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Summary: Jesus’ stern warning to the Pharisees in Matthew 23:13-39 is also important for church leaders today. A Year D sermon.

It is such a privilege to be a church leader, especially in kind and loving churches. It is a grave responsibility to feed God’s sheep and guide people that we are privileged to call our friends, on their journey to eternity. Overseers of churches are far from perfect, but some mistakes are worse than others. Jesus’ stern warning to the Pharisees in Matthew 23:13-39 is also important for us today.

Though this is a stern rebuke of the Pharisees, it is also a lesson for the listening disciples who would replace the Pharisees in authority, and also a severe warning to all future overseers of the churches.

1. Teaching Against Christ

Matthew 23:13 “woe… because you shut off the kingdom of heaven from people…” These religious leaders had the keys to the kingdom, but locked the door literally “in their faces.” Those who believed in the One who the law pointed to, were being locked out of the synagogues. Bringing themselves misery, Pharisees did everything they could to turn the people from their Messiah. Do we turn people to Jesus?

2. Teaching to be Sons of Hell

Matthew 23:15 “Woe… because you… make one proselyte… twice as much a son of hell as yourselves.” Before we try to convert someone to our church, or our denomination, perhaps we had better be sure they are going to be in an orthodox place, where they will be encouraged to follow Jesus instead of some stupid legalistic man-made rules or watered-down heresies. Will we faithfully teach what Jesus taught?

3. Teaching Blindness

Matthew 23:16 “Woe… blind guides…” The religious leaders had made the offering more sacred than the Temple. This is like those who see church relics as more sacred than the Gospel, or those Church swindlers who saw the collection of indulgences as more important than telling the truth. The Pharisees were greedy for the offerings. Do we church leaders care more for the people than the offering plate?

4. Teaching Pickiness not Principles

Matthew 23:23 “Woe… you tithe… and… neglected… justice and mercy and faithfulness…” Tithing is important, but without justice, mercy and faithfulness it’s useless. Do we get stuck in picky details and forget what’s most important? Any of us can focus on lesser important things and neglect what’s most important. Do we “strain out a gnat and swallow a camel”? Do we love people more than getting lost in details?

5. Character: Extortion and Self-Indulgence

Matthew 23:25 “Woe… you clean the outside… but inside… are full of robbery and self-indulgence.” From the historic extortion of indulgences to modern televangelists who extort millions and spend it on self-indulgent lifestyles living in lavish mansions, the Church is not immune to looking pretty on the outside but filled with extortion and excess on the inside. Jesus warns Church leaders not to soil the Gospel by such corruption.

6. Character: Hypocrisy and Lawlessness

Matthew 23:27-28 “Woe… you… on the outside appear beautiful, but inside… full of dead men’s bones and all uncleanness… full of hypocrisy and lawlessness.” Church buildings can be beautiful, but if they are filled with hypocrisy and abominations, they are just tombs for the spiritually dead. Church leaders must be sure that they spend enough time in prayers of repentance for God to clean us up on the inside.

7. Character: Murderous Hearts

Matthew 23:29-36 “Woe… you build the tombs of the prophets and adorn the monuments of the righteous… I am sending you prophets and wise men and scribes; some of them you will kill and crucify, and some of them you will scourge in your synagogues, and persecute…” In “whining hypocrisy”[1] they deluded themselves not to have the murderous spirit of their ancestors. Do we give life to Christ?

Conclusion

Local churches have a number of overseers. The responsibility is grave and not to be treated flippantly. We want to lead people to Christ not ourselves, to heaven not hell, for God not money, to what’s important not pickiness, with clean hearts on the inside not what just looks good, living God’s way of life not the world’s way of death.

New American Standard Bible (NASB) Copyright © 1960, 1962, 1963, 1968, 1971, 1972, 1973, 1975, 1977, 1995 by The Lockman Foundation

[1] A Commentary, Critical, Practical, and Explanatory on the Old and New Testaments. Jamieson, Fausset and Brown. 1882.

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