Matthew 23:1-12 Part 2


Let’s begin this morning with this:  natural man doesn’t see things the way God does.  Put another way:  man doesn’t think with the thoughts of God.  Or:  the reason with which fallen men reasons is inimical (hostile) to the Truth!  God said, “Your thoughts are not My thoughts.”  (God’s perspective)

Put from man’s perspective, a fallen man would say, “Oh, that’s completely unreasonable – nobody thinks that way!”  Or:  “that militates against everything having to do with common sense!”

Some things are just so extraordinary and so unusual or “out of bounds” (if you will), that man’s reaction to them is extreme antagonism, or, at the least, immediate dismissal as unworthy of consideration.  Anyone who might mention them is an insufferable fanatic or one who dwells on the fringes of lunacy.

Of the Biblical concepts that might be used for an example is the right Biblical response to trouble and pain and suffering!  Begin to explain the absolutes involved and then observe the changes around you:  blank stares, incredulity; warm relationships turn “icy”, subjects of conversation change, people begin to dismiss themselves….

Another Biblical concept that’s good for an example here is that of covenant representation, isn’t it?  And that has some bearing on our text and subject this morning.  But just try a three-minute monologue on that one day with some of your acquaintances, and see what happens!

There are quite a few things like that….  Biblical Truths and reality in which we as Reformed Christians live and which we understand and love.

In our text, when our Lord turned to His disciples and the crowds of remnant Israel, they are expecting Him somehow to become their king… to overthrow the powers in Israel and sit on David’s seat!  And by now they are thrilled and bubbling over with pride at the humiliation being dealt to the Sanhedrin.

But what Jesus now tells them is just incredible!  It was one of those instances that we were just talking about… “Your thoughts are not My thoughts.”  Jesus says, “Do what the Scribes and Pharisees say.  They sit on Moses’ seat!”

The fact that these men of the Jerusalem Sanhedrin were the covenant representatives of Israel ordained by God was of utmost importance.  And at the time when God was about to bring the sanctions of His covenant against them, a major factor was the obedience of the people to the God-ordained authority in Israel – because the suffering obedience of God’s people was instrumental in laying the obligations of authority to their account!

These men were responsible for the people who they led!  They were obligated to God to lead the people of Israel in worship and obedience and in anticipation of the coming Messiah!  It was their duty, as covenantal authority, to teach the people and point them toward the glory of God and His Word!

As with all powers and authorities, God put them there and ordained their authority.  And the people are to honor that by being obedient.  And that obedience is the very thing that God uses to bring covenant sanctions against ungodly leadership!  The obedience of the people, alone, places the obligations squarely upon their shoulders and lays it to their account; and it requires it of them to be faithful covenantal authorities!

This is a fact and Truth of God’s Word which is so incredible to many but which is so spectacularly evident throughout the pages of Scripture.  And that’s the Grand Design of Jesus as He turns to the crowds and requires the obedience of His people!  “Do what they say.”  “Whatever they should say to you, do and take heed!”  Perform their directives and “keep” them.

That’s the same word Jesus used, as recorded by John – “Keep My Commandments!”  Pay attention to them, follow them, keep watch and observe them….  “Whatever they should say to you, do and take heed!”

The Sanhedrin Scribes and Pharisees and priests are not to be disregarded because they are false teachers and hypocrites!  They may be alien seed… they may have usurped the seat… they may be evil, they may be hypocrites, they may not obey the Law themselves – “whatever they should say to you, do and take heed”!

The power of these words and our Lord is not to be derived from the fact that leaders speak the truth!  Nor is the power of these words lost when evil men do the speaking!  The power of the words derives from the fact that they come from God!  And He did not say that evil leaders are to be disobeyed.  He said:  “perform and keep on paying attention to whatever they tell you to do!”

Then comes the second half of what Jesus said, verse three:


“…but do not do according to their works, for they speak and do not do.”


The Pharisees were revered by many in Israel; and their example was being followed!  These are the leaders who have led this nation into its condition. (I’ll mention some things about that condition again in a minute.)  But the tense and force of the verbs in Jesus’ statement here includes the Command from Jesus to stop doing what the Pharisees do!

So the Lord’s elect remnant were to participate in a discriminating obedience.  God is the only absolute Ruler, so the Sanhedrin are not to be viewed as absolute rulers (there can be only One).  “Do and take heed to whatever they say (they sit on Moses’ seat!), but do not be doing according to their work; for they speak and do not do!”

