Mini Series Title: 7 Woes on the American Church
Sermon Title: 2 of 7: The Gospel of Hell
Text: Matthew 23:13-15
FCF: We often struggle staying on the narrow path that is the gospel
Prop: Because Jesus is the only way to enter the Kingdom of God, we must be in Him before we preach Him.
[Slide 1] Turn in your bible to Matthew 23. Last week served as the introduction to the 5th discourse of Jesus our Lord in the book of Matthew. Jesus reveals in this introduction that the Pharisees and scribes were not worthy to be thought of as examples. Their traditions were not from God, their lifestyles were not from God, and their motives were self-focused. Instead, Jesus reveals that a person who is actually great, is one who serves others. One who is humble. One who seeks God’s glory and not his own.
Therefore, Jesus’ command to not follow the lifestyles of the Pharisees and scribes, is immediately applied by Jesus pronouncing judgment upon the Pharisees and scribes for behavior that is not to be mimicked. In total, Jesus mentions 7 reasons for judgment to be applied to the scribes and Pharisees, and they are represented in verses 13-36.
So I will read from verses 13 to 36 in the NET bible today. Please follow along with me in whatever version you prefer. If you’d like to follow along in the NET, or do not have a bible, there is a bible in your pew and you can turn to page 1120 for the text this morning. And if you don’t have a bible of your own, take the pew bible when you leave.
Mini Series Intro:
Now although verses 13-36 do represent one unit of thought, there is no conceivable way that I could preach all of this in one hour. And asking you to hang with me for 3 hours while I present all of this to you, and expecting you to pay close attention to that, seems a bit unfair. Occasionally when something like this happens, I set up a miniseries. A series within a series to teach the same overarching thread but over the course of a few weeks.
The mini-series then is titled: 7 Woes on the American Church.
[Slide 2] Today however, we will only cover 2 of the 7. I have titled this message, the gospel of hell, which I am sure is a bit shocking, but as you’ll see, is incredibly appropriate.
So without further ado, let’s get right into the first woe…
I.) Jesus is the only way to enter the Kingdom of God, so we must repent of false belief and believe on Jesus. (13)
a. [Slide 3] 13 – Woe to you, experts in the law and you Pharisees
i. [Slide 4A] For us to understand the depth of what Jesus says for the next several verses, we MUST understand what the word “woe” means.
ii. The difficulty comes from the words depth and layers. It does not translate well to English in just one word.
iii. So what does “woe” mean?
1. [Slide 4B] It is prophetic in origin. In many ways it is a pronouncement of sure judgment. The implication is that the particular judgment in question is coming from God.
2. [Slide 4C] It is full of emotion.
a. [Slide 4D] It is shame – shame for the choices that were made to lead the bearer of the judgment to their fate.
b. [Slide 4E] It is pity – pity for them having to endure the judgment that is coming
c. [Slide 4F] It is the opposite of covet – the word is abjure or appall.
i. It is to shun or to avoid.
ii. It is to recant or to renounce.
iii. It is repulsion!
iv. It is to say, “I would never want to endure the judgment that is coming to you” “I do not envy your fate”
d. [Slide 4G] It is sorrow – Sorrow because all could have been avoided by simply surrendering and obeying God.
3. [Slide 4H] It is final. There is no undoing it. It is too late.
iv. In order for us to know the seriousness of this passage, we must understand the full scope of the word “woe”
v. So we will try to define it with several words each time we come to it.
vi. What we have in the scribes and Pharisees is the object upon which the woe, the indictment, the judgment is pronounced.
b. [Slide 5] Hypocrites!
iii. Double talkers.
iv. We just saw last week how the Pharisees fit the bill on this description.
1. They hold up the law and their traditions.
2. They keep their traditions but not the law – pretending to keep them both.
3. They impose both on others without helping them keep them.
4. And even in keeping the traditions and pretending to keep the law, they do so to be honored by men.
v. They are actors. Fake holy men.
vi. But how specifically are they hypocrites?
c. [Slide 6] You keep locking people out of the kingdom of heaven!
i. The more literal translation is that they are closing the kingdom of heaven before people.
ii. They are making sure that people never enter.
iii. The irony is that they were seated on Moses’ seat. They were the teachers and shepherds of Israel, supposing to not only have the key to the Kingdom, the law, but also to be able to enter it themselves and show others how to enter.
