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Matthew 23

From Woes to Worship

Sermon Notes + Quotes

We study through books of the Bible here at The Village Chapel and we do have extra copies. If you would like one, raise your hand up real high and someone will drop one off at your row, your aisle so that you can follow along in the text. This certainly is the Sunday you want the text in front of you, if there was a Sunday that you wanted to make sure you have it in front of you. You can follow along. This is an unusual text, one that is probably not preached very often and I’m so excited. I love that kind of a challenge and at the same time I respect it wholeheartedly. There are probably many reasons why different pastors don’t spend much time in this text, but we’re going to call our study of Matthew “The King and His Kingdom.” We’re also going to call this particular study “From Woes to Worship.”

As we come to Matthew 23, the context in the calendar of the first century is this is Passover Week. Jerusalem, the hillside roads and the temple precincts are jammed with pilgrims who have come for the feast. They do this three times a year and this is one of the most important occasions. There’s also mounting tension in the air between the religious leadership of the day and Jesus.

We’ve been talking about that over the last couple of chapters. Who in the world does this son of a carpenter turned rabbi, turned healer, turned now a most prophetic voice think He is? Where does His authority come from? Where’d He get it? Questions like that are being asked and He is besting them in every confrontation, but we find ourselves drawn in because of that kind of tension we’re reading about and perhaps wondering what will ultimately happen between them.

Even though a lot of us know the stories. We’ll look back through history. Sometimes with prominent characters like Jesus, we find that their final public words or their public statement often carries a lot of gravitas, a lot of weight, and lingers for a long, long time because it was the last thing they said to everybody. And we are now in Matthew chapter 23, going to be reading the final very public sermon of Jesus. He’ll say more, but it’ll be to smaller groups from here on out. What was Jesus thinking here as He delivers this withering rebuke of the religious leaders for their spiritual corruption and self-aggrandizement?

What was He thinking? What was His purpose, His “telos” in all of this? What was His design intended purpose for doing that publicly? I’m going to suggest to you that it is a beautiful purpose and that you’ll see that today. What, if anything, of what Jesus had to say to them that day might also apply to us in our own time, in our life with God? And I hope that you’ll see that it does. Turn to Matthew 23. Then remember how we closed out what we call chapter 22, though Matthew’s writing did not include chapter breaks or verse breaks.

So, He’s going right from no one was able to answer Jesus a word, nor did anyone dare from that day on to ask Him another question. It was very much a “mic drop” in the religious world and very much a time where they had been bested so many times that Matthew records it this way – that there was not going to be any more of that. Now, what happens next is sobering. Jesus spoke to the multitudes and His disciples saying, “The scribes and Pharisees have seated themselves in the chair of Moses.” The word, chair is “cathedra.” The Pope when he speaks is said to speak “ex-cathedra” – from the chair.

In our symphonies, we have first chair, second chair, third chair. These people had set themselves in the chair of Moses. In the ancient synagogues, there would often be an actual stone platform for the rabbis to sit on from which to preach. That was called “The Chair of Moses.” Now, Jesus is simply saying they’ve seated themselves. The presumption is that they are self-appointed. “And therefore, all that they tell you do and observe, but do not do according to their deeds for they say things and do not do them.”

In other words, Jesus is saying, “Do what they say, don’t do what they do.” Because what they do doesn’t line up with what they say. Their walk does not match their talk. And when they are speaking from The Chair of Moses, if they’re speaking about the laws of God, they don’t live up to their own understanding of the laws of God.

Verse 4, “They tie up heavy loads and lay them on men’s shoulders, but they themselves are unwilling to move them with so much as a finger. But they do all their deeds to be noticed by men.” Here’s their motive. He’s exposing their motive. “For they broaden their phylacteries and lengthen their tassels on their garments.” A phylactery would be an old leather, perhaps a little box or a little pouch where they would have inside written a scripture or a prayer or something. And so, they would broaden their phylacteries, lengthen the tassels of their garments. Remember the woman who burst through the crowd, fought her way through the crowd, just to touch the tassel of Jesus’ robe hoping it would heal her? There was a lot of respect for some of the outer garb of people back in that day and what it represented.

