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These are the seven woes Jesus declared to the teachers of the law and the Pharisees in Matthew 23. Jesus said this because the sins committed by the teachers of the law and the Pharisees under the Old Covenant had led them into hypocrisy:

1. “Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You shut the Kingdom of Heaven in men’s faces. You yourselves do not enter, nor will you let those enter who are trying to.” What does this mean? What did Jesus say about entrance into the Kingdom of Heaven? He said, “Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the Kingdom of Heaven, but only he who does the will of My Father who is in Heaven.”[1]I tell you the truth, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the Kingdom of Heaven.”[2] The sin of the teachers of the law and the Pharisees is that they did not teach people to humble themselves like children (meaning to lose all righteousness of their own), and to do the will of the Father.

2. “Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You travel over land and sea to win a single convert, and when he becomes one, you make him twice as much a son of hell as you are.” The sin here is that they taught others to follow their ways, traditions and doctrines. Because such teachings honour God with their lips only and cause their hearts to be far from God, they made their followers twice the son of hell as they are.

3. “Woe to you, blind guides! You say, ‘If anyone swears by the temple, it means nothing; but if anyone swears by the gold of the temple, he is bound by his oath.’” The sin here is that they taught their followers to place their faith in the ornaments of the temple, instead of the One who made the temple holy. It is an idol worship of man-made creations in the temple, which is based on man’s valuation of its value. By doing so, they lost their fear and reverence of the Lord, the Creator of the Heavens and the Earth.

4. “Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You give a tenth of your spices—mint, dill and cummin. But you have neglected the more important matters of the law—justice, mercy and faithfulness, [the love of God[3]]. You should have practiced the latter, without neglecting the former. You blind guides! You strain out a gnat but swallow a camel.” The sin here is that they do not teach the important matters of the law, which are mercy, faithfulness, the love of God and a double portion of justice. Instead they opted for the easy way out, which is giving of what is from the soil, rather than what is from the heart.

5. “Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You clean the outside of the cup and dish, but inside they are full of greed and self-indulgence. Blind Pharisee! First clean the inside of the cup and dish, and then the outside also will be clean.” The sin is here is that they care more about the state of their outer appearance, which is visible to other people, than the state of their hearts and minds, which is only visible and examined by God alone.

6. “Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You are like whitewashed tombs, which look beautiful on the outside but on the inside are full of dead men’s bones and everything unclean. In the same way, on the outside you appear to people as righteous but on the inside you are full of hypocrisy and wickedness (or lawlessness[4]).” They have masked the forsaking and disobeying of God in their hearts and minds, with outward acts and appearances. Note that Jesus differentiated hypocrisy with wickedness or lawlessness, which is sin. So hypocrisy and wickedness are separate.

7. “Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You build tombs for the prophets and decorate the graves of the righteous. And you say, ‘If we had lived in the days of our forefathers, we would not have taken part with them in shedding the blood of the prophets.’ So you testify against yourselves that you are the descendants of those who murdered the prophets. Fill up, then, the measure of the sin of your forefathers!” (Jesus said, “Go ahead and finish what your ancestors started.”[5]) The sin here is that they did not repent of the sin of rejecting and killing those who warned them, nor their desire to kill anyone who opposed them or threatened their so-called honoured positions before men.

First question: So what is hypocrisy? And since we are being shown the finer details of sin, wickedness and rebellion, how does hypocrisy differ?

Hypocrisy is not just the failure to practise what you preach. No, the failure to practise what you preach is the effect or manifestation of hypocrisy. This is the definition of a hypocrite in the eyes of the Lord: A hypocrite is a man who loves the praise, honour and attention of men more than he treasures the praise, honour and attention of God. And because of this, he fears men more than he fears God. This love for fellow man causes him to commit the seven sins that Jesus taught in Matthew 23.

Next question: Is hypocrisy, which is the love of man that replaces the love of God, a sin under the Old Covenant? On the first level, hypocrisy is not a sin because nowhere is it recorded in the Bible that God said, “Do not be a hypocrite.”

What did Jesus say when an expert in the religious law tried to trap Him with this question: “Teacher, which is the most important commandment in the law of Moses?” Jesus replied, “You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. A second is equally important: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ The entire law and all the demands of the prophets are based on these two commandments.”[6]

In this, the NLT gives us further understanding to the NIV. Where the NIV uses the words, “the Law”, the NLT uses the words “the law of Moses”. What is the law of Moses? It is Moses’ interpretation, explanations and teachings on the Law of God under the old covenant, purposed to give and encourage Israel to follow the Lord and obey His Law. Moses’ teachings are not the Law of God, although they are derived from the Law of God. For us, we are to obey the Law of Jesus, which are the red letter words in the Bible. Teachings of men help us with the knowledge and understanding, and the wisdom of practice thereof, under the counseling of the Holy Spirit, but such teachings are not the Law of Jesus. It is important to know what you are practicing and obeying.

