wise men shall perish, and the understanding of their prudent men shall be hid. Woe unto them that seek deep to hide their counsel from the Lord, and their works are in the dark, and they say, Who seeth us? And who knoweth us? Surely your turning of things upside down shall be esteemed as the potter’s clay: for shall the work say of him that made it, He made me not? OR shall the thing framed say of him that framed it, He had no understanding? Is it not yet a very little while, and Lebanon shall be turned into a fruitful field, and the fruitful field shall be esteemed as a forest? And in that day shall the deaf hear the words of the book, and the eyes of the blind shall see out of obscurity, and out of darkness. The meek also shall increase their joy in the Lord, and the poor among men shall rejoice in the Holy One of Israel” (Isaiah 29:9-19).
The words which we find in the twenty-ninth chapter of the Old Testament prophetic book are not only a wonderful and powerful reference concerning those who were present during the days of the prophet Isaiah, but they were also a powerful indictment concerning those who were present during the days of Jesus. In fact, you will find a specific incident within the life and ministry of Jesus as recorded by the apostle Matthew in the fifteenth chapter which is directly linked and connected to that which is found in this particular passage. If you turn and direct your attention to the fifteenth chapter of the New Testament Gospel of Matthew and begin reading with the first verse of the chapter you will find the following words spoken by Jesus unto the Pharisees and the scribes:
“Then came to Jesus scribes and Pharisees, which were of Jerusalem, saying, Why do thy disciples transgress the tradition of the elders? For they wash not their hands when they eat bread. But He answered and said unto them, why do ye also transgress the commandment of God by your tradition? For God commanded, saying, Honour thy father and mother: and, He that curseth father or mother, let him die the death. But ye say, Whosoever shall say to his father or his mother, It is a gift, by whatsoever thou mightest be profited by me; and honour not his father or his mother, he shall be free. Thus have ye made the commandment of God of none effect by your tradition. Ye hypocrites, well did Esaias prophesy of you, saying, This people draweth nigh unto me with their mouth, and honoureth me with their lips; but their heart is far from me. But in vain they do worship me, teaching for doctrines the commandments of men. And He called the multitude, and said unto them, Hear, and understand: not that which goeth into the mouth defileth a man; but that which cometh out of the mouth, this defileth a man. Then came His disciples, and said unto him, Knowest thou that the Pharisees were offended, after they heard this saying? But He answered and said, Every plant, which my Heavenly Father hath not planted, shall be rooted up. Let them alone: they be blind leaders of the blind. And if the blind lead the blind, both shall fall into the ditch. Then answered Peter and said unto him, Declare unto us this parable. And Jesus said, Are ye also yet without understanding? Do not ye yet understand, that whatsoever entered in at the mouth goeth into the belly, and is cast out into the drought? But those things which proceed out of the mouth come forth from the heart; and they defile the man. For out of the heart proceed evil thoughts, murders, adulteries, fornications, thefts, false witness, blasphemies: these are the things which defile a man: but to eat with unwashen hands defileth not a man” (Matthew 15:1-20).
What we find in the twenty-ninth chapter of the prophetic book of Isaiah describes a people who draw near unto the Lord with their mouth, and a people who do with their lips honour the living God, and yet they have removed their hearts far from the living God. What’s more, is that such people are in the place where their fear toward Him is taught by the precepts and doctrines of men rather than being taught directly of God. The words which we find in the twenty-ninth chapter of the Old Testament prophetic book of Isaiah are absolutely and incredibly challenging—particularly, and especially when you consider the awesome fact that the words which He spoke and wrote had a powerful meaning and direct application to the Pharisees and scribes which were present during the days in which Jesus walked upon the face of the earth. That which we find in the twenty-ninth chapter of the Old Testament prophetic book of Isaiah is a powerful picture pointing to the scribes and the elders which were present during the days of Jesus—those who professed allegiance unto the true and living God, and yet those whose hearts were far from the living God. What’s more, is when the scribes and Pharisees came unto Jesus to condemn and judge His disciples because they ate bread without and before washing their hands, they did so by declaring that they had somehow violated the tradition of the elders. Oh, please don’t miss the tremendous significance and importance of that which is found in this particular passage of Scripture, for it brings us face to face with the awesome and terrible reality that the scribes and the Pharisees which existed during the days of Jesus had unto and had among themselves their own traditions, and their own set of standards and regulations which were independent of the law of Moses. That which the scribes, and that which the Pharisees attempted to indict the disciples on was not based on the law of Moses, but rather on the very basis of their own commands, their own traditions, their own rules, and their own regulations. It is absolutely necessary and imperative that we do not lose sight of or miss the tremendous significance and importance of this reality, for it brings us face to face with the wonderful and powerful reality that one of the greatest dangers found within the New Testament account of the life and ministry of Jesus Christ was the Pharisees, the scribes and the elders of Israel who attempted to judge, condemn and even indict—not only Jesus the Christ, but also His disciples based solely on their own traditions, their own rules, and their own regulations. They professed themselves to be hearers and doers of the law, and yet they persisted in condemning, judging and indicting the disciples for that which supposedly and allegedly violated their own traditions, rules, standards and regulation. Please don’t miss and lose sight of this, for when you come to the second chapter of the New Testament epistle which the apostle Paul wrote unto the saints which were at Rome you will find him indicting those who thought others but would and could not teach themselves, those who preached that one should not steal, but did themselves steal, those who said that men and women should not commit adultery, and yet themselves commit adultery, and those who abhor idols, and yet themselves are found guilty of committing sacrilege.
