Woe or Wow? #1
What we read in Matthew 22 + 23 is the climax of a running battle between Jesus and the chief opponents to His ministry, the TEACHERS OF THE LAW and the PHARISEES. Jesus threw the gauntlet down early in His ministry: MTW 5:20 quotes Jesus as saying, “FOR I TELL YOU THAT UNLESS YOUR RIGHTEOUSNESS SURPASSES THAT OF THE PHARISEES AND THE TEACHERS OF THE LAW, YOU WILL CERTAINLY NOT ENTER THE KINGDOM OF HEAVEN.” I’m sure they thought NO ONE was more righteous than they were and took exception to this from the beginning. Their opposition was a necessity in the plan of God as the party of the Pharisees would lead the charge to call for Jesus’ crucifixion. One can explain Jesus’ butting heads with the hypocrites as Him working the situation to bring about the right amount of antagonism at the right time.
I’ve titled this series of messages “Woe or Wow” to contrast Jesus’ identification of their hypocrisy with another Bible passage that encourages the opposite virtue. This series is a call to avoid the vice of hypocrisy and to seek out godly virtues instead.
God commissioned you to invite people to join the kingdom, not to keep them out.
Context - When used in the bible, the word WOE can be a compassionate, “Alas!” or a warning, “Watch out,” or a mix of the two feelings. In this chapter Jesus pronounced seven different woes and given what He said with them, these are of the “Watch out” variety. In v. 2 Jesus specified the target of these rebukes as being the TEACHERS OF THE LAW and PHARISEES, but these warnings apply to everyone guilty of hypocrisy.
1. Matthew 23:13-15 = “Woe to Those who Keep Others Out of the Kingdom”
Woe #1 = Woe to those who shut the door of heaven in people’s faces (13). Jesus condemned the hypocrites as they SHUT THE KINGDOM OF HEAVEN IN MEN’S FACES. This refers to their opposition to Jesus. Jesus came to God’s people, the Jews, to be received as their Messiah. Instead, leaders like the TEACHERS OF THE LAW and the PHARISEES rejected Jesus’ claim to be the Messiah and actively campaigned against Him, seeking to reduce Jesus’ reputation among the people. They compounded their sin: YOU YOURSELVES DO NOT ENTER, NOR WILL YOU LET THOSE ENTER WHO ARE TRYING TO means the hypocrites their unbelief by actively misleading those who might have believed in Jesus if left to decide for themselves.
Since the Pharisees are so often the villain of the story in the Gospels, we wonder why anybody listened to them. The historical truth is the Pharisees were the religious leaders who were closest to the common person. Of the other religious parties, the Sadducees and Herodians were too elite and too political to bother with commoners; the Essenes had effectively checked out of popular culture entirely.
Woe #2 = Woe to those who have a zealousness that does more harm than good (15). Their zeal to expand their faith and influence was misguided. Historical sources describe the years from 1-72 AD as being a period of intense missionary effort on the part of the Jews, resulting in the expansion of the Jewish faith around the Roman empire. This means Jesus is not exaggerating too much in His description of the effort they would put into winning A SINGLE CONVERT.
Their zeal was condemned by the harm they inflicted on their converts. As Jesus said, “YOU MAKE HIM TWICE AS MUCH A SON OF HELL AS YOU ARE.” He did not criticize their zeal so much as what they did with a CONVERT once they had one, which was to subvert him to their party platform and make him an even greater slave of legalism than they were. All falsehood has its origin in Satan, so Jesus was not resorting to hyperbole when he identified those who accept and propagate falsehood as a SON OF HELL.
2. John 1:43-51 = “Blessed are the Inviters”
Philip is an example of an inviter (44-45). Philip invited Nathanael to COME AND SEE that God’s promised Messiah had arrived. In lists of the disciples Nathanael is listed as Bartholomew, but that’s really a last name (“Son of Tolmai”) so we expect this is Nathanael.
Philip’s approach was positive and personal. Nathanael’s response was curiosity; he went to see. The LAW is reference to the first five books of the Old Testament. Along with the PROPHETS, this was the way Jews referred to the entire Old Testament.
Though he must’ve been curious about Philip’s claim, Nathanael expressed some skepticism about Nazareth (46). The word of GOOD here refers to a person of high worth and merit. Both Philip and Nathanael came from Bethsaida, which was, along with Nazareth, located in Galilee, so we may have Nathanael talking smack because of a local rivalry. We know that people from Judea looked down on Galileans and Galileans looked down on people from Nazareth.
Jesus is THE example of an ace inviter (43, 46-51). Jesus invited Philip to “FOLLOW ME.” In John’s gospel, Philip is the only person Jesus invited to FOLLOW Him. This simple invitation is extended to others in other Gospels.
Jesus’ approach to Nathanael was to reveal God’s power and promise; Nathanael’s response was to believe in Jesus. In the original language, Jesus’ greeting is a play on words; he starts the conversation having a bit of fun with Nathanael. Also, Nathanael’s earlier comment on Nazareth and his response in v. 48 both reveal the kind of bluntness that is characteristic of a totally honest person. Nathanael didn’t sugarcoat his words.
The phrase UNDER THE FIG TREE can be taken literally or figuratively or both. Nathanael may’ve been literally sitting under a FIG TREE when Philip approached him. Jews of the time customarily sat under a tree to pray and meditate privately. Fig tree can produce a lot of shade and low branches offer some privacy. In the Old Testament, a FIG TREE is a figure of speech, a symbol of shelter the Messiah would provide for true Israelites (Micah 4:4; Zechariah 3:10), a place of peace and safety (1 Kings 4:25).
However you explain it, this statement revealed Jesus’ possession of supernatural knowledge that convinced Nathanael that Philip’s claims were true: he quickly expressed faith in Jesus. His use of the title RABBI was a common title of respect. But the titles THE SON OF GOD and KING OF ISRAEL were both titles reserved for the Messiah.
In vs. 50-51, Jesus accepted Nathanael’s faith and offered a vision of greater things to come. Jesus said heaven would be OPEN. For 400 years, heaven was closed to God’s people; they went without new revelation that entire time.
ANGELS are a supernatural race that live in heaven. Because they serve God as His messengers, their appearance ASCENDING AND DESCENDING ON THE SON OF MAN show a lot of attention being paid to Jesus; He is clearly the center of God’s will being revealed to the human race. This image would also remind Nathanael of the “ladder” Jacob dreamed about in Genesis 28:12, a vision God gave to the patriarch that reassured him of God’s care and plan for his life. The difference here is that Jesus replaces the ladder; the angels ascend and descend ON Him.
People suppose - wrongly - that the title Jesus used for Himself (SON OF MAN) refers to His humanity or is in some other way less impressive than the title Nathanael used for Him (SON OF GOD). The opposite is true. The title SON OF MAN is simply a reference to a divine figure in Daniel 7; it is a more specific way of saying the same thing about Jesus.
God commissioned you to invite people to join the kingdom, not to keep them out.
A new pastor arrived in a small town on Monday and spent the rest of the week making personal visits to each of the members, inviting them to come to his first service.
Imagine his disappointment when, the following Sunday, the church was all but empty. Accordingly, the pastor placed a notice in the local newspapers, stating that because the church was dead, it is everyone’s duty to give it a decent Christian burial. The funeral would be held the following Sunday afternoon, the notice stated.
Morbidly curious, a large crowd turned out for the “funeral.” In front of the pulpit, they saw a closed coffin, smothered with flowers. After the pastor delivered the eulogy, he opened the coffin and invited his congregation to come forward and pay their final respects to their dead church.
Filled with curiosity as to what would represent the corpse of a “dead church”, all the people lined up to look into the coffin. Each “mourner” peeped into the coffin then quickly turned away with a guilty, sheepish look.
In the coffin, tilted at the correct angle, was a large mirror! While the preacher might be accused of melodrama, he made his point effectively. We must not be a church-killer, guilty of hypocrisy. Instead, we are called to be church builders by means of our genuine devotion to Jesus Christ.
The Story of God Bible Commentary, Matthew, Rodney Reeves.
The Bible Knowledge Key Word Study: Matthew, David K. Lowery and John, W. Hall Harris.
One Perfect Life, John MacArthur.
Messages #299 + #394