Matt 23:23 Failing to See God’s Hand 1/06/2019 ßà
#1. Failing to See God’s Dwelling Place (Matt 23:16-17, Isa 56:10, Matt 15:14, 1Cor 3:10-13)
#2. Failing to See the Weightier Matters of the Law (Matt 23:23, 9:13, Mic 6:8, Eph 2:8, Prov 21:3)
#3. Failing to See that Murder Is Great Sin (Matt 23:24, John 18:28, 40)
Please open your Bibles to the Gospel According to Matthew, Matt 23:16 (2X). Last week we have seen from the first three woes in this chapter that the Lord is the Avenger of widows. And we have seen how we must understand the words that are written here. For we must not seek to understand these passages from the culture of those days, or from the historical evidence of the wickedness of the scribes and Pharisees in those days, or by staring at the ceiling and arrive at some logical conclusions about the lifestyle of the scribes and Pharisees of those days. NO! We must understand these words from what we can find in the Bible on how we must understand this. And the first thing we arrive at is that the Lord Jesus spoke in parables, and He spoke about the Gospel, the Good News of salvation, and without a parable He did not speak unto the people. Therefore, when we read some puzzling passages in the Bible, passages that do not seem to connect with the Gospel, we need to ask ourselves why did God put these words in the context where we find them. Certainly God is not giving us just a piece of history. We are not saved by believing just a piece of history. The scribes and Pharisees believed that and they were not saved. Let us remember what we find in James 2:19, “Thou believest that there is one God; thou doest well: the devils also believe, and tremble”. The devils also believe in one God. They believe more than the atheists and agnostics of this world believe, whom God declares that they are fools. But the devils tremble, for they are going to Hell for sure. So, let us read about the next three woes in Matt 23:16
Mt 23:16-24 Woe unto you, ye blind guides, which say, Whosoever shall swear by the temple, it is nothing; but whosoever shall swear by the gold of the temple, he is a debtor! Ye fools and blind: for whether is greater, the gold, or the temple that sanctifieth the gold? And, Whosoever shall swear by the altar, it is nothing; but whosoever sweareth by the gift that is upon it, he is guilty. Ye fools and blind: for whether is greater, the gift, or the altar that sanctifieth the gift? Whoso therefore shall swear by the altar, sweareth by it, and by all things thereon. And whoso shall swear by the temple, sweareth by it, and by him that dwelleth therein. And he that shall swear by heaven, sweareth by the throne of God, and by him that sitteth thereon. Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye pay tithe of mint and anise and cummin, and have omitted the weightier matters of the law, judgment, mercy, and faith: these ought ye to have done, and not to leave the other undone. Ye blind guides, which strain at a gnat, and swallow a camel.
What is the Lord communicating to us here in these nine verses? We can see that the Lord Jesus has woven some humor in these verses by pointing to some ridiculous situations generated by the faith of these scribes and Pharisees, such as straining out a gnat but swallowing a camel. And in the spiritual sense that was indeed what these religious leaders of the Jews were doing. They were trying to avoid some sins, which in God’s eyes were as small as a gnat, but they were ignoring other sins, which in God’s eyes were as large as a camel. And so, the first thing we see here is that the Lord wrote this passage as a series of parables. For if you look at the first two verses, Matt 23:16-17, it does not seem
to connect with the Gospel until we look at these verses as written in the form of a parable. They were:
#1. Failing to See God’s Dwelling Place (Matt 23:16-17, Isa 56:10, Matt 15:14, 1Cor 3:10-13)
Mt 23:16 Woe unto you, ye blind guides, which say, Whosoever shall swear by the temple, it is nothing; but whosoever shall swear by the gold of the temple, he is a debtor!
Mt 23:17 Ye fools and blind: for whether is greater, the gold, or the temple that sanctifieth the gold?
