Sunday, November 03, 2019

"Fakes and Snakes" [Matt's Messages]

“Fakes and Snakes”
Following Jesus - The Gospel of Matthew
November 3, 2019 :: Matthew 23:25-39

I like the fact that even though Thanksgiving and Christmas are approaching, we are at the end of the Gospel of Matthew, looking together at the events of that crucial last week that we often call Holy Week.

It’s a little strange to be studying these events at this time of year, but I think it’s good for us.

There is never a bad time to read any part of the Bible. You don’t have to wait for the approach of a certain holiday to do read any particular part of the Bible. It’s all relevant, all the time.

And sometimes you see things and hear things and feel things when you are studying it at an unfamiliar time, a less than usual time.

And honestly, this part of Scripture shows us what we should be thankful for and what Christmas was all about.

So, we’re nearing the end of this theological biography of Jesus Christ.

For 22 chapters and running, Matthew has been telling us and showing us Who Jesus is and what Jesus wants for us and from us.

Jesus is the Son of God, the Messiah, the King. And Jesus wants us to follow Him.

But there were a group of Jewish Religious leaders who DID NOT WANT people to follow Jesus.

They were called the “teachers of the law and the “Pharisees.”

There were other groups against Him, too, but the spotlight is on them.

When Jesus came riding in on a donkey on that Triumphal Sunday, these guys became indignant that He got so much praise. I’m sure they hated it when He tossed the tables in the temple on Monday.

And then they confronted Him on Tuesday with questions meant to demean and belittle Him and trick Him. Questions meant to stop Him and get Him in trouble with the people and with the Romans.

But Jesus had some questions for them. And when He was done, they were silenced. They hated that!

And they hated Him.

That same day, Tuesday, recounted in Matthew chapter 23, King Jesus began to denounce them in front of the crowd.

He said that they were terrible leaders. 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.

And therefore Jesus pronounced upon them woe.

Do you remember this?

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

He says it seven times.

This is so devastating.

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

We learned last week that a “woe” is the opposite of “blessed.”

It’s the opposite of what we saw back in the Beatitudes.

It’s the opposite of flourishing.

It’s withering. It’s shriveling. It’s dying. It’s wasting away.

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

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

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

Last week, we studied the first four of the seven woes.

Now this week, we’ll look at the last three woes and then the pronouncement of judgment that they have earned.

Jesus calls them names.

He feels so strongly about their awfulness that He uses this kind of name-calling language to make clear what these people are and where they are headed.

Last week, we saw two main names: Hypocrites and Blind Guides.

Hypocrites were play-actors. They pretended to be something that they were not.

And these religious leaders were experts at that.

They were imposters. Pretending to have a relationship with God, but it was all staged and phony.

Jesus is going to call them out for that some more in the last three woes.

And He also said that they were blind guides.

They didn’t know the right way. They didn’t know what they were talking about, but that didn’t stop them from leading other people in the wrong direction.

They were the spiritually blind leading the spiritually blind.

The wrong leading the wrong the wrong way.

We said that “Hypocrites and Blind Guides” could be restated as “The Fake and the Wrong.”

But in verse 33, Jesus adds another name to call them:


Jesus says, “You snakes! You brood of vipers.”

Poisonous, evil, like the devil in the Garden.

Those are strong words!

At the risk of being too cute for so serious a passage, I have titled this message, “Fakes and Snakes” because I couldn’t get it out of my head. It just summed up the passage so well.

These leaders were, according to the Lord Jesus, fakes and snakes.

Pretending to have something they did not.

And having something evil within, namely unbelief and rejection of Jesus.

These are some of the most solemn and serious words ever uttered.

I would have hated to be present when Jesus said them, and even worse for them to be said over me.

Let’s learn from them. V.25 The fifth woe.

“‘Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites [you fakes]! 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 and dish, and then the outside also will be clean.”

You see how He’s still talking about hypocrisy?

He uses that image of the cup and dish again that He used back in chapter 15 when He was pointing out the errors of the Pharisees.

They liked to clean the outside of the cup, but not the inside.


Because it looks good! Right?

I mean, who doesn’t like to look good on the outside?

We all do!

We all want to be thought of as good.

Perceived as having it together.

We all want a good reputation.

So we clean up the outside.

But Jesus says that these guys only cleaned the outside and didn’t clean the inside.

And He’s not talking about the tableware. He’s talking about the heart.

They were fakes.

And that just steams Him.

Remember the Sermon on the Mount?

How the Kingdom of Heaven is upside-down, and it’s also what?