d. [Slide 7] For you neither enter
i. They don’t go in
ii. Because they in their attitude and actions, have discarded the actual key- not the law, but Jesus the Messiah of God.
iii. So firmly has been their rejection, that of late, they have only tried to disrupt, distract, distort and destroy Him and His influence.
iv. Therefore, they do not have the key to enter the door.
v. But, inhabiting the places they do as teachers of the law, they do not wish to lose their prominent positions.
e. [Slide 8] Nor permit those trying to enter to go in
i. They put their backs against the proverbial door, to which they have no access, and wave people on, telling them… “Nothing to see here”
ii. We can somewhat understand the WHY behind their doing this.
iii. They had taken up this position of teaching authority in Israel, and had zealously defended their view of the law and kept their traditions dutifully, only to be shown time and time again that they had misinterpreted, misapplied and disobeyed the word of God.
iv. Jesus said that only the humble will be exalted but the proud will be humbled. And that is just what is happening. They were proud of their position as Israel’s experts in the law, only to find that they were inept and ignorant. Unable to find the key to the kingdom and unwilling to admit it to others.
v. How absolutely embarrassing that the teachers no more know the answers than the common Jew does. Not only that – but as Jesus has indicated before – the teachers don’t have the key to the door – but tax collectors and prostitutes DO! How absolutely humiliating for them.
f. [Slide 9] Passage Truth: - This leads us really to the truth being communicated in this passage from Jesus to the crowds, The Pharisees not only cannot enter the Kingdom, but even more damning, they WILL NOT enter the kingdom if the only key is Jesus. They have rejected Jesus. And in the process, to keep their power, they also are actively turning people away from Him. So as simply as we can put it, the Pharisees have rejected Jesus so they can keep their place of prominence.
g. Passage Application – Jesus is speaking this truth to the crowds primarily. It is possible that there are some Pharisees and scribes mixed in still, but realistically their judgment is sure. Jesus then, is telling these people these truths to push them toward some goal. And that goal, is something He has already stated. It is, do not live like the Pharisees live. Why? Because they preach one thing and do another. They are hypocrites. They know the truth, reject it, and keep people from it. So don’t be like that.
h. [Slide 10] Biblical Truth: - As we broaden out from this particular text, we can find an overarching biblical truth that walks hand in hand with what we learned here. The very thing the Pharisees rejected, is the broader biblical truth. Jesus is the only way to enter the Kingdom of God.
i. Biblical Application – Thus the broader biblical theme for us today is quite simply to repent of our false gospels that do not save us. The Pharisees had the gospel of the law and tradition. Jesus demonstrated time and time again, the law’s inability to save them. But their selfish ambition and pride not only chased them from Christ, but also to chasing others away. Therefore we also must repent of our gospels that do not save And instead depend on Christ’s law keeping and teaching, depend on Christ’s atonement for our sin, and surrender to Christ’s will for our lives.
j. If Jesus is the only way to enter the Kingdom of God, then we must repent of false belief and believe on Jesus.
[Slide 11(blank)] Moving on from the first woe, we will see the same truth, but with a different application to Jesus’ hearers. Let’s look.
II.) Jesus is the only way to enter the Kingdom of God, so we must zealously preach the saving gospel of which we are partakers. (15)
a. [Slide 12] 14 – [Woe to you experts in the law and you Pharisees, hypocrites! You devour widows’ property and as a show you pray long prayers! Therefore you will receive a more severe punishment]
i. Perhaps you noticed when we read through the passage in the NET that I skipped over verse 14 in your bible.
ii. Or perhaps you are just now noticing that you don’t have a verse 14 in your bible.
iii. On even a basic level, what this sentence is teaching seems to be disconnected with what comes before and after it.
iv. And as we dig into textual criticism, we start to find that some of the best sources that we have, old and widely attested, do not have this verse in them at all.
v. What we do know is that this verse, almost verbatim, is found in Mark and Luke in the same chronological context as Matthew’s 7 woes on the Pharisees.
vi. So what is most likely is that a scribe inserted this into the text, perhaps originally as a note, and it slowly worked its way into the text.
vii. It was definitely said by Jesus, but since Matthew clearly did not include it into this discourse, it may be best for us to skip it, lest it distract us from Matthew’s greater point.
b. [Slide 13] 15 – Woe to you experts in the law and you Pharisees, hypocrites!
i. Why does Jesus repeat the same phrase?
