Title: Glory Seekers
Text: Matthew 23:1-12
FCF: We often struggle keeping selfishness and pride out of our Christianity.
Prop: Because Christ breaks the power of natural man, we must be humble.
[Slide 1] Turn in your bible to Matthew 23. Well here we are. Are you excited? What began two years ago, almost to the day, and has taken 78 sermons covering 774 verses, has led us to this. This is it. The climax of Matthew’s book. This discourse and the one to follow set up a pivot point in the gospel hastening us toward the cross, the resurrection and the final discourse in the last three chapters.
We just came from a narrative section where Matthew emphasizes the misunderstanding, misapplication and ultimate disobedience of the law of God by the religious elite of Israel and by extension, Israel itself, And in closing the narrative Matthew juxtaposes against that, Jesus as the holder of divine interpretive authority. He not only understands God’s word, but understands God Himself – because He is God.
Such a powerful truth demands our full attention as Jesus offers back to back discourses with some difficult things to hear and accept for Israel and even us.
Jesus will start with the leadership of Israel. Where the head of the snake goes, the body follows. And Jesus in this chapter will cut off the head of what Judaism had become in the 1st Century. And sadly, he will pronounce judgment on that generation for failing to be what God intended them to be. It was, no doubt, a difficult chapter for Matthew to write, as he – a tax collector – had finally found freedom in Christ, while many of his countrymen had rejected Christ.
I am in Matthew chapter 23 and I’ll begin reading in verse 1. If I were a prophet I could have predicted this would happen. You see in front of you is our brand new bibles dedicated by and in the memory of Sue Stephens and Sue Tomczak, valued members of this church who have since joined their Savior and Lord. I knew that as soon as we placed those New English Translation bibles in the pews that the next time I preached I would have say the words I’m about to say… I am going to be reading out of the NASB this week. But you can follow along in any version you have, including the NET bible in the pew in front of you. In the pew bible it would be page 1120. By the way, if you don’t have a bible – grab that one in the pew, but leave with it. It is yours now.
So what does Jesus have to say to us? How does He open this discourse? We haven’t had one from Him since chapter 18.
I.) Mankind ultimately fails to practice what it preaches, so we must be humble. (1-3)
a. [Slide 2] 1 – Then Jesus spoke to the crowds and to His disciples,
i. This is a very important segue.
ii. First, this is an unmistakable que from Matthew that he is now shifting out of narrative, where Jesus speaks but is prompted by events transpiring around him.
iii. We have seen similar wording starting each of the 4 previous discourses. So this language clearly indicates we have transitioned to where Jesus will be the sole speaker.
iv. Secondly, this shifts the focus on Jesus’ address.
v. Since the beginning of the previous narrative in chapter 19, Jesus has been approached by those who at best did not know who He was, and at worst sought to destroy Him.
vi. Now in the discourse Jesus does the addressing and focuses His attention both on the crowds and His own disciples.
vii. This identification of his audience is important as it sets up the next discourse which will follow this one much quicker than we are used to.
viii. But what is the scope of Jesus’ discourse? What will it be about?
b. [Slide 3] 2 – saying: “The scribes and the Pharisees have seated themselves in the chair of Moses;
i. Now whether or not the text says they seated themselves in Moses chair, or that they simply sit in Moses’ chair, is irrelevant because Jesus seems unconcerned about them being in that position.
ii. If they seated themselves there, it could indicate that they have established some sort of authority that was inappropriate for them to claim.
iii. But the main question we have here in verse 2, is what is Moses’ chair?
iv. There seems to be some indication that much like chairing a department at a school, so is Moses’ chair in revealing the law of God. No doubt this refers to some position of reading and, dare I say, preaching on the law of Moses in the synagogue.
v. Now was this an actual seat? We don’t know.
vi. There does seem to be some excavations indicating that in the synagogue itself there were more prestigious seats – one of which was rarely occupied. But is this to what Jesus was referring – or is he simply referring to a metaphorical chair? We are unsure.
