TODAY’S READING: Matthew 23; Luke 20–21
The Pharisees of Jesus’ time were actually quite respected. At first it was a little shocking for Jesus’ followers and listeners to hear His vehement denunciations of these religious and spiritual leaders, for the Pharisees and scribes were generally held in high esteem. A good equivalent in our time would be missionaries, for they are generally respected by the community of faith, sometimes, even if inappropriately, more than local pastors. In that light, Matthew 23 sobers us with seven missionary warnings in which Jesus takes names and calls us some ugly names.
Woe to missionaries who bar the gate to heaven (v.13). As we spread the good news of the gospel to all peoples, we better live what we preach. Otherwise our hypocrisy will cause our listeners to reject Christ and go to hell. If we go out into all the world and cause people to choose hell, Jesus bluntly says they will have our company.
Woe to missionaries who pretend to pray and give (v. 14). Missionaries are trusted with the money of the poor, not just the rich. Even as the Pharisees were trusted to steward the estates of the deceased. If we piously receive funds and cavalierly spend them, while pretending to be spiritual, we will pay for that largess on judgment day.
Woe to missionaries who make demonic disciples (v. 15). Jesus has no tolerance for sons of hell that make sons of hell. Getting on an airplane and crossing oceans doesn’t sanctify us. If demons are repressed within us, the pressure of culture and ministry will release them and we will demonize others. Jesus can’t stand missionaries who are supposed to be full of the Spirit but instead spawn evil.
Woe to missionaries who are blind idiots pretending to see, yet focusing on the wrong things (vv. 16, 24). Those commissioned to all peoples understand principles but instead doggedly focus on obscure applications disgust Jesus and waste His precious time. On the narrow way we are to be big picture, principle-driven, and Spirit-led people.
Woe to missionaries who live the indulgent international life (v. 25). Jesus is not fooled by missionaries who cry in pulpits and living rooms then live it up overseas with their international comforts. Jesus expects missionaries to live the crucified life, not just preach it.
Woe to missionaries who are dead and decaying from the inside out (v. 27). There is nothing hidden from the One who sees every fork inserted in our mouths and every image we feed our minds. We who have learned to prize external beauty (eloquence, passion, intelligence) to the scorn of internal holiness are ugly to the Lord.
Woe to missionaries who are as deceptive as snakes (v. 33). Children of light and messengers of truth can have nothing false about them. When we deceive ourselves or others, Jesus is revolted and to Him we are serpents winding our way to the fires of hell.
Is it shocking to consider that missionaries are guilty of all the above indecencies? We often are; God have mercy. Yet, it is not only missionaries who act like Pharisees. God have mercy on us all. We dare not soften these verbal blows of Jesus or evade their warning.