Matthew 23

Jesus begins Matthew 23 in front of a crowd of His disciples and followers.  He spends the entire chapter pounding the religious leaders of the day.  “The scribes and the Pharisees sit on Moses’ seat, so practice and observe whatever they tell you—but not what they do”.  Jesus is telling the people they need to break free from the legalism the leaders of the day were proclaiming.  They told the people that they needed to live a certain way, but they certainly did not follow their own direction.  “For they preach, but do not practice”.  This is ineffective leadership.  If anyone is going to lead well, it has to be done through example and practicing what they preach.  It isn’t words – it is action.

Barclay identifies seven kinds of Pharisees of that day – six of which were bad:

  • The Shoulder Pharisee, who wore all his good deeds and righteousness on his shoulder for everyone to see.
  • The Wait-a-Little Pharisee, who always intended to do good deeds, but could always find a reason for doing them later, not now.
  • The Bruised or Bleeding Pharisee, who was so holy that he would turn his head away from any woman seen in public – and was therefore constantly bumping into things and tripping, thus injuring himself.
  • The Hump-Backed Pharisee, who was so humble that he walked bent over and barely lifting his feet – so everyone could see just how humble he was.
  • The Always-Counting Pharisee, who was always counting up his good deeds and believed that he put God in debt to him for all the good he had done.
  • The Fearful Pharisee, who did good because he was terrified that God would strike him with judgment if he did not.
  • The God-Fearing Pharisee, who really loved God and did good deeds to please the God he loved.

Jesus tells the people that respect was due these leaders because they sit on Moses seat – which was the seat of the teacher in the synagogue and a God ordained place of authority.  But that was where the respect was to stop because their lives and actions were anything but godly.  “They tie up heavy burdens, hard to bear, and lay them on people’s shoulders, but they themselves are not willing to move them with their finger. They do all their deeds to be seen by others”. To these religious leaders, it was all about the show, not about the heart.  God cares about our heart.

Jesus gives us the greatest truth of all time about leadership.  Great leadership is servant leadership.  “The greatest among you shall be your servant”.  Leadership is not about sitting in a place of authority and telling people what to do.  Leadership is about serving people and being with them as they work.  Normally, people estimate greatness by how many people serve and honor them. Jesus reminded His followers that in His kingdom it should be different, and that we should estimate greatness by how we serve and honor others.  True leadership is about serving those in our patch, not telling people what to do.  It’s not about being a boss, it is about being a servant.

Jesus goes on a tirade and calls out the Pharisees and Scribes 10 times through the rest of the chapter.  He points out how hypocritical they are in most every area of life.  These are the power brokers of the day, yet Jesus gets in their faces and calls them what they are – hypocrites who say one thing but live in a very different way.  They talk a good talk, but they ignore God’s law and heart in how they live.  God cares about our heart first and foremost.  So Jesus let’s the have it.  “You serpents, you brood of vipers, how are you to escape being sentenced to hell”?  Strong words to give to the religious leaders of the day.  Jesus isn’t afraid – He speaks God’s truth.  And we too will stand before God and have to answer for how we live.  That’s why Jesus came – to give us a path of grace to cover our sin and put us in write standing with God.

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