What do you want to be known for?

2 Kings 23-25; Proverbs 16

Life is fleeting. We’re all passing through this age like the grass of the field. Today we live. God holds tomorrow.

As I’ve finished the last three chapters of the book of 2nd Kings and read another chapter in Proverbs, I’ve thought about our time in this age. This age is short compared to eternity. What we do in it matters.

The lives of the final kings of Judah mattered and were recorded for us all to see. We know what each of those last 5 kings was forever known for. They can be summed up into two basic categories. A good king and evil kings.  

All but one of the last 5 kings of Judah were known for doing evil in the sight of Yahweh. If we included the whole lot of the kings of Judah and Israel to this list, there wouldn’t be a significant pendulum swing in the opposing direction towards Yahweh God.

When we come to the end of our earthly lives, what will we be known for? Will we be known for doing good or evil in the sight of God through Jesus Messiah?

The good kings, like Josiah were known for their hearts and humility, practicing obedience to God’s Law. Good kings did stumble but when they repented, they renewed their status with God.

If we want to be known for doing good in our day and age, similar qualifications apply. Good disciples of Jesus will be known for their hearts and humility, practicing obedience to the Law of Christ (aka producing fruit). 

The whole law can be summed up with one word. Love. Our “goodness” can be measured to the extent that we love as Christ loved. How did he love? He loved his God and served him alone with all of his heart, with all of his soul, with all of his mind, and with all of his strength. He loved his neighbor to the point of death on the cross.

When I come to the end of my life, I want to be known as a good disciple of Jesus Messiah. I want to hear my master say, “Well done, good and faithful servant!” If this is my heart, my life will reflect that.

-Juliet Taylor

Today’s Bible reading passage can be read or listened to at BibleGateway here – 2 Kings 23-25 and Proverbs 16

Love Your Enemy

2 Samuel 1-2 and Acts 10

How do you treat people you don’t understand, people who are different than you, people who have hurt you, people you feel threatened by, people who are troubled, those who have become your enemy?

Both our Old Testament and our New Testament reading today offers some options.

The relationship between King Saul and David began back in 1st Samuel 16. “Now the Spirit of the Lord had departed from Saul, and an evil spirit from the Lord tormented him.” (vs 14 – NIV). His advisors had heard of a fine young man who spoke well, played the harp well and bravely fought well. David was brought to the king and Saul liked him very much. It began as a helpful, mutually beneficial relationship. The shepherd boy David received a royal position as armor-bearer and musician. And Saul received relief from the evil spirit when David played his soothing music. It was a win-win – until the little harp-playing armor-bearer bested the Philistine giant and EVERYONE in Israel went gaga for the good-looking brave young hero. Saul became jealous and it isn’t long before Saul is pursuing and trying to kill David. How does David respond? He could have very likely led a successful revolt right from the start. He had many faithful followers at a time when Saul’s popularity was greatly declining. He also had many strong and logical reasons to oust the king. Wouldn’t the whole country of Israel be better off if led by a hero favored by the Lord rather than a has-been tormented by an evil spirit? He even had the support of the king’s son Jonathan. How long can you be loyal to a mentally unstable person who is trying to kill you?

But David, who made a practice of inquiring of the Lord, would not respond as so many others would have. Even when given the opportunity (at least twice) to kill Saul, he instead protected his life. David saw and respected Saul as God’s anointed king and so it didn’t matter how Saul treated him, he would not harm Saul. Revenge was not even in his vocabulary. He placed God’s desire above his own, even when it was hard and didn’t make sense to the rest of the world.

In 2nd Samuel 1 the Amalekite brings word that Saul and Jonathan are dead. He even takes credit for ending the life of the severely wounded king (even though this isn’t mentioned in the passage of Saul’s death in 2nd Samuel 31). But whether he did or he didn’t, he took the crown that had been on Saul’s head and brought it to David, the logical new king. I am sure he was expecting to be rewarded. It seems a logical thing to expect. It seems David would now be relieved, he didn’t have to kill the king personally, but it was done and he no longer had to hide and fear for his life. He could now become king. What good news!

