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David Guzik's Commentary on Matthew 23:1-12

David Guzik's Commentaries on the Bible

Matthew 23 - Woes to the Scribes and the Pharisees

A. Jesus rebukes the scribes and the Pharisees.

1. (1-4) They lay oppressive burdens on others.

Then Jesus spoke to the multitudes and to His disciples, saying: "The scribes and the Pharisees sit in Moses' seat. Therefore whatever they tell you to observe, that observe and do, but do not do according to their works; for they say, and do not do. For they bind heavy burdens, hard to bear, and lay them on men's shoulders; but they themselves will not move them with one of their fingers."

a. Whatever they tell you to observer, that observe and do: Jesus says respect is due to the scribes and Pharisees - not because of their conduct, but because they sit in Moses' seat. They hold an office of authority, ordained by God.

b. They bind heavy burdens, hard to bear, and lay them on men's shoulders: The first accusation against these religious leaders could apply to many religious leaders today. Many still make Christianity a set of burdensome rules to follow.

i. The early church rejected this legalism when it insisted that obedience to the Mosaic Law is not a foundation for the Christian life. Peter told the legalists in Acts 15:10: "Why do you test God by putting a yoke on the neck of the disciples which neither our fathers nor we were able to bear?

c. Heavy burdens: The burden of the religious leaders contrasts sharply to Jesus' burden. His burden is light, and His yoke is easy (Matthew 11:30).

2. (5-10) They do their works to be seen of others, and live for the praise of men.

"But all their works they do to be seen by men. They make their phylacteries broad and enlarge the borders of their garments. They love the best places at feasts, the best seats in the synagogues, greetings in the marketplaces, and to be called by men, 'Rabbi, Rabbi.' But you, do not be called 'Rabbi'; for One is your Teacher, the Christ, and you are all brethren. Do not call anyone on earth your father; for One is your Father, He who is in heaven. And do not be called teachers; for One is your Teacher, the Christ."

a. All their works they do to be seen by men: The religious leaders were guilty of advertising their righteousness. Both the phylacteries (small leather boxes with tiny scrolls with scriptures on them, tied to the arm and head with leather straps) and the borders of their garments were worn in supposed conformity to the Mosaic Law (Deuteronomy 11:18, Numbers 15:38-40).

b. They make their phylacteries broad and enlarge the borders of their garments: Naturally, like every person in the flesh, the religious leaders figured that broader phylacteries and larger borders on their garments showed them to be more spiritual. There is virtually no end to the way that man's depravity cannot pervert God's commands.

c. They love the best places . . . greetings in the marketplaces: Not content to display their "spirituality," the religious leaders loved it when people admired their "spirituality." They coveted the seats of honor at banquets and at the synagogue, and they loved the honoring titles such as Rabbi and father.

3. (11-12) The way of Jesus: service and humility.

"But he who is greatest among you shall be your servant. And whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted."

a. He who is greatest among you shall be your servant: In the flesh, we determine greatness by how many people serve and honor us. In Jesus, we determine greatness by how we serve and honor others.

i. Since Jesus truly was the greatest among them, He spoke of Himself as a servant. Unfortunately, for the most part the church has imitated the style of the scribes and Pharisees more than the style of Jesus.

b. Whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted: This promise is absolutely true, but sometimes needs the measure of eternity to make itself known.

Copyright David Guzik, Siegen, Germany.

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