Woe to the Pharisees, pt 1: Humility vs. Hypocrisy

Posted: January 28, 2013 in Matthew

Matthew 23:1-12, “Woe to the Pharisees, pt 1: Humility vs. Hypocrisy”

“What a hypocrite!”  Ever hear that about the church, or think it yourself?  It seems that before we come to faith in Christ, the only news we ever hear about the church are those who have fallen and failed.  We hear about the disgraced evangelists, or the immoral pastors, or any number of Christians who don’t seem to live up to the name.  Worse yet, so often the folks we read about are those who preached the hardest against the particular sin in which they fell.  They demanded holiness of others, but did not hesitate to engage in the same sin behind closed doors.

What we read about in the papers could easily be described by Jesus as He denounces the Pharisees.  The Pharisees were known for their hyper-legalism, and their hypocritical disregard for what they demanded of others.  We even have a word in the English language named expressly for them: “pharisaical.”  Miriam-Webster defines it as: “marked by hypocritical censorious self-righteousness.”  That describes the Pharisees of Jesus’ day perfectly.

Of course what describes the Pharisees is not supposed to be what describes the church.  Those who have been saved and forgiven by the Lord Jesus Christ ought to be vastly different than the Pharisees; in fact, we ought to be precisely the opposite.  Instead of hypocritical, we are to be humble.  And we will be humble when we keep our eyes firmly fixed upon our Lord Jesus.

Matthew 23 contains some of the harshest words in all of the New Testament, and for good reason.  Jesus is at the end of His earthly ministry, just days away from the cross.  For three years He has proclaimed the coming Kingdom of God and the need to repent and humbly receive the Messiah as King.  He has demonstrated it through wisdom, teaching, and acts of miraculous power.  Being as versed in the Scriptures as they were, the Pharisees ought to have been the first to recognize Jesus as the Christ, yet they opposed Him constantly.  They were so wrapped up in themselves and the traditions of men that they failed to see the One that they proclaimed to worship as God.  In fact, they had turned against the Messiah and were plotting His death.  They needed a wake-up call, and Jesus was about to give it to them.

But before He does, Jesus speaks to the people.  In one sense, the Pharisees were a good example: a good example of what NOT to do.  They were hypocritical, when they were supposed to be humble.

Matthew 23:1–12
1 Then Jesus spoke to the multitudes and to His disciples, 2 saying: “The scribes and the Pharisees sit in Moses’ seat.

