A Study of Matthew 23:1-33
Matthew chapter 23 is the infamous chapter where the Lord Jesus is publicly condemning the scribes and Pharisees for being hypocrites.
Eight times does the Lord Jesus say in this chapter: “Woe unto you scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites.” This is not a friendly chapter in the Bible. Jesus was making many enemies when He preached these words.
This is not a chapter from where most preachers would pick their sermon topic.
How many of you have heard a sermon that was based on Matthew 23?
Why is that so?
Are preachers afraid to talk about certain parts of Scripture that are unpopular?
But Matthew 23 is in the Bible. God put it there. We need to declare the whole counsel of God, including Matthew 23.
That is why I chose to preach on Matthew 23.
The Lord Jesus was not afraid to bring up these matters, and neither should we. The Lord Jesus spoke these condemnations in public. He said in Matthew 23:1-3,
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.”
That is why they are called hypocrites, “for they say, and do not do what they say.” We could waste a great deal of time on the hypocrisy of the scribes and Pharisees, but actually:
They failed to tell the wonderful works of God (Matt 23:1-3,23)
The wonderful works of God are proclaimed on any page of the Bible. Also here in Matthew 23.
Now, this is a long chapter. Allow me to focus on just a few verses here and there.
Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For ye pay tithe of mint and anise and cumin, and have omitted the weightier matters of the law, judgment, mercy, and faith: these ought ye to have done, and not to leave the other undone.
What was so bad about tithing the spices they were using, like mint and anise and cumin?
Well, that was not bad in itself, but these were rules of worship that they had laid upon themselves. These were man made rules.
But the rules that God has laid upon them, those they had omitted. They were the spiritual leaders of the Jews.
They should have been preaching about Judgment, and about Mercy, and about Faith. These are the weightier matters of the Law.
This is what they should have done as a first priority, rather than focus all their attention on the lesser importance of the ceremonial law.
Moreover, the details of laws that were man made are of even smaller importance than anything that was written in the Word of God.
Now, what was it that they should have been preaching and teaching?
“Judgment, Mercy and Faith.”
What exactly did Jesus mean by that?
Let’s start with:
Judgment: God Said,Thou Shalt Surely Die (Genesis 1:31, Genesis 2:17)
The word Judgment, that you read in verse 23 of your KJ Bibles, is the Greek word “krisis” that has always been translated Judgment, or Damnation, or Condemnation.
If you read in your center column that this word actually means “Justice”, I want you to know that your center column is wrong.
Have the scribes and Pharisees been practicing judgment?
Indeed they have, but they have been practicing unrighteous judgment; they have already decided that they were going to kill Jesus. That was not the kind of judgment that the Lord Jesus was speaking about.
Did Jesus mean that the Pharisees should also have been teaching about Judgment?
That is right!
What are the weightier matters of the Law?
What are the weightier matters that any Church should be doing?
Is it not the preaching of the Gospel that should be the primary activity of the Church?
And how does the Gospel begin to unfold?
With Judgment; indeed the true Gospel begins with Judgment:
All mankind is in trouble with God. All mankind is on a slippery slope to Hell.
How did we all get in trouble with God?
Let me backup a little and start with the first one of the wonderful works of God: That is His work of creation. We read in Genesis 1:31
And God saw every thing that he had made, and, behold, it was very good.
When God had made this world in this universe, and He made man, God looked upon everything that He had made, and it was very good. Everything turned out according to God’s plan: very good.
And immediately God implemented the next phase of His plan: God placed the man and his wife under a testing program. God said in Genesis 2:17,
But of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, thou shalt not eat of it: for in the day that thou eatest thereof thou shalt surely die.
Did God mean what He said?
Of course God meant what He said.
Did Adam and Eve drop dead in the day that they ate from that tree?
No! Adam lived another 930 years. Therefore, God did not primarily promise physical death when He said: “in the day that thou eatest thereof thou shalt surely die”.
God’s promise referred to spiritual death, or the second death as we read in Revelation 20.
Did Adam and Eve die when they ate from the fruit of that tree?
Yes. Their soul died instantly. Their soul was defiled and became an abhorrence to God.
And their bodies instantly reached out for more sin. Eve was the first to eat from the fruit of that tree.
What was her first reaction?
Did she say:
“O, I have sinned. I have ignored the command of God. I am so sorry for what I have done!”
No! She did not say that. Instead, “She gave also unto her husband with her, and he did eat.”