ii. Why wouldn’t Jesus just keep listing things they have “woe” for?
iii. I think it is best to understand these as individual judgments. In other words Jesus doesn’t want to say You are judged for these reasons… instead He wants to say, You are judged for this. You are judged for this. You are judged for this. Etc.
iv. His point is not to simply tell them or the crowd that they are being judged, but to tell them the “why” of each separate judgment.
v. Probably because Jesus is not teaching the Pharisees, but rather, the crowds and his disciples.
vi. Telling them to learn from the bad example of the Pharisees. Why?
vii. Because if not, they will earn the same judgment.
viii. Woe again, means final judgment, pity, sorrow, repulsion, and shame
c. [Slide 14] You cross land and sea to make one convert
i. They will not allow physical barriers to keep them from spreading the lies of their religion.
ii. This speaks to the zealousness of the Pharisees, which Jesus as we’ll see, is not really condemning.
iii. It is uncertain whether this is talking about Gentile converts to Judaism, and in particular, their specific brand of Judaism, or if it is talking about encouraging Jews and Gentiles alike who were already worshipping Yahweh to adopt their religious model.
iv. What we do know is that during this time in particular, there was an unprecedented zealousness on the part of the Pharisee party, to expand their ranks. This is somewhat ironic since historically Jews had always been loathe to evangelize gentiles to their faith. Throughout Israel’s history, even though it was their duty to seek the gentile and incorporate them into the assembly, they did not do it or even desire it. But positively the Pharisee party sought to correct that, but given their rejection of Jesus, this had disastrous consequences.
d. [Slide 15] And when you get one, you make him twice as much a child of hell as yourselves
i. Alas, when they find someone who is a pagan gentile, worshipping his false gods and that gentile converts, what were they converted to?
ii. Self-righteous traditions. Manmade faith all dressed in biblical language.
iii. Yahwehism but without the need of Yahweh.
iv. And so, the gentile has been convinced that their wickedness is appalling but they have been converted to moralism and law and tradition keeping.
v. Before they may have been broken and in a state of sensing their guilt and shame before the Lord for their wicked ways, and were poised to repent… but now they have been taught that in their own strength they can keep God’s law. And they have grown prideful and resistant to the need of Yahweh.
vi. They are now, therefore, twice the child of hell as the Pharisees. Doubly secure. Bound by even more chains than before.
vii. Before they worshiped false gods, now they worship themselves and want others to worship them.
viii. How destructive false belief can be, not only to the believer, but to the convert.
e. Passage Truth – The passage truth remains the same, that the Pharisees had rejected Jesus, which was the only way to enter the Kingdom of God. So even with their zealous proselytizing, they could no more convert a soul to God’s Kingdom as they could find the way in themselves.
f. Passage Application: - Jesus’ applies this to the crowd, telling them don’t be like the Pharisees and zealously spread a gospel that does not save, because you only doubly damn those you convert.
g. Biblical Truth – Again, this truth broadens out to essentially communicate the same truth as before. Jesus is the only way to enter the Kingdom of God.
h. Biblical Application: And the application comes over very nicely from Jesus to us. We must be very careful that in our zealousness to reach the lost, we do not preach a half gospel that ultimately does not save.
i. Jesus is the only way to enter the Kingdom of God, so we must zealously preach the saving gospel of which we are partakers.
[Slide 18 (blank)] How do we apply what we have learned today? How does this translate to us in 21st Century America?
First we must truly dissect what we mean when we say that Jesus is the only way to enter the Kingdom of God. Because a lot of people say that. Jesus is the only way to heaven. But the Kingdom the Pharisees were seeking was not some ethereal plane that we all go to some day and have harps and wings and spend all day lounging on clouds. The Kingdom the Pharisees were seeking was where God restored Israel to the center of His plan, and divinely blessed them with His presence, forever.
And even though they didn’t have it quite right, they were closer in some ways than we are. When we say the Kingdom of God I think we start talking about some vague place with streets of gold an gates of pearl. But the Kingdom that Christ spoke of, and the Kingdom for which He is the key, is a Kingdom where God dwells among His people. A Kingdom of rule and order. A kingdom of worship to Him. A Kingdom that has already begun! A Kingdom that is in our hearts, and in our world. The forces of darkness have been broken and they tremble at the Kingdom that is coming and now is!
