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Wednesday, September 27th, 2023
the Week of Proper 20 / Ordinary 25
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Matthew 23

Bell's Commentary on the BibleBell's Commentary

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Verses 1-12

    1. Read Text...
    2. Here is our Lord’s last public message (1-13), before He withdraws from the people. [Then private to the Pharisees rest of ch.] What topic does He pick?
      1. This is the most severe language Jesus ever used in His Ministry.
      2. Beware of the Scribes...Why? Because they are Proud lovers of…
    3. ​​​​​​​Keep in mind we are going to look at what Greatness is.
      1. Pharisees try to find it in...4 Places. 3 Titles. 2 ways to be seen. 1 way to be high on Talk, Low on Walk.
  2. IS GREATNESS FOUND IN PLACES? (2,6,7) 4 places
    1. ​​​​​​​Moses seat (2) - refers to the tradition and authority of Moses. The Pharisees believed that they alone interpreted the words of Moses properly. Thus you notice they seated themselves in this chair. [this one found in Chorazin]
      1. This was an actual chair each synagogue had.
      2. Still used when the Pope speaks ex Cathedra, from or out of the seat of the chair (of authority). Our Universities still use this, as someone Chairs the Science Dept.
    2. Best places at feasts (6a) - When the wealthy gave feasts, Scribes were considered necessary ornaments to adorn the meal. They were given a place of honor to the right or left of the host (even above the parents).
    3. Best seats in Synagogue (6b) - Seats at the front of the synagogue, facing the congregation, their backs against the chest holding the Torah, where they could see & more importantly…be seen.
    4. Greetings in Market place (7) - they didn’t love greeting others, or being a greeter, but loved when everybody else knows their name.
      1. The character Norm on Cheers in the 80’s embodied this...Sometimes you want to go Where everybody knows your name, And they're always glad you came; You want to be where you can see, Our troubles are all the same; You want to be where everybody knows your name.
    5. A basic fact of Christianity is that it ought to make a man wish to obliterate-self rather than to exalt it.
    6. Is Greatness Found in Places? No.
  3. IS GREATNESS FOUND IN TITLES? (8-10) 3 titles
    1. ​​​​​​​All Titles & honors aren’t automatically a bad thing. But if you are so proud of your title & honors that gives occasion for your pride to parade its ugly self, then they are Forbidden. [diff of someone using your title, vs you making them use it every time]
      1. In contrast to the Pharisees. Jesus commands them to avoid the pride and prestige that accompany titles. [we can also become prideful of NOT using titles, ha!]
    2. Rabbi - My great one. Your all brethren, on the same plane, no need to raise yourself up.
    3. Father - Don’t call anyone on earth your father (in a spiritual sense).
      1. Biological father is ok. Paul even calls himself a spiritual father.
    4. Teacher - God has placed sp. leaders in the church, but they must not replace God in our lives. And they must not lead us into bondage to his/her ideas & beliefs.
      1. The Savior prohibits not so much the Titles themselves, but the spirit of Pride & ambition which covets & abuses them. Lang
      2. If a person is important only because of the uniform they wears, the title they bears, or the office they hold, then their importance is artificial.
      3. [*Katrina/New Orleans. Yur jst showin off yur Badge]
    5. Reverend has always been a problem around Calvary because of Ps.111:9 Holy & Reverend (awesome) is His name. It’s only used here & as a reference to God.
      1. Now, I guess you can sometimes use, The High Most Awesome-est Right Reverend Brian J Bell the Maximus every once in a while :)
    6. Is Greatness Found in Titles? No.
  4. IS GREATNESS FOUND IN BEING SEEN? (5) 2 ways to be seen
    1. ​​​​​​​Many keep the laws of God to the eye, but violate them in the heart.
    2. These men used Religion to Attract Attention, not to Glorify God.
    3. They even used Religious ornaments to display their piety.
    4. Examples: Phylacteries & Borders of their garments.
      1. Keep in mind while talking of these that they are not bad ideas in & of themselves as a useful reminder.
    5. Phylacteries/Tephillin/Frontlets - [Made of black calf skin. 4 compartments inside. Inside 4 parchments w/4 passages of scripture (2 Ex - 2 Deut)]
      1. From Ex.13:9 It shall be as a sign to you on your hand and as a memorial between your eyes, that the Lord’s law may be in your mouth; for with a strong hand the Lord has brought you out of Egypt.
