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7 words of Woe
Matthew 23

Today we are going to take a look at Matthew 23 together. In this passage- which serves as the climax of Jesus' conflict with the Pharisees- Jesus, after 3 years of constant opposition from the Pharisees and teachers of the law, announces 7 words of Judgment against them.

The Pharisees

-Started after the Jewish exile. A religious party that died out after A.D 70
-Religious leaders of the people
-two schools (a liberal and a conservative school of Pharisees)
-Many of them were priests and scribes
-They regulated the synagogues, teaching and interpreting the law.
-Emphasized law observance
-had a high regard for the Scriptures. This explains Matthew 23:2
-Very concerned about outward righteousness and ritual cleanness-- hence there many rituals
-Opposed to the rule of Rome
-Highly respected by the people. To the average person they represented piety and holiness
-Some followed Jesus
-The Apostle Paul had been one of them

Introductory info on Jesus' conflict with the Pharisees

-Jesus' conflict with the Pharisees began quite innocently in Matthew 1 wherein Herod asks the Pharisees where the Messiah was to be born. This was in response to the wise men who came looking to worship Jesus. While the Pharisees knew the answer, going with the wise men was "not in the cards" for them
-Over the course of Jesus' 3 year ministry the Pharisees accused Jesus of blasphemy, they demanded miraculous signs of him, they tried on numerous occasions to try and trick him with their questions, they accused Jesus of breaking the Sabbath, in particular they railed against a number of his miracles because they were on the Sabbath, they disdained Jesus for eating with "sinners and tax collectors", they accused Jesus of being in league with the Devil. The Pharisees hatred of Jesus resulted in the their making plans to kill Jesus and ultimately they did.
-While there were a few exceptions amongst the Pharisees, Scribes, and teachers of the law, their general response was one of jealousy, anger, and hostility.
-In pronouncing judgment on them, Jesus is direct and explicit. For instance, 7 times Jesus calls the Pharisees "hypocrites" (which means they were actors and fakes), Twice Jesus calls them "fools", Five times Jesus calls them "Blind guides". Furthermore, Jesus calls them "sons of Hell", "Murderers", "snakes", and "A brood of vipers".

It's important to note that Jesus is not "name calling". Jesus- the Messiah, the Son of God, Author of life, the Judge of the world- knows exactly what and who the Pharisees were and despite plenty of opportunities for them to repent and embrace Him as Savior and Lord, they didn't. Hence Jesus calls them out for what they were and announces 7 Words of woe against them
We are going to walk through Matthew 23 today because there is much for us to learn from Jesus' rebuke of the Pharisees


Note: The text can be divided into 3. Matthew 23:1-12; 13-36, 37-39


Some things to note:

a. In v.2 Jesus indicates the high regard the Pharisees had for the Scriptures and how they we authoritative teachers of the Law of Moses

While noting the high regard of the Pharisees for the Scriptures Jesus lambasts the Pharisees for not practicing what they preach -calling them hypocrites
This lends to an important principle:


-Our talk and our walk need to line up
-There needs to be consistency in our lives
-The realness of our faith and desire for holiness is seen not just in our words but in our walks. People can tell when this is not so

b. Jesus was highly critical of the Pharisees desire for praise, attention, honor, and glory v.5-12

Note their desire to be noticed -wearing big phylacteries (boxes with Scriptures in them), fancy garments, wanting the best seats, wanting to be greeted with deferential and worshipful greetings

Note also: There is something inside of us that wants to worship that and who we should not worship and revere: This is why Jesus warns the people to not lavish such titles and reverence on the Pharisees.

This leads to another important principle:


This is why Jesus says to his squabbling disciples in Matthew 20:26-28 "Whoever wants to be a leader among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first among you must become your slave. For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve others and to give his life as a ransom for many."

It's easy to get full of oneself. It's easy to start seeing oneself in a "new light". It's easy to believe the hype that others may bring in.

We need to constantly remind ourselves that Christ's kingdom is about service and that we need to stay humble if we want God's blessings.

Where are you serving? What are you doing for Jesus and the Kingdom? Is it in "the light" or behind the scenes? Do you require constant attention and strokes for your service? Are you willing to do the menial- or is it below you?


1. To the Pharisees said, Great sorrow awaits you-- For blocking the way of salvation and hindering people from entering into the Kingdom of God

How were the Pharisees doing this? By denying that Jesus was the Christ. By seeking to dissuade people from following Jesus.

This reminds me of Jesus' rebuke of his own disciples in Matthew 19:13-15."Then little children were brought to Jesus for him to place his hands on them and pray for them. But the disciples rebuked those who brought them. Jesus said, "Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these." When he had placed his hands on them, he went on from there.While the disciples were in the wrong at that point, the Pharisees did this on a mass and intentional scale."


We need to do all we can to introduce people to Jesus and to persuade them to become his followers. Without Christ people will die in their sins. It is vitally important that people hear the good news of Jesus and the way of salvation.


2. Great sorrow awaits you for your converting people to your legalistic self righteous, Christ rejecting ways. v.15

In verse 15 Jesus blasts the Pharisees for traveling over land and sea to convince others to be legalistic, cold, self righteous, Christ hating glory hounds.