Jesus wants us to be whole people. The same on the inside as on the outside.

We saw it again and again in the Sermon on the Mount.

But the Pharisees weren’t listening.

It’s not that they were outside-in. Thinking that if they just did the outer conformity stuff, somehow it would get inside of them and change them. (Some of them might have thought that.) But it doesn’t work that way.

But they weren’t outside-in.

They were outside-only.

They were making a good show, but they were fake.

Their insides were v.25, “full of greed and self-indulgence.”

Do you know anybody like that?

Beware of religious leaders like that.

They appear on the outside to be godly, but those who know them truly know that they are actually full of greed and self-indulgence.

Not that they were tempted to greed and self-indulgence.

We are all that.

And not that they had occasionally given in to the temptation of greed and self-indulgence.

They were nurturing greed and self-indulgence.

They were filled with it.

And they pretended that all was well.

It was obvious to Jesus! But they were putting on a show.

In verse 26, Jesus says, “Blind Pharisee!”  There’s that “blind” theme again.


Wrong answer!

This is spiritually wrongheaded.

It’s wrong to get all cleaned up and nice on the outside but not tend to the reality of the inside.

He goes on and gives an even more pungent illustration. V.27

“‘Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You are like whitewashed tombs, which look beautiful on the outside but on the inside are full of dead men's bones and everything unclean. In the same way, on the outside you appear to people as righteous but on the inside you are full of hypocrisy and wickedness.”

That’s worse than a cup or a dish, isn’t it?

In this sixth woe, Jesus references the whitewashed tombs.

Why would you whitewash a tomb?

Do you know what the Mosaic Law said would happen if you stepped on a grave?

You would be considered unclean for seven days.

Dalton and Peter mow the church cemetery. If that was in place today, they’d be unclean all summer long!

So you whitewash the tombs so people will steer clear. It’s like putting up caution tape. Don’t walk here.

And the tombs, the monuments, the mausoleums look all nice when they get whitewashed like that.

They look beautiful in their own way.

But don’t let that beauty fool you; what’s inside is dead.

Jesus says that these scribes and Pharisees were dead on the inside.

Hypocrisy and wickedness.

Now, it’s not wrong to be clean on the outside.

It’s not wrong to attend to the externals.

But it is wrong to attend to the externals and ignore the more important internals.

I don’t think we realize how fooled we might be by the Pharisees.

They were the clean-living people.

The teachers of the law were the ones who knew their Bible.

The ones that preached their Bible.

They built their lives around the Bible.

On the outside, they looked good!

They tithed.
They behaved.
They followed the law.
They were the leaders.

But on the inside (and it always comes out, in the end you know where the graves are, you know where the bodies are buried, on the inside) they were dead.

Are you dead on the inside?

Are you just faking it?

I hope not.

There have been times in my life, when I have flirted with this temptation.

It’s hard being pastor sometimes because it’s almost like I’m paid to be a Christian.

At least, I’m paid to be an example of a Christian.

So the temptation is there to just put on a show for public consumption.

But on the inside to indulge in whatever.

But I want to be real.


Jesus tells these fakes to get real. V.26 again.

“First clean the inside of the cup and dish...”

Get real.

Allow Jesus to cleanse you from the inside out.

Attend to the inner you.

I think a lot of people don’t give much thought to their hearts.

But King Jesus wants our hearts and wants to cleanse our hearts and change our hearts.

So we need to attend to our hearts.

We need to think about our motives.
We need to think about our desires.
We need to evaluate our affections and loyalties.

We need to ask ourselves regularly who or what am I worshiping in this moment?

And get real about the answer.

You see how Jesus feels about pretend religion.

He thinks it’s malignant.

We don’t have to be dead on the inside.

The Holy Spirit is in the business of imparting new life on the inside!

But we need to get real about our need for Him.

And stop our hypocrisy.

Jesus hates hypocrisy.

In the seventh and last woe, Jesus says that these leaders were lying not only to others but lying to themselves. V.29

“‘Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You build tombs for the prophets and decorate the graves of the righteous. And you say, 'If we had lived in the days of our forefathers, we would not have taken part with them in shedding the blood of the prophets.' So you testify against yourselves that you are the descendants of those who murdered the prophets” (vv. 29-31).

“You are lying to the world and to yourself.”

And Jesus can see it.

He builds off of the key word “tombs.”

These tombs might have been whitewashed or not but they were set up by the scribes and the Pharisees to honor the prophets of old.

Jeremiah. Isaiah. Daniel. Not Elijah as he was never buried. But Elisha and all those other prophets of old.

