Matthew 23

Matthew 23:

The first verse tells us this address is to the crowds ( multitudes,KJV) and his disciples.  It is a scathing condemnation of the false teaching of the religious leaders.

We will look at the :  a series of ‘woes’ in this chapter as the Lord Jesus in the last week of his earthly life repeats in plain language the false teaching, hypocrisy and pride of these religious rulers.

The week that had begun on Palm Sunday with such hope for the disciples as Jesus entered Jerusalem to the praises and Hosannas of the crowds would now take a strange turn of events. Jesus shocked the religious rulers, the crowds and probably even the disciples as they were left with an ominous warning in which Jesus tells them ‘ your house is left unto you desolate.’ The disciples believed the end goal was for Jesus to set up his kingdom on earth, as they asked Jesus after his resurrection-‘ are you at this time going to restore the kingdom to Israel?’

We could almost entitle this lesson and this chapter—‘ no more Mr. Nice Guy’.  Let’s go back for a moment to review what Jesus taught in his most detailed sermon, known as the Sermon on the Mount. When we look at his teaching we can now see clearly the contrast between what Jesus taught and what the religious rulers had perverted with their own man-made laws and rituals.  Here in Matthew 5,6&7- Jesus sets forth the laws of the Kingdom of Heaven. The KJV says:  “ And  HE OPENED HIS MOUTH, AND TAUGHT THEM, SAYING…”   When Jesus opens his mouth, let us open our ears and our hearts.  The Bible is God’s Word, speaking to you.   Interesting to note- the Old Testament ends in Malachi with a curse.  The New Testament starts with Jesus’ teaching here and it begins with ‘Blessed are…”

These men, the religious rulers, thought of themselves as the peers as the ones who were the exalted role models and leaders. They were for the most part a prideful group.  Jesus says blessed are the poor in spirit- for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Being poor in spirit is the opposite of being prideful and full of self, and being a self- important leader.  Jesus said blessed are those who mourn- for they shall be comforted.  These are those who are grieved by sin and experience godly sorrow. And as we begin our walk with the Lord we begin to understand our mourning brings us more comfort from the Comforter than our good times.  For who seeks comfort when they are comfortable?  And as we reflect on those who are blessed- we see how the religious rulers for the most part were the opposite .  They were not meek, they did not hunger and thirst for righteousness, they were full of self-righteousness.  They were not merciful, they were harsh, eager to stone the sinner, not forgive and restore them. Like the ‘elder brother’ they looked down on the prodigal and wanted nothing to do with him-even though their father loved him. Jesus told that parable to a group of Pharisees to let them know the rejoicing in heaven over the repentance of one sinner.

Their hearts were not pure, they were not peacemakers and they would not suffer persecution for the sake of Jesus Christ. Jesus then went on to attack the teaching of their man-made laws of the Pharisees and said- unless your righteousness exceeds  the righteousness of the Pharisees you shall in no case enter into the kingdom of heaven. And he concludes that portion of teaching by saying you must be perfect as your Father in heaven is perfect.

On prayer, fasting and giving- Jesus said it is to be done in secret- not to make a show out of it in public as the Pharisees did. And in his closing comments in Matthew 7- he tells the crowd to beware of false prophets which come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly are ravening wolves. If anyone had been listening to Jesus, he was telling them from the beginning what was wrong with what they were being taught by these leaders.   Here in Matthew 23, Jesus is ripping off the sheep’s clothing of hypocrisy and exposing the wolves within.

Now let us note the  grievous ways in which the Lord finds fault in these scribes and Pharisees.  As always let us look at the application to our own lives and relationship with the Lord and not just at looking at the faults of these men.

First on the list of things not to do:  ‘ they do not practice what they preach.’ ( NIV)  The KJV says ‘ do not after their works, for they say, and do not.’  Do we practice what we preach?  Do we do as we say?  We expect more out of our leaders than we do ourselves, don’t we?  We are ready to condemn those in places of authority and leadership when they are caught in wrongdoing.  But Jesus said to those leaders who were ready to stone the women caught in adultery- let he who is without sin- cast the first stone.

Jesus would call these men hypocrites several times in this passage.  There is some hypocrisy in all of us.  Why? Because being transparent is not easy. I did not want to tell my children of my years of drinking, being expelled from colleges, and all the trouble I had been in and all the heartache I had caused. But once I did – it opened a testimony that I have since told literally to hundreds of people.  Transparency is being honest. Transparency keeps us humble. We should never appear to be more than we actually are and we should also never appear to be less than we are.  Transparency keeps us from throwing rocks- for those who live in glass houses should never engage in throwing stones at others.

