Matthew: Jesus and the Religious Leaders

Read: Matthew 22-23

Following the parable of the wedding feast, Jesus continues to challenge the Jewish leadership by exposing their inability to grasp the fundamental truth that was literally standing right in front of their faces. The reading today includes a wide array of topics presented by Matthew as keys to revealing significant problems with the religious right.

Here’s the roadmap for this morning:

Jesus’ response to paying taxes is one we often quote, and it’s probably a favorite of the IRS, but notice verse 16:

They sent their disciples to him along with the Herodians. Matthew 22:16

The Pharisees tried to trip up Jesus by including the Herodians in the confrontation to create a legal reason for disbanding the disciples. The Herodians, as in, Herod who had John beheaded on a whim. They commune with those who are despised by the people as an oppressive authority and judge Jesus and his disciples who reach out to the least, the lost and the lonely. The Pharisees are hell-bent on getting their way, as we’ll read today, and that’s not a play on words. Jesus doesn’t miss a beat as he sends them off scratching their heads.

Next we read about an encounter with the Sadducees, the group that doesn’t believe in the resurrection. This is their moment on stage with Jesus, so what do they ask? They ask a question to try and gain support for their position on resurrection by creating a ridiculous scenario. Jesus hears their pinpointed question and provides a broad response:

You are in error because you do not know the Scriptures or the power of God. Matthew 22:29

Those who devote their full attention to the Scriptures are lost, they don’t understand at all. Jesus sends them away searching their scrolls to find the basis of his response, but they will not be satisfied because they don’t see the big picture. Lost in the details and checklists, they have no chance at understanding the “why” behind the story.

Time for the Pharisees to step up to the microphone:

“Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?” Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.” Matthew 22:26-40

I can’t help but provide the entire quote here, these words are so important for us to soak in. All the Law hands on these fundamental thoughts. Every time we read the Bible, sing a worship song, pray for another, we need to remember that we are bound to love first. Love God with all we have. Love our neighbors, those caught up in this life like we are. Love ourselves. Obviously, we could write about this for days!

Matthew’s not done and the Pharisees, somewhat surprisingly, are still around so Jesus asks them a question:

What do you think about the Messiah? Whose son is he? Matthew 22:42

Jesus gives them a puzzle to solve that they cannot possibly comprehend from their perspective and sends them off (for the day):

No one could say a word in reply, and from that day on no one dared to ask him any more questions. Matthew 22:46

You see, it’s not that the religious leaders misinterpret the Law, the simply don’t understand the underlying principles for which the Law was created — they missed the point. As a result, they are lost in their piety:

So you must be careful to do everything they tell you. But do not do what they do, for they do not practice what they preach. Matthew 23:3

When we talk about servant leadership, serving to lead, we are drawn to this passage because we know in our hearts:

The greatest among you will be your servant. For those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted. Matthew 23:11-12

The motivational speech is to humble ourselves, not dance in the end zone.

Just in case anyone is wondering about Jesus’ position on the Pharisees:

  1. Woe: You shut the door of the kingdom of heaven in people’s faces.
  2. Woe: you make a new convert twice as much a child of hell as you are.
  3. Woe: You blind men! Which is greater: the gift, or the altar that makes the gift sacred?
  4. Woe: You blind guides! You strain out a gnat but swallow a camel.
  5. Woe: Blind Pharisee! First clean the inside of the cup and dish, and then the outside also will be clean.
  6. Woe: You look beautiful on the outside but on the inside are full of the bones of the dead and everything unclean.
  7. Woe: you testify against yourselves that you are the descendants of those who murdered the prophets.

“You snakes! You brood of vipers! How will you escape being condemned to hell? Matthew 23:33

Seven woes. The leaders are completely lost.

Before we begin to gloat over our non-denominational deliverance from Pharisaical thinking or our superior understanding of Calvinism or Arminianism, let’s pause and reflect. While it’s important to be able to articulate theological, dogmatic distinctions, solid expository teaching of the Bible, and appropriate hermeneutics, I pray that we will not lose sight of our savior’s words: Love God and Love Others. Lord, help us to embrace love for the entire world.

Thoughts about serving others

This link includes a list of posts about Serving the Least, the Lost, and the Lonely.

My prayer is for you to join me on this journey. Subscribe to this blog below to get an email when a new post is available.

Let the Word evoke words. May your life encourage lives.

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