Hypocrisy: The horror of the Pharisees’ mistakes

Matthew 23:29-36

Rather than a verse by verse analysis, this lesson seeks to focus attention on a problem of the scribes and Pharisees that deeply offended God. The problem was deeply rooted in Israel’s history and in the scribes and Pharisees’ self-concept. Israel had hundreds of years of history in rebelling against God. Though the scribes and Pharisees devoutly believed they were God’s people, they were in fact continuing Israel’s history of rebellion.

Israel’s history of rebellion began be-fore they left Egypt. Their attitude of “no confidence” is seen in Exodus 5:20, 21. The attitude was not, “Moses, we know God is working through you.” It was, “Moses, we hope you are satisfied! You signed our death warrant!” God’s ten incredible acts that followed were as much to identify God in Israel as the living God as to convince Pharaoh to release the Israelites. The message to Israel was, “Israel, I [God] can take care of you! Trust me!”

This attitude continued at the Red Sea when Israel was caught between the Egyptian army and the sea. It is seen in Exodus 14:10-12. They did not see God working! They only saw certain death. In fear they said they were delivered from Egypt to be destroyed in the wilderness!

The same attitude is seen in Exodus 15:24 when the Israelites were thirsty and Exodus 16:2, 3 when the Israelites were hungry for meat.

This attitude is seen when Israel asked Aaron to build them a idol to lead them. [This occurred after God spoke the Ten Commandments to them!] Consider Exodus 32:1 and 32:4-6. Israel forgot God’s previous acts! They did not see God working through Moses!

This attitude is seen in Numbers 13:25-14:4 when Israel refused to enter Canaan. All God’s preserving acts to that point were forgotten. They saw only consequences, not opportunities. They even suggested that conditions would improve if they returned to Egypt!

This attitude of rebellion repeatedly occurred for generations. Some of the notable expressions include repeatedly turning to idolatry in Judges, Israel’s request for a king (1 Samuel 8), the divided kingdom, the necessity of the Assyrian captivity, the necessity of the Babylonian captivity, and the rejection of the prophets and their messages from God. Periods when Israel trusted God were brief. Periods when Israel turned away from God were many and long.

This is a brief presentation of ancient Israel’s history of rebellion against God. The scribes and Pharisees agreed those things happened. They agreed ancient Israel rebelled against God. They claimed to exist to challenge Israel to do better than their forefathers. They existed to call Israel to walk in God’s paths. Their position: “We would not have done what our forefathers did! We know better!”

Jesus focused attention on the way their forefathers killed the prophets. These prophets were God’s spokesmen. Often in their writings they wrote in God’s voice [“The Lord says …, etc.]. Why did past generations reject and kill the prophets?

  1. The prophets’ mes-sages from God did not fit either their lives, practices, or expectations.
  2. They were convinced if they killed the prophet they would destroy the prophet’s message.
  3. Thus they could preserve things as they were, as they wanted them to continue to be, by rejecting the prophets’ words and lives.

First, note Jesus’ indictment. Basically, he declared:

  1. you confirm your identity by admitting you are the descend-ants of prophet killers.
  2. You think you distinguish yourselves from past generations by showing posthumous honor to those your forefathers killed. However, you do not give serious attention to those prophets’ messages.
  3. You are prepared to do worse than they did. Why? You do not listen to God’s message [you hear what you want to hear]. Your guilt will be greater than your forefathers’ guilt.

Second, note another indictment Jesus gave. He said they were serpents [snakes], specifically a brood of vipers [a nest of poison snakes]. The devout in Israel did not consider them poison snakes. They looked at them as a godly influence. The scribes and Pharisees would not call themselves a nest of poison snakes. They considered themselves to be a godly influence. Only Jesus classified them as dangerous to God’s ways and purposes! The opinions of others did not destroy the fact they were dangerous! The fact they felt good about themselves religiously did not destroy the fact they were dangerous! The truth: while they fulfilled the expectations of many religious people and of themselves, they were horribly out-of-step with God. They were not an example of God’s holiness, of people ruled by God, or of God’s purposes!

The scribes and Pharisees would do things worse than their forefathers? They were dangerous, out-of-step with God’s purposes? Killing the son is worse than killing the prophet! [See Matthew 21:33-40] God’s son was killed by those who did not understand God’s purposes. Consider John 11:47-53 as an illustration. Therefore the chief priests and the Pharisees convened a council, and were saying, “What are we doing? For this man is performing many signs. If we let Him go on like this, all men will believe in Him, and the Romans will come and take away both our place and our nation.” But one of them, Caiaphas, who was high priest that year, said to them, “You know nothing at all, nor do you take into account that it is expedient for you that one man die for the people, and that the whole nation not perish.” Now he did not say this on his own initiative, but being high priest that year, he prophesied that Jesus was going to die for the nation, and not for the nation only, but in order that He might also gather together in-to one the children of God who are scattered abroad. So from that day on they planned together to kill Him.

To misrepresent God and His purposes is hypocrisy.

Discussion Questions:

  1. Illustrate ancient Israel’s history of rebellion against God.
  2. What was the scribes and Pharisees’ attitude toward ancient Israel’s rebellion?
  3. How did Jesus use Israel’s ancient prophets to declare the scribes and Pharisees’ rebellion against God?
  4. How did Jesus declare that the scribes and Pharisees were dangerous?
  5. Use John 11:47-53 to illustrate that the scribes and Pharisees were worse than their forefathers. How is this woe relevant to Christians and congregations today?