Verse 6, these folk that are so given to want to be seen by others and practice their religion for that reason. “They love the place of honor at banquets and the chief seats in the synagogues and respectful greetings in the marketplaces and being called by men, rabbi.” Or in our time reverend. And on and on it goes. “But do not be called rabbi, for one is your teacher and you are all brothers. Do not call anyone on earth your father for one is your father, he who is in heaven. And do not be called leaders for one is your leader that is Christ. But the greatest among you shall be your servant. Whoever exalts himself shall be humbled. Whoever humbles himself shall be exalted. We would do so well to learn from this.”

I’ve never been much for titles myself, and I don’t say that because I’ve worked really hard at that disposition of mind. I grew up with a great deal of skepticism about the leaders that I saw. Maybe you have that kind of skepticism about the leaders that you see in a lot of different corners of the world or corners of life. There is a great deal of institutional skepticism right now. Some of it properly so, I would say. But especially when it comes to our life with God and in spiritual leadership roles. Jesus here is saying, “Let’s not put the emphasis on you being affirmed by people.” We’re just creating little monsters if we do that. We’re already given to spiritual narcissism. We don’t need to feed that beast is what Jesus is basically saying.

Again, if you ever call me Reverend Thomas, I will assume it’s the first time you’ve ever met me. If mail comes into this church for The Right Reverend Thomas, it goes in the trash. There isn’t such a person here at this church. And yet we work so hard with our titles. The right reverend, doctor, high potentate, eminence. Do I look like a high potentate to you? I mean, it’s just crazy. And we get things all out of whack when we do that.

Now, the next few verses here are quite sobering and I’m going to ask you to help me if you will, okay? I want you guys over here. This is to keep you awake a little bit partly, but it’s so sobering. I don’t think you’ll have trouble staying awake. And I don’t want you to think this is just a youth group exercise. Jesus takes this so seriously that He repeats these words seven, eight times if you include verse 14, which some of the earlier manuscript copies don’t include. But it’s so well aligns with Mark 12:40 that it is something Jesus would’ve said. Now I need your help. If you [pointing to right side of the congregation] all will say, “Woe to you.”

People on right: Woe to you.

And if you [pointing to left side of the congregation] all would simply say, “Hypocrites.”

People on left: Hypocrites.

Pastor Jim: Okay. When I point, I want to hear it.

People on right: Woe to you.

People on left: Hypocrites.

Okay. Now, let’s get the chuckles out because Jesus is serious, and I want us to be serious about this. Hypocrisy is one of the main reasons people say they don’t go to church. They fail to recognize a couple of things. Number one, the fact that literally everyone on the planet is a hypocrite is the first thing. The second thing is they are a hypocrite themselves. If you want to get away from hypocrisy, you have to leave the planet. And even then, you’ll still be with yourself.

So, Christians, church people do not have a corner on hypocrisy, but for Jesus, look how seriously He takes this. He denounces seven different times. I’m going to ask you to help me read verse 13. If you can keep your eyes on your page and at the same time watch for me to signal your side. Are we ready? Verse 13. But…

People on right: “Woe to you…”

Pastor Jim: “… scribes and Pharisees…”

People on left: “… hypocrites…”

Pastor Jim: “… because you shut off the kingdom of heaven from men, for you do not enter in yourselves, nor do you allow those who are entering to go.” And verse 14.

People on right: “Woe to you…”

Pastor Jim: “… scribes and Pharisees…”

People on left: “… hypocrites…”

Pastor Jim: “… because you devour widows’ houses, even while for a pretense, you make long prayers, therefore you shall receive greater condemnation.”

People on right: “Woe to you…”

Pastor Jim: “… scribes and pharisees…”

People on left: “… hypocrites…”

Pastor Jim: You’re waning. “Because you travel about on sea and land to make one proselyte and when he becomes one, you make him twice as much a son of hell as yourselves.”

