Title: “7 Woes on the American Church” 7 of 7: Sons of Satan
Text: Matthew 23:29-36
FCF: We often struggle with pride as it relates to those who came before us.
Prop: Mankind can never truly change themselves and therefore earn the judgment of God, so if we seek to be different we must seek God.
[Slide 1] Turn in your bible to Matthew chapter 23. Today will be the 7th and final woe on the Pharisees although perhaps there is one more hidden woe in this chapter before it ends. I know this series has been taxing on you. I know because it has been taxing on me. No one wants to hear of the judgment of God. That is why these are called woes. Pity and sorrow abound.
[Slide 2] And hearing them applied to the 21st Century American Church can be quite difficult to stomach too, but I assure you it is necessary that we not only hear them, but heed them.
Let’s review the woes on the American Church
[Slide 3] Woe to the American Church, Hypocrites! You claim to have God’s good news for the world, but do not preach all of it, either because you do not believe it all, or because you have rejected the parts you do not like.
[Slide 4] Woe to the American Church, Hypocrites! You zealously spread your half gospel relying on methodologies and arguments of men to convince people to believe, when no one believes unless God gives them faith to believe.
[Slide 5] Woe to the American Church, Blind Guides! You twist scripture by inserting your opinions into it so that you can excuse yourself and others from following the law of God.
[Slide 6] Woe to the American Church, Hypocrites! Even when you teach others to follow God’s law, you make it seem like all God wants from us is blind obedience, when really God wants every part of us to conform TO Christ, THROUGH Christ.
[Slide 7] Woe to the American Church, Hypocrites! You passionately teach a faulty view of man, whereby a man can change who he is by merely changing his thinking and his actions.
[Slide 8] Woe to the American Church, Hypocrites! You have sought to convert men’s souls by converting their minds and actions with convincing words, but no one is truly saved unless God brings them to life. And when God brings them to life, He will change their thinking and their acting to bow to His will.
[Slide 9] And today we will see the last woe. Their final woe is expanded and derived from the previous one. True change, real bonafide supernatural change in a person on a soul level, is absolutely… unattainable.
But as we’ll see today, if we truly want it… If we really want to be different, different than all those who came before us, different than our heritage, different than who we are naturally, we must seek God.
I am in Matthew 23, I’ll be reading starting in verse 29. I am reading from the NET but follow along in the version you prefer. If you’d like to follow along in the NET turn to page 1121 in the pew bible in front of you. And if you don’t have a bible, take a pew bible as your own.
So let’s not delay. Let’s get right into this, because there is much to see.
I.) Mankind’s soul is naturally wicked, so if we truly seek to be different we must seek God.
a. [Slide 10] 29 – Woe to you, experts in the law and you Pharisees, hypocrites! You build tombs for the prophets and decorate the graves of the righteous
i. Connected with the previous woe loosely, Jesus uses this idea of decorated tombs as a springboard to bring the final woe upon the Pharisees.
ii. He pronounces woe upon them because they hypocritically go out and decorate the tombs of the Old Testament Prophets of God.
iii. They pronounce honor and even loyalty to those who preached to their ancestors.
iv. In doing this they claim to be “on their side”
v. But not only in deed do they declare this, but in word and thought too…
b. [Slide 11] 30 – And you say, ‘If we had lived in the days of our ancestors, we would not have participated with them in shedding the blood of the prophets.’
i. Can you hear the arrogance seeping through?
ii. “If it were me, I would have never participated in shedding the blood of the prophets.
iii. I would have known better.”
iv. Jesus pronounces woe on them because even though they say they would never do what their ancestors did, and even though they attempt to honor the graves of God’s prophets, the truth of the matter is that they are exactly the same as their ancestors.
v. And Jesus has two proofs of this. The first of these is in verse 31.
c. [Slide 12] 31 – By saying this you testify against yourselves that you are descendants of those who murdered the prophets.
i. By saying such things and doing such things, you have inadvertently confessed to being the descendants of wicked and murderous people.
ii. Why is this significant?
