In Jesus’ Words: Do as they say, not as they do. (Matthew 23:1-36)

How many times have we heard the use of the words, “Do as I say, not as I do.”?  That expression actually came from one of Jesus’ speeches where he is talking about the Pharisees and scribes, the religious hypocrites of his day.

Where did these Pharisees and scribes come from and why was Jesus so against them? They are not mentioned as part of the religious order in the Old Testament.  These new groups came about during the 400 year period of silence between the last prophet of the Old Testament and Jesus in the New Testament.  The Old Testament tells about Levite Priests, Judges, Prophets and Kings, all appointed by God, but has no mention of the religious orders of Pharisees, Scribes, Sadducees, Sanhedrin, and many of these other groups.

These new groups produced so many restrictions and rules that made it almost impossible for anyone to come to God.  No wonder Jesus was angry.  In this speech, Jesus is talking to the crowds who are following him and to his disciples, not the Pharisees; and he is telling the crowds, “Do as they say but not as they do.”  Note that he is not rejecting what the scripture says, just how they are acting on it.  Jesus is coming to the end of his ministry here, and is starting to make his final and closing statements.  It’s a long speech, but worth the read.  Read it slowly, and let it sink in.  It is wise advice for all of us.

~ Matthew 23:1-36  Religious Hypocrites Denounced ~

Then Jesus spoke to the crowds and to His disciples: “The scribes and the Pharisees are seated in the chair of Moses. Therefore do whatever they tell you, and observe it. But don’t do what they do, because they don’t practice what they teach. They tie up heavy loads that are hard to carry and put them on people’s shoulders, but they themselves aren’t willing to lift a finger to move them. They do everything to be observed by others: They enlarge their phylacteries (small boxes containing Old Testament texts worn around their necks) and lengthen their tassels. They love the place of honor at banquets, the front seats in the synagogues, greetings in the marketplaces, and to be called ‘Rabbi’ by people.

“But as for you, do not be called ‘Rabbi,’ because you have one Teacher, and you are all brothers. Do not call anyone on earth your father, because you have one Father, who is in heaven. And do not be called masters either, because you have one Master, the Messiah. The greatest among you will be your servant. Whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and whoever humbles himself will be exalted.

“But woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! You lock up the kingdom of heaven from people. For you don’t go in, and you don’t allow those entering to go in.

[“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! You devour widows’ houses and make long prayers just for show. This is why you will receive a harsher punishment.]

“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! You travel over land and sea to make one proselyte (convert to Jew), and when he becomes one, you make him twice as fit for hell as you are!

“Woe to you, blind guides, who say, ‘Whoever takes an oath by the sanctuary, it means nothing. But whoever takes an oath by the gold of the sanctuary is bound by his oath.’ Blind fools! For which is greater, the gold or the sanctuary that sanctified the gold? Also, ‘Whoever takes an oath by the altar, it means nothing. But whoever takes an oath by the gift that is on it is bound by his oath.’ Blind people! For which is greater, the gift or the altar that sanctifies the gift? Therefore, the one who takes an oath by the altar takes an oath by it and by everything on it. The one who takes an oath by the sanctuary takes an oath by it and by Him who dwells in it. And the one who takes an oath by heaven takes an oath by God’s throne and by Him who sits on it.

“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! You pay a tenth of mint, dill, and cumin, yet you have neglected the more important matters of the law—justice, mercy, and faith. These things should have been done without neglecting the others. Blind guides! You strain out a gnat, yet gulp down a camel!

“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! You clean the outside of the cup and dish, but inside they are full of greed and self-indulgence! Blind Pharisee! First clean the inside of the cup, so the outside of it may also become clean.

“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! You are like whitewashed tombs, which appear beautiful on the outside, but inside are full of dead men’s bones and every impurity. In the same way, on the outside you seem righteous to people, but inside you are full of hypocrisy and lawlessness.

“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! You build the tombs of the prophets and decorate the monuments of the righteous, and you say, ‘If we had lived in the days of our fathers, we wouldn’t have taken part with them in shedding the prophets’ blood.’ You, therefore, testify against yourselves that you are sons of those who murdered the prophets. Fill up, then, the measure of your fathers’ sins!

“Snakes! Brood of vipers! How can you escape being condemned to hell? This is why I am sending you prophets, sages, and scribes. Some of them you will kill and crucify, and some of them you will flog in your synagogues and hound from town to town. So all the righteous blood shed on the earth will be charged to you, from the blood of righteous Abel to the blood of Zechariah, son of Berechiah, whom you murdered between the sanctuary and the altar. I assure you: All these things will come on this generation!