But, no. His loyalty had been no act. He sincerely loved and cared for and wanted what was best for the tormented king, regardless of how he had been treated personally. The peaceful reconciliation he had hoped for had not come. David was in deep grief for his faithful friend Jonathan and for the troubled king who had been the Lord’s anointed. Rather than doing what had been expected of him long ago – killing the king – he now had the messenger who took credit for killing the king killed. And, in his grief he turned again to music, writing a lament to teach Israel to grief the deaths as he did.

In Acts 10 we see a different kind of fractured relationship – one that had never been allowed to develop – because Jews had always seen Gentiles as unclean. Jews and Gentiles had different upbringings, different religions, different nationalities, different goals, different understandings. God had been sanctifying the Jews – removing them from their worldly surroundings to keep them the holy, chosen people of God, untainted by others. And, so there had been many Jewish rules about not associating with Gentiles and with good reason at the time. But times were changing…and God was about to show what entering the new covenant was going to look like. The grace, love, and spirit of God was now going to be poured out on all who believed and followed Jesus, the perfect lamb and Son of God sacrificed for all regardless of whether they were a physical descendent of Abraham and Isaac and Jacob (a Jew) or not (a Gentile).

It is hard to overcome centuries of isolation and distrust. Different is different and too often it becomes a barrier to compassion, understanding, brotherhood, and working together for a common goal – sharing Jesus with the world. It took the good Jewish Peter 3 visions from God and a perfectly timed God-ordained appointment with the devout and God-fearing Gentile Cornelius to be willing to accept that God indeed wanted him to change his view of Gentiles and reach out to them with the saving news of Jesus as well.

How are you doing in your view of those different from you? Do you see their need for Jesus and what you can do to bring Jesus to them? Do you react with compassion, eager to share the good news of Jesus to all, not full of judgement and isolation? How do you react to those you might have once considered impure or unclean? Do you want what is best for those who have hurt you or misjudged you? Does God’s desire and love for the troubled and lost motivate you to put off selfish desires and rise above what others expect of you? How are you doing at loving your enemies?

-Marcia Railton

Today’s Bible reading passages can be read or listened to at BibleGateway here – 2 Samuel 1-2 and Acts 10

All You Need is Love

Ruth 3-4 and John 15

            “All you need is love.”  That song, written by John Lennon and sung by the Beatles in June 1967 (during the so-called “summer of love”)   was broadcast live and seen by over 400 million viewers in 25 countries at the time.  It was a kind of sappy, feel good, hippie anthem/anti-war protest song (this was during the height of the war in Viet Nam).

            The late 60’s was a time of radical change in America.  Young men were coming back from Viet Nam in body bags and people were burning their draft cards.  Desegregation was making strides through Dr. King’s call to non-violent protest and some progress was being made, until Dr. King was assassinated in Memphis in 1968 and peaceful protest turned to violent mobs.  As the 60’s gave way to the 70’s and 80’s many of the hippies grew up and became yuppies trading their free love,  pot and “make love, not war” peace signs for cocaine and dollar signs on Wall Street.

            Now we’re in 2021 and the BLM movement tells us that racism is still alive and well.  All that love that John Lennon said  was all we needed seems to be in short supply these days.

            Ruth is an interesting kind of love story that we need to study today.  It shows that true love makes sacrifices and takes risks for the benefit of others.  After Ruth’s husband dies and her father-in-law dies Ruth is encouraged to go back to her people and find another husband, but she loves her mother-in-law enough to sacrifice doing what is most convenient for her.  She goes to a foreign land where she lives a very marginal existence of grabbing the scraps of life.  She is a foreign woman without a husband living far from her family.  It was a perilous existence full of danger and risk, yet she does it out of love for Naomi.

            There are lots of interesting details to the story that no doubt get lost in 3000 years of cultural distance. Kinsmen redeemer is a foreign concept in our society.  In ancient Israel there were two things that mattered most- having an heir and having land that belongs to the family and stays in the family for generations.  When a man died without leaving behind a male child to continue the family name and inherit the land and care for the women in their old age it was up to the next available unmarried male relative to marry the widow and their child would actually be the heir of the son who died.  Many men didn’t like this set up and refused to participate in it.  It was a sacrificial act for a man to take on that responsibility for his dead relatives family and legacy.

