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Beware the Leaven of the Pharisees series #10 The King’s Denunciation – Matthew 23 (part 7)

18 Jan

Peacemakers and persecuted are God’s children—persecutors are the devil’s children
(Matthew 5:9-12 NASB) “”Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God. {10} “Blessed are those who have been persecuted for the sake of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. {11} “Blessed are you when men cast insults at you, and persecute you, and say all kinds of evil against you falsely, on account of Me. {12} “Rejoice, and be glad, for your reward in heaven is great, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you.”

(Matthew 23:29-33 NASB) “”Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you build the tombs of the prophets and adorn the monuments of the righteous, {30} and say, ‘If we had been living in the days of our fathers, we would not have been partners with them in shedding the blood of the prophets.’ {31} “Consequently you bear witness against yourselves, that you are sons of those who murdered the prophets. {32} “Fill up then the measure of the guilt of your fathers. {33} “You serpents, you brood of vipers, how shall you escape the sentence of hell?”

The God of peace (Rom. 15:33; 2 Cor. 13:11; Phil. 4:9) has emphasized that cherished but elusive reality by making peace one of the dominant ideas of His Word. Scripture contains four hundred direct references to peace, and many more indirect ones. The Bible opens with peace in the Garden of Eden and closes with peace in eternity. The spiritual history of mankind can be charted based on the theme of peace. Although the peace on earth in the garden was interrupted when man sinned, at the cross Jesus Christ made peace a reality again, and He becomes the peace of all who place their faith in Him. Peace can now reign in the hearts of those who are His. Someday He will come as Prince of Peace and establish a worldwide kingdom of peace, which will eventuate in ultimate peace, the eternal age of peace.

But one of the most obvious facts of history and of human experience is that peace does not characterize man’s earthly existence. There is no peace now for two reasons: the opposition of Satan and the disobedience of man. The fall of the angels and the fall of man established a world without peace. Satan and man are engaged with the God of peace in a battle for sovereignty.

The scarcity of peace has prompted someone to suggest that “peace is that glorious moment in history when everyone stops to reload.” In 1968 a major newspaper reported that there had been to that date 14,553 known wars since thirty-six years before Christ. Since 1945 there have been some seventy or so wars and nearly two hundred internationally significant outbreaks of violence. Since 1958 nearly one hundred nations have been involved in some form of armed conflict.

Some historians have claimed that the United States has had two generations of peace—one from 1815 to 1846 and the other from 1865 to 1898. But that claim can only be made if you exclude the Indian wars, during which our land was bathed in Indian blood.

With all the avowed and well-intentioned efforts for peace in modern times, few people would claim that the world or any significant part of it is more peaceful now than a hundred years ago. We do not have economic peace, religious peace, racial peace, social peace, family peace, or personal peace. There seems to be no end of marches, sit-ins, rallies, protests, demonstrations, riots, and wars. Disagreement and conflict are the order of the day. No day has had more need of peace than our own.

Nor does the world honor peace as much by its standards and actions as it does by its words. In almost every age of history the greatest heroes have been the greatest warriors. The world lauds the powerful and often exalts the destructive. The model man is not meek but macho. The model hero is not self-giving but self-seeking, not generous but selfish, not gentle but cruel, not submissive but aggressive, not meek but proud.

The popular philosophy of the world, bolstered by the teaching of many psychologists and counselors, is to put self first. But when self is first, peace is last. Self precipitates strife, division, hatred, resentment, and war. It is the great ally of sin and the great enemy of righteousness and, consequently, of peace.

The seventh beatitude calls God’s people to be peacemakers. He has called us to a special mission to help restore the peace lost at the Fall.

The peace of which Christ speaks in this beatitude, and about which the rest of Scripture speaks, is unlike that which the world knows and strives for. God’s peace has nothing to do with politics, armies and navies, forums of nations, or even councils of churches. It has nothing to do with statesmanship, no matter how great, or with arbitration, compromise, negotiated truces, or treaties. God’s peace, the peace of which the Bible speaks, never evades issues; it knows nothing of peace at any price.

It does not gloss or hide, rationalize or excuse. It confronts problems and seeks to solve them, and after the problems are solved it builds a bridge between those who were separated by the problems. It often brings its own struggle, pain, hardship, and anguish, because such are often the price of healing. It is not a peace that will be brought by kings, presidents, prime ministers, diplomats, or international humanitarians. It is the inner personal peace that only He can give to the soul of man and that only His children can exemplify.

False Leaders Are Cursed for Their Pretension

Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you build the tombs of the prophets and adorn the
monuments of the righteous, and say, ‘If we had been living in the days of our fathers, we would not have been partners with them in shedding the blood of the prophets.’ Consequently you bear witness against yourselves, that you are sons of those who murdered the prophets. Fill up then the measure of the guilt of your fathers. You serpents, you brood of vipers, how shall you escape the sentence of hell? (23:29-33)

Seventh and last, Jesus cursed the scribes and Pharisees for their pretension in presuming to be superior to others, including their forefathers.

