Miniseries Title: 7 Woes on the American Church
Title: 4 of 7: Blind Guides
Text: Matthew 23:16-24
FCF: We often struggle separating truth from error amid all the voices in our world and culture.
Prop: Because God’s Word is all we need, we must obey God’s Word and not men.
[Slide 1] Turn in your bible to Matthew 23. Last time we opened up a miniseries on this larger section of the discourse of Jesus. The thought really goes from verse 13 through 36. As I said last week, there was really no way to do that in an hour so we hopefully will be able to complete the Woes on the Pharisees in 4 sermons. Structurally these woes divide up nicely into couplets. The first two were related, these next two are related, 5 and 6 are related, which leaves the 7th and final woe set apart from the rest.
Last week we talked about the first two woes. We discussed what the word Woe meant. That it meant sure and unavoidable judgment from Yahweh, but also with emotional components of pity, repulsion, shame and sorrow.
The first woe was the rejection of Jesus as the Messiah of God. The key to enter the Kingdom of God. And in so doing they had steered others away from Him, because they wanted to continue to be known as the teachers and shepherds of Israel. Really all other woes flow out of this one.
So the second woe is that in peddling their fake gospel they win people to something that cannot save them, doubly damning.
[Slide 2] We then set out to apply these truths. We noticed together the eerie similarities between 1st Century Judaism and the 21st Century American Church. Not individual churches but the state of theological understanding and practical holiness of all who would call themselves “Christian” in this nation. We noted then, that since these truths applied to 1st Century Judaism, it also applied to the 21st Century American Church. And so we have before us, 7 Woes on the American Church.
So we noticed that the First Woe on the American Church is that by and large it does not preach Christ Crucified. It has a gospel Crisis on its hands. It preaches a gospel that amputates repentance from the message and eliminates half of what Christ came to do.
And since it doesn’t have the gospel right, the second woe falls on it also. That woe is that the American Church has a pesky dependence on man’s effort to evangelize the lost and not the Power of God.
[Slide 3] So today we will see two more woes on the Pharisees and translate those into two more woes on the American church.
I’ll start reading in verse 16 of Matthew 23 from the NET bible again. You follow along in the version you prefer. If you’d like to follow along in the NET, or don’t have a bible of your own, you can turn to page 1120 of the pew bible in front of you. By the way, some have taken us up on the offer to take the bible in the pew if you need one. And guess what… we couldn’t be more thrilled. So if you don’t have a bible… take it. Please.
So let’s not delay, what does God have for us?
I.) God’s Word is the filter for all men’s teaching, so we must obey God’s Word over man’s teaching.
a. [Slide 4] 16 – 17 – Woe to you blind guides, who say, ‘Whoever swears by the temple is bound by nothing. But whoever swears by the gold of the temple is bound by the oath.’ Blind Fools! Which is greater, the gold or the temple that makes the gold sacred?
i. This entire woe is centered upon the concept of making oaths.
ii. This is not the first time Jesus has taught on this topic in the book of Matthew. He did so also in Matthew 5:33-37. We won’t look there today, but when you get a chance, take a peek and try to remember what He said there.
iii. Jesus is quoting the scribes and Pharisees. And specifically He is quoting the Talmud.
iv. And the Talmud became incredibly complicated when it came to which oaths are binding and which are not.
v. We may wonder, to what righteous benefit was it for there to be oaths that do not bind someone vs. oaths that do? And we would be right to ask such a question. The answer is, none. There is no righteous benefit. So why have the exclusions?
vi. We are not sure, but we do know that by this time they had turned it into a way that you could make promises to someone without them knowing that you had no intention on keeping them.
vii. Specifically in this case, they would say that to swear an oath by the temple would mean nothing. Probably because the temple is not something on which a lien could be placed. It was not a commodity that could be used for collateral.
viii. But to swear an oath by the gold of the temple is something that is tangible and contractible, and therefore would be binding.
b. [Slide 5] 18-19 - And, ‘Whoever swears by the altar is bound by nothing. But if anyone swears by the gift on it he is bound by the oath.’ You are blind! For which is greater, the gift or the altar that makes the gift sacred?
i. This is another example of their oath exceptions.
ii. To swear by the altar to God, is meaningless.
iii. But to swear by the sacrifice itself, is to swear by something tangible. They really have their focus on the earthly things don’t they?
iv. In both these examples Jesus points out the obvious flaw in their logic that you’d think they would have seen also.