            Boaz was a man of great character.  In many ways he could have taken advantage of Ruth’s helplessness and dependency and used her to his advantage.  He did not, instead, he looked out for her and her mother-in-law by making sure they received more than enough food.  He didn’t take advantage of her sexually, instead, he did what was right and at personal cost he took over the role of the kinsmen redeemer and made Ruth his wife and took care of Ruth’s mother-in-law, Naomi.  He acted in a very loving way toward Ruth and Naomi.  Ruth acted in a very loving way toward Naomi.  Naomi was protected and cared for.  Ruth was protected and cared for.  She and Boaz were blessed with a son.  That son, Obed was the grandfather to David who later became the King of Israel, and they were ancestors of Jesus.

            “All you need is Love.” There’s a lot of love in the story of Ruth. Love really is important, it’s foundational to everything.  But love must be rightly understood.  It’s more than what we typically think of as love – warm feelings, romantic notions and sappy songs are not what love is about.  Love is about commitment and sacrifice, it’s about doing what is hard in order to benefit the person you love.  Love is a willingness to take the less easy route.  Love is doing the right thing even when it would be easier and less complicated to do the wrong thing.

            Jesus takes up this theme of love in John 15.  He was about to go to the cross and suffer and die.  He is giving a message to his friends and disciples to sustain them through the difficult hours and days ahead.  The foundational message he gives them is love: “12 My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you. 13 Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. “

            Jesus teaches about love and exhorts them to love and then he shows them what love looks like by sacrificing himself as an offering for the sins of the world, his friends the disciples, and for us as well.  This love that Jesus demonstrates is a reflection of God’s love for us that is shown in giving his son, Jesus that we might have eternal life (see John 3:16).

            “All you need is love?”  Yes, if we mean the kind of love modeled by Ruth and Boaz which ultimately led to Jesus.  “All you need is love?”  Yes, if we mean the kind of love modeled by Jesus who gave his life for our sins and by God who gave His only begotten son for our salvation.  Love is not just peace signs and romantic songs- it’s commitment and sacrifice and placing the needs of others ahead of our wants and desires.  Who and how can you and I love today?

-Jeff Fletcher

Today’s Bible reading passages can be read or listened to at BibleGateway here – Ruth 3-4 and John 15

Your Reputation

John 3

What’s your reputation? The Bereans were known for checking Paul´s words against Scripture. Thomas was the doubter. Saul had a reputation for persecuting the Christians before he became Paul. The Pharisees were hypocrites.

The Pharisees were the religious leaders of the day, and at the time were esteemed by many. But in the eyes of God they were dangerous men who didn’t get it. Matthew 16:12 ¨Then at last they (the disciples) understood that he wasn’t speaking about the yeast in bread, but about the deceptive teaching of the Pharisees and Sadducees.¨ What a common misconception, right? The Pharisees had all the knowledge of the scriptures and Jewish traditions and laws. They were the teachers and leaders of the Jews. Yet Jesus rebukes them because they were missing a love for God.

This type of thinking reminds me of chapter 5 of Matthew where Jesus keeps on telling the people  that they have all heard what the law says but Jesus comes along and ¨tightens¨ up the law, by changing the outward focus inward- off of the laws and onto the heart. The Pharisees had all the knowledge of the scriptures and Jewish traditions and laws but no matter how much they seemed to do they missed the point- following God, not just the laws.

 From what the Bible tells us about the Pharisees we see them continually trying to trick Jesus into messing up, or catch him red handed going against God´s law. They are the ones who plotted and killed Jesus! With the exception of Gamaliel and Nicodemus and Paul, the Pharisees are recorded as hypocrites, blind guides, lovers of  money, and a brood of vipers. (Matthew 23:23-24, Luke 16:14, 12:34) The Pharisees´ hated Jesus and everything he did and said.

