Throughout Jesus’ ministry he was constantly at odds with the religious leaders of the time – the Pharisees, Sadducees and teachers of the law (scribes). These were men who had given themselves to the study of the Mosaic law, yet completely missed the point. As Jesus is wrapping up the last week of his life, he makes a strong public denouncement of these religious leaders; the language Jesus uses is strong and sharp. You will not find much in the way of encouragement from this chapter! Jesus repeatedly uses the word “woe” – “Woe to you teachers of the law and Pharisees”. The term “woe” was often used by the Old Testament prophets when pronouncing coming judgement on a rebellious people; specifically pointing out the behavior that was bringing the judgement about. Jesus follows that same pattern here. At the conclusion of chapter 23, after pronouncing seven “woes” over the Pharisees and teachers of the law, Jesus in v. 37-39 weeps over Jerusalem and makes a final pronouncement “Look, your house is left to you desolate.” Then in chapter 24 he tells the disciples about the actual destruction of Jerusalem.
What specifically does Jesus have against these Pharisees and teachers of the law? While there are certainly behaviors that he points out – hypocrisy, legalism, pride, vanity – he goes even deeper than that. Notice what he says in v. 31-32
“So you testify against yourselves that you are the descendants of those who murdered the prophets. Go ahead, then, and complete what your ancestors started!”
The rejection of those sent by God by the leaders of Israel wasn’t anything new, and certainly didn’t end with the killing of Old Testament prophets. They would reject and kill Jesus, and as Jesus says in v. 34 would go on to reject and kill the prophets he would sent to them. Everything about the religious leaders that Jesus condemns, all the hypocrisy, legalism, pride and vanity ultimately stem from their rejection of God, and a preference of doing things their way. Jeremiah said it like this:
“Be appalled at this, you heavens, and shudder with great horror, declares the Lord. My people have committed two sins: They have forsaken me, the spring of living water, and have dug their own cisterns, broken cisterns that cannot hold water.” 2:12-13
At the root of every expression and manifestation of sin is a rejection of God and preference of our own way, and every one of us, just like the Pharisees and teachers of law, stands guilty. Just as judgement came to Old Testament Israel, and 1st century Jerusalem on those who rejected God, there will be judgement for all who reject God. The good news of the gospel is that through the rejection and killing of Jesus on the cross, God has made a way for rebels to be saved!! If you find yourself identifying closely with the Pharisees and teachers of the law that Jesus is condemning, repent and turn to God the spring of living water.
Today’s author: Joey Sutton