  1. Notice to whom Jesus is speaking.  He will certainly turn His attention to the Pharisees, but for now, He addresses the people who will be witnessing everything else He is about to say.  All the crowds had been witness to the various tests that the Pharisees, Sadducees, scribes, and Herodians had brought to Jesus, and they had also been witness to the fact that Jesus shut them all down.  They had seen all of this interaction take place, and they also would be witness to the woes that Jesus will proclaim.  Surely not everyone listening to Jesus at this time had faith in Him as the Messiah (the number included the multitudes and the disciples), but all of them needed to hear what Jesus was about to tell the Pharisees.
    1. People need to be told about theological error & false teachers.  It would be easy for some people to read the harsh words of Jesus in Mt 23 and wonder where all of the love & grace might be.  After all, in our mental pictures of Jesus, we don’t often think of Him calling people “hypocrites, blind guides, whitewashed tombs, brood of vipers, etc.”  Again, these are some of the harshest words in all of the NT from the mouth of the Lord Jesus, and yet they were quite necessary.  Why?  Because people need to be warned about false teachers.  False teachers need to be warned of their own guilt.  The word of God is not something to play with or tamper.  It is not something that can be added to by men, nor something that can be altered to fit someone’s personal preference.  After all, when it comes to the word of God, eternity hangs in the balance for the hearers.  To read what God says about the reality of our sinfulness, our need for forgiveness, and the only way to receive that forgiveness is not some trivial matter left for the academic debates of ivory towers; it’s of critical importance to everyone!  For false teachers to go around spewing their own personal spin on the Scriptures is profoundly dangerous to those who hear them.  People need to be warned.  (Similar warnings are found throughout the NT…)
    2. It is so important that we are grounded in the word of God!  Not for what we think the Bible says, but for what it actually does say.  There will be no lack of people who will stand in a position of authority and start proclaiming their own spin upon the word of God.  They will say how blessing and prosperity will come to those who send all their money to the teacher.  They will say how humans can be like little gods through the power of our faith.  They will say how the blood of Jesus is not enough to save, but that people need to engage in all sorts of religious ritual.  They will teach that our minds need to be emptied in order to join the great consciousness of God.  There is no lack of false teaching in our culture today!  The Bible would warn us away from those things, and teach us the truth of what God truly does say.  But we need to be IN the Scriptures in order to know it.  Read the word!  Be Bereans!
  2. Jesus will criticize the Pharisees, but first He affirms their position of authority.  They sit (or had been seated) in “Moses’ seat.”  Moses had been the premier teacher of Israel, and opened up the word of God to the people, giving them the first 5 books of the Bible.  God continued to give prophets and judges to the nation in order to teach the people (some of whom they listened to more than others), and the people were expected to listen to them in order to hear the word of God.  Of course, there was no official position of “Moses’ seat” given in the Scriptures – the idea is that of authority.  Like a professor at a university might have a certain “chair” or position of teaching, so the Pharisees were seen by the people in this light.  Jesus never really endorses their teaching, but He does acknowledge the fact that the people needed teachers, and the Pharisees (as a whole) fit this role.
    1. It’s a good reminder that Jesus was speaking to Jews.  There is no one in the NT church that sits in Moses’ seat, because we do not sit under Moses.  Jesus is the head of the church; not Moses.  That’s not to say that Jesus has not put organization into His church – He has!  When establishing the church, He gave apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors & teachers (Eph 4:11) – this is how God designed the church to be built up for the work of the ministry.  There is order within the church as we all submit to one another in our common submission to Christ.  But there is not the same relationship between a pastor and his congregation as there is between Moses and Israel.  Pastors are shepherds, but they are all under-shepherds submitted to the same Lord Jesus as everyone else.  Jesus alone is our Chief Shepherd, and there is no separation between Him and His people.  Moses was the intermediary between God and Israel; Jesus Himself is our mediator.

3 Therefore whatever they tell you to observe, that observe and do, but do not do according to their works; for they say, and do not do.

