Bible Study from Calvary Chapel Newberg

with Tom Fuller


Jesus to Pharisees: You\'re Fired!

Matthew 23:1-12

So far during Jesus\' time in Jerusalem others have been trying to get Him to say the wrong thing. Now it is Jesus turn to speak-and speak He does. His monologue in chapter 23 has two parts. Part 1 is aimed squarely at the religious leaders, again giving them a pink slip and telling them \"you\'re fired!\" Part 2 is aimed at Jerusalem, and really all the Jews who have not yet decided whether to accept Him or reject Him. It shows the heart of God towards His people, and a longing for relationship that has echoes throughout the Old Testament.

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The audience is interesting. Jesus is speaking these things to the crowds and His disciples. I think the message is as much for them as it is a warning to the religious leaders. And that\'s something to keep in mind as we read this. The problem here was not with the people, it was with the religious leaders. The people were as much victims as anything else.

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That having been said, in many ways the attitudes of the Scribes and Pharisees are a lot closer to us than we\'d like to think. I\'d go so far as to say that, if we could, we\'d be pretty much like these guys. All we need are three things: motive, means, and opportunity.

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We have the motive. If could, we would set the rules of behavior so that we look better than anyone else we know. And we\'d make sure no one could rise to our standard of perfection (as imperfect as that would be). We like to be respected and lauded and do things so that will happen. I know we like to think ourselves in a better light but it\'s just base unredeemed human nature. Our problem is that we don\'t have the means to pull it off. The Pharisees were the best, most righteous people you would ever meet.

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But their \"righteousness\" was just painted on, and that\'s what Jesus is piercing with these \"woes.\"

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1 - 4

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The key here is \"they sit in Moses\' seat. In that regard the people should follow the Law of Moses, but not the traditions. And, in fact, they were not following the Law of Moses or they would have recognized the Prophet that Moses spoke about in Deuteronomy 18:15-19. The hundreds of traditions had become as important as the Law, but though they taught obedience, the Pharisees (mostly scribes were Pharisees) did not follow them.

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It\'s great when you make the rules and hold authority. In that way you can tell people to do things that you are not accountable to do yourself. The traditions really became a way to control the people rather than bring them closer to God. And they became a way to make them look good on the outside, while letting themselves be evil on the inside.

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The Law was supposed to lead people to a relationship with God. But they had reduced it to focusing on following all the rules instead of following God. Yet they also offered no help for the average person to do it-no practical advice. It would be like instructing someone to build a skyscraper by giving them the materials and no instruction manual or technical skill.

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The point of legalism is to make the rules so you look better than the other guy so he has no hope of looking as good as you.

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When Jesus says \"listen to what they say but don\'t do what they do\" you find out that it was all about show and not about substance. It was about looking good, not being good.

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5 - 7

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Phylactery

For them it was all about how they looked to others on the outside and not how they looked to God on the inside. They kept the minute rules not because they loved God but because they loved praise by people!

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A phylactery was a leather box tied with a strap around the head at prayer times. It came from Deuteronomy:

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Deut 6:4-9 \"Hear, O Israel:? The Lord our God, the Lord is one.? 5 You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might. 6 And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart. 7 You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise. 8 You shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes. 9 You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates.

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As with many things, the Jews took this so literally that it lost its actual purpose. God wanted His Word to guide in every thought and in every action. By making a literal act of putting words in a box and tying it to your forehead you \"obeyed\" the letter of the law while avoiding having to deal with the spirit of it. The Pharisees would make larger phylacteries or bigger straps or wear them all day so this \"fake\" righteousness would make them all the more impressive to others.

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Fringes

The fringes were from Deuteronomy 22 and Numbers 15.

