Jesus on a Name-Calling Rampage in Matthew 23
Working to Gain a Scriptural, not Sentimental, Understanding of Judging, Speaking the Truth in Love and Dealing with False Teachers
by Paul Sanders
Here´s a real W.W.J.D. moment to consider. In this day and age of “political correctness,” what would the PC sweethearts in the church do with Jesus after hearing Him take aim and unload a bazooka blast on the religious elites of His day? As I was reading through Matthew 23 the other day in my daily reading, I was amazed as over the course of one exchange in this chapter Jesus manages to call these people…
1. Lazy (v.4)
2. Children of Hell (v.15)
3. Blind guides (v.16)
4. Blind fools (v.17)
5. Blind men (v.17)
6. Greedy (v.25)
7. Self indulgent (v.25)
8. Hypocrites (v.27)
9. White washed tombs full of dead men´s bones (v.27)
10. Unclean (v.27)
11. Lawless (v.28)
12. Murderers and sons of murders (v.30-31)
13. Serpents (v.33)
14. A Brood of vipers (v.33)
15. Most certainly hellbound (v.33)
Could somebody please tell me where the whole “Gentle Jesus, meek and mild” thing came from because I am just not feeling that here. Let´s do some reality check questions to help snap us out of our PC stupor…
- Was Jesus sinning here?
Absolutely not. The Bible makes it more than clear that Jesus lived a life completely free of sin:
(2Co 5:21) For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.
(Heb 4:15) For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin.
(1Pe 2:22) He committed no sin, neither was deceit found in his mouth.
So then, according to the Bible, His blasting of these people could in no way be sin, however intense His attack may sound.
- Was He being a hypocrite because He himself said something about not judging and this sounds kind of judgemental?
Absolutely not. We already saw that the Bible says clearly that Jesus was without sin and to be a hypocrite would be sin. For all those that love to throw out the “judge not” line every time someone makes a statement contrary to their favorite star T.V. preacher or Biblically questionable pet philosophy, it would probably be a good idea to turn the T.V. off and do a bit more Bible reading. Was Jesus really ruling out all common sense judgement in any and every case when He said, “judge not (Matthew 7:1, Luke 6:37)?” Obviously not. Consider the following verses:
(Joh 7:24) Do not judge by appearances, but judge with right judgment.”
(1Co 5:12) For what have I to do with judging outsiders? Is it not those inside the church whom you are to judge?
(1Co 6:2) Or do you not know that the saints will judge the world? And if the world is to be judged by you, are you incompetent to try trivial cases?
According to these scriptures and many others (see Matthew 18, 1 Corinthians 5), judgement is actually to be a part of the churches life and practice. However, Scripture lets us know that we need to base our judgements on correct information and not on appearances only. In fact, in Matthew chapter 7 where Jesus originally said, “judge not,” he later goes on to say we need to judge ourselves (get the log out of our eye) in order to help our brother (which would in a sense be judging) to get the speck out of his eye. The Apostle Paul says that it is the obligation of the church to judge those that are in the church in order to maintain the health and safety of the church (see 1 Corinthians 5). He also lets us know that the saints will one day judge the whole world and in knowing this should be able to judge between trivial issues that arise in the church instead of having to go to court and make a big scene.
- So what can we learn from Jesus in this intense exchange in Matthew 23?
Ephesians 4:15: “…speaking the truth in love…”
- There are times we must SPEAK:
We have so over-emphasized the “love” part of this verse that we have almost completely forgotten about speaking the truth! Jesus was doing more than just randomly name-calling in this situation. As we read through the passage, we see that Jesus was systematically hacking away at these people´s empire of sin. There is most definitely a thread connecting all of the “woes” that Jesus pronounces on these Pharisees. It seems as if these men were obsessed with wealth, fame, and had crafted a God-less religious empire that made the acquisition of money for their own greedy, self-indulgent purposes a systematic reality (sound familiar?). It had become so bad that when they won a new convert to their God-less religion, this person became twice as much a devil-child as those who had won him because the “empire” had expanded and there was more at stake, more (financially and influentially speaking) to lose so they became murderously protective of their “stuff.” Jesus told them that they had ignored the weighty, important matters of the law like justice, mercy and faithfulness in favor of their unquenchable desire for worldly goods and the praise of men. Their actions affected not only them, but created devil-child converts and shut multitudes out of the Kingdom (v.13) so Jesus was compelled by holy anger to speak out.
- We must speak THE TRUTH:
The fact was that these people were wicked and rotten to the core and they needed to be confronted with the truth of their condition and others needed to see their filth exposed. As we said before, these people were not only affecting themselves, they were impacting multitudes with their greedy, God-less religious system. The truth of the matter is that no one´s sin affects only themselves, many lives are hurt and damaged by the destructive power of one person´s sin. We do no one any favor by coddling and empowering them in their sin. Since when did we think that the Gospel and Christianity equals comfort and non-confrontation? Almost everything about the Gospel is uncomfortable to sinful men and women. The blood, the cross, the supernatural resurrection of Christ…it is a message that Paul said many would consider foolish and we must come to grips with that fact. It was surely not comfortable for Peter or the crowds listening to him to hear him cry out in Acts chapters 2 and 3, “Let all the house of Israel therefore know for certain that God has made him both Lord and Christ, this Jesus whom you crucified…The God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob, the God of our fathers, glorified his servant Jesus, whom you delivered over and denied in the presence of Pilate, when he had decided to release him. But you denied the Holy and Righteous One, and asked for a murderer to be granted to you, and you killed the Author of life, whom God raised from the dead. To this we are witnesses.” In order to confront these people with their sinfulness, Jesus had to unload a full clip of truth bullets in order to smash their system that was enslaving multitudes and leading them to an eternal hell.
- We must speak the truth IN LOVE:
Jesus wasn´t just name calling to be a jerk, He was most surely motivated to do this because of the love that He had for the sad, lost individuals who followed these abhorrent snakes. This becomes apparent toward the end of the chapter when Jesus weeps over Jerusalem and laments the fact that many times He would have loved to gather them to Himself, but they stubbornly refused (vv.37-39). We have such a sick, twisted view of love in our day that we don´t even have a clue. Love is not passive, limp-wristed, smiling with our mom-jean clad, skinny legs crossed while people get away with murder (even in the church) and lost sinners are sprinting head first into hell. Now that I have a daughter, I realize that there are times I must spank her little rear-end precisely because I love her! By the grace of God, I don´t want my daughter to grow up and be a fool so I confront her with the truth because I love her! It is a sick thing to equate love with spineless, passive permisiveness. Proverbs 13 verse 24 says, “Whoever spares the rod hates his son, but he who loves him is diligent to discipline him.” Love many times must confront for the sake of those who are being led astray by false doctrines and wolvish false teachers. Jesus, out of love for the lost sheep of Israel, fearlessly dropped a nuclear truth bomb on the wolves who were leading the people astray.
Jesus shows us in this brief passage that it´s OK to get angry at times, very angry in fact, even to the point of using very strong language, not foul language, but language necessary for the occasion. When injustices are occuring, when false teachers are leading multitudes astray, the truth must be spoken fearlessly motivated by love for lost individuals. We are to be imitators of Jesus and He is the ultimate example of a courageous, loving, fierce Speaker of truth.
“Peace if possible, truth at all costs.” -Martin Luther