In Jesus’ Words: Questioning our Motives (Matthew 15:1-9)

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Jesus said,

“These people honor Me with their lips,
but their heart is far from Me.
They worship Me in vain, teaching as doctrines the commands of men.

“You have revoked God’s word because of your tradition.”

 

It’s easier to believe in the big miracles – the feeding of the 5000, walking on water.  Those events seem far away from us today and not much accountability is needed to believe in them.  It’s harder when things gets personal, and that is just what Jesus is doing in these statements when talking with the elders.  His words can be a little hard to take in, if I am honest with myself…  Do my traditions stand in the way of someone seeing Jesus?  Do people see Jesus or do they see my actions?  Am I worshipping a doctrine or Jesus?

Jesus gets right to the heart of the matter – it is our motives.  In this world full of opinions and contradictory messages, I always ask myself one question when trying to discern if someone’s actions and thoughts are true – what is their motive?  Is it to show the love of God which allows people to draw near to Him, or is it self-serving and to prove a point?  If it is done for our own benefit and not for Jesus, then it’s worthless.  Jesus says it’s done in vain.

Always point back to Jesus.

No matter what situation we are in, whether having a conversation, an argument, or needing to make a tough decision, if we always point our conversation back to Jesus, it cannot easily be contested.  Take the focus off us and more on Jesus, and Jesus will make Himself known.

~ Matthew 15:1-9  Jesus questions the motives of the elders ~

Then the Pharisees and scribes came from Jerusalem to Jesus and asked, “Why do Your disciples break the tradition of the elders?  For they don’t wash their hands when they eat!”

He answered them, “And why do you break God’s commandment because of your tradition?  For God said: Honor your father and your mother; and, the one who speaks evil of father or mother must be put to death.

But you say, ‘Whoever tells his father or mother, “Whatever benefit you might have received from me is a gift committed to the temple”—he does not have to honor his father.’  In this way, you have revoked God’s word because of your tradition. Hypocrites! Isaiah prophesied correctly about you when he said:

These people honor Me with their lips,
but their heart is far from Me.
They worship Me in vain,
teaching as doctrines the commands of men.”

In Jesus’ Words: Wheat and Weeds (Matthew 13:1-2,18-30)

Jesus could have easily been talking about the fair-weathered or pretend Christians of today when he was telling the parable of the Wheat and Weeds.  Hardly a week goes by where we do not hear the surprising and shocking news of someone who is not the person they had pretended to be.  Jesus never asked us to be perfect (for He is the only perfect one), but he did ask us to be authentic.

It reminds me of a time earlier this summer when I attended a small seaside church near the beach.  The sights and sounds of the ocean always bring to my mind images of Jesus’ ministry – the fisherman disciples, their boats and fishing nets, shipwrecks and storms, and Jesus cooking breakfast on the beach for his disciples.  So as I sat in church on that Sunday morning, listening to the music and pondering my thoughts, I saw a man walk in late just as the music had finished and the preaching started.  The man shuffled his way through the row of people and took the empty seat next to me.  He was nicely dressed – perhaps a little too nice for a seaside church where sandals are more the norm; and he smelled nice too – of expensive cologne and wearing an impressive watch.  As the preacher began his sermon, the man opened his Bible, took out his notebook and fancy pen, and shouted a few loud “Amen’s” here and there, nodding to the preacher.  I saw that he wrote down the title of the sermon in his notebook, while saying a few more “Amen’s”.  I was impressed for a few minutes.  But then he never wrote another word in his notebook.  At the end of the sermon, when the music started back and the preacher gave an invitation for anyone who wanted to follow Jesus, the man packed up his things, climbed over all the people again, and left.

I don’t think Jesus was impressed with his show.  Jesus would rather see someone come to the church in their wrinkled and disheveled clothes, worn out from the stresses and burdens this world can sometimes bring, falling down on their knees, pouring out their heart to Jesus and asking for His help.  Authentic and Repentful.

The reason some people were angry with Jesus during his ministry on earth and chose not to follow him was because Jesus was not impressed with their wealth or status.  How aggravating that must have been for them!

Jesus used ordinary people – fisherman, tent-makers, tax collectors and sinners, a prostitute, and a murderer (Paul) – and He made them extraordinary.  Now that is impressive.