In John 3 we see Nicodemus, a Pharisee, come to Jesus at night. Even to come at night had to have taken guts. But when Jesus tells him that one must be born again before they can see the Kingdom of God, he is stuck in his thinking as a Pharisee. But he knows Jesus is different from the rest of the Jewish teachers. Later on in John, Nicodemus makes steps in not following the Pharisees when he convinces his colleagues to allow a trial for Jesus, and when Jesus was laid in the tomb, it was Nicodemus who provided the myrrh and aloes and worked with Joseph of Arimathea to care for the lifeless body of Jesus.

What do you want to be known for? Nicodemus could have been a stereotypical Pharisee but he stepped out to learn from Jesus, the Son of God. He wanted to follow God instead of people. 

-Makayla Railton

Today’s Bible passages can be read or listened to at BibleGateway here Joshua 23-24 and John 3

Known & Loved

Luke 22:39-71

After Jesus finished the Passover meal with his disciples, he retreated to the Mount of Olives, which is just outside of Jerusalem, to pray. While there, he was arrested by a crowd led by Judas, one of his own disciples. Jesus’s choice to stay at the Mount of Olives was significant for two reasons: 

  1. Jesus knew Judas would betray him. 

In a previous conversation among the disciples, Jesus predicts that one of the twelve would betray him, even calling out Judas by name (John 13). The very night of the Last Supper, he makes a similar remark: 

“The hand of him who is going to betray me is with mine on the table” (Luke 22:21). 

  1. Judas knew Jesus would be at the Mount of Olives. 

During the week leading up to Jesus’s death, he and his disciples had spent every night at the Mount of Olives: 

Each day Jesus was teaching at the temple, and each evening he went out to spend the night on the hill called the Mount of Olives” (Luke 21:37). 

Judas surely knew where Jesus would be on this particular night, yet Jesus didn’t try to hide. 

Instead, Jesus invited Judas to his table to eat dinner together. 

Jesus stayed the night in the very place Judas knew he would be. 

You and I were a lot like Judas. We were full of ugly thoughts, misguided intentions, mixed-up priorities, and shameful feelings. Jesus saw our filthy sin, yet he invited us into his presence to give us freedom from it. The greatest irony is that the person who knows our flaws best, loves us the greatest. 

You are fully known, and yet you are deeply loved.

But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us. (Romans 5:8)

-Mackenzie McClain

Today’s Bible reading passages can be read or listened to at BibleGateway here – Deuteronomy 29-30 and Luke 22:39-71.

Loving the God who Loves You

Deuteronomy 13-14

You have been hand-selected to be a highly-valued and cherished child of the Most High and living God, the Creator of the ends of the earth. 

Do you believe that? I mean, do you truly and wholeheartedly accept that this is true?

So many people long to have confirmed that they belong and that they have purpose.

You, my friend in faith, have been confirmed for both! 

As if the verses from today’s reading don’t state it plainly, let’s look elsewhere in the New Testament. According to Ephesians 2:19, You are a member of God’s household.

And in the same chapter, just 9 verses before, it declares that you are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for you to accomplish! 

If you accept your position and your purpose, then you need to start acting like it. 

  • Honor God by worshipping Him alone; avoid and get rid of anything, or anyone, that could lead you astray. (Deuteronomy 13)
  • Honor God by taking care of your body. (Deuteronomy 14:1-21). While this section of the chapter is referring to clean and unclean foods, something that the Israelites had to pay close attention to, we can extend the meaning to modern times and consider what we put into our bodies. 
  • Honor God with your stuff and by being generous to those in need. (Deuteronomy 14:22-29) 

Friend, God loves you more than you can possibly imagine. Love Him back, with all that you are. 

