Religious Hypocrisy

In this section, Jesus is in the middle of interacting with the Pharisees, who were the Jewish religious leaders or the religious elite within Judaism. They assumed ultimate authority over how the people needed to understand their sacred writings and act. Even though many of them were hypocrites, which Jesus is constantly addressing with them.

The backdrop leading up to this interaction starts at the beginning of chapter 21 where “The Triumphal Entry” of Jesus occurs. Jesus is entering Jerusalem on a donkey fulfilling yet another prophesy (Zech 9:9) and there is a large crowd gathered, who are yelling out things reserved for the Messiah of Israel. Jesus then makes His way to the Temple and the surrounding Temple courts seemingly to engage the religious leaders, who are the face of the religious charade that is the sad reality of this system. This does not make the Pharisees happy at all!

So here are a few observations from this passage recorded in the gospel according to Matthew found in chapter 23 vv. 1-12.

Then Jesus said to the crowds and to his disciples….

Jesus is talking to all sorts of people. Some are Jews, some are Gentiles, some followed Him and some didn’t. Keep this in mind, especially with regard to what He will say. Jesus intentionally and publically again rebukes their religion.

“The experts in the law and the Pharisees sit on Moses’ seat. Therefore pay attention to what they tell you and do it. But do not do what they do, for they do not practice what they teach.

The Pharisees were the epitome of hypocrisy!

They tie up heavy loads, hard to carry, and put them on men’s shoulders, but they themselves are not willing even to lift a finger to move them.

They hold people down in religious bondage that never seems to lighten. It’s always about doing this or not doing that. There’s no sense of mercy, love or peace. Not to mention, they don’t even practice what they preach.

They do all their deeds to be seen by people, for they make their phylacteries wide and their tassels long. They love the place of honor at banquets and the best seats in the synagogues and elaborate greetings in the marketplaces, and to have people call them ‘Rabbi.’

The religious leaders main motivation is to be seen by people. They love being recognized at special events and when the people gather for worship. And they love to have people call them ‘Rabbi,’ which would be synonymous today with teacher or even pastor. Rabbis are those who teach the law to the people and guide them like a shepherd in it.

you are not to be called ‘Rabbi,’ for you have one Teacher and you are all brothers. And call no one your ‘father’ on earth, for you have one Father, who is in heaven. Nor are you to be called ‘teacher,’ for you have one teacher, the Christ.

First, Jesus says that they shouldn’t be called ‘Rabbi,’ since all have one Teacher, who He says is Him alone. He also says that they all are brothers. This is truly remarkable! Remember, Jesus was talking to a variety of people, not just the religious leaders. He also says that all have one Father, who is in heaven, referring to God our Abba Father.

The greatest among you will be your servant. And whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and whoever humbles himself will be exalted.

Jesus then flips the script and says that those who want to exalt themselves will be humbled and those who are humble will be exalted, since to be great means to be a servant. Jesus, the Son of God is the suffering servant who voluntarily became a man and let His own creation murder Him, so that He could enter death and defeat the one who holds the power of death, that is the Accuser, the Destroyer, the Adversary, the Devil, the Antichrist.

Can we fall into the trap today of being just like the Pharisees? Yes, we certainly can! Can we fall into the trap of following those who are just like the Pharisees? You bet we can! Being religious like them, only leads to bondage, guilt and fear. I think the main focus of Jesus was not to just correct right thinking or action, but to infiltrate and debunk religiosity at its core. He came to show that He is the Savior of the World, that He is the Teacher, who we should be paying attention to.

“This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well-pleased” (Father God, Matt. 3:17).

“This is My beloved Son, with whom I am well-pleased; listen to Him!” (Father God, Matt. 17:5)

“This is My Son, My Chosen One; listen to Him!” (Father God, Luke 9:35)