Is this a passage about the topic of swearing? Please put a sticker here in Matt 23, for we will be returning there many times, and please turn to the First Epistle to the Corinthians, 1Cor 3:10 (2X). While you are turning there, let us hear what the Lord is saying in the OT about these leaders of the Jews, the scribes and Pharisees, in Isa 56:10, “His watchmen are blind: they are all ignorant, they are all dumb dogs, they cannot bark; sleeping, lying down, loving to slumber”. But God is not saying this only about the scribes and Pharisees. If we follow the trend in the NT church, such as described in Rev 13, and 14, and 17, and 18, we see that the church is also going after the works gospels of the leaders of the Jews. And that is why the Lord Jesus says in the NT, in Matt 15:14, “Let them alone: they be blind leaders of the blind. And if the blind lead the blind, both shall fall into the ditch”. The reason God wrote so much about idolatry and apostacy in OT Israel is because the NT church is going to repeat these horrible sins. The Lord is not giving us here some absolutes about forbidding to swear, for even the apostle Paul several times and in the most solemn language takes God to witness that he spoke and wrote the truth. But the Lord is teaching us that the scribes and Pharisees have introduced here some subtle distinctions about the sanctity of oaths; distinctions that were invented only to promote their own greedy purposes. This occurred in the history of the nation of Israel. But history is not the main issue here. The main issue is that the Jews were failing to see God’s dwelling place. The OT temple was not a box in which God dwelt, but it was only a type of the real dwelling place of God. The NT teaches us that God dwells in the souls of those whom He saved from sin and the Devil, and has translated into the kingdom of His dear Son. This is the real temple of God, and this is what we need to see wherever we read about the temple in the OT or in the NT. Now, in Matt 23:16-17 we read about the temple, and about the gold that is in the temple. Why does the Lord tell us about the temple and about the gold in the temple? We read in 1Cor 3
1Co 3:10 According to the grace of God which is given unto me, as a wise masterbuilder, I have laid the foundation, and another buildeth thereon. But let every man take heed how he buildeth thereupon.
1Co 3:11 ¶
1Co 3:12 Now if any man build upon this foundation gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, stubble;
1Co 3:13 Every man’s work shall be made manifest: for the day shall declare it, because it shall be revealed by fire; and the fire shall try every man’s work of what sort it is.
When the apostle writes, “I have laid the foundation”, what does he mean? This passage is about church-building, or about teaching new disciples about the true Gospel. In verse 11 he says that the foundation that he laid is the doctrine of Jesus Christ, and everything else concerning Christ crucified. Now verse 12 says that other preachers build upon this doctrine more teachings about the Gospel of Christ. Verse 12 is not speaking about people in the church, for there are only two kinds of people: saved and unsaved. Those who are saved are not distinguished as gold and silver and precious stones, for we are all of equal standing before God. But these building materials stand for the doctrines that are taught by those who are building upon the Epistles of Paul, just like the material of the foundation stands for the doctrine of Christ, and Him crucified. And on the Last Day all doctrines shall be revealed of what sort they are. Please turn again to Matt 23:17 (2X). And so, we can see how ridiculous the teaching of the scribes and Pharisees was. Paraphrased the Lord tells us here, “What is greater, the teaching about Christ in the minds of His people, or the dwelling place of Christ in the souls of His people?” The answer is obvious, for even little children can become the dwelling place of God, without much teaching.
· Failing to See God’s Gift (Matt 23:18-22, Eph 2:8, Rev 11:1-2, Ex 29:37)
The next three verses carry almost the same message. We read in Matt 23:18-20,
Again the Lord has framed this message in parable form. What does the gift represent, and what does the altar represent? Let us begin with the gift. This is not a gift that we have made with our own hands, for all our works are tainted with sin. We cannot offer to God anything that is defiled. This is a gift that God gave to us, and that we are offering back to Him. We all remember the words of Eph 2:8,
Eph 2:8 For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God:
Our faith is not what we conjure up out of ourselves, for God says that our faith is the gift of God. It is through this faith that God communicates to us the truths of Christ crucified, and it is through this faith that we believe these truths. We can know if this truly is the faith that God has given us, for if we believe the whole Bible, the whole counsel of God, then we know that this is not something that we conjured up ourselves, for it is a faith that is totally repugnant to the natural man. Yes, the true Gospel is an offense to the natural man; he will not believe it, he will hate it, and he will fight it even until his last breath. But this is the gift that is on the altar. And what is the altar? Please turn in your Bibles to the Revelation of Jesus Christ, Rev 11:1 (2X). In this chapter God gave the apostle John a vision of the city of Jerusalem and the temple and the altar therein. We must keep in mind that God gave John this vision about 25 years after the literal city of Jerusalem was destroyed by the Romans. And so, there is no more such a city and there is no more such an altar built with hands. But the temple is the church, or in a broader sense, the temple and Jerusalem represent the church of the living God. And Christ Jesus is our altar of atonement and reconciliation in that city of our God. And then we read in Rev 11:1-2,
Re 11:1 And there was given me a reed like unto a rod: and the angel stood, saying, Rise, and measure the temple of God, and the altar, and them that worship therein.