“Take heed that you obey your God-ordained authorities (for God will hold them responsible), but stop participating in their works!”  These revered men of Israel are to be obeyed, but they’re not to be copied!  They read and interpret the Scriptures in the synagogue, but they don’t do what the Scriptures say!  They are hypocrites!

They have perverted the Law and the Prophets (leaving the nation blind and in prison – for want of Biblical teaching).  They exempted themselves from the obviously weighty provisions of the Law; therefore they have established a class for themselves which is more privileged.  And, therefore, they have dealt injustice to those who are the less privileged in the society.  In fact, their perversions of the Scriptures have left many in Israel in that condition – a condition which the Pharisees took advantage of for their own benefits.

These who sit on Moses’ seat have focused on, and expanded, the outside rituals and ceremonies of the Law (such as the baptism of hands and utensils – “Kosher”), so, therefore, they would not believe when Messiah held up the true nature of the Law.

They are devoid of understanding of depravity and the curse – sin and contrition and rebirth; therefore they had a completely false expectation of Messiah!  Similarly, when God sent His prophets to them (to confront them and command their repentance), they abused and beat them, and they killed them!

The curse of God’s Law (already seen in the demand for cursed and depraved man to love God in his whole heart, in his whole person and in his whole mind) is greatly potentiated by the demands of the Pharisees in their perversions of the Law.  Over a period of time, the Pharisees had developed six hundred and thirteen commandments and hundreds of sub-statutes and ritualistic observations.  And, at the time of Christ, the whole nation was groaning and sighing under the crushing weight of it all!

Ruled by wolves and jackals, many of Israel’s people were sick and destitute and demon-possessed; they were owned and taxed by a foreign, pagan nation; weaker segments of society were dispossessed of their family lands and inheritances; brutality and savagery and gangs and sexual perversions were commonplace.  Idolatry was everywhere.  The nation was a disaster!

But Israel’s leadership freed themselves from the curse of the Law!  They said that everyone must be under their law; but they, themselves, perverted their own law for their own benefits!  They set it aside whenever it was expedient for them!  Whatever they say to you, do and take heed.  But do not do according to their works.

They pervert and reinterpret the Law so they can put away their wives and satisfy their own lusts elsewhere!  Do and take heed to what they tell you, but do not do according to their works.

They give their money and other financial gifts (considerations) to the temple and synagogues (which, in turn, enriches themselves again because they have it all set up for themselves), but they disown and dishonor their own parents who are in need.  Whatever they should say to you, do and take heed.  But do not do according to their works!

They make it impossible, by excessive taxation and legal manipulation, for family businesses and land inheritances to continue their profitability; then they enrich themselves by thievery (pretending to be beneficent) by adding those properties to their own portfolios.  Whatever they should say to you, do and take heed.  But do not do according to their works!

Jesus condemns these things, and many more, in the coming verses of this chapter.  But Messiah was to abrogate the curse of the Law by becoming the ransom for His cursed and depraved people!  The Law of God, good and holy as it is, as the Revelation of the character of God, curses men because of their depravity.  It potentiates their sin and makes sin exceedingly sinful.

But The Christ frees men from the curse of the Law by being the second, and sinless, Adam into Whom men are reborn!  So in becoming newborn babes in Him, there is complete freedom from the terrible, eternal burden of that curse.  “Come unto Me all you who are heavy laden, and I will give you rest!”

On the other hand, as verse four says:  “they (the Sanhedrin) bind and impose weighty burdens upon the shoulders of men, but they themselves, do not will to move them with the finger.”  Jesus uses a very interesting word here for “heavy”, or “weighty”.  It is barea – from which comes our words “barometer” and “barometric” and “hyperbaric”.

So what is meant here is the immense pressure and weight upon natural man in his cursed state from the holy and perfect Law of God.  And, here, Jesus is describing the excessive heaviness of having the Law perverted and expanded by the Pharisees and heaped up in piles upon the shoulders of men!  And they didn’t wish to move those burdens with a finger!

The word “to move” that He uses is kineo, from which comes our word “kinesics” – the study of movement.  The apostle Paul, it is interesting to note (in Acts chapter seventeen) says to the Athenians:  “…in Him we live and move and have our being.”  There is not even movement except in Him.  And, yet, the Pharisees wouldn’t even “move” the burden and oppression of a distorted and deformed law-code from the backs of the covenant people!