  1. Not only does Jesus affirm the Pharisee’s position, He affirms that the people were indeed to listen to what the Pharisees taught & apply it.  What seems to be so unusual about this is that Jesus has (and is about to do so again) denounced the teaching of the Pharisees.  There is no doubt that Jesus saw the Pharisees’ teaching as wrongheaded and even harmful.  How is it, then that Jesus could explicitly tell the people observe whatever it is the Pharisees told them to do?  Obviously God is a God of order, and He wants people to submit to earthly authorities whenever possible.  That was true for the Jews, as well as for the Church.  We might not always agree with what the authorities over us do or say, but whenever we can submit to those authorities and still be faithful in our obedience to God, we are to do so.  Yet there seems to be something more going on here with Jesus and the Pharisees.  Yes, Jesus maintains the order in the Jewish society, but He seems to be using the position of the Pharisees to highlight even more their hypocrisy.  As if He is saying, “Look at these people here – they are the teachers & the people everyone is supposed to listen to.  They could not be more hypocritical if they tried!”  Some scholars suggest that Jesus is employing harsh irony here, almost to the point of sarcasm.  Obviously we cannot hear Jesus’ tone of voice (in which sarcasm could be easily identified), but that is certainly a possibility.
  2. Jesus does give a qualification here, which was sadly necessary.  The people were to do as the Pharisees taught, but not as the Pharisees did.  The people were to follow their teaching, but not their example.  Why?  The Pharisees were hypocrites.  What they demanded of others, they themselves did not do. They pretended to be the very paragon of holiness, upholding the word of God – whereas in reality they were terrible sinners themselves, tearing down the Scriptures.  Outwardly to others they would have appeared to be righteous, but inwardly they were filled with pride and acted directly opposite to what God would have had them to do.
    1. This is what hypocrisy is.  Hypocrisy is not the Christian who has failed.  After all, every Christian fails from time to time – none of us are sinless, apart from Christ.  Hypocrisy is being two-faced.  It’s putting on our Christian mask to some & our worldly mask to others.  It’s to demand one set of standards for someone else, and to hold ourselves to something entirely different.  Hypocrisy is based in lies (whether intentional or not), and it is something completely opposed to the truth of Jesus.
    2. Beware that the hypocrisy of others would keep you from following Jesus as Lord.  So many people use this as an excuse today.  “Oh, I’d be a Christian if the church wasn’t full of so many hypocrites!”  Yes, there are hypocrites within the church (just as there are hypocrites everywhere).  But that hypocrites exist does not change the truth of the Scriptures.  What God says is true, is still indeed true, despite whether or not anyone follows it accurately.  Unfortunately, hypocritical teachers abound.  If we waited to obey the word of God until we finally found a teacher that was completely free from hypocrisy, we might never obey!  And we would still have only ourselves to blame.  God will hold hypocritical teachers accountable for what they have taught, but He will also hold us accountable for what we have heard and for our own actions.  When standing before God at the Judgment, not a single person will be able to point the finger at someone else, claiming, “It’s his fault!”  The only thing stopping you from following Jesus as Lord is your own sin & pride; that’s what needs to be dealt with & the only person who can do that is you.
  3. The sad thing is that it seems the Pharisees may have been blinded to their own hypocrisy.  They were so consumed with themselves, lost in what they were doing that truly believed that they were righteous.  The apostle Paul was a Pharisee, and prior to encountering Jesus on the road to Damascus, he considered himself blameless concerning the righteousness that is found in the law (Phil 4:6).  Most likely all the Pharisees thought the same way about themselves.  Of course, this is one of the reasons that Jesus gets so blunt in this passage.  They needed a wake-up call, and thus far they had ignored the gentleness of Jesus.  Now their Messiah comes at them with the harshest rebuke yet – still loving, but a tough love that was needed in order to get their attention.
    1. Sometimes we need this kind of rebuke from the Lord.  Sometimes we need the hand of God to sting a bit in order for us to listen.  God loves us too much to allow us to go down a path that leads to destruction, and not do anything about it.  He will bring consequences into our lives – He will bring rebuke from the Scriptures – He will bring people alongside us to tell us the truth, and more.  Especially for those who are His children through Jesus Christ.  God loves us as our Heavenly Father, and He will lovingly discipline us when necessary.  The fact that Jesus was still reaching out to the Pharisees (even in this harsh rebuke) was evidence of His love for them; likewise for us when God disciplines us.

4 For they bind heavy burdens, hard to bear, and lay them on men’s shoulders; but they themselves will not move them with one of their fingers.

  1. Jesus will detail much more when He actually addresses the Pharisees, but here is one example of their hypocrisy.  Actually, it seems to be a sufficient summary of what they taught & did.  They taught that people ought to do much work, but they themselves were not willing to do any.  They did not hesitate to lay much weight upon other people, but did nothing to help them bear the load.  The legalistic traditions suffocated the people, turning what ought to have been a joyful loving relationship with God the Father into worrisome burdens – always wondering if they had done enough to make themselves righteous in God’s sight, never having any true assurance of relationship with Him.  It was always about doing more and trusting in their own works, rather than resting in the love and grace of God.
  2. By its very nature, legalism is binding.  It was that way for the Jews, and it is still that way for the church.  The Church has always struggled against the false gospel of legalism, from the teaching of the Judaizers (those who thought Gentiles needed to become good Jews before they could become good Christians) to today.  There are many who teach that Christians can never truly have assurance of eternal life because there are always more works to accomplish.  Unless you do the right works at the right time, you might still die in your sins.  Or they teach that people can be saved one moment, and lost the next – as if we could jump in & out of the covenant and grace of God.  Thus the teaching of the Bible that ought to bring great assurance to us becomes something that we fear, never knowing if God truly does love us and is faithful to His promises.
  3. The word of God is not supposed to be burdensome!  The promises of God are not supposed to bind us; they free us!  What the Pharisees did was just the opposite of what Jesus says that He will do.  Matthew 11:28–30, "(28) Come to Me, all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. (29) Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. (30) For My yoke is easy and My burden is light." []  The Pharisees did not lift a finger to help others, but Jesus is the One who bears our load with us.  He is the One who has taken the weight, and He walks side-by-side with us.  Jesus frees us to love God with everything that we are, unweighted by the burdens of sin and self-righteousness.  He makes us free to follow Him!