-Bethany Ligon

You can read or listen to today’s Bible passages at BibleGateway here – Deuteronomy 13-14 and Luke 15

In His Presence

Leviticus 25-27 and Psalm 31-32

We have learned so much as we finish the book of Leviticus. Chapter 26 begins with a warning from the LORD. The Israelites are told not to make any object to became an object of worship. We can look at the Israelites throughout their history and become very critical. They succumb many times to the worship of idols. Every generation had to make the choice to follow the LORD God or to worship the false gods that the Israelites had allowed into their culture. Even future Kings would face this choice and unfortunately many choose to devote their lives to idols.  But I also have to wonder if we are not making that same choice today? Are there false gods in our lives? For example, we don’t create our own electronic devices and bow down to them, but perhaps we spend hours surfing, checking out what is on social media, texting, gaming, … When something is receiving our focus and taking our attention away from God, we should consider it a negative. We are allowing something to get in the way of our relationship with God. Anything or any person that negatively affects our connection with God is a modern-day idol.  In Colossians we are told that sexual immorality, impurity, lust, evil desires and greed are idolatry. (Col. 3:5) It states that we should put these actions to death. But it is not enough just to remove the idols, we need for God to change our hearts.  When our hearts are filled with love for God, our actions start to align with what God wants us to do.

As God explained to the Israelites, they needed to observe His Sabbaths, show reverence for His sanctuary, follow His decrees and obey His commands to receive amazing blessings. Then He would walk among them, He would be their God and they would be His people. How incredible is that?! We are presented with a choice to make today as well. We can enter into a loving relationship with God. We can ask Him to make our love for Him and others strong. We can invite God to be the center of our lives. We can place our focus on His Son Jesus Christ. We can live in His presence by the power of His spirit. God is still reaching out to us, His people. He offers us blessings and the greatest one is to be in His presence.

May he strengthen your hearts so that you will be blameless and holy in the presence of our God and Father when our Lord Jesus comes with all his holy ones. 1 Thessalonians 3:13

-Rebecca Dauksas

Links to today’s Bible reading – Leviticus 25-27 and Psalm 31-32

Making Breakthroughs

In Exodus 21 and 22 God lays down many laws for the Israelites to follow in order to try and establish them as a functioning and stable nation.  There is a lot in there about how to judge between two people when somebody is injured, or commandments to respect parents and authorities, or punishments for thieves.  Some of the laws, like the ones about how to deal with slaves, are quite outdated, but I think some of them can be very beneficial to us even today.

Exodus 22

21 “You must not mistreat or oppress foreigners in any way. Remember, you yourselves were once foreigners in the land of Egypt.

I think this is a good message today for how to treat foreigners and to help us realize that every person is a child of God and has value in his eyes, and that Jesus died for them as well.  But I think it also can apply to us when we look at unsaved people, because at some point in our lives we were all wandering away from God, and so we really cannot judge others who are currently living outside of God’s will too harshly, we need to humbly chase after them with love in hopes of helping them to find the grace of God that we have, not hit them over the head with a Bible so that we can let them know how wrong they are.

Meanwhile during Jesus’ ministry he is healing people and miraculously feeding thousands of people and is starting to get through to his disciples.  

Mark 8

15 As they were crossing the lake, Jesus warned them, “Watch out! Beware of the yeast of the Pharisees and of Herod.”

16 At this they began to argue with each other because they hadn’t brought any bread. 17 Jesus knew what they were saying, so he said, “Why are you arguing about having no bread? Don’t you know or understand even yet? Are your hearts too hard to take it in? 18 ‘You have eyes—can’t you see? You have ears—can’t you hear?’ Don’t you remember anything at all? 19 When I fed the 5,000 with five loaves of bread, how many baskets of leftovers did you pick up afterward?”

“Twelve,” they said.

20 “And when I fed the 4,000 with seven loaves, how many large baskets of leftovers did you pick up?”

“Seven,” they said.

21 “Don’t you understand yet?” he asked them.

Even after he had produced food out of nothing they were still thinking about physical food, not the deeper meanings of Jesus’ messages, but just a few verses later we see a breakthrough with Peter.

Mark 8

27 Jesus and his disciples left Galilee and went up to the villages near Caesarea Philippi. As they were walking along, he asked them, “Who do people say I am?”

28 “Well,” they replied, “some say John the Baptist, some say Elijah, and others say you are one of the other prophets.”

29 Then he asked them, “But who do you say I am?”

Peter replied, “You are the Messiah.”

