The Oppression of Religion: Shutting Up the Kingdom and Binding Burdens

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 verses eighteen through thirty-nine of the twenty-third chapter. When you come to this particular passage of scripture you will find the continuation of an indictment that has been three and a half years in the making. As I sit here and consider this particular chapter found within the New Testament gospel of Matthew, I can’t help but be intrigued by the fact that as Jesus prepared to be betrayed into the hands of the chief priests, the scribes, and the elders of the people of Israel, one of the final declarations that proceeded forth from His lips was an indictment toward and against the religious system that existed and was present during His day. I find it absolutely incredible that when Jesus was preparing to offer His life upon the cross as a living sacrifice, one of the final great discourses He gave was a terrifying indictment toward and against the Pharisees and the scribes which existed and were present during that day. We dare not miss the tremendous significance and importance of is taking place within this particular passage of scripture, for what we find here are Jesus’ words concerning and unto the Pharisees and scribes which existed and were present during His day. What so intrigues me about this particular passage of scripture is that it was in all reality the culmination of three and a half years of interactions and altercations with the scribes and the Pharisees during His life and ministry. If you read and study the gospel account of the life and ministry of Jesus Christ you will find that there were multiple times when the Pharisees not only came unto Jesus tempting Him with their questions, with their doctrines and with their questions, but they also came unto both He and His disciples accusing them one to another. What is so interesting and unique about the entire gospel account of the life and ministry of Jesus Christ, and what has so intrigued me since I began reading this gospel account once more, is that the greatest opposition Jesus the Christ ever faced and experienced within and throughout His life and ministry came not from the demonic forces of darkness, nor did it come from the evil spirits, but from the religious system which was present during that day.

The more I read and the more I study the New Testament gospel account of the life and ministry of Jesus Christ, the more I am completely captivated with and by the fact that His greatest opposition came not from that which you would naturally expect, for after reading of His temptation in the wilderness you would think and expect that He would experience His greatest conflict, struggle and opposition from that which was present within the supernatural realm. With that being said, however, it is absolutely necessary and imperative that we recognize and understand the tremendous reality that even though Jesus’ greatest conflict and struggle came with and from the religious system and community that was present during that day, that didn’t mean that the demonic forces weren’t present working behind the scenes in an attempt to destroy Jesus. We dare not miss the fact that within the religious system that was present during the days of the life and ministry of Jesus—not only do we find the voice of the accuser, but we also find the voice of the tempter. The same voice of the tempter which we find in the garden of eden and the same voice of the tempter we find in the wilderness is the same voice that we find working within, among and behind the scenes in the hearts and minds of the religious system and community that was present during that day. What’s more, is that the same voice of accusation which we find present during the days of Job before Abraham was in the earth is the same voice of accusation we find present within the days of the life and ministry of Jesus Christ. In fact, I am convinced that f we are to truly understand that which was taking place within and during the life and ministry of Jesus, it is absolutely necessary and imperative that we turn and direct our attention to these various examples and accounts of temptation and accusation found within scripture. I firmly believe that if we are to truly understand what took place during the life and ministry of Jesus Christ, we must first come face to face with the voice of the tempter, as well as the voice of the accuser which is found within scripture. Such passages and references will not only bring us face to face with that which Jesus faced and experienced, but also that which Jesus condemned and indicted the Pharisees and scribes for.

If you want to truly understand that which took place within the life and ministry of Jesus Christ and the continual struggle that existed between Himself and the scribes and Pharisees, it is absolutely necessary to begin the journey in the Old Testament book of Genesis. Before we can journey into the fourth chapter of the New Testament gospel of Matthew to read and discover once more the temptation of Jesus in the wilderness, it is first necessary to turn our eyes back to the very beginning of time and history when the serpent in the garden beguiled Eve at the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. In fact, even before we journey into the third chapter of the Old Testament book of Genesis, I feel it necessary to present you with the reality of what is found in the second epistle which the apostle Paul wrote unto the Corinthian saints. In the eleventh chapter of the second New Testament epistle which the apostle Paul wrote unto the Corinthian saints you will find the following warning and word of caution which the apostle Paul wrote and spoke unto them—“Would to God ye could bear with me a little in my folly: and indeed bear with me. For I am jealous over you with godly jealousy: for I have espoused you to one husband, that I may present you as a chaste virgin to Christ. Bu t I fear, lest by any means, as the serpent beguiled Eve through his subtitly, so your minds should be corrupted from the simplicity that is in Christ” (2 Corinthians 11:1-3). With these words we find the apostle Paul worried and concerned that just as Eve was beguiled in the garden of Eden at the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, so would, and so could the Corinthians be tempted and beguiled by any means. Please make note of that singular phrase “any means,” for it is absolutely necessary and imperative that we recognize and understand that when we speak of, and we seek to understand how the serpent can and will beguile the saints and people of God, we must understand that he can and will use any means necessary. The serpent will absolutely hold nothing back and will use absolutely any means within his arsenal in order that he might beguile and deceive the saints of God. That which the serpent did in the garden was not only tempt Eve at the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, but deceive Eve through temptation. DECEPTION THROUGH TEMPTATION! TEMPTATION THROUGH DECEPTION! In all reality, I am convinced that if we are to understand that which took place within the garden of Eden, we must understand the direct connection and link between deception and temptation, for the two do in fact go hand in hand. We read the third chapter of the Old Testament book of Genesis and we think about it only in terms of the temptation of the serpent at the tree, however, I am convinced that we must also understand it in terms of deception, for deception is in fact at the very heart of the temptation which the serpent hurled at Eve there in the garden. Consider if you will the account of Eve and the serpent in the garden of Eden at the tree of the knowledge of good and evil:

“Now the serpent was more subtil than any beast of the field which the Lord God had made. And he said unto the woman, Yea, hath God said, Ye shall not eat of every tree of the garden? And the woman said unto the serpent, We may eat of the fruit of the trees of the garden: but of the fruit of the tree which is in the midst of the garden, God hath said, Ye shall not eat of it, neither shall ye touch it, lest ye die. And the serpent said unto the woman, Ye shall not surely die: For God doth know that in the day ye eat thereof, then your eyes shall be opened, and ye shall be as gods, knowing good and evil. And when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was pleasant to the eyes, and a tree to be desired to make one wise, she took of the fruit thereof, and did eat, and gave also unto her husband with her; and he did eat. And the eyes of them both were opened, and they knew that they were naked; and they sewed fig leaves together, and made themselves aprons. And they heard the voice of the Lord God walking in the garden in the cool of the day: and Adam and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the Lord God amongst the trees of the garden. And the Lord God called unto Adam, and said unto him, Where art thou? And he said, I heard thy voice in the garden, and I was afraid, because I was naked; and I hid myself. And He said, Who told thee that thou wast naked? Hast thou eaten of the tree, whereof I commanded thee that thou shouldest not eat? And the man said, The woman whom thou gavest to be with me, she gave me of the tree, and I did eat. And the Lord God said unto the woman, What is this that thou hast done? And the woman said, The serpent beguiled me, and I did eat. And the Lord God said unto the serpent, Because thou hast done this, thou art cursed above all cattle, and above every beast of the field; upon thy belly shalt thou go, and dust shalt thou eat all the days of thy life: and I will put enmity between thee and the woman, and between thy seed and her seed; ain’t shall bruise thy head, and thou shalt bruise his heel” (Genesis 3:1-15).

What we find here in the third chapter of the garden of Eden is the serpent seeking to beguile Eve at the tree of the knowledge of good and evil in order that he might completely and utterly destroy and mar the image of God that both she and her husband were created in. It is important that we recognize and understand that which takes place there in the garden of Eden, for if we recognize and understand that which takes place in the garden of Eden we will surely and certainly understand that which takes place in the wilderness when Jesus was led by the Spirit into the wilderness in order that He Himself might be tempted. It’s actually quite interesting that the same serpent which tempted and beguiled Eve in the garden of Eden is the same serpent which came unto Jesus in the wilderness in order that he might tempt Him. We dare not miss or lose sight of the fact that the temptation which Eve experienced in the garden was the same temptation which Jesus experienced in the wilderness—simply in a different form. In fact, before we get into the temptation of Jesus in the wilderness, it is necessary that we first journey to the New Testament epistle which the apostle John wrote unto the saints which were at Ephesus. Not only must we consider the words which the apostle John wrote in the first epistle which was written unto the saints which were at Ephesus, but we must also consider the words which James the half brother of Jesus wrote in his epistle which is found in the New Testament. When writing unto the saints which were at Ephesus, the apostle John wrote the following words concerning temptation: “Love not the world, neither the things that are in the world. If any man love the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh, and the lust of the yes, and the pride of life, is not of the Father, but is of the world. And the world passeth away, and the lust thereof: but he that doeth the will of God abideth forever” (1 John 2:15-17). Here within the first epistle which the apostle John wrote unto the saints which were at Ephesus we find and read concerning the foundation of all temptation which the serpent seeks to come against us with—namely, the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life. With that being said, if you journey to the New Testament epistle which. James the half brother of Jesus wrote, you will find the following words written concerning temptation: “Let no man say when he is tempted, I am tempted of God: for God cannot be tempted with evil, neither tempter he any man: but every man is tempted, when he is drawn away of his own lust, and entice. Then when lust hath conceived, it bringeth forth sin: and sin, when it is finished, bringeth forth death” (James 1:13-15). Here in this passage James plainly and clearly writes that no temptation comes from God, for God cannot be tempted with evil. Temptation comes when one is drawn away of their own lust and is enticed, and when that lust has conceived and manifested within the heart and mind of an individual, it brings forth sin, and sin when it is finished brings forth death. With that in mind, consider if you will the account of the temptation of Jesus in the wilderness as recorded by the apostle Matthew:

“Then was Jesus led up of the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted of the devil. And when He had fasted forty days and forty nights, He was afterward an hungred. And when the tempter came to Him, he said, If thou be the Son of God, command that these stones be made bread. But He answered and said, It is written, Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of God. Then the devil taketh him up into the holy city, and setteth him on a pinnacle of the temple, and saith unto him, If thou be the Son of God, cast thyself down: for it is written, He shall give his angels charge concerning thee: and in their hands they shall bear thee up, lest at any time thou dash thy foot against a stone. Jesus said unto him, It is written again, Thou shalt not tempt the Lord thy God. Again, the devil taketh him up into an exceeding high mountain, and sheweth him all the kingdoms of the world, and the glory of them;a nd saith unto him, All these things will I give thee, if thou wilt fall down and worship me. Then saith Jesus unto him, Get thee hence, Satan: for it is written, Thou shalt worship the Lord thy God, and Him only shalt thou serve. Then the devil leaveth him, and, behold, angels came and ministered unto him” (Matthew 4:1-11).

In the Old Testament book of Genesis, as well as in the New Testament gospel of Matthew—as well as in the New Testament gospels of Mark and Luke—we find examples of the serpent’s temptation within and upon the earth. What began in the garden of Eden among the trees between Eve and the serpent would eventually reach the point where the serpent, who is called the Devil and Satan, will tempt Jesus according to the divine will, plan and purpose of the Spirit of the living God. Scripture makes it very clear and plain that it was the Spirit Himself who led Jesus into the wilderness where Jesus would be tempted of him forty days and forty nights. It is absolutely necessary that we recognize and understand this, for at the end of Luke’s account of the temptation of Jesus in the wilderness, he writes that the devil left Jesus unto a more opportune time where he could once more come against and tempt Him. This fact is quite astounding and interesting, for as you study the life and ministry of Jesus Christ in the New Testament gospel of Matthew you will find that more often than not when the Pharisees came unto Jesus, they did so in order that they might tempt Him with their questions, with their traditions, and with their doctrines. When the scribes and the Pharisees came unto Jesus within and throughout the course of His life and ministry, they did so tempting Him with their questions, with their traditions, with their doctrines, in order that they might entrap and ensnare Him in and with His words. Please don’t miss or lose sight of this tremendous reality, for to do so would be to completely miss that which took place in the twenty-third chapter of the New Testament gospel of Matthew where Jesus indicted the scribes and the Pharisees for their hypocrisy. With all of this being said, it’s necessary that we recognize and understand that not only among the scribes and Pharisees do we find the voice of the tempter, but we also find the voice of the accuser. If we are going to recognize and understand the voice of the accuser, it is not only necessary that we journey back into the Old Testament book of Job, but we must also journey forward into the final New Testament book—the prophetic book of the Revelation of Jesus—for it is there where we find it written concerning the serpent, who is also called the devil and Satan being cast out of heaven. Consider if you will both accounts of Job being accused before the throne of God, as well as the words which were proclaimed concerning the ancient serpent in the garden of Eden:

“Now there was a day when the sons of God came to present themselves before the Lord, and Satan came also among them. And the Lord said unto Satan, Whence comest thou? Then Satan answered the Lord, and said, From going to and fro in the earth, and from walking up and down in it. And the Lord said unto Satan, hast thou considered my servant Job, that there is none like him in the earth, a perfect and an upright man, one that feareth God, and escheweth evil? Then Satan answered the Lord, and said, Doth Job fear God for nought? Hast not thou made an hedge about him, and about his house, and about all that he hath on every side? Thou hast blessed the work of his hands, and his substance is increase in the land. But put forth thine hand now, and touch all that he hath, and he will curse thee to thy face. And the Lord said unto Satan, Behold, all that he hath is in thy power; only upon himself put not forth thine hand. So Satan went forth from the presence of the Lord” (Job 1:6-12).