5 But all their works they do to be seen by men. They make their phylacteries broad and enlarge the borders of their garments.

  1. The Pharisees wanted burdens for others, but honor for themselves.  This is seen first in what they did for themselves, which Jesus details.  They did a lot of things outwardly, and all of them were done to make themselves look better in the eyes of others.  Jesus seemed to refer to much of this in the Sermon on the Mount.  There were people who sounded a trumpet to call attention to their charitable deeds – there were people stood on the corner to the street to call attention to their prayers – there were people who took great pains to ensure everyone knew they were fasting…all of this was hypocrisy because it was done with an eye towards men & not God.  It was not done in purity and humbleness of heart, but rather with pride to be seen as “spiritual” by others.  This is what the Pharisees did, and Jesus calls them out on a few specific instances.
  2. They made large “phylacteries.”  These were leather pouches that would hold certain Scriptures in them, and they would be placed on their hands and tied around their foreheads.  The idea was an attempt at a literal fulfillment of the instruction of God to keep the word of God in front of them at all times, bound on their hands & as frontlets between their eyes (Deut 6:8).  Of course, the idea was meant to be symbolic, showing the importance and priority of the Scripture, but the Jews found a way of taking it to the extreme, and apparently the Pharisees did even more than that in the size of the phylactery.  A phylactery wasn’t a proof that they had actually read the word of God; it was an outward show to others what they supposedly thought of the word of God.  They could put them on as decorations every day, and never actually read the Scripture contained in them.  They might not even know what was held in them, much less the rest of the Bible.
    1. Christians can easily fall into this same practice.  They might buy the biggest study Bibles they can find, but never read them.  Or they have loads of Scripture memorized (which they proudly show off to others), but never apply it.  That is the heart of the Pharisee.  That’s the point that the Bible becomes a prop, rather than a priority.  That’s not the reason God gave us His word.
  3. They enlarged “the borders of their garments.”  This likely dealt with the fringe that the Law of Moses commanded (Num 15:38).  Originally, the tassels on the garments of the Israelites was to be a reminder that they were different from the nations around them, and to help them remember the commands the Lord had given them, and the covenant He had made with them.  By the time of the Pharisees, it became something totally different. The idea with the Pharisees is that they showed off how religious they were (or pretended to be) by wearing super-religious looking clothing.  They didn’t just have fringe – they had LOTS of fringe.  They believed their holiness was proven by their outward appearance & it made them better than others.
    1. Again, Christians can fall into the same thing.  We may not wear prayer shawls today or have fringe sewn onto our garments (though some Christians seem to do this), but we’ll do it in more modern ways.  We show off our spirituality by our t-shirts, our bumper stickers, our radio stations, etc.  Of course none of those things are bad, but if those outward things are the extent of our faith in Christ, then something’s wrong.  If these things are used to brag about our faith in Christ, then something’s wrong.  Jesus called us to be His witnesses; not to be prideful in His name.

6 They love the best places at feasts, the best seats in the synagogues, 7 greetings in the marketplaces, and to be called by men, ‘Rabbi, Rabbi.’