Re 11:2 But the court which is without the temple leave out, and measure it not; for it is given unto the Gentiles: and the holy city shall they tread under foot forty and two months.
What do we see here? God gave us a picture of the NT church as it has degraded throughout the centuries. We must distinguish in this church three different classes of people. There is the false church, the church that has openly rejected the plain truths of the Bible. This false church is by far the greatest fraction of the NT church, and it is represented by the city of Jerusalem outside the temple area. Then there is the show church, which is that part of the church which pretends to believe the great truths of redemption and atonement, but is inwardly hypocritical. They are the tares among the wheat. They go with God’s people to His temple for worship, but they never enter the spiritual sanctuary of the fellowship of God. They remain in the outer court. Finally, there are the real spiritual people of God, the invisible church, the body of Christ, the real temple and sanctuary proper, where God dwells, and where the people worship at the altar of Christ in spirit and in truth. They are represented by the temple which John must measure in Rev 11:2. We will not continue to expand on this picture of the church, for our focus is on the altar. The altar represents Christ. Let me just touch on the words of Ex 29:37, where we read,
Ex 29:37 Seven days thou shalt make an atonement for the altar, and sanctify it; and it shall be an altar most holy: whatsoever toucheth the altar shall be holy.
Even though this OT altar is only a type of the Lord Jesus Christ, we are struck by the words, “it shall be an altar most holy: whatsoever toucheth the altar shall be holy”. Please turn again to Matt 23:20 (2X). The Lord Jesus is pointing to the ridiculous situation that the scribes and Pharisees have developed. Paraphrased, the Lord tells us here, “What is greater, the gift of faith that God has given to His people, or Christ who sanctifies the gift?” The answer is obvious: Christ is greater than any of His people. V. 21
#2. Failing to See the Weightier Matters of the Law (Matt 23:23, 9:13, Mic 6:8, Eph 2:8, Prov 21:3)
Mt 23:23 Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye pay tithe of mint and anise and cummin, and have omitted the weightier matters of the law, judgment, mercy, and faith: these ought ye to have done, and not to leave the other undone.
Just like in the previous cases the Lord Jesus is faulting the scribes and Pharisees for failing to see the weightier matters of the Gospel of salvation. They saw the gold, but they did not think it was greater than the dwelling place of God. They saw the gift on the altar, but they did not think it was greater than Christ who represented that altar. And here in verse 23 they were sacrificing one tenth of even the herbs that they were eating, like mint, and anise, and cummin, but they forgot the weightier matters concerning the salvation of people. Please turn in your Bibles to the prophecy of Micah, Mic 6:8 (2X). You find the prophecy of Micah right after Jonah, if that is any help. While you look that up, let me remind you that the Lord Jesus alluded to this lopsided religion of the Jews much earlier in His ministry, when He faulted the Pharisees for their criticism of His ministry. He said in Matt 9:13, “But go ye and learn what that meaneth, I will have mercy, and not sacrifice: for I am not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance”. Matt 23:23 was a quotation from the Prophecy of Micah, not exactly, but close to Mic 6:8,
Mic 6:8 He hath shewed thee, O man, what is good; and what doth the LORD require of thee, but to do justly, and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with thy God?
