Heed These Warnings

Reading Time: 8 Minutes

The passage we consider today contains some of the strongest words that Jesus ever uttered. They were not directed to criminals and overt sinners. Rather, they were spoken to the religious leaders of their day. Once again, let’s ask ourselves how we are like the “bad guys” in this teaching of Jesus.

Doors Opened or Closed

Jesus called the religious crowd “hypocrites,” because they pretended to be religious but their behavior shut people out of God’s kingdom.

Jesus said, “But woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you lock people out of the kingdom of heaven. For you do not go in yourselves, and when others are going in, you stop them. Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you cross sea and land to make a single convert, and you make the new convert twice as much a child of hell as yourselves” (Matthew 23.14-15).

Our words and actions are like a key in a door. The key can either open the door or lock people out.

A friend of Toni, my wife, was getting gas at Quick Trip on Lee’s Summit Road this past week. An African American man in a suit asked if he could pump the gas for her. As he was doing so, she learned that he was a pastor of a church on Troost.

This man put a key in the lock and turned it to “open.” Toni’s friend is already a follower of Jesus, but the door to relationship and appreciation opened further in her life.

I was eating at a diner in New Orleans and watched the server throw the penny at the door of the restaurant. It was the tip a man had left for her. The customer happened to be a fellow seminary student of mine. He used his key to turn the door to “lock” in this lady’s life. I learned a valuable lesson that day. If people see us praying for our meal, we need to leave a good tip.

Words Matter

The next section sounds strange to the modern reader. It speak about a situation that is not familiar to us.

Jesus said, “Woe to you, blind guides, who say, ‘Whoever swears by the sanctuary is bound by nothing, but whoever swears by the gold of the sanctuary is bound by the oath.’ You blind fools! For which is greater, the gold or the sanctuary that has made the gold sacred?” (Matthew 23.16-17).

I have only included two verses of a longer statement that covers verses 16-22. To me, the complaint is that religious people are using their words to cloud important issues. The words, “blind guides,” “blind fools,” and “how blind you are” (verse 19) imply deception.

Paul wrote, “Finally, beloved, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is pleasing, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things” (Philippians 4.8).

What Paul said about our thoughts definitely relate to our words. If we don’t want to be “blind guides” and “blind fools,” let’s determine that our communication with other people will be true, honorable, just, pure, pleasing, commendable, excellent and worthy of praise.

Straining Out Gnats

Jesus said, “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you tithe mint, dill, and cummin, and have neglected the weightier matters of the law: justice and mercy and faith. It is these you ought to have practiced without neglecting the others. You blind guides! You strain out a gnat but swallow a camel!” (Matthew 23.23-24).

My mother used a kitchen device, designed to take lumps out of flour. By no means did we want to get lumps, or heaven forbid, gnats in our pastries. It never entered our mind to swallow a camel. In fact, it may have been difficult to find a camel in Southeast Missouri.

Jesus intended his illustration to be as ludicrous as my story. However, it is not funny when we major on minor issues and completely neglect what is most important to the heart of God.

Micah has a great recommendation for us to follow. He wrote, “He has told you, O mortal, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?” (Micah 6.8).

Micah’s counsel is far better than the petty squabbles that only serve to lock people away from a relationship with Jesus.


Congruent is not a word that we use too often, unless we are in a math class. A triangle is said to be congruent, if it has the same size and shape of the one it matches. In other words, if they match exactly the are said to be “congruent” triangles.

Jesus didn’t use a math lesson to get across his point, but he meant the same thing. What is on the outside of our lives are expected to match what is on the inside. If not, we will hear his word, “Woe.”

Here is how he said it: “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you clean the outside of the cup and of the plate, but inside they are full of greed and self-indulgence. You blind Pharisee! First clean the inside of the cup, so that the outside also may become clean” (Matthew 23.25-26).

Jesus continued with the same theme, “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you are like whitewashed tombs, which on the outside look beautiful, but inside they are full of the bones of the dead and of all kinds of filth. So you also on the outside look righteous to others, but inside you are full of hypocrisy and lawlessness” (Matthew 23.27-28).

Jesus deeply cares for people. He does not want us to blind ourselves to the reality of our inside condition. Let’s not be fooled by our outward behavior, if it is not matched by an inner reality. We are cheating ourselves of God’ best for us, if we don’t let his life touch the depths of who we are.

Praising History, but Condemning the Present

In a lengthy statement, Jesus condemned the practice of honoring past leaders, while condemning present day leaders for doing the same thing.

This is a selection of Jesus’ words that range from verse 29-36. Jesus said, “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you build the tombs of the prophets and decorate the graves of the righteous, and you say, ‘If we had lived in the days of our ancestors, we would not have taken part with them in shedding the blood of the prophets'” (Matthew 23.29-30).

The very people who revered the prophets that came before Jesus were the ones who were seeking to put him to death. “Hypocrite” is a very appropriate description of their behavior.

The saying is quite right, “hindsight is 20 20.” People could look back at what Isaiah or Jeremiah prophesied and see their message with perfect vision. However, during the moment of their ministry, religious leaders were violently opposed to these prophets.

We can look back at what happened to Jesus with perfect vision. The resurrection validates everything he said and did. However, at that very moment in the shadow of the Temple, Jesus was rejected by the very religious authorities who should have welcomed him.

The ability to have 20 20 vision after the passage of time should humble us and cause us to speak slowly. In one of the most divisive times in recent history, we do well to have a humble and prayerful attitude in the expression of our opinion. This is especially true if our opinions make it hard for people to want to know Jesus.

Self-examination is in order, given Jesus’ words. Let’s give Jesus our best. We certainly don’t want to end up on the wrong side of his pronouncements of “woe.”

Today’s Prayer

Dear Jesus, thank you for the grace of turning your attention to our character defects. As we take an inventory of the way we think and behave, please help us get aligned with your plans and purposes for us.


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