iii. First, there is the near eastern practice of referring to someone as a descendant or a son, which associates them with their father. We’ve seen this before. As in the Son of God. This communicates not only a familial relationship but a kinship of ideology or even spirit. Our expression would be “chip off the old block” In other words, they are like their descendants, indistinguishable.
iv. So Jesus is saying they have said it themselves, that they are sons of murderers.
v. Not only that, but on a theological level, what did the Pharisees and Scribes teach about Jews and the Kingdom of Heaven?
vi. All Sons of Abraham inherit the Kingdom of Heaven. But will the murderers of God’s prophets inherit it too? Just because they are sons of Abraham?
vii. Both theologically and personally, this presents an unanswerable problem for the Pharisees. They admitted they were sons of murders. And that cannot square with their view that all Jews inherit the Kingdom of heaven, can it? So the first proof is that they have confessed to be murderers themselves.
viii. But the second proof that they are exactly the same as their ancestors is by far the most damning.
d. [Slide 13] 32 – Fill up then the measure of your ancestors!
i. What does this mean?
ii. First of all, we need to understand that this is in the imperative. Jesus is issuing them a command. He is commanding them to fill up the measure.
iii. Secondly, Jesus no doubt uses this language of filling up a measure, referring to the OT precedent of a cup being an image of the judgment of God. Both positively, for reward, and negatively for wrath.
iv. Finally, this verb used for filling up has a wide range of nuances and meanings. The way you would determine it would be based on context. And here it most certainly should be translated fill up. But I think we see fill up and maybe we don’t quite catch what is implied in that word.
v. The other meanings include cram, level up, furnish, satisfy, execute, accomplish, complete or finish. In other words, fill up does not simply mean to recharge or reload as we may assume. It means to satisfy or finish.
vi. Jesus commands the Pharisees to finish what their ancestors started…
vii. What does that mean?
viii. He sees their hearts… and He tells them, do what you intend to do. Kill the Son of God. Put your own Messiah to death.
ix. And in so doing you will prove that you are exactly the same as your ancestors.
e. [Slide 14] 33 – You snakes, you offspring of vipers!
i. Even to today, such an accusation would be considered quite an insult.
ii. To be a snake is to be slimy, slippery, deceitful, sly, and mischievous.
iii. But there is something bigger happening here.
iv. He also calls them the sons or descendants of vipers.
v. But what is he saying? He calls them hypocrites. Which is basically calling them liars. He calls them sons of murderers and sons of vipers.
vi. Friends the bible calls Satan a liar and a murderer. He is the father of lies and the wielder of sin and death. Jesus, in really no uncertain terms, is calling them sons of Satan. In John 8 he does this clearly when He calls them, Sons of their father the devil.
vii. So why does Jesus call them sons of Satan? Because they are acting like Him. Which would mean that their ancestors that killed the prophets were also… SONS of Satan. What is Jesus getting at here?
viii. Remember all the way back to God’s promise to Adam and Eve before He expelled them from the garden? He promised that He would put enmity between the Seed of the woman and the seed of the serpent. And that in the end the serpent would bruise the Seed’s heel, but the Seed would crush the serpent’s head.
ix. The story of the Bible then, is a story of two families. The Seed of the woman and the seed of the serpent. The Seed of the woman is a descendant that would obey God perfectly and grant that perfection and atonement to all who are made heirs with Him. The seed of the serpent are those who live like the serpent. Those who lie and murder. Those who oppose Yahweh.
x. So who do the Pharisees most resemble? Who is their father?
xi. Because they are of their father the devil…
f. [Slide 15] How will you escape being condemned to hell?
i. The implied answer is… they won’t.
ii. They are inheritors of their father’s desires – therefore they are also inheritors of their father’s judgment.
iii. But an important point must be made here. Aren’t we all, from birth, liars and murderers? Jesus says that to hate is to murder. So aren’t we all liars and murderers from birth?
iv. Would that make us sons of Satan too?