For many hundreds of years these leaders had been in the vanguard of ventures to build the tombs of the prophets and adorn the monuments of the righteous saints and heroes of Israel. They would have been on the speaker’s platform in ceremonies honoring the great men of the past and would have voiced the loudest adulations. Realizing that many of those saints had been persecuted and martyred by their own forefathers, the scribes and Pharisees made vehement disclaimers for themselves, asserting self-righteously: “If we had been living in the days of our fathers, we would not have been partners with them in shedding the blood of the prophets.”

But Jesus repudiated their pretension and exposed their true character, declaring that “consequently you bear witness against yourselves, that you are sons of those who murdered the prophets.” At that very moment they were plotting to kill Jesus, their Messiah and the Prophet of prophets, proving they were even more wicked than their ungodly ancestors. They were so consumed by hatred of the truth and righteousness of God that they were totally blinded to the fact that they were about to crucify the very Son of God.

Fill up then the measure of the guilt of your fathers,” Jesus said. “Your scheming to put to death the greatest prophet of all,” He declared in effect, “will be the final measure of the murderous conspiracies of your fathers against God’s messengers.” They were about to culminate all the guilt of those in the past who killed God’s messengers. This was the supreme act of sin against God’s prophets, as they murdered the Prophet-Messiah. In a final curse Jesus exclaimed, “You serpents, you brood of vipers, how shall you escape the sentence of hell?” The question was rhetorical, meaning that they could not possibly escape the sentence of hell if they carried out the evil intent that now poisoned their hearts.

 Ophis (serpents) was a general word for snakes, but echidna (vipers) referred to small poisonous snakes that lived primarily in the desert regions of Palestine and other parts of the eastern Mediterranean. Because they looked like a dried twig when they were still, a person collecting wood for a fire would often pick one up inadvertently and be bitten, as happened to Paul on the island of Malta. That particular viper was deadly and when Paul suffered no harm from the bite, the superstitious islanders thought he was a god (Acts 28:3, 6). Vipers therefore had the understandable reputation for being both deadly and deceitful.

At the beginning of his ministry John the Baptist had called the unbelieving and unrepentant Pharisees and Sadducees who came to him for baptism a “brood of vipers” (Matt. 3:7), using exactly the same phrase used now by Jesus at the end of His ministry to describe those same false leaders. Neither the messages of John the Baptist nor of Jesus had any positive effect on those men, but served only to harden them in their unbelief and in their opposition to the gospel and to God’s righteous messengers.

In pagan Greek culture, the echidna had long been associated with evil. In their mythology the name was given to a monster deity that was half snake and half woman and that gave birth to other monsters, including the murderous sphinx of Thebes.

By the time of Christ, echidna was universally associated with extreme wickedness and danger. Therefore when Jesus called the scribes and Pharisees a brood of vipers, He was declaring them to be both evil and deadly.

As explained earlier in this chapter, the term geenna (hell) was derived from the name of a valley near Jerusalem where trash and garbage continually burned. Jesus’ relating vipers to the sentence of hell suggests the common practice of a farmer’s burning the dried stubble in his field to prepare the land for the next planting. As the flames approached their dens, vipers would try to scurry away but were usually unsuccessful and consumed by the fire. Jesus said, in effect, “You wicked, deceitful men, do you really think you can outrun God’s fire of judgment?”

As Jesus had just reminded them, those false leaders were guilty of keeping people out of the kingdom, guilty of subverting the people, guilty of perverting God’s truth, guilty of inverting God’s priorities, guilty of extorting God’s people, guilty of spiritually contaminating everyone they touched, guilty of pretending to be righteous while being malevolent, and worst of all guilty of preparing to execute God’s own Son.

False religionists pride themselves in a godly heritage. Christ said four significant things about this point.

  1. False religionists honor the relics of the past. They show great respect for former prophets. They build, renovate, adorn and look after the tombs of the great men of the past. But note: Christ says they pay honor to their tombs and memory, not to their teaching and godly lives.
  2. False religionists denounce former abuses. Their forefathers had rejected, abused, and killed many of the prophets. The false religionists denounced such evil behavior. They preached and taught against murder.
  3. False religionists are prideful, claiming that they are better than the religious people of former years. They feel they are beyond such sins and would never have rejected and abused the prophets of God. They believe they would have gladly heard the preachers of the past and done exactly what they said.
  4. False religionists witness against themselves. They reverence the prophets of old but reject the prophets who are living. They reverence Abraham, Moses, Jeremiah, and Zechariah; but they reject God’s very own Son. In rejecting Him, they prove that they are just as their fathers were: murderers. They are children of their fathers, following in the very steps of their fathers, rejecting the messengers of God. Like father, like son.

Note what Christ said: they were filling up the measure or cup of murder which was begun by their fathers. Christ was probably saying that His death was the last drop. The cup was about to reach the filled point; the cup would not be able to take another drop. There would be no chance to turn to God after they killed the Prophet, Christ Himself.

It is easy to honor great men of the past. They are not present to speak the truth and demand that we follow the truth. A dead man cannot disturb us with his warnings. Every generation has this one great deception: since they are more educated and technologically advanced, they think they are stronger and better off than the former generation. They think…

  • if they had been given the opportunities of the past, they would have done more with them.
  • if they had faced the temptations of the past, they would have withstood them better.

 

 
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Posted by on January 18, 2021 in Pharisees

 

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