vii. We do know that it carries authority, and it is the same authority that Moses possessed toward the children of Israel. We know that Moses was a prophet of God, a prefigure of the Messiah who would be a Prophet greater than Moses.
viii. So “sitting in his chair” would mean that they had didactic or teaching authority.
ix. So far, Jesus hasn’t said anything crazy, but what He says next may surprise you.
c. [Slide 4] 3 – Therefore all that they tell you, do and observe,
i. Wait a second, is Jesus telling them to obey what the Pharisees say?
ii. Kinda. Yeah!
iii. Well that seems weird since Jesus disagrees with most of what they teach. And in fact, he will be critiquing their teaching in just one moment. This has led some commentators to conclude that this is sarcasm or irony… but maybe there is something else?
iv. The “therefore” in this sentence is probably more connected to the chair of Moses than we realize.
v. What Jesus is essentially saying is, insofar as they represent the chair of Moses well, do and observe what they say.
vi. In other words – Obey the words of God that come out of their mouth.
vii. Truth is truth. And even if it is spoken by a wicked person, we should agree with truth.
viii. [Slide 5 (blank)] In our society, with all the political angst and anger, politicians are finding themselves in hot water because something they supported only a few years ago, they are staunchly fighting against now. The only difference is that someone they don’t like is saying the same thing they said only a few years prior. We as believers should not be this way concerning God’s Word. When truth is preached, we ought to honor the God of that truth.
ix. I have encountered many people who had a pastor when they were younger, a teacher, a friend or colleague that pointed them to Christ – but has since left the faith or fallen into unrepentant sin. They feel like their faith is invalid, or that somehow they have inherited the sin of the one who was so influential to them.
x. Truth is truth. Don’t trust in men, trust in God. And if a man points you to God and falls away – God is no less God.
xi. In fact, Jesus reveals that this is exactly the kind of people that the Pharisees are.
d. [Slide 6] but do not do according to their deeds; for they say things and do not do them.
i. Jesus warns against following their lifestyles. Obey what they say insofar as it is in line with Scripture.
ii. But do NOT view them as your example to follow.
iii. Which of course every single person who could hear Jesus at the time, did. The crowd and the disciples alike all looked at the Pharisees as some kind of Super Yahweh worshipper.
iv. Jesus is telling them to not follow the man but the God behind the man. Why? Because the man does not practice what he preaches.
e. [Slide 7] And can I confess to you that this is universally true of all men, even those who have been changed by the power of the Grace of God. All men do not practice what they preach to a certain degree.
f. Even this pimple-faced preacher, who stands up here every Sunday behind this barn wood pulpit and declares to you what God’s word says and what it means– but if you think that my declaration of the truths of this book inherently means that I have it all together, you’d be wrong.
g. Every week I am shown something new. Every week I look into the mirror of God’s word and find something more that must be conformed into the image of Christ.
h. The bible declares to us that any Christian who says he does not have any sin or that they do not bear the guilt of sin is a liar and the truth is not in him. Furthermore, if it was true that Christians will attain in this body some sort of moral perfection then Galatians 6 and the entire church disciplinary process would make no sense at all.
i. We do not look for perfect men to lead us because we’d never find them and what’s worse, they would steal glory from God by touting their own adherence to the law… much like the Pharisees did.
j. All teachers and preachers save one do not practice perfectly what they say. And if they claim to, they are a liar, or they are not preaching God’s Word.
k. But Jesus’ message to the people and his disciples is clear. Don’t look at the example of men, but at the Word of God. Even when their example is good – follow God. Because if you always follow God and His word – no man’s lifestyle will ever lead you astray.
l. In Ephesians 4, Jesus gives the church gifts. Those gifts are apostles, prophets, evangelists and shepherd-teachers. Those gifts are given to train up the body to take on the full stature of Christ. In other words those gifts are not given to follow their example but rather so that their example and teaching may point to Christ.
m. As your pastor, my goal is not to make you like me. It is to follow me as I pursue Christ. And sometimes I will fail. I’ll be impatient. I’ll be unloving. I’ll be prideful. And I expect you to rebuke and restore me! We are in this together my friends. If you also are in Christ, we are in this together.
