January 23: Matthew 23
Genesis 24; Matthew 23; Nehemiah 13; Acts 23
In a famous on-stage exchange, John Piper corrected Douglas Wilson, that his speaking and writing needed “more tears.” And Wilson replied that, assuredly, “We’re holding back” on our acerbic “bite”. You can see the full exchange here:
Reflecting on Matthew 23, I believe they were both right. Piper was right: some Christians need more tears, as they behold the trajectory of many towards hell. And Wilson was right: seeing that trajectory, there’s no time for niceties; many others need more of a prophetic “bite.”
Such is the balance Jesus exemplifies in this chapter.
Having dealt with repeated tests by the scribes and Pharisees, Jesus now trains his guns directly on them. Publicly. To all the crowds and his disciples (1), he calls them:
lazy, petty tyrants (4)
inflated by gaseous vanity (5-7)
children of hell (15)
blind fools (17)
blind men (19)
blind guides (24)
beautiful, dirty dishes; beautiful on the outside, but filthy on the inside (25)
white-washed tombs (27)
sons of those who murdered the prophets (31)
who will follow in their father’s steps (32)
serpents, a brood of vipers (33a)
destined for hell (33b)
persecutors of God’s messengers (34)
murderers, full of much blood-guilt (35)
Huh. I wonder what Jesus really thinks.
Some will say that we should not follow Jesus in this part of his ministry, because we’re too fallible. But none of us would say that we should not follow Jesus in his example of love, and yet we all mess up love all the time. No, a disciple follows his master in all that the master does. In fact, Jesus said that we will do even greater things than these (John 14:2).
This is because Jesus’ vitriol is actually driven by love. He is angry at the deceivers, out of love for the deceived. Thus his anger turns into weeping for Jerusalem (37-39). He loves the people, and thus he mourns what’s coming to them, because of the their refusal to repent. In 70 A.D. the armies of General Titus would throw down even the massive stones of the temple itself.
Today we often see videos of people walking idly by while some crime is being committed, or past some injured soul who needs help. We rightly call this evil, because of the lack of love. Modern evangelicalism’s 11th commandment - “Be nice” - is often no love at all. Love has eyes in its head. Love does not pretend to not see the evils of the day. Thus it speaks with shocking offense, to those who deceive. And it speaks with shocking tears to the deceived, because of their trajectory towards hell.