Jesus confronts us in our religion -- pursue righteousness and humility


“God inflames the soul with a craving for absolute purity. But He, in His glorious otherness, empties us of ourselves in order that He may become all.” --Thomas R. Kelly

God both inflames us for right living and empties us of our sinful pride. God calls us to a different kind of living and stands against our ego-driven desires. God brings to us new desires that are beyond us, yet they become part of us as we seek to follow Christ. There is a battle raging within us between the god of self and the God of Life.

Jesus confronted this internal battle that expresses itself outwardly. In Matthew 23, the Messiah told a crowd that the religious leaders -- the scribes and Pharisees -- “sit on Moses’ seat.” That’s a big deal, a very big deal. Jesus: “therefore, do whatever they teach you and follow it” (v.3).

Wow! Jesus put these guys on a pedestal, one that he then knocks from under them.

". . . but do not do as they do, for they do not practice what they teach. They tie up heavy burdens, hard to bear, and lay them on the shoulders of others; but they themselves are unwilling to lift a finger to move them. They do all their deeds to be seen by others; for they make their phylacteries broad and their fringes long" (vv. 3-5)

In other words they are very showy with their faith. They look the part, say all the right things. But what they are really doing is making life tougher for everyone around them. As we say today, they were talking a good game.

Back in the day, I played a lot of softball, a lot, and on many teams. Generally we had matching shirts and sometimes matching pants, but the best team I ever played for, the one that won the church championship in Marshall in 1979, didn’t even have matching shirts. We looked like crap, but we could play.

Jesus is saying the religious leaders have nice uniforms but they are no good between the lines. He goes on about them:

"They love to have the place of honor at banquets and the best seats in the synagogues, and to be greeted with respect in the marketplaces, and to have people call them rabbi" (vv. 6-7).

No need to elaborate. We all know the kind. We see it in ourselves. But Jesus points to a better way, the godly way:

"But you are not to be called rabbi, for you have one teacher, and you are all students. And call no one your father on earth, for you have one Father — the one in heaven. Nor are you to be called instructors, for you have one instructor, the Messiah. The greatest among you will be your servant. All who exalt themselves will be humbled, and all who humble themselves will be exalted" (vv. 8-12).

Jesus then blasts the scribes and Pharisees, calls them hypocrites because they “lock people out of the kingdom of heaven” (v13).

That’s serious stuff. It’s like Jesus today saying the same thing to a pastor or denominational leader. I’m one of those denominational guys, and I have been a pastor. He’s talking about people like me. I don’t want to be like that, but am I sometimes being like that? Self-examination required.

But Jesus isn’t through. He goes on and on about this. Apparently this is serious and important.

“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you cross sea and land to make a single convert, and you make the new convert twice as much a child of hell as yourselves" (v. 15).

In short, promoting evangelism without discipleship.

“Woe to you, blind guides, who say, ‘Whoever swears by the sanctuary is bound by nothing, but whoever swears by the gold of the sanctuary is bound by the oath.’ You blind fools! For which is greater, the gold or the sanctuary that has made the gold sacred?" (vv. 16-17).

In short, emphasizing money and things not true worship.

“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you tithe mint, dill, and cummin, and have neglected the weightier matters of the law: justice and mercy and faith. It is these you ought to have practiced without neglecting the others. You blind guides! You strain out a gnat but swallow a camel!" (vv. 23-24).

In short, pushing the tithe but not justice, mercy, and faith.

"Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you clean the outside of the cup and of the plate, but inside they are full of greed and self-indulgence. You blind Pharisee! First clean the inside of the cup, so that the outside also may become clean" (vv. 25-26).

In short, impressing the world but a mess in your thoughts.

“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you are like whitewashed tombs, which on the outside look beautiful, but inside they are full of the bones of the dead and of all kinds of filth. So you also on the outside look righteous to others, but inside you are full of hypocrisy and lawlessness" (vv. 27-28).

In short, pretty on the outside, filthy no the inside.

“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you build the tombs of the prophets and decorate the graves of the righteous, and you say, ‘If we had lived in the days of our ancestors, we would not have taken part with them in shedding the blood of the prophets.’ Thus you testify against yourselves that you are descendants of those who murdered the prophets" (vv. 29-31).

In short, you’re not like the prophets of old, you’re like those who killed them.

Righteousness and humility. Doing justice, loving kindness, walking humbly with God. Jesus calls us to task. Jesus calls us to be more than we appear to be. Jesus calls us to really be born again, changed into His likeness. We all have a long way to go.


All Scripture quotes are from the New Revised Standard Version. The Thomas R. Kelly quote is from A Testament of Devotion (New York: Harper & Row, 1941), 62.