Sunday, October 13, 2019

"How (NOT) to be a Leader" [Matt's Messages]

“How (Not) to Be a Leader”
Following Jesus - The Gospel of Matthew
October 13, 2019 :: Matthew 23:1-12

The Gospel of Matthew is a theological biography of the Lord Jesus Christ.

For 22 chapters (sixty sermons) now, Matthew has been keeping His eye on the ball and showing us the answer to the question, “Who is Jesus?”

I won’t remind you of all of the things Matthew has shown us about the identity of Jesus. We don’t have time to review them all.

I will remind you that we’ve reached the last big section of the book.

We’ve reached what we are calling “Crucial Week.” Often also called “Holy Week” or “Passion Week.” It’s that fateful crucial last week of Jesus’ earthly ministry before His sacrificial crucifixion and victorious resurrection.

From Sunday when He rode into town to Monday when He cursed the fig tree and cleansed the temple to Tuesday when He clashed with the Jewish Religious Leaders who wanted to know by what authority He was doing all of this.

We’ve been walking with Jesus step by step through Crucial Week.

We’re still on Tuesday.

When we left off last time, Jesus had silenced the Pharisees.

He had answered all of their questions with His superior questions, and then He had asked a question of His own, a riddle.

“What do you think about the Christ? Whose son is he?”

And the answer was stunning. The Christ is the son of David, but He is also the Lord of David, and even more, He’s the Son of God and the Lord of All!

And it was like Jesus just dropped the mic right there.

The Bible says, “No one could say a word in reply, and from that day on no one dared to ask him any more questions.”

Jesus was the last man standing.

I kind of wish that was the end of the book.

I wish everyone said, “Oh, Jesus is the Christ, and He has answered all of his opponents, and He is the son of David, and the Lord of David, and the Son of God, and my Lord, too!”

But that’s not what everybody said.

These folks who can’t answer Him are going to come roaring back by the weekend.

But before all of that happens, Jesus opens His mouth and begins to condemn them.

They are silent, but Jesus is not.

If you have one of those Bibles were the words of Jesus are printed in red, the next 3 chapters just bleed.

Chapters 23, 24, and 25 are the last major block of teaching in the Gospel of Matthew.

We’ve said before that there are five major blocks of teaching:

1. The Sermon on the Mount
2. The Teaching on Missions
3. The Parables of the Kingdom
4. The Teaching on the Way to Jerusalem

And now the fifth and final major teaching on judgment and the return of Christ.

It’s often called the “Olivet Discourse” because a good bit of it was taught while Jesus was sitting on the Mount of Olives.

I have to tell you that the next three chapters are going to get heavy at times.

Jesus speaks of judgment.
Jesus speaks of condemnation.

Jesus uses heavy and sharp words.

He even uses name-calling. Next week, we’ll see that Jesus calls the teachers of the law and the Pharisees, “Blind guides,” (that’s a sick burn), “hypocrites,” and even “snakes.”

Chapter 23 is a powerful chapter full of strong words from the lips of the Lord Jesus.

They are right words.
Good words.
Righteous words.

But heavy and pointed and piercing.

We’ll see in verse 1 that they are aimed at the crowds and at His disciples.

The crowds to warn them of what is to come in Israel because of these leaders who have done such an awful job.

And the disciples to warn them to not follow the example set by the Pharisees.

We’re going to take our time working our way through this section because it is often overlooked and because God gave it to us for good reasons.

One of the reasons is so that we don’t copy their mistakes.

So that we don’t give in to the same errors.

As they say today, “You don’t want to be that guy.”

You don’t want to be like the Pharisees and the teachers of the law that Jesus rips into here.

So here’s the title I picked for this message:

“How (NOT) to be a Leader”

Looking at how these people behaved who were in spiritual leadership in Israel, I think we can learn some valuable lessons about what not to do when we ourselves are in leadership today.

So, in one sense, we’re learning what went wrong in Israel.

And we’re finding out why Jesus says that judgment is coming soon.

