Matthew 23:1-12 Don’t be Like the Pharisees

Yes Please!

Yes Please!

Jesus is still in the temple in Jerusalem, but He has just dispatched His last group of testers. The Pharisees, the chief priests, the Sadducees, the Herodians, and even the Pharisees’ disciples have all had a go at Him. He bested them all in any argument they brought. No surprise there for those who know Him. All of them have completely withdrawn. Now Jesus addresses the crowd and His disciples.

Right after the Pharisees leave Jesus says, “Don’t be like them.” Jesus didn’t tell the people to ignore the Pharisees though. He told them that they were the experts in the law of God and to do as the Pharisees and scribes instructed, but do not follow their deeds. The Pharisees and scribes were indeed hypocrites. They were experts at telling the people what needed to be done to please God, but they didn’t follow their own directives.

The Pharisees were notorious for heaping rules and regulations onto everything. Just look at the times they accosted Jesus and His disciples for breaking one of their traditions. They didn’t just follow the Law of Moses, they included all the traditions they had accumulated throughout the years. To them, the Law didn’t cover it all. The Commandments were lacking specific everyday instructions. They had the people so tied up in rules that they were strangling them! Jesus said that “They tie up heavy burdens, hard to bear, and lay them on the people’s shoulders” (verse 4a). But then they don’t practice what they preach. “But they themselves are not willing to move them with the finger” (verse 4b). They found ways around them for themselves.

The Pharisees and scribes occasionally performed the acts they were instructing the people to do, but it was done only in view of others. They wanted to be seen as holy. They lived for the performance! To be seen in the act of performing their duties. They love their titles and special greetings. They take the places of honor in the synagogue and feasts.

All of the above examples I have no trouble visualizing but I needed help on this phrase from Jesus. “They make their phylacteries broad and their fringes long” (verse 5). I had to look up what these were. I found Jewish Encyclopedia.com. They explained the phylacteries to me. I had to go to Got Answers.com to find out if all men wore them or just the religious leaders. The phylacteries are specially designed bags that contain four scriptures. The bags are worn as a pair; one on the forehead and one on the left arm. The priests made theirs larger, so they could be easily seen. The larger “bags” were so they could inscribe their scriptures in larger print, meaning they were more religious than persons with smaller or none at all.

The fringes come from the Law of Moses. In Numbers 15:37, God tells the people to put fringes on their garments and at the corners of these fringes to tie a braded cord of blue. This cord was to remind them of the Ten Commandments. When they saw their fringes, it would be a reminder to them to follow God’s Commandments instead of their own desires. The Pharisees made their fringes as large as possible so people would see them and think they were following God’s laws even more closely.

Jesus next addresses His disciples’ future service. He doesn’t want them following in the footsteps of the Pharisees. First not following in the hypocrisy but also not following in the hierarchy structure. They were to be brothers with those they would share Jesus’ message with. They were not to seek the title of Rabi, as this indicated the place of the supreme teacher. They were not to be called father, as this was the title reserved for our Heavenly Father. They were not to be called instructor either, as that position belonged only to the Christ, Jesus. They were to be servant leaders.

This didn’t mean there was to be no leadership in the church, but that the leaders were to have the same role Jesus took on; servant of all. Jesus entire life and ministry was founded on service. He laid down His own life for those under Him. He is our head, but He also humbly serves each of us. This is what He expected of His new church leaders. Share His instructions passed down from Jesus, offer adoption into the Father’s family, and allow the Holy Spirit to be the interpreter of God’s will.

As the church grew there would be titles and roles that were to be assumed, but their basic function in each of these roles was still that of servant to the body of Christ. Ephesians 4:11 lists the leadership titles in the church as: apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors and shepherd-teachers. Their job is to build up the body and equip it for service to God.

Father God, I don’t want to be a hypocrite! Sometimes I find myself fulfilling this role. Forgive me please. I want live the life You set out for me, both in private and in public. I find it too easy to slip into “not so nice mode” in the privacy of my own home and especially in my own mind. Please Lord, remove the dark places in my heart. I hate hearing the angry words that pop in my mind at times. Fill me so full of Your love that I no longer have any space for the angry words or attitude. Fill me with Your music every morning, that brings my heart joy, Your joy.

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