She compounded the problem by tempting her husband to commit the same sin with her.
Why did Adam and Eve eat from the fruit of that tree in the first place?
Because Satan said:
Ye shall not surely die (Genesis 3:4-5, Matthew 8:12, Matthew 18:8, Matthew 25:46).
We read in Genesis 3:4-5,
And the serpent said unto the woman, Ye shall not surely die:
For God doth know that in the day ye eat thereof, then your eyes shall be opened, and ye shall be as gods, knowing good and evil.
Was God a miser, that He kept away from Adam and Eve some secret pleasure?
Of course God was not a miser.
God had given Adam and Eve all their heart’s desire. Jesus said in John 8: “Satan was a murderer from the beginning; he is a liar and the father if it.”
Satan was a murderer from the beginning because he murdered the souls of Adam and Eve. And because Adam and Eve sinned their hearts longed for more sin.
Jesus said in John 8: “Whosoever committeth sin is the slave of sin”.
God said: “Thou shalt surely die”. The death that God has in view is spiritual death, which means to become an abhorrence to God and to come under the wrath of God.
But Satan said: “Ye shall not surely die”.
And Satan’s lies are still practiced today. In many churches today it is proclaimed from the pulpit: “There is no Hell. There is no place of torment where people are forever put under the wrath of God. A good God would not cast people into Hell. Don’t be afraid of Hell”.
And people still swallow Satan’s lies. People do not listen to the Word of God, because we are all made after the image of Adam after the Fall. Just like Adam and Eve, we are all inclined to doubt the Word of God, the Bible.
But God says very plainly that Hell is a place of everlasting punishment. The Pharisees were not teaching that, so Jesus filled the gap, and the Lord Jesus said in Matthew 8:12,
But the children of the kingdom shall be cast out into outer darkness: there shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth.
It is a place of weeping and gnashing of teeth, because it is a place of eternal sorrow. In Matthew 18:8
Wherefore if thy hand or thy foot offend thee, cut them off, and cast them from thee: it is better for thee to enter into life halt or maimed, rather than having two hands or two feet to be cast into everlasting fire.
If Hell is a fire that incinerates people instantly, like the Jehovah’s Witnesses claim, then what should it matter if we are cast into that fire with one hand or with two hands?
But Jesus used the term “everlasting fire” to indicate that it is a horrible place of torment that lasts forever.
Then in Matthew 25:46,
And these shall go away into everlasting punishment: but the righteous into life eternal.
But, you see, man will not have the God of the Bible. We all like to have our own ideas what God is like. We all have our own ideas that a little sin is not so bad.
We cannot believe that God plunged the whole human race into misery for just such a minor infraction by Adam and Eve. Before you know it:
God’s word is replaced (Romans 15:4, Deuteronomhy 10:16, Matthew 12:34).
The Bible was written to us, for our learning, because God had mercy on us. God says in Romans 15:
For whatsoever things were written aforetime were written for our learning, that we through patience and comfort of the scriptures might have hope.
To have hope means to have hope of becoming right with God, like before Adam’s sin. God wrote the Bible to show us how we can become righteous before God.
But can we do it?
When God commands us in Deuteronomy 10:16, “Circumcise therefore the foreskin of your heart”, are we commanded to do it?
Can we do it?
No! That is an impossible thing to do.
When Jesus said in Matthew 12:34, “O generation of vipers, how can ye, being evil, speak good things?” Can we do it?
No! We are a generation of vipers. (note: the “generation of vipers” is specifically speaking of the reprobate. However the elect while in an unregenerate state are just as corrupt and spiritually deparaved as the reprobate, we read about this being the case in Ephesians 2)
We are not able to speak good things and yet, we are held accountable for speaking evil things?
And even though all these commands may throw us into confusion, we still have to admit that this is the Word of God; this is what God wrote.
How then can we “have hope through patience and comfort of the scriptures?”
The answer is also found in the Word of God: By grace alone.
God says in Ephesians 2 that all of us “were dead in trespasses and sins”, and we “were by nature the children of wrath, even as others.”
If we were spiritually dead, then we were unable to obey any of God’s commandments. If we were spiritually dead then we were by nature in rebellion against God, and therefore we were on the way to Hell.
That is how we were by nature, and we had no control over our own wicked nature.
Therefore, our only hope is the grace of God.
Our only hope is that God would circumcise our hearts.
Our only hope is that God would change us from vipers into lambs.
Our only hope is that God would make us Born from above.
