The word “Woe,” as used in the title scripture, refers to a judgement. It signifies an impending doom, a great sorrow or distress. In the above scriptures, Jesus pronounced seven woes on the Scribes and Pharisees. It is amazing that the Lord called out the teachers of the law of his time. Those who were supposed to know better, because they “sat in Moses seat,” but unfortunately they were not worthy examples for the people.
As I pondered on this scripture Matthew 23 Verses 13-30, I wondered what the Lord would say about us today, that is about every believer and also those in the top echelon of authority in the present day body of Christ.
The above passage can be summarized into seven judgements as spoken by Jesus Christ to the spiritual leadership of his time. The reasons for the seven woes pronounced by the Lord were as follows:
- They shut up the kingdom of heaven against men; they were not even qualified by their character to enter and they wouldn’t let others enter either (Matthew 23 VS 13): This refers to the sin of spiritual bigotry. This occurs when a man or woman has a false sense of his spiritual authority over others and imagines he holds the keys to the gates of heaven, hence he/she alone can determine who enters and who doesn’t. Such a person makes his word a law without referring to what the word of God says. This attitude is based on a false sense of spiritual superiority. This is clearly the sin of pride at work. This results in such a leader placing undue and unnecessary burdens on his followers, thereby making it very discouraging for them to pursue a relationship with Jesus. They put many barriers and limitations on their followers which are too grievous to be borne, yet they will not lift a finger to help the follower. Thus easily knocking the follower from the path to the kingdom of God due to the numerous frustrations they face as a result of unending burdens placed on him.
- Devouring widow’s houses and making a show of their prayers (Matthew 23 VS 14): A widow throughout the Bible refers to one the Lord sees as needing help and being without a defence so he personally guards them. Imagine how grievous it is in the eyes of the Lord that these scribes and Pharisees were robbing widows of their property and all other poor and defenceless people. This is the height of wickedness and greed. Jesus called out the scribes and Pharisees for the above act. This act is a combination of greed, covetousness and hypocrisy. Greed in the sense that a spiritual leader becomes terribly desperate for material things, covetousness which is a lack of contentment(1 Timothy 6 VS 6) and hypocrisy, which is using of pretences to obtain what isn’t theirs, and lengthy flowery prayers being used to cover up the true nature of their intentions. Prayer is natural, it is simple, clear, passionate communication between a man and his maker. But when a person deliberately begins to make a show of the prayers, then this is exactly what Jesus was calling them out for.
- They compass sea and land to make one proselyte, and when he is made, they make him twofold more the child of hell than themselves (Matthew 23 VS 15): A proselyte can be defined as a person who has converted from one opinion, religion, or party to another. Wow !!! this is deep. The Scribes and Pharisees who were at that time supposed to be the highest authority on spiritual matters were being described by Jesus as children of hell!!! This calls for a deep pondering. It shows that a convert can very easily be taught the wrong doctrines and also the traditions of men and not the true word of God and hence a mockery is being made of his conversion. He ends up having no substance and is totally unaware of what God expects of him and the life he is supposed to live that he may enter into the kingdom of God. The Scribes and Pharisees were guilty of not living a life worthy of emulation. Their garments were stained, hence Jesus describing them as children of hell.
- The Scribes and Pharisees were blind guides, who wrongly taught the people that whosoever shall swear by the temple will not be bound by that vow/oath but that whosoever swears by the gold of the temple is bound and had a debt to pay (Matthew 23 VS 16): Deception, deception, deception! This was greed and the love of money playing out here. Jesus rebuked them for these teachings because he saw through them and the reasons for their false teachings. They were only concerned about how they could amass wealth from the labour of their followers. They really had no regards for the Lord God Almighty or his altar and the sanctity and authority therein, but rather were just cooking up false laws/rules whereby they could benefit from.
- The Scribes and Pharisees were very judicious in paying their tithes as instructed by the Lord in Malachi 3 VS 10, but they relegated the weightier matters of the law to the background (Matthew 23 VS 23): Jesus rebuked them because their focus was only on one side of the law. They neglected what the Lord regarded as the weightier matters of the law such as judgement, mercy and faith. The Lord Jesus expected them to balance out their teachings on the laws, but they were hypocritical, because they choose to dwell on tithes issues from beginning of the year to the end of the year and kept emphasizing on that to the detriment of the other important aspects of the law they were meant to deal with. Refer to the story in Luke 18 VS 11, where the Pharisee mentioned in that scripture was using his tithe payment as a yardstick for the reason why he was righteous, rather than asking God for forgiveness and genuinely repenting. The Lord said the other man who didn’t throw his tithe paying feat in His face but rather was humbly asking for mercy and forgiveness for his sins was the one justified.
- Jesus pronounced a woe on the Scribes and Pharisees because they were more concerned about appearing righteous on the outside before men rather than observing genuine repentance from the heart (Matthew 23 vs 25-28): They were ‘clean’ on the outside but were full of extortion and excesses on the inside. The Lord used the term “whitewashed sepulchres” to describe them. This is so apt. A grave may be very well maintained and beautiful on the outside, but we all know that what’s on the inside is rottenness. They were full of hypocrisy and iniquity, and rather than genuinely repent, they were more concerned about keeping up appearances and playing on the intelligence of the people to deceive them more. Jesus saw right through them hence calling them out.
- Jesus rebuked the Scribes and Pharisees for making a show of building the tombs of the prophets and garnishing the sepulchres of the righteous (Matthew 23 vs 29-30): Jesus discerned that they were not sorry that those prophets were killed, but only did the above to look good in the eyes of the people. The Lord saw that they were just as stiff-necked and uncircumcised in heart and ears as their fathers were. See the book of Acts 7 vs 15 and also 1 Thess. 2 vs 15.
In conclusion, brethren if we look closely at this dispensation in the church, you will find a lot of these character traits are present as well. The onus now rests on us, to do a sober reflection and ask ourselves some pertinent questions such as ‘why are we really in this Christian race?’ Why are we really in ministry? Is it for material gain? Is it solely for the Lord to be glorified? May the Lord have mercy on us all in Jesus name. Amen.