g. [Slide 16] Passage Truth: So what is Jesus teaching to the crowds and disciples? What does Matthew want his readers to see? He wants them to see that even though the Pharisees, by all external appearances seemed to honor the prophets, and seemed to have distanced themselves from their murdering ancestors, the fact of the matter was that they were exactly like their ancestors. They were like Satan. They were full of lies and murder, even now plotting Jesus’ death. The Pharisees were exactly the same as their wicked ancestors.
h. Passage Application: And Jesus’ words to the crowds are still, do not mimic them. Don’t think you are better than your ancestors because you aren’t. You must actually be better than your ancestors. You must be righteous.
i. [Slide 17] Broader Biblical Truth: What is the broader biblical truth Jesus and Matthew are offering to us? There are no naturally righteous men. All men are naturally wicked and of the family and inheritance of Satan. And no matter how hard you work to change such a thing, the fact of the matter is, as we learned last week, a man cannot change his soul. And mankind’s soul is the problem. Mankind’s soul is naturally wicked.
j. Broader Biblical Application: So the broader biblical application is that if we truly seek to be different we must seek God. The Pharisees were able to look back and were able to accurately assess that their ancestors were wrong to murder God’s prophets. But that didn’t mean they learned from their example. That didn’t mean they understood that they needed Yahweh to make them different. In fact, they assumed they were different already.
[Slide 18] We are out of woes, but in reality, the effect of that woe has just begun.
II.) With no change to man’s soul they will inherit the judgment of God, If we truly seek to be different we must seek God.
a. [Slide 19] 34 – For this reason I am sending you prophets and wise men and experts in the law, some of whom you will kill and crucify and some you will flog in your synagogues and pursue from town to town,
i. Just like the previous woe couplet, this second half serves as the result of the previous woe. But it isn’t a woe itself, so what is it? Some have suggested that this benediction actually applies to all 7 woes, but I think perhaps it is best to see it as applying only to the 7th and final woe. He doesn’t say for these reasons, he says for this reason. But…
ii. For what reason?
iii. What instigates Jesus sending prophets, wise men, and scribes to be killed, flogged, and pursued?
iv. To help them finish the work of their ancestors. To help them fill up the cup of wrath so it may be poured out. To aid them in accomplishing this task, Jesus will send them prophets whom they will hunt down, kill, beat, and pursue.
v. And indeed we find that this prophesy came true. The first persecutors of the early church were not the Romans, not the pagans… but the Jews.
vi. But to what end would Jesus have in mind for bringing all his prophets to these people? What is the end of the measure of their ancestors being filled up?
b. [Slide 20] 35 – So that on you will come all the righteous blood shed on earth, from the blood of righteous Abel to the blood of Zechariah son of Barachiah, whom you murdered between the temple and the altar.
i. What is the emphasis on the blood here? He mentions righteous blood 3 times.
ii. If we go back to God’s law we see this term, blood guilt. More specifically we see how blood guilt was assuaged. Whenever there was a death of an innocent, the law required that a blood guilt be paid. In most cases, whether the killing was accidental or premeditated, that payment was made by the family of the victim, killing the murderer. However, the law also makes it clear, that if the blood guilt is not paid, the people would inherit its guilt. It would fall on them.
iii. Abel of course is the first person to have suffered innocent death at the hands of his brother Cain. But who is Zechariah of Barachiah? We are not sure. There are a couple options.
1. It is the Zechariah in II Chronicles 24 who was killed in the temple courts. With his final breath he said “May the Lord see and demand an account” This happens to be the last prophet killed in what would be the last book of Israel’s history. The problem of course, is that the passage also clearly tells us who Zechariah’s father was, which is Jehoiada. Not Barachiah.
2. It could be the Zechariah who wrote the minor prophet bearing his name. In the first chapter he reveals that his father’s name was Berechiah. However, there is no scriptural evidence that Zechariah was killed by the Israelites. There are some traditions that he was killed while worshipping in the temple.