v. Basically Jesus’ point is that there is no perceivable difference between swearing by the gold of the temple rather than the temple itself. Nor is there a difference between swearing by the gift at the altar and the altar itself. They are the same oath. Why? Because the gift is nothing without the altar, and the gold is nothing without the temple.
vi. This logic is taken to the next step in what follows.
c. [Slide 6] 20-22 – So whoever swears by the altar swears by it and by everything on it. And whoever swears by the temple swears by it and the one who dwells in it. And whoever swears by heaven swears by the throne of God and the one who sits on it.
i. At first, almost as a segue to get to where He is going, Jesus points out what we have already seen.
ii. Swearing by the altar automatically includes swearing by what is on it. But Jesus goes farther.
iii. Jesus says that to swear by the temple (which they would say was not binding) is to swear by Yahweh Himself.
iv. Perhaps you would have expected Jesus to say, that to swear by the temple means that they swear by every THING in the temple. But Jesus skips right over the issue of the gold of the temple and goes right to the fact that the temple was the house of God among His people.
v. Jesus then brings up another common cop-out oath where the oath maker would swear by heaven, which would not be binding, but to swear by the throne of heaven would.
vi. Jesus says to swear by heaven IS to swear by the throne of heaven. But not only by the throne of God only, but, AGAIN, by YAHWEH Himself!
vii. Essentially, Jesus is saying that to swear an oath is binding.
d. [Slide 7] Passage Truth: So what is Jesus teaching the crowds and his disciples? What is the grander principle? Well if you remember from last week, the first two woes primarily dealt with the Pharisee’s rejection of Jesus as the Messiah of God. He, being the only key to enter the kingdom, kept them out, since they did not want Him. But for them to admit that they were wrong about Him, would mean that they would lose their prominent positions as teachers of Israel. So not only did they chase people away from the Kingdom, but they also brought people to a belief system that doubly damned them. This third woe is related to the first two. What we have here then is the first of two examples of the damning philosophy behind the teachings of the Pharisees. You see Jesus is not attacking the practice of breaking oaths; so much as He is attacking the teaching of the Talmud. He is attacking their traditions. He is attacking their man-made interpretations and applications of the law that they had elevated to the same authority as the law of God. Specifically he is attacking the philosophies espoused by the rabbinical teachings. These traditions, instead of preventing them from breaking the law, have actually created loopholes so they could break the law and still seem as though they were keeping it. On the surface, their tradition appeared to treat the law in high regard, but in reality, their traditions had been elevated to a greater importance than the law itself. And by extension, their teaching had been elevated to more important that God Himself. This is exactly what Jesus points out in this woe. They had made provision to lie, while forgetting that God is a God of truth. So to crystalize all this into one short sentence, Jesus is teaching that the scribes and Pharisees have used their tradition to undo God’s law.
e. Passage Application: Jesus has already taught the crowds and his disciples not to mimic the scribes and the Pharisees. So specifically that is here, to not follow tradition that permits you to disobey the law of God. Follow God’s Law, and if you add tradition make sure it is given its proper place next to God and His law.
f. [Slide 8] Biblical Truth: So as we attempt to broaden out this passage truth to a whole bible truth, we can summarize it this way, God’s Word is the filter for all teachings of men. All man’s teaching is approved or denied based on God’s Word alone!
g. Biblical Application: And the broader bible application is to obey God’s Word not man’s teaching. When men teach something that is either against scripture or provides loopholes to disobey scripture, we must submit to God’s word and denounce the teaching of men.
[Slide 9 (blank)] But Jesus is not done pronouncing judgment on philosophies taught to the people of Israel by the Pharisees and scribes. Jesus acknowledging that the Pharisees had the seat of Moses only amplifies their culpability for what they taught. And so far, they are condemned because they taught tradition that permitted them to violate God’s law. But what other false teaching will be they damned for?
II.) God’s word, in its totality, is equally authoritative and binding, so we must obey God’s Word over man’s teaching.
a. [Slide 10] 23 – Woe to you, experts in the law and you Pharisees, hypocrites! You give a tenth of mint, dill and cumin,
i. What is this talking about? Perhaps in your bible translation you have the word tithe here. That should give us some clue as to what is going on.
ii. Let’s look at the Old Testament to get some context.
iii. [Slide 11] Deuteronomy 14:22 screen
iv. So from this, we understand that God instituted a way of supporting the priestly line and the theocracy in general. The way he did that was to provide taxes. Which essentially was what the tithe was. And although tithe means tenth, there were some parts of the Israelites income that were not held to a strict 10%. Probably during the theocracy they were expected to pay anywhere form 20-25% of their income to the Lord.
