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

The Great Debate

Matthew 12:22-50 and Luke 11

Do you know who I would love to see debate in a globally televised event? Jesus and the Pharisees. Sure, Jesus could take on the whole crew of them. For people who had so much in common, they sure were polar opposites.

What did Jesus and the Pharisees have in common? They were from the same family. They could trace their ancestry back to Abraham. They were Jews born at the same time in history. Both Jesus and the Pharisees knew well and deeply appreciated the Old Testament scriptures. They both knew the importance of the coming Messiah the Jews anticipated. They both spoke of how to please God and urged people to follow the way they laid out in order to be saved in the life to come. They had so much in common. Imagine what they could have done together for God’s work – if only the Pharisees hadn’t been so pharisaical.

The Pharisees loved the law of Moses so much (as well as the additions they added to the Law to make themselves look even more saintly) that they were blinded to the true Messiah in front of them. In the end they were much more interested in making themselves look good (and pointing out others’ shortcomings) than in doing what God actually desired – and that is a dangerous place to be.

In today’s reading we come across a few topics that would surely come up in our much anticipated debate between the Pharisees and Jesus.

The Pharisees felt threatened by Jesus’ growing popularity and his displays of God’s power. But, rather than accepting him for who he was showing himself to be – they preferred creating lies and rumors for something they didn’t fully understand. So, when the crowd was amazed at Jesus’ healing of a demon possessed man, the Pharisees tried to explain it away by saying Jesus must be working with Beelzebub, the prince of demons (Matthew 12:24 & Luke 11:15). I don’t think I would take that very well, but Jesus calmly rebuttals that if indeed Satan were working at driving out Satan, his house wouldn’t be standing for long. He goes on to say that from evil you can expect evil, but from good you can expect good – for what is stored up in a man overflows for all to see and hear. And, he reminds them that there is a day coming when all will be judged for “every careless word they have spoken.” (Matthew 12:36)

But, they fail to realize the wisdom and truth and warnings Jesus spoke. So, the debate topics continue. They notice Jesus didn’t wash his hands before he ate (this definitely sounds like a debate topic that could be used today against a political opponent – times never change). Jesus counters with a truth stinger – the Pharisees spend so much time making sure they look good on the outside, but they neglect the more important work of cleaning up their own greed and wickedness on the inside. They are so busy harping on the itty-bitty showing-off, do-good outside acts (like tithing on the produce from their herb garden) and expecting praise for their goodness – but they completely overlook the weighty matters of justice and God’s love. In trying to make themselves look holy, they have neglected to care for others. And Jesus was telling them that is a dangerous place to be. Judgment will also be coming for today’s Pharisees.

Thankfully, there is another option. Jesus laid it out. Be his family – accept who Jesus is – do the will and work of his Father in heaven – not your own selfish agenda, or what will make you look good in the eyes of today’s twisted Pharisees who try to tell us how to be godly but have totally missed the boat themselves. Draw closer to Jesus than you ever have been before so you can tell the difference between the truth that he offers and the lies of the Pharisees. Your life depends on it – as well as the lives of those who are watching you.

There will be a time coming when the whole world will see and know who is the clear winner of this debate.

-Marcia Railton

Today’s Bible passage can be read or listened to at BibleGateway – Matthew 12:22-50 and Luke 11

Tomorrow we will read Matthew 13 and Luke 8 as we continue on our…

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