Imagine practicing all week long for the biggest game of the season. You have stayed in the gym countless extra hours to perfect your jump shot and increase your percentage from the charity stripe. Once game time comes, you’re in the zone and ready to go. After the starting lineups are announced, the opposing coach walks up to your coach and the refs and announces his team is going to give you the win. What?! Being the way to super overcompetitive person that I am, I want to work for a dub, not just be given one.
God shot that perspective down this morning. Man, think about His grace. There is nothing I can do to earn my way to heaven. I can’t follow enough rules, I can’t do enough community service, I can’t solve world hunger…..nothing. The only thing that gets me there is God’s saving grace through the death and resurrection of His Son.
Countless times I have studied and been taught the Beatitudes in Matthew 5. Its “counterpart” is found in Matthew 23 entitled the Seven Woes. The religious leaders are teaching the people about the Bible, but their actions aren’t matching their words.
So practice and observe whatever they tell you – but not what they do. For they preach, but do not practice. Matthew 23:3
Right off the bat in this passage, what am I doing? Are my actions matching my words?
Backing up, let’s compare the first seven Beatitudes with the woes.
Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. // But woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you shut the kingdom of heaven in people’s faces. For you neither enter yourselves or allow those who would enter go in.
The first says that you are nothing without God’s grace. The latter says the church leaders are false leaders who have drawn the people away from the kingdom of heaven instead of toward it.
Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted. // Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you travel across sea and land to make a single proselyte, and when he becomes a proselyte, you make him twice as much a child of hell as yourselves.
The first discusses the loss resulting fro sin that should lead to mourning and a longing for God’s forgiveness and healing. The latter is about the manner in which the teachers sough converts, only to place them under the burdensome weight of many requirements in their extrabiblical traditions.
Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth. // Woe to you, blind guides, who say, “If anyone swears by the temple, it is nothing, but if anyone swears by the gold of the temple, he is bound by his oath.”
The first discuses those who do not assert themselves over others in order to further their own agendas in their own strength because they trust in God to direct the outcome. The latter is about the leaders focus on misguided superficial distinctions an overlook the higher principles of the law.
Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied. // Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you tithe mint and dill and cumin, and have neglected the weighteir matters of the law: justice and mercy and faithfulness.
The first is about recognizing that God is the ultimate source of real righteousness, so they long for his righteous character to be evident in people’s lives on earth. The latter is about the teachers stressing the small details while overlooking the far important matters. They are straining the small bugs from their wine while swallowing a camel, the largest animal they knew of.
Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy. // Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you clean the outside of the cup and the plate, but inside they are full of greed and self-indulgence.
The first is about showing mercy and receiving it in the end. The latter is about the teachers seeking external purity while becoming oblivious to the corrupt internal condition of their hearts.
Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God. // Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you are like the whitewashed tombs, which outwardly appear beautiful, but within are full of dead people’s bones and all uncleanness.
The first is about the pursuit of purity and uprightness and how it affects every area of life because purity of heart is most important. The latter discusses the tombs that on the outside were very beautiful held death and decay on the inside.
Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God. // Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you build the tombs of the prophets and decorate the monuments of the righteous…we would not have taken part with them in shedding the blood of the prophets.
The first is about those who promote God’s messianic peace and are called sons of God because they reflect the character of their heavenly Father. The latter is about those people plotting Jesus’ death.
Alrighty, back to Matthew 23. Who are the scribes and Pharisees Jesus is calling out? The Sanhedrin was a religious ruling body of 72 men. There were two different groups in it: the Sadducees and Pharisees. They did not get along, at all. The Sadducees were very liberal, and the Pharisees were very conservative. If you were a Sadducee, it meant you were born into that position. If you were a Pharisee it was not about your family but your hard work. Ok, cool. What is a hypocrite? We call people these all the time, but what does it really mean? The word comes from Greek ancient classical theater; Greek actors were called hypocrites. One man would have many different roles and wear certain masks for each one.
They were too busy following the rules rather than Jesus. What people see didn’t reflect who they were.
They do all their deeds to be seen by others. Matthew 23:5
Who do you do your deeds for? I wish I could say I did them all in following Jesus, but I do them for the acceptance for others also. Plus, I am never vulnerable about my faith. I put on a mask to make it look like I’m the perfect Christian and everything is running smoothly when on the inside that is not the case. But man, Jesus does not expect His followers to be perfect but to be authentic. He says in 2 Corinthians 12:9 that He is made perfect in my weakness.
“We try and do enough to make up for our mistakes and earn God’s favor. Instead of following Christ we are determined to make our own way. The keyword for grace is “done.” Our punishment was taken by Christ. He has made a way where there was no way so we live with a freedom and an appreciation for what has been done. Fans are about the do, but followers celebrate the done.”
So, what are you? Are you a Sadducee or a Pharisee?
Sadducee. Were you born into faith but never really chose it? You never truly fell in love with Jesus? It has always been more about honoring your heritage than surrendering your heart?
Pharisee. Do you measure your faith by your hard work at following the law? How is your inside? Does it match the perfect facade you are carrying on the outside? Saying and doing the right things aren’t enough. He wants your all.
Jesus came to free us from religion, but we must obey Him. That obedience comes from the inside out. What we do or don’t comes from who we are as followers of Jesus.
Man, it is time to stop worrying about the appearance and focus on what truly counts, the inside. It is time to stop putting on a show for others and live genuinely for the Savior.