In the Tradition of the Prophets
Text: Matthew 23 : 1 - 39
Matthew recorded a long series of “Woes” pronounced by Jesus against the scribes and the Pharisees. The manner in which Jesus proclaimed these woes reminds us of the ministry of the ancient prophets of Israel. Let us look at two prophets who also had to cry “Woe” to a sinful nation.
“Woe to you who are at ease in Zion…
Woe to you who put far off the day of doom…”
AMOS 6:1, 3
“Woe to him who covets evil gain for his house…
Woe to him who builds a town with bloodshed…”
HABAKKUK 2:9, 12
RATIONALE FOR TAKING THIS TOUGH APPROACH
Jesus would have chosen a gentler path, if He believed that would help the scribes and the Pharisees. However, their notoriety was well known and He knew that they would not repent from their sinful ways! The sins of the scribes and Pharisees were as deadly as they were numerous. As we look at the list of sins outlined, we can understand just why Jesus used such firm language against them.
“But woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites!
For you shut up the kingdom of heaven against men;
for you neither go in yourselves, nor do you allow those
who are entering to go in.”
DEADLY EXPRESSIONS OF HYPOCRISY
It is a terrible thing to be guilty of hypocrisy! It means that the religion of the hypocrite is nothing but a sham! However, hypocrisy is most deadly when it takes on this sinister form. The scribes and Pharisees were not terribly interested in entering into the kingdom of heaven, for that would mean that they would have to repent from their sinful ways! What was worse was the fact that they attempted to either bar or thwart the efforts of those who were inquiring about entering into heaven. The first form of hypocrisy only harms self. The second form hurts others – for eternity! Thus Jesus had to rebuke the hypocritical scribes and Pharisees in very strong language.
LIST OF WOES
Let us take time to ponder the list of woes that were pronounced against the scribes and Pharisees.
“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites!
For you devour widows’ houses, and for a pretense
make long prayers. Therefore you will receive
Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites!
For you travel land and sea to win one proselyte,
and when he is won, you make him twice as much
a son of hell as yourselves.”
1. Through use of technicalities
The scribes were experts in the Mosaic law, which provided the framework of the judicial system of the land. Through misuse of the law, widows were cheated of their properties! In false comfort, long prayers are offered on behalf of widows! Many did not even know that they had been fleeced by these wicked scribes and Pharisees! They imagine that they have gotten away with their sins! They were wrong. They would receive great punishment from God one day!
2. Making proselytes
While the scribes and Pharisees showed no interest in the kingdom of God, as Jesus taught it, they were keen on making their own disciples. The process is known as “making proselytes”.
They were prepared to go to extreme lengths to make converts or proselytes. However, the people they converted to their man-made religion often turned up worse than their teachers! The words Jesus employed were chosen most carefully, for they well reflected what the proselytes of the scribes and Pharisees really were! In a solemn manner, Jesus said that these converts were “twice as much a son of hell as yourselves”.
AN EXAMPLE OF HOW THE SYSTEM OF THE SCRIBES WORKED
What system did the scribes and Pharisees employ in their practice of faith? Let us consider what Jesus said about their handling of the subject of “oaths”.
“Woe to you, blind guides, who say,
‘Whoever swears by the temple; it is nothing;
but whoever swears by the gold of the temple,
he is obliged to perform it.'”
The Law was quite specific. When one makes a vow, he must perform it. The scribes and Pharisees came up with their own system of interpreting vows. They were splitting hairs, when they argued for a differentiation between “the temple” and “the gold of the temple”. The former was not binding, whereas the latter was!
On what basis did the scribes and Pharisees come up with such a system of interpreting the teaching on oaths or vows? Through such approaches, the scribes and Pharisees effectively denied the common man, knowledge of the true Word of God.