Sunday, October 27, 2019

"Malignant Religion" [Matt's Messages]

“Malignant Religion”
Following Jesus - The Gospel of Matthew
October 27, 2019 :: Matthew 23:13-24

We have reached one of the heaviest parts of the Gospel of Matthew.

It’s that last fateful week that we’re calling Crucial Week, the week that Jesus will be crucified, and we’ve reached the last large block of Jesus’ teaching, Matthew chapters 23, 24, and 25.

Jesus has silenced His opponents’ questions with His superior questions, and now He has begun to warn the crowds and His disciples about the teachers of the Law and the Pharisees.

We saw in the first 12 verses that Jesus has gotten very serious about how dangerous these religious leaders really were.

They were terrible leaders. Just awful.

They preached but didn’t practice what they preached. They piled on heavy burdens but didn’t lift a finger to help. They loved honor but never humbled themselves.

They were just awful.

And now Jesus is going to pronounce woe upon them.


Seven times Jesus will say, “Woe to you.”

“Woe to you.”

And He’ll give 7 reasons why this woe should be pronounced on these men.

It is devastating.

I’m glad I wasn’t there, and I would hate for Jesus to say these words of woe over me.

The word “woe” is word that combines condemnation, denunciation, regret, sorrow, lament, and heavy warning into one little syllable.


“Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees.”

“Woe to you.”

These “woes” are the exact opposite of the “blessings” of the beatitudes.

Remember the beatitudes from the first part of the Sermon on the Mount?

They opened the first major block of Jesus’ teaching.  “Makarios.” “Blessed. Good for you. Way to go! Way to be! Good on ya!”

These seven woes now open the last major block of Jesus’ teaching.

“Woe to you. Bad for you. Sad for you. Alas! Terrible way to go. Yuck.”

Do you remember the word that we used to sum up the beatitudes?

It was the beautiful word “flourishing.”

A word of life and joy and thriving.

What is the opposite of “flourishing?”

Because that’s the idea of “woe.”

It’s withering. It’s dying. It’s being destroyed. It’s shriveling up.

It’s cancer.

It’s a malignancy.

These religious leaders were practicing a “Malignant Religion.”

A malignant religiosity. A malignant spirituality.

And Jesus was calling them out for it!

If you want to know what really makes Jesus mad, it’s bad religion.

It’s religiosity.

Jesus hates all sin and death.

But He saves some of His heaviest words for very religious people.

These were the church people!

These were the most cleaned up, buttoned up, church-ed up people.

They might not have seemed bad to us. They were all wearing white hats!

But this is what Jesus had to say them:

“Woe to you.”

He does not take a perverse pleasure in speaking like this. He doesn’t do it to get His kicks or to score rhetorical points with His sick burns.

We’ll see, probably next week, how He ends by just about weeping over them.

But He tells it like it is.

And it is heavy.

And there is no getting around that.

We shouldn’t try to get around this.

This is God’s Word for us.

There are seven woes in Matthew 23. We’re just going to look at the first 4 this morning. Lord-willing, we’ll do the last 3 and finish the chapter next week.

But before we look at the first one, I want us to think a little bit more about how Jesus understood this malignancy of their religion.

Jesus calls them names.

He has two names that He calls them in the first four woes.

He says these things over and over again.

It’s these two: “Hypocrites” and “Blind Guides” (or “blind fools,” “blind men”).

Do you know what a hypocrite is?

It originally meant a “play actor.” An actor on the stage. Somebody who wore a mask and pretended to be someone that they were not.

So we would say, “A Fake.”

A spiritual or religious hypocrite is someone who preaches one thing and practices another. Like Jesus said in verse 3.

It’s someone who pretends to be spiritual, but aren’t really.

It’s not necessarily someone who pretends they are perfect, just that they pretend that they are real when they are not.

They pretend to have something, but they don’t have it.

They are one thing on the outside, but a totally different thing on the inside.

They are not “whole.” They are fake.

And the blindness here is not physical blindness.

There’s nothing shameful about being physically blind. That’s just a malady, a hard thing to live with in our broken world.

No, this blindness in verses 16, 17, 19, and 24 is spiritual blindness.

And that’s not just a malady, that’s a malignancy.

That’s an ignorance. A willful ignorance.

These people are getting called out for their spiritual blindness because they are responsible for it.

And worse than just being culpable for being spiritually blind, these men are blind but leading other people!

I read on Facebook this week, that a hunter got lost in the woods overnight near here.

How scary that must have been!

I heard they found him, praise the Lord.

But what if that guy or someone like him while being completely lost was arrogantly, presumptuously giving other lost people directions? “Oh yeah. Follow me.”