        1. ​​​​​​​Meaning: Hand (you shall handle His word). Eyes (you shall think about it). Mouth (you shall speak about it).
    6. Make them broad - Show head one. [Broad spoke of the Case, not the contents]
      1. Size = Zeal. Wearing large ones took the place of obedience.
      2. What do you use to make yourself look religious that takes the place of true obedience?
    7. No wonder Jesus ridiculed such minute concern for pretentious externalism & literalism.
    8. Enlarge the Borders - Even Jesus had this hem on His garment. From Numb.15:38
      1. It was to remind them of the 613 law’s. That’s a good thing to remember.
      2. But here the leaders came up w/more minute rules about the # & the length of the fringes knots.
      3. Plummer said, “Such things were useful as reminders; they are fatal when they were regarded as charms!”I. Is Greatness Found in Being Seen? No.
  5. IS GREATNESS FOUND IN SAYINGOR DOING? (3,4) 1 way to be high on talk, low on walk
    1. ​​​​​​​Observe what they tell you. Obviously only what is taught from scripture not their man-made rules & traditions.
      1. The Word of God has authority even if the people who teach it lack integrity.
    2. Our Lord’s standard is both do & teach His truths.
      1. 1 Thes.2:10,12 You are witnesses, and God also, how devoutly and justly and blamelessly we behaved ourselves among you who believe...that you would walk worthy of God
      2. If we Practice Hypocrisy, we erode our character.
    3. The remedy for Hypocrisy is honesty w/yourself & w/God.
      1. Abraham Lincoln asked a great soul searching question, If I were 2-faced, would I be wearing this one?
    4. ​​​​​​​So, they thought outward conformity = righteousness, w/o inwardly obeying the Law.
      1. Ps.51:6 Behold, You desire truth in the inward parts (the innermost part of a person), And in the hidden part (where secrets are kept) You will make me to know wisdom. or, MSG What you’re after is truth from the inside out. Enter me, then; conceive a new true life.
      2. There is a French Pear called Williams’ Bon Kretien (The Good Christian) because they say it is never rotten at the core. [aka Bartlett]
    5. (4) Jesus came to lighten burdens, not bomb-bard them w/burdens.
      1. Instead of Spiritual leaders they were hypocritical religious dictators.
    6. I think the Pharisees version of Mt.11:28,29 went something like this... Come to Me, all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you more religious things to do. Take My yoke upon you because I can’t bear it, so I can find rest for my soul. And learn from me for I am a harsh prideful task master with a lot of smarts. For your yoke will be punishing & grueling and your burden really really demanding & heavy. But my yoke will remain easy and my burden light.
    7. ​​​​​​​​​​​​​​Is Greatness Found in Saying not Doing? No.
  6. SO WHERE IS GREATNESS FOUND? (5) 2 ways in servanthood & humility
    1. ​​​​​​​Servant - true Greatness is found in serving others, not in forcing them to serve us.
    2. Humility - Where our King rules...whoever exalts himself will definitely be abased; whoever humbles himself, the King will quickly raise up.
      1. Because they rejected servanthood & humility, they were themselves rejected by God.
      2. The way to rise, is to sink self. The lower we fall in our own esteem, the higher shall we rise in our Masters estimation. Spurg
    3. For 20 centuries the church has been telling the world to admit their sins, repent, & believe the gospel. Today, the world is telling the church to face up to her sins, repent, & start being the true church of that gospel. Warren Wiersbe, The Integrity Crisis pg.17.
      1. ​​​​​​​Do you ever turn your religion into a matter of outward show & pride?
      2. Do you ever tell your right hand what your left hand is doing?
      3. Do you ever tell your friends what both your rt & lft hands are doing?
  7. MASKS
    1. ​​​​​​​When Bob Hope hosted the Academy Awards in 1953 he opened by saying, “This is the 1st time the Academy Awards have been on television. You’ll see the faces of the winners and you’ll see the faces of the losers congratulating the winners. In other words, tonight you’re gonna see some real Academy Award acting.”
      1. We all wear masks, don’t we? (look at your neighbor...that’s not them)
        1. Often we believe our own story/lies. That’s a major issue with hypocrisy.
        2. For instance, the mask of selfishness maybe painful to peel off, but the result is too good to pass up.
    2. ​​​​​​​​​​​​​​Masks are worn to disguise who we really are. It can be done for fun. Or it can be done for harm.