I can hear the anger  in the Lord’s voice as He speaks: “ They tie up heavy loads and put them on men’s shoulders, but they themselves are not willing to lift a finger to move them.”  What a contrast to our Lord’s most gracious invitation and one my favorite passages:  “ Come unto me, all you that labor and are heavy laden; and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am meek and lowly in heart, and you shall find rest unto your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” Matthew 11: 28-30, KJV

Is this not good news?  Is this not a wonderful promise? The invitation is simple and straightforward:  Come unto me all you who are heavy laden and I will give you rest. The rest is a release from worry, the fears, doubts and anxiety of problems that come into our lives. Some of our burdens are from the sin that has entangled us as in my life with alcohol. Others come from the storms in life we encounter in our lives and through our loved ones’ problems. Problems which include: health, finances, relationships and the storms that we all have to pass through. Do you understand why you are weary and heavy laden?  Do you understand what the problem is?  It is the yoke you are under. You are under a yoke that does not give you rest- you are under a yoke that makes you weary.  You have been trying to solve a problem that you cannot solve- a burden you cannot carry. It has worn you out- emotionally, physically, spiritually and mentally. Sleepless nights, weary days, pain and anguish are your constant companions that sit upon your shoulders. You have a yoke that is not helping you- it is in fact adding to the problem.

Here is the solution:  Jesus Himself says: ‘Take My Yoke upon you’. This is his yoke that he draws us to himself where we can learn from him. It is a yoke that does not chafe or irritate for it is lined with His love.  As for your burden-  cast it upon Him, upon His shoulders, for He cares for you. In fact He cares for you like no one ever has. No one ever can love you like Jesus does.  I have exchanged my sins and worries and fears for his righteousness.  I have and you have to, if you have trusted Jesus- entered into His School, where is he Master, Teacher and the Lesson to be learned.

Do you know why He is the greatest teacher of  all times?  Because He is meek and lowly of heart.  He is not a prideful, condescending professor- who belittles those who are slow to learn- he is long suffering, patient and this makes for a classroom where encouragement is the rule of the day- not condemnation. There is therefore, no condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus.

This rest is for all who learn from Him, the One to whom we are  yoked. Are you leaning to your own understanding?  Trust in the Lord with all your heart and in all your ways acknowledge Him and He shall direct your path.

No problem is too great for Him!

God specializes in Hope.He is the God of all Hope.

Trust God with your circumstances and leave all the consequences to Him. That can only be done from the place of rest, the place of rest, the place of learning- the YOKE.

And what drove you to the YOKE? TROUBLE!! Very simply- you had a load you could not carry.


  1. Stop focusing on your circumstances and focus on God’s promises. Great example is found in Matthew 14 – where Peter walks on the water. Jesus has come to them in a storm. He is our peace in the storm. Peter walked on the water- he was actually walking by faith in the promises of God. When he focused on the Lord, he was safe. But when he took his eyes off the Lord and looked at his circumstances he began to sink.  Focus on God and His promises- not your circumstances.
  2. Make a commitment not to give up. Never, never, never give up. Turn to Him in complete dependence.  Quit trying to manipulate the circumstances in your own strength.
  3. Claim your position in Christ.
  4. Cling to Jesus- he is the anchor of your soul.
  5. Cry out to God.

God is never distant-He is always near.  As we draw near to Him, He draws near to us.   What did our Teacher teach us  in Matthew 6?  He said do not worry about your life. Is that not the most impossible thing to do? How can I not worry about my life and the lives of my loved ones- when there are grave problems? Jesus says your Father knows what you have need of even before you ask Him.

God wants to teach us in adversity the depth of conviction and faith.

When adversity arises ask the Lord the following questions:

  • What are you saying to me, Lord?
  • What do you want to reshape , refine or redirect in my life?

Realize God never wastes anything.

Now do you understand why the Lord Jesus was so angry with these men in position of leadership? They were loading this people down- adding to their burden and not lifting a finger to lighten their burdens.

The Lord then talks about their hyposcrisy for all they did was for others to see.  Jesus speaks of their phylacteries which they made wide- and their tassels which they made long.  Phylacteries were worn on the left arm and on the forehead. These devices contained specific passages from Deut. 6 that commanded them to love the Lord your God with all your heart, all you soul and all your strength. Also to teach them to their children.  They made an outward show of them by making these leather pouches wide so as to be seen by everyone as a reminder of who they were- not who God was. They had bound the scriptures to themselves outwardly- but had not hid the Word in their hearts.   God has also instructed the Jews to make tassels on the border of their robes to remind them they were  a peculiar people- a people set apart. These were outward symbols of which they were proud- but they were as Jesus would call them- whitewashed tombs which look beautiful from the outside but were dead inside.