The lost leading the lost.

Here’s word to sum up the blind guides.

They are just plain “wrong.”

They are fake and they are wrong.

And they are the wrong leading the wrong the wrong way.

They don’t know what they are talking about, but they aren’t going to let that stop them.

They are fake, and they are the wrong leading the wrong the wrong way.

Do you see why Jesus gets so serious with these people?

I think it’s important for us to hear these words as words of warning for us.

We do not want to go there.

We do not want Jesus to say these things to us or about us.

I don’t believe He is.

I don’t think this is how He see us. We are not the scribes and the Pharisees. I hope.

But I don’t want ever to get close.

I don’t want a malignant religion.

I don’t want to be fake or wrong or lead other people into wrongness.

These folks were living the opposite of the Sermon on the Mount.

They were building their house on the sand.

And they were in for a big crash.

Woe number one. Verse 13.

“‘Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites [you fakes]! 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.”

That’s a picture of malignant religion, is it not?

Do you see the picture?

In this metaphor, there is a great big door to the kingdom of heaven, Jesus’ favorite thing to talk about.

There is this great big door to the Kingdom of Heaven.

Who is the King of the Kingdom of Heaven?

Jesus is King.

[And apparently, Kanye says, “Amen!”]

But in this metaphor, these guys are standing in front of the door to the kingdom of heaven, and they are slamming it in people’s faces.

How do they do that?

They are saying to people, “Don’t follow Jesus. He is not the king.”

“You yourselves do not enter, nor will you let those enter who are trying to.”

That’s just fake and wrong.

It’s fake that they are pretending to know the way to kingdom of heaven, when it’s obvious they don’t.

And it’s wrong because they are misleading people away from the kingdom of heaven, and towards the kingdom of hell.

Look at verse 15. Second woe.

“‘Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You travel over land and sea to win a single convert, and when he becomes one, you make him twice as much a son of hell as you are.”

These people were proselytizing.

But they were not evangelizing.

They were making converts, but not disciples of King Jesus.

They were making disciples of themselves.

They were teaching them a false gospel of a false kingdom.

It was a false gospel of works.

You had to do, do, do and perform, perform, perform to earn your way to God.

But that’s not how it works.

500 years ago Martin Luther rediscovered that that’s not how it works.

And woe to anyone who says that it is.

The false gospel leads to a false kingdom, the kingdom of hell.

Here’s the opposite, and it’s what we should do.


Follow King Jesus.

Put your faith in King Jesus.

And tell other people about King Jesus.

King Jesus is where the life is!

There are a lot of false gospels circulating out there.

Cults, other world religions, and false teaching about Christianity.

And other stories the world gives us like atheism.

Anything that says that Jesus is not the king, and that we shouldn’t drop everything and follow Him, and that we have to add our good works to earn our way–those kinds of false gospels lead to a false kingdom.

Instead, we need to enter into the real kingdom by faith.

And we need to hold out the kingdom to others.

Come on in!

Have you come to trust in King Jesus as your King and Rescuer?

You need a king.

You need a rescuer.

Don’t listen to the Pharisees. Jesus is the real deal and He’s worth it all.

Let’s listen to the third woe. He breaks out the word “blind” now. V.16

“‘Woe to you, blind guides! You say, 'If anyone swears by the temple, it means nothing; but if anyone swears by the gold of the temple, he is bound by his oath.' You blind fools [That’s a strong word. We get our word ‘moron’ from that Greek word!] Which is greater: the gold, or the temple that makes the gold sacred? You also say, 'If anyone swears by the altar, it means nothing; but if anyone swears by the gift on it, he is bound by his oath.' You blind men! Which is greater: the gift, or the altar that makes the gift sacred? Therefore, he who swears by the altar swears by it and by everything on it.  And he who swears by the temple swears by it and by the one who dwells in it. And he who swears by heaven swears by God's throne and by the one who sits on it.”

You see where He’s going with this?

The Pharisees were blind guides that were looking for loopholes.

In fact, they had come up with a bunch of them.

If you swore by the temple, you didn’t have to keep your vow.

But if you swore by the gold of the temple, then you did.

I don’t pretend to understand the rationale.

Jesus says that it wasn’t a good rationale anyway.

They had come up with this elaborate system to make it sound like they were promising something, but then not actually [because of the fine print, not actually] have to keep their promises.

This sounds like the Sermon the Mount, doesn’t it?

Matthew 23 is the Bizzaro World Sermon on the Mount. It’s what happens when you do the exact opposite of what King Jesus says to do.

King Jesus says, “Let your yes be yes and your no be no” (Matthew 5:37).