      1. Too often we wear masks to hide who we really are from others and from God. However, God can see through our mask.
      2. The Pharisees of Jesus day were guilty of wearing masks. So are most of us today.
      3. THE CAIN MASK
        1. What We See - a clean lifestyle of: Honest dealings. Kindness. A good ol' boy, who ain't hurting nobody.
        2. What God Sees - a man with an impure thought life. Unforgiveness. Self-righteousness.
      4. THE MOSES MASK (2 Cor.3:13 unlike Moses, who put a veil over his face so that the children of Israel could not look steadily at the end of what was passing away)
        1. What We See - Ex.34 when Moses met with God on Sinai he received a sun-burn or actually a God-burn. To which the people were scared to look upon.
        2. What God Sees - He wasn’t covering up the glow, but the fade.
      5. THE SONS OF ELI MASK (1Sam.2:12-26, Hophni & Phinehas)
        1. What We See - A fine family. A family of faith.
        2. What God Sees - A family of misplaced faith. A family of superficial commitment
        1. What We See - A seemingly "good" christian. Hard worker. Faithful member.
        2. What God Sees - a man good at deception. A man with a work religion mentality. A man with a self serving commitment.
    3. The tragedy is that many of us wear masks all of our lives and go off into eternity deceiving only ourselves.
      1. God can’t work with our masks. And there is no mask ministry in heaven.
      2. And some of us have become pretty good at multi-masking.
      3. We got a lifetime to perfect our façade, our veneer, our working undercover.
      4. Maybe, you’re wearing a marriage mask. Or an I got to be strong mask. Or A happy mask...showing you’re the life of the party...when behind the mask your dying. Maybe you’re wearing an it’s all good mask. Or you’re wearing the sex appeal mask, but you’re aging & it’s harder & harder to keep that mask on.
      5. Maybe, your’e molding your face to fit your mask? Either what others expect of you or your perception of their expectation of you. [remember on the Beany Boy & Cecil cartoon of the 60’s, at the end each character would pull off their mask. When Dishonest John, the shows villain did, it was an exact duplicate of his face]
        1. Put the mask on and God can’t work (It’s hypocrisy, phony, duplicity).
        2. Take the mask off and God can work (It’s vulnerability, honesty, authenticity).
      6. Hand in your mask to Jesus, today.

Verses 13-39

  1. Intro: Outwardly Religious. Inwardly Corrupt.
    1. In dealing with the topic of greatness, In dealing with little ones, Jesus is gentle. In facing foes, He is bold.
      1. As we said, Jesus uses His strongest language in this ch.
      2. Against who, unbelievers? No, against those who profess to be believers, aka hypocrites.
    2. What is a hypocrite? The Greek word denotes someone acting out a part in a play.
      1. In Greek drama the actors held masks over their faces.
      2. Each mask was painted to represent the character, the actor played.
      3. In real life, a hypocrite is a person who masks his real self, while he plays a part for his audience.
    3. ​​​​​​​Last week we talked about...too often we wear masks to hide who we really are from others and from God. However, God can see through our mask.
      1. Put the mask on and God can’t work (It’s hypocrisy, phony, duplicity).
      2. Take the mask off and God can work (It’s vulnerability, honesty, authenticity).
        1. Hopefully you turned in your mask lass week to Jesus.
    4. When Ptolemy, outstanding astronomer, astrologer, geographer, mathematician, of the 2nd century, decided to build the Pharos (island off Alexandria, Egypt), he chose Sostratus to design that mammoth lighthouse, which later became one of the 7 Wonders of the Ancient World.
      1. Ptolemy insisted that the structure should bear his inscription as a personal memorial; however, Sostratus didn't think the king should get all the credit.
      2. He therefore put the title of Ptolemy on the front of the lighthouse in a thick plaster which would be eye catching at first, but later would be worn away by the elements. Secretly he had cut his own name in the granite underneath.
      3. For decades the sea dashed against the inscription and gradually eroded it. Though it lasted the lifetime of that earthly monarch, it finally was obliterated, leaving the name Sostratus standing in bold relief.
        1. The Pharisees in this chapter wear their religion for all to see on the outside, proud of what they’ve built in their life...only to 1 day be exposed.
        2. 1 day all of us will finally be exposed & only what is underneath/inside will last.
    5. So far Jesus has warned the Religious leaders with 3 Parables. He’s spoken directly to the Herodian’s, Sadducees, & Pharisees. And now, He delivers 8 Woe’s.
