Woe to you or ‘Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord!’
Matthew 23:13-39 from the daily reading in the One Year Bible
“But woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites, because you shut off the kingdom of heaven from people; for you do not enter in yourselves, nor do you allow those who are entering to go in. 14 Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites, because you devour widows’ houses, and for a pretense you make long prayers; therefore you will receive greater condemnation.
15 “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites, because you travel around on sea and land to make one proselyte; and when he becomes one, you make him twice as much a son of hell as yourselves.
16 “Woe to you, blind guides, who say, ‘Whoever swears by the temple, that is nothing; but whoever swears by the gold of the temple is obligated.’ 17 You fools and blind men! Which is more important, the gold or the temple that sanctified the gold? 18 And, ‘Whoever swears by the altar, that is nothing, but whoever swears by the offering on it, he is obligated.’ 19 You blind men, which is more important, the offering, or the altar that sanctifies the offering? 20 Therefore, whoever swears by the altar, swears both by the altar and by everything on it. 21 And whoever swears by the temple, swears both by the temple and by Him who dwells within it. 22 And whoever swears by heaven, swears both by the throne of God and by Him who sits upon it.
23 “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you tithe mint and dill and cummin, and have neglected the weightier provisions of the law: justice and mercy and faithfulness; but these are the things you should have done without neglecting the others. 24 You blind guides, who strain out a gnat and swallow a camel!
25 “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you clean the outside of the cup and of the dish, but inside they are full of robbery and self-indulgence. 26 You blind Pharisee, first clean the inside of the cup and of the dish, so that the outside of it may become clean also.
27 “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you are like whitewashed tombs which on the outside appear beautiful, but inside they are full of dead men’s bones and all uncleanness. 28 So you, too, outwardly appear righteous to men, but inwardly you are full of hypocrisy and lawlessness.
29 “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you build the tombs of the prophets and adorn the monuments of the righteous, 30 and say, ‘If we had been living in the days of our fathers, we would not have been partners with them in shedding the blood of the prophets.’ 31 So you testify against yourselves, that you are sons of those who murdered the prophets. 32 Fill up, then, the measure of the guilt of your fathers. 33 You serpents, you brood of vipers, how will you escape the sentence of hell?
34 “Therefore, behold, 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 from city to city, 35 so that upon you may fall the guilt of all the righteous blood shed on earth, from the blood of righteous Abel to the blood of Zechariah, the son of Berechiah, whom you murdered between the temple and the altar. 36 Truly I say to you, all these things will come upon this generation.
37 “Jerusalem, Jerusalem, who kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to her! How often I wanted to gather your children together, the way a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, and you were unwilling. 38 Behold, your house is being left to you desolate! 39 For I say to you, from now on you will not see Me until you say, ‘Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord!’”
In today’s text Jesus begins saying: “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites, because you shut off the kingdom of heaven from people; for you do not enter in yourselves, nor do you allow those who are entering to go in.” Certainly this would seem to be directed at those who hinder or restrict people from coming to God with man-made regulations and traditions. But why then do they not enter themselves? In Matthew 5:19-20 Jesus says: “Whoever then annuls one of the least of these commandments, and teaches others to do the same, shall be called least in the kingdom of heaven; but whoever keeps and teaches them, he shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven. For I say to you that unless your righteousness surpasses that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will not enter the kingdom of heaven.” In Matthew 7:21-23 He says: “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?’ And then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.’” So, it is not only by being too restrictive, but also by being too lenient regarding God’s commandments and righteousness that we could be excluded from the kingdom of heaven. In Matthew 7:13-14 Jesus says: “Enter by the narrow gate; for wide is the gate and broad is the way that leads to destruction, and there are many who go in by it.Because narrow is the gate and difficult is the way which leads to life, and there are few who find it.” The narrow gate is neither the extreme side of religious regulation and tradition, nor is it the extreme of licentiousness because of grace. The narrow way is the path which runs through both righteousness and grace. Our righteousness only surpasses that of the scribes and Pharisees because of grace. Yet, upon receiving the grace of God through the cross, we are called to righteousness. As He said to the woman caught in adultery, Jesus says to all who are forgiven: "I do not condemn you, either. Go. From now on sin no more." (John 8:11)
In Matthew 28:18-19 Jesus says: “All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations.” In today’s text He says: “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites, because you travel around on sea and land to make one proselyte; and when he becomes one, you make him twice as much a son of hell as yourselves.” We need to be certain that we are making disciples of Christ, not disciples of ourselves or of our own doctrines. The fullness of what Jesus says in Matthew 28:19-20 is: “Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” We need to do and teach others to do all that Jesus commanded, nothing more and nothing less. We should neither add to His commandments nor should we relax what He has commanded. In today’s text Jesus is pronouncing woe to those who do wrong. God also pronounces woe to some. In Isaiah 5:20 God says: Woe to those who call evil good, and good evil; Who substitute darkness for light and light for darkness; Who substitute bitter for sweet and sweet for bitter! In1 Corinthians 2:1-2 Paul says: When I came to you, brethren, I did not come with superiority of speech or of wisdom, proclaiming to you the testimony of God. For I determined to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ, and Him crucified. In John 12:32 Jesus says: “I, if I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all men to Myself." Jesus was referring to being lifted up on the cross. In making disciples we should be certain that it is Jesus that is lifted up, not ourselves or any person. Disciples should be followers of Christ, knowing Him and Him crucified. It is His teachings, all that He commanded which we and they should follow.
In today’s text Jesus also speaks about following the details of the law and its regulations but neglecting the basics of relationships and love. He says: “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you tithe mint and dill and cummin, and have neglected the weightier provisions of the law: justice and mercy and faithfulness; but these are the things you should have done without neglecting the others. You blind guides, who strain out a gnat and swallow a camel!” We too need to guard against being so focused on the details of rules and regulations that we neglect justice, mercy, faithfulness and love. There were 613 laws or commandments in the Levitical Law. God gave Moses the Ten Commandments. Jesus though broke it down to 2. He says: “‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the great and foremost commandment. The second is like it, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ On these two commandments depend the whole Law and the Prophets.” (Matthew 22:37-40) First and foremost, before we do anything else, including loving others, we must love God with all of our heart, soul and mind. 1 John 4:19 says: We love, because He first loved us. Everything depends on love. First on receiving the love of God demonstrated in that while we were sinners, Christ died for us. (Romans 5:8) That is the basis of our love for God and also of any love we have for others. We cannot live up to the commandments of the law without love. We cannot uphold the Ten Commandments without love. We cannot even do the second commandment, to love others, without the first, loving God, and that, in response to His love for us, demonstrated in the cross.
Jesus says: “How often I wanted to gather your children together, the way a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, and you were unwilling… ‘Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord!’” In Revelation 22 the Lord says: “Behold, I am coming quickly, and My reward is with Me, to give to every one according to his work. I am the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End, the First and the Last. Blessed are those who do His commandments, that they may have the right to the tree of life, and may enter through the gates into the city… the Spirit and the bride say, “Come!” And let him who hears say, “Come!” And let him who thirsts come. Whoever desires, let him take the water of life freely. Surely I am coming quickly.”
Amen. Even so, come, Lord Jesus! The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you all. Amen. (Revelation 22:12-21)