To do justly has been replaced by “judgment” in Matt 23:23, which is almost the same. And “to walk humbly with thy God” has been replaced by “faith” in Matt 23:23, which is almost the same. Let us consider these substitutions for a few minutes, and find out what exactly the Lord is saying in Matt 23:23 We can see that “to walk humbly with thy God” is almost the same as the faith that God gave us, like we found Eph 2:8, “For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God”. The faith that God gave us is a trust that Christ has paid for all our sins. And His payment is a free gift that is given to all whom God has given this faith. Therefore, since this gift of the payment of Christ is a free gift, we walk humbly with our God, for we cannot boast of any work that we have done which would have helped our standing before God. But then “to do justly” in Mic 6:8 has been replaced by “judgment” in Matt 23:23. What is meant thereby? To do justly, or to do justice, is not exactly the same as judgment. For we read in Prov 21:3, “To do justice and judgment is more acceptable to the LORD than sacrifice” (2X). Sacrifice is what the scribes and Pharisees were doing in sacrificing one tenth of the spices they were eating. But from Prov 21:3 we must conclude that “to do justice” and “to do judgment” are two different things, or else Prov 21:3 does not make any sense. And so, what is that judgment? Please turn in your Bibles to the Gospel According to Luke, Luke 18:1 (2X).
The word “judgment” looms very large in the Bible. In fact 408 verses in the Bible contain the word judgment or judgments. Most of the time it is a calamity sent by God as a punishment or a sentence of God, as the judge of all mankind. In this context the purpose of a judgment on God’s people is not their total destruction, but their purification. In the NT, judgment is one of the aspects of the coming of the kingdom of God. For example, John the Baptist warned the people about this in Luke 3:9, where he says, “Every tree which bringeth not forth good fruit is hewn down and cast into the fire”. Many times in the NT, as well as in the OT, judgment is an aspect of the deliverance of God’s people. We can see this in many passages where the Lord is not the Judge, but He is the Avenger of His people. We read in Luk
Lu 18:1-5 And he spake a parable unto them to this end, that men ought always to pray, and not to faint; Saying, There was in a city a judge, which feared not God, neither regarded man: And there was a widow in that city; and she came unto him, saying, Avenge me of mine adversary. And he would not for a while: but afterward he said within himself, Though I fear not God, nor regard man; Yet because this widow troubleth me, I will avenge her, lest by her continual coming she weary me.
First the Lord told us a parable in a worldly setting. The first part deals with an unjust judge. A widow
in that city wanted the judge to avenge her of her adversary. And when she is avenged by the judge she will be delivered from her adversary. Significantly, the Lord used the metaphor of a widow again. You remember from last week that the symbol of a widow represents those whom God loved from before the foundation of the world, but who were still unsaved. These people are pleading with Christ, the Judge, to deliver them from their adversary the Devil. And now we read the second part of this parable. Luke 18:6-
Lu 18:6-8 And the Lord said, Hear what the unjust judge saith. And shall not God avenge his own elect, which cry day and night unto him, though he bear long with them? I tell you that he will avenge them speedily. Nevertheless, when the Son of man cometh, shall he find faith on the earth?
Indeed, God will avenge His own elect speedily. First He bears long with them when they do not want to give up their sin. But in the fulness of time He will avenge them speedily, and deliver them from the clutches of Satan. But even though God promises that He will deliver speedily many shall not believe these words in the Bible, for as the time of the end draws near the heart of many shall grow cold towards our great Redeemer, who could save them from their slippery slide into Hell. Therefore, when the Son of man cometh again, shall he find much faith on the earth? It is a rhetorical question. There will be just a few. Please turn a few pages back to chapter 12, Matt 12:18 (2X). And so, in those cases where Christ will be our Avenger, the judgment on our adversaries will serve to our deliverance from our present state. And so, when we see the word “judgment” it does not always mean bad, but it frequently means Christ’s victory over sin by being judged for our sins on the cross, and secondly Christ’s judgment on His adversaries for the sake of saving His elect on the Last Day. For example, we read in Matt 12:18,
Mt 12:18 Behold my servant, whom I have chosen; my beloved, in whom my soul is well pleased: I will put my spirit upon him, and he shall shew judgment to the Gentiles.
This verse speaks about Christ who shall show judgment to the Gentiles, which from the context of Isa 42:1-6 means that He will be “for a light of the Gentiles”. In other words, He shall show the judgment of Christ crucified so that the Gentiles also shall be saved. This is the right interpretation, for we read in:
And so, judgment is not a bad word. Judgment refers to the judgment on the Lord Jesus Christ, who took our sins and paid the required payment on behalf of our sins, the equivalent of an eternity in Hell, so that we, who were and are in Christ, could be redeemed from our condemned condition, and be glorified together with Him and in Him. And this is the message which we should bring into all the world, so that more people can hear about the judgment of God. Next we should consider the word “Mercy”.