  1. Not only did they honor themselves, they sought to be honored by others.  Be it at the best dinners, or to be publicly recognized by others in the open markets.  They loved the applause and the respect of men. …  The best seats in the synagogues were the seats that were set aside for special guests and teachers (many times closest to the Torah scrolls), and those were the seats the Pharisees demanded.  They wanted to be recognized by everyone around just for showing up.  (Not unlike Christian leaders today who demand to be publicly acknowledged at every meeting they attend…)
  2. Question: What’s wrong with being called “Rabbi?”  After all, many of them were rabbis.  That was the position in which they served.  Why not be called by the title?  Nothing is inherently wrong with a Pharisee being a rabbi – the problem comes in how they desired the title and honor more than the responsibility.  Instead of teaching the heart of God through the Scriptures, they desired to be seen as the true spiritual authority.  They wanted everyone to know they were the educated, elite ones, and thus the title “rabbi” wasn’t simply given out of respect; it was expected to be said of them.

8 But you, do not be called ‘Rabbi’; for One is your Teacher, the Christ, and you are all brethren.

  1. After describing the Pharisees to the people, Jesus brings correction.  The Pharisees loved to be called “Rabbi,” but Jesus tells the people not to be called “Rabbi.”  Again, there isn’t anything necessarily wrong with the title; the problem is with the attitude that seeks it out. 
  2. Who is the premier Rabbi?  Jesus.  Jesus is our Teacher.  That’s not to say that Jesus doesn’t use other people to teach us, but ultimately other teachers are supposed to point us back to Christ.  Our life is in Him – He Himself is the way, the truth, and the life (Jn 14:6).  If we are trying to find our source of truth anywhere else, we’re going to be gravely disappointed.  After all, He alone has the words of eternal life – where else would we go? (Jn 6:68)  Worse yet, if we try to get people to look at US as the source of truth, we’re going to greatly deceive many.  No one gets to heaven by following a man; we need follow one specific Man – the Man, Christ Jesus.
  3. If Jesus is our teacher, then all of the rest of us are on the same level.  We are “all brethren.”  We are all disciples of the same Master.  Sometimes we lose sight of this within the church.  There is an artificial distinction placed between the “clergy” and the “laity,” as if those who serve in an official capacity within a local church congregation are somehow in a closer relationship with Jesus than anyone else.  Not true!  Theological education does not make a seminary professor any more saved than a 5-year old who comes to Christ.  Jesus does away with those false distinctions.  We are all one in Christ Jesus (Gal 3:28) – together, we are a royal priesthood and a holy nation (1 Pet 2:9).  Those promises are not just for a few; they are for all who are in Christ.

9 Do not call anyone on earth your father; for One is your Father, He who is in heaven.

  1. Does Jesus really mean we’re not even to call our dads “Father”?  No.  That role is assumed.  Obviously we are to honor our fathers and mothers, and Jesus does not here abrogate the 5th commandment.  The point is not to give unnecessary honor to a person who is not in that role.  We’re not to look to other men to give us spiritual birth and nourishment.  Why?  That alone comes from God the Father.
  2. God is our Father, and He is glorious!  Never lose the amazement at being made a child of the Living God.  You who were once His enemies have now been made His sons & daughters!

10 And do not be called teachers; for One is your Teacher, the Christ.

  1. Jesus basically repeats here what He instructed in vs. 8.  A rabbi is an elevated teacher – a guide to spiritual matters.  What we need in this area, we find in Christ. Is it wrong to be a teacher?  No.  The rest of the NT is clear on that matter.  The man who desires to be a bishop desires a good work (1 Tim 3:1).  God calls certain people to be teachers within the church, and that is a necessary thing.  God uses people to instruct other people in His word.  He uses older women to instruct younger women, older men to instruct younger men (Titus 2), and has gifted all sorts of people to serve the greater body of Christ in this way.  This is God’s gift to the church to help us grow, and it is good.  He worked similarly among the Jews, and the Pharisees saw themselves in that role.
  2. Again, the problem here is with attitude.  The Pharisees wanted to be teachers because of their pride.  That’s the same issue that needs to be dealt with among those of us in the church.  Do you desire to be a teacher or a leader among others simply because you desire glory?  Because you want to be honored by others?  IOW, because you want that which only belongs to God?  Don’t rush into positions of leadership…  Don’t rush to teach, for teachers are held to a stricter judgment. (Jas 3:1)

