The Avenger of Widows
It is with a heavy heart that I am beginning on this chapter, Matthew 23. As you know, this is a chapter filled with tirades against the scribes and Pharisees. It is so condemning and it brings with it so many negative feelings. However, once we dig into this chapter we find that it is not really different from the other chapters in the Gospel of Matthew, and the Gospel presented in this chapter is not really different from the beautiful Gospel that is presented in other parts of the Bible. For example, if we are struck with negative feelings in this chapter, we should remember that chapters 21 and 22 and 24 are also filled with negatives and condemnations of the scribes and Pharisees, and of the Jewish nation. And so, we realize that we must see the Gospel shine through these negatives. For example, in Matthew 23 we read that the scribes and Pharisees “devour widows houses”, and we want to know what that means. But God does not leave any sin unpunished, and therefore we will discover that our God is the Avenger of defenseless widows. This is also the title of this sermon, “The Avenger of Widows”, and we want to discover what this means.
“In Moses’ Seat” (Matthew 23:1-10, Acts 15:10, Numbers 15:38-40)
Then spake Jesus to the multitude, and to his disciples,
Saying, The scribes and the Pharisees sit in Moses’ seat:
All therefore whatsoever they bid you observe, that observe and do; but do not ye after their works: for they say, and do not.
For they bind heavy burdens and grievous to be borne, and lay them on men’s shoulders; but they themselves will not move them with one of their fingers.
But all their works they do for to be seen of men: they make broad their phylacteries, and enlarge the borders of their garments,
And love the uppermost rooms at feasts, and the chief seats in the synagogues,
And greetings in the markets, and to be called of men, Rabbi, Rabbi.
But be not ye called Rabbi: for one is your Master, even Christ; and all ye are brethren.
And call no man your father upon the earth: for one is your Father, which is in heaven.
Neither be ye called masters: for one is your Master, even Christ.
What are we seeing here in this passage?
Moses brought the Law of God to Israel, and Moses was the primary teacher of the Law. By sitting in the seat of Moses the scribes and Pharisees are in a place of authority to teach the Law. Therefore, listen and obey what they teach, but do not imitate their lifestyle for do not live up to what they say. Even the heavy burdens, grievous to be borne, you must obey.
What are these heavy burdens?
It refers to the more than 500 laws concerning the ceremonies and rites that were appointed by Moses, and of which Peter says in Acts 15:10, “neither they nor their fathers were able to bear”. Their phylacteries were small strips of parchment or vellum on which a verse or a passage of the Old Testament was written and which they strapped on their forehead or on their left arm as a show that they honored the Law. But it was all an outward show. Likewise God has commanded them in Numbers 15:38-40 to make a fringe on the borders of their outer garments. The scribes and Pharisees made these borders very wide in their pride that they were the teachers of the Law. They sought the most honored places or couches at the feasts and in the synagogues, and they loved to be called “Rabbi, Rabbi”.
What is the meaning of this title “Rabbi”?
It means “Eminent Teacher”, or “Theologian”. Today we would call them “Doctor of Divinity”. It was a title of honor and dignity. When Nicodemus addressed the Lord Jesus as Rabbi, it was intended as a complement, meaning “Doctor”, or “Teacher”. Most scribes and Pharisees were not worthy of this title, for they taught people a different gospel than the Gospel of the Bible. They taught people a gospel of works, which condemns believers of such a gospel to eternal condemnation in Hell. The Lord Jesus forbade His disciples to seek such titles of distinction. They should not covet it; they should not seek it; they should not do anything that it should be appended to their names. They should avoid everything which would lead the world to think that there were ranks and grades among the ministers of the Gospel. Remember this when we see this phenomenon among certain denominations, for these are denominations which bring you false gospels. Let us drop down to verse 11.
“God Resisteth the Proud” (Matthew 23:11-12, James 4:6, 1 Peter 5:5, Proverbs 29:23, Matthew 7:13-14, Luke 14:11, Matthew 20:26-27, Isaiah 57:15)
But he that is greatest among you shall be your servant. And whosoever shall exalt himself shall be abased; and he that shall humble himself shall be exalted.
