I sat in the pew, the Ugandan heat swelling inside as I listened to the sermon at New City on Sunday. The sermon was on Matthew 23:1-12. As I listened and read the text, some thoughts came to me about the passage.
In the text, Jesus shares His thoughts on some common practices by the religious leaders – the scribes and Pharisees. He points out the poor actions of those many considered to be the holiest. What does Jesus criticize and what does He want instead?
Jesus is against hypocrisy
He says the scribes and Pharisees taught good practices but “they preach, but do not practice” (v3). Even if they teach good things, they are not doing them. They are not obeying God. They are disobeying.
Jesus wants obedience
Interestingly, Jesus does not dismiss the things they were teaching. Rather, He wants everyone, including the religious leaders, to “do and observe whatever they tell you” (v3). Just because the scribes and Pharisees don’t do what they preach does not mean they don’t preach the right things.
Jesus is against self-exaltation
He criticizes the religious leaders for doing things only in public. The scribes and Pharisees want the recognition of being very religious. However, they do it to exalt themselves and not to glorify God. The religious leaders put on a show when in public so they might receive titles, honors, and recognition. They seek value in man’s opinion and not from God.
We too seek to put on a show, seek the praise of others, and find value in how others view us. We find value in how people view our job, money, car, house, family, church, or whatever. It is hard work to show our best self. This is true for many on Facebook, Instagram, and the like. Facebook has its purpose, but don’t let the number of likes define you. If God says we are His, we are loved, and we are forgiven, then the opinion or likes of others do not matter. Let us seek His opinion and not others’.
Jesus wants humble obedience
He instructs his hearers to obey for the right reasons. They should reject the titles and honors the religious leaders seek. Jesus wants authenticity. If we are humble, and we value God’s opinion, then we can be free to admit when we fail, when we struggle, or when we doubt. We run to Him because we are already weak. Our strength comes when we trust Him (2 Corinthians 12:8-9). We boast in Christ, not in our accomplishments or ourselves. That is why Jesus says that the humble will be exalted by God and the one who exalts himself will be humbled. God wants us to know our need of Him at all times. He will give us the strength and grace to carry on in obedience.
Jesus calls us to humble, authentic living and obedience. He calls us to recognize we need Him at all times. It is tempting exalt ourselves and rely on the opinions of others. But Jesus wants us to obey, not for the praise of others but because our Father in heaven already loves us where we are.