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Num 15:37-41 The Lord said to Moses, 38 \"Speak to the people of Israel, and tell them to make tassels on the corners of their garments throughout their generations, and to put a cord of blue on the tassel of each corner. 39 And it shall be a tassel for you to look at and remember all the commandments of the Lord, to do them, not to follow after your own heart and your own eyes, which you are inclined to whore after. 40 So you shall remember and do all my commandments, and be holy to your God. 41 I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt to be your God: I am the Lord your God.\"

I think this was a wonderful idea. The tassels were supposed to remind you to realize the innate tendency to 1) trust our own ideas (notice the prostitution metaphor-as we trust in our own intellect or emotions instead of what God says we are being unfaithful to Him), and 2) reconnect with God\'s thoughts and character.

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Again, the Pharisees took this so literally it lost its real purpose. The tassels became a reminder for others about how righteous they were. It relieved them of the responsibility to actually be righteous because they looked it. It\'s painted on righteousness, but the wood underneath was rotten to the core.

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Greetings & Titles

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Being seen as super-righteous doesn\'t mean much if it is not acknowledged. The place of honor at a feast was at the right hand of the host. You got special access and special food. The honored seat in the synagogue was facing the congregation and near the Torah scrolls. The ones who got the most greetings were the most learned and thus the most honored.

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To be near the host should be humbling (why do I deserve this?). To be near the Torah should be humbling (our goodness compared to God\'s), and should we not be more honored to be called \"servant\" than \"master\"?

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As Jesus points out in other places, and here, in God\'s kingdom it is the least who are the greatest. In Phariseeland (and ours for that matter) it is who you know, where you sit, and your popularity (or the titles you possess) that determines your relative position to others-and isn\'t that what legalism is about anyway?

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What is more important to you, the position you hold or the purpose of that position? (Luke 14:8-11 feast parable).

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8 - 12

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On its surface, this seems contradictory, but it\'s really not.

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1. The shepherd is really an under-shepherd

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Rabbis of Jesus\' time had pretty independent spirits. They often started their own schools to teach their way. But Jesus makes two points here: 1) all our teaching should come from the Lord and not from us and 2) there really is no authority structure when push comes to shove. Yes, there are elders and we should respect them, but that does not make them better than anyone.

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2. The disciple is a follower of Christ, not of the under-shepherd

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Pastor worship is rampant today. It is good to look at the lives of those who wholly follow the Lord, but it is very easy to start putting them in the place of the Lord because we can see them, compare ourselves to them, and want to be like them. It is as unhealthy for the pastor as it is for the Christian. It can actually border on idolatry.

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3. Your authority is always to be subjected to the authority of the Messiah Jesus

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The word \"instructor\" here is correct-and is only used in Matthew 23, but in other contexts in Hellenistic Greek it is used to denote the \"authority\" of the teacher, or one who is set up as a model for behavior. Jesus is always our model for behavior. How often, though do we set up the \"super\" Christians as that model?

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Paul said in 1 Corinthians 11:1 \"Imitate me, just as I also imitate Christ.\"

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Conclusions

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Be careful to be a Christian through and through

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The scribes and Pharisees only desired to appear good when other people could see them acting holy (or at least the appearance of it). That is actually more common than you might think. Be careful that you only pray with others, that you only open your Bible in church, that you act all sweet and nice at home but not so much on the freeway.

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Beware of comparative righteousness.

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It\'s what drives us more than we know. We see someone else fall into sin and we think \"well, I\'m better than that person ?cause I didn\'t/wouldn\'t do that.\"

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Beware of comparative status.

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Titles of status aren\'t bad in and of themselves, but often they are used to create a stratification of worthiness. Unless we are careful, we use them to create classes in the church and in life.

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Be true to the Word

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The final words of Moses before his death:

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Deut 32:46-47 he said to them, \"Take to heart all the words by which I am warning you today, that you may command them to your children, that they may be careful to do all the words of this law. 47 For it is no empty word for you,? but your very life, and by this word you shall live long in the land that you are going over the Jordan to possess.\"

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The word \"empty\" also means \"idle\" and \"worthless.\" Don\'t throw out God\'s Word just because some misuse it.