Here is a passage which clearly shows that the Gospel in this chapter is the same as in the rest of the Bible. It is a dominant principle throughout the whole Bible what we read in James 4:6, and in 1 Peter 5:5,
Wherefore he saith, God resisteth the proud, but giveth grace unto the humble.
If we try to find these words in the Old Testament we would search in vain. The closest statement in the Old Testament is found in Proverbs 29:23, which says, “A man’s pride shall bring him low: but honour shall uphold the humble in spirit”.
But there are many other verses throughout the Bible which uphold this principle, and where with we can discern if a gospel is a true Gospel or a false gospel. For example, all works-gospels are plans of salvation that are filled with the pride of man, and the self-worth of man, and the self-esteem of man, and the dignity of man, and the wisdom of man, and man’s ability to determine his own destiny by his own free will. All false gospels are man-centered, and are bringing God down to man’s level, and are worshipping an impotent idol that cannot save. But all men are by nature proud. That is how we came into this world. And that is why we are by nature drawn to false preachers who present to us a plan of salvation whereby we do not have to give up our pride, and that is why these false gospels have a very great following. But let us not go where the majority goes, for we must always remember what the Lord Jesus said in Matthew 7:13-14, “Enter ye in at the strait gate: for wide is the gate, and broad is the way, that leadeth to destruction, and many there be which go in thereat: Because strait is the gate, and narrow is the way, which leadeth unto life, and few there be that find it”.
The majority of mankind follows a gospel that leads them to Hell. Do not follow them. Therefore, let us remember the words which the Lord Jesus spoke in Luke 14:11, “For whosoever exalteth himself shall be abased; and he that humbleth himself shall be exalted”. This is a dominant principle of the true Gospel, which is reflected in all kinds of other principles that we are familiar with. For example, the Bible states in many places that God is sovereign, not only in matters of salvation, but in everything. It means that we must always give God all the honor and the glory in everything. This means that God must receive 100% of the credit for our salvation, and not 99.99%. We must humbly admit that we were not worthy of receiving any salvation, or any honor, for even our best works are at least tainted with sin. And this humility we do not conjure up in our own mind, for this is totally foreign to our nature; we are by nature proud, and full of evil thoughts. It is God who receives all the credit for giving us a humble heart, so that we can believe the incredible Gospel of grace alone that we hear in our ears.
Another example: Is the Pastor the head of the church?
Many people say, “Absolutely yes”. Well, let us see what the Lord Jesus says about this. We read in Matthew 20:26-27,
But it shall not be so among you: but whosoever will be great among you, let him be your minister; And whosoever will be chief among you, let him be your servant:
The Lord Jesus says that I am not the head of this church. I am ministering to you, which means I am serving you with the spiritual food that I have gleaned from the Bible. But I am your servant; I am just a fellow believer in Christ, but I am not your superior in the church hierarchy. You can have me fired, if you so desire. For example, I cannot insist that you must believe as I do, but I can give you the reasons why I believe as I do.
In Isaiah 57:15 we have here a beautiful summary of this principle that “God resisteth the proud, but giveth grace unto the humble”. And now we can understand why the Lord says that we can only be saved if we become as little children for as little children are trusting the words of their parents, so we must be trusting the words that God spoke to us in the Bible. God said it, and I believe it, and that is good enough for me. We read in Isaiah 57:
For thus saith the high and lofty One that inhabiteth eternity, whose name is Holy; I dwell in the high and holy place, with him also that is of a contrite and humble spirit, to revive the spirit of the humble, and to revive the heart of the contrite ones.
Can you see God’s hand in all of this?
God says, “to revive the spirit of the humble, and to revive the heart of the contrite ones”. And so, it is God who gets all the credit for giving us a humble heart. Let us now return to the Gospel According to Matthew. There we read about a strange thing:
“Ye Shut Up the Kingdom of Heaven” (Matthew 23:13, 21:31-32, John 9:22, Luke 11:52, Acts 4:17-18, 1 Thessalonians 2:15-16)
Can we say that this statement is in harmony with the rest of the Bible?
We read in Matthew 23:13,
But woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye shut up the kingdom of heaven against men: for ye neither go in yourselves, neither suffer ye them that are entering to go in.