3. Although this seems to be the best solution, can I suggest that it doesn’t really matter. In either case, Jesus point is to say that all recorded history of all time, all righteous blood has been accumulated and the total sum of that blood, the guilt of the blood of Abel, and all the prophets of God throughout human history, has not been avenged.
iv. And Jesus says that upon them, upon the Pharisees and scribes this blood guilt will be exacted.
v. This seems, on the surface, to be a bit harsh. Why would Jesus place the culpability of all the righteous blood shed upon the earth on the shoulders of the Pharisees and scribes?
vi. Before we answer that, the woe is not done...
c. [Slide 21] 36 – I tell you the truth, this generation will be held responsible for all these things!
i. Generation can refer to a nation, a time, or an age
ii. It was not only the Pharisees and Scribes that would be held accountable for this. Remember the Pharisees and Scribes were the best the Jews had to offer. And just like the Pharisees and scribes were guilty of their ancestors blood guilt, so all of 1st Century Judaism will be held accountable for these things. Why?
iii. Because there is no more room in the cup. God has given so much to Israel. He has put up with so much.
iv. They had the very word of God available to them, yet they did not understand it, they did not use it correctly, and they did not obey it. They killed God’s prophets.
v. And now, the best of them, are turning people away from His Kingdom. The best of them are plotting to kill the Messiah of God at the very moment He is pronouncing their judgment.
vi. And what is God’s judgment on 1st Century Israel? What was the cup that was poured out?
vii. Some believe that God is done with Israel. That He has wiped them from His covenant relationship and that Israel has been replaced with the church.
viii. Such an extreme conclusion is unnecessary. Contextually, it is far more likely that Jesus is referring to the destruction of Jerusalem and the burning of the temple in 70 AD. Such a cataclysmic and devastating event is not fully understood by western minds. But to Jesus’ hearers and even Matthew’s readers, such an event would have been absolutely devastating.
ix. Indeed, Jerusalem and the nation of Israel has yet to recover from this event.
x. And what that means is not that God is done with Israel, or has replaced Israel. Instead, He has set them aside. He has chosen to move on with His Kingdom in this world through a cobbled together, grafted in, new nation called the church. A nation that is nationless, a people that are not a people, a tribe that is not a tribe. A people united by the Spirit of God and Sonship.
xi. Israel’s punishment is that they are the older brother sulking in the field as the younger brother’s feast rages on. And one day the Father will come out to the Older brother, who was a prodigal of a different kind, and He will rebuke and invite them in. But for now, that older brother remains outside. Not that Jews can’t get saved, but that the nation of Israel is not part of God’s current plan for the world.
d. [Slide 22] Passage Truth: So Jesus is teaching very clearly that it is not just the Pharisees to blame here. It is the whole of 1st Century Judaism. A sordid past, that they couldn’t seem to change. In not desperately seeking their God they failed to be different at all. And because of this, they had earned the judgment of God for all the righteous blood that had ever been spilt.
e. Passage Application: Jesus’ application is simply, don’t mimic the Pharisees. Don’t think you are better than your ancestors. They were lacking something, but it is something you have yet to find. But the wonderful and uplifting part of all this is that Matthew is writing to Jews, some of them being Christ followers. And although they would experience the fall of Jerusalem and the destruction of the temple, although they would see their people set aside in the plan of God, they had been spared of something far greater, because they had experienced inward, soul change. They had not been like their ancestors or the Pharisees. They cried out to Jesus. They became truly needy of Him. Thus they were spared of the murderous heritage of their family, not because they were not guilty… but because they changed families. They had been adopted into the family of God through the Seed of the woman.
f. [Slide 23] Broader Biblical Truth: The broader biblical truth is that if mankind continues without any real soul change, they will inherit the judgment of God too. Not simply the destruction of a city or temple, but on a much grander scale, they will suffer eternal death. Such judgment awaits all who fail to repent and believe.
g. Broader Biblical Application: And for us, the application is still the same as the previous point. If we truly seek to be different we must seek God. Only He is able to grant that soul change. We can look to the past and see the examples of our ancestors, but if we try to not be like them in our flesh, we are bound to fail. It takes the power of the Spirit of God to produce ongoing change in the heart of a person so they can break the cycle. It takes a change in family… otherwise we are participants in the sins of our father the devil. We need a new Father. And the seed of the woman offers adoption as sons and daughters.