Please turn in your Bibles to the Prophecy of Hosea, Hos 6:6 (2X) You find the Prophecy of Hosea right after Daniel. In Micah 6:8, which we saw earlier, God says that we must love mercy. It means that it is an action item that we should be delighted to do. What is mercy? Mercy can be explained two ways. #1, It is withholding the infliction of punishment on an adversary or on a law-breaker. We are those law-breakers. If God shows mercy on us, and He withholds the penalty that we do deserve, it is because we belong to Christ, and Christ has paid the penalty in our place. In this sense mercy is the opposite of grace. Grace is unmerited favor. If God pours His grace on us, God is giving us what we do not deserve. Before the foundation of the world by God’s grace God placed our names in the second Person of the triune Godhead, so that we were in Christ from before the foundation of the world. When Christ died on the cross God poured His mercy upon us, for He promised that he would withhold Hell from us, for this is what Christ purchased for us, because He suffered the equivalent of Hell for us in our place. #2, Mercy can also be explained as compassion that is shown toward those who are weak, or sick, or poor. And so, when Christ paid for our sins on the cross He showed love and compassion for those who are unable to help themselves, for we were weak, and we were sick in our soul, and we were poor beggars who had nothing to offer to God. It is in this way that we must show mercy unto those who are our enemies, and who desire to do us harm. It is this kind of mercy that becomes part of our new nature when we have been “born from above”, and that is one of the evidences of salvation.
But what would be the proper view of God’s mercy on us? It would be #1, for we read in Ezek 36:22, “Therefore say unto the house of Israel, Thus saith the Lord GOD; I do not this for your sakes, O house of Israel, but for mine holy name’s sake, which ye have profaned among the heathen, whither ye went”. And God repeats it in Ezek 36:32, “Not for your sakes do I this, saith the Lord GOD, be it known unto you: be ashamed and confounded for your own ways, O house of Israel”. We read in Hos 6:6 (2X),
Ho 6:6 For I desired mercy, and not sacrifice; and the knowledge of God more than burnt offerings.
You see, God desires to show His mercy upon us, rather than have us continue the ritual of bringing animal sacrifices. When Christ came, He showed His mercy upon us, and He put all animal sacrifices to an end. When Christ came, He made Himself known to all whom He came to save, for He said in John 17:3, “And this is life eternal, that they might know thee the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom thou hast sent”. That is why we read in Hos 6:6 that God “desired the knowledge of God more than burnt offerings”. The knowledge of God is the knowledge that we obtain from the Bible about Christ, and about His incarnation, and about His union with God the Son, and about His relationship to us as being our Kinsman, and about His atoning death and resurrection on behalf of our sins. This is the mercy of God that we must proclaim to all the world. Next we should consider the word “Faith”.
Please turn in your Bibles to the Gospel According to John, John 6:44 (2X). Faith is a gift from God that most of the scribes and Pharisees had not received, for faith is a gift that is accompanying salvation, and most of them were not saved. The leaders of the Jews should have known this, for God said it very plainly in Deut 32:20, where we read, “For they are a very froward generation, children in whom is no faith”. What we find in the OT is not so much a doctrine of faith, but we find many examples of faith. And since the scribes and Pharisees were students of the OT they should at least have discovered that they had no faith. In the NT the Lord Jesus clearly says that faith is a gift from God that is given to us through the operation of the Spirit of God. The Lord Jesus said in John 6:44, “No man can come to me, except the Father which hath sent me draw him”. The Lord Jesus stated this principle at least four times in this chapter of John. Please turn a few pages to your right, to the Acts of the Apostles, Acts 13:48 (2X). On his first missionary journey the apostle Paul preached to the Gentiles in Antioch in Pisidia. Rejected by the Jews, but welcomed by the Gentiles, Paul preached to them the Gospel of salvation. We read in Act
Ac 13:48 And when the Gentiles heard this, they were glad, and glorified the word of the Lord: and as many as were ordained (lit: appointed) to eternal life believed.
