Sermon title:  A GENERATION FACING GOD’S JUDGMENT

  

Matthew 23:23-39

Immanuel Baptist Church – Sunday, September 29, 2019

 

 

Last week we looked at the first half

the last public sermon our Lord gave

during the final days of his ministry on earth.

 

He began by addressing his disciples and the crowds

who had assembled to hear him

as he was teaching in the courtyards

of God’s holy Temple in Jerusalem.

 

He told them not to be like the hypocritical religious leaders

who made a pretense of being holy and righteous

but who didn’t practice what they preached.

 

It was just a showy display

that they put on to impress other people

and to elevate themselves in the eyes of others.

 

After warning his disciples not to imitate their bad behavior,

Jesus switched to addressing

the religious leaders themselves

who were standing there among the crowds.

He used harsh language.

 

He addressed the clergy in the crowds directly,

calling them 

"You snakes!   You brood of vipers!

you, blind guides!

You blind fools!you hypocrites!

 

That’s really strong language.

 

But those harsh rebukes

reflect how our God views corrupt clergymen

who use a pretense of holiness

for their own selfish and evil ends.

 

Jesus’s sermon here in Matthew Chapter 23

was specifically about the Jewish religious leaders—

the hypocritical scribes and Pharisees—

but its message applies with equal force today

to any leaders in the Christian community

who behave in the same way.

 

In his opening words there

Jesus told us—his disciples—,

“do not do what they do,

for they do not practice what they preach.”

Instead of leaders in Christian churches

elevating themselves as religious V.I.P.’s.

Jesus said,

11 The greatest among you will be your servant.

 

12 For whoever exalts himself will be humbled,

and whoever humbles himself will be exalted.

 

So, as we continue looking at his words at Matthew 23:23,

where we left off last week,

we need to keep in mind

how his rebuke to the religious leaders of his day

may apply to some religious leaders

in our world today.

 

Continuing there

in the same vein as in the first half of his sermon,

Jesus said,

 

23 "Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees,

you hypocrites!

 

You give a tenth of your spices—

mint, dill and cummin.

 

But you have neglected

the more important matters of the law—

justice, mercy and faithfulness.

You should have practiced the latter,

without neglecting the former.

 

The Law that God gave to the nation of Israel through Moses

required the Jews to tithe.

 

When they harvested their crops,

they were told to give a tenth of the crop

to the Levites—the Israeli tribe

whose men didn’t have farms of their own,

but instead worked at God’s Temple.

 

And here our Lord Jesus points out

that the scribes and Pharisees

were very fussy about keeping the Jewish tithing laws.

 

They made a point of tithing even from the tiny little

mint, dill and cumminplants that grew in their gardens.

 

But, the problem was that they did that to show off,

while at the same time neglecting

what Jesus called

the more important matters of the law—

justice, mercy and faithfulness.

 

What good is it

to count out one tenth

of the tiny little leaves of a spice plant,

and yet be unjust, unmerciful and unfaithful?

 

Jesus said it was good for them to tithe,

but not to neglect these other more important things.

 

So, what about us today?

 

Are we as Christians required to tithe?

 

Actually, the New Testament does not say anywhere

that God expects Christians to tithe.

 

Much of the New Testament is devoted

to explaining how

the New Covenant through Christ

replaced the Old Covenant through Moses.

 

If Christians were obligated to tithe

we would also be obligated to keep a kosher diet,

to wear tassels on the edges of our garments,

and to keep more than 600 other Jewish laws.

 

But, the Law of Moses that included tithing

was given only to the nation of Israel,

and the New Testament makes clear

that Christians are not under the Law of Moses.

 

What about giving a tenth of your incometo the local church?

 

Jesus never said to do that;  neither did any of the Apostles’ letters.

 

2nd Corinthians 9:7

does tell exactly how much

God expects each Christian to give.

 

2 Corinthians 9:7 says,

 

Each of you should give

what you have decided in your heart to give,

not reluctantly or under compulsion,

for God loves a cheerful giver.

 

The verse immediately before that says,

 

Whoever sows sparingly

will also reap sparingly,

and whoever sows generously

will also reap generously.

And the next verse adds that

God is able to bless you abundantly.”

 

The implication is

that if we do our part in supporting his worship,

God will care for our needs.

 

So, we today are not under any commandment

to give a tenth of our income.

 

But God does expect us

to support the work of the church

and to do so generously.

 

1st Corinthians and  1st Timothy

spell out that those who preach the Gospel

and shepherd the flock

should be supported by the church.

 

At that early stage in the growth of Christianity

congregations were still meeting in people’s homes.

 

But now that we have church buildings

dedicated to God’s worship,

we all have an obligation before God

to share in maintaining those buildings.