Our only hope is that God would perform that miracle of salvation in our souls, because only “By grace are ye saved”.
God must do the saving.
But people do not like that.
Who wants a God who throws people into Hell?
Who wants a God who retains all the controls of who is allowed into His holy heaven?
By nature, nobody likes such a God.
And therefore, almost everyone tries to set up for himself a god that he likes, and almost no one checks out the Bible any more.
The Bible is no longer recognized as the authoritative Word of God.
Instead of God bestowing His grace upon whom He will, now they say:
“You must accept the Lord Jesus Christ as your Savior”.
How can a dead man do that?
Or they say: “You must allow the Holy Spirit to do His work of grace in your heart”.
How can mortal man allow Almighty God to do anything?
And so, preachers have begun to change God’s Word, until by now few even know what the Whole Counsel of God says.
They have set up for themselves idols of their own making.
This is why God says that: “There is None that seeketh after God”. (Romans 3)
This is why God must seek out His own people, and predestine them unto salvation, and bestow on them His saving grace.
Now, the second one of the wonderful works of God: That is His work of Redemption at the cross.
The word Mercy means: He Shall Bruise Thy Head (Genesis 3:15, Matthew 20:28, Ephesians 1:3-5)
After the sin of Adam and Eve to eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, God rounded them up, together with Satan, and God said to Satan:
And I will put enmity between thee and the woman, and between thy seed and her Seed; He shall bruise thy head, and thou shalt bruise his heel.
God promised here a Deliverer, a Messiah who will undo the damage done by Satan. This is a statement loaded with symbolism. This statement of God is not to be interpreted historically.
The woman is not Eve, because the first son of Eve was Cain, and Cain became a murderer, and a slave of Satan.
This woman was not the virgin Mary, because Mary lived perhaps 60 years and then died.
But this woman in Genesis 3:15 is continually at enmity with Satan. This woman represents the entire Body of Believers, all the Old Testament Saints as well as all the New Testament Saints.
We are in a continual battle with Satan and with the seed of Satan, which includes all of mankind who are still unsaved.
But also God promised here a special battle between Satan and the Woman’s Seed, which is Christ.
During this battle Christ would crush the head of Satan, and Satan would only be able to bruise the heel of Christ.
This event refers to the cross. When we preach about Christ crucified, we preach about the Mercy of God for unworthy sinners.
Did Jesus mean that the Pharisees should also have been teaching about God’s mercy through Jesus Christ?
That is right!
The Pharisees should have taught the people that God’s mercy upon them was promised through the coming Messiah, who would atone for their sins.
But the Pharisees were not teaching that, so Jesus filled the gap, and the Lord Jesus said in Matthew 20:28
Even as the Son of man came not to be ministered unto, but to minister, and to give his life a ransom for many.
Notice these words: “To give his life a ransom for many.”
He did not give His life as a ransom for everyone in the world, but for many.
The mercy that is on display at the cross was a mercy that was already granted to the many before the foundation of the world.
Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who hath blessed us with all spiritual blessings in heavenly places in Christ:
According as he hath chosen us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and without blame before him in love:
Having predestinated us unto the adoption of children by Jesus Christ to himself, according to the good pleasure of his will.
Do you see that?
God predestined those whom He was going to save.
The Lord Jesus died on the cross for those same people whom He was going to save. The Bible says:
Thou shalt call His name Jesus (Matthew 1:21)
The Angel of the Lord appeared unto Joseph in a dream, and said to him in Matthew 1:21,
And she shall bring forth a son, and thou shalt call his name JESUS: for he shall save his people from their sins. (This is a reference to Christ’s atoning work on the cross.)
Who are His people?
Are the Jews only His people?
Are the blood descendants of Jacob only His people?
If that is so, that would leave me out, because on the cross Jesus saved only His people.
Or does God have two salvation plans: One for the Jews and one for the Gentiles?
You can see that this is getting ridiculous.
Clearly, the same Gospel is for the Jews as well as for the Gentiles.
God has only one plan of salvation for His people, and His people are those whom God “has chosen from before the foundation of the world, according to the good pleasure of his will”. It was a gift entirely by grace, given to those people “according to the good pleasure of his will”, and not because of anything that they have done.
Everyone knows that Grace is a Free Gift. In fact, the definition of Grace is: “Unmerited Favor”.
Can you merit unmerited favor?
No! Unmerited favor is a Free Gift.