      1. Jesus is pronouncing these Woe’s not with a temper, not with meanness, but with painful sorrow. We’ll catch His heart in the last few verses.
    6. ​​​​​​​7 out of the 8 Woe’s He calls them Hypocrites. In 1 He calls them Blind Guides.
      1. Hypocritical as to their character; blind guides as to their leadership.
    1. ​​​​​​​Woe – it infers grief & deep regret. [Anguish, not anger]
      1. Jesus’ purpose for these woe’s was to try to help the religious leaders & the people they influenced.
    2. It’s bad enough to keep yourself out, but to stand in the way of others, is detestable.
      1. How is your Lifestyle keeping others from entering?
    3. If you disagree with Christianity & don’t want any part of it (so be it), but don’t you dare influence others to follow you to the pit.
    4. *You are either detouring others from the Kingdom or inviting them into it.
    1. ​​​​​​​Some manuscripts omit this vs.14 ESV/NIV. But it is in Mrk.12:40 & Lk.20:47 so we know it is God’s truth, even if it wasn’t here.
    2. 2 Indictments: Swindling widows & making pretentious (attempting to impress) prayers.
      1. Both of these are bad enough by themselves, both make them guilty of the lowest Hell.
      2. They will have to stand before the widows judge one day. Ps.68:5 A father of the fatherless, a defender of widows, Is God in His holy habitation.
        1. God doesn’t leave this even to His best angel, but takes this unto Himself.
        2. His Mercy is extended to those longing for families. He becomes their Father. He is the peculiar Guardian to the defenseless. c) He’s the President of Orphanages...the Protector of Widows.
    3. Note: greater condemnation - proves that there are degrees of punishment, as there are degrees in Glory.
      1. All the ungodly will be condemned by the Righteous Judge. But the Greater damnation is reserved for the Hypocrites, who behind their mask of long prayers, have been ripping off widow’s.
        1. How are we ripping off widows? Maybe by not being a family to them?
    4. *You are either damaging the defenseless and showing off your long prayers or helping the defenseless and keeping your public prayers, short & honest.
    1. ​​​​​​​A proselyte is a convert to a cause. They were out to win others to their legalistic system.
    2. Twice a son of hell - The convert is usually shows much more zeal than his leader, thus this dble devotion only produces dble condemnation.
    3. *You are either winning others over to legalism or winning them over to grace.
    1. ​​​​​​​They were the religious guides of the Jews. Willfully Foolish, Willfully Blind.
    2. (17) Fools - They thought they were wise, He calls them Fools.
      1. Blind - Sin, prejudice, bigotry, & hypocrisy had blinded their eyes.
      2. Spurgeon said, There are none so stupid as those who will not learn, & none so blind as those who will not see.
    3. They tried to come up with different ways to swear/vow without using the Divine Name.
      1. He points out their folly in reversing the right order of things.
        1. He shows they were doing the very thing they tried to avoid.
      2. Stick to letting your yes be yes & no, no. Mt.5:34-36.
    4. *You’re either playing w/man made rules or living out the great realities of faith.
  6. WOE 5, MAJORING ON MINORS (23,24)
    1. ​​​​​​​They were so punctilious to tiny details (tithing their smallest herb plants) while disregarding the law’s true heart (the weightier matters).
      1. They were sticklers for detail and yet blind to great principles.
      2. They were using a microscope for details and a kaleidoscope for doctrines.
        1. The Talmud tells of the ass of a certain Rabbi which had been so well trained as to refuse corn of which the tithes had not been taken. Vincent
    2. Justice, Mercy, & Faith are the important qualities God is seeking.
    3. Jesus didn’t condemn tithing. He condemned when you allow your legalistic scruples to keep you from developing true Christian character.
    4. (24) Strain out a gnat or Filter out a gnat. And swallow a camel(hyperbole). Camel Consumption
      1. ​​​​​​​Both insect & camels were ceremonially unclean.
      2. They strain a gnat from their wine, so as not to be defiled. Yet, they commit great sins w/o any twinge of conscience therefore swallowing a camel, humps and all.
    5. *You are either majoring on the minors or you are majoring on the majors.
    1. ​​​​​​​WOE 6, INSIDE OUT (25,26)
    2. They had frequent washings. Both of themselves & of their vessels.
    3. Jesus shows it is possible to be clean on the outside, yet defiled on the inside.
    4. Jesus looked into their cup & saw greed & self-indulgence.
      1. As Jesus peers into your cup this morning what does He see?
    5. Here was their supreme fault & failure: Attention to externalism, to the neglect of the internal condition of their life.
