Summary: One of the harshest questions Jesus asked was asked of the Pharisees: "How shall you escape Hell?" As much a byword of legalism as they were, we must be careful we don’t fall into the traps that ensnared them.
OPEN: Down thru the ages, there have been rare occasions when different printings of the Bible have been found to have small errors them
· For example in 1653 Christians were upset to find that one Bible which declared: “Know ye not that the UNRIGHTEOUS shall inherit the kingdom of God?”
· The first English-language Bible to be printed in Ireland in 1716 became known as the “Sin On” Bible because it encouraged its readers to “sin on more” rather than “sin no more.”
· And in 1631 – the infamous WICKED BIBLE was printed - So named because it had mistranslated the 7th Commandment to say “Thou SHALT commit adultery,” King Charles was angry that he ordered all copies destroyed and fined the printer 300 pounds
APPLY: All those Bible versions created a scandal in their day. And no one - even today - would ever dream of accepting them as valid. But these minor mistranslations serve to illustrate that even a small change can dramatically alter the messages from Scripture.
Our text today introduces a disturbing question Jesus asked the Pharisees:
"You snakes! You brood of vipers! How will you escape being condemned to hell?" Mt. 23:33
One commentator noted that this was the most severe language Jesus had ever used with anybody. Jesus was essentially telling the Pharisees that they were going to hell because of their teachings.
Look again with me at Matthew 23:15 in the NIV "Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You travel over land and sea to win a single convert, and when he becomes one, you make him twice as much a son of hell as you are.”
In other words: The Pharisees sought to teach others - to bring them into their understanding of how to please God. And their teachings would convert new people and destine them to the same destination the Pharisees were bound for: Hell.
I. What were they teaching?
Well, just as an example, let’s look again at Matthew 23:16-22
“Woe to you, blind guides! You say, ‘If anyone swears by the temple, it means nothing; but if anyone swears by the gold of the temple, he is bound by his oath.’
You blind fools! Which is greater: the gold, or the temple that makes the gold sacred?
You also say, ‘If anyone swears by the altar, it means nothing; but if anyone swears by the gift on it, he is bound by his oath.’
You blind men! Which is greater: the gift, or the altar that makes the gift sacred? Therefore, he who swears by the altar swears by it and by everything on it. And he who swears by the temple swears by it and by the one who dwells in it. And he who swears by heaven swears by God’s throne and by the one who sits on it.”
You might ask: What was Jesus complaining about? It seems somewhat confusing to our ears.
Well, I could get real technical about this… but the short and fat of it is this:
The Pharisees were teaching their followers that if they swore by the GOLD that was in the temple – or the GIFT that was on the altar…they would HAVE to keep that promise.
But if they wanted to make a promise they didn’t want to keep they could simply say
“I swear by the TEMPLE” (not the gold of the temple)
or “I swear by the ALTAR” (not the gift upon that altar)
It was the equivalent of making a promise with their fingers crossed.
It was like a little child saying: “Yes, I know I promised… but my fingers were crossed.”
Now, that is childish. Today, it’s easy to look back on that kind of teaching and just shake our heads. It’s seems almost amusing to believe anyone could be that foolish.
But Jesus wasn’t shaking His head
He wasn’t amused
He wasn’t even annoyed.
He was downright angry
And the reason He was angry was that the Pharisees had become accustomed to making up their own rules and regulations and then passing along those rules as if they were the laws of God.
Earlier in Matthew, Jesus had condemned that tendency, and He quoted the prophet Isaiah:
“… in vain do they worship me, teaching for doctrines the commandments of men.” Mt. 15:9
In other words, God’s people must never get into the habit of accepting the teachings of men as if they were the commands of God. BECAUSE IF WE EVER DO - it will make our worship vain, empty, worthless.
Even worse… such teachings could lead to an eternity in Hell
Now, there are other issues at play in this confrontation between Jesus and the Pharisees, but at the heart of the issue was this substitution man’s rules for God’s. The belief that men/women could change, add to, or improve on God’s Word. Such a belief opens up every kind of perversion of righteousness, holiness and good doctrine.