Jesus Won. Pharisees Lost.
Prepared by Dr. John E. Marshall
Matt. 22:46 No one was able to answer Him at all, and from that day
no one dared to question Him any more.
The Israelites loved David so much that they could not conceive any other human being having the right to command Him. They were forced to assume Jesus was describing for the role of Messiah a preeminence that could be afforded only to deity, and was claiming this honor for Himself.
They disagreed with Him, but knew precisely what He was asserting. The thought of a Messiah being God in human flesh took their breath away. Jesus’ enemies were awed, silenced, by the perceived blasphemy from Him.
Many who will never bring glory to God by being saved or by their voice, will bring Him glory by being silenced. God will not be mocked.
The silence of the Pharisees thundered their defeat, and brought Jesus honor. He won. They lost. Having lost the debate, the Pharisees now turned to violence. Henceforth treachery and ferocity would supplant their words.
Jesus allowed the Pharisees to question and reason with Him for a while, but the time allotted for deliberation did come to an end. Only when Jesus knew there was no more hope did He pronounce against them the woes of Matthew 23. He could tell they were in essence beyond reclamation now.
In my younger years I heard older preachers call this “sinning away your day of grace”. The door of salvation does not remain open forever.
The Pharisees continually rejected Jesus, refused to repent, and then finally crossed the line of peril. Only after this did Jesus speak judgment.
Rejecting God’s truth sinks us lower into Satan’s lies. Our decisions never leave us at the same level. Each draws us closer to good or to evil.
The argument Jesus set forth in our text was airtight, irrefutable. Later, one of the Pharisees, Saul of Tarsus, did embrace Jesus’ claims, and wrote, “Jesus Christ our Lord. . .was a descendant of David according to the flesh and was established as the powerful Son of God by the resurrection from the dead according to the Spirit of holiness” (Romans 1:3-4).
Jesus’ unassailable answer made His initial question to the Pharisees the most momentous of all time. He claimed to be God. Our angriest foes are those who deny Jesus is God. The reason for their resentment is obvious. If Jesus is God, there is no wiggle room in whether to embrace Him or not.
Some seem to hate Christianity so much that even if it were proved true beyond all doubt, they would not believe. For instance, the religious leaders, rather than believe the obvious evidence soldiers told them about the resurrection of Jesus, paid hush money. All the leaders would have had to do was produce a corpse. They could not do so, but refused to believe anyway.
Matt. 23:1 Then Jesus spoke to the crowds and to His disciples:
The crowds and the disciples needed to be warned in order to protect them from the Pharisees. Jesus never spoke words more scathing than those in this chapter, His last public sermon. In words that can “blanch” (McGee) the soul, Jesus ripped masks off men who arrogantly pretended holiness.
Matt. 23:2 “The scribes and Pharisees are seated in the chair of Moses.”
The original purpose of the scribes and Pharisees, Jesus’ antagonists, was to explain what Moses had taught. They sat in his “chair”, a symbolic way of referring to his teaching authority. When Holy Writ was read, Jews stood out of respect to it being God’s direct words (NH 8:5). A person whose words explained the Law did not hold the same reverence as God’s words.
If the Bible was taught, the teacher sat as a sign of reverence to God’s words being superior to their own. For God, people stood. God’s teachers sat. The greatest teacher of all had been Moses; he was the ultimate sitter.
In every synagogue, four things could be found: a copy of the Law, a reader of the Law, a teacher of the Law, and a stone seat at the front where the most authoritative teacher sat. The latter was called the “chair” of Moses.
The Greek word for “chair” is “kathedra”, from which we derive our word cathedral, which is a place of authority. From it also springs the phrase “ex cathedra”, describing when the Pope speaks with authority. Our Baptist tradition diverges from the latter. Paul did not claim this level of authority, saying, “Not that we lord it over your faith” (2 Cor. 1:24). Peter told Pastors to do their work, “not lording it over those entrusted to you” (1 Peter 5:3a).
Universities carry on the “kathedra” image when they speak of a Chair of History or Mathematics, etc. The phrase denotes someone who has proven expertise in a particular field and can thus speak to it with authority.
Matt. 23:3a “Therefore do whatever they tell you and observe it.”
Scribes and Pharisees sat in the chair of Moses. When they taught what Moses taught, they were to be obeyed. Only to this extent did they have authority. To their credit, we admit they never corrupted the written sacred text. They scrupulously guarded it. We are grateful for this, but . . .
Matt. 23:3b “But don’t do what they do, because they don’t practice
what they teach.”
If they accurately taught Moses, they were to be obeyed. But if they strayed—for instance, if they emphasized their pet add-ons and loopholes—they were to be disregarded. When their lives did not match their teaching, when their deeds disconnected from their words, they were to be disobeyed.
I have no doubt the scribes and Pharisees began well, with good intentions, in Israel’s early post-exilic history. What happened to them? Where did they go wrong? The same ways people today still go wrong.
Whenever we start to fill a given role in the Kingdom, our heart is earnestly and eagerly engaged. As time passes, it is easy to lose heart-interest. Hands can focus on one thing while the heart is on something else.
Whatever we do for God can, over time, become perfunctory. We need to examine ourselves. In our daily Bible reading, are we still eager to learn? In our church attendance, do we still come with anticipation?
Another problem we face is; because of pressure we feel due to the expectations of others, often we are tempted to appear more religious than we really are. We begin to pretend, which is an initial form of hypocrisy.
In recent years we have often seen church leaders fall hard and crash. This has devastated many Christ-followers. Some have walked away from the Bible, but Scripture is to be revered, however bad its teachers and preachers become. Truth is truth, even when sinful lips speak it. Food brought by angels is no tastier than food brought by ravens (Henry).
Some give up on church. I know the weaknesses of church members. I remind us; they are the kindest, most giving, and best people in any society.
Some feel all church leaders are charlatans. My profession has taken a beating in my 47 years of ministry, but we do not need to do away with it.
I sometimes feel disappointment from people when I tell them I am a Pastor. Please don’t judge me by your stereotypes. I am not a clone. I am a self-contained unit, a person, an individual uniquely made in God’s image.
Jesus was severe toward leaders who misused Scripture, especially when they were supposed to be its guardians. Many people in the Kingdom still dishonor their roles. Good positions are often filled with bad people.
Learn to follow no one blindly. Even Moses sinned grievously. Be like the noble Beroeans, who after hearing Paul and Silas preach, prudently “examined the Scriptures daily to see if these things were so” (Acts 17:11).