There are eight “Woes” in this chapter, and this is the first one. This is the most eloquent, and most appalling, and most terrible of all discourses that the Lord Jesus gave to mortals, and it was pronounced here, on Tuesday morning, in the temple, in the presence of the multitudes. This was the last of the Savior’s public discourses, and it is a most impressive summary of all that He had ever said, or that He had to say, of a wicked and hypocritical generation. Notice that the Lord is here addressing the scribes and Pharisees, but He is including the entire nation as a whole, for that is the trend we have seen all along through this study of Matthew. At the cross the Lord is going to divorce Himself from the nation of the Jews as a special people before God, and in its place God has selected a remnant out of all the nations of the world to be “His people”.
How then is the nation of the Jews able to “shut up the kingdom of heaven against men”?
What evil are they doing to accomplish this effect?
We should not look around to see what evil they are doing; we should look in the Bible and get our information from there. The Lord told the chief priests and the elders here a parable about two sons, the first who refused to work for his father, and then repented, and the second who pretended to obey his father, but then did nothing. And then the Lord asked them in Matthew 21:31-32,
Whether of them twain did the will of his father? They say unto him, The first. Jesus saith unto them, Verily I say unto you, That the publicans and the harlots go into the kingdom of God before you. For John came unto you in the way of righteousness, and ye believed him not: but the publicans and the harlots believed him: and ye, when ye had seen it, repented not afterward, that ye might believe him.
What do we see here?
The leaders of the Jews refused to believe what John the Baptist preached, and they shut up the Gospel of John by teaching false doctrines about John so that the disciples of the scribes and Pharisees would also oppose John the Baptist. In this case the leaders of the Jews did not openly declare war on the preaching of John. But the publicans and harlots, who ignored what the scribes and Pharisees taught them believed John’s Gospel, and were saved.
In John 9 the Lord Jesus gave sight to a man who was born blind. But because the Lord performed this miracle on the Sabbath, the leaders of the Jews were openly in opposition to the teachings of Jesus. Then the Jews continued to put pressure on the man who received his sight, and on his parents. Then we read in John 9:22,
These words spake his parents, because they feared the Jews: for the Jews had agreed already, that if any man did confess that he was Christ, he should be put out of the synagogue.
And so we see the evil that the Jews did here. They shut up the kingdom of heaven for other men by teaching false doctrines concerning the Lord Jesus, and attempting to convince the people that He was not the Christ, but was an imposter, thus preventing many to become His followers. In Luke 11:52 we read that they had taken away the key of knowledge, and so prevented others from entering into the kingdom of heaven. But we should harmonize this with the fact that God is sovereign, which means that God chose to use this sin of the leaders of the Jews for not saving some of the people who heard them. This war of the Jews against the teachings of the Lord Jesus intensified after Jesus was taken into heaven, for we read in Acts 4:17-18 that they threatened the apostles not to preach Christ. We read in:
But that it spread no further among the people, let us straitly threaten them, that they speak henceforth to no man in this name.
And they called them, and commanded them not to speak at all nor teach in the name of Jesus.
This war continued to intensify during the preaching of the apostle Paul. And in 1 Thessalonians we have a passage that perfectly illustrates the evil actions of the Jews “to shut up the kingdom of heaven for other men” by actively persecuting those who are laying their life on the line for the preaching of the Gospel. We read:
1 Thessalonians 2:15-16
Who both killed the Lord Jesus, and their own prophets, and have persecuted us; and they please not God, and are contrary to all men: Forbidding us to speak to the Gentiles that they might be saved, to fill up their sins alway: for the wrath is come upon them to the uttermost.
They are forbidding us to speak to the Gentiles that they might be saved. Do not think for a moment that the Jews did not know what they were doing. These evil acts were done deliberately, out of envy, and in open rebellion against God.
Our God, the Avenger of Widows (Matthew 23:14, Titus 1:10-11, 2 Timothy 3:6, 2 Peter 2:3)
Now this seems to be a new idea, totally new to the Scriptures. But NO! The subject matter here is in total harmony with all other things we have learned from the Bible. We read in Matthew 23:14,
Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye devour widows’ houses, and for a pretence make long prayer: therefore ye shall receive the greater damnation.