People on right: “Woe to you…”

Pastor Jim: “… blind guides who say whoever swears by the temple, that is nothing, but whoever swears by the gold of the temple, he’s obligated. You fools and blind men. Which is more important, the gold or the temple that sanctified the gold? And whoever swears by the altar, that is nothing. But whoever swears by the offering on it, he’s obligated. You blind men. Which is more important, the offering or the altar that sanctifies the offering? Therefore, he who swears, swears both by the altar and by everything on it. He who swears by the temple swears both by the temple and by him who dwells within it. He who swears by heaven swears both by the throne of God and by him who sits upon it.”

People on right: “Woe to you…”

Pastor Jim: “… scribes and pharisees…”

People on left: “… hypocrites.”

Pastor Jim: “For you tithe mint, and dill, cumin and have neglected the weightier provisions of the law, justice, mercy, faithfulness. But these are the things you should have done without neglecting the others. You blind guides. Who strain out a gnat, yet swallow a camel.”

People on right: “Woe to you…”

Pastor Jim: “… scribes and Pharisees…”

People on left: “… hypocrites.”

“For you clean the outside of the cup and of the dish, but inside they’re full of robbery and self-indulgence. You blind Pharisees. First clean the inside of the cup and of the dish so that the outside of it may become clean also.”

People on right: “Woe to you…”

Pastor Jim: “… scribes and pharisees…”

People on left: “… hypocrites.”

Pastor Jim: “For you are like whitewashed tombs, which on the outside are beautiful, but inside they are full of dead men’s bones and all uncleanness. Even so you two outwardly appear righteous to men, but inwardly you are full of hypocrisy and lawlessness.”

People on right: “Woe to you…

Pastor Jim: “… scribes and Pharisees…”

People on left: “… hypocrites.”

Pastor Jim: “For you build the tombs of the prophets and adorn the monuments of the righteous and say if we had been living in the days of our fathers, we would not have been partners with them in shedding the blood of the prophets. Consequently, you bear witness against yourselves that you are sons of those who murdered the prophets, fill up then the measure of the guilt of your fathers. You serpents, you bred of vipers. How shall you escape the sentence of hell?”

“Therefore, behold, I am sending you prophets and wise men and scribes. Some of them you will kill and crucify, some of them you will scourge in your synagogues and persecute from city to city that upon you may fall the guilt of all the righteous bloodshed on earth from the blood of the righteous Able to the blood of Zechariah, the son of Barachiah whom you murdered between the temple and the altar. Truly, I say to you, all these things shall come upon this generation.”

And then there’s this really amazing change in tone in verse 37 and Matthew catches it as he’s recording the words of his savior, his master, his rabbi, and teacher, Jesus. It’s almost like you can sense a very pregnant pause here and the changes to lament, from denouncement to lament. What in the world would motivate that in Jesus? “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem who kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to her! How often I wanted to gather your children together the way a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, and you were unwilling. [Here He is standing in the temple.] Your house is being left to you desolate. For I say to you, from now on, you shall not see me until you say, ‘Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.’”

In that last little section, we’ve just come from divine judgment to an expression of divine lament and a reminder of divine mercy. It is really powerful because from 38 right up to that last verse, we’ve literally been listening to Jesus excoriate, scold, denounce, warn and condemn with woes this group of people who have failed miserably, spiritually speaking. These leaders, He talked to them directly beginning at verse 13. And back to verse 1, He sets that up beautifully all the way through verse 12 talking about hypocrisy, talking about the fact that this isn’t for posers and pretenders, the Gospel is not that at all. It’s not for those who seek to maintain prestige, privilege and power.

That’s not who the Gospel is for, but it’s for those who will turn in humility and receive something they can’t achieve on their own. Religion is so often can be reduced down to behavior modification. The Gospel is not behavioral modification. The Gospel is heart transformation that leads to a change in direction, but it’s a work of God. It’s not a work of Jim following the rules and checking all the boxes and getting all his titles squared away, snugly in place so everybody respects him. No, this is something that God does.