[Slide 7 (blank)] There is an incredible temptation for me to get ahead of myself and start applying these principles before we get to when Jesus applies them. I fear I have already done so a little. I hope that all these tiny applications will gel together at the end. Jesus is not done talking about the example of the Pharisees. And by extension, Jesus is not done talking about the heart of man.
II.) Mankind adds to what God says for selfish reasons, so we must be humble. (4)
a. [Slide 9] 4 – They tie up heavy burdens and they lay them on men’s shoulders
i. Specifically how do the Pharisees not practice what they teach?
ii. They took the commands of God and attempted to apply them to their present culture.
iii. And if you are thinking that that doesn’t sounds so bad, you would be right. We have devotionals, commentaries, books galore and even preaching is very much the idea of taking biblical truths and applying it to our present context.
iv. But, let me tell you what it had become in their culture.
v. They took the commands of God and in discussing how to apply those presently, they agreed that God’s commands were important. So important that they needed to set up a series of preventative fences to keep themselves from falling into those sins. They were checkpoints along the way to help them turn back before it was too late.
vi. So far nothing is amiss. We do this all the time. Especially when we pinpoint a spiritual weakness in our hearts. We set up accountability partners, website blockers, and standards, practices, and principles to live by.
vii. However, what started innocently as a personal expression of a desire for holiness, quickly became a measure of holiness. Those who held to the highest standards and regulations became the holiest. Those who never passed the fence furthest from the command became the most holy – even if someone else never violated the command but passed a few fences along the way.
viii. Soon their applications became as important as the law itself, and their traditions inhabited the same place as the teachings of God.
ix. This would tie heavy burdens on the shoulders of every Jew, expecting them not only to follow the law of God – which as Paul teaches in Galatians is an impossible task in the flesh– but also to adhere to the extra laws added by the teachers of the law.
x. Funny thing is…
b. [Slide 10] But they themselves are unwilling to move them with so much as a finger
i. What does this mean? Well there are two basic ideas of what this phrase can mean… but really both come together into one.
ii. By Jesus saying that they don’t so much as lift a finger– He implies that they are compassionless teachers. Teachers who impose standards upon common Jews, and then neglect to give any counsel or assistance to help them.
iii. But how does this contribute to what Jesus is teaching about how they did not practice what they preached?
iv. Well so far we’ve seen that they preach the law AND their traditions.
v. So I think, what they assumed, was that if they adhered to their traditions rigorously, they would accomplish the law by default.
vi. Which if you illustrate their traditions as fences guarding the law – then you can see how they might come to that conclusion.
vii. However, as Christ points out on multiple occasions, although they kept the letter of the law in observable cases, there were other points of the law that they failed in. They lacked compassion, mercy, love and faithfulness. All of which were things that people may not be able to see – but God can.
viii. They recited every day – Love the Lord Your God with all your heart, soul and strength – but they didn’t love God with everything they were. They kept the sacrifices but lacked compassion.
ix. They knew Leviticus 19 said to love their neighbor as themselves, yet they would not help the people they instructed in the law and their traditions. And in so doing, they fail at keeping the law, even if they succeed at keeping their tradition.
x. We saw this back in chapter 15 where Jesus tells them that the law says to honor father and mother, but they had made a law where if your parents needed financial assistance, all you had to do was pledge your estate to the temple, what is God’s cannot be used by your parents, and the temple won’t collect until you are dead. Easy peasy. But as Jesus pointed out then… it ultimately undoes God’s law in favor of their traditions.
