Summary: When it comes down to it, do you let God in on the inside of you - or do you hold Him at arms length? Take a lesson from the religious establishment of Jesus’ day - let God into the ugly inner parts of your life, and let the Great Plumber heal you.
A few years back I did a remodeling project at my house - the carpenter did much of the work but I cut costs by doing the plumbing myself. After putting in a bathroom over our garage the area was covered up by sheetrock. One day as I was walking to my car I felt a drop of water hit my eye. I thought nothing of it until it happened again. When I looked up I noticed water dripping from a seam in the ceiling.
That led to an expensive plumber’s visit and now my garage has several exposed areas where you can see the plumbing in the wall. Sometimes our lives are like that - on the surface everything looks great, but underneath there are leaks and a real mess. It’s not until something comes along to reveal the problem that we see it and then can deal with it.
In our study through Matthew, Jesus does the revealing to a group of very self assured Pharisees - and does some revealing about our characters as well.
23:1 Then Jesus said to the crowds and to his disciples: 2 "The teachers of the law and the Pharisees sit in Moses’ seat. 3 So you must obey them and do everything they tell you. But do not do what they do, for they do not practice what they preach. 4 They tie up heavy loads and put them on men’s shoulders, but they themselves are not willing to lift a finger to move them.
(Verses 1-4) Jesus had respect for those in authority – as should we. That goes for pastors and elders – but also for those in civil authority – the police, and those who run our communities, state, and nation.
However – we obey man’s laws and do as they say as long as it does not violate God’s laws. Jesus is saying that religious leadership is important, when used correctly – not like the Pharisees.
And – Just because someone in authority does not live up to God’s standards doesn’t mean God is bad or that we should just throw away Christianity just because there are hypocrites in the church. You know the saying – if you find a perfect church don’t join it or it won’t be perfect anymore. God’s the only One who is perfect – and He sometimes, all the time it seems, uses imperfect men to bring His perfect message to His people.
5 "Everything they do is done for men to see: They make their phylacteries wide and the tassels on their garments long; 6 they love the place of honor at banquets and the most important seats in the synagogues; 7 they love to be greeted in the marketplaces and to have men call them ’Rabbi.’
Phylacteries were leather containers holding Scripture verses. They were apparently an attempt to literally follow Deuteronomy 6:6-8.
6 These commandments that I give you today are to be upon your hearts. 7 Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up. 8 Tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads.
What God meant was that His Word should become a part of us – of our thinking and our doing. The Pharisees made the straps wider to be noticed. They made the tassels long on their robes in response to Deuteronomy 22:12.
And finally they loved to be called "rabbi" which means "teacher." But in context was a title of reverence – it was the position they loved, not teaching God’s Law.
8 "But you are not to be called ’Rabbi,’ for you have only one Master and you are all brothers. 9 And do not call anyone on earth ’father,’ for you have one Father, and he is in heaven. 10 Nor are you to be called ’teacher,’ for you have one Teacher, the Christ. 11 The greatest among you will be your servant. 12 For whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and whoever humbles himself will be exalted.
Jesus is not saying there shouldn’t be teachers or fathers – but He is saying that we shouldn’t get up on a pedestal putting ourselves above others, nor should we let anyone else puff us up into an exalted position.
(Verses 5-12) Who are you a Christian for?
Don’t fall into the Pharisees’ trap – they did everything either to give out an impression of holiness or receive an expression of reverence.
Don’t show off your spirituality. We do it by speaking in high-church terms – seeing how many times we can use the word "exegesis" in a single conversation. We do it by our look – instead of down in the trenches compassion we have this look that says "my, you aren’t trusting God enough, are you? I wonder what’s wrong with you?" We do it by carrying around fat Bibles but having thin prayer lives. And we do it by taking advantage of maturity or position to get other people to look up to us. In our modern age, image has become more important than character.