When you come to the twenty-third chapter of the New Testament gospel of Matthew you will find Jesus beginning His inducement concerning the scribes and the Pharisees by declaring that they themselves did sit in Moses’ seat, thus indicating that they were in a position and place of authority among the people of Israel in the land during that day. The words which Jesus spoke unto the disciples and the great crowds of people began with Him emphatically declaring that the scribes and Pharisees were in fact in a place and position of authority as they do in fact sit in Moses’ seat. With that being said, however, Jesus would go on to declare unto those who were within the sound of his voice that whatever the scribes and Pharisees bid them to do, that they were to do, but at the same point, they were not to do after their works. Thus, with these words Jesus was drawing a clear and decisive line between the words which the scribes and the Pharisees spoke, and the works they performed within and upon the earth. What Jesus was doing within this indictment of the scribes and Pharisees was drawing a distinct and powerful parallel between their words and their works, for while their words might very well have sounded noble, just, and even righteous, their works and their deeds were completely and utterly contrary to the words which they themselves professed and taught unto others. It is absolutely necessary that we recognize and pay close attention to this reality, for the scribes and Pharisees sat in a place and position of authority, and as such were given the ability to teach others, and yet the words and the deeds which they committed were completely and utterly different from their words, thus their works and their deeds directly contradicted that which they taught and spoke. That which Jesus Christ was declaring unto the disciples and the multitudes of people was that the religious system and religious authority which was present during that day were entirely and completely hypocritical and taught and did not do, dnd did not do and yet taught as though they did. Oh, there is nothing more dangerous than those who teach as though they do, and live lives completely contrary to that which they are teaching unto others. The scribes and Pharisees were in places and positions of authority among the people of Israel, and as such, they hypocrisy was all the more grotesque and abominable before and in the sight of the living God. Furthermore, you will find Jesus going on to speak concerning the Pharisees how they bound heavy burdens and grievous to be born, and laid them on men’s shoulders, and yet they themselves would not move them with one of their fingers. That which Jesus was declaring and speaking of concerning the Pharisees and the scribes was that they did indeed and did in fact bind heavy burdens upon the backs of the people, thus exercising a false sense of authority and control over them. When speaking of the Pharisees and scribes, Jesus spoke of them as those who bound heavy burdens and grievous to be borne, and how they laid them on mens’ shoulders—a reality which was completely different from that which Jesus spoke of Himself earlier on in His ministry:
“Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am. Meek and lowly of heart: and ye shall find rest unto your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light” (Matthew 11:28-30).
When I consider the words which Jesus spoke concerning the scribes and the Pharisees, I can’t help but be reminded of that which was written concerning the Egyptians, together with Pharaoh and the taskmasters he appointed to deal harshly unto the children of Israel who were increasing and multiplying within the land of Egypt. If you begin reading with and from the seventh verse of the first chapter of the Old Testament book of Exodus you will find the following words which were written concerning the Egyptians and the task masters which were set up over the children of israel to harshly opposed and rule over them with all hostility. Consider if you will that which was written concerning the Egyptians task masters and you will get a sense of that which which the scribes and the Pharisees committed toward and against the children of Israel during the days of Jesus. In all reality, I would dare say that while the Egyptians were Gentile and heathen task masters, the scribes and the Pharisees were religious task masters—those who harshly opposed the people of God, and those who dealt harshly with them by ruling over them with cruelty and oppression. WHEN RELIGIOUS TASKMASTERS OVERTAKE THE CHURCH! WHEN JESUS TAKES ON THE RELIGIOUS TASKMASTERS PRESENT WITHIN THE CHURCH! Consider if you will that which is written in the Old Testament book fo Exodus—first in the first chapter, and later on only a few short chapters thereafter:
“And the children of Israel were fruitful, and increased abundantly, and multiplies, and waxed exceeding mighty; and the land was filled with them. Now there arose up a new king over Egypt, which knew not Joseph. And he said unto his people, Behold, the people of the children of Israel are more and mightier than we: Come on, let us deal wisely with them; lest thy multiply, and it come to pass, that, when there falleth out any war, they join also unto our enemies, and fight against us, and so get them up out of the land. Therefore they did set over them taskmasters to afflict them with their burdens. And they built for Pharaoh treasure cities, Pithom and Raamses. But the more they afflicted them, the more they multiplied and grew. And they were grieved because of the children of Israel. And the Egyptians made the children of Israel to serve with rigour: and they made their lives bitter with hard bondage, in morter, and in brick, and in all manner of service in the field: all their service, wherein they made them serve, was with rigour” (Exodus 2:7-14).
