"We see, in many a land, the proudest dynasties and tyrannies still crushing, with their mountain weight, every free motion of the Consciences and hearts of men. We see, on the other hand, the truest heroism for the right and the greatest devotion to the Truth in hearts that God has touched. We have a work to do, as great as our forefathers and, perhaps, far greater. The enemies of Truth are more numerous and subtle than ever and the needs of the Church are greater than at any preceding time. If we are not debtors to the present, then men were never debtors to their age and their time. Brethren, we are debtors to the hour in which we live. Oh, that we might stamp it with Truth and that God might help us to impress upon its wings some proof that it has not flown by neglected and unheeded." -- C.H. Spurgeon . . . "If ye continue in my word, then are ye my disciples indeed; And ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free." John 8:31, 32

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Monday, June 12, 2017

The GOSPEL of MATTHEW: Ch. 23 – The MESSIAH and HIS KINGDOM MESSAGE

By James Fire

When those who speak the truth, do so out of a sincere heart to correct an error, or some misconduct, there are always others who will say “Judge not, lest ye be judged!” or “where’s the love?” Frankly speaking, there are those who tend to lean more heavily on the side of truth than on grace, and vice versa. The One and Only Who ever had these two in perfect balance is the LORD Jesus Christ (JOHN 1:17). There is an increasing tendency today in the church to sacrifice truth ‘in the name of love’ and ‘unity’. As well as this there are among those involved in discernment ministries, some who are cut-throats in the name of truth, well-nigh barren of any grace.

Yet it is the truth that unites us (EPH 4:13), based on the truth of God’s Word (JOHN 17:17) and the Spirit of Truth (JOHN 14:17; 15:26). Nothing could be more loving and compassionate than to tell someone the truth, though it may hurt, though it may bring discomfort, or alarm. People in a burning building will appreciate a person who yells out, “fire!” when there is one. An ailing patient will be grateful to the doctor who truthfully tells them that they have cancer – and prepares them for treatment.

Jesus is God made flesh (JOHN 1:1-3, 14), and we know that God is love (1 JOHN 4:8). Here in the Twenty-third chapter of MATTHEW’s Gospel, we have Love Incarnate saying these things, which, when you think about it, is astounding! If you and I were to say such things, we would probably need to get our blood pressure checked! These words that the LORD speaks, cuts to the bone, and indeed, the Word of God does divide asunder between the soul and spirit and the joints [bones] and marrow (HEB 4:12), but He is saying them in perfect truth and perfect love. Perfectly balanced.
Let us hear what Love Incarnate is saying, and let us not be dismayed if we find some of these things convict us.





The LORD’s desire is to restore, not to destroy: the fact that God did not destroy the First Adam in the Garden of Eden after the fall, but rather, brought about redemption in the Garden of Gethsemane by the Last Adam, is clear evidence of this. When He brings rebuke, it is because He desires repentance, resulting in restoration. In Chapter 22 we left the Pharisees in a speechless state after the LORD posed a biblical question that they could not answer. Here He turns to the multitude and provides counsel for the people regarding their religious leaders:

MATTHEW 23:1-4
Then spake Jesus to the multitude, and to his disciples,
2 Saying The scribes and the Pharisees sit in Moses' seat:
3 All therefore whatsoever they bid you observe, that observe and do; but do not ye after their works: for they say, and do not.
4 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.

“ . . . the Pharisees sit in Moses seat . . .” We would put it like this: “they stand in the place of Moses”. They represented the Law as those sworn to keep the holy oracles (ROM 3:2), both in its reading, teaching and practice. But these Pharisees and scribes would only read the Law faithfully, and even then, preferred the tradition of the elders (MATT 7:5), and their teachings were based more on these traditions, than on God’s Word (which is why people were astounded with the way that the LORD Jesus taught, as opposed to the way the religious leaders taught, borrowing heavily from rabbis and the doctrines of men (MATT 7:7, 29).

These religious leaders, according to the LORD, would exact heavy requirements upon the people, the full weight of the Law (and then some) but they themselves would find ‘loopholes’ and methodologies that would effectively ‘get them off the hook’. This is nothing more than religious exploitation, a very old story told and re-told throughout history of the many leaders of religions that would use their power to oppress and control the masses. They desired the same kind of reverence from people that Moses received, but without a shred of that saint’s meekness (NUM 12:3). They lusted for the power of leadership among Israel’s people, as we shall soon see.

Here is the fundamental difference between religion and the truth in Christ Jesus; religion binds and enslaves (I’m told that the root word in Latin for ‘religion’ actually means “to tie down, to bind, something to be borne, a burden”). This fact is often what makes atheists out of people when they see such religious corruption throughout the ages; some in history have even resorted to Satanist persuasions to stand opposed to Roman Catholic domination. 