[Slide 24 (blank)] We have seen two truths in this passage: that mankind’s soul is naturally wicked and if nothing changes about that soul, God will pour out His wrath upon it. From these two truths we have come to a very important application. This is, that if we truly desire to be different, if we truly desire to change who we are, to be different than our ancestors, we must seek God, and God alone. So what woe is this on the American church, and how can we make sure that we are not part of it.
I hope that you have seen the interconnectivity of the woes upon the Pharisees as well as the interconnectivity of the woes on the American Church. The half gospel of lawlessness and legalism has been at work destroying the core of Christianity for centuries. Even in the first century church the New Testament writers battled both extremes as they sought to show not only how we must be dependent on God alone, but that God supplies not simply forgiveness but righteousness.
The last three woes have been expressing, on a deep philosophical level the problem of both an anti-law position and a legalistic position. The problem of course is that trying to keep the law yourself, or casting off the law completely, is a symptom of a much deeper defect in our theology. And it centers, specifically on our view of man.
Perhaps some would say that only our view of God matters, but biblical history and the New Testament in general does not simply fight against a faulty view of God, but also against a faulty view of man.
I have been wrestling, personally wrestling with something for some time now. And that is the question, who should we classify as heretics? It certainly is a heavy question, because I don’t want to use that word arbitrarily. I don’t want to further divide the church over meaningless squabbles. The church is already much too divided as it is. We have been supremely guilty of separating ourselves over things that ought not to matter. But you can pendulum swing the other way and be so ecumenical that you sacrifice truth.
As is always the case, the scriptures have my answer. What were the New Testament writers focusing on in their letters? Theology and Anthropology. The Study of God, the Father Son and Spirit, and the Study of man. Who is God, and Who is man. I have determined that these two areas are areas that must be defended. These two areas determine if you are an orthodox believer, or a believer in another gospel that isn’t really a gospel.
And that brings us to what is the final woe on the American Church. And, I see it as absolutely inseparable from the rest. It is, perhaps, the reason that all the other woes have come about. It is the most egregious woe. And it is a woe that will ultimately lead to judgment.
The Seventh and final woe on the American church is this:
[Slide 25] Woe to you American Church, Hypocrites! You have allowed humanism to infect your doctrine of man, and without a correct understanding of the true nature of man, no man will ever repent and believe.
The prevailing teaching of the American church today is infected with a false view of man from tip to toe.
Prosperity preachers focus on having your best life now, getting money, possessions, and blessings from God in this life. The teaching of humanism seeps from every word of their false gospel, and because of this, it is quite easy to spot.
But beyond them, the teaching of humanism in our gospels becomes more and more challenging to identify. The teaching is subtle, but has devastating effects.
Rather than focusing at length on the different ways it appears in the church of America, I would rather focus on the truth, and let you compare it to the preachers and teachers of your past and present. And so that you can be prepared to compare it to teachers in your future… including this one.
Here is the true, untainted doctrine taught by the scriptures. Mankind is utterly, completely, totally, and inescapably depraved. Every righteous deed is putrid and disgusting to God, and every evil deed is rebellion. Every act that conforms to the moral will of God is tainted with self or false god worship and is therefore idolatry. And every selfish and morally repugnant act is worthy of death and damnation.
Now where you stand on original sin or Adam’s place in this, or what sin it was in the garden or how it is passed on to us, is irrelevant. That does and doesn’t matter. What matters… what actually matters is that you believe the correct thing about the nature of man. That is all that matters. Because if you mess this up, if you get this wrong, I’m not sure we have the same gospel. If you do not believe that mankind is totally incapable of serving, searching for, obeying, loving, or otherwise coming to God without Supernatural intervention, then we cannot agree on much else. If you believe that mankind has any part in their own salvation, any part at all… then you are not a Christian. You can’t be.
Now we can argue and fight over man’s response to God’s work, when it happens and how much it actually is.
But if you actually believe that you have a part in your salvation. That God waits for you to decide something before He brings you to life… then you are not part of the Church of Christ. You are believing a gospel that is not found in scripture.
