Without question, the most significant issue facing the church is false teachers. Let's open Matthew 23:13-15, “But woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you shut up the kingdom of heaven against men; for you neither go in yourselves, nor do you allow those who are entering to go in. 14 Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you devour widows’ houses, and for a pretense make long prayers. Therefore you will receive greater condemnation. 15 Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you travel land and sea to win one proselyte, and when he is won, you make him twice as much a son of hell as yourselves.”
Jesus attacks these religious leaders head on beginning in verse 13. He has already warned the people about them in verses 1-12 along with warning the disciples not to be like them. In the first seven verses He said, you are to be warned about them. And then in verse 8 to the disciples, you're not to be like them. You have to be true spiritual leaders showing the true attitude and the true heart who really serves God.
And then beginning in verse 13 Jesus turns from the crowd which He was warning and the disciples which He was exhorting, to those false religious leaders. And remember He is in the temple court a couple of days before His death. The crowd is there swelled by the Passover season. The leaders are there and He confronts the leaders in the face of the whole crowd so that everyone hears exactly what Jesus calls them.
This is not the first time Jesus has condemned them. In Matthew 7 in the Sermon on the Mount, He told the people to beware of the false prophets who come as wolves dressed like shepherds who don't spare the flock. So His first sermon was a warning about them, and His last sermon is again a warning about them. And our society needs to be warned not only about humanism, secularism and immorality, but we need to especially be warned about false spiritual leaders.
Jesus told the people in the first seven verses that they were false teachers because they lacked authority, they lacked integrity, they lacked sympathy, they lacked spirituality and they lacked humility. And now He turns to them and tells them exactly what He thinks of them and what is true of them and what is about to come to pass on them. And this is a warning for us today, because we have many more false spiritual leaders then they did.
The Lord knew He was going away and He wanted to be sure these people moved away from the influence of these evil men to hear the message of His apostles. And so we must follow true spiritual leaders who seek not to be served, but to serve; who seek not to fleece the flock, but to feed the congregation. Who seek not the highest honors, but are after no honor at all. Who do not scatter the flock, but gather the flock. And who like Jesus "do not break a bruised reed and do not quench smoking flax."
So having warned the people, Jesus turns to these leaders and from verse 13-33 He gives them seven woes; seven curses. This kind of confrontation is foreign to us today. It seems as though if you speak against any false system or any false religious leader, people pounce on you as if you don't know the meaning of tolerance and graciousness and love and kindness and all of that. But that is a warped perspective and this text will show you why it is so.
This is the Lord Jesus. Liberal theologians have decided that He wouldn't say these things, so they would just eliminate them. The Jesus that they like wouldn't say this. So they just say He didn't say it, but He did. And out of His mouth comes the most fearful, the most terrible series of words that He ever uttered on this earth. The rejection of Him by these leaders with their hearts that has led astray the people is cause for divine judgment, and this was pronounced on them.
It's a serious passage. And the tone of it can be revealed by the terms that He uses. Verse 13, hypocrites. Verse 15, hypocrites, He calls them sons of hell. Verse 17, fools and blind. Hypocrites in verse 23, 25, 27, 29, and then in verse 33, “Serpents, brood of vipers! How can you escape the condemnation of hell?” Jesus is calling them what they really are and He says it calmly with crushing power.
And yet there is a certain sense of sorrow. It is not just a scathing rebuke of judgment without any emotion. It is filled with a certain melancholy that ultimately breaks forth in verse 37 as Jesus says, "O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the one who kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to her! How often I wanted to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, but you were not willing!” And Luke tells us that on the day He rode into the city and knew of it's coming judgment, when He came near He beheld the city it says He wept over it.
There are two key words that will help explain this section. The first is the word woe, which appears seven times and identifies each of the distinctive thoughts. The word woe in the Greek is a most interest word. It is a word used, for example, in the Septuagint to express grief, despair, dissatisfaction, pain, and the threat of losing your life. It's used in the New Testament to speak of sorrow and judgment. It mingles punishment and pity, cursing and compassion.
And there's another word that dominates the text and that is the word hypocrite. It originally came from a term which mean actor. Someone who pretended to be something he wasn't. And gradually it became a bad word and finally it came to mean a deceiver. One who pretends an outward goodness but inwardly is evil. Jesus condemns that in Matthew 6:2, "Therefore, when you do a charitable deed, do not sound a trumpet before you as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, that they may have glory from men.”
When Jesus says woe, woe, woe all these times, this is not a wish, this is a statement of fact. It isn't like people today might say well ‘damn you’ which seems to be a rather popular phrase in America. It is not just a wish that you be damned, it is a fact. Divine judgment is set in motion when Jesus says you are cursed. This is indeed a curse that worked its way out in reality and the death and eternal damnation of these false religious leaders.
Now the woes can be divided up, and we are just going to cover two of them this evening. False spiritual leaders are cursed because they keep people out of the kingdom. Now just think about that, they keep people out of the kingdom. That is a definition of false religion and of false spiritual leadership. Look at verse 13, "For you shut up the kingdom of heaven against men. For you neither go in yourselves, neither allow them who are entering to go in."
There is a little phrase there, following the kingdom of heaven, "against men." It's very vivid because it is literally before men. So it really means “you shut the doors of the kingdom of heaven before men.” The picture is that men are moving in that direction and right in their faces you slam the door. And it also is supported by the fact that the end of the verse says neither permit them that are wanting to enter or continuing to enter.