But – do you see the contrast here?  The Messiah will become sin and come under the curse and be separated from the Father and be crucified and enter death in order to remove the curse of the Law from His people!  But the Pharisees do not wish to move a finger to remove the heavy, oppressive burdens which they themselves have imposed on the very people whom they represent!  In Jesus there is loosing and freedom from the burden of the curse (and His yoke is “easy”, He says); but under the Pharisees there is the imposition and binding of heavy loads on men’s shoulders!

They pile on and pile on weight after weight and burden after burden which crushes and stifles men in their sin and transgression – there’s no way out and no rest and no freedom and no relief; because the curse is magnified by sin and by lawlessness and by more man-made law!  Men can’t be freed from the curse by Law!  It just becomes heavier and more stifling and more suffocating.

Another comparison that can be made is this:  Jesus Christ submitted to coming under the Law – to receive is curse as a substitute for His people.  He was our representative scapegoat.  He became curse, sinful humanity for us – in our place.

But the Scribes and Pharisees and Priests of Israel represented their people by freeing themselves from the demands of the Law – the exact opposite of Messiah!  They exempted themselves from its requirements in order that they could operate outside its boundaries!

So they put their depraved, sinful people, who they represented, under the severe burden of a perverted, expanded law; (while they, themselves, operated outside it), and they did not wish to move it with a finger!  But the Messiah had come do put Himself under that curse in order to set free those who He represented.

The principle of Covenantal representation comes through clearly in this passage, doesn’t it?

There is another word relationship in the Scriptures that I have to refer to before we can leave verse four; and it comes by way of another comparison, from two other portions of Scripture.

First, in Exodus thirty-one, verse eighteen, we read this:


“And He gave unto Moses, when He had made an end of communing with him upon Mount Sinai, two tables of testimony, tables of stone, written with the finger of God.”


So with His “finger”, God wrote the Law on tables of stone – a testimony to His Person and Character, and a testimony against the cursed nature of men.

And second, during the latter part of Israel’s seventy years of Babylonian captivity, Nebuchadnezzar’s son Belshazzar was king.  And, of course, Babylon was a thoroughly pagan nation which had a pantheon of gods and religions.  And Belshazzar’s court had taken all the temple utensils from the Jews and were using them for drinking and feasting – pagan dissipation.

And that fateful evening while doing that, and praising the gods of gold and silver and brass and iron and wood and stone, this is what happened, chapter five, verse five of the prophecy of Daniel:


“In the same hour came forth fingers of a man’s hand, and wrote over against the candlestick upon the plaster of the wall of the king’s palace; and the king saw the end of the hand that wrote.”


According to the text there was such terror struck into the king (and his court) that Belshazzar lost all control over his body and all color in his skin.  All of that is described in the account if you wish to read it.

Well, then Daniel was called in to read and interpret the writing.  And here’s what it said:  Mene, Mene, Tekel, Upharsin.”  Then Daniel interpreted it for the king:


“God has numbered your kingdom and finished it; you are weighed in the balance and found wanting; and your kingdom is divided and given to the Medes and Persians.  Later that night Belshazzar was slain; and the next king of the Chaldees was Darius the Mede.”


Now these two accounts of the “finger” of God have to do with His written Law and His having absolute Sovereignty over all earthly authority.  (Two subjects in our text)  The fact that His finger wrote the termination of the Babylonian empire on the wall of the king’s chamber is also very interesting with respect to our text this morning.

For Jesus’ reference to the Pharisee’s “fingers” isn’t by “chance”, is it?  And neither does it fit so closely with these two other references by “coincidence”!  Jesus always referred the leaders of Israel to the Older Testament texts!  And this incident is no different.

It was the Perfect Law of God, the Revelation of His nature, which was written by His finger on the tables of stone.  Yet the Pharisees would not move one finger to move their perverted law from the shoulders of God’s people!

And it was the sovereign claim of God to absolute control of the Babylonian Empire that was written by His finger on the king’s wall.  Yet the great Sanhedrin had not one ounce of power in their finger to continue the existence of Israel!  It was doomed.  God had numbered it and finished it; the leaders of Israel were weighed in the balance and found wanting; and the Kingdom was going to be given to another people – the Gentiles.  “Mene, Mene, Tekel, Upharsin.”

We’ll be able to finish the last eight verses of this passage the next time we meet.  And then, after that, Jesus will turn to the Sanhedrin and pronounce the woes upon them for what they have done.