“…And the king of Egypt said unto them, Wherefore do ye, Moses and Aaron, let the people from their works? Get you unto your burdens. And Pharaoh said, Behold, the people of the land now are many, and ye make them rest from their burdens. And Pharaoh commanded the same day the taskmasters of the people, and their officers, saying, Ye shall no more give the people straw to make brick, as heretofore: let them go and gather straw for themselves. And the tale of the bricked, which they did make heretofore, ye shall lay upon them; ye shall not diminish ought thereof: for they be idle; therefore they cry, saying, Let us to and sacrifice to our God. Let there more work be laid upon the men, that they may l about therein; and let them not regard vain words. And the taskmasters of the people went out, and their officers, and they spake to the people, saying, Thus saith Pharaoh, I will not give you straw. Go ye, get you straw where ye can find it: yet not ought of your work shall be diminished.k So the people were scattered abroad throughout all he land of Egypt to gather stubble instead of straw. And the taskmasters hasted them, saying, Fulfill your works, your daily tasks, as when there was straw. And the officers of the children of Israel, which. Pharaoh’s taskmasters had set over them, were beaten, and demanded, Wherefore have ye not fulfilled your task in making brick both yesterday and to day, as heretofore? Then the officers of the children of Israel came and cried unto Pharaoh, saying, Wherefore deafest thou thus with thy servants? There is no straw given unto they servants, and they say to us, Make brick: and, behold, thy servants are beaten; but the fact is in thine own people. But he said, Ye are idle, ye are idle: Therefore ye say, Let us go and do sacrifice to the Lord. Go therefore now and work: for there shall no straw be given you, yet shall ye deliver the tale of bricked. And the officers of the children of Israel did see that they were in evil case, after it was said, Ye shall not minister ought from your bricked of your daily task. And they met Moses and Aaron, who stood in the way, as they came forth from Pharaoh: and they said unto them, The Lord look upon you, and judge; because ye have made our savour to be abhorred in the eyes of Pharaoh, and in the eyes of His servants, to put a sword in their hand to slay us” (Exodus 5:5-21).
BREAKING FREE FROM RELIGIOUS TASKMASTERS! DELIVERING YOURSELF FROM UNDER THE BONDAGE OF RELIGIOUS TASKMASTERS! When I read the words which are written and recorded in this particular passage of Scripture, I can’t help but think of that which was written in the twenty-third chapter of the New Testament gospel of Matthew concerning the scribes and Pharisees, for it was written concerning them that they bound grievous burdens and placed them upon the shoulders of the people, which were thus difficult and impossible to carry and handle. This is a far cry and vastly different from that which Jesus spoke concerning Himself when He declared that His yoke was easy and His burden was light. In the first chapter of the Old Testament book of Exodus we find Pharaoh speaking evil concerning the children of Israel unto his own people when he declared unto them that they needed to deal wisely with them. As a direct result of Pharaoh’s insecurity concerning his authority, and concerning the power that he held within the land of Egypt, he raised up over the children of Israel taskmasters to afflict them with their burdens. What’s more, is that the children of Israel did build for the Egyptians the treasure cities of Pithom and Raamses. The more the Egyptians and their taskmasters afflicted and oppressed the children of Israel, the more they continued to grow, increase and multiply within the land. Thus, as a direct result of the continued increasing of the children of Israel, the Egyptians made the children of Israel to serve with rigor, and made their lives bitter with hard bondage, in morter, and in brick, and in all manner of service of the field. I am completely and utterly convinced that that which Jesus condemns, and that which Jesus indicts in the twenty-third chapter of the New Testament gospel of Matthew is the intense oppression and the intense bondage and labour the scribes and the Pharisees placed upon the children of Israel by afflicting them with harsh labour and harsh bondage. That which the Pharisees and scribes did was oppress the children of israel and the people of God with a life consumed with works, and a life that was spent trying to attain an unattainable level of false righteousness that was not commanded, nor was it instructed by the living God—even through the law of Moses. The more I read the twenty-third chapter of the New Testament gospel of Matthew, the more I am confronted with the tremendous reality that that which the children of israel and the people of God faced was oppression and cruelty from religious taskmasters who were set up over them to viciously oppress and oppose them. I can’t help but read the words which are found in the twenty-third chapter of the New Testament gospel of Matthew and find within it—not only a powerful indictment concerning the scribes and Pharisees, but also a wonderful and powerful call to get ourselves out from under the harsh oppression and the cruel tormenting of religious taskmasters who are present within the church—those who vehemently oppose the people of God and demand of them that which the living God has never asked, required or demanded of them.