~ Matthew 13:1-2, 18-30  Parable of The Sower, and The Wheat and Weeds ~

On that day Jesus went out of the house and was sitting by the sea. Such large crowds gathered around Him that He got into a boat and sat down, while the whole crowd stood on the shore.

“You, then, listen to the parable of the sower: When anyone hears the word about the kingdom and doesn’t understand it, the evil one comes and snatches away what was sown in his heart. This is the one sown along the path. And the one sown on rocky ground—this is one who hears the word and immediately receives it with joy. Yet he has no root in himself, but is short-lived. When pressure or persecution comes because of the word, immediately he stumbles. Now the one sown among the thorns—this is one who hears the word, but the worries of this age and the seduction of wealth choke the word, and it becomes unfruitful. But the one sown on the good ground—this is one who hears and understands the word, who does bear fruit and yields: some 100, some 60, some 30 times what was sown.”

He presented another parable to them: “The kingdom of heaven may be compared to a man who sowed good seed in his field. But while people were sleeping, his enemy came, sowed weeds among the wheat, and left. When the plants sprouted and produced grain, then the weeds also appeared. The landowner’s slaves came to him and said, ‘Master, didn’t you sow good seed in your field? Then where did the weeds come from?’ ‘An enemy did this!’ he told them. ‘So, do you want us to go and gather them up?’ the slaves asked him.

‘No,’ he said. ‘When you gather up the weeds, you might also uproot the wheat with them. Let both grow together until the harvest. At harvest time I’ll tell the reapers: Gather the weeds first and tie them in bundles to burn them, but store the wheat in my barn.’”

feet with waves croppedFor more on images of Jesus and the sea… Breakfast cooking on the beach

In Jesus’ Words: the cost of following Jesus (Matthew 8:19-33)

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The cost is not what you may think.  It isn’t our behavior or attitude or morals or dress.  And it isn’t our money.  This past week I’ve listened to the news channels argue over who is right and who is wrong when it comes to latest scandals.  I switched the channels back-and-forth on the remote between CNN and Fox, and could not believe the media circus I was seeing played out from either of them.  Both were in a race for ratings and had little to do with the truth itself.  So what is the truth?

~ Matthew 8:19-33  Following Jesus ~

Then a teacher of the law came to him and said, “Teacher, I will follow you wherever you go.” Jesus replied, “Foxes have dens and birds have nests, but the Son of Man has no place to lay his head.”  Another disciple said to him, “Lord, first let me go and bury my father.”  But Jesus told him, “Follow me, and let the dead bury their own dead.”

What did Jesus mean when He said, “Follow me“?  Is it to give up your house, abandon your family, join a certain church?  No, he simply meant, “no buts”.

“I will follow Jesus, but just not right now…”
“I believe in Jesus, but I don’t know about all those miracles and being raised from the dead…”

Living for Jesus now, in this moment, in this life, is more important than waiting for a better time or dwelling in the past.  The cost of waiting could be much more.

Suddenly a furious storm came up on the lake, so that the waves swept over the boat. But Jesus was sleeping. The disciples went and woke him, saying, “Lord, save us! We’re going to drown!” He replied, “You of little faith, why are you so afraid?” Then he got up and rebuked the winds and the waves, and it was completely calm.  The men were amazed and asked, “What kind of man is this? Even the winds and the waves obey him!”

When he arrived at the other side in the region of the Gadarenes, two demon-possessed men coming from the tombs met him. They were so violent that no one could pass that way. “What do you want with us, Son of God?” they shouted. “Have you come here to torture us before the appointed time?” Some distance from them a large herd of pigs was feeding. The demons begged Jesus, “If you drive us out, send us into the herd of pigs.” He said to them, “Go!” So they came out and went into the pigs, and the whole herd rushed down the steep bank into the lake and died in the water.

The storms and demons obeyed Jesus when He spoke.  If we really believe Jesus is who he said he was, and believe his actions to be true, then we would want to follow him completely with our lives.  He would be part of our waking up and going to bed, our counsel during the day, our friend and companion, and our Savior.  And it is the  willingness of our hearts and beliefs that Jesus seeks, not certain actions or words.  Other religions require those.  But there are many today who still want to put a price tag on being a Christian – good enough, deserving enough, perfect, act a certain way or do certain things.  The only price is truly believing in who Jesus is and trusting in Him – and that part is free and available to anyone.

feet with waves cropped