October 24, 2013

Scripture and Commentary, Friday after the Twenty-first Sunday after Trinity

Morning – Psalm 22, 2 Kings 9:30, 2 Tim 4:1-8
Evening – Psalm 6, 26, Ecc. 11, Mt. 23:24

Commentary, Matthew 23:24-39

Verse 24 is actually part of the fifth woe which began in verse 23.  It completes the point that the Pharisees concern with small matters makes them blind to great matters.  Here, however, our Lord seems to make the small points of God’s law a matter of difficulty.  They strain at them, like someone trying to get a gnat out of his mouth.  Yet they have no problem with the massive code of rabbinic regulations.  Compared to the small points of God’s law, which gives them so much trouble, their own regulations are like a camel.  But, though they strain at the gnat, they gladly swallow the camel.

Woe six is found in verses 25 and 26.  It concerns the Pharisees’ excessive worries about appearing outwardly pure, while remaining impure on the inside.  They would, for example, never think of not washing their hands before eating, according to their standard ceremony (Lk. 11:37-42)Yet their hearts are filled with plans for extortion and excessive self indulgence.  Christ says they (and we) should be much more concerned about being clean on the inside.  We should desire hands that are spiritually clean.

Woe seven, in verses 27 and 28 continues the same idea of pursuing real, inward purity rather than a false outward appearance of purity.  For this reason it is often considered as part of the sixth woe.  This would reduce the number of woes from eight to seven, making for the seven woes against the Pharisees.  Whether there are seven woes or eight really does not matter.  What does matter is that the Pharisees appear righteous to other people, but their hearts are full of hypocrisy.

Woe eight, verses 29-35 demolishes a favourite pretense of the Pharisees.  They love to say they would have been faithful in times when their forefathers forsook God.  They say they would not have killed the prophets, they would have stood with them for the truth of God (vs. 30).  Many today say they would have stood with Christ, the Apostles, and the martyrs, if they had lived during those times.  Maybe so, but perhaps we should ask for faith sufficient for life today, rather than boast about how great our faith would have been then.

Jesus counters this with two points.  First He says this is an admission that they are “children of them which killed the prophets.”  Second, He says they will continue the very same sin.  They will persecute the prophets and wise men and scribes Christ will send to them with His Gospel.  They will kill and crucify them; scourge them in their synagogues, and persecute them from city to city (vs. 34).  He even reminds them of a man named Zacharius, slain near the altar of the Temple.  We know they crucified Christ.  We also know they followed Christians from city to city, hunting them down for the “crime” of believing in Christ.  Many died horrible deaths for Christ, literally fulfilling His words to the Pharisees.

Verse 35 marks a turning point in this confrontation.  Here Christ begins to include all of Jerusalem in the sins of the Pharisees.  He is saying the entire Jerusalem religious machine is corrupt.  Outward show has replaced inward Godliness.  Therefore, “all these things will come upon this generation” (vs. 36).

There is no joy in Christ’s remarks.  He speaks with a broken heart.  “[H]ow often would I have gathered thy children together, even as a hen gathereth her chickens under her wings” (vs. 37).  Under their mother’s wings is the safest place a chick can be. Any danger or predator will get the mother hen first.  Jesus would take the danger and the wrath of God for Jerusalem.  He would have the people come to Him, but they would not.  They persist in their sin.  Therefore, He says, “your house is left unto you desolate.” He means first, they will be left in their desolate, empty corruption of the word of God, and in that corruption, they will die.  Second, He refers to the coming destruction of Jerusalem.  He will give more details about this in chapter 24.

Verse 39 does not refer to seeing Christ with their eyes.  It refers to seeing Him in faith.  Obviously the Pharisees continue to see Him with their eyes as the week continues.  They see Him before Pilate, see Him on the cross, see His lifeless body removed from the cross, and probably see it laid in the tomb.  But most of them will never see Him in faith.  Some will, but most will die in their sins and remain under His wrath forever.  Let us ensure that we see Him in faith, lest we also hear Him say, “Woe unto you.”

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