xi. They failed to keep the law, even though they succeeded to keep their tradition.
xii. This implied that their fences were not fences at all… but back doors leading to violating God’s laws.
c. [Slide 11] And this leads us to the reality that mankind adds to or modifies the laws of God, usually to impress other men. In other words, we add or limit God’s law for selfish reasons. Establishing an observable standard by which we can prove to others that we are holy.
d. This can be done by creating extra laws like no dancing, no R rated movies, no swearing, no drinking, no movie houses, etc
e. Or it can be done by reinterpreting existing laws to reduce their severity. Like turning lack of love to rudeness, impatience, or irritation. Relabeling lust to be simply appreciation of beauty. White washing over covetousness to be simply window shopping and softening idolatry to simply enjoying the pleasures of life. And on and on it goes relabeling sin as mistakes.
f. In either case God’s word is polluted to be only some observable standard that all men can see, when it is clear that God looks at the heart, and finds our best efforts… lacking.
[Slide 12 (blank)] And this is why Jesus advised the crowds and his disciples to follow the Pharisees’ words but not their example. Because the law is holy, but the Pharisees and their traditions were not. But Jesus is not done painting the ugly picture of the best mankind had to offer.
III.) Mankind seeks glory for themselves from other men, so we must be humble. (5-7)
a. [Slide 13] 5 – But they do all their deeds to be noticed by men
i. Following naturally from what we learned moments ago, we see this accusation crystalize.
ii. The Pharisees lived to be observed and noticed by men.
iii. Not only to reinforce in their own hearts that they were holy before God
iv. But also to vault themselves above others, to be known as the holiest of men.
v. Therefore they would do things to draw even more attention to their piety.
b. [Slide 14] For they broaden their phylacteries and lengthen the tassels of their garments
i. A phylactery is a small box worn on the left arm and forehead that contained several passages of scripture
1. Exodus 13:2-16 – The law of the First born
2. Deuteronomy 6:4-9 - The Shema
3. Deuteronomy 11:13-21 – Blessing for Obedience
ii. In these passages God specifically tells them to tie these words to their arms and wear them on their foreheads. They interpreted this quite literally, although God probably did not mean it to be that literal.
iii. The boxes that contained these scriptures would not need to be very large, but they would make them larger so that people would notice that they wore them. And as you can see in the picture the strap for the arm is unnecessarily long too.
iv. [Slide 15] Interestingly enough this picture is modern. And here are some more. Jews still wear these things today.
v. [Slide 16] The tassels were to be worn on the four corners of the robes of all male Jews. This is outlined in Numbers 15:37-40.
vi. They were designed to cause the wearer to remember the commands of the Lord, and their call to be holy. Jesus no doubt wore something like this too.
vii. But their tassels were longer and more noticeable. Again like we see here in the picture. Why is it over a foot long? Looks more like a bad sewing job than anything.
c. [Slide 17] 6 – They love the place of honor at banquets and the chief seats in the synagogues
i. These two point to their desire for glory from men in both a secular and sacred context.
ii. Communally and for entertainment, 1st century Jews would have people to their house for a meal. Who attended your meal communicated a certain amount of honor and status to you. And when you have a highly honored guest, they would sit next to you, the host. Both out of respect for them and honor for you.
iii. Things worked in a similar fashion in the synagogue.
iv. Being given the honorable places in the synagogue would communicate clearly, to every male Jew who sat in the synagogue that day, that they were to be listened to and respected.
v. Both of these “seats” are places of great honor. And for a Pharisee, who had a day job, and for a scribe who did not – such a place would be a great honor to inhabit.
vi. Jesus reveals that they craved this kind of status. This honor.
d. [Slide 18] 7 – and respectful greetings in the market places, and being called Rabbi by men.
i. Again, beyond the religious environment they desired greatly to be seen out and about in the market places, and greeted with titles and honor.
ii. They desired for people to call them teacher.
