Jesus consistently claimed that he should have the first place, and primary authority, in our lives. He did not say, “God loves you, now go do whatever you want, as long as it is loving and kind.” He said, “God loves you. Now, let me own your life in such a way that you are living for my purposes, under my authority.” Like it or not, that is what the statement about the Messiah being the Lord means. Later on, he calls himself “the master” (23:10). Is he your master? Is he not only your savior, but your Lord, your commander in chief? If not I encourage you to repent, and let him be.

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Download Matthew Part 81

Matthew #81.  Matthew 22:41-6; 23:1-12

Starting in the middle of chapter 21, the conflict between Jesus and the religious leaders begins to heat up. We have seen that most of chapter 23 covers a series of ways in which the religious leaders tried to trick Jesus into saying something that would either make him unpopular, or force the authorities to arrest him. They were trying to put Jesus on the defensive.

At the end of the chapter, after answering their malicious questions, Jesus begins firing back.

He starts with a question about the Messiah. His quote is from Psalm 110. The Jews in the time of Jesus most definitely considered this psalm to be a prophecy about the Messiah. In this instance, Jesus has the leaders caught both coming and going.

In the first place, one of the reasons the Pharisees were upset with Jesus is because, starting just a day or two before this, the crowds were calling him “the Son of David,” which was basically the same thing as calling him “Messiah.”

9Then the crowds who went ahead of Him and those who followed kept shouting: Hosanna to the Son of David! He who comes in the name of the Lord is the blessed One! Hosanna in the highest heaven! (Matt 21:9, HCSB)

15When the chief priests and the scribes saw the wonders that He did and the children shouting in the temple complex, “Hosanna to the Son of David! ” they were indignant 16and said to Him, “Do You hear what these children are saying? ” (Matt 21:15-16, HCSB)

(By the way “son,” in this case, is just a metaphorical way of saying “direct descendant.”) By bringing up the question, “Whose son is the Messiah,” Jesus was be reminding the religious leaders of who the people thought he was. But they could not deny what everyone knew about Messianic prophecy, so they reluctantly admit that the Messiah will be called a “Son of David.”

But now, Jesus does something surprising. The crowds have been calling him “Son of David.” He has forced the Pharisees to admit that the Messiah is supposed to be “a Son of David.” Already, Jesus has made his point: He is claiming to be the Messiah. But he doesn’t stop there. He adds something that none of his listeners expect. Using this well-known Messianic Psalm (Psalm 110), he shows that David calls the Messiah “Lord.” In other words, the Messiah is not only the son of David, but also, the Son of God. Jesus is claiming even greater authority than most people at that time would attribute to the Messiah. Even so, the Pharisees cannot dispute what the Psalm says, nor how Jesus interprets it. For the people who heard this dialogue, most of them knowledgeable concerning the Bible, Jesus was saying, clear as could be:

  1. I am the Messiah.
  2. As Messiah, I am the same in nature as God himself.

The thing that drove the religious leaders crazy is that they couldn’t actually dispute his logic. They didn’t believe he was the Son of David, of course, but they didn’t really have any way to argue with him.

Jesus doesn’t stop there. Having established that he is the Messiah and that he has the authority of God, he starts to attack the illegitimate authority of the religious leaders. Even so, he begins by acknowledging that they do have a certain, limited authority. He says they are “seated in the chair of Moses.”

2“The scribes and the Pharisees are seated in the chair of Moses. 3Therefore do whatever they tell you, and observe it. But don’t do what they do, because they don’t practice what they teach. (Matt 23:2-3, HCSB)

I think “the chair of Moses” meant probably one of two things (or possibly, both). First, it appears that in synagogues in those days, there was actually a special chair in which teachers would sit while they taught the scriptures. The word “scribes” in this text is sometimes translated “teachers of the law,” which is basically accurate. So Jesus might be saying, “When they are teaching the scriptures, you should listen to them.” The fact is, for the most part, Jesus agreed with the theology of the Pharisees and scribes. When they taught the scriptures, they were worth listening to, although, obviously, he did not approve of it when they went beyond what the Bible says, and began teaching man-made regulations.

Second, I think that Jesus may have had in mind the following passage from the book of Deuteronomy:

8“If a case is too difficult for you — concerning bloodshed, lawsuits, or assaults — cases disputed at your gates, you must go up to the place the LORD your God chooses. 9You are to go to the Levitical priests and to the judge who presides at that time. Ask, and they will give you a verdict in the case. 10You must abide by the verdict they give you at the place the LORD chooses. Be careful to do exactly as they instruct you. 11You must abide by the instruction they give you and the verdict they announce to you. Do not turn to the right or the left from the decision they declare to you. 12The person who acts arrogantly, refusing to listen either to the priest who stands there serving the LORD your God or to the judge, must die. You must purge the evil from Israel. 13Then all the people will hear about it, be afraid, and no longer behave arrogantly. (Deut 17:8-13, HCSB)

So, Jesus might also be saying that people should abide by the “legal” decisions that were given by the religious leaders, because that was good and proper to do, and was helpful in keeping the peace.

It may be that he meant one or the other of these two things, or possibly, both. If I had to decide, I would guess that Jesus was talking mainly about their religious authority to settle disputes.

Even so, after pointing out that the religious leaders have a certain, limited, legitimate authority, he goes on to show the many ways in which their practice and teaching is not legitimate.