And the evidence for this is found all over the bible. From Genesis to Revelation. But since we are in Matthew, we find it right here. The Pharisees chose to be different, they thought they were different, they even acted differently toward the prophets of old… But they were not different. The crowds were not different. Even Jesus’ disciples were not different. They were murderers. They were liars. They were sons of Satan. Why? Because they acted like him. And they could not escape the blood guilt on their heads.
And folks that blood guilt is on our heads too. We inherit the blood guilt too. Because we too are sons of Satan. Children of wrath. We are forced to conclude that this is true of all mankind. The only other option is to believe that the Jews were uniquely and exceptionally wicked people, and God was only talking to them. The only other option is to believe that God hates the Jews. But such an option is not tenable from the scriptures. So that leaves us with the fact that we are all sons of our father the devil.
And it goes all the way back to the garden my friends. So many things go back to the garden. When God said that there would be two families. Offspring of the serpent and The Son of the Woman. Christ is the Seed of the woman… and we are the offspring of the serpent.
Do you know why men are totally depraved? Incapable of doing anything good? Because we are in the wrong family. We have the wrong spiritual DNA.
Let me put it to you this way… think about a genetic disease. Let’s get specific and scientific. Huntington’s disease. James Vance has Huntington’s. It is a disease passed down through a dominant gene of one or both parents. Now let me ask you something. When you have a genetic disease such as Huntington’s - how do you cure it? You can’t . It is a particular gene in the genome that has been inherited and cannot simply be removed or altered. It has infected every cell. Every cell of your body has the same genetic code. You might say that a person with a genetic disease is totally infested with such a disease. There is no hope for ever being cured.
But theoretically, if you could go into every single cell of a person with Huntingtons and change their genetic make-up to exclude the dominant gene and replace it with something else… you could cure them of the disease. However, on a scientific level, what you have essentially done is changed who the person is entirely. Your DNA is the mathematical sequence of who you are. Everything about your body is determined by that code. And to change, even one part of it, is to change who you are, and even to change your family heritage. You would become a new human.
Sin is like a genetic disease of our soul. We have inherited it from our ancestors. We have inherited it from all who came before us. And it has infected every part of us. There is no part of our spiritual being, no part of our soul that is free of the mutation. And it is the Spiritual DNA of our father – Satan. We are like him in every way.
God’s work, his adoption, his placing us in Christ, the death of Christ’s body, the wrath poured on that body, the substitution of Christ – all of that congeals into this very real truth… we have been put into a different family. We still sin because although our soul has been made new, our body has not. But one day our faith (soul) shall be sight (body) and we will be truly new. Our adoption papers will be complete. And we will reign with Him, because we will be truly, like Him.
[Slide 26] Do you see now why teaching that man can choose God is so devastating? It literally flows in the opposite direction of the truth. It drives men away from God not to Him. They seek the answer in themselves not in God.
And to we believers this continues to be true. Because after our conversion we can still believe the lie that we can simply choose to follow God. But the truth is that while in this body, we draw our power and passion to follow God from God Himself.
So when we look back at the sins of our fathers and mothers. When we see the people shouting crucify Him! When we see the untrusting Disciples, the hypocrisy of the Pharisees, the grumbling of the Israelites… dare we say that we are not like them? Dare we arrogantly claim that we are any different?
I Corinthians 6 says - Such were some of you… but you are now, not your own. You were bought with a price. SO GLORIFY GOD in your body.
We are exactly the same as they are… yet we have been changed…and the glory for our change, the glory for our being different goes to who? God. He is the reason we are able to be different.
We cannot look at our ancestors and think arrogantly that we are not like them. No the truth is that we would be exactly like them if it were not for the placement of our souls into a new family. The family of God.
So if it is all God, and none of us… what if I want to be changed? What if I want to be different? If I can’t do it… if nothing I say can force God to change me… then what do I do?
[Slide 27] Keep Seeking. Keep Knocking. Keep Asking. God promises He will not allow a diligent seeker to go unanswered.