The LORD Jesus Christ however has come so that we would be free from religion (even in His day the world was full of religion, He needn’t have come to create another, and He didn’t!) which is ineffectual against man’s real problem of sin. It was – and is – sin, corruption, death and hell that are the real issues, and these eternal problems have their solution at Calvary’s cross, available by faith to all who seek Him.

MATTHEW 23:5-7
5 But all their works they do for to be seen of men: they make broad their phylacteries, and enlarge the borders of their garments,
6 And love the uppermost rooms at feasts, and the chief seats in the synagogues,
7 And greetings in the markets, and to be called of men, Rabbi, Rabbi.

Phylacteries are small boxes that contain tiny scrolls of Scripture, and are then bound to the head and arms in memorization and recitation of the Torah. This is in accordance to EXOD 13:1-10 and DEUT 6:4-9. Yet many of these Pharisees made phylacteries far larger than would be considered typical, as a means of displaying their supposed holiness and piety, ‘showing off’ before the people.  They would lengthen their prayer shawls as a pretense, so that they would be clearly seen by any who would pass them by, insinuating (falsely) a deeply devoted prayer life.

And look how these leaders relish the high esteem of the people in feast chambers, in the market place, in the synagogues. This is hypocrisy personified – the thing that angers the LORD more than almost anything.

PSALM 49:12-13
12 Nevertheless man being in honour abideth not: he is like the beasts that perish.
13 This their way is their folly: yet their posterity approve their sayings. Selah.

JOHN 5:44-45
44 How can ye believe, which receive honour one of another, and seek not the honour that cometh from God only?
45 Do not think that I will accuse you to the Father: there is one that accuseth you, even Moses, in whom ye trust.

Let us hear what the LORD instructs us in our relationships with Him and others:

MATTHEW 23:8-12
8 But be not ye called Rabbi: for one is your Master, even Christ; and all ye are brethren.
9 And call no man your father upon the earth: for one is your Father, which is in heaven.
10 Neither be ye called masters: for one is your Master, even Christ.
11 But he that is greatest among you shall be your servant.
12 And whosoever shall exalt himself shall be abased; and he that shall humble himself shall be exalted.

On the one hand, the LORD is establishing equality among us, with only One Who is truly the Authority in all creation, the LORD Himself, our Master. We are all “brethren”. All of us who have faith in Christ are on equal footing; there are no tiers that we must climb to achieve a greater standing in relationship to the LORD based on His grace, truth and love for all of us, His children. Paul says very much the same thing in his epistles to the Galatians and Colossians:

GAL 3:28 
There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither bond nor free, there is neither male nor female: for ye are all one in Christ Jesus.

COL 3:11 
Where there is neither Greek nor Jew, circumcision nor uncircumcision, Barbarian, Scythian, bond nor free: but Christ is all, and in all.

In the days in which Jesus and Paul walked this world, classes of people were emphasized very prominently; men had all the rights, and women had practically none. If you were a slave, you were property. If you were a Gentile, then in the eyes of the Jews you were nothing more than fuel for the fires of hell. Only in Christ, do all have equal access to the Holy Throne of God; only in Him are all equally received, blessed, loved and cherished (EPH 1:5-7)!

Many think that the LORD here in verse 9 of our text, is forbidding us to refer to our paternal forebear as “father” but this is not the case. Reading this in context, it’s stating that we should call no one father in the sense that we derive from our teachers/masters spiritual truth and life, that we become who they make us, and thus deserving of the title of ‘father’.

Yet, the LORD then proceeds from there and explains how greatness may be achieved, and if there is greatness, then there are lesser degrees – this entails servanthood. The greatest in the Kingdom of God is obviously the LORD Jesus Christ Himself, Who is God made flesh, but made Himself a servant of all (PHIL 2:5-8), and because He willingly bore our sins upon Himself and died in our place on the cross (JOHN 10:18), the Father has exalted Him to the highest place of honor and above every name:

EPH 1:20-22
20 Which he wrought in Christ, when he raised him from the dead, and set him at his own right hand in the heavenly places,
21 Far above all principality, and power, and might, and dominion, and every name that is named, not only in this world, but also in that which is to come:
22 And hath put all things under his feet, and gave him to be the head over all things to the church,

PHIL 2:9-11
9 Wherefore God also hath highly exalted him, and given him a name which is above every name:
10 That at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of things in heaven, and things in earth, and things under the earth;
11 And that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.