At a time when God’s Temple was badly in need of repair,

God spoke through the prophet Haggai at Haggai 1:4,

and scolded the people,

 

"Is it a time for you yourselves

to be living in your paneled houses,

while this house remains a ruin?"

 

So, we should considerwhether we are keeping God’s house

in good shape like our own houses.

 

Do our floors at homelook better than the church’s floors?

 

Do our walls at home look better than the church’s walls?

 

If so, then we need to consider what God said at Haggai 1:4 about

living in your paneled houses,

while this house remains a ruin.

 

Here at Immanuel Baptist Church we can rejoice that this church

has put on a new roof,

beautifully re-plastered and painted the sanctuary walls,

and done several other needed repairs recently.

 

There is more work to be done, of course,

and it is our privilege to help support that work.

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Returning to our Lord’s final public sermon,

Jesus continues addressing

the corrupt religious leaders of his day,

and says to them,

 

24 You blind guides!

You strain out a gnat but swallow a camel.

 

This is another reference to the Law of Moses

that God gave to the Jewish nation.

 

That Law required the Jews to eat only Kosher food,

and the Law spelled out what was Kosher and what wasn’t.

 

Tiny little gnats—the size of a fruit fly—were not Kosher,

and neither was the meat of the camel.

 

Jews should not have been eating either one of them.

 

But the scribes and Pharisees were the sort of people

who made a big show in public

of straining their beverage before drinking it

to make sure they didn’t swallow an un-Kosher gnat,

while privately eating a plate-full of camel meat

when no one was looking.

Jesus continued,

 

25 "Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees,

you hypocrites!

 

You clean the outside of the cup and dish,

but inside they are full of greed and self-indulgence.

 

26 Blind Pharisee!

First clean the inside of the cup and dish,

and then the outside also will be clean.

 

Everything they did was for show,

to make them look good in front of other people.

 

They were the kind of people

who would hand you a cup of coffee

in a cup that was filthy inside,

but looked all shiny-clean on the outside.

 

They were rotten to the core,

but put on an outward appearance of holiness.

 

Jesus told them to

 

First clean the inside of the cup and dish,

and then the outside also will be clean.

 

If they would repent and turn their hearts to God,

they would become clean on the inside,

and then their outward appearance

would take care of itself.

 

But they wouldn’t listen, and wouldn’t repent.

 

So, our Lord kept hammering at them

in front of the crowds at the Temple.

 

27 "Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees,

you hypocrites!

 

You are like whitewashed tombs,

which look beautiful on the outside

but on the inside are full of dead men's bones

and everything unclean.

 

28 In the same way,

on the outside you appear to people as righteous

but on the inside

you are full of hypocrisy and wickedness.

 

What could be prettier

than a shiny whitewashed mausoleum?

 

Think of the beautiful Taj Mahal in India.

It’s so beautiful that it’s a tourist destination.

 

But inside a whitewashed tomb

there are dead bodies in various stages of decay.

 

The religious leaders Jesus was speaking to

were just like that:

shiny and clean on the outside,

but disgusting and repulsive on the inside.

 

God is the one who sees our hearts,

and so, Jesus knew what was in men’s hearts.

 

He saw the disgusting reality

of what those hypocritical religious leaders were really like.

 

And they turned his stomach.

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But now he began to lead up to

what those disgusting men

were about to do

to him and his disciples.

 

Throughout its history the nation of Israel

was in the habit of executing or murdering God’s prophets.

 

1 Kings 18:4 tells about Queen Jezebel

killing off the Lord’s prophets.

 

Hebrews 11:37 tells of other prophets of the Lord who

“were put to death by stoning” or

“sawed in two” or

“killed by the sword.

 

Among the prophets reported to have been killed like that

were Isaiah, Jeremiah, Micah and Ezekiel.

 

Later generations of Jews honored those prophets.

 

They read the writings

of Isaiah, Jeremiah, Micah and Ezekiel

in their synagogues on Saturday mornings.

 

They decorated the graves of the prophets,

like our leaders today

decorate the grave of the Unknown Soldier.

 

So, Christ went on to say to them,

 

29 "Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees,

you hypocrites!

 

You build tombs for the prophets

and decorate the graves of the righteous.

 

30 And you say,

 

'If we had lived in the days of our forefathers,

we would not have taken part with them

in shedding the blood of the prophets.'

 

31 So you testify against yourselves

that you are the descendants

of those who murdered the prophets.

 

32 Fill up, then,

the measure of the sin of your forefathers!

 

Jesus knew they were about to act just like their forefathers

who murdered the prophets.

 

They were about to crucify the Son of God

and to murder the disciples

who would spread the Gospel message

after Jesus’ death and resurrection.