Matthew 23, wow, what a chapter this is! A lot of people today do their posing and pretending on social media, don’t they? Some still use the archaic form I grew up with called a bumper sticker. A lot of people pontificate via bumper sticker. Sometimes it’s just to make a public statement. Sometimes they just want to philosophize a little without engaging in a discussion. They sort of resort to a reductionist sloganeering approach to sort of making a statement about the political views they have or the social movement they’re a part of, and some of them even want to make a religious statement.

Some are Christian, some are indifferent and trying to say there is no such thing as God. Others are even anti-Christian, but here’s just a few. Some of them are humorous and some of them are not. I love this one. “There are three kinds of people. Those who can count and those who can’t.”

A couple of you are still awake. It’s good. I love this. “Consciousness, that annoying time between naps.” Now, when I see that on a bumper sticker, I smile because I know that that person is my friend. “Give me ambiguity or give me something else.” It’s good. I love this one: “Very funny, Scotty. Now beam down my clothes.” It’s just people over 40 get that, right? The rest of you, the young ones are going, “Who’s Scotty? What’s that? Scotty Smith? Who is that? What’s going on?”

I love this one. “Be nice to your kids. They’re likely going to choose your nursing home.” I like this one. “Sometimes I wake up grumpy, other times I just let her sleep.” That has nothing to do with my house. Just going on record here. That’s just a slogan. That’s all it is. It’s not about what happens in my house at all. I like this one too: “We are meta. Resistance is futile. You will be assimilated.”

They get religious sometimes. “Be fishers of men. You catch them, he’ll clean them.” Starting to get hokey, isn’t it? I know all of you going, “Heh, heh.” Well, I’m the same way. “A family altar can alter a family.” I mean we’ve heard that, right? This is my favorite one: “Lord, protect me from your followers.” I’ve quoted that one many times here in church. What do we do with these sayings of Jesus? It’s really interesting to me. This is his last public preachment in the temple precinct.

When we opened up Matthew and we got to chapter 4, it was all about the person of Christ. Matthew 5 starts to become about the principles of Christ. And it opens up with eight statements that begin with the same word. Anybody remember what that word is in English? Blessed. Yeah. It’s fascinating to me that His pedagogy, His artful teaching approach is book ended this way. Here He makes seven or eight, depends on how you count them, just as with the beatitudes, it’s eight or nine.

But here, He’s using a similar kind of number. But what He’s doing is the opposite of pronouncing the blessed life. This is the woeful life. This is the life of woe. This is the wasted opportunity. This is the person who has turned away from all that God has to offer in a belligerent sort of way. They are called hypocrites seven times and then the word hypocrisy, if you want to add it in, it’s the same Greek word. That’s also in there as well.

They’re also called the sons of hell, and that’s not a motorcycle gang back then. There were no motorcycles. He means the literal sons of hell. Blind guides are called blind two or three times actually. Fools. And again, let’s take Him seriously. You really want to be seen as a fool? Laughed at? Not laughed with but laughed at. Blind men, whitewashed tombs. Back then in Jerusalem, so many people would come for these feasts, and they literally would go around and wash the tombs down because if you accidentally touched them, you would become unclean and not be able to go to temple and offer your sacrifice.

Lawless, sons of those who murdered the prophets, serpents, brood of vipers – the idea of saying sons of those who murdered the prophets is that you will follow in your father’s footsteps doing the same kind of thing. The woes of Jesus include these items. Obstruction. Look at verse 13 for just a second. Look at what He says here. “You shut off the kingdom of heaven for men. You don’t enter yourselves and you don’t allow others to enter it either.” And this has a setting in space time, history. What’s being done? What is Jesus doing right here? But let me remind all of us that the Word of God is living and active, that the Word of God is profitable for us as well.