    6. If your only focusing on your externals & not your heart, than your a 20th cent Pharisee.
    7. *You are either clean on the outside & dirty inside or you are clean inside, which leads to a clean outside.
    8. WOE 7, WHITEWASHED TOMBS (27,28)
    9. Jesus in one fell swoop, sliced a beautiful red polished apple right in 1/2 & exposed a juicy brown worm eating away at the core. [bad sunflower seed. walnut w/worm]
    10. The Jews were careful not to touch anything related to dead bodies.
      1. One month before Passover they’d whitewash the tombs. Remember it’s only 3 days from Passover. He’s probably looking at one right then.
      2. Contact w/a grave caused defilement. Contact w/these Pharisees did likewise.
    11. Dead men’s bones - what a graphic snapshot of the hypocrite.
      1. Illus: Painted Hand Pump - Babrov, Russia. Our hotel had such dirty water. Driving out the next morning I noticed they had painted the hand pumps white on the street corners. It didn’t make the water sweeter.
    12. D.L. Moody said, If I take care of my character, my reputation will care for itself.
    13. The Pharisee’s lived for reputation, not character.
    14. WOE 8 - PROPHET PERSECUTORS (29-36)
    15. (29) The Pharisees built, improved, & embellished the tombs of the Prophets (ie. Davids). Which was a false profession of reverence of the prophets.
      1. Their fathers killed the prophets. And they put monuments up to killed prophets. And they went on with the same business of killing prophets. (G.Campbell Morgan, pg.150.)
    16. (30) What irony that at that very moment they were already plotting the death of the Lord of Prophets.
    17. (32) Fill up - Top it off. Top off your cup...with my blood.
      1. Go ahead & finish what your fathers started. Israel’s measure was almost full.
    18. (33) A good surgeon cuts deep...so did Jesus.
    19. (35) This Zechariah is found in 2 Chron.24:20-22 the last book in the bible...Hebrew bible that is. So from Genesis to Malachi. A to Z. Whole range of OT history is indicated.
    20. (36) The Prophet has spoken.
      1. Instead of hearing the woe’s and coming out of darkness, they just tried to snuff out the light.
      2. And it was before that generation had passed a way that Jerusalem was besieged & destroyed, ad 70.
  8. NOT WILLING (37-39)
    1. ​​​​​​​(37) Don’t miss this...this chapter, w/the heaviest indictment, ends w/sobs & tears.
    2. Jerusalem, the nation of Israel. Jerusalem, Jerusalem signifies deep emotion.
      1. Just like Absalom, Absalom. Martha, Martha. Saul, Saul.
    3. ​​​​​​​I wanted to gather...you were not willing - this summarizes the tragedy of final rejection of truth.
      1. Jn.5:39,40 You search the Scriptures, for in them you think you have eternal life; and these are they which testify of Me. But you are not willing to come to Me that you may have life.
    4. ​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​Moses used this analogy of the hen gathering her chicks in his farewell sermon also (Deut32:11).
      1. What a picture this is of love, tender care & a willingness to die to protect others
    5. ​​​​​​​(38) The Temple was My house (21:13), but now it had been abandoned & left empty. Which Jesus does next...see 24:1.
    6. (39) Yet, Jesus leaves the nation w/a promise...He would 1 day return. I shall return. or I’ll be back.
      1. ​​​​​​​He will remove His presence from Israel until the Great Tribulation...which segue’s us into the end times teaching next.
      2. Till...long ages have passed since the king went away into the far country.
      3. The signs of the times tell us His coming is drawing near.
    7. Against the background of this indictment, we see one last touching portrait of Jesus. As He condemned these hypocrites, His heart broke for them and for the crowds who would soon scream for His death.
      1. In anguish, Jesus cried out...(msg) Jerusalem! Jerusalem! Murderer of prophets! Killer of the ones who brought you God’s news! How often I’ve ached to embrace your children, the way a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, and you wouldn’t let me. And now you’re so desolate, nothing but a ghost town. What is there left to say? Only this: I’m out of here soon. The next time you see me you’ll say, Oh, God has blessed him! He’s come, bringing God’s rule!
Bibliographical Information
Bell, Brian. "Commentary on Matthew 23". "Bell's Commentary". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/cbb/matthew-23.html. 2017.
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