For those interested . . . “two more” minutes of thoughts from this morning’s sermon . . .
“. . . for you neither enter yourselves nor allow those who would enter to go in.” (Matthew 23:13) – Two things of note here: (1) At the beginning of Jesus’ public ministry, John the Baptist announced that the “kingdom of heaven is at hand.” (Matthew 3:2) Jesus Himself talked a lot about the coming Kingdom (see the parables of Matthew 13 among other places.) The “kingdom” Jesus referred to was the promised reign of the Messiah (Himself) upon the earth, reigning from Kind David’s throne as prophesied in the Old Testament. When Jesus offered this Kingdom, it would have been inaugurated if the nation of Israel had accepted Jesus as the Messiah. Because the nation (led by the scribes and the Pharisees) rejected Him, inauguration of the Kingdom was delayed (see Daniel 9:26). Revelation 19-22 lets us know that ONE DAY, the kingdom will fully be inaugurated at the second coming of Christ. Thus, the rejection of Jesus as Messiah by the Pharisees and the scribes SHUT THE DOOR to the kingdom for 2,000 years (and counting). (2) Jesus was offering true salvation: the Kingdom PLUS eternal life. How sad that the Pharisees (and those who followed them) missed out on the kingdom and salvation because they refused to believe in Jesus. Sadly the same thing happens today. Too many people profess a religion, hoping it would save them. But, like using a cardboard box as a tornado shelter, it cannot hold up against the F5 holiness of God when judgment comes. Jesus-less religion may encourage morality or calm our minds . . . but only Christ can save us from our sins.
Where is 23:14? If you were paying close attention to your Bibles this morning, you would have noticed that I read 23:13 and 23:15-22, but not 23:14. AND, depending upon which version of the Bible you were using, your Bible may not have had a 23:14 at all! The ESV, NIV, and NLT all exclude 23:14 altogether. The NASB includes 23:14 (but in brackets). The KJV includes 23:14 without notation. So what gives? The KJV of the bible was a translation from the early 1600’s. At the time, the translators used a set of manuscripts known as the “majority text.” We have no “manuscript” copies of the New Testament available today . . . meaning, Matthew’s original parchment is not in circulation, BUT, we do have thousands of early copies of Matthew that help us to understand exactly what Matthew wrote down. As with anything that is often copied, it is possible that errors could be made in the transcription. In Matthew 23:14, the majority text included this verse here – so the KJV translated it as a part of their work. In the past 400 years, additional scholarship has helped us find that the earliest copies of Matthew that we have did not include 23:14. Though 23:14 IS content said by Jesus in this speech (see parallel accounts in Mark and Luke), it most likely was ADDED to Matthew at a later date by well intended stenographers trying to harmonize the Gospels. The ESV, NIV, and others recognize this, and omit the verse (albeit noting it in the footnotes of their translation.) While some may think this weakens our confidence in the New Testament text, it actually encourages my confidence in it. Christians do not have anything to fear when it comes to the truth. Good scholarship and scientific principles have been used to determine the authenticity of Matthew’s Gospel . . . a letter that is 2,000 years old! Rather than hiding this good scholarship, it is right there in our English Bibles for all to see. Matthew’s Gospel is inerrant in its original manuscript, and has not been marred by two millennia of copying and translations. It is still authoritative for us today.
“. . . You blind fools! . . . whoever swears by heaven swears by the throne of God and by Him who sits upon it!” (Matthew 23:17a, 22) – The Pharisees and scribes received these strong rebukes from Jesus BECAUSE their self-righteousness blinded them from seeing both their need for a Savior AND that Jesus was that Savior. The Pharisees were trusting in their personal performance to merit their salvation: their belief was only if they personally fulfilled the Law would they gain eternal life. When this is the mindset, often people recast the Law into a lesser standard . . . one they can fulfill. One illustration of this for the Pharisees was their use of a convoluted system of “swears.” While the heart of God is for His people to tell the truth (illustrated by the command to not lie), the Pharisees did not want to always tell the truth (but knew they needed to in order to attain eternal life). So they created loopholes to allow them to lie, while still (in their opinion) meeting the obligations of the Law. Jesus calls them out here (as He did in Matthew 5:33-37) . . . letting them know that they should just tell the truth and not invent ways around it through “fake swearing.” Today, we still struggle with this principle. We want to reinvent God’s Law into something we can attain on our own, so we add our own definitions to the clear teaching of Scripture in an attempt to lower the standard of God to our level. An example of that is the command to “love our neighbor as ourselves.” We have a tendency to lower this command to a more reasonable level by defining our “neighbors” as those closest to us. Jesus (rightly) points out in the Parable of the Good Samaritan that ALL we come in contact with are our neighbors. In this respect, the standard of God is simply too high for us to attain. How can I love all in this way? What are we to do? Well, instead of lowering the standard of God to our level, we have another option . . . we can run to Jesus Christ! He fulfilled the Law perfectly, can forgive us for how we fall short of it, and can (through His work through His Body- the Church) love the world HIS WAY.
One last thought . . .
Jesus did not have to pronounce these “woes” on the Pharisees. Why does He do it? Jesus pronounces these woes as a demonstration of His compassion and grace. Graciously, He lets the Pharisees know they are on the highway to hell . . . giving them time to repent. Compassionately, Jesus gives “woes” over the Pharisees within earshot of the crowds and the disciples . . . giving them a heads up to not repeat the folly of their national leaders.
As we hear these warnings today, may they be reminders to us to take shelter in Jesus and not in the refrigerator boxes of our own religion.