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Unmasking the Hypocrite

Matthew 23:1-39



This is Jesus’ last public message before He dies on the cross.  It is stunning...a scathing denunciation of false religion and hypocrisy. 


Let’s set the scene:  Jesus is speaking to 3 groups of people...

  • A multitude
  • The disciples
  • The scribes and Pharisees


Talk about name calling, Jesus holds nothing back!  Bold and courageous, He calls them fools, snakes, vipers, blind guides, and 7 different times He calls them hypocrites.  They are wearing masks, and He pulls them off.  I have told you before [ch. 15, Truth or Tradition] that the Greek word for hypocrite is a term from the world of Greek drama, meaning the mask wearer.  They come to church appearing to be one thing, but at home they are entirely different.  They are religious play actors.  Jesus demanded sincerity and reality.  “Get Real” is how we would say in my day.


v. 1-12     An EXPLANATION to the Crowd

v. 13-36   A CONDEMNATION of the Scribes and Pharisees

v. 37-39   A LAMENTATION over Jerusalem


I.      Explanation to the Crowd

This is to the crowd, so they will understand the flaws in the teachings of the Scribes and Pharisees.


Flaw #1:  They had a false concept of authority.


v. 2-3       “Moses’ seat”  =  they had assumed authority that was not their own.  They had their own list of rules not found in the Bible, which they called the Traditions.  That’s wrong, but more wrong is that they didn’t follow their own rules, they were hypocrites!


Flaw #2:  They had a false concept of ministry.


v. 4          Their idea of ministry was loading people down with rules and regulations, which made life a drudgery.  They loved feeling superior and keeping their people beaten down. 


I’m happy to report that Jesus wants Christianity to be a blessing, and not just a burden...a feast, not a funeral!  And so we don’t just seek people for the ministry, but see the ministry as being for the people.


Flaw #3:  They had a false concept of greatness.

v. 5-12    


v. 5  Phylactery = a leather box they tied around their forehead or forearm, w/ scriptures written on parchment inside.  They had taken literally the command of...

Deuteronomy 6:8
8 And thou shalt bind them for a sign upon thine hand, and they shall be as frontlets between thine eyes.

Deuteronomy 11:18
Therefore shall ye lay up these my words in your heart and in your soul, and bind them for a sign upon your hand, that they may be as frontlets between your eyes.

But to show off, they made their phylacteries bigger and bigger, like they were more spiritual!


Ill.—Bro. Mike and I want to see who is the most spiritual...I have my little Bible here, and he has his bigger one, so I have to outdo him and I get our family Bible from off the coffee table and start preaching with it.  He comes the next week pulling a red wagon full of Bibles and commentaries, so I have to purchase Thomas Nelson Publishing just to win!


v. 5  borders = this was a border of blue around the hem of their garments.

Numbers 15:38
Speak unto the children of Israel, and bid them that they make them fringes in the borders of their garments throughout their generations, and that they put upon the fringe of the borders a ribband of blue:

This was a reminder that they could have a heavenly walk while here on earth.  It was a good idea, but they just had to make their blue ribbons bigger and bigger!  The pig in Charlotte’s web won the blue ribbon, but that was for being humble!


Joke—man snored badly, dr. advised wife to tie a ribbon around his nose during the night, she found some that was blue and tried it that nite, and it worked.  He woke up, looked in the mirror, and there it was.  She walked in behind him and asked, how was your night last night?  He said, “I don’t even remember where I went, but I won first place!”


But these guys were just religious show offs. 


v. 6  They wanted to sit on the platform w/ the dignitaries. 


v. 7  Rabbi = “my great one”.  They wanted this honor.  Don’t call me Phil, they said, if we’re in public, call me ‘my great one’. 


I don’t care for the term Reverend, because the Bible says, “reverend is His name” [Psalm 111:9...He is due reverence...I am not!  If I ever get my Doctorate of Divinity I don’t want to be called Dr. Shirley.

Joke—“There once was a preacher named Tweedle, who refused to accept his degree, he said it’s bad enough to be Tweedle, without being Tweedle, D.D.


The Pharisees loved the title, but didn’t want to do the work to earn it.


v. 8-10     Here we see Jesus condemning the use of 3 titles:  rabbi, father, and master.  Can you think of any who are in violation of this?


v. 11-12   Greatness is not found in being served, but in serving others.


It’s easy to point our fingers at such religious hypocrites, but we would be the same if we didn’t engage in self examination now and consistently, daily!


Explanation to the crowd...


II.    Condemnation of the Scribes and Pharisees

v. 13-36  


8 woes are found here, and they contrast to the beatitudes of Matthew 8.

v. 13

Matthew 5:3
Blessed are the poor in spirit: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

But they were proud in spirit, and they not only were lost, they kept others lost, too!  We never want to keep others from being saved!


v. 14

Matthew 5:4
Blessed are they that mourn: for they shall be comforted.

They that mourn are comforted, they that destroy are condemned.


v. 15

Matthew 5:5
Blessed are the meek: for they shall inherit the earth.

But these guys circle the earth trying to convert some, but send them to hell!


v. 16

Matthew 5:6
Blessed are they which do hunger and thirst after righteousness: for they shall be filled.

But these guys were more about religious trinkets than true spirituality.  They filled their treasuries with gold, but real fulfillment comes in another way!


The blind comparison is funny if it wasn’t so true.  They needed help, not to help others!

Joke—why don’t blind people sky dive?  It scares the dog!


v. 23

Matthew 5:7
Blessed are the merciful: for they shall obtain mercy.

They had no mercy, and their giving was rejected because of the motive behind it, so they receive no mercy either.


Jesus isn’t condemning the practice of tithing, but that they were taking it to a ridiculous level, tearing off one leaf for every 10 on a plant!  They were sticklers for details, but blind to basic Bible principles.


v. 24        They put gauze over their drinking cups to strain out something like a gnat, but didn’t seem to notice the camel they swallowed [not their cigarette!]  This is reminiscent of Jesus’ teaching about the speck of sawdust vs. the beam [telephone pole] sticking out of their own eyes!


Let’s not major on the minors and go easy on the majors!


v. 25, 27

Matthew 5:8
Blessed are the pure in heart: for they shall see God.

It’s the inside that counts.  They were defiled in their hearts, no matter how they dressed up the outside. 


v. 29

Matthew 5:9-10
9 Blessed are the peacemakers: for they shall be called the children of God. 10 Blessed are they which are persecuted for righteousness' sake: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

v. 30-31   Christians are to be peacemakers, even if persecuted, but these were the actual persecutors.  They honored the prophets’ tombs, but they put them there!


Jesus is pulling the masks off the hypocrites.  It is His job, not yours!  And don’t let hypocrites keep you from being the real thing!


An EXPLANATION to the Crowd...

A CONDEMNATION of the Scribes and Pharisees...


III.   A  LAMENTATION over Jerusalem

v. 37-39  


You get what you ask for.  These wanted praise of men, and they got it, but we must seek the praise of God!



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