Looked at what they loved:

  1. Place of honor at the banquet- seated at the head table.
  2. Chief seats in the synagogues.
  3. Loved to be greeted and recognized in the marketplace
  4. Loved be called by their title:  Rabbi

In other words they loved to be first and foremost.  Jesus says-‘ but you are not to be called Rabbi, for you have only one Master and you are all brothers. And do not call anyone on earth ‘father’ for you have one Father who is in heaven. Nor are you to be called teacher, for you have one Teacher, the Christ. The greatest among you will be your servant. For whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and whoever humbles himself will be exalted.’   Notice Jesus says we are all brothers- children of the same father. Student in the school of our Savior, the Lord Jesus.  And here is a truth that tells us something these proud leaders could not apprehend- the less you think of yourself as important- the higher you are regarded in the eyes of the Master.

Paul referred to himself in his letters as ‘ a servant of Jesus Christ’. James, the Lord’s half brother called himself a servant of the Lord Jesus. Jude also a half brother called himself a servant of Jesus Christ. Whenever men who have personally known Billy Graham or Bill Bright speak of these two men who have been used mightily by the Lord to reach millions with the Gospel- they always use the word- ‘humble’.  And both of these men always preached and said:  “ The Word of God says…”  They added no comment of their own- for they knew who was the Master Teacher, for they had been and were students in His school and learned the lesson which is Christ Himself, who described himself as’ gentle and humble in heart.’  Paul writes in Ephesians 4- “ But you have not so learned Christ; if so be that you have heard him and been taught by him, as the truth is in Jesus.” In the school of faith with the Master- he is not only the Teacher – He is the lesson to be learned.

Our message, the Gospel is not a message that calls for us to have numerous degrees in theology- it is to tell of a personal experience with Jesus Christ.  I was an alcoholic by my mid 20’s, my life was a nightmare going from one failure and heartache to the next. I was enslaved to alcohol. By age 31- I was convinced I would never be able to free myself from this sin and was at the point of suicide when I got down on my knees and ask the Lord honestly and earnestly- if He was real to come into my heart and my life and save me and He did.  “ It is for freedom that Christ set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a YOKE of slavery.   There is that yoke again- a yoke that I exchanged on that day, September 16, 1977.

Now we come to a section of ‘woes’, where the Lord repeatedly calls these men- hypocrites and blind guides. The first woe is the primary woe:  “ Woe to you teachers of the law and Pharisees , you hypocrites! You shut the kingdom of heaven in men’s faces. You yourselves do not enter, nor will you let those enter who are trying to.”

Do you know what the Lord Jesus wants us to do ?  Tell others about the Gospel. Tell them the way you were, what happened and how you are now. It is about a personal experience. No one who knows me can argue that I was once one way and now am another.  They cannot argue with what happened to me as I was going one way and turned around and headed another way.   They cannot argue with me, when I tell them of the power of the Word of God that provided a way out so that could keep from taking a drink.

We now live in an age where to share your faith is to risk being criticized or even persecuted. We find ourselves intimidated by the society in which we live- that views those of us who publicly share our faith as fanatics- who instead of a solution to our problems – are viewed as the problem.

The enemy has grown bold in these days in his battle against the Word of God.  It appears that he has made great strides in keeping the Word out of our society.  Today in America- political correctness overrules moral behavior according to the Word of God.

Interesting when we read the Bible for what it is- which is God’s Word and history from His perspective, we discover patterns of behavior from which we can learn important lessons. Listen to what Paul writes about God’s Word and its purpose:  “ For everything that was written in the past was written to teach us, so that through endurance and the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope. May the God who gives endurance and encouragement give you a spirit of unity among yourselves as you follow Christ Jesus, so that with one heart and mouth you may glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.{ Romans 15)    Later on Paul writes in this same chapter- “ May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace, as you trust in Him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.”

God gave birth to a nation called Israel. It was God Himself who changed Jacob’s name to Israel. It was God who gave them the land of Canaan. Israel was to be the kingdom of God in the form of an established commonwealth on earth. They were truly in the beginning one nation under God. When you read God’s Word, we see what happens when a nation allows the unbelievers in its midst to compromise their beliefs, accepting the beliefs of others or mixing them with their own to create a religion that is tolerant of other beliefs, which leads to accepting and practicing . For as the book of Judges says- ‘ in those days, Israel had no king, everyone did as they saw fit.’ Israel became absorbed in the world- in the name of tolerance and compromise.

You can connect the dots— If I substituted the name America for Israel in the above paragraph it would be as true to day of our country as it was true of Israel 3000 years ago.

Listen to the broken heart of our Savior:  “ O  Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you; how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, but you were not willing. Look your house is left to you desolate.”

Subsitute America for Jerusalem in these verses and many think it could be true of America- if we do not repent. If we who are called by His name do not repent of our apathy- do not humble ourselves and  pray and seek God’s face, and turn from our wicked ways, the will I ( God) hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and will heal their land.” (2 Chronicles 7 – paraphrased.)

We would never think we would shut the kingdom of heaven in mens’ faces- but if we open not our mouths are we not by default- shutting the door?

Copyright © 2010 Linda Benthal
Last modified: 08/12/14