11 But he who is greatest among you shall be your servant.

  1. Jesus has used this kind of paradox before.  After encountering the rich young ruler who refused to leave everything to follow Christ, Peter asked Jesus about what the disciples would receive since they had left everything behind.  Jesus told him of the promises of eternal life that awaited them, and the reward of sharing the inheritance of Christ.  In contrast with the young ruler, Jesus told Peter that “many who are first will be last, and the last first.” (Mt. 19:30)  Yet the disciples were not to get cocky about those promises.  He went on to describe this idea in a parable showing a landowner who repeatedly hired workers throughout the day, yet gave them all the same reward in the end.  Why?  Because “the last will be first, and the first last.” (Mt. 20:16)  Humility was key!  Jesus seeks out those who are considered the foolish things of the world and grants us incredible grace and immeasurable promises.  Yet this is not something to take for granted or take in vanity.  We are to remain humble.  Why?  Because that is what our Lord Jesus examples for us.  Some time after Jesus had taught this principle of humility, it seemed that His disciples forgot it all.  It went in one ear & out the other as the sons of Zebedee (James and John) tried to use their mother to jockey for political position in the kingdom of God.  Everyone was upset, and Jesus chastised them all.  Matthew 20:25–28, "(25) But Jesus called them to Himself and said, “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and those who are great exercise authority over them. (26) Yet it shall not be so among you; but whoever desires to become great among you, let him be your servant. (27) And whoever desires to be first among you, let him be your slave— (28) just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many.”" []  Will Jesus rule the world?  Absolutely!  But there is something else that Jesus came to do first: be sacrificed as a ransom for it.  There was an infinite payment due because of the sin of mankind.  We were enslaved to sin and death, and the only way we could be freed is if the ransom was paid.  Jesus paid that price with His own blood.  Yes, Jesus had every right to rule, but first He came in ultimate service.
  2. What Jesus said in private to the disciples in Ch 20, He says to all who are listening (disciples, multitudes, Pharisees alike) in Ch 23.  The one who is great (or desires to be great) must first serve.  Jesus isn’t speaking of an occasional act of service, or even the Boy Scout’s “doing a good deed daily,” but rather a life characterized by service.  The greatest among them would be known as a “servant” (διάκονος).  What a contrast with the Pharisees!  The Pharisees elevated themselves in their pride.  They loved the positions of honor and authority.  From an outside perspective, it would have seemed that the Pharisees were the very epitome of Judaism.  They were experts in the Law of Moses, zealous for their tradition, and respected by all around them.  Yet Jesus comes out and tells the people not only to not follow the example of the Pharisees, but to be exactly the opposite of them!  Instead of prideful, the people were to be humble.  Greatness would not be defined by God as those who loved the adoration of men, but those who consistently serve others in humility. 
  3. That isn’t only for the Jews; this is true for us as well.  Instead of seeking honor as our goal, we are to actively serve others in the name of Christ.