“Again there was a day when the sons of God came to present themselves before the Lord, and Satan came also among them to present himself before the Lord. And the Lord said unto Satan, From whence comest thou? And Satan answered the Lord, and said, From going to and fro in the earth,a nd from walking up and down in it. And the Lord said unto Satan, hast thou considered my servant Job, that there is none like him in the earth, a perfect and an upright man, one that feareth God, and escheweth evil? And still He holdeth fast his integrity, although thou movedst me against him, to destroy him without cause. And Satan answered the Lord, and said, Skin for skin, yea, all that a man hath will he give for his life. But put forth thine hand now, and touch his bone and his flesh, and he will curse thee to thy face. And the Lord said unto Satan, Behold, he is in thine hand; but save his life. So Satan went forth from the presence of the Lord, and smote Job with sore boils from the sole of his foot unto his crown. And he took him a potsherd to scrape himself withal; and he sat down among the ashes” (Job 2:1-8).

“And there was war in heaven: Michael and his angels fought against the dragon; and the dragon fought and his angels, and prevailed not; neither was their place found any more in heaven. And the great dragon was cast out, that old serpent, called the Devil, and Satan, which deceiveth the whole world: he was cast out into the earth, and his angels were cast out with him. And I heard a loud voice saying in heaven, Now is come salvation, and strength, and the kingdom of our God, and the power of His Christ: for the accuser of our brethren is cast down, which accused them before our God day and night. And they overcame him by the bloood of the Lamb, and by the word of their testimony; and they loved not their lives unto the death. Therefore rejoice, ye heavens, and ye that dwell in them. Woe to the inhabiters of the earth and of the sea! For the devil is come down unto you, having great wrath, because he knoweth that the hath but a short time” (Revelation 12:7-12).

In the twelfth chapter of the New Testament prophetic book of the Revelation of Jesus Christ we find it written—not only concerning the Devil who is also called Satan deceiving the whole world, but we also find it written concerning the Devil who accused the saints of God before the throne of God both day and night. Oh, please don’t miss or lose sight of this, for within this passage we find directly linked and connected to each other—not only the accusation of the Devil, but also the deception of the Devil. I am convinced it is absolutely necessary and imperative that we recognize and understand this, for we would be naïve to think and consider—even for one brief one moment—that the voice of the accuser and the voice of the deceiver was not and is not found among religion and in the religious system that is so pervasive in the earth. In fact, I am completely and utterly convinced that if we are going to truly understand religious and the religious spirit, we must recognize and understand that not only is accusation found present within and among religion, but so also is temptation and deception. The New Testament gospels written by Matthew, Mark, Luke and John not only present us with a powerful picture concerning the life and ministry of Jesus the Christ, but they also present us with an additional conflict and struggle that took place within and during the life and ministry of Jesus Christ—namely, the struggle and conflict that existed and ensued between Jesus and the religious system and community during that day. What’s so incredibly interesting is that if you read the four gospel accounts of the life and ministry of Jesus Christ, it appears to be that Jesus appeared to be in direct conflict and opposition with religion and with the religious spirit which was present in the earth during that time. It was true that Jesus directly confronted evil spirits and the demonic forces of darkness which so tormented and oppressed the lives of men, women, and even children, but the greatest struggle and the greatest conflict which Jesus faced and experienced was that which He faced with the religious leaders present during that day—the scribes, the Pharisees, the Sadducees, and the like. Jesus’ entire life and ministry was a continual struggle between the righteousness of the kingdom of God and the righteousness of man which was according to the law, and between relationship versus religion. If we are going to truly understand that which we find in the New Testament gospel of Matthew, we must understand that it was undoubtedly a struggle between relationship and religion, for the religious leaders of that day boasted themselves upon the traditions of the elders, as well as the law of Moses, and believed themselves to be in relationship with God based on their adherence and obedience to the law of Moses.

