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Truth of Sincerity

“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites, because you devour widows’ houses, and for a pretense you make long prayers; therefore you will receive greater condemnation.” (Matthew 23:14)

Today we are going to look at the second woe recorded in Matthew Chapter 23. There is some question as if this verse was actually written in the original manuscripts of Matthew. It may have been but it is not found in the early manuscripts and probably was added at a later time from the words spoken by Jesus on this topic from the gospels of Mark and Luke. (Mark 12:40 Luke 20:47) Either way Jesus did pronounce this rebuke towards the scribes and Pharisees.

Again Jesus labels them as what they were, deceptive self-serving people who were involved in advancing their own interest under the guise of being devout believers in the God of their Father’s Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. Jesus addressed them, as He so often did throughout the gospels, as hypocrites. We defined the meaning of the word, hypocrite, in our discussion last week but I thought this week we would look at the dictionaries definition. 1. A person who pretends to have virtues, moral or religious beliefs, principles, etc., that he or she does not actually possess, especially a person whose actions belie stated beliefs. 2. A person who feigns some desirable or publicly approved attitude, especially one whose private life, opinions, or statements belie his or her public statements. Back home in the hills we used the word shyster which carries the same meaning but was usually in reference to lawyers. Not all lawyers are shysters, but, then again most of them are. Being that the scribes and Pharisees were in the work of teaching and administering the Law of God shyster seems in my mind to be a well-fitting word to use in there description.

In the many of the Scriptures the word man or men might have been better to use mankind. Man and woman become one flesh in marriage. (Genesis 2:24) The Word of God was written for mankind both man and woman. The Gospel message is for all both man and woman. Once we are in our heavenly home, other than the marriage of the Bridegroom and His Church, marriage will no longer be an institution between mankind. (Matthew 22:30) Here in this passage “widow’s houses” means their property or possessions. If a woman lost the security of a husband, and because a woman did not have the same stature as a man in the ancient world, they became easy prey for those who would take advantage of them. They needed protection and sought that protection from their religious leaders, the scribes and Pharisees.

The scribes and Pharisees were the representatives of the Kingdom of God, they were the ones that should be trusted to be true, bonded in the love of God and the people you could turn to and trust. This is also the position of the Church of God today. A rhetorical question to be inserted here is, is our Church a place you would seek to find sincere people filled with the love of God that you would trust with your possessions? We today have people who read the obituaries in order to prey upon the survivors of the deceased. And I believe that Jesus was speaking to the fact that the scribes and Pharisees were also the same kind of predator against the poor widows and the poor in general.

Because of the trust they had from their position in the religious community the scribes and Pharisees were able to employ two means of deception. First, they had an exact knowledge of the law and by their outward appearances they were devout men of God who could be trusted. The Lord God has always defended the cause of the poor and the widows and has urged the people to deal gently and with compassion towards them. (Deuteronomy 10:18; Deuteronomy 27:19; Psalm 68:5; Isaiah 1:17; Luke 18:3-7) Our God is a God who is merciful towards mankind and He expects that sense He shows us mercy that we also show mercy towards others. The scribes and Pharisees were ready and willing to become friends to the down trodden who had property and were in need of defense. Their estates needed to be protected and managed and they were all too willing to take on that responsibility. They became the guardians and executors for the property of the poor widows.

Second, because of the pious sanctity of the scribes and Pharisees they were able to induce many conscientious but credulous women to give them much, under pretense the of devoting it to religious purposes. What better place should we place our treasure. Should we not give back to God what He has so graciously given to us? The Apostle Paul tells us, “Each one must do just as he has purposed in his heart, not grudgingly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver.” (2 Corinthians 9:7) Our giving to the Kingdom is the measure of our love for our Savior Jesus Christ. We give in faith and we give in trust that our treasure will be used for the purposes of God’s Kingdom. I am sure this is the reason that the poor widows gave of their possessions to the scribes and Pharisees that it would be used properly for the purposes of God’s Kingdom. This was not the case as the scribes and Pharisees used the wealth for their own purposes and drained the poor dry and then left them to their own peril.

We see this today in prosperity preaching, the thought that God does not want His people to live in poverty. Their message is founded on the truth of God’s Word. “Give, and it will be given to you. They will pour into your lap a good measure–pressed down, shaken together, and running over. For by your standard of measure it will be measured to you in return.” (Luke 6:38) This