While the Pharisees traveling over land and sea to make converts was bad, like the first application, we are reminded that we need to be zealous in our evangelism. We have the words of eternal life. We know the Savior. We know the author of life. Every effort is to be made to introduce people to Jesus.

3. Great sorrow awaits you for all the nonsense you've been teaching about vows and oaths as it relates to the Temple and the Altar- thereby corrupting the proper worship of God. v.16-22

Jesus' discussion of oaths made to God in this section is interesting for a number of reasons

a. He has already taught that we are not to make oaths or swear by anything. Matthew 5:33-37. "Let your yes be yes and your no be no". Apparently the Pharisees didn't get the memo
b. By Jesus' words we are reminded of the Temple and the Altar's purpose.

The Temple: A place of prayer for all nations. A place of worship for God.
The Altar: Where animals laid for worship and for ones sins (ultimately pointing forward to Jesus' once for all sacrifice for sins)


"Simply let your 'Yes' be 'Yes,' and your 'No,' 'No'; anything beyond this comes from the evil one." Matthew 5:37

4. Great sorrow awaits you for focusing on minor aspects of God's law while completely ignoring the more important matters of justice, mercy, and faith v.23-24

A few things to note

-Herein, Jesus upholds tithing
-The Pharisees were majoring on something relatively minor. They were missing the point of what it meant to be a follower of God. They were to pursue cases of justice, they were to specialize in service and compassionate care-- helping the poor, the weary, the dispossessed, they were to encourage people to follow God and exercise faith

APPLICATION: It's all to easy to become legalistic and to major on the minors. We need to be careful about not majoring on the minors. We must be careful not to miss the point of what it means to be followers of Jesus. We must not forget that following Jesus necessarily involves serving others. We are to likewise take up the cause of the poor, the needy, the disabled, people needy justice, and we are to encourage faith in Christ and trust in God.

Micah 6:8 says; "He has showed you, O man, what is good. And what does the LORD require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God

5. Great sorrow awaits you because -while on the outside you look good- on the inside you are greedy and self indulgent v.25-26 v.25-26

Note: Points 5-6 are related

Herein Jesus calls the Pharisees as it regarded their washing rituals. So concerned were the Pharisees about ritual purity that they extended the practice of ritual washing (which was for priests)-- elevating such to the status of "the command of God" for everybody. This ritual washing extended to pots, pans, and cups. Meanwhile, in their hearts they were thinking about how there "following of God" was going to enrich them and gain them status and praise.

The problem: So concerned were the Pharisees about the cleanness of cups and dishes while they had no concern about what was going on in terms of their thought life, their greed, and their selfishness.


We are to be known for generosity and contentment

It's interesting that Jesus focuses here on self indulgence and greed. These are two sins that we know much about here in the West. Bigger, better, Me, my, I want, I deserve, I have to have it, it's all about looking good

Hence we are reminded on the Scriptures call to be content. 1 Timothy 6:6 says; "But godliness with contentment is great gain." Likewise, Hebrews 13:5 says; "Keep your lives free from the love of money and be content with what you have"

6. Great sorrow awaits you because- while you look righteous and holy- on the inside you are full of hypocrisy and every kind of wickedness. v. 27-28

Herein Jesus lays into the Pharisees-- pointedly saying that they are like white washed tombs-- his ultimate point being that just like a freshly painted tomb looked good, that fact is, dead people were on the inside. Such was the case of the Pharisees. On the outside they looked good, they looked holy (because that was the image they projected), yet on the inside they were dead, full of hypocrisy and wickedness.

Interesting: Tombs were annually whitewashed to prevent the people who were going to Jerusalem to celebrate the Passover, from accidentally touching them and defiling themselves.


As with the point before, holiness on the inside is what's important-- then and only then will our words and actions be truly right.

The beginning of holiness starts with repentance and turning to Christ, such is then built upon by our being transformed by the renewing of our minds by way of our attention to the Scriptures--- for they teach us how to live and think

7. Great sorrow awaits you for your being in league with those who murdered the prophets and for your future acts of persecution against the saints v.29-36

Herein Jesus has some of his harshest words for the Pharisees-- ultimately indicating that in their present conditions that they are on their way to Hell.

APPLICATION: As Jesus has warned us in other Scriptures, so he does again here: Persecution and affliction for the name and sake of Jesus is part of being a follower of Christ. We are not to let the fear of this keep us from serving Christ faithfully.


The third and last part of Matthew 23 consists of Jesus' lament over Jerusalem. v.37-39

A lament rooted in her persistent rejection of the prophets and ultimately of him.

I also find it interesting that as Jesus finishes this sermon that he is sad- sad that they have so consistently rejected the messengers of God, sad that they rejected him and his love and care, and sad that times of hardship were coming there way-- though, and this in in line with most all the prophets we have in the Bible, Jesus ends on a note of hope and future for Israel; saying "For I tell you, you will not see me again until you say, 'Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord." So looking forward to Jesus' coming. (see Psalm 118:26 and Mark 11:9)


Jesus warns the people about Pharisees
Jesus passes judgment on the Pharisees
Jesus laments the response he received at the hands of those he loved

By way of conclusion I trust that you have asked yourself "What needful reminders have I heard today as it pertains to my walk with Christ"