But as we hear Jesus explaining all of what they did so wrong, we should be able to flip that over and see how we could be doing things right instead.

Almost everybody is a leader in some area of life.

Matthew 23 definitely applies to pastors and church leaders.

I feel it when I read this. This applies to me. “Don’t be like this, Matt.”

“See how Jesus feels about this sort of thing? Run the other way!”

But just about everybody is a leader in some area of life, even if you aren’t a church leader.

Husbands are supposed to lead their wives.
Moms and Dads are supposed to lead their children.
Teachers, coaches, supervisors, employers all lead people.
Team captains, study group leaders, line-leaders at school.

Just about everybody is a leader in some area of life.

The question is “Are we good leaders...or not?”

These people had been awful leaders.

And Jesus minces no words in saying so.

Matthew chapter 23, verse 1.

“Then Jesus said to the crowds and to his disciples: ‘The teachers of the law and the Pharisees sit in Moses' seat. So you must obey them and do everything they tell you. But do not do what they do, for they do not practice what they preach.”

Here’s number one. What not to do.


Be all talk and no walk.

In the old King James Version, Jesus says, “They say and do not.”

“They do not practice what they preach.”

Now Jesus begins by saying that in verse 2 that the “teachers of the law and the Pharisees sit in Moses’ seat.”

That means they sit in the place of authority. And it was their job to interpret the Law of Moses for the people of God.

We might say, “They had the pulpit.”

And Jesus says, “So you must obey them and do everything they tell you.”

Now, He could be sarcastic here.

A lot of good Bible scholars say that Jesus is rolling His eyes here. “Well, they’re in the seat of Moses, so you gotta do everything they say!”

But it’s all wink, wink, nudge, nudge because He’s going to take issue in this chapter with so many things that they say!

That’s possible. Sarcasm is possible.

I think it just means that they are in authority, and when they correctly interpret the Law of Moses, the people need to follow it.

When they are right, they are right.

Just because they get it wrong so often in their own lives doesn’t invalidate the Law of Moses. It was still in place.
But, Jesus also says that we should not do what they do.

Because they preach, but they don’t practice what they preach.

And that’s a bad idea.

Everybody knows that’s a bad idea.

Nobody teaches leaders to say one thing and do another right in front of their followers.

It ruins morale and sends very mixed messages.

Have you ever known a leader who says, “You’ve got to become a good listener.” but they are terrible listeners themselves?

“Calm down!” he yelled. Right?

“Listen to me!” he talks over her. Right?

What areas of your life are tempted to preach one thing and turn around and do another?

You know one of the worst for me has been the times when I have found myself gossiping.

I mean, I’m the guy that wrote the book, right?

And then I hear it coming out of my mouth.

Don’t think about other people and their hypocrisy right now. That’s easy.

What’s yours?

When the kids were little, I was complaining about how they were so rude. They weren’t saying “please and thank you” nearly enough.

And my loving wife said, “The reason is that you almost never say ‘please or thank you’ yourself.”

Ouch. I needed to hear that.

The Pharisees loved to say what everybody ought to do, but then they didn’t do it themselves.

Don’t be that guy.

It’s not wrong to preach. I’m doing it right now!

But it is wrong to say and not do yourself.

One of the things they teach us at seminary is to preach the sermon to yourself first.

And the same is true for parents, coaches, supervisors–whatever area of life you are in charge in.

We must practice what we preach.

Jesus did, right?

Jesus didn’t ask things of His followers that He was unwilling to do Himself.

In fact, He always did more than He expected from them.

Even something as simple as proclaiming out on social media what everybody ought to do, but then not following through and doing it yourself.

Don’t be that guy. Preach, but practice it, too.

In verse 4, Jesus takes it another step further. V.4

“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.”


Jesus says that these teachers of the law and the Pharisees “tie up heavy loads and put them on men’s shoulders.”

I don’t think He means literally.

I think He means all of those extra external traditions that they had come up with.

