Jesus Pronounces Woes

Woe unto You, Scribes and Pharisees
Woe unto You, Scribes and Pharisees (Public Domain)

Reading the Word

Matthew 23:1–7 (ESV)

1 Then Jesus said to the crowds and to his disciples, 2 “The scribes and the Pharisees sit on Moses’ seat, 3 so do and observe whatever they tell you, but not the works they do. For they preach, but do not practice. 4 They tie up heavy burdens, hard to bear, and lay them on people’s shoulders, but they themselves are not willing to move them with their finger. 5 They do all their deeds to be seen by others. For they make their phylacteries broad and their fringes long, 6 and they love the place of honor at feasts and the best seats in the synagogues 7 and greetings in the marketplaces and being called rabbi by others.

Understanding and Applying the Word

Jesus saved his harshest words for the religious elite of his day. They were the ones who thought they were favored by God because they spent their lives dutifully living by the law and holding others to the same. They were the religious legalists of their day. There was just one problem. It was all for show. Their religious devotion was to look good in the eyes of others and to gain favor from God.

The Bible teaches that we are all sinners and that we need to be saved from our sins. We cannot just try harder to do better because we are sinful to the core. Even our best efforts are as filthy rags. Even if we could keep all of the rules, our attitudes and motivations would be wrong. We need grace not better rule keeping. Jesus preached that grace was available to all who would repent of their sin and believe.

The scribes and Pharisees could not admit that they were sinners who needed to repent. Instead, they stood in their pride and resisted Jesus and tried to persuade others that Jesus was a fraud. Jesus warned these leaders of their failures throughout Matthew 23 in an unforgettable confrontation. Take the time to read the entire chapter in your Bible. How do you respond to Jesus’ teaching about repentance and faith?

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