So, as I read this, and I had this list in front of me all week long, I taught on this passage before and I remembered the list of eight things. I kept that little Post-it note right in my Bible with these words and I’m praying all week long. Lord, where I’m obstructing, please Lord, help me not, obstruct, especially others. I don’t want people to look at me and think, “Oh, if that’s what a Christian is, I’m not interested.” I don’t want people to look at me and go, “He says one thing. He’s got the title, but he doesn’t really mean it. He’s actually an actor wearing a mask. He’s a hypocrite.”

Extortion. Verse 14, in this verse that is not in some of the earlier manuscripts and yet in Mark chapter 14, you can read the same principle. You devour widows’ houses, taking advantage of these vulnerable people, and you devour their houses. In other words, you literally are a thief and a robber, and you make pretense by making long prayers. No, your prayers are nothing but performance prayers. Now, I get it that we all recognize if we say a public prayer, people are listening. I get that, but don’t do it just to be seen, heard. Don’t do it just to be thought highly of. Extortion.

Pollution, verse 15 right there. “You travel about on sea and land and make one proselyte, but then he becomes twice as much a son of hell as yourselves.” In other words, don’t duplicate your hypocrisy. Don’t duplicate your disdain for the Gospel. There are so many people right now that are a part of this. I don’t know why they call them progressive. I don’t think they’re progressives. I think to the extent that you progress away from Jesus, you’re not progressing.

And Lewis is right, if you’re on the wrong road, progress is not a good idea. The best idea is to turn around and go back to the right road, and then begin making progress on the right road. I think he’s right there. So, to the extent that people move away from the Word of God, to the extent they move away from the Gospel, they are polluting the spiritual climate.

Verse 16 through 22, we have this woe as well and it’s really about mis-prioritization, more concerned about the gold on the altar than the altar itself. More concerned about the temple than the one who dwells in it, verse 21. Verse 22, He says, “He who swears by heaven swears both by the throne of God and by him who sits upon it.” In other words, it’s now out of your realm, it’s out of your power, it’s out of your control. If you swear by heaven, you need to know something. God will take you quite seriously. This is all sobering, isn’t it? It’s the kind of thing that should make all of us sit up straight and ask questions about where we ourselves might be at.

Verse 25, 26: Externalism. Verses 27, 28: Pretension. That is your pretending. See, this is like how many different ways do you sometimes have to say something before people get it? This is the Teacher working really hard. Not just saying it one time but saying it eight times. From this angle, from this angle, from this angle, from this angle and this angle – in hopes that they’ll get it. And yet at the same time it’s His final public warning.

So, it’s important. They go to the point of persecution; He says in verses 29 through 35. There’s so much here I think for us to learn from, to ask ourselves: Where am I doing that? In Matthew 23, these aren’t bumper stickers. This is not reductionist, pithy little sayings. He’s working really hard to give us an understanding, and to give these religious leaders an understanding, of what’s happening.

This isn’t a feel-good passage at all. The message of this passage will never be stitched, embroidered on a thing, or put in a frame and hung on a wall. You could do that if you want to. I just don’t think it’s going to do well. Jesus wasn’t trying to do a TED talk here. He wasn’t trying to do that. I think he’s making His last-ditch, public effort to sober these people up and warn them about the woeful condemnation that’s on the horizon for them.

I think Jesus, not an unconditional affirmation guy, not a guy that believes L-U-V is actually L-O-V-E. He doesn’t cheapen love, and He doesn’t just unconditionally affirm us, especially when we basically are turning our back on God and polluting others as well. He does not affirm that. You may have noticed the strong language. You participated in it. And I wanted us to do that together so that we would get a feel for it.

Well, as DA Carson says, “I’m neither a prophet nor a son of a prophet and I work for a non-profit organization.” But I do see this as prophetic. It’s not simply for that particular moment. I actually see this as something that runs all the way to the Parousia because at the end there where He says, “Until you see you say ‘Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord,’” is from Psalm 1:18. And it really points to that Second Coming of Christ. I believe it points so far forward. A lot of Old Testament prophecy has a near fulfillment, and some of it has an intermediate fulfillment, and some of it has a far eschatological fulfillment at the end of time when God wraps up human history. I would say that this has that kind of thing, especially when you look at the last verse and what is said there.

