Turning away from the Pharisees and Scribes, Jesus directly faces his Disciples and the crowd gathered in the temple portico listing intently to His conversation with the religious rulers. It is likely they were agog at the exchange going on right before their eyes as no one challenged their religious leaders this way. Opinion was likely split on whose camp they fell into, some silently cheering Jesus on and others frowning in anger and disbelief. But now everything was going to a whole new level as Jesus gives his disciples and the crowd his take of the religious elite. At the very outset of his talk, Jesus expresses to his listeners that the law experts and their tribe fall way short in three vital ways. They lack sincerity, sympathy and humility.
They are insincere as ‘They talk a good line, but they don’t live it.’ Instead of providing a banquet around God’s Word to feed and nourish God’s people, they take it and ‘package it in bundles of rules, loading them down like pack animals.’
They are unsympathetic as they ‘seem to take pleasure in watching you stagger under these loads’ and wouldn’t think of raising a finger to help.’ This is in stark contrast to how Jesus responded to those who populated Chorazin, Bethsaida & Capernaum, where much of Jesus’ ministry was based. These were the home villages of many of his chosen disciples. The inhabitants had had a ringside seat at many of Jesus’ miracles including thousands being fed with just five loaves and two fish. Yet the population had ‘responded the least, shrugging their shoulders and going their own way.’ If it was possible for Jesus to become frustrated we find it here as he initially pronounces Doom to the villages before breaking away to have a moment with his Father in prayer. On his return he says tenderly:
“Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to me. Get away with me and you’ll recover your life. I’ll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me—watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly.” – Matthew 11:20,28-30
Lastly, far from being humble, they are show-offs. ‘Their lives are perpetual fashion shows. The prayer cases and tassels, prescribed by God as reminders of His law, they jazz up to make them more obvious. They were widening the straps on the cases and enlarging the tufts that hang down from their priestly garments. They loved to be in the place of honour at the head of the table on feast days seen by everyone and they loved a great job title! Jesus reminds everyone that his followers must reveal the opposite attitude.
Do you want to stand out? Then step down. Be a servant. If you puff yourself up, you’ll get the wind knocked out of you. But if you’re content to simply be yourself, your life will count for plenty. – Matthew 23:11-12
The Pharisees were so concerned with the outward show they totally missed the work God wanted to do deep down inside their hearts. In Sunday school my Pastor once told the story of a village water pump that had stopped working. A handyman came to oil the handle, followed by a decorator to give it a coat of paint and a gardener to tidy up the land around it and plant some pretty flowers. The pump looked resplendent but still didn’t produce any water. It wasn’t till the mechanic came removed the cover to get at the gunk that was blocking the water flow inside did the pump begin to work. Jesus did not come to get us to follow a load of rules he came to transform and change us into his likeness through the work of the Holy Spirit.
More From This Series
View the other Devotionals in our “For the Joy” series