Now, let me ask you: If it is generally accepted that salvation is by grace, it is not earned or deserved, it is a Free Gift, then how in the world could people say that salvation depends on me accepting the Lord Jesus as my Savior?
If salvation is a Free Gift, then it must of necessity be only dependent on God giving it to whom He will. And if God is the One who is deciding it, then, since He is a God who knows the end from the beginning, He must have made that decision already before the foundation of the world.
That is exactly what we have read in Ephesians 1:3-5.
Some people believe that God started His program of Redemption after the sin of Adam, and that God shifted to Plan B after the sin of Adam. But can you see from Ephesians 1:3-5 that the sin of Adam did not catch God by surprise?
God knew Adam and Eve inside and outside, and God knew that they would be tempted to try a little experiment with the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.
God knew that the Lord Jesus Christ would have to be nailed to the cross because of that sin.
God knew all that before He began the first stroke of creation. But God went ahead and created this world and He created the angels, and He created Adam and Eve, and all the rest is history.
Does God love this creation that He has made?
Yes He does.
Does God love all people?
Are we not all created by God, in His image, and are we not all His children?
Does Jesus love everybody in the world? (Psalm 5:5, Psalm 7:11, Psalm 11:5)
The question is: Which Jesus are you talking about?
Are you talking about an image of Jesus that someone has set up, or are you speaking about the second Person of the Triune God, who is also God Himself?
If we really want to know what God says about this question, then we have to consult the Bible.
If we begin with Genesis, then we have to ask: Did God love those people whom He destroyed in the Flood of the days of Noah.
Did He lovingly drown them because it was for their own good?
Of course you know the answer. God’s wrath was upon them, because…
“GOD saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every imagination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually”.
No, God did not love those people whom He drowned in the Flood.
Did God love the people in Sodom, and Gomorrah, and Admah, and Zeboim when God rained fire and brimstone on those cities?
Only Lot and his two daughters were rescued from Sodom.
Did God love the people living in those four cities?
Of course not!
The wrath of God was upon them.
Did Jesus love the scribes and Pharisees who out of envy were always at His heels, trying to find fault with Him?
Jesus said to them:
“Ye are of your father the Devil, and the lusts of your father ye will do. He was a murderer from the beginning and abode not in the truth, because there is no truth in him”.
No, He did not love them. That is very clear from Jesus’ words.
Did Jesus love Judas Iscariot, of whom Jesus said: “Woe unto that man by whom the Son of man is betrayed! It had been good for that man if he had not been born”. On top of that he committed suicide. What a horrible way to die.
Moreover, God says in Psalm 5:5,
The foolish shall not stand in thy sight: thou hatest all workers of iniquity.
No, God does not love those workers of iniquity.
And again in Psalm 11:5 God says,
The LORD trieth the righteous: but the wicked and him that loveth violence his soul hateth.
In Proverbs 21:4 God says that even the plowing of the wicked, is sin.
In fact, the only ones whom God loves in the Bible are the righteous, or they are called the Saints.
How do we measure up?
That is really the most important question.
Does Jesus love us?
Well, each of us can figure this out for ourselves.
All we need to do is listen and apply God’s Word to our own heart, or look for the evidences in our own life.
God says it so plainly in Proverbs 28:9,
He that turneth away his ear from hearing the law, even his prayer shall be abomination.
He that turns away his ear from hearing the Word of God, even his prayer shall be abomination.
He would be like the man who built his house on the sand.
Let me say this once more: Does Jesus love everybody?
The sad thing is that those people who have heard what God said, but turn a deaf ear, show by their actions that they do not have the desire to be obedient to the Word of God.
They show by their actions that they have no faith in the Word of God.
It means that they have no foundation, and they are dragging their children with them into a horrible Christ-less future.
I am not talking here about a life of perfect obedience. I am not preaching perfection.
God knows that you cannot obey Him perfectly. If you have been saved, Christ has already covered all the bases.
But if you have been saved, you will at least have the desire to obey Him, because if you have been saved, you have the desire to do those things that are pleasing in His sight.
That is the normal life of faith.
Faith – That Means: Ye Must Be Born Again (John 3:7-8).
We have seen the first of the wonderful works of God: His work of Creation.
We have seen the second of the wonderful works of God: His work of Redemption at the cross
Now, the third one of the wonderful works of God: That is His work of Salvation by the Grace of God.
One evening the Lord Jesus was teaching a Pharisee, by the name of Nicodemus, and Jesus taught him a lesson that is still not understood by many preachers today. The Lord Jesus said:
Marvel not that I said unto thee, Ye must be born again.