Matthew 23 reminds us of these three things, at least. One, the God of the Bible of abhors hypocrisy even more than we do. I mean, I don’t know if you’ve ever had a friend say, “I’m not going to church. They’re full of hypocrites.” Like I said earlier, it is full of hypocrites, and I am one. I say one thing and do another. I love you, but so do you. So does every agnostic, so does every atheist; they say one thing and they live another way.

None of us are consistent. None of us. Every Muslim, every Jewish person, every Hindu, every person who’s confused and doesn’t know what is real says they don’t know anything like an agnostic. And even the people that just hate God and think there’s no such thing as the God that they hate. Every single one of us is a hypocrite. And so, I’m glad to know that the God of the Bible of abhors hypocrisy, but I’m really glad He loves hypocrites.

Because here’s Jesus. Why did He even say these things if He hates hypocrites? He came to die for sinners. I am one. He came to die for some of these hypocrites. You and I don’t know. I can’t wait to get home because I’m going to find out. But in that crowd that day may have been Gamaliel, may have been Joseph of Arimathea who is slowly turning and that week would turn to where he would go and take the body of Christ down at the end of the week off the cross and honor Jesus. He was on the Sanhedrin.

Nicodemus will join him in that same act. Where are those guys right now? Are they standing there listening? Would they have been there that day? I think so. Could there have been a young lad, a little boy maybe, at the time whose parents had sent him from Tarsus to go to Jerusalem, to go to school and study under Gamaliel? A boy who later becomes Saul and he meets Jesus again, unintended meeting on the road to Damascus. And maybe some of those people are in this crowd as well.

The God of the Bible of abhors hypocrisy more than we do. Secondly, hypocrisy in others does not invalidate Jesus’ call to holiness in you or in me. We need to know that. Just cause there’s hypocrisy in the world, and just because everyone on the planet is a hypocrite, does not invalidate God’s call for you to be holy. Okay? I don’t know how many churches are saying that kind of thing anymore.

I think a lot of churches are shying away from saying that, and I’m not trying to pat me on the back. This may diminish our crowd, all of that stuff. But I don’t care. I don’t have time. You don’t have time. Neither do I because there’s a day coming when whether you do it because you’re welcoming the King, or you are in some compulsory status humbled by the holy.

Every knee will bow at some point. Why would you wait until then? Why not now? Jesus desires to save hypocrites and I’m really good with that. Somebody say amen. Amen.

Yeah, I’m glad He wants to save hypocrites. A church is the place where we come to find out what we are doing that is right. It’s a place of affirmation.

The church is a place where we come to find out what we’re doing that is wrong. It’s a place for correction. “The church is a place where we come to hear the promises; it’s a place of motivation. No Christian community can do without any part of this message. We need affirmation. We need correction and we need motivation,”

–Eugene Peterson, Reversed Thunder

so said the sage, pastor, Eugene Peterson. Jesus can be your welcomed King now or your consuming judge later.

I would be a miserable failure as a pastor and as Bible teacher if I didn’t tell you this. I would simply be a hireling, somebody who’s stroking the seekers, massaging the tithers, and hoping that I can get the big, fat box full over there of your money and see you as a consumer base instead of communer base, a community. But Jesus can be your welcomed King. Now look at Him. You want Him to be your King?

Even in Matthew 23, I actually will argue that He is giving them one more opportunity to wake up and see the truth. Why would He even say that? If they’re doomed and if everything was set and sealed, and He would know, of course. He’s all knowing. But to think that there might be a soul and there might be a Gamaliel, who I don’t know that he came to faith, but he seems to argue a couple of times for Jesus, and he certainly had some impact in Saul’s life.