When we come to the twenty-third chapter of the New Testament gospel of Matthew we not only find Jesus speaking unto the crowds and His disciples concerning the Pharisees and the scribes, but we also find Jesus indicting them based on their actions and their deeds. In the first twelve verses of the twenty-third chapter of the New Testament gospel of Matthew we find Jesus providing a background concerning the religious system and the religious leaders which were present during that day. Within the first twelve verses we not only find Jesus speaking of the scribes and the Pharisees and the position of authority they held among the people of Israel in the land, but we also find Jesus speaking unto the crowds and disciples instructing them to do whatever they command, but do not do according to what they do. By issuing such a declaration, that which Jesus was ultimately doing was exposing the hypocrisy of the scribes and the Pharisees, for Jesus would go on to declare how they say, and yet do not. IN other words, the scribes and the Pharisees were guilty of violating the very commands and instructions they were delivering unto the people of Israel during that time. As if this weren’t enough, the scribes and Pharisees served as religious task masters among the people of the children of Israel, as they bound heavy burdens and grievous to be borne upon the shoulders of the people, and yet they themselves would not move them with one of their fingers. There is a lot of talk about the oppression of the Roman Empire and the Roman government within and upon the children of Israel, however, I am completely and totally convinced that what we find in this particular passage is a strong picture concerning the tyranny and oppression of the scribes and Pharisees among the children of Israel during that time. In fact, I am convinced that when we read the New Testament gospel of Mathew—not only do we find the oppression of the demonic forces within the hearts and lives of men and women, but we also find the oppression of the religious system which existed during that time. It was this religious systems which bound heavy burdens and grievous to be born, and laid them upon men’s shoulders, which they themselves would not move with one of their fingers. What’s more, is that as you continue reading this particular passage of Scripture you will find Jesus describing how the scribes and Pharisees shut up the kingdom of heaven against men, and their neither went in themselves, nor suffered those who are going in. SHUTTING UP THE KINGDOM AND BINDING BURDENS! When we seek to understand the religious system which was present during the days of the life and ministry of Jesus the Christ, we must understand that this religious system not only oppressed the people in a way that was completely different than the oppression of the Roman Empire, but the religious system also shut up the kingdom fo heaven to those who would seek to enter in.

Within this particular passage of Scripture we find the scribes and Pharisees being indicted for their legalism, as well as their hypocrisy, however, I can’t help but also find present within this passage of Scripture a powerful picture of the scribes and Pharisees being indicted for their oppression toward and against the children and people of israel. It was true that the scribes and Pharisees engaged themselves in hypocrisy and legalism within and during that time, however, in addition to this, we find the scribes and the Pharisees also committing tremendous oppression toward and against the people of Israel during that time. In fact, later on in this passage you will find Jesus speaking concerning them how they devour widows’ houses—this in addition to Jesus writing how they shut up the kingdom fo heaven, and bound grievous burdens which were heavy to bear, and laid them upon the shoulders of the people of Israel. THE OPPRESSION OF RELIGION! If there is one thing this particular passage reveals, it’s that religion is both deadly and dangerous because it seeks to oppress men and women, and crush them underneath the weight of its legalism and hypocrisy. Please make no mistake about and concerning this, for it is absolutely necessary that we understand this reality, for one of the greatest threats and dangers to the church of Jesus Christ is that of religion and the tyranny and oppression of religion. It is religion and the religious system which continually oppresses and crushes the people of God under burdens which are too heavy to carry and bear themselves. This particular passage of Scripture brings us face to face with the pride and arrogance of the scribes and Pharisees, as well as the religious system which was present during that day. It was the religious system of that day which Jesus found Himself continually at odds with, for it was the religious system of that day which sought to oppress the people of God, as well as to shut up the kingdom of God unto them. What’s more, is that the religious system which was present during that day cared more about external and outward appearances than they did with that which truly mattered before the living God—inward transformation and inward holiness and cleanliness. The scribes and the Pharisees committed themselves to an external and outer righteousness and holiness before and in the sight of the living God, and not only did they completely neglect and ignore the weightier matters-namely judgment, mercy and faith—but they also neglected and ignored inner holiness and righteousness. We must recognize and understand that there is a vast difference between an outer and external righteousness which is visible before and in the sight of men, and an inner righteousness which is visible only unto the living God. In fact, this is what was so absolutely incredible about Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount, for not only did Jesus take the righteousness of the law of Moses and flip it on its head, but Jesus also demanded a righteousness that reached beyond external appearances and actually touched and transformed the heart of a man and women. Perhaps one of the greatest indictments found within this passage of Scripture is the fact that religion cares absolutely nothing about inner righteousness and inner holiness, and seeks only to promote that which is visible in the sight of men, and that which gains the praise and accolades of men and women. Oh that we would read the words which are found in this passage of Scripture, and that we would truly understand the great and wonderful need for a righteousness that surpasses that of the scribes and Pharisees which cleans only the outer platter and cup, but leaves the inner part of the cup and platter completely dirty, filthy and untouched. Oh that we would read Jesus’ words within this passage and read it with eyes that understands its direct connection to that which is found in His Sermon on the Mount concerning our righteousness exceeding that of the scribes and the Pharisees. The question we must ask ourselves when reading this particular passage is whether or not our righteousness does in fact exceed that of the scribes and Pharisees, or whether we are concerned only with external appearances and religious appearances which are approved by men and men alone.

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