iii. Above all, they desired to be noticed and known as those who had it all together. They desired people to recognize their extreme religiocity.
e. [Slide 19] And as warped and twisted as that is, it is the default position for natural man. No matter where you go, and no matter what subculture you enter, there is always those at the top, and they are always proud to be there. They act as the authority and furthermore, they expect people to treat them as the authority. So much pride is bound into this – and unfortunately theology is not immune.
f. Paul confesses that knowledge leads to a puffed up mind. And so also people can learn much about God and assume that because they know much they are the authority. But I tell you friend that the more I learn, the less I find that I know. For every question I have answered there are 15 more raised.
g. There is no glory for us if we are going to follow God. Why? Because we can’t follow God while seeking our own glory. Glory for us is in the opposite direction as glory for God.
h. Be careful my friends. Man’s chief end is to bring God glory. When we desire honor and glory from other men… we make ourselves a lesser god, an idol for other men to worship. And God will not and should not share honor or glory with any other being.
[Slide 20 (blank)] Which flows naturally into Jesus’ expectation of those who would be His followers. Those who would be kingdom citizens are to be different. Mankind naturally fails to practice what they preach, adds or modifies God’s law for selfish purposes, and seeks glory from men. But what should those who have been changed by the power of cross of Christ do? How should they live?
IV.) Christ’s Followers are expected to be different, so we must be humble. (8-12)
a. [Slide 21] 8 – But do not be called Rabbi; for One is your Teacher and you are all brothers
i. Don’t look at someone as your primary teacher, because if he is a man, he is the same rank as you are.
ii. Both of you are learning under the feet of the master – Jesus.
iii. [Slide 22] Jeremiah 31:33-34 - 33 “But this is the covenant which I will make with the house of Israel after those days,” declares the Lord, “I will put My law within them and on their heart I will write it; and I will be their God, and they shall be My people. 34 They will not teach again, each man his neighbor and each man his brother, saying, ‘Know the Lord,’ for they will all know Me, from the least of them to the greatest of them,” declares the Lord, “for I will forgive their iniquity, and their sin I will remember no more.”
b. [Slide 23] 9 – Do not call anyone on earth your father; for One is your Father He who is in heaven.
i. Don’t see someone as your spiritual father in the sense that you are dependent on them.
ii. Because there is only one whom you should be depending on and that is God.
c. [Slide 24] 10 – Do not be called leaders; for One is your Leader, that is, Christ.
i. Don’t assume someone is your absolute guide who can tell you exactly what you are to do always.
ii. In our counseling training, the teacher mentioned that we cannot command people struggling with porn to cut their internet. We cannot command people tempted to adultery to quit their job.
iii. Because there is only one absolute sovereign over your life and that the Word of God, Jesus Christ.
d. [Slide 25] 11 – But the greatest among you shall be your servant.
i. But find those who look after your souls.
ii. Find those who want to serve others.
iii. Find those who love God and want to point others to him.
iv. If their life is like that… if they are devoted to directing attention to and magnifying the glory of God, Father Son and Spirit…
v. If you can find such a one, that is someone who is great in the kingdom. And here is the cool thing…
vi. They’ll never know it. They’d never seek it. And they’d never accept such a description of themselves.
vii. They’ll never think of themselves as great, they’d never hope to be great, and they’d always deflect any praise to their Great King!
viii. Those are the great ones in the church. Those are the ones who should lead. Those are the ones worth following. The ones who humbly follow Christ, not seeking any glory at all, always pointing to the King who has done it all for them.
ix. So then, Jesus concludes His summery of how followers of Christ should conduct themselves and who would be the greatest among them by saying…
e. [Slide 26] 12 – Whoever exalts himself shall be humbled; and whoever humbles himself shall be exalted.
i. This reads more like a proverb than anything.
ii. In fact it is not unique to this passage.
iii. The same thing has been taught in Matthew and will be taught in James.