v. In this context in Deuteronomy, we see a specific tenth that was to be paid to the temple. It was a tithe on all crops that were personally gleaned on your property.
vi. [Slide 12] In application of this command, the scribes and Pharisees would take of their personal herb gardens, one tenth of each spice and give it to the temple. Now the Mosaic law did not say to give of herbs per se, but they wished to honor the law to the extreme.
vii. But before we conclude that what they were doing was ridiculous, let’s keep reading and see what Jesus says is the source for their judgment.
b. [Slide 13] yet you neglect what is more important in the law – justice, mercy, and faithfulness!
i. Perhaps this is a reference to Micah 6:8 – Do justly, love mercy, walk humbly or faithfully with your God.
ii. Even if it isn’t referenced to any particular Old Testament text, Jesus uses the same language that the scribe sent by the Pharisees used when they asked Jesus for the way to determine which law is in the weightier category.
iii. If you remember Jesus said that loving God with everything you are and others as you already do yourself are the only two categories in the heavy commands, and that there was no other category besides the heavy commands.
iv. Jesus uses the same kind of language here. He calls justice, mercy, and faithfulness, weightier laws. Or as the NET says, more important laws.
v. Now on the surface it seems that Jesus is contradicting Himself because he is calling these weightier laws. But I thought all the laws were weighty?
vi. Just hang tight ok. Jesus is going somewhere here.
vii. So Jesus tells them that they do not love justice or mercy, nor are they faithful to God or others, but they keep the tithe to the extreme degree.
viii. Jesus is saying that their priorities are mixed up. They had put so much effort into keeping minute details of the law, yet had failed to honor the God of the law. The intent of the law. The purpose of the law.
c. [Slide 14] You should have done these things without neglecting the others
i. And here Jesus harmonizes with what he said in Matthew 22.
ii. The whole law is important. You should have been faithful, merciful, and just while also adhering to the tithe.
iii. So Jesus again says there is no law that can be discarded. No law that can be neglected.
d. [Slide 15] 24 – Blind guides! You strain out a gnat yet swallow a camel!
i. The Pharisees and Scribes would often refer to themselves as guides to the blind. Jesus calls them blind guides. Why?
ii. Because they have converted many to put priority on extreme outward observances of the law, while neglecting or even refusing to draw near to the heart of the God who wrote the law.
iii. In Aramaic, the word for camel and the word for gnat rhyme and only differ in the first letter. So this is a pun, perhaps created by Jesus. But here is the interesting thing. A fact that helps us understand exactly what Jesus is getting at…
iv. Both a gnat and a camel are unclean animals, and cannot be consumed by a good Jew.
v. Pharisees would have practiced the straining of their wine to be sure that no gnat accidentally got into their wine and caused them to eat something unclean.
vi. How humorous and even grotesque of an image to see someone strain out a gnat and then choke down a camel that was also in the cup.
vii. Jesus’ point is clear. They have been careful not to accidentally violate the finer points within the law while ignoring the foundational components of the law.
e. [Slide 16] Passage Truth: Jesus explains it so well to the crowds and his disciples. He makes it very plain. The Pharisees have been rigidly keeping extreme outward laws. Even measuring out one dill seed at a time to make sure that all 10% was given to the temple. Yet they did not love others. They did not serve others. They were not dependent on Yahweh. They didn’t need Him at all. They did not care about justice or mercy – as they will show in only a few days, when they violate their own laws to convict Jesus of blasphemy. Jesus explains that the Pharisees emphasized extreme external adherence to the law without following the parts most like the God of the law.
f. Passage Application: In application for his hearers then, Jesus again says – do not be like the Pharisees! All God’s law is important! Listen to and obey God. To completion. And do not succumb to the temptation to focus on the minutia. Focus on God. Pursue Him. FIRST!
g. [Slide 17] Biblical Truth: There are several threads to pick up on for the broader biblical truth. But I think we get most of them with this truth. All God’s Word is profitable to bring us to maturity in Christ. Why? Because all of God’s Word reflects upon who God is. And although we may be tempted to either drown ourselves in the minutia or to cast aside the minutia, the truth is that all of God’s word, every jot, and every tittle, is profitable to conform us to the image of His Son.
h. Biblical Application: The application then is the same as before. Before we saw how God’s word is the filter for all men’s teachings and because of that we must obey God’s word over man’s teaching. The same application is true here. Since All of God’s word is profitable to bring us to maturity in Christ, we must obey God’s Word over man’s teaching.