King Jesus says, “Keep your promises.”


Anything else is fake and wrong.

If you feel the need to break a promise, ask to be released from it.

Ask to be released from your obligation.

But don’t say, “I had my fingers crossed the whole time.”

Some promises are conditional.

They are only to be kept if certain conditions are met.

But if those conditions are met, don’t say, ‘Well, we didn’t pinky swear.”

“Yeah, I shook hands on that, but I never signed anything.”

King Jesus kept His promises, and so His followers should, too.

Do you need to hear that?

Sometimes we want to wiggle out of our word.

The Pharisees in their fakery had made it an art form!

I have the privilege of heading up the Search Team for the next Allegheny District Superintendent.

And one of the things I’m trying really hard to do is not to promise anything to anybody in the process that I can’t deliver.

I was involved in a search process for another position about 15 years ago, and I made the mistake of leading someone to believe that they were going to get something that I couldn’t fulfill.

And I had to apologize to this person who was a friend of a friend, and I still feel shame over the situation when I think about it. Her name is a cautionary tale to me.

King Jesus kept His promises, and He pronounces woe on those who try to lie their way out of them and lead others to do the same.

Because King Jesus is listening. Look at what He says in verse 21 again.

“And he who swears by the temple swears by it and by the one who dwells in it [Who’s that? It’s God!]. And he who swears by heaven swears by God's throne and by the one who sits on it. [That’s God, too!]”

And Jesus is God, as well.

You open up the Book of Revelation, and you realize that the Lamb is now also seated on the throne, and Jesus is the Lamb.

So when you make a promise as someone who bears the name of Christ, He hears that promise and it reflects on Him if you don’t keep it.

In the fourth woe, Jesus combines both the “hypocrite” and the “blind guides.” v.23

“‘Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You give a tenth of your spices–mint, dill and cummin. But you have neglected the more important matters of the law–justice, mercy and faithfulness. You should have practiced the latter, without neglecting the former. You blind guides! You strain out a gnat but swallow a camel.”

Both fake and wrong!

They were fakes because they tithed on everything, not just what the had to, but on everything.

But they didn’t care about justice, mercy, and faithfulness!

Remember “Corban?” That was their way of getting out of helping their parents because they had dedicated their money to the temple?

They looked all spiritual and were unloving at the same time!

“Let’s see here. It’s time for church. Let’s get out our tithe. Get the scale. We need to take 10% of this mint that we grew. We need to 10% of this dill we grew. We need to 10% of this cummin.”

“What, should we help this person who has been beaten on the side of the road. No? We’re busy. We’re getting to worship today!”

We call that majoring on the minors.

That’s caring about the wrong things.

Or the right things but caring too much.

And not caring about the big things.

Tithing is fine.

But the question is, do I love justice?

Do I love mercy?

Do I love faithfulness?

Am I real on the inside or am I just keeping up appearances?

These guys were such fakes!

They weren’t real where it counted.

Verse 23 reminds me of Micah 6:

“With what shall I come before the LORD and bow down before the exalted God? Shall I come before him with burnt offerings, with calves a year old? Will the LORD be pleased with thousands of rams, with ten thousand rivers of oil? Shall I offer my firstborn for my transgression, the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul? [The Pharisees would say, “Yes!” but Micah says....] He has showed you, O man, what is good. And what does the LORD require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.”


Get your priorities right.

Don’t take your cues from these religious Pharisees.

They were so concerned with their rule making and rule keeping, they missed loving people and loving God.

They had the wrong priorities.

They had the wrong focus.

And they were the wrong leading the wrong in the wrong way.

I love the word play of Jesus in verse 24, but I’d hate for it to be said of me.

“You blind guides! You strain out a gnat but swallow a camel.”

The picture is ridiculous.

Jesus says that these guys will use a cloth to strain out the tiniest little bug out of their  drink. You wouldn’t want to get a bug in your drink, or if you drink it, you would be unclean.

I don’t want a bug in my drink, do you?

More protein, right guys?


So, there’s nothing wrong with trying to strain out the gnat.

But Jesus says the same guys have let a camel into their cups!

They sweated the small stuff, and they ignored the big stuff.

That’s exactly wrong.

And everybody pays for it.

This is no small mistake.

It brings a word of denunciation and woe.

Don’t major on the minors, and minor on the majors!

That’s malignant religion!

It leads to un-flourishing, withering, hurting people and hurting yourself.

Instead, love and pursue justice, mercy, and faithfulness.

King Jesus did!

And He invites us to 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
59. What Do You Think About the Christ?
60. How Not To be A Leader