2018-07-04 / Religion

Jesus criticizes unjust leaders

Sunday School Lesson
Rev. James Temples

Matthew 23

The thoughts of “knowledge” and “wisdom” are important in any life. A simple distinction between these facts is: “knowledge” is “knowing what to do,” while “wisdom” is knowing when to use this information.

The religious leaders — at the time of the earthly ministry of Jesus Christ of Nazareth — possessed a great volume of knowledge. Their application of the facts that crowded their minds was based on human assumptions, which had been colored by twisted religious philosophy. A closed mind strongly resists any thought that would upset its pre-conceived ideas. Solomon, the son of King David, wrote, “The fear (reverence) of the Lord (Jehovah) is the beginning (commencement) of wisdom: And a knowledge of the holy (sacred) is understanding.” Proverbs 9:10. This divine principle has never been amended nor deleted.

The disciple, Matthew, recorded a scene as it unfolded in the temple in Jerusalem. The temple was the domain of the spiritual leaders. These men used this location — and their influence — to attempt to control the actions of all of the people. Our Lord did not recognize these men as having any kind of spiritual authority. All of the influence of these men came from tradition.

The disciple wrote, “Then spake Jesus to the multitude, and to his disciples, saying, the scribes and the Pharisees sit in Moses’ seat [as a position of spiritual authority]: All therefore whatsoever they bid you observe, that observe and do; but do not ye after their works: for they say, and do not.” Mathew 23:1-3. Our Lord gave an explanation of His declaration — “for they bind heavy burdens and grievous to be borne, and lay them on men’s shoulders; but they themselves will not move them with one of their fingers.” Matthew 23:4

These religious leaders were masters of showmanship. “But all their works they do for to be seen of men…” Matthew 23:5a. The Master gave examples that he had observed — “they make broad their phylacteries, and enlarge the borders of their garments, and love the uppermost rooms at feasts, and the chief seats in the synagogues, and greetings in the markets, and to be called of man, Rabbi (Master), Rabbi (Master).” Matthew 23:5b-7. The “phylacteries” were small cases which contained copies of scriptures — thus, they saw the larger of these accessories as indicators of greater “spirituality.” Special borders on garments of the priests were required by the Old Testament Law. Numbers 15:38. The “upper rooms at the feasts” were seen as places of honor. Chief seats in the synagogue could be “bought,” indicating their financial positions. This system continues to be practiced.

Our Lord taught his disciples his expected attitude. “But be not ye called Rabbi: for one is your Master, even Christ; and all ye are brethren.” Mathew 23:8. He stated a principle that continues to this day — “but he that is greatest among you shall be your servant. And whosoever shall exalt himself shall be abased (made low); and he that shall humble himself shall be exalted.” Matthew 23:11,12.

As Jesus spoke to the crowd in the temple, He spoke directly to these religious leaders. “But woe unto you scribes [specialists in interpreting the Law] and Pharisees [present-day orthodox], hypocrites! for ye shut up the kingdom of heaven against men: for ye neither go in yourselves, neither suffer (permit) ye them that are entering to go in. Woe unto you scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For ye devour (consume) widows’ houses, and for pretense (covering) make long prayer: therefore ye shall receive the greater damnation. Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye compass (go about) sea and land to make one proselyte (foreign convert to Judaism), and when he is made, ye make him twofold more the child of hell than yourselves.” Matthew 23:13-15.

Our Lord used a scathing picture of the spiritual condition of these men. “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 (makes holy) the gold?” Matthew 23:16, 17. Our Master used other examples of the ridiculous interpretations that these men had devised. Matthew 23:19-22

These men were masters at “majoring in minors, and minoring in majors.” “Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye pay tithes on mint and anise and cummin [spices], and have omitted the weightier mattes of the law, judgment, mercy and faith: these ought ye to have done, and not leave the other undone.” Matthew 23:23. Our Lord gave further comment — “ye blind guides, which strain at a gnat, and swallow a camel.” Matthew 23:24.

Since these men specialized in the “externals,” Jesus pointed to the need to “look inside yourself.” “Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye make clean the outside of the cup and the platter, but within they are full of extortion and excess. Thou blind Pharisee, cleanse first that which is within the cup and platter, that the outside of them may be clean also.” Matthew 23:25, 26.

These religious leaders made a great show of visiting and decorating the tombs of the prophets and leaders of their past. Jesus described these men in relation to this outward show of honor — “for ye are like whited (whitewashed) sepulchers, which indeed appear beautiful outward, but are within full of dead men’s bones, and of all uncleanness. Even so ye also outwardly appear righteous unto men, but within ye are full of hypocrisy and iniquity.” Matthew 23:27, 28.

The word, “hypocrite” pictures one who is a “play actor.” This kind of life-style was not acceptable to our Lord during his earthly ministry. He is no less pleased with this action and attitude in our day.

Most people in the nation of Israel rejected the man, Jesus, and his teachings. Led by the religious leaders — Pharisees — the nation was responsible for the crucifixion of our Lord. Those who attempt to be “religious” in our day fall into the same spiritual pit. The answer to this problem is a life given totally to Jesus Christ, and to continue to focus on him, every day of our lives. If you do not know him, please invite him into your life, today. John 3:16.

Rev. James C. Temples’ Sunday School Lesson has appeared in the Early County News each week since 1967. A native of Early County, Rev. Temples taught in public schools 32 years and 10 years at Southeastern College of Assemblies of God, in Lakeland, Fla. He also served as pastor and evangelist during those years. He can be contacted at P. O. Box 1484, Swainsboro, GA 30401; 478- 299- 2068. Email: temples_ james@ yahoo. c om

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