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Beware the Leaven of the Pharisees series #7 The King’s Denunciation – Matthew 23 (part 4)

07 Jan

Hungering for holiness—greedy for gain
(Matthew 5:6 NASB) “”Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied.”

(Matthew 23:16-22 NASB) “”Woe to you, blind guides, who say, ‘Whoever swears by the temple, that is nothing; but whoever swears by the gold of the temple, he is obligated.’ {17} “You fools and blind men; which is more important, the gold, or the temple that sanctified the gold? {18} “And, ‘Whoever swears by the altar, that is nothing, but whoever swears by the offering upon it, he is obligated.’ {19} “You blind men, which is more important, the offering or the altar that sanctifies the offering? {20} “Therefore he who swears by the altar, swears both by the altar and by everything on it. {21} “And he ho swears by the temple, swears both by the temple and by Him who dwells within it. {22} “And he who swears by heaven, swears both by the throne of God and by Him who sits upon it.”

This beatitude speaks of strong desire, of driving pursuit, of a passionate force inside the soul. It has to do with ambition—ambition of the right sort—whose object is to honor, obey, and glorify God by partaking of His righteousness. This holy ambition is in great contrast to the common ambitions of men to gratify their own lusts, accomplish their own goals, and satisfy their own egos.

Jesus declares that the deepest desire of every person ought to be to hunger and thirst for righteousness. That is the Spirit-prompted desire that will lead a person to salvation and keep him strong and faithful once he is in the kingdom. It is also the only ambition that, when fulfilled, brings enduring happiness.

A starving person has a single, all-consuming passion for food and water. Nothing else has the slightest attraction or appeal; nothing else can even get his attention.

Those who are without God’s righteousness are starved for spiritual life. But tragically they do not have the natural desire for spiritual life that they do for physical. The tendency of fallen mankind is to turn to itself and to the world for meaning and life, just as ‘“a dog returns to its own vomit,’ and ‘a sow, after washing, returns to wallowing in the mire’” (2 Pet. 2:22; cf. Prov. 26:11).

Jesus cursed the scribes and Pharisees for their perversion of truth. God is the God of truth and cannot lie (Titus 1:2; Heb. 6:18), and His people are therefore to be people of truth. On the other hand, there is no truth at all in Satan. “Whenever he speaks a lie, he speaks from his own nature,” Jesus says; “for he is a liar, and the father of lies” (John 8:44). His followers are also skilled in lying, and perversion of truth is the hallmark of every false religious system. From the beginning, those who have rejected God have rejected His truth. They have “exchanged the truth of God for a lie, and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator” (Rom. 1:25).

In this particular indictment, Jesus did not call His opponents hypocrites but blind guides, emphasizing their unawareness that they were ignorant of the truth. As God’s chosen people who were entrusted with His revelation, the Jews had long considered themselves as guides to the blind, lights to those in darkness, correctors of the foolish, and teachers of the immature (Rom. 2:19-20; cf. 3:2). But as Jesus had declared earlier in His ministry they were “blind guides of the blind. And if a blind man guides a blind man, both will fall into a pit” (Matt. 15:14). The scribes and Pharisees prided themselves in their superior religious knowledge and understanding, but they were blind leaders trying to lead blind Israel, and together they were doomed to judgment if they would not come to the light.

Among their many perversions of truth was the teaching that Whoever swears by the temple, that is nothing; but whoever swears by the gold of the temple, he is obligated. The very fact that they had developed such a double standard for swearing gives evidence that their concern was not for truth but for the evasion of it when it did not suit their selfish interests. The underlying purpose behind the first part of the standard was to provide sanctimonious justification for lying with impunity. A person could lie all he wanted, provided he swore by the temple and not by the gold of the temple. Since no society can survive without some provision for verifying and guaranteeing such things as promises and contracts, the second part of the standard was developed as a necessary expediency. If a person wanted to make absolutely certain that someone was telling the truth or would live up to an agreement, he would make him swear by the gold of the temple, which supposedly made his word binding. A person who broke his word after taking such an oath was subject to penalties under Jewish law.

Societies have had various means of trying to make its people keep their word. In some, the most sacred and binding vow was sealed with the blood of the parties involved. In others, an agreement is written in a contract, which each party signs and which often specifies penalties for defaulting. Until recent years, many western courts of law required those giving testimony to swear to tell the truth by placing their right hand on a copy of the Bible and invoking God’s help.

The use of oaths had become so perverse in Israel that they were used even to renege on promises made to God. If a person, for example, vowed to give a certain amount to the Lord’s work, he would often swear to his vow by the temple. If he later decided he had pledged too much, or if he never intended to give the full amount, he had an out, because that vow was considered to be nothing.

In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus condemned all swearing of vows. “But I say to you, make no oath at all, either by heaven, for it is the throne of God, or by the earth, for it is the footstool of His feet, or by Jerusalem, for it is the city of the great King. Nor shall you make an oath by your head, for you cannot make one hair white or black. But let your statement be, ‘Yes, yes,’ or ‘No, no’; and anything beyond these is of evil” (Matt. 5:34-37). A godly person will always tell the truth, and for him a simple yes or no is sufficient, because his virtuous character is his bond.

