“You hypocrites! Isaiah was right when he prophesied about you: ‘These people honor Me with their lips, but their hearts are far from Me.’” – Matthew 15:7-8 –

In the time of Christ, Israel’s culture and way of life revolve around the worship of Jehovah God. The religious leaders and teachers of the law hold great power and sway over the people. The Jewish leadership consists of the priests, Pharisees and Sadducees, with the Pharisees being the most notable antagonists of Jesus.

Jesus often openly and harshly admonishes the Pharisees for their hypocritical ways. For He manifests in Himself the opposite of what He criticizes. Our Savior is the only perfect Man to have ever lived. Jesus alone is the perfect teacher and religious leader. He models and teaches the higher law of love… beckoning all to follow Him and His ways.

The Pharisees live lives of hypocrisy. Hypocrisy is duplicity… not living the truth… putting on the pretense of being someone you are not. A hypocrite is said to exhibit a pharisaical attitude or spirit. For the Pharisees rigidly obey external rules without authentic inner belief… or true devotion to God.

“Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites!” – Matthew 23:13

Jesus condemns the Pharisees by proclaiming seven woes upon them. Woe — great sorrow or distress — is His prophesied judgment of their fate if they continue in their sinful, worldly ways… living without the Spirit’s discernment. In looking closer at these seven woes (Matthew 23:13-32), we see how each are lived out in the Pharisees of Jesus’ day and in our world today…

Woe 1 – Building walls, not bridges

Jesus criticizes the Pharisees, for they “lock people out of the kingdom of heaven”. They are quick to fault the people for their sins while living in sin themselves. As the nation’s moral leaders, they are keeping their followers and themselves at a distance from God.

Today, people may call themselves Christians yet lack the attributes of Christ that win others over to Him… authenticity, winsomeness and a loving spirit. Unbelievers see the hypocrisy of some Christians as an excuse to avoid attending church or pursuing God.

†   Lord, let me be the bridge that leads others to You

Woe 2 – Seeking converts to follow their rules

Jesus calls out the Pharisees, for any converts they make become “twice as much a child of hell” as they are themselves. Their focus is on the rules of the law instead of its spirit which is love. The leaders lay burdens on the people to follow their many rules rather than seeking God.

Today, people may follow a religion of works… reducing faith to a strict adherence of rules instead of looking to God’s Word and the Holy Spirit for guidance. They may end up worshiping their own traditions and regulations instead of worshiping God Himself.

†   Lord, let me point others to follow Your way of love

Woe 3 – Blindly leading the people astray

Jesus accuses the Pharisees of being “blind fools”. For they practice outward compliance to the law without inward devotion to God. Their hearts have strayed far from Jehovah. They are false shepherds leading their followers away from God.

Today, people may follow false shepherds who are not teaching God’s truth. These false teachers relish their authority and power. Instead of leading their followers to God, they call their followers to follow them.

†   Lord, let me lead the lost to You, the True Shepherd

Woe 4 – Disregarding justice, mercy and faith

Jesus labels the Pharisees “blind guides”. For they are careful to strictly follow the law of tithing yet neglect to give of themselves. Experts in biblical knowledge, they know yet do not practice the commands of God before the people. Their spiritual blindness is spreading to the nation.

Today, people may amass great Bible knowledge, yet not allow it to change their lives. They may say they follow Jesus but do not follow His standard of love. They fail to live out key Christlike virtues like compassion, empathy and generosity.

†   Lord, let others see Your heart of love in me

Woe 5 – Overlooking inner purity

Jesus denounces the Pharisees for their “greed and self-indulgence”. They put on the facade of being outwardly clean, yet inwardly are defiled by sin. Theirs is a self-serving life, more concerned with elite status and wealth instead of character.

Today, people may display the attributes of Christ, yet in a superficial, non-authentic way. They are pharisaical… living a double standard. Their lives are self-centered rather than Christ-centered. Their religious goal is for personal gain not kingdom fruit.

†   Lord, let my life reflect You and not the world

Woe 6 – Living a superficial piety

Jesus exposes the Pharisees for being “white-washed tombs… full of hypocrisy and wickedness”. These leaders put on airs of holiness and righteousness. Yet theirs is not a religion of the heart. It is a prideful display for the purpose of attention and admiration of the people.

Today, people may seek to put on an aura of sinlessness, setting themselves up as holier than others. Yet they are not living the truth. It is merely an act… a pretense of piety for appearance only, not emanating from their hearts. They are insincere… imposters of Christ.

†   Lord, let the authenticity of my faith shine forth

Woe 7 – Failing to learn from past mistakes

Jesus calls the Pharisees “a brood of vipers”, condemning them for the evil that lurks in their hearts. They deflect the responsibility of their forefathers who killed God’s prophets. Yet Jesus knows of their hatred and their corrupt plot to have Him killed.

Today, people may neglect to learn from God’s loving discipline in their lives. Instead of allowing His gracious hand to guide them away from sin, they stiff-arm God and live the way they please. They harden their hearts against Him.

†   Lord, let me be ever receptive to Your sovereign guidance