I can imagine the relief that Jesus must have felt knowing that finally these think-headed, hard-hearted, best friends of his were starting to understand that he was doing something much deeper than just feeding people.  He was changing their hard hearts to love others the way he loved them.  He feels that same joy when we spend time studying his word and spending time with other believers and start to understand and reflect him more.

Chris Mattison

Links to today’s Bible reading – Exodus 21-22 and Mark 8

Darkness

Exodus 9-10

                In today’s reading the plagues continue:  livestock, boils, hail, locusts and darkness.  The plagues reap destruction on their food supplies and on their bodies.  God declares to Pharaoh His purpose for sending the plagues: “I have raised you up for this very purpose, that I might show you my power and that my name might be proclaimed in all the earth.” (Exodus 9:16)

                Once again, Pharaoh continues his predictable response: plague comes, Pharaoh says he repents and will let them go, the plague is lifted, Pharaoh hardens his heart and refuses to let them go.

                All of the plagues are bad but the 9th plague is of particular interest: darkness.  In my younger days I sang with a choir and performed Handel’s Messiah.  I was given the privilege of singing the bass recitative: “For behold, darkness shall cover the earth…” (If you’ve never listened to it check it out: “For Behold…The people that walked in darkness”, Philippe Sly, Julian Wachner – YouTube )

                The next year I was in college at George Mason University and we sang Handel’s Israel in Egypt and I sang the bass recitative “He sent a thick darkness over the land, even darkness which might be felt.”  Nearly 40 years later I still have vivid memories of our first performance of this, I was battling strep throat and spent the whole day nursing my throat with honey, lemon and salt water so that I could sing my solo that night (check it out here: Israel in Egypt, HWV 54, Pt. II: Part II: He sent a thick darkness over all the land (Chorus) – YouTube)  In fact you might want to listen to the entire Oratorio Israel in Egypt by GF Handel.

                In both of these Handel works with the Biblical texts and colors them with the accompanying music.  You can almost feel the darkness.  What does three days of thick darkness feel like?  How disoriented would it be for an entire nation to be blanketed in darkness?

                Jesus later used darkness to get Saul/Paul’s attention.  Saul was blinded for three days (Acts 9:9)  until Ananias prayed over him and the scales fell from his eyes and his sight was restored.  Paul responded by literally “seeing the light”  and he become a lifelong follower of Jesus Christ.  He immediately got up and was baptized into Jesus Christ.

                What happened after Pharaoh came out of three days of darkness?  You guessed it, his heart was once again hardened.  It was harder than ever.  After 9 plagues, 9 times God gave him a chance to repent after seeing God’s power at work. 9 Times Pharaoh had the chance to proclaim God’s greatness to all the earth.  9 times Pharaoh hardened his heart.

            Psalm 103 reminds us that:

The Lord works righteousness
    and justice for all the oppressed.

He made known his ways to Moses,
    his deeds to the people of Israel:

The Lord is compassionate and gracious,
    slow to anger, abounding in love.

                God balances His love and desire to see justice for the oppressed with his compassion and gracious love for the oppressor.  In the story God loves both His oppressed people Israel represented by Moses and He loves His children mired in pride and power who oppress his people, the Egyptians represented by Pharaoh.  God demonstrates His patience to Pharaoh by giving him 9 chances to repent.  God also demonstrates His love and faithfulness to Israel by limiting Pharaoh.

Peter later picks up this same theme in II Peter 3:9-10- “The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. Instead he is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.

 But the day of the Lord will come like a thief. The heavens will disappear with a roar; the elements will be destroyed by fire, and the earth and everything done in it will be laid bare.”

God was patient with Pharaoh, “Love is patient”.  But God was also merciful to Israel, God’s love and patience have limits.  Pharaoh was about to discover the limits of God’s patience.   It would cost him and all of Egypt their firstborn sons.

                How will America and the world respond to our current “plague” the Covid-19 Pandemic?  Will we soften our hearts and repent and turn to God and forsake our sins and put our full faith and trust in God?  Or will we harden our hearts again?  How much longer will God be patient and give opportunities to repent?  When will God finally say- it’s time to fully and finally set my people and all of the earth free from this dreaded curse of sin and death?  It’s time to bring about the final judgment?