They piled those on to the backs (so to speak) of the people of Israel.

Remember the hand-washings from chapter 15?

These guys loved their extra and external traditions.

They loved to pile them on.

Jesus is going to get more specific as the chapter rolls out.

They love their rules. They love to pile them on.

But (v.4) “they themselves are not willing to lift a finger to move them.”

They give you lots of work, but they don’t help.

That’s terrible leadership, and everybody knows it.

Of course, a leader can’t do everything, and followers are supposed to do stuff.

But if a leader isn’t willing to help his followers get the work done, they are not good leaders.

And how much worse is it if the things they are piling on are wrong and bad themselves?!

Is this how Jesus operates?

What a contrast with Matthew 11:28.

Jesus said, “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light” (vv.28-30).

He has a yoke.
He has a burden.

And honestly, it sometimes seems heavy.

But it’s not really. It’s easy and it’s light.

And Jesus helps us to carry it!

We are yoked with Him, and He pulls the greater weight.

So this is a great leadership principle.

If you have to pile it on, make sure you are willing to lift a finger.

I love that phrase from Jesus, “lift a finger.” That’s the least you can do.

Moms, Dads, are you lifting a finger? Are you helping with the pile?

Employers, supervisors? Are you helping with the pile? Or are you just piling it on?

That’s how NOT to be a leader.

There’s one more for this morning. It’s number three. What not to do.


There’s a mistake.

Jesus says that the teachers of the law and the Pharisees loved to be seen and to be honored. V.5

“Everything they do is done for men to see: They make their phylacteries wide and the tassels on their garments long; they love the place of honor at banquets and the most important seats in the synagogues; they love to be greeted in the marketplaces and to have men call them 'Rabbi.'”

He looks right into their hearts.

Their hearts are proud, and they love the attention.

Verse 5 is the opposite of what Jesus said to do in the Sermon on the Mount right?

He warned us that this was a tendency to avoid. Matthew 6.

He said, “Be careful not to do your 'acts of righteousness' before men, to be seen by them. If you do, you will have no reward from your Father in heaven.”

Giving. Praying. Fasting.

If you do that so that you will be seen by others as pious and spiritual, you have your reward. That’s it. That’s all you get.

But Jesus said if you do it in secret, “Your heavenly Father Who sees what is done in secret will reward you.”

Not these guys.

What are phylacteries. Do you know?

In the Torah, the Lord tells the people to put the word of God on their hands and foreheads, so they these guys did it literally.

And some Jews do it still today.

They had little boxes with Scripture verses in them, and they tied them onto their left arm and their foreheads.

Now, I’m not sure that it was ever supposed to be literal.

But these guys make their phylacteries wide.

They get the XXL size Scripture boxes so you can’t miss them.

And the tassels from Numbers 15 that they were supposed to put on the corners of their garment, they get the longest ones they could fine. Dragging on the ground.

The modern equivalent might be carrying around the biggest old Bible you could find.

“Do you see my Bible?”

Or posting on social media how spiritual you are!

To impress people with your piety and spirituality.

“Oh that person must be close to God!”

And just eating up “the likes and shares and favorites and follows.”

Look how they love it.

“[T]hey love the place of honor at banquets and the most important seats in the synagogues; they love to be greeted in the marketplaces and to have men call them 'Rabbi.'”

Now, it’s not necessarily wrong to pursue honor.

But these guys want it more than they want God.

In fact, they want to take the place of God. V.8

“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, and he is in heaven. Nor are you to be called 'teacher,' for you have one Teacher, the Christ.”

I don’t think that Jesus is saying it’s wrong to be called “Rabbi” in every situation. Just like it’s not wrong to call your dad “father” or your teacher “Teacher.”

Or your pastor, “Pastor.”

Notice the logic of each of the prohibitions. In each situation, the person being called by this title is taking the place of the Lord. Do you see that?