The LORD expects servanthood from us His children (JOHN 13:13-15), and for those who willingly humble themselves in such service, we are destined to become the servant-kings of YHWH for all eternity! From the book by Joseph Dillow, The REIGN of the SERVANT KINGS (here is an excerpt) we have the following quote:

“God intends to humble the proud and independent in a unique way.  He intends that the lower creature, man (created lower than the angels and hence lower than Satan), achieve the highest position (“. . . all things in subjection under his feet,” HEB 2:8).  “For He has not put the world to come, of which we speak, in subjection to angels” (HEB 2:5).  Out of the least, God will bring the greatest.  It was as “man” that the Savior defeated the enemy.  It was as “man” that He silenced the principalities and powers.  It will be as “man” that He will reign over the future kingdom of God upon this earth.

“It is a glorious reign of servant kings which extends to “all the works of His hands” (HEB 2:7) -- this may suggest that one day mankind will rule the galaxies!”

The Father esteems, rewards and exalts the Son for all of His holy character and righteous conduct, and He will equally esteem, reward and exalt those that display the same holy character and righteous conduct, which we, the children of God are capable of, operating by the Spirit of grace that lives within us, if we yield to His work and allow the kingdom power to flow through us, enabling our sanctification and Christ-likeness to occur.

For those who exhibit pride, a lust for power, and a desire to oppress others – these will be shunned, punished and abased – from Satan and all the angels that followed him in the rebellion, to religious exploiters, and wicked sinners as well as the highly moral – who see no need in their lives for Christ.
Here the LORD turns His attention from the disciples and the multitude and He once again addresses the religious leaders:

MATTHEW 23:13-15
13 But woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye shut up the kingdom of heaven against men: for ye neither go in yourselves, neither suffer ye them that are entering to go in.
14 Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye devour widows' houses, and for a pretense make long prayer: therefore ye shall receive the greater damnation.
15 Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye compass sea and land to make one proselyte, and when he is made, ye make him twofold more the child of hell than yourselves.

We can see how and why the LORD hates hypocrisy: these masks of self-righteousness that may fool people, and most especially ourselves, but never God – and by deception, keep us from realizing our true state of sinfulness, enables us to look down smugly on those we deem lesser than themselves. Hypocrisy also disables us from realizing our need for salvation.

Religion can make one impervious to the Gospel. It can dull the piercing conviction of the Holy Spirit, Who strives to show man his deplorable state. Self-righteousness doesn’t think it needs saving, doesn’t need God or the Gospel. Religious hypocrites will never acknowledge their need and because of that, they will remain in their spiritual depravity (JOHN 9:39-41).

The Pharisees and scribes believed that a man could be justified by the Law, circumcision and works, contrary to the clear teaching of Scripture (ACTS 13:39; 15:24; ROM 3:20, 28; GAL 2:16; 3:11). They believed in the essential goodness – not of man in general (MATT 9:11; LUKE 15:2), but of themselves (JOHN 8:41), and those who followed them. They would not allow the people to hear the truth of God’s Word, rightly expressing His grace and desire for salvation by means of propitiation – that is, salvation by grace provided by the atoning sacrifice of Christ Himself. They shut up the Way, the Truth and the Life and barred people – by denouncing Jesus and His teachings, claiming Him to be possessed of Satan (adversary; see MATT 12:24; MARK 3:22).

Note the phrase “child of hell” – this is a very telling expression that the LORD uses here in referring to the converts that these Pharisees made. The Greek word for “child” here can mean “one that so closely resembles the other, that they are indistinguishable from each other”. Thus, the child of ‘Henry’ resembles his father so closely. In the text, “the child of hell” relates the child that so closely resembles hell in quality and characteristics, that they cannot be told apart. That is an indicting statement, indeed! The Greek word (huios) further relates the child as befitting of his surroundings. 

Next, we read about the LORD’s rebuke concerning those things esteemed by the religious leaders, but are an abomination to God (LUKE 16:14-16)!

MATTHEW 23:16-22
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!
17 Ye fools and blind: for whether is greater, the gold, or the temple that sanctifieth the gold?
18 And, Whosoever shall swear by the altar, it is nothing; but whosoever sweareth by the gift that is upon it, he is guilty.
19 Ye fools and blind: for whether is greater, the gift, or the altar that sanctifieth the gift?
20 Whoso therefore shall swear by the altar, sweareth by it, and by all things thereon.
21 And whoso shall swear by the temple, sweareth by it, and by him that dwelleth therein.
22 And he that shall swear by heaven, sweareth by the throne of God, and by him that sitteth thereon.

