Exodus 20:1-17 and Matthew 23:13-36
Our Old Testament focus passage is what is referred to as the Ten Commandments and they are God’s basic principles that we are to live by. And those basic principles say this:
And God spoke all these words:
“I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery.
“You shall have no other gods before me.
“You shall not make for yourself an image in the form of anything in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the waters below. You shall not bow down to them or worship them; for I, the LORD your God, am a jealous God, punishing the children for the sin of the parents to the third and fourth generation of those who hate me, but showing love to a thousand generations of those who love me and keep my commandments.
“You shall not misuse the name of the LORD your God, for the LORD will not hold anyone guiltless who misuses his name.
“Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy. Six days you shall labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is a sabbath to the LORD your God. On it you shall not do any work, neither you, nor your son or daughter, nor your male or female servant, nor your animals, nor any foreigner residing in your towns. For in six days the LORD made the heavens and the earth, the sea, and all that is in them, but he rested on the seventh day. Therefore the LORD blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy.
“Honor your father and your mother, so that you may live long in the land the LORD your God is giving you.
“You shall not murder.
“You shall not commit adultery.
“You shall not steal.
“You shall not give false testimony against your neighbor.
“You shall not covet your neighbor’s house. You shall not covet your neighbor’s wife, or his male or female servant, his ox or donkey, or anything that belongs to your neighbor.” Exodus 20:1-17
God him-self originally wrote the Ten Commandments and he wrote them on two stone tablets and then gave them to Moses, who delivered them to the people of Israel. By following the commandments, the people could show their gratitude to God for rescuing them from slavery in Egypt and also show their desire to live right before God. In addition, obedience was required to remain in the promised land.
The Ten Commandments summarize God’s moral law for Israel and describe the people’s obligations both to God and others. Christ, his disciples and the leaders of the early Church verify that these commandments still serve as rules of conduct for New Testament Christians, see Matthew 22:37-29; Mark 12:28-34; Luke 10:27; Romans 13:9 and Galatians 5:14. According to the New Testament passages listed above, we as Christians obey all of the Ten Commandments when we obey the following two: show complete love for God and an unselfish love for others. Obeying these two commandments is far more than just following rules. Sincere obedience reveals right desires, motives, attitudes and actions. In this way, God’s law requires an inner spiritual righteousness. It will be expressed by outward acts of moral character and holiness, which is moral and spiritual purity and separation from evil and dedication to God’s purposes.
Most of the laws of the Old Testament that guided Israel’s worship and social life no longer apply to the New Testament believer. The Bible describes them as a sign or “shadow” of better things to come (Hebrews 10:1). Jesus Christ fulfilled, or completed, the Old Testament law; however, he did not come to abolish the law or make it meaningless. These laws still contain wisdom and spiritual principles that apply to all generations.
Now that we understand what God’s basic principles are we can turn to our New Testament passage for today. If you read yesterday’s Bible readings then you should have notice that for the first time Jesus got angry with the religious leaders of his day and actually told the people gathered around him to do as they said and not as they do. He then goes on to say to them these words:
“Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You shut the door of the kingdom of heaven in people’s faces. You yourselves do not enter, nor will you let those enter who are trying to. [ ]
“Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You travel over land and sea to win a single convert, and when you have succeeded, you make them twice as much a child of hell as you are.
“Woe to you, blind guides! You say, ‘If anyone swears by the temple, it means nothing; but anyone who swears by the gold of the temple is bound by that 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 anyone who swears by the gift on the altar is bound by that oath.’ You blind men! Which is greater: the gift, or the altar that makes the gift sacred? Therefore, anyone who swears by the altar swears by it and by everything on it. And anyone who swears by the temple swears by it and by the one who dwells in it. And anyone who swears by heaven swears by God’s throne and by the one who sits on it.
“Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You give a tenth of your spices—mint, dill and cumin. But you have neglected the more important matters of the law—justice, mercy and faithfulness. You should have practiced the latter, without neglecting the former. You blind guides! You strain out a gnat but swallow a camel.
“Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You clean the outside of the cup and dish, but inside they are full of greed and self-indulgence. Blind Pharisee! First clean the inside of the cup and dish, and then the outside also will be clean.
“Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You are like whitewashed tombs, which look beautiful on the outside but on the inside are full of the bones of the dead and everything unclean. In the same way, on the outside you appear to people as righteous but on the inside you are full of hypocrisy and wickedness.
“Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You build tombs for the prophets and decorate the graves of the righteous. And you say, ‘If we had lived in the days of our ancestors, we would not have taken part with them in shedding the blood of the prophets.’ So you testify against yourselves that you are the descendants of those who murdered the prophets. Go ahead, then, and complete what your ancestors started!
“You snakes! You brood of vipers! How will you escape being condemned to hell? Therefore I am sending you prophets and sages and teachers. Some of them you will kill and crucify; others you will flog in your synagogues and pursue from town to town. And so upon you will come all the righteous blood that has been shed on earth, from the blood of righteous Abel to the blood of Zechariah son of Berekiah, whom you murdered between the temple and the altar. Truly I tell you, all this will come on this generation. Matthew 23:13-36
The Greek word translated “hypocrite” is “hupokritai”. In classical Greek, a hypocrite was an actor in a play. The actor, or course, was not expected to live out in his daily life the character played on the stage. Jesus used the term for people who were putting on an act in public that was only a pretense. Their religious appearance was a mask that concealed their spiritual blindness and the corruption within their hearts. Jesus’ words in Matthew Chapter 23 express his strongest accusations, criticisms and condemnation against those who acted as it they were devoted to God, yet resisted everything Jesus was doing and teaching. His words were directed against religious leaders and false teachers who had rejected at least part of the revealed Word of God (with which they were very familiar) and replaced it with their own ideas and interpretations.
Jesus spirit, or attitude, in this passage should be noted. It is not the tolerant, permissive and accommodating attitude of someone who is worried about offending anyone. He is ultimately concerned about faithfulness to God and his Word. Jesus was not a weak preacher who tolerated sin and hypocrisy. Being true to his mission caused him to be angry about evil and to denounce sin and corruption in high places.
Jesus’ love for God’s Word, as well as his concern for people who were being harmed or destroyed by those who distorted the Word, was so great that it caused him to use words like “hypocrites”, “son of hell”, “blind guides”, “fools”, “greed and self-indulgence”, “whitewashed tombs…unclean”, “full of…wickedness”, “snakes”, “brood of vipers” and “murders”. Keep in mind that these words, though harsh and condemning were spoken with a broken heart by the One who would eventually give his life for those he challenged so severely.
Jesus describes the character of false teachers and preachers as those who seek to be popular with others, who love honor, who want to be highly honored because of their positions and titles and who keep people out of heaven by presenting a twisted version of God’s true message. They are “professionals” who appear spiritual and Godly, but are really unrighteous and rebellious. They say good things about Godly spiritual leaders of the past (such as prophets), but they do not follow their instructions or their example. They are not truly committed to God and his Word, and they lack an authentic personal relationship with God.
The Bible commands us to beware of such false religious leader, regarding them as unbelievers and refusing to support their ministry or to associate with them. Keep in mind that this does not give us the right to withhold support from our churches simply because we do not appreciate or agree with a minister who challenges us when we may, in fact, be wrong.
Those in the church who—under the pretense of love, tolerance and unity—refuse to recognize and speak out against this false behavior according to God’s Word are actually participating in the evil works of false prophets and teachers.
You see Jesus was not so much angry with the religious leaders of his day as he was disappointed in them, because they were supposed to be the ones guiding and teaching the people about God’s laws and his principles. However, they instead chose to build their own cults of personality around themselves and their additions to God’s perfect law. And we do the same thing in our own spiritual lives. That is why it so important that we spend time in God’s word on a daily basis so that we can know what God’s laws and principles are and what are our own false additions to them. I encourage you to continue following along with this plan, even if you disagree with some of things I have said because it is far more important that you read God’s Word and develop your own understanding of it then for you to blindly follow along with what I have to say.
Tomorrow’s Bible Readings:
Exodus 21:22-23:13, Matthew 24:1-28, Psalm 29:1-11 and Proverbs 7:6-23