[Slide 18(blank)] So how do these woes apply to the American church? What does it mean to obey God’s Word over man’s teaching?
First, before we dive in, let me quickly explain that obeying God’s word over man’s teaching does not mean that there is no place for discipleship, preaching, or even learning from someone else. This would obviously contradict a vast quantity of scripture that shows us how important it is to teach one another to observe all the things that Christ taught.
What this application is basically saying is the same thing that Jesus said to the crowds and his disciples when he began this discourse. The Pharisees have Moses’ seat, and insofar as they teach you the law, listen and obey.
But we live in a culture now where everyone has an opinion on everything. We also live in a culture where truth is relative. Just because something is true to you, doesn’t necessarily mean it is true for everyone else. We live in a culture of criticism. No one cares about the product, they just want to be known as the critic who hated it. And we live in an age of charlatans, false teachers, wolves, and apostates. Where men and women are constantly teaching what the bible means to them.
All that coalesces into a general and abounding distrust of preachers. Everything someone says is up for debate. Everything someone says is up for review. And let me tell you something… That. Is. WONDERFUL!
So long as it is applied to the RIGHT measuring stick. Because oftentimes when people are critical of preachers or teachers it is because what they preach or teach does not fit into the hearers’ worldview, theological persuasions, or moral observances. In short, the preacher does not please their ears… so they start criticizing. This is a faulty measuring stick.
The only measuring stick available to judge whether or not a preacher or teacher is wrong, is God’s unfiltered Word. Theological systems are not an appropriate measuring stick for the truth being preached or taught. Neither are your personal convictions, nor is your upbringing, your environment, or scientific trends. Only the bible judges what a preacher preaches. And if you find that the bible has been interpreted correctly and applied correctly… you have one option. Submit or rebel.
But with that caveat mentioned… My friends… there are SO. MANY. WOLVES. There are so many men and women who teach doctrine and truths that are created from their own minds. That are their best guesses at scripture… if they even turn to scripture at all. And it is these, Blind Guides, that will round out woe 3 and 4 for us today.
[Slide 19] The third Woe on the American church is this:
It has been infested with eisegetical teachings that undo God’s Word.
Exegesis is when an interpreter of any work of art, attempts to understand what that work of art means based on the author’s intention.
But Eisegesis is something else entirely. Eisegesis is when the interpreter of a work of art introduces, or presses in his own presuppositions, agendas or biases upon the text. Therefore arriving not at the authors intended meaning, but a meaning that can be used by the interpreter to support his own views.
Surely no church in America has pastors that do this! My friends, I wish that were true.
Very recently a very well-known pastor preached a sermon to his very large congregation. In the sermon he confessed to his congregation that most people are turned off to the truth of the word of God when they are exposed to the law of God. When they see God’s laws, not even in their more specific forms, but even simply in the form of the 10 commandments, they are naturally put off from hearing any more from the word of God. The preacher went on saying that this was tragic. It was tragic because as New Testament Christians we don’t live by the law of God anymore. We walk by faith. And the law of God is no longer binding upon us. In fact, the Old Testament was never the go to source for behavior in the New Testament Church. We are no longer expected to be holy or perfect according to the law, but are free in Christ. We are losing people who may otherwise come to Christ while we defend an old covenant that has been done away with. And then the preacher said that for the sake of the lost it is time that Christians unhitch their faith from the Old Testament.
What I have just described to you is eisegesis in its purest form. The preacher starts from a cultural observation, and then through various twists and turns, half-truths and distortion, he makes a rather shocking assessment that could not be further from the truth. He begins with “What is keeping people from Jesus?” And based on man’s natural disdain of the law of God he does not conclude that Man has a problem… instead he concludes that God’s law is the problem.
Can I suggest to you that this is exactly what the Pharisees did? They looked at a problem… like what if someone tries to hold me to an oath I don’t want to keep? And instead of assuming that their desire not to keep their oath was the problem… they assumed the problem was with God’s law. So they reinterpreted the law so they could lie and still, technically, follow God’s law.
Ultimately this is a universal truth of mankind. All natural men hate the idea that there is a God who is Judge and His Law is binding upon us.
And even after coming to Christ and being set free – we are NEVER set free to do as we please! In fact, we have been set free to keep the law my friends. We have been set free from sin so we can be slaves of righteousness. And God has given us the ability to be righteous in His Son. Not theoretically… but actually. As we continue to repent and believe. Never perfect, but always growing.
But mankind ALWAYS wants to free themselves of God’s law. They always have… and they always will.