First, he says, they don’t practice what they themselves teach. He will expound on this later in chapter 23. Second, he says they put burdens on people, but won’t help them. This is in stark contrast to Jesus’ own words from Matthew 11:28-30

28“Come to Me, all of you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. 29All of you, take up My yoke and learn from Me, because I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for yourselves. 30For My yoke is easy and My burden is light.” (Matt 11:28-30, HCSB)

The Pharisees and scribes made following God all about rules and regulations. As if there were not enough difficult things to follow already, they added things. They “explained” the laws of the Old Testament by adding their own rules about what it meant to follow those laws. So, in the example I have used before, “Remember the Sabbath and keep it holy” became a very long list of things you had to do, and refrain from doing. The things on that list were not originally commanded by God; rather they were added by the religious leaders.

In addition to adding their own rules and pretending that they were God’s commands, the religious leaders were all about their own power and position. Jesus says they love to be observed by others.  Verse 5 says they “enlarge their phylacteries.” A phylactery was a little leather box containing portions of scripture. It was a misguided, very literal, fulfillment of Deuteronomy 6:4-9:

4“Listen, Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is One. 5Love the LORD your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your strength. 6These words that I am giving you today are to be in your heart. 7Repeat them to your children. Talk about them when you sit in your house and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up. 8Bind them as a sign on your hand and let them be a symbol on your forehead. 9Write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates. (Deut 6:4-9, HCSB)

So the religious leaders literally created little boxes, put portions of the scripture in them (often verses 4-5, above) and tied them on their heads and arms, and put them on doorposts and gates. In the time of Jesus, some of the leaders were making these boxes (phylacteries) very big and noticeable. Jesus, is probably slyly pointing out that though they make their phylacteries ostentatious, they are not taking seriously the command to let God’s words be in their hearts. The leaders are doing it simply in order to be noticed and praised by people.

The tassels were a similar phenomenon, made to remind the people of Israel of God’s commands. Again, the leaders in Jesus’ time were making very large noticeable tassels to make sure everyone knew that they were really religious.

Jesus also points out how the leaders love the places of honor at banquets, in synagogues, and to be recognized in the marketplace as particularly religious people. He then instructs his own followers to be different. I want us to pay special attention to verses 8-12:

8“But as for you, do not be called ‘Rabbi,’ because you have one Teacher, and you are all brothers. 9Do not call anyone on earth your father, because you have one Father, who is in heaven. 10And do not be called masters either, because you have one Master, the Messiah. 11The greatest among you will be your servant. 12Whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and whoever humbles himself will be exalted. (Matt 23:8-12, HCSB)

In some ways, this statement represents God as a Trinity. The Father, is obviously God the Father, and “Master,” says Jesus, is himself, the Messiah. But the “Teacher” is the Holy Spirit. Consider these words of Jesus, recorded by John:

12“I still have many things to tell you, but you can’t bear them now. 13When the Spirit of truth comes, He will guide you into all the truth. For He will not speak on His own, but He will speak whatever He hears. He will also declare to you what is to come. 14He will glorify Me, because He will take from what is Mine and declare it to you. (John 16:12-14, HCSB)

So Jesus says, you have one teacher, God the Holy Spirit, one Father, God the Father, and one Master, Jesus Messiah, God the Son. Although the Christian doctrine of God as a Trinity is not explicitly spelled out here, clearly, Jesus has it in mind. In addition, his message is plain: leaders do not stand in the place of God.

I want to point something out, before we get to applications. There are many people who believe that the Bible was either written, or at least heavily edited, by church leaders, in order to give themselves power. If that were so, they surely should have removed this passage, because it says that we all should humble ourselves before God, and even that leaders should not take special titles. In particular, since Jesus says no one should be called “father,” you would think that the Roman Catholics, who call their priests “father,” would have removed this verse. This is one of the many, many places where it is obvious that the Bible was not shaped by religious leaders for their own power or benefit.

Now, let’s look at applications. First, I think we need to see that Jesus consistently claimed that he should have the first place, and primary authority, in our lives. He did not say, “God loves you, now go do whatever you want, as long as it is loving and kind.” He said, “God loves you. Now, let me own your life in such a way that you are living for my purposes, under my authority.” That is what the statement about the Messiah being the Lord means. Later on, he calls himself “the master” (23:10). Is he your master? Is he not only your savior, but your Lord, your commander in chief? If not I encourage you to repent, and let him be.

Second, when I see Jesus’ criticisms of the religious leaders, I notice that he does not throw out the baby with the bathwater. In other words, he says, “They do say some things that are good and right. They do have a measure of proper authority.” Too often, I think we tend to judge people and their words and actions with an “all or nothing approach.” Either we accept all of what they say and do, or we reject all of it. Jesus did not do that, even with these leaders for whom he has many harsh words. When the leaders appropriately express the Word of God, Jesus says that his followers should listen. When people exercise authority that is properly given to them, we should obey. Obviously, when people go beyond their proper authority, or teachers go beyond the Word of God, we no longer have to listen and obey. But we should keep in mind that God can use anyone, and just because someone is rude, or mean, or angry, that doesn’t mean that everything he says is completely wrong.

Third, when Jesus refers to the burden that the leaders put on the people, I cannot help but remember his own invitation, which I mentioned earlier, to come to Him and find rest for our souls. In contrast to the religious leaders, He invites us not to do more, but rather to trust more. Is there some area of your life where he is inviting you to trust him, and rest from doing it for yourself?

Finally, in the last few verses, he makes it very clear that God holds all authority, and human beings do not. He invites us all to become humble, and to serve. Is there some place where you have been tempted to “exalt yourself?” Or, perhaps, is Jesus using the text today to encourage and bless you for being humble?

Let the Holy Spirit continue to speak to you about these things.