We sell it infinitely short when we speak of Jesus being the way to heaven as some future blessing. That blessing is NOW! So when we say that Jesus is teaching that He is the only way to enter the Kingdom of God, we are not talking about a place to go, but a family to join. He is the only way to be adopted into the royal family, because only royalty enter God’s Kingdom.
Now that we have that squared away, how does the negative example of the Pharisees impact us today?
Let’s start with the first Woe. Where they neither had the key to enter the Kingdom, nor wanted to give up their prominent position, so they ushered people away from its entrance.
Since the beginning of Matthew I have told you that the similarities between 21st Century American Christianity and 1st Century Judaism is eerie. That is why these woes given to the Pharisees, so easily apply to the organized American Church. Meaning, not one particular church, but the overall spiritual and theological temperature of American Christianity.
[Slide 19] This is the first Woe on the organized church of America.
We have a gospel crisis on our hands in America.
Although we have over 70% of the US population claiming to be Christians, over half of evangelicals (churches who would claim to believe what we believe), would say that mankind is by nature good. Over half of evangelicals would agree that God accepts worship from all forms of religion. 78% of evangelicals would say that Jesus was created by God. 58% of Americans would say that small sins do not deserve damnation to hell. 32% of evangelicals believe that religion is a matter of opinion and not objective truth.
What does this mean?
It means, quite simply, that the vast majority of people who claim to be Christians in this nation have no idea what it means to be a Christian. Even those who attend churches, JUST LIKE OURS, every week – the vast majority of them have no idea what their church believes, nor would they agree with it if they were taught.
What are the effects of that? On evangelism for instance…
What do you get when most people do not believe that sin condemns you to hell?
You get exactly what the American organized church has become…
It preaches a gospel message that if it does mention sin at all, it is primarily a segue to get to God’s Love. If no one thinks that sin is a problem, then selling them a gospel that has no mention of sin seems to be a good solution.
We have learned studying Matthew that the gospel can be summarized in three words – Repent and believe. But the American church at large, has amputated two words from the gospel. No longer is repentance mentioned. No longer is sin explained. No longer is God’s holiness and wrath a part of the message. Why? Because no one wants to hear that part of the gospel.
So it sells them on the love of God, that Jesus came to die for them. What for? Well we sinned a couple times and Jesus took the blame for us. He covered them up so God could draw near to us and love on us.
Is it any wonder that men and women, boys and girls are “getting saved” yet have no desire, no zeal, and no passion to pursue being Holy for God ? We have rallies and summer camps all geared on getting kids more “on fire” and “devoted”
We have invented the term “rededicated” and “surrendered” that at best is genuine conversion, and at worst is self-actualized moralism.
And the whole time we are left to wonder – if salvation is from God… why does man seem to have such a huge part of it?
The doctrine of man’s wickedness has been replaced with a God sized hole in your heart – and All God wants to do is make you happy.
And there are some who read the passages of scripture about sin and God’s holiness and they poo poo them away. WE don’t need to pay attention to those because those are in the Old Testament – that is for the Jews. We don’t need to pay attention to that because even though it is in the New Testament, it is referencing the Old Testament. All God’s laws
All God’s Moral Expectations
THE VERY HOLINESS OF GOD is thrown out the window and replaced by a god that is not YAHWEH!
And it is the exact same thing the Pharisees did!
They neither had access to the Kingdom nor did they wish others to have access because it would mean that they’d have to admit they were wrong.
How do we avoid such a woe at CBC?
Here, we will preach the gospel of Christ.
What is the gospel of Christ? Repent and Believe.
There is a cost to follow the Lord. People are always saying come to Jesus as you are, and while I understand what they mean, it can be quite misleading. You see no one can come to God as they are. Because what they are is detestable to God. What they are is unacceptable. What they are, is worthy only of death. In Short, people can’t come as they are, because what they are is the problem.
That is why the first word of the gospel is to repent. Repentance is a whole person turning from who you are. Not just from what you have DONE but from what you are! It was not the sins of the Pharisees that kept them from entering the Kingdom, it was their unwillingness to reject their position and prominence to embrace Christ. Without a wholesale rejection of what you are, what you believe, what you desire, your hopes, your dreams, you goals, ownership of your life, without dying to self, without dying to sin – there can be no salvation. Because you can’t have what you are and God at the same time.