That is why this teaching where the law of God doesn’t apply to us has found an audience.
That is why there is a woman pastor today telling all women who were abused with the terrible teaching of sexual purity to send her their purity rings so she can melt them down and make a statue of female genitalia to celebrate the freedom they have in Christ.
That is why there are liberal churches that insist that the rule of love and acceptance not only permits, but forces us to allow practicing homosexuals to be pastors, worship leaders and active members in our churches.
That is why feminists reinterpret the submission command to wives to be nothing more than being kind to their husbands. Ignoring that they are to submit as the church submits to Christ. Humility and strength to defer to their husbands is changed to, he better not expect me to follow HIM
Mankind ALWAYS wants to free themselves of God’s law.
But friends God did not save us to be lawless. But so that in Christ we may have the law written on our hearts and be a people who follow after His ways, His heart, His goals. That we may BE the righteousness of God – not in the future in some eternal plane, but now, so God gets glory from our radically changed life. As we go from lawbreakers… to lawkeepers.
But we have to be careful here, lest we stray too far and misunderstand.
[Slide 20] That brings us to the fourth woe on the American Church:
It has put emphasis on external moralism rather than the desperate need of God to change us.
As it was with the early church, so it is today. Ultimately we have learned very little. The apostles wrote to a post-converted crowd to cast down the anti-law perspective in the Christian life, but they also spoke out against flesh powered law keeping as well.
Paul says to work out your salvation in fear and trembling. Why do we fear and tremble? Because it is God who supplies the power and the passion to live for Him. He calls it the fruit of the Spirit.
In this we see that God not only desires us to be holy after we are placed in Christ… but also supplies to us everything we need to be holy through Christ.
And yet today we have many preachers who stand behind their pulpits and put grand emphasis on conforming to a particular external standard. Now how that is applied varies from preacher to preacher, but at the core, the truth from the previous woe endures. That all men universally chafe under the law of God. However, rather than being anti-law, instead, they invent a law of external checkboxes. Whereby they can assure themselves and others that they are indeed followers of God, and most of the time this is to the neglect of the heart.
One particular way we see this, is not unfamiliar to us here at CBC, because in our recent history, it was us. Preachers in an effort to be hard hitting and relevant, would rail against common problems and societal ills. They saw drunkards dying in their mangled vehicles, so they preached on the wickedness of drinking, even but a sip. They saw the debauchery of Hollywood, so to attend a movie house was a sin of great magnitude. They saw the lustfulness of society and preached against women wearing pants or skirts of a particular length. And on and on it went, all these checkboxes to confirm that you were a devoted Christian.
Curiously, not a one of them is in the Word of God. Hard to imagine how God could be most pleased by an external standard that He never talks about.
And some came out from this seeing how wrong it was, but they continued to emphasize external standards that were in scripture.
So preachers would rail on sexual purity of the body. They would preach out on the debauchery of pornography. They preach out against hurl insults and those who are braggarts and liars.
And you might be thinking – well what is wrong with preaching against these things? Friends it is all an effort to stop the behavior. But God doesn’t want simply to stop the behavior. God is not satisfied to change the actions of man. With God it is all or nothing. He wants the heart of man.
Because let me tell you, my generation was told not to have sex, but no one warned me of the dangers of giving my heart away to a young woman and making her a god that I worshiped.
I was told not to look at porn, but why wasn’t I instructed on the beauty of God’s image in the two sexes? Is it not in the bible? Oh, friend it is.
I was warned not to swear or be insulting, but I am still impatient and unkind to my wife and children.
I was told not to complain like the Israelites, but why have I not heard of the joy of communion with Christ?
And I may rarely brag… but I am still selfish.
[Slide 21] Friends we do not need more sermons about how to stop doing this or start doing that.
What we need is more sermons about the Gospel of Jesus Christ, and His grace that day by day, sets. Us. Free!
And if we preach Christ crucified friend… we can talk about fleeing fornication, but it will always be with the backdrop that Christ has set us free from our lusts. And He is a greater God than any man or woman could ever be.
And if we preach Christ crucified friend… we can talk about never complaining, but then we can talk about counting it joy when we experience trials and are persecuted for His name, because we share in His sufferings.
If we preach Christ crucified friend… We can preach against bragging and arrogance, but ultimately, it is because we are nothing without Christ.
Do you see the difference? We don’t need to get our morals right. We need to be in Christ. And He will set us right from the inside out. Because when He does it that way… He gets all the glory, Doesn’t he? And that is as it should be.