So many of them had been killed. Why?

Because the people didn’t want to hear their message!

So these folks, Jesus’ contemporaries, were putting up monuments for those old prophets, and naively telling themselves that they would never do anything like the thumbs-down kings and queens like Ahab and Jezebel.

And at the very same time, be acting just like them.

Jesus says, “Get real.”

“Come on. You need to know yourself better than that.”

“You’re the children of those who murdered the prophets. You’re just like them.”

Get real.

And then Jesus drops the boom. V.32

“Fill up, then, the measure of the sin of your forefathers!”

“Go ahead.”

With His sad sarcasm and biting irony, Jesus tells them to go ahead and finish the job.

“It’s all been adding up. Go ahead and let it boil over.” v.33

“‘You snakes! You brood of vipers! How will you escape being condemned to hell? [There is not escape for the unrepentant.] Therefore I am sending you prophets and wise men and teachers. Some of them you will kill and crucify; others you will flog in your synagogues and pursue from town to town. [The first Christian missionaries.] And so upon you will come all the righteous blood that has been shed on earth, from the blood of righteous Abel [in the book of Genesis] to the blood of Zechariah son of Berekiah, whom you murdered between the temple and the altar. [In the last book of the history of Israel, 2 Chronicles]. I tell you the truth, all this will come upon this generation.”

It’s all been building up, and now it’s going to boil over.

Within 40 years, within a generation, Jerusalem will be devastated and the temple will be destroyed.

Because these people and the people following them would refuse to listen and would reject King Jesus and His emissaries.

“Snakes! Brood of vipers!”

Full of evil and wickedness.

John the Baptist called them snakes way back in chapter 3.

Now His cousin Jesus does, too.

And slithering in the background is the serpent of Genesis 3.

Because, on the whole, they would not get real, and they would not repent, there would be no escape.


Jesus is warning them to repent.

With each successive woe, Jesus has been warning them the un-flourishing to come.

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

“Hypocrites...Blind guides...snakes and vipers.”

“Woe to you!”

And He knows that, on the whole, they will not repent.

They will not get righteous.

They will not turn from their path.

He knows.

And He weeps. V.37

“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.”

Don’t let that be said of you.

If they were willing, then Jesus would gather them up and forgive them and take them under His wings.

Jesus as a mother hen!

Think about that shelter!

Think about that compassion, that tenderness, that safety.

And remember to keep your eye on the ball.

This is the Gospel of Matthew after all.

Look who Jesus think He is.

Jesus thinks that He’s big enough and strong enough to shelter Jerusalem under His wings.

He doesn’t say that God has wanted to do that. He says that He has wanted to.

But He also says that they were not willing.

“Not willing” to get righteous–not externally through observing the Law–but internally by repenting of sin and trusting the Savior.

Those are some very sad words, “but you were not willing.”

Don’t let that be said of you. Instead:


If you have not, now’s the time.

Because there is no way of escape for those who refuse Him.

Jerusalem learned that message the hard way. V.38

“Look, your house is left to you desolate.”

Judgment is coming. Like the fig tree all withered.

The house is left empty, destroyed, abandoned.

The house might be the house of Israel.
The house might be the city of Jerusalem, its capital.
The house might be the temple itself.

I think it’s actually all three.

But the temple stands for the whole.

And I think Jesus is saying that, in judgment, the glory is leaving the temple.

That God is leaving His home.

And in the first verse of the next chapter (and remember, Matthew didn’t put any chapter divisions in there), Jesus turns His back on and walks out of the temple.

“Look, your house is left to you desolate. For I tell you, you will not see me again until you say, 'Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.'”

Keep your eye on the ball.

See those little pronouns?

“[Y]ou will not see me again until you say, 'Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.'

They sang those words from Psalm 118 when Jesus came riding into town, and He is saying that they will sing them again when He returns.

Many will have to say those words through gritted teeth.

Grudgingly acknowledging that Jesus Christ is Lord.

But every mouth will confess it.

The question is will we confess it with joy and gladness and faith?

These people did not.

They were fakes and they were snakes.

And they rejected their King.

The Apostle John told the sad story this way. He said that Jesus “came to that which was his own, but his own did not receive him.”

Their house was left desolate.

But we don’t have to follow their fate.

John went on to say “Yet to all who received [Jesus], to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God...”

To those who received Jesus, to those who were willing, there is not condemnation but salvation in His name.

To all who receive Him and say, “Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord” and recognize Jesus as the Lord, Jesus gives salvation.


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
61. Malignant Religion