Vipers and Chicks

If you are familiar with rattlesnakes, you probably don’t consider a brood of them cute and friendly! Appreciate the language Jesus used in Matthew 23:33–39 in criticizing the Pharisees.

Beware of vipers! The Pharisees were dangerous. Jesus does not lightly call the Pharisees and teachers of the law snakes. They appeared outwardly religious, but inside were full of spiritual death and decay. The Pharisees were not only the biological descendants of those who murdered the prophets, they failed to realize that they were the spiritual heirs of the same rebellious, murderous spirit. “Now that the prophets were safely out of the way and they could no longer hear the thunderbolts those great men hurled at conventional religiosity, they could safely applaud all that the prophets had said, quite oblivious of the fact that their lives gave daily evidence that the kind of thing the prophets denounced lived on.” (Leon Morris, The Gospel According to Matthew, p. 586) They would continue to persecute God’s messengers, verse 34. They were plotting the death of the Messiah himself. The term, “snakes,” fit, since they were followers of the Serpent who deceived mankind.

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Beware of Pride

If you’ve never lived in a culture where you just don’t criticize out loud those in authority, perhaps you have a hard time appreciating just how powerful was Jesus’ denunciation in Matthew 23:1–12 of the Pharisees and other religious leaders of his day.

Do what they say, not what they do. The Pharisees sat in Moses’ seat. The Pharisees and teachers of the law were responsible for teaching the people God’s Word. As instructors of the people they sat in Moses’ seat, at least in theory explaining and applying God’s law. Their teaching (insofar as it was an explanation and application of the Word of God) was to be obeyed. Jesus makes clear that he is not opposed to the law of God. “He once more made the voice of the law the voice of the living God, who is present in every commandment, so absolute in his demands, so personally interested in man’s conduct, so all-observant, that the thought of yielding to him less than the whole inner life, the heart, the soul, the mind, the strength, can no longer be tolerated. Thus quickened by the spirit of God’s personality, the law becomes in our Lord’s hands a living organism.” (Geerhardus Vos, The Kingdom of God and the Church, p. 61) The problem with the Pharisees was not that they made too much of the law, but rather that they ignored God’s law and substituted for it their own regulations. Their obedience, according to Jesus, was not sweeping enough. Jesus did not object to their being careful in tithing, but he condemned them for concentrating on that and ignoring justice, mercy, and faithfulness, verse 23.

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Great David’s Greater Son

Various groups of influential people have challenged Jesus with questions, seeking to trap him. In Matthew 22:41–46 he asks a question. Don’t dismiss the question Jesus asks as simply part of a verbal duel. It reveals a great deal about how Jesus views himself and his work.

Christ is the Son of David. The Christ was expected to be of David’s line. Jesus, who had been responding to questions, turns the tables with a question for the Pharisees. He asks them whose son the Messiah, the Christ, is. The Pharisees knew that the Messiah would be David’s Son. They knew 1 Samuel 7:12–15. They answered Jesus’ question. They wanted a deliverer like David. Just as David defeated God’s enemies, they wanted a military leader to drive out the Romans and set up an earthly kingdom. American Christianity, has a tendency, whether politically conservative or liberal, to wrap its message in messianic language. Beware of the tendency to identify the kingdom of God with our political views. Christians should indeed be active in politics as well as other areas of the public square, seeking to promote justice and biblical principles. But be aware that the process can be difficult and sometimes far less clear cut than we might wish.

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