“But you are not to be called 'Rabbi,' [Hebrew for “Great One”] for you have only one Master...And do not call anyone on earth 'father,' for you have one Father, and he is [where?] in heaven. Nor are you to be called 'teacher,' for you have one Teacher, the Christ.”

The point is not necessarily what title but what position those people are taking in other people’s lives.

The Pharisees wanted to usurp the rightful position of God in people’s lives.

They wanted to be the authority.
They wanted to be exalted.
They wanted to be honored.
They wanted to be lifted up.

Grabbing all of the attention so that these disciples were their disciples.

Fame and honor was their goal.

In fact, they would have never said it, but they basically wanted to take the place of God.

God will not stand for it.

He will not share His glory with another. V.11

“The greatest among you will be your servant. For whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and whoever humbles himself will be exalted.”

God will humble the proud.

That’s one of the reasons why judgment is going to roll down on Jerusalem.

Because of the overweening pride of their spiritual leaders.

They pursued honor, but they did not humble themselves.

So God will see to it that they are humbled.

The same is true for leaders in God’s church today.

If pastors like myself pursue honor but don’t humble ourselves, God will discipline us. “Whoever exalts himself will be humbled.”

If church leaders chase after fame and honor and making a name for ourselves (and it’s a real temptation in the church world), that’s all the reward we’ll get.

“The Reverend Doctor Matthew Mitchell. Oooh. Ahhh.” [ Dr. Fathead is more like it.]

But “whoever humbles himself will be exalted.”

It’s not wrong to be exalted.
It’s not wrong to be up there.
It’s wrong to try to put yourself up there.

Climb the ladder.
Send out the press release.
Retweet yourself.
“Check me out!”

So many leaders try to exalt themselves on the back of their followers instead of stooping to serve their followers.

“Whoever humbles himself will be exalted.”

Do you believe that?

Four years ago yesterday, Blair Murray died.

He was a great example of Christian leader who served other people instead of expecting them to serve him.

At his funeral, I preached on Mark 10:43-45.

“[W]hoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be slave of all. For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”

Blair was a great servant, and he was following the example of the greatest servant, the Lord Jesus Christ.

“Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself and became obedient to death–even death on a cross!

[and whoever humbles himself will be exalted!]

Therefore God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.”

That’s how to be a leader!

Let us follow Him.


Previous Messages in This Series:

01. The Genealogy of Jesus
02. The Birth of Jesus Christ
03. The Search for Jesus Christ
04. The Baptism of Jesus
05. The Temptation of Jesus
06. Following Jesus
07. Jesus' Sermon on the Mount
08. The Good Life (Part One)
09. The Good Life (Part Two)
10. You Are The...
11. Jesus and the First 2/3 of the Bible
12. But I Tell You
13. But I Tell You (2)
14. But I Tell You (3)
15. In Secret
16. Choose Wisely
17. Seek First His Kingdom
18. Generous
19. These Words of Mine
20. When He Saw the Crowds
21. When He Came Down from the Mountainside
22. Follow Me
23. Our Greatest Problem
24. Who Does He Think He Is?
25. Special Agents
26. Sheep Among Wolves
27. What To Expect On Your Mission
28. Are You the One?
29. Come to Me
30. The King of Rest
31. So Thankful!
32. Overflow
33. This Wicked Generation
34. Get It?
35. What Is Really Going On Here?
36. Baptizing the Disciples
37. The Treasure of the Kingdom
38. Living the Last Beatitude
39. Five Loaves, Two Fish, and Jesus
40. It Is I.
41. Worthless Worship
42. Great Faith in a Great God
43. The Pharisees and Sadducees
44. The Question and the Promise
45. Take Up His Cross
46. Like the Sun
47. Seed-Sized Faith
48. These Little Ones
49. If Your Brother Sins Against You
50. The Lord of Marriage
51. Drop Everything
52. First and Last
53. The Suffering Serving Son of Man
54. Shouting for the Son of David
55. Expecting Fruit
56. Come to the Wedding Banquet
57. Whose Image?
58. Acing the Test