                I don’t know and you don’t know.  But learn the lesson from Pharaoh and don’t test the limits of God’s patience and mercy.  May the scales fall from our eyes, may the thick darkness of sin and unbelief that covers our land be lifted.

-Jeff Fletcher

Links to today’s Bible readingExodus 9-10 and Mark 2

Blind Guides

Today’s Bible Reading – Matthew 23 and Genesis 45 & 46

Yesterday we got to spend our whole devotion thinking about a great party and the thrill of receiving an invitation from God to honor His Son. Today – no such fun. The parties and parables are gone and today, in Matthew 23, we read only of strong warnings, harsh words, and blasting condemnation. This is the last recorded time in the book of Matthew that Jesus addresses the crowds. This is what he is going to leave with them – too important to not say. Anyone who believes Jesus would never condemn because he just loved people no matter what, just full of overflowing forgiveness and love, could benefit from a little sit down with Matthew 23.

It is clear that Jesus was not happy with these Pharisees and teachers of the law. He starts by warning the crowd to not be like the Pharisees as he begins describing them: they don’t practice what they preach, they make it harder for people to be godly, they love being honored by men and they pridefully exalt themselves. And then, speaking directly to the Pharisees and teachers of the law he lets loose on what has become known as the “7 Woes”. Six times he will begin with “Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites!” and once with “Woe to you, blind guides.” Jesus uses some choice language to describe these men: son of hell, blind guides, blind fools, blind men (notice a pattern?), snakes and brood of vipers.

So, what in the world were these people doing that was so bad to receive this 7 part hellfire sermon. After all, we know Jesus often responded to people’s sins with mercy, grace and forgiveness and the all-important chance to start over. He hadn’t called the lying cheating thieving Zacchaeus a son of hell? What was different here?

The Pharisees and teachers of the law were supposed to be the ones to guide people to God. The Wiersbe Bible Commentary suggests there were about 6,000 Pharisees at the time – mostly middle-class businessmen who had devoted themselves to being separate – becoming the religious leaders who would show the Jews how to please God. And, some were indeed authentic in this quest (Nicodemus and Joseph of Arimathea are two named in Scripture). The crowd gathered was likely shocked to hear Jesus speaking of and to the Pharisees in this way because they had been taught (at least by the Pharisees themselves) to revere the position and spiritual leadership held by this Jewish sect.

What started out as a good goal became warped and ungodly. As the Pharisees kept puffing themselves up there was no room left for what really pleases God. They had become blind guides. And it is obviously very dangerous to follow a blind guide. They could lead you straight to somewhere you don’t want to go. And that is exactly the warning Jesus was giving the Pharisees and the crowd. “You shut the kingdom of heaven in men’s faces. You yourselves do not enter, nor will you let those enter who are trying to.” (Matthew 23:13 NIV).

The Pharisees loved the law and specialized in knowing and enforcing each and every little detail of a long long list of do’s and don’ts. This, they thought, would make God happy. But all the while they neglected the larger heart issues of justice, mercy and faithfulness. They mastered in the dotting of i’s and crossing of t’s, but failed to see that the novel they were writing with their lives was tearing down every attempt others were making to please God. They were quick to point out other’s errors, but saw none of their own. It became most important to them to look good before man. So important that they forgot about how to actually look good before God. They were puffed up and proud, greedy and selfish.


It is easy to read this chapter and shake my head and point my finger and say, “Boy, I’m glad I am not like one of them.” But, in so doing – I become like one of them.

Dear God, help me to do what is right – with a heart that is right. May I see the error of the Pharisee’s ways – and my own – and work to clean up my own insides. Help me be humble and not seek the honor of men. Open my eyes to who you are and what truly pleases you. Open my ears to the teachings of your Son, to not just know it but to live it. Help me guide others to you, not armed with a legalistic checklist, but with a heart of justice, mercy and faithfulness. In your precious Son’s name, I pray.

-Marcia Railton