12 And whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.

  1. Just as vs. 11 might sound familiar, so might vs. 12.  Jesus said much the same thing to His disciples earlier in Ch 18.  The disciples were arguing about who would be greatest in the kingdom (seemingly a common argument for them) when Jesus called a little child among them and used the child as an illustration.  If they even were going to see the kingdom of heaven, they must first become like that little child.  Matthew 18:4, "Therefore whoever humbles himself as this little child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven." []  Entrance into the kingdom of God starts with humility!  We must first recognize our own inability – our own poverty of spirit, understanding that we come to God as beggars in need of grace and forgiveness.  It’s at that point that God elevates us through His grace!  We who were dead in our sins receive a new birth of the Holy Spirit – we are given the spirit of adoption to become children of God – we are given an inheritance we never deserved, and a place in the kingdom we could never earn on our own.  God exalts the humble!
  2. God will also humble the exalted.  The person who seeks in their pride to exalt themselves over others will find that they cannot exalt themselves in the one area in which it truly matters.  The Pharisees had exalted themselves over the people – they had sat themselves in Moses’ seat, and expected the people to honor them.  They may have received this honor now, but their honor was strictly temporary.  It would be stripped from them in the coming days and years (specifically at the destruction of Jerusalem in 70AD), and Jesus is about to go on to warn them of this coming judgment.
  3. Understand that what Jesus says about exaltation and humility has always been true.  Those who lifted themselves up in their pride repeatedly showed themselves to be humbled by God.  When Israel had grown prideful, God allowed them to be disciplined by the nations.  When Pharoah asserted his pride before God, God humbled Egypt by sending the plagues, and causing Israel to go free.  As far back as Genesis, it was dramatically seen at the Tower of Babel, when mankind grew so prideful that they believed they could build a tower to heaven and overthrow God.  God responded by confusing their languages, and communication has never been the same since.  Even beyond humanity, we see the humiliation of the exalted in Satan.  Apparently there had never been an angelic being such as he.  Known as Lucifer, he was beautiful in appearance, covered in precious stones.  His beauty caused him to be filled with pride to the point that he believed he could overthrow God (Eze 28).  He wanted to exalt his throne above the stars of God and be like God (Isa 14:13-14).  There would have been no being in all creation more powerful than Satan.  Yet even this being in all his self-exalted pride was humbled by God.  Jesus had seen Satan fall like lightning from heaven (Lk 10:18) when God cast him down.  The highly exalted angel was powerfully humbled by God, cast out of heaven, doomed to an unchangeable future in the lake of fire when God’s plan was complete.  If God does not withhold that kind of judgment from Satan, then surely He will not withhold it from humans who rise up against Him in pride.  That’s what the Pharisees had done.  They had supplanted the word of God with their own legalistic traditions, and though they supposedly acted in the name of God in front of the people, they were really exalting themselves as the true authority thereby exalting themselves over God’s authority in the written word.  Because of their self-exaltation, they would experience what it is like to be humbled by God.
  4. Yet what does God do for those who are already humble?  Specifically, what does God do for those who have willingly humbled themselves?  He lifts them up – He exalts them.  Herein is the good news of the gospel of Jesus Christ!  This is what happened with Jesus… This is what He does for us!

Jesus is going to rip into the Pharisees (rightly so!), but before He does, He speaks to the people.  Don’t be like the hypocrites!  Don’t be like the Pharisees!  They may have a position of authority, but they do not represent the heart of God.  They seek legalistic burdens for others, but show no compassion to help them bear the load.  They wanted their own place of honor, but did not seek the honor of God.  They were lost in their pride, and they became the blind leading the blind.

How not to be a hypocrite?  Stay humble before God.  Instead of seeking your own glory, seek the glory of God.  Be known as a servant, rather than asking to be served.  IOW, follow the example of our Lord Jesus.

If there is one reason that the church is so often thought of as hypocritical, it’s because we often do not look like the Lord Jesus that we claim to follow.  Truth is proclaimed, without the context of love that surrounds it.  Holiness is rightly upheld, often without the humility that recognizes that it only comes from God.  The church easily takes on the characteristics of the Pharisees, to our own detriment.

That’s not what Jesus would have for us!  He would have us worship God in spirit and truth, and part of that is following Him in humility.  The good news is that we have the most wonderful Person of all to follow!  Jesus is our Teacher, our Rabbi, our Source of truth.  Almighty God is our Heavenly Father.  When we rightly look to Him, then it becomes increasingly difficult for us to build ourselves up in pride.

Maybe this is an area in which you’ve been personally struggling.  You’ve felt the swelling of pride in your life as you’ve begun to look down at others.  This is the time you need to repent.  Recognize your own sinfulness and humble yourself, before God takes the reins and has to humble you in discipline.

Or maybe you’ve felt the oppression of someone else laying legalistic burdens upon you.  You once walked with the Lord Jesus in joy, and now life as a Christian has become a terrible weight.  You never feel as if you’re good enough or sufficient, and you think you are a failure at everything that a Christian is supposed to be.  Know that Jesus came to free you from those things!  It is in Jesus’ grace that He reaches out to us.


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