 

So, our Lord said to them,

 

33 "You snakes! You brood of vipers!

How will you escape being condemned to hell?

 

34 Therefore I am sending you prophets

and wise men and teachers.

 

Some of them you will kill and crucify;

others you will flog in your synagogues

and pursue from town to town.

 

35 And so upon you will come

all the righteous blood

that has been shed on earth,

from the blood of righteous Abel

to the blood of Zechariah son of Berekiah,

whom you murdered between the temple and the altar.

 

Abel was the good son of Adam and Eve

who was murdered by his evil brother Cain.

 

And thousands of years later

the prophet Zechariah

was murdered in Jerusalem.

 

36 I tell you the truth,

all this will come upon this generation.

 

They were going to pay for their crimes against God.

 

God put up with them for centuries,  but now the time was up.

The penalty for Israel’s centuries of rebellion

was going to fall on Jerusalem within a generation.

 

And it did come upon that generation in 70 A.D.

when the Legions of the Roman Empire

destroyed the city and its Temple

and killed a million Jews.

 

Our Lord didn’t relish meeting out such harsh punishment.

 

He would have preferred to see Jerusalem repent.

 

But they rejected his calls to repentance.

 

In front of the crowds in the Temple courtyard, Jesus went on to say,

 

37 "O Jerusalem, Jerusalem,

you who kill the prophets

and stone those sent to you,

 

how often I have longed

to gather your children together,

as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings,

but you were not willing.

 

Our Lord is speaking here,

not as a 33-year-old carpenter turned Messiah,

but as the eternal Son of God,

who had been dealing with Israel from heaven

for well over a thousand years.

 

From heaven, he sent them over the centuries

all those prophets,

who they rejected and stoned to death.

 

He speaks wistfully of how often,

over a thousand years,

he longed to embrace the people of Jerusalem

in his loving arms,

the way

a hen gathers her chicks under her wings.

 

But they were not willing.

 

They rejected him,

so he will abandon them.

 

He goes on to say,

 

38 Look, your house is left to you desolate.

 

God abandoned his Temple in Jerusalem.

 

There was no longer any need

for animals to be sacrificed at Jerusalem’s temple

since Christ gave himself as the all-sufficient sacrifice

for our sins.

 

God would no longer accept

worship offered at the Temple.

 

From then onward he would accept worship

only through the new spiritual temple

with Christ as its foundation stone

and individual Christians as living stones.

 

1 Peter 2:5 says,

“you yourselves also, as living stones,

are being built up as a spiritual house.”

 

But when Jesus said of that ancient stone building on Temple Mount

that “your house is left to you desolate”

he had more in mind than

God simply abandoning that Temple.

 

It would also be left “desolate

in the sense of utter desolation and destruction.

 

We find the same root word in the next chapter

when our Lord tells the disciples,

that when they see

‘the abomination that causes desolation,’

....

then let those who are in Judea

flee to the mountains.

 

In the parallel passage in Luke’s Gospel, he says,

 

"When you see Jerusalem being surrounded by armies,

you will know that its desolation is near.

 

Then let those who are in Judea

flee to the mountains."

 

Within that generation Roman armies surrounded Jerusalem

and brought utter desolation

to the city and its Temple.

 

But that’s not the end of the story.

 

Jesus concluded this final public sermon of his, like this:

 

39 For I tell you,

you will not see me again until you say,

 

'Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.' "

That implies two things:

first, that Christ will return to Jerusalem,

and second, that the Jewish people will then turn to Christ.

 

He did not tell Jerusalem, “You will never see me again,”

but, rather,

you will not see me again until you say,

 

'Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.' "

 

This prophecy will be fulfilled at God’s appointed time.

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There is a lesson to be learned from this

for our world today

that is full of religious hypocrisy

and full of people who have cast aside the Bible.

 

It’s a lesson that the Apostle Peter draws for us

in his Second Letter,

2nd Peter Chapter 3.

 

Many people today act as if there is no God

who will hold them accountable.

 

But Christ promised to return,

not just for Israel,

but for the whole world.

 

Centuries have gone by,

and so people scoff at the idea

of a Second Coming of Christ.

 

But, 2 Peter 3:3 says,

 

Above all, you must understand

that in the last days scoffers will come,

scoffing and following their own evil desires.

4 They will say,

Where is this ‘coming’ he promised?”

 

Then Peter continues in Verse 9,

 

9 The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise,

as some understand slowness.

 

Instead he is patient with you,

not wanting anyone to perish,

but everyone to come to repentance.

 

The generation alive today

can be glad that Christ has not yet come

to put an end to this wicked world.

 

The delay in his coming

gives us time to call them to repentance.

 

But the end of this world will come,

just as surely as judgment came upon

that generation Christ denounced in Jerusalem.