How did the scribes and Pharisees devour widows’ houses?
And what have their long prayers to do with this?
Did the scribes and Pharisees embezzle the poor widows of their houses through clever legal maneuvers so that the widows were out on the street?
Does this verse indicate the rottenness of the hearts of the scribes and Pharisees by defrauding the poor and uneducated widows?
Actually, this sin was indeed perpetrated in the 20th and the 21st century by greedy mortgage brokers, but this sin was too evil even for the scribes and Pharisees. We do not read anywhere in the Bible about such heinous sins. And so, we need to reconsider our interpretations of this verse.
As always we must find the solution to our questions not by looking at the ceiling, and not by trusting the wisdom of men, or by believing what answer is logical, but by finding our solutions in the Bible. The expression, “ye devour widows’ houses” does not necessarily refer to the physical houses, but to the families living in those households. Just like today, when both parents are working, the grandmothers are taking care of the household and of the children. These widows are not living alone. We read in Titus 1:10-11,
For there are many unruly and vain talkers and deceivers, specially they of the circumcision:
Whose mouths must be stopped, who subvert whole houses, teaching things which they ought not, for filthy lucre’s sake.
Here we read in verse 11, “who subvert whole houses”. Certainly these vain talkers and deceivers are not destroying physical houses of bricks and mortar, but they are converting entire households to embrace the false gospels they are bringing.
And why would they bring these false gospels?
Verse 11 says, “for filthy lucre’s sake”. In other words, the more people they would convert to believe their vain gospels, the more money they would rake in for the physical support of evangelizing their vain gospels. And now we also learn how to interpret the expression “silly women laden with sins”, which always intrigued me.
Remember who are doing the converting?
Titus 1:10 says, “especially they of the circumcision”. These are Jews who are bringing their brand of works gospels that are so appealing to most people, and which they use to convert back new Christians to their old time Jews’ religion. And likewise we read here in 2 Timothy 3:6,
2 Timothy 3:6
For of this sort are they which creep into houses, and lead captive silly women laden with sins, led away with divers lusts,
Who are these “silly women laden with sins”?
These are women that are unstable in the faith, who are burdened by their own sins, not believing that Christ has taken them all away, and who are easily converted again to some other gospel.
And who are “they which creep into houses”, really meaning “households” instead of “houses”?
The previous verse tells us who they are. They are having a form of godliness but denying the power thereof. They are hypocrites, like the scribes and Pharisees, who do not believe the true Gospel, but are pretending that they are on God’s side. They are going through the motions, for filthy lucre’s sake, but their heart is not in it. And now we can understand the long prayers that we read about in Matthew 23:14, where we read, “and for a pretence make long prayer”. These are people who come with a works gospel, any false gospel, and to give their witness the appearance of legitimacy they show their allegiance to God with long prayers. But they do it only for the sake of increasing their income. Follow the money trail. That is why we read in 2 Peter 2:3,
2 Peter 2:3
And through covetousness shall they with feigned words make merchandise of you.
But there is another reason why the Lord Jesus mentioned widows in Matthew 23:14. Throughout the Bible God buried the spiritual meaning of widows in many expressions that sound like:
“The Stranger, the Fatherless and the Widow” (Revelation 18:7, Deuteronomy 16:11,14, 27:19, Psalm 68:5)
First we have to turn to the Revelation of Jesus Christ, Revelation 18:7. For two chapters long we have here a picture of the church near the end of time. It has become a totally apostate church, which God calls “Babylon”. The church has become in the eyes of God an unfaithful church, so much so that God calls her “The Mother of Harlots and Abominations of the Earth”. But listen to what the church says of itself. We read in Revelation 18:7,
How much she hath glorified herself, and lived deliciously, so much torment and sorrow give her: for she saith in her heart, I sit a queen, and am no widow, and shall see no sorrow.
Notice these words, “I shall see no sorrow”. The end time church does not see herself as being condemned to Hell. And the end time church does not see herself as having been divorced from God. She says, “I sit as a queen, and am no widow”. The end time church believes that she is still the Bride of Christ, and sits proudly as a queen.
Did not Christ say, “I will build My church, and the gates of Hell shall not prevail against it?”