Here we see where the priorities are among these religious leaders: they seem to value the gold, and the offering and the Temple building far more than the Temple that sanctifies the gold, the altar that sanctifies the offering and the LORD Himself Who sanctifies the Temple. What can be said for the spiritual zeal and righteousness of these leaders? How is it that they can esteem the things of this world more than those things taken out of this world and sanctified for the LORD and His Kingdom?
These are truly blind guides that have eyes but see not and even ears but hear not!

MATTHEW 23:23-28
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.
24 Ye blind guides, which strain at a gnat, and swallow a camel.
25 Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye make clean the outside of the cup and of the platter, but within they are full of extortion and excess.
26 Thou blind Pharisee, cleanse first that which is within the cup and platter, that the outside of them may be clean also.
27 Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye are like unto whited sepulchres, which indeed appear beautiful outward, but are within full of dead men's bones, and of all uncleanness.
28 Even so ye also outwardly appear righteous unto men, but within ye are full of hypocrisy and iniquity.

The Pharisees were very careful to observe various aspects of the Law that dealt with tithes and offerings – portioning out exact measures of percentages of all they own, in order to render them to God, but they were terribly negligent of what the LORD here calls “weightier matters of the Law”. If we follow the LORD “… to do justly, and to love mercy…” (MICAH 6:8) and have faith in God (MARK 11:22), then we are indeed obedient to His will, and this is far better than sacrifices of tithes and offerings:

1 SAMUEL 15:22
22 And Samuel said, Hath the Lord as great delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices, as in obeying the voice of the Lord? Behold, to obey is better than sacrifice, and to hearken than the fat of rams.

These blind guides were ‘hyper-particular’ when it came to the various obligations of the Law in regard to these offerings, dietary regulations, Sabbaths and feasts, but ran rough-shod over the very purpose of the Law, which is to reveal the holiness of God in contrast to the sinfulness of man (1 TIM 1:9) and how we are to love God and others, displaying the virtues best modeled in the Person of Christ.

They were focused on the externals of ceremonial practice, and making sure every obligation was fulfilled in these matters, never allowing the Law to convict their hearts – which, according to the LORD were full of excess and extortion, dead men’s bones and all uncleanness.
Who would want to drink out of a beautifully polished cup, if it was filthy on the inside??

Being full of hypocrisy and iniquity (lawlessness) is not the exclusive domain of Pharisees however. The human condition of sin, precipitates that hypocrisy may, and usually does to one degree or another, rise up in any of us. We all want to be well thought of, and there are times perhaps when we may convey ourselves more noble, honorable, even more spiritual than we really are. Hypocrisy is a mask, a false front, that is the very anti-thesis of meekness

It is something reprehensible and should be sought for and escorted out of our lives, brutally and without apology. Let us beseech the LORD to search us and know our hearts: try us and know our thoughts (PSALM 139:23).

I recall reading about Charles Spurgeon finishing his sermon one Sunday. He noticed a new attendant in the congregation and as he met people at the door, bidding them farewell, he had a chance to talk to this man and asked if he would return to hear him teach again the next Sunday.
The man replied, “I don’t think I will, nor will I ever join any church. There are too many hypocrites.”
To which, Spurgeon replied, “Come on ahead and join anyway, what’s one more hypocrite going to matter?”

Sepulchers were painted bright white on purpose; no Jew could walk over a grave without being defiled and thus disqualified from participating in the feasts and the Sabbath; so, by painting them as they did, they could see them, even at night, and stay clear of them. And many of them became quite ornate with sculpture and exquisite patterns – beautiful indeed, truly admirable works of art. The reality was that they were tombs, full of rotting, stinking corpses. This is the picture that the LORD presented to these religious leaders. Spiritually speaking, deplorably unrighteous souls with the thin veneer of religious piety that amounts to nothing before the LORD except filthy rags (ISAIAH 64:6).

MATTHEW 23:29-32
29 Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! because ye build the tombs of the prophets, and garnish the sepulchres of the righteous,
30 And say, If we had been in the days of our fathers, we would not have been partakers with them in the blood of the prophets.
31 Wherefore ye be witnesses unto yourselves, that ye are the children of them which killed the prophets.
32 Fill ye up then the measure of your fathers.

Here the LORD applies the appellation of “. . . the children of them which killed the prophets . . .”, meaning that they are ‘cut from the same cloth’ as it were, they are part of the ‘same family, with shared characteristic traits’. The prophets of old were righteous, zealous for the LORD and upright before Him, and yet Israel killed them for their bold stand for truth, speaking out against their apostasy and unrighteousness.