We see here a clear demonstration of the principle that “Faith cometh by hearing and hearing by the word of God”. Upon hearing the Gospel in their ears, the Spirit of God moved the multitude to believe the words that they heard the apostle Paul speak to them. Please turn a few more pages to your right to the Second Epistle to the Corinthians, 2Cor 4:3 (2X). By now it must be clear to all of us that studying the Bible without the assistance of God the Holy Spirit is a waste of time. The scribes and Pharisees were intense students of the Bible, but most of them were not saved. And today, there are many priests and pastors who supposedly have studied the Bible, but their actions show that they have not been saved. How can they be religious leaders if they are on the way to Hell? We read in 2Cor 4:3-7,
This passage tells us that the Gospel of salvation is a mystery to those who are lost, who are on the way to Hell. They cannot see the kingdom of God, and they cannot see the glorious Gospel of Christ, for God the Holy Spirit has not shined His grace upon them. But when God’s Holy Spirit has shined in our hearts “to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ”, we know by the faith that we have received that we have become the children of God. We can see it in our lifestyle, and we can see it in our desires, for now we want to do those things that are pleasing to God. Let us now return to the Gospel of Matthew, Matt 23:23 (2X), for we do not want to lose track of our thoughts on judgment, mercy, and faith. We can see that the proclamation of judgment and mercy serves to expand the kingdom of God, and we can teach those who show an eagerness to know more about faith, and about the God who gives faith to all who have been spiritually made alive by the power of His Holy Spirit. But now we realize the dreadful condition of works-gospels. All people need to do is going through the motions that are required by their preachers. As a result, they will have a lopsided view of sin and of things that are pleasing to God. For example, they are failing to see that murder is a great sin.
#3. Failing to See that Murder Is Great Sin (Matt 23:24, John 18:28, 40)
Mt 23:24 Ye blind guides, which strain at a gnat, and swallow a camel.
The scribes and Pharisees were careful to tithe even the herbs they were eating, but they had no trouble with their conscience about condemning the Lord Jesus to the death on the cross. They even desired His dead body to be cast on the garbage heap in the Valley of Hinnom, which was the dumping ground for the city of Jerusalem, where the other two criminals on the crosses next to the Lord Jesus were cast into. And by this we can see what the Lord meant when He said that they were straining a gnat, and swallow a camel. We can see this principle again when the Jews approached the judgment hall of the Roman governor Pontius Pilate. For example, we read in John 18:28, “Then led they Jesus from Caiaphas unto the hall of judgment: and it was early; and they themselves went not into the judgment hall, lest they should be defiled; but that they might eat the Passover”. Setting a foot in the area that belonged to a Gentile they considered a great sin, but condemning the sinless Jesus to be crucified they did not even consider a sin, but a delight. Even Pilate saw that they had delivered Jesus out of envy, nothing more than envy. And when Pilate wanted to set Jesus free by suggesting that Barabbas should be crucified, we read in John 18:40 that all the people cried for Barabbas.
Can you see their lopsided view on who should live and who should die? Barabbas was a robber. Barabbas was going to rob people violently, and perhaps kill someone. But Jesus has raised people from the dead, has healed lepers, has given sight to the blind, has healed those who were deaf and dumb, and has made many lame people walk again. This Jesus they wanted to be crucified as if He had done great harm to the nation of the Jews. And even though we know that God orchestrated the death of the Lord Jesus, we still tremble at the wickedness of the people whom the Lord Jesus identified as “this generation”. But let us not forget the terrible times we live in today. We have seen how the works gospels took over this country for the past 200 years, preparing the stage. And we have seen how abortion, which is murder of the defenseless unborn, has become accepted by most in this country. Then we can understand that the church becomes so apostate that God calls her Babylon. And so we see that the lopsided views of the people in Jesus’ days are being repeated, and that these days have become as wicked as they have ever been in the history of mankind. And now we must ask if we, the people of God, are still willing to proclaim to all the world that judgment, and mercy, and faith must be preached, for this is what we need to do. The Lord Jesus stated this clearly in Matt 23:23. Are we willing to obey, or are we also failing to see God’s hand. And are we failing to see God’s hand in bringing us closer and closer to the end of time, when the church is called Babylon?
AMEN. Let us turn to the Lord in prayer.