It is true that Christ said this, but His words should not be applied to those who are evidently unsaved and who believe doctrines of devils. But here we can see the concept of the spiritual meaning of the word “Widow”. The church believes she is “no widow”, because she believes that Christ is her husband. Let us now take this concept and apply it to Old Testament passages.
In Deuteronomy 16 we have a description of the three feasts, when three times every year the children of Israel must appear before the Lord in the place where the Lord shall choose to place His Name in. For a long time that place turned out to be Shiloh, and later Jerusalem. We read in Deuteronomy 16:11 about the feast of weeks, or Pentecost,
And thou shalt rejoice before the LORD thy God, thou, and thy son, and thy daughter, and thy manservant, and thy maidservant, and the Levite that is within thy gates, and the stranger, and the fatherless, and the widow, that are among you, in the place which the LORD thy God hath chosen to place his name there.
What is this rejoicing about?
They are rejoicing that Jehovah is their God. Moreover, the stranger, the fatherless, and the widow are also rejoicing. We find this expression in the Old Testament “the stranger, the fatherless, and the widow” 13 times, and all 13 times God turns out to be the Protector and the Defender of “the stranger, the fatherless, and the widow”.
God tells us that He loves “the stranger, the fatherless, and the widow”.
But God loves only His elect.
What is going on?
From Revelation 18:7 we can conclude that God intended to convey the spiritual meaning of “the stranger, the fatherless, and the widow”. In fact, in all three of these titles we can recognize God’s elect before they become saved. Then we can conclude that the widow represents those who do not have a husband, but since God loves her He intends to become her Husband. The fatherless are those who do not have a spiritual father. But since God loves the fatherless He intends to become their heavenly Father. Those who are strangers on this earth are like our forefathers who were strangers in the land of Canaan. But since God loves them He is going to make them citizens of the heavenly Jerusalem, and then they will be like strangers and pilgrims on this earth, and they will be longing for their home in the New Jerusalem.
The children of Israel are divided into three groups. Six tribes of the nation are standing on Mount Gerizim, to bless the people, and six tribes are standing on Mount Ebal, to curse the people, and the Levites are standing in the middle. One of the curses is in Deuteronomy 27:19,
Cursed be he that perverteth the judgment of the stranger, fatherless, and widow. And all the people shall say, Amen.
The judgment referred to here can also be translated “the rights” of the stranger, the fatherless, or the widow. As potential children of God they have the right to hear the Gospel, so that they can be saved, and then the judgment will convert to the judgment that is on Christ as the Savior of His elect. God says in Psalm 68:5, “A father of the fatherless, and a judge of the widows, is God in his holy habitation”. God is a judge of the widows, for if she is elect then in Christ all her sins will be judged.
Therefore, if God so deals with widows, then God will be the Avenger of widows to bring judgment on those who are trying to do them harm, be it physical harm or spiritual harm. Let us now look at the last verse in this passage we read today. It deals with the scribes and Pharisees making proselytes.
“Making Proselytes” (Matthew 23:15, Galatians 6:12-13, 5:1-11, John 8:43-44)
Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye compass sea and land to make one proselyte, and when he is made, ye make him twofold more the child of hell than yourselves.
We do not read anywhere in the Bible about the scribes and Pharisees traveling sea and land to make one proselyte. In fact it was not a custom or a command from God to make proselytes in Old Testament days. Again we should look in the Bible for explanations of this verse. Making proselytes, or evangelizing to make conversions, came in full swing only after Pentecost, and in earnest only after the apostle Paul made his four missionary journeys. And then we see the disciples of the scribes and Pharisees come into action.
And what were their actions on which the Lord Jesus pronounced “Woe unto you”?
The apostle Paul preached in the cities of Galatia in his first missionary journey. And within 12 to 15 years the churches of Galatia gravitated toward the works gospels of the Jewish religion. Everywhere the apostle Paul proclaimed the true Gospel, the Judaizers came and persuaded the people that they could not be truly saved unless they also obeyed the Law of Moses. And the sign that they indeed obeyed the Law of Moses was if they were circumcised. This was the conflict which grew out of the teachings of the scribes and Pharisees. We read:
As many as desire to make a fair shew in the flesh, they constrain you to be circumcised; only lest they should suffer persecution for the cross of Christ. For neither they themselves who are circumcised keep the law; but desire to have you circumcised, that they may glory in your flesh.