Yet the Prophet of prophets, the very Word that inspired the prophets, was standing in their midst, and they were throughout the time of His visitation to His people, plotting His death (JOHN 8:37,40). Clearly, their hypocrisy is evident! The LORD states that these religious leaders are ‘putting on the finishing touches’ of that which their ancestors began.

MATTHEW 23:33-36
33 Ye serpents, ye generation of vipers, how can ye escape the damnation of hell?
34 Wherefore, behold, I send unto you prophets, and wise men, and scribes: and some of them ye shall kill and crucify; and some of them shall ye scourge in your synagogues, and persecute them from city to city:
35 That upon you may come all the righteous blood shed upon the earth, from the blood of righteous Abel unto the blood of Zacharias son of Barachias, whom ye slew between the temple and the altar.
36 Verily I say unto you, All these things shall come upon this generation.

Bold words, scathing rebukes are being issued from the mouth of the LORD God, the Son here and He prophesies here of future events:
The LORD Jesus is going to send to rebellious Israel prophets, wise men and scribes to them – these will issue the word of the LORD to them, and they likewise will be persecuted, scourged, even crucified. The likes of Peter and Paul, of Stephen and Luke, and all but two of the apostles and others besides would carry on what the LORD established: the faithful word of God being declared before the rebellious house of Israel! 

There would also seem further application in the last days, during the time of tribulation (Jacob’s Time of Trouble (JER 30:7), what with the coming of the two prophets (Moses and Elijah, or prophets with such ministry as these had; REV 11:4-7) as well as the 144,000 (REV 7).

Note what the LORD says to them in verses 35-36: the righteous blood spilled from Abel (GEN 4:8) to Zechariah, one of the last of the Old Testament prophets would be put on the account of these Pharisees and religious leaders (who are the children of those who killed the prophets). How old were these Pharisees anyway? They would have to be ancient, to have lived so long ago, and killed Abel, right?

Of course that isn’t what the LORD is implying; but these Pharisees, like their ancient counter-parts who likewise murdered the prophets, would all stand guilty of slaying the LORD’s righteous messengers, including His Own Son (MATT 21:33-39) as a ‘family (“this generation” in vs 36) of murderers’!
Finally, the LORD, Who in His Deity inhabits eternity, laments over Jerusalem from a perspective that traverses the full length of tragic history:


MATTHEW 23:37-39
37 O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, thou that killest the prophets, and stonest them which are sent unto thee, how often would I have gathered thy children together, even as a hen gathereth her chickens under her wings, and ye would not!
38 Behold, your house is left unto you desolate.
39 For I say unto you, Ye shall not see me henceforth, till ye shall say, Blessed is he that cometh in the name of the Lord.

It is interesting that the word “children (or child)” is mentioned three times in this chapter. There is the “child of hell” mentioned in vs. 15, then “children of them that killed the prophets” in vs. 31, and then here in vs. 37 we read about “children [of] Jerusalem”.

In each case, the children mentioned are expressions of those fitting to dwell in the place so designated. The child of hell is hellish, and so, suited for that dwelling; the children of them that killed the prophets” are suited for the deed of murder, for they are murderous. Likewise, the “children [of] Jerusalem” are those who are suited for that place which is destined for desolation. All three of these ‘offspring’ contrast with “the children of God” (ROM 8:16-17, 21) and “children of light” (EPH 5:8).

While the majority in this world are children of wrath and disobedience (EPH 2:3; 5:6), they may change their parentage, if they will but acknowledge their sin, repent and by faith receive Christ:

JOHN 1:12-13
12 But as many as received him, to them gave he power to become the sons of God, even to them that believe on his name:
13 Which were born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God.

For those who persist in rebellion against their Maker, the Messiah of Israel and Head of the Church, the KING of Kings and LORD of Lords, they will not know the sheltering grace of God, dwelling under “the shadow of His wings” (PSALM 57:1), and without the LORD, the only future is that of desolation, to be experienced either in this life or that domain of the damned – or both.

In the case of Israel, because the people in the main rejected their Messiah, the City of Peace, Jerusalem was ransacked, ravaged and ruined in 70 A.D. by order of Caesar, resulting in the death of over one million Jews and the diaspora. 

Yet there is still hope for that nation, for the LORD God has promised by covenant with Abraham and with David – unconditional promises in which the LORD will establish His people in the land (accomplished in 1948), establish the Son of David, the Messiah as the King of Israel as well as the Millennial Kingdom (which will be accomplished at the arrival of Christ at His Second Coming!).

For more on this see this two part article: ISRAELOLOGY – Why Israel Matters To the Biblical Christian: PART One and Two.

Next time, MATTHEW 24 – I shall post two previous articles dealing with this chapter for our readers to review!

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