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Rays of Light Bible Lessons by Keith Holder


Matt 23:1-12 Then spake Jesus to the multitude, and to His disciples, saying, The scribes and the Pharisees sit in Moses' seat: all therefore whatsoever they bid you observe, that observe and do; but do not ye after their works: for they say, and do not. For they bind heavy burdens and grievous to be borne, and lay them on men's shoulders; but they themselves will not move them with one of their fingers. But all their works they do for to be seen of men: they make broad their phylacteries, and enlarge the borders of their garments, and love the uppermost rooms at feasts, and the chief seats in the synagogues, and greetings in the markets, and to be called of men, Rabbi, Rabbi. (Also See Mark 12:38-40; Luke 20:45-47)

As the day of His atoning death nears, Jesus, in the discourse recorded in this chapter of Matthew's gospel, makes one last appeal to the nation of Israel. Opposition to Him and His teaching continue to grow more consistently fierce and bitter, and threats on His life were openly demonstrated by the Jewish religious leadership. Because of this opposition, it seems that the message to His Jewish brethren recorded here is filled with a much more stern rebuke and denunciation of their self-righteous, "holier than thou" lifestyle and leadership. Perhaps a few of the religious leaders could possibly be reached by this more severe and unyielding condemnation of the various sects that make up the governing body of the Jewish nation. Certainly Jesus was not mincing words as He described the character these Jewish sects. Keep in mind, that this event took place only days before Jesus was tried and condemned by the Sanhedrin, and crucified on the cross of Calvary by members of the Roman government.

In the lesson text, Jesus continues His discourse He delivered to the Jewish people from within the courts of the temple. Speaking to the multitude, and to His disciples, He openly condemns certain religious leaders of the Jewish people, namely the scribes and the Pharisees. Not all Pharisees were scribes, but most, if not all of the scribes were of the sect of the Pharisees. The scribes, also known as lawyers, were the Jewish theologians; the religious scholars; the interpreters of the Mosaic Law. The Pharisees were known as the strictest religious sect of the Jews, and strongly insisted on complete obedience to the human interpretation of the Law as established scribes - the Jewish lawyers. Because the scribes interpretation of the Mosiac law was to be accepted, believed, and obeyed by the Jewish nation, they were referred to as lawyers, who sit in Moses' seat.They were authorized tointerpret and teach the Law of Moses, and to arbitrate any religious disagreements among the Jewish people.

Because of their biblical knowledge, Jesus told those in His audience that they should obey the things the scribes and Pharisees told them, and to observe the Law that they taught as long as it was consistent with what was originally given to Moses on Mount Sinai. We know this to be true because, in other writings of Matthew (Chapter 15), Jesus denounced the traditions of the elders - that is, their interpretations that were added to the Law. Although these additions, deletions, and modifications were to be rejected by the Jewish people, Jesus affirms that the true Mosaic Law was still in effect and all Jews were required to accept its tenets.

Jews were to observe and do what was required under the pure, unadulterated Mosaic Law, but Jesus gives them this warning: do not ye after their works: for they say, and do not. In other words, these arrogant, self-righteous scribes and Pharisees were not to be used as examples of good conduct for them to emulate. Why? The reason was that they bind heavy burdens and grievous to be borne, and lay them on men's shoulders; but they themselves will not move them with one of their fingers. The burden of obeying the original Law of Moses was alone a very imposing burden to be borne by the people of the Jewish nation. However, it was the traditions of the elders that were added to the Law that created an even more grievous, burdensome load of religious practices and observations that these religious leaders forced the Jewish nation people to bear. These leaders transgressed their own laws in secret or, because of their self-elevated positions as religious leaders, claimed immunity to the necessity of obeying their own laws. Yet they continued to strictly require them of the common Jewish people. And, although they were aware of the burden these laws of men created, they continued to enforce them on the people and refused to offer any compassionate relief.

As He continued His teaching to the Jewish multitude, Jesus exposed another defiling and sacrilegious characteristic of the scribes and Pharisees that they were not to imitate and follow. First Jesus accused them of hypocrisy for not following the things they taught. Then Jesus said of them that all their works they do for to be seen of men. Their actions were intended to make themselves appear, for others that see, as strict, righteous, and dedicated followers of the Law of Moses. The reason for their actions was recorded by the apostle John when he wrote that they loved the praise of men more than the praise of God (See John 12:42-43). As the corrupt characteristics of these men are pointed out in this lesson, they bring into our minds all of the self-proclaimed, self-gratifying "preachers" in today's religious society that defy the truths of God by conducting themselves in the same self-righteous manner as the scribes and Pharisees described in this lesson text

How did the scribes and Pharisees go about seeking the praise of men? Jesus said that they make broad their phylacteries. "Phylacteries" are items worn that held religious significance to the Jews. Their meaning is vague to many today because they are not authorized, described, or often discussed in New Testament Christianity. To gain a better understanding about them, we turn to biblical dictionaries, which say that they were very small leather cases on which were inscribed quotations from the first five books of the Old Testament. They were customarily worn by male Israelites on their left hand and forehead during their ritualistic morning worship, and were to serve as a reminder to themselves and their children to continually obey the Law of God given to them through His servant, Moses. The law is established in Deuteronomy 6:8, which says, you shall bind them as a sign upon your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes. Since the wearing of phylacteries was ordained by God, why were these religious men chastised by Jesus? The answer was, because they didn't wear those normally worn by the common Jewish men. Rather, theirs were especially made for them to be much larger, having broader sides, and larger inscriptions that were more easily seen. This was done because they desired to appear more holy to others, to be seen of them, and to receive their praise.

Likewise, to receive this same recognition and applause of others, the scribes and Pharisees enlarged the borders of their garments. Making borders, known as fringes, on their garments was also commanded by God, in order to distinguish the Jewish nation from the Gentile, pagan people of the world. Their main purpose was that ye may remember, and do all My commandments, and be holy unto your God (See Num. 15:38-40). Again these praise-seeking Jewish leaders made known, and paraded their "religiosity," before others by making the borders of their garments larger in order to be seen of men.

Biblical historians assure us that the highest, more easily seen, seats at feasts, synagogues, and all other public gatherings, generally faced the other general Jewish men that assembled for such occasion, and were the most honorable seats to be found. To demonstrate their self-glory, these scribes and Pharisees chose these seats in order to revel in the preeminence they loved. Finally, Jesus tells us that they egotistically desired greetings in the markets, and to be called of men, Rabbi, Rabbi, which was the highest degree of religious reverence paid to Jewish teachers.

What was true with these self-righteous scribes and Pharisees in the days of Jesus' earthly ministry, is essentially true with many self-proclaimed "religious" leaders today: they love the praise of men more than the praise of God. The teaching of Jesus is plain but spiritually truthful. He told His Jewish brethren, and tells His Christian followers today, regarding self-righteous false preachers and teachers, follow not after their evil examples.