But we do not simply turn from ourselves, we turn to the Lord. Not just for forgiveness, not just for righteous standing, not just for love, not just for sonship, we turn to Him for rebirth! Changing who we are. Becoming what HE DESIRES US TO BE. And we do not do that theoretically but practically. Not once but for the remainder of our mortal lives. Every day, HE raises up in us His righteousness. Every day, He crucifies our sin with Him.
That is why the third word of the gospel is believe. Not in the sense of cognitive understanding, affirming some list of facts, but in the sense of trust. In the sense of absolute dependence. In the sense of unrestricted surrender. Belief means that Not only is Christ our source for power and passion to be what God wants, but He is also our King to determine what our lives should be.
This is the gospel. And anything less… is a gospel of hell.
[Slide 20] The second woe on the American Church is related to the first. Just as the Pharisees zealously made converts who were doubly damned, so also we must understand the devastating effect that our zealous efforts to preach the gospel of hell have wrought.
Just like the Pharisees taught a law keeping moralism devoid of the need for Yahweh, so it seems we teach either a similar form of Christianity where God saves us but it is up to us to perfect our salvation, or we teach a salvation that God does not care how you live, because Christ lived perfectly already for you.
In each of these fake gospels, there is no need for Yahweh, no need for Christ. Once a person is in Christ, they either depend on themselves to keep the law of God, or they never even think about the law of God again.
And as we have seen over and over again in Matthew’s gospel and even in Foundations, a theme that is woven to the entire context of the bible itself, God’s desire is for His people to be His Children. This communicates not only familial intent but desperate childlike need.
Any gospel that does not insist on a perpetual and desperate need of God is a gospel of hell.
I’ll repeat that. Any gospel that does not insist on a perpetual and desperate need of God is a gospel of hell.
And it does not matter how zealous we are at getting little children to say specific words. It does not matter how passionate we are at getting people to believe the facts about Jesus. It does not even matter how convincing we are with our words… WHY?
We forget that it is not by the convincing words of men that people are saved! Men are saved by the power of the Spirit of GOD!
And friends our zealousness to gain a convert is absolutely undone, if we do not understand what salvation is or what the gospel is.
We are making converts that either believes that they are morally responsible for their law adherence or converts that don’t believe God cares about personal holiness. We are making converts of hell.
Rather we should be zealous as Paul was zealous… I Corinthians 2:1-5
[Slide 21] 2:1 When I came1 to you, brothers and sisters,2 I did not come with superior eloquence or wisdom as I proclaimed the testimony3 of God. 2:2 For I decided to be concerned about nothing4 among you except Jesus Christ, and him crucified. 2:3 And I was with you in weakness and in fear and with much trembling. 2:4 My conversation and my preaching were not with persuasive words of wisdom, but with a demonstration of the Spirit and of power, 2:5 so that your faith would not be based on human wisdom but on the power of God.
It is impossible to convince someone that they need Christ, when we don’t need Him either.
I’ll repeat that. It is impossible to convince someone that they need Christ, when we don’t need Him either.
And so here at CBC we will preach the gospel of Christ. To repent and believe. And we will zealously defend it, while allowing Him to produce in us good works that the world will see and be forced to give glory to our God for. We will preach not merely with our words but with our lives, that God is in the business of changing people by His grace, through desperate need of and surrender to Christ. Changing them to be ambassadors of His Kingdom. A holy people.
[Slide 22(end)] The first two woes on the American Church are at the core of the rot that it has become.
I Timothy 3:1 But understand this, that in the last days difficult1 times will come. 3:2 For people2 will be lovers of themselves,3 lovers of money, boastful, arrogant, blasphemers, disobedient to parents, ungrateful, unholy, 3:3 unloving, irreconcilable, slanderers, without self-control, savage, opposed to what is good, 3:4 treacherous, reckless, conceited, loving pleasure rather than loving God. 3:5 They will maintain the outward appearance4 of religion but will have repudiated its power. So avoid people like these.5
This is the American church. It does not know the power of God, because it does not understand or believe the genuine Gospel of Christ. It has replaced it with lesser gospels that only produce converts of hell. And those converts will arrive at the judgment seat and be like the people in chapter 7 of Matthew and say – have I not done great things in your name? Have I not called you my Lord? And Jesus will say I never knew you, lawbreaker.
May God grant us grace here at CBC to not follow in our “Christian” culture. But to be anomalies, standing out from among them, as we preach grace and holiness, forgiveness and righteousness, love and devotion, dependence and surrender.