But why would Jesus even make this kind of an appeal, this kind of a preachment in public if He didn’t mean for them to say, “Look, you still have time to decide for Christ. You still have time to turn to Him.” We see it in more modern times, in the probably one of the best sermons outside of the Bible, The Weight of Glory by CS Lewis.

In the end, that Face, which is the delight or the terror of the universe, must be turned upon each of us either with one expression or the other, either conferring glory inexpressible or inflicting shame that can never be cured or disguised.

–C.S. Lewis, The Weight of Glory

He’s describing in The Weight of Glory, this amazing thing that you and I are longing for. It’s a powerful message. He preached it in 1941, I believe it was at Oxford in St. Mary’s. Go read it. Go find it if you can get it. But the idea here is that when we come face-to-face with God, which will it be for us, glory and expressible as we receive from Him that which we cannot purchase on our own or earn for ourselves? Or will it be shame that can never be cured or disguised?

The Memorial Acclamation states beautifully and simply that Christ has died, Christ has risen and Christ will come again. The proper response to that is “Amen.” And that means “truly” we’re adding our amen. And that simply says, “We believe that Christ has come. We believe that Christ has risen, and we believe that Christ will come again.” And His face, the delight on His face when He sees you, His son, His daughter, and the thing that we most love. All of us, and we don’t recognize it, we spend all of our lives pursuing what we think will delight us when really what delights us is delighting Him.

We get blinded to that because, oh my goodness, this new thing, this new technological toy, this new car, this new opportunity, this new pleasure, this new way of looking at myself and my identity, all these things are out there calling our name, drawing us in, thinking, “Oh, if you have this, you’ll be able to find fulfillment and a flourishing life.” And the answer is no, you won’t. Why? Because you were created with eternity in here somewhere. And you’ll never really find the rest or the flourishment of your soul until you find it in Him and in His delight in you.

It’s so amazingly freeing.

“Let us leave the subject with the comforting reflection that with Christ, nothing is impossible. The hardest heart can be made willing in the day of his power. Grace beyond doubt is irresistible, but never let us forget that the Bible speaks of people as responsible beings, and that it says of some, ‘You always resist the Holy Spirit.…'”

That was Stephen’s argument before the Sanhedrin.

“…Let us understand that the ruin of those who are lost is not because Christ was not willing to save them, nor because they wanted to be saved, but could not, but because they would not come to Christ.”

–J.C. Ryle, Matthew 

That’s JC Ryle. You see the difference between religion, humanity’s effort to appease God, look good in the eyes of others and continue to feed our pride and our self-righteousness, and our self-delusion. I hope you can see the difference between that which we just read about in all of those religious leaders that Jesus declared woe on and the freedom of the Gospel; that because we’ve been forgiven, we delight in His appearing.

We look forward to His appearing and we say, “Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord.” With salvation in His hand, He is coming. Are you among those who will say that? We’re about to come to the table of Thanksgiving. And one of the reasons I’m so thankful is because Jesus not only has told me the sober truth about my sin, about our sin, about their sin, He’s told us that sober truth. Proper diagnosis can lead us to the proper treatment and solution. And what Jesus has told us is that it’s in recognizing who He is, Savior, Lord, Redeemer, Creator, Sustainer of all there is.

It’s in recognizing who He is and turning to Him in surrender and in faith, believing that we will find life. Let’s pray: Lord, thank You for this passage. It’s stark, it’s stern and sobering, and yet I have needed it all week long. And we’ll continue to need to hear from it, Lord. Not only because it points out the reality of my sin and my proclivity to self-aggrandizement and my proclivity to self-salvation or seeking it, anyway, but Lord, because it also reminds me that You hold history in Your hands and that one day You do intend to return and set things right. And that even as we look forward to the coming chapters where we read about the cross, we read about the resurrection, we read about Your ascension back into heaven, we also read about Your promises to return and set things right. Give us that great hope of the Gospel today. We pray in Jesus’ name and for His sake. Amen and amen.

(Edited for reading)

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