Jesus was not teaching a new principle. The psalmist declared, “Offer to God a sacrifice of thanksgiving, and pay your vows to the Most High” (Ps. 50:14). In other words, a vow made is a vow to be kept. David testified, “Thy vows are binding upon me, O God; I will render thank offerings to Thee” (Ps. 56:12), and again, “I will sing praise to Thy name forever, that I may pay my vows day by day” (Ps. 61:8; cf. 66:13; 76:11). It is significant that in each of those quotations the keeping of vows to God is directly related to praise and thankfulness to Him.

The great offense of Ananias and Sapphira was not in giving less to the Lord’s work than they were able to give but in lying about it. When Peter confronted them, he charged them with lying to the Holy Spirit and putting God to the test. The Lord takes lying very seriously and for their deception those two believers lost their lives. It is not surprising that, as a result, “great fear came upon the whole church, and upon all who heard of these things” (Acts 5:1-11).

The idea that swearing by the gold in the Temple was binding but swearing by the Temple itself was not binding was moral chicanery and logical absurdity “You fools and blind men,” Jesus said; “which is more important, the gold, or the temple that sanctified the gold?” In other words, by what perverted logic had it been determined that making a vow on something lesser was more binding than one made on something greater? The only reason the gold could be thought of as sacred, and thereby make the vow supposedly more obligatory, was the temple that sanctified the gold.

The religious leaders applied the same twisted logic to swearing by the altar, which was considered to be nothing, that is, nonobligatory and to swearing by the offering upon it, which was thought to make a person obligated to keep his vow “You blind men,” Jesus said, “which is more important, the offering or the altar that sanctifies the offering?” The whole idea was both theologically and logically preposterous. Those standards were nothing more than wicked pretenses for using holy things to disguise their unholy propensity to lie.

As Jesus went on to point out, to swear by the altar was to swear by everything on it; to swear by the temple was to swear by Him who dwells within it, namely, God Himself; and to swear by heaven was to swear both by the throne of God and by Him who sits upon it. In other words, everything involved with the temple and everything involved with heaven involved God. In fact, since God is the creator of everything, to swear by anything at all involves God.

false religionists mislead others; they are blind guides in oaths and commitments. Note: Christ said that they were blind guides; they misled people. How? They stressed the secondary over the primary. They took the least important and made it more meaningful than the essential. Christ gave two examples.

  1. They stressed the gold of the temple over the temple itself. Anyone who swore by the temple did not have to keep his commitment nor was he held responsible for his oath. But if he swore by the gold of the temple, he was held responsible and did have to keep his commitment.
  2. They stressed the gift over the altar upon which the gift lay. Making a commitment or swearing by the altar was not binding, whereas a commitment or swearing by the gift was binding.

Christ used strong words against the religionists at this point. They were “fools and blind.” Christ meant two things by these words.

  1. What they were doing and saying was absurd and irrational. Common sense should tell anyone that the temple is greater than what is within it, and the altar is greater than the gift that is laid upon it.
  2. What they were doing and saying was full of folly and sin. They were merely trying to evade commitments and responsibility for swearing. They wanted the right to make promises and to swear, but they also wanted the right to break their promises if it benefited them later.

Christ pointed out the raw facts about commitments and oaths.

  1. All commitments and oaths are heard by God. There is no evasion of commitments made or of swearing done.
  • God is the One to whom sacrifices are made upon the altar (implied) (Matthew 23:20).
  • God dwells in the temple (Matthew 23:21).
  • God sits upon His throne in heaven (Matthew 23:22).
  1. All commitments and oaths are binding and accountable to God.

There are at least four sins seen in what the religionists were saying and doing.

1)   The sin of stressing the secondary over the primary.

2)   The sin of evading commitments.

3)   The sin of covetousness. By stressing the gold over the temple, they were centering the people’s minds upon the gold, the wealth, and the gifts instead of upon the God who dwelt in the temple.

4)   The sin of self-righteousness. By stressing man’s gift over the altar, they were saying in essence that man’s gift was more important than God’s altar which sanctified the gift. The gift honored the altar instead of the altar honoring the gift. Such, of course, was ridiculous; for symbolically God stood behind the altar. And no gift is ever greater than God.

The very same sins are committed today.

1)   Ritual, ceremony, programs—commitment to practically every phase of church life is often stressed over God. Commitment to the various phases of church life is even said to be commitment to God.

2)   The gift is stressed more than the altar. A commitment to give and to make sacrifice often takes precedence over the altar (commitment to God). Stewardship of money (the gift and the gold) is even said to be an equal part with the stewardship of life to God.

3)   The motive is often to make the institution stronger instead of making people stronger by centering their lives upon God.

 
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Posted by on January 7, 2021 in Pharisees

 

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