The Judaizers constrain you to be circumcised, for if they pursue not this goal, then they too would suffer persecution. They themselves do not keep the Law, but they are counting their victories in the number of circumcisions they have made. This is their glory.
Stand fast therefore in the liberty wherewith Christ hath made us free, and be not entangled again with the yoke of bondage.
Behold, I Paul say unto you, that if ye be circumcised, Christ shall profit you nothing.
For I testify again to every man that is circumcised, that he is a debtor to do the whole law.
Christ is become of no effect unto you, whosoever of you are justified by the law; ye are fallen from grace. For we through the Spirit wait for the hope of righteousness by faith. For in Jesus Christ neither circumcision availeth any thing, nor uncircumcision; but faith which worketh by love.
This is where the battle is fought between Christ and the followers of Satanic gospels, which adhere to the pride of the flesh. Satan tries to pervert the true Gospel just a little bit, so that man can retain his pride in the flesh, This is what the free-will gospels try to do. They try to portray to us an attribute of respectability, so that we will at least consider them brothers in Christ. But if we apply Revelation 22:18-19, we shall see that their respectability holds no water, and they are not our brothers in Christ.
“Behold, the Judge Standeth Before the Door” (James 5:9, Psalm 94:1-11, Revelation 16:9)
Be afraid, for Judgment Day is near. God says in James 5:9, “behold, the judge standeth before the door”. We have seen that the Lord Jesus Christ pronounced these woes upon the scribes and Pharisees based on their works. These were only the first three woes. His message to the scribes and Pharisees was: Be afraid. Be terribly afraid, for the Judge standeth at the door. And the Lord’s message to us is of the same tenor. We too must be afraid if we are not faithful to all that the Bible has to say. We know that we cannot be perfectly obedient to all of God’s commandments. This is not where the trouble lies. The trouble is our choice between Christ and Moses; it is between salvation and condemnation; it is between mercy and the demand to obey the Law; it is between our love for Christ and our love for self; it is between our faith in the Word of God and our desire to believe that we are worthy. We have seen that the Lord pronounced woe on those who devour widows’ households.
But if we understand that God uses the title widows to indicate His elect, shall He then not also be furious when His elect are assaulted by those who peddle a works gospel, which is a message straight from Hell?
Do we understand the difference between the true Gospel and a false gospel?
Do we understand that the mercy and grace we receive from the Lord Jesus Christ is greater than the sins we have committed?
And do we understand that His mercy and grace have performed a miracle within our soul? If He indeed did perform this miracle in our soul?
Let us read what the saints are pleading when they see that Satan is assaulting the Church of the living God. We read in Psalm 94:1-11,
O LORD God, to whom vengeance belongeth; O God, to whom vengeance belongeth, shew thyself.
Lift up thyself, thou judge of the earth: render a reward to the proud.
LORD, how long shall the wicked, how long shall the wicked triumph?
How long shall they utter and speak hard things? and all the workers of iniquity boast themselves?
They break in pieces thy people, O LORD, and afflict thine heritage.
They slay the widow and the stranger, and murder the fatherless.
Yet they say, The LORD shall not see, neither shall the God of Jacob regard it.
Understand, ye brutish among the people: and ye fools, when will ye be wise?
He that planted the ear, shall he not hear? He that formed the eye, shall he not see?
He that chastiseth the heathen, shall not he correct? He that teacheth man knowledge, shall not he know?
The LORD knoweth the thoughts of man, that they are vanity.
How long, Lord, shall the wicked continue to proclaim that they are righteous, that there is nothing wrong with their free-will gospels?
Actually we know the answer already, for we read in Revelation 16:9, “And they repented not to give Him glory”. Since we are living near the end of time we can glean our wisdom from this last prophecy of the Bible. And thus we know that the majority of the churches shall continue to say, “I sit as a queen, and am no widow, and shall see no sorrow”. Let us beware what is going on today. Amen.
By Alfred Chompff