iv. In fact, I’d say that throughout the New Testament, this concept is pervasive.
v. When mankind seeks to bring glory to himself, God will humble him if not in this life than in the next. We’ve seen that in Saul’s life as we’ve studied through I Samuel in Foundations.
vi. But when a man brings himself low and recognizes his place compared to God, God will exalt him either in this life or the next. And David exemplifies that well.
f. [Slide 27] So unlike mankind’s natural impulse, to bring glory to himself, change God’s law to make himself look better or simply to appear the perfect teacher, Christ’s followers, dare I say, His church, should seek only glory for God, love His law and seek to follow it, and humbly serve others by teaching or in whatever way they can.
g. In short… they follow Christ. They live like Christ.
[Slide 28 (blank)(end)] Although I feel like this sermon has been quite heavy in the application department already, it feels like we need to pull it all together. Understanding who man is naturally – a self-seeking, glory hog, and knowing that Christ slowly untangles all that in us… what does that mean?
It means that all those who are in Christ are being made into humble, meek, others serving and God glorifying people. We are all glory seekers… just not for ourselves.
And if your theology breeds boasting, self reliance, or self exaltation – it is bad theology and should be discarded post haste.
But if you have one Teacher, one Father, and One Leader who all happens to be the same person – God through Christ and His Spirit, then that will produces something in you. Humility.
Humility is a core truth of the gospel. Not just for conversion but through sanctification and unto glory. We will reign with Him, because we are united with Him. United in death, and united in life. And men get no glory from that. It is all because of Him.
In 1st Century Judea, they saw leaders the same way we do. The best and brightest. The smartest and fastest. Is it any wonder that athletes and movie stars have the podium? Is it any wonder that we have had men who were already powerful become the president of our country for the last, oh, hundred years or so? Why is that?
Man looks on the outward appearance. But God looks on the heart.
Do you know who God sees as great? Those who humbly serve. Those who are empty of vainglory. Those who lack self-seeking.
The church leadership here has been researching and pursuing a different government model than we currently have for this church. We are pursuing an Elder led church.
Although it would be outside the scope of the text this morning to discuss this at length, can I suggest to you, that the very people who should be leading the church, are these kinds of people. Servants. Those who are humble and meek. And in the process of looking for those who would be future elders of our church – this may be a good place to start. Is there a man here who fits this description? He wouldn’t know it of himself, but maybe you do. That is the kind of men who should be leading, not ruling, but leading – protecting, guiding and supporting CBC. Men who would have you follow them, so they can take you to Christ.
And men can I suggest to you that if you are thinking to yourself right now… “Whew! Good, I thought that he was gonna say that every Christian man needed to be this kind of servant. Dodged a bullet there” Guess what men? J
Every man should be seeking the qualifications of an Elder. Every man should be seeking the qualifications of a Deacon. Nothing mentioned in these qualifications are not also required elsewhere of all believers. And the qualifications of either elder or deacon are pretty much the same. Are you more of a teacher? Elder. Are you more of a nuts and bolts guy? Deacon. Are you both? Elder.
And ladies, if you are thinking to yourself right now … “Whew! Good, he seems to have limited God’s expectation of humility to just the dudes. Looks like I am in the clear.” Guess what ladies J
If every husband is aspiring to be a deacon – that just might make you a deacon’s wife. Which has its own set of qualifications, which would require you to be a servant too. And ladies, there might actually be a place for female deacons too.
No one escapes the application today friends.
Good theology breeds humility and servanthood.
Many people join a church to be served though. Many people come expecting to be helped… and in a good church they will be. But listen… if you don’t wish to serve, then you will be least in the kingdom. And at some point, eventually, you have to start asking yourself… am I even part of the kingdom if I never wish to serve others and always wish to be served? Christ followers, follow Christ. And Christ came to serve.
May the Lord help us to be Glory Seekers – but only and always for our King!