So now, where is written that Israel was to love the Lord their God with all their heart, soul, and mind? Who said it? Was it God? Or was it Moses? It was Moses in Deuteronomy 6.5. This was Moses’ understanding on the Law of God when he received it directly from the Father on Mount Sinai. Moses was teaching the Israelites this particular matter of the Law of God, which is the love of God. This is the same as what Jesus said in Matthew 23.23.

Do you see what I am getting at? The failure to love the God with all your heart, mind and soul is not a sin, because God never commanded it. It was Moses who taught this. God commanded the Israelites to worship Him, and He gave them rules and regulations that pertain to worship in the prescribed way. God did not say, “You are to love Me, and no one else.” But He did say, “You shall have no other god besides Me.”[7] The purpose of the worship and fellowship is that we will grow to love the Lord, the Lord and the Lord out of our own freewill.

Think about it. Would you ask someone to love you? Would you say, “You are to love me and no one else”? No, because love comes from freewill and it cannot be forced. You cannot command someone to love you. Who does that? Only a tyrant dictator or an abusive partner would. Even so, what type of love would that be? What would be the quality of that love? Would a God who is looking for the perfect pearl desire love that is forced? There is no such thing as forced love. Even if there was, would forced love be lasting and inseparable?

So it is with the church, the Father did not say, “Love Jesus.” But the Father commanded us to listen to Jesus. And it is in the fellowship of listening to Jesus and the Holy Spirit that we have grown to love and fallen in love with the Lord. That is God’s plan – it is His way, and it is now our testimony. Only after listening to Jesus and the Holy Spirit and practicing Jesus’ words, did the Lord begin to show us that the quality of love must include unceasing forgiveness. The quality of love God is after is agape, inseparable love. At least, it is what He has shown us so far.

However, since God did not directly command us to love Him, where is the righteousness of Jesus in commanding us to love our enemies and loving your fellow disciples as He has loved us? The righteousness is firmly founded on the truth that God loved His enemies first, and Jesus loved His disciples first. So it is your choice to love your enemies and fellow disciples if you want to follow the way of the Lord.

Therefore understand that the law of judgment against the hypocrites is not based on whether men of God practise what they preach, whether they like to sit in places of high honour, or whether they look good. Hypocrisy is one of the seeds that sprout from pride, which then leads to sin, wickedness and rebellion. It is pride that makes a man crave and make every effort to obtain praises from men. This love for men has overshadowed their hearts, souls and minds, and the fear of rejection from men has overrun them, leaving no room for love of God and the fear of the Lord. This causes them to disobey, forsake and rebel against God. It is cause and effect. The cause is hypocrisy. The effect is sin, wickedness and rebellion.

The Holy Spirit is teaching us that hypocrisy is not something we can forgive because it is not a sin. However, we are authorised to forgive the sins that stem from hypocrisy. In addition, we can pick the false prophets from the true prophets, and the wolves from the shepherds from our understanding of hypocrisy. Because hypocrisy is something you can see and hear.

In relation to judgment, Jesus then went on to ask, “You snakes! You brood of vipers! How will you escape being condemned to hell?” “How will you escape the judgment of hell?” “How are you going to escape the sentence of hell?”[8] Jesus said that the judgment of a hypocrite is hell. Now we know that hell is not a final destination, because after Jesus’ thousand-year reign on Earth, comes the Day of Judgment before the Great White Throne. On that day, the dead will be judged according to what they have done as recorded in the books. The sea will give up the dead that were in it, and death and Hades will give up the dead that were in them, and each person will be judged according to what he has done. Then death and Hades will be thrown into the lake of fire. The lake of fire is the second death.[9]

Why did Jesus say that sorrow awaits the hypocritical teachers of the law and the Pharisees, you might ask? Then I will also ask you one question; if they were sent to Heaven, would they be more likely to repent on the Day of the Final Judgment? So then, is God merciful or unmerciful in this? You decide.

Amen Holy Spirit. Thank you.


 

[1] Matthew 7.21

[2] Matthew 18.4

[3] Luke 11:42

[4] ESV & NLT

[5] Matthew 23.32

[6] Matthew 22.34-40

[7] Exodus 20.3

[8] Matthew 23.33 NIV, NLT and ESV

[9] Revelation 20.12-4

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