The wind bloweth where it listeth, and thou hearest the sound thereof, but canst not tell whence it cometh, and whither it goeth: So is every one that is born of the Spirit.
But literally the Greek text says: The Spirit breathes where He wills, and thou hearest His voice, but know not whence He cometh and whither He goeth: So is everyone having been born of the Spirit.
Here the Lord Jesus tells Nicodemus, and He tells us, that a person cannot enter the Kingdom of God without first having a transformation of the soul.
Your soul must be born again.
Your soul must be born of God.
How can I make myself become born again?
I cannot do it.
Some churches teach that I can do it.
That is an action I must take.
But does that action make me born again?
They say it does, but I do not believe that any action on my part can twist the arm of God. God is far greater than that. God does not take any commands from mortal man.
How can I become born again?
Only by God’s grace!
God says in Philippians 1:6
Being confident of this very thing, that he which hath begun a good work in you will perform it until the day of Jesus Christ:
God has here a very plain statement: God must initiate the action and God must complete the action. And the evidence of God’s action of salvation will be seen in a life of faith.
Did Jesus mean that the Pharisees should also have been teaching the people about Faith in and through Jesus Christ?
That is right!
They should have taught the people faith in the Word of God, rather than faith in ceremonies.
There in the Word of God they would have seen shadows of Christ, and of His redeeming love. They should have been teaching people about Isaiah 53 and about Jeremiah 31, and about many other great chapters of faith in the Bible. But they failed to do that.
But whose faith? (Galatians 2:16)
The Pharisees had great faith in their own faith. They had great faith that in performing the ceremonies of the Ceremonial Law they would be paving their own way into heaven. But they never considered that their own faith was very deficient
But the New Testament tells us that it is not our faith that matters, but the faith of the Lord Jesus Christ.
Knowing that a man is not justified by the works of the law, but by the faith of Jesus Christ, even we have believed in Jesus Christ, that we might be justified by the faith of Christ, and not by the works of the law: for by the works of the law shall no flesh be justified.
Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ (Matthew 23:25-33)
If you have followed me so far, you have no trouble at all to understand this entire chapter of Matthew 23.
Let me summarize in my own words what Jesus said in Matthew 23:23-24.
If the important things, such as Judgment, Mercy and Faith are not preached, then the smaller things cannot be anything else than hypocrisy.
Now turn your eyes to verses 25 and 26.
Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye make clean the outside of the cup and of the platter, but within they are full of extortion and excess.
Thou blind Pharisee, cleanse first that which is within the cup and platter, that the outside of them may be clean also.
If the important things, such as Judgment, Mercy and Faith are not preached, then the cup of your prosperity or adversity is on the inside full of extortion and lack of self-control. It is equivalent to extortion, because you have preached a false gospel message.
Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye are like unto whited sepulchres, which indeed appear beautiful outward, but are within full of dead (men’s) bones, and of all uncleanness.
Even so ye also outwardly appear righteous unto men, but within ye are full of hypocrisy and iniquity.
If the important things, such as Judgment, Mercy and Faith are not preached, then on the inside you are still dead in your soul and full of hypocrisy. You may look good on the outside, but your body is like a sepulchre, full of dead bones.
Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! Because ye build the tombs of the prophets, and garnish the sepulchres of the righteous,
And say, If we had been in the days of our fathers, we would not have been partakers with them in the blood of the prophets.
Wherefore ye be witnesses unto yourselves, that ye are the children of them which killed the prophets.
If the important things, such as Judgment, Mercy and Faith are not preached, then you are denying the Word of God like your forefathers have done by killing the Prophets.
The Prophets were representing the Word of God.
Now you are garnishing their tombs, like you are paying homage to the Bible, but you are only outwardly decorating it.
For example, you may have it only as a centerpiece on the coffee table, but you do not treasure it as God’s Word.
Fill ye up then the measure of your fathers.
Ye serpents, ye generation of vipers, how can ye escape the damnation of hell?
This reminds me of that great verse, Hebrews 2:3,
How shall we escape, if we neglect so great salvation; which at the first began to be spoken by the Lord, and was confirmed unto us by them that heard (him)
If we neglect to witness, and to preach, and to teach: Judgment, Mercy and Faith, then we have neglected so great salvation, and we too are subject to these great woes of Matthew 23.
If we have been saved, then it will be our second nature to witness about Judgment, Mercy and Faith.
By Alfred J. Chompfft