Jesus came into the world to announce the kingdom, to bring salvation. But before Jesus came, He had a forerunner named John the Baptist and his message was repent. In other words, turn from your sin for the kingdom is at hand. The king is coming. Get ready for the kingdom. And all Israel were there being baptized. They were there confessing their sins. They were there getting their hearts ready for the Messiah.
And right then the Pharisees and the Sadducees showed up and they shut up the kingdom. How did they do that? By denying the word of God, by misinterpreting the word of God, by denying that Jesus was the Messiah, by denying His deity, by denying salvation by grace, by denying the need for repentance. They closed the kingdom in the faces of the people through their works-righteousness system that had no place for Jesus Christ.
The church needs to know the Word of God and it needs to take a stand against false religious leaders. Paul writes to Timothy that they propagate heresies and doctrines of demons. Luke 11:52 says, "Woe to you lawyers! For you have taken away the key of knowledge. You did not enter in yourselves, and those who were entering in you hindered.” False religious leaders keep people from being saved.
Go to John 9 and read about the account of a blind man who was born blind for the glory of God's sake. This blind man was healed by Jesus in a great expression of divine power and compassion. And having been healed by Jesus he then became an interesting topic of discussion for the religious leaders who asked the parents who said to talk to the son. Verse 22-23, “His parents said these things because they feared the Jews, for the Jews had agreed already that if anyone confessed that He was Christ, he would be put out of the synagogue. 23 Therefore his parents said, “He is of age; ask him.”
In other words, they had no room in their theology for the Messiah. They had already made up their minds about that. So in verse 24, “So they again called the man who was blind, and said to him, “Give God the glory! We know that this Man is a sinner.” And in verse 34 they really rebuked the blind man when he tries to explain that Jesus must be from God. They said, "you were born in sin. Do you teach us? And they threw him out.” They were in the business of sending people to hell.
Now secondly, false spiritual leaders are cursed not only for exclusion, but for perversion. They not only keep them out of the true religion, but they corrupt people in their false religion. They pursue converts and make them perverts. Matthew 23:15, "Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you travel land and sea to win one proselyte, and when he is won, you make him twice as much a son of hell as yourselves.”
And so the Lord looks at these Pharisees and scribes and says you're just going around the whole part of the world you live in for one convert, for one proselyte, because they were busy trying to add to their numbers. When you are in a false religion it helps if other people join. Now there were two kinds of proselytes. One is there was what was called a proselyte of the gate and the others a proselyte of righteousness.
Now the proselyte of the gate was a Gentile who just attended the synagogue. He just barely got in the gate, that's the way they referred to him. He stopped worshipping his pagan deities and he started worshiping the true God. He is called two things in the book of Acts. He is called a worshiper of God in Acts 16:14 and Acts 18:7 or also called just a plain worshiper, Acts 13:50 and Acts 17:4 and 17.
But the other convert was the proselyte of righteousness. This was the guy who accepted everything these Pharisees and scribes taught. And so he became a self-righteous, legalistic, tradition keeping, law keeping, circumcised proselyte. This is what the Pharisees were after. Now there were many people who became ‘proselytes of the gate’ but very few became proselytes of righteousness. And that's why it says that they zealously go everywhere to get one convert.
And look what happens, you have made him two times more a child of hell than yourselves. Have you ever noticed that a convert to a cult is more zealous and aggressive for the cult than somebody raised in it? That can be said of Christianity. Frequently people saved out of the world and brought into Christ from an ungodly background are more zealous for their newfound faith than people that are raised up in it. And so they make a spiritual convert who turns out to be perverted becoming a son of hell.
Now the word hell in the Greek is ‘Gehenna’. This comes from a valley near Jerusalem called the valley of Hinnom. In the Old Testament time the worshipers of the god Molech burned their children there alive. Read 2 Chronicles 28: 3 and Jeremiah 2 and 7: 31. That valley then became identified with the worst kind of paganism, with the burning of human flesh of infants. And so that became the symbol of eternal burning, the place of constant fire and it became synonymous with hell.
Now let us close with just two things. One is this, if you're a Christian, you ought to be thankful that somewhere along the way in your life you met somebody who was a door opener, not a door closer, Amen? I thank God that I was raised in a Christian home with Christian parents who taught me the truth. And sometimes when you get a little uptight about the church because, you couldn't find a place to park your car or you didn't particularly care about the solo or the pastor wasn't very good that day, get things in perspective will you?
The one thing you can bless God for is that at this place you're hearing the truth and you have heard the saving truth. And it may have been not here, but somewhere else that someone gave you the saving truth. And you have the responsibility to praise and thank God for the place you are where the truth is preached and taught and lived and believed. And I hope you're grateful for that with all of its imperfections.
Secondly, dear friends, if you're a Christian, you are a kingdom door opener, do you understand that? You have to be out there calling people away from the closed doors to the open one. In other words, we have been given the keys to the kingdom. We know how people are to come in. We understand the truth of the gospel and it's our tremendous responsibility to open that door to folks and to call them out of those false systems. Don't be afraid, call these false religions for what they are.
Sometimes if you have courage to say the truth to people, you will plant a thought in their mind they can't get away from. On several occasions when the doorbell ringers come and want to teach you about some cult, just give them a fast list of the things that Jesus called these false teachers. You are a hypocrite and a false teacher, and just say: I'm not interested in talking to you.
I will be happy to open the door to the kingdom and share with you the truth. But I will not listen to your damning lies and let them go away with that in their mind. Instead of going away thinking they have defeated you in a debate there needs to be a confrontation. And you have to be sensitive to the Holy Spirit as to how you should do that, but we need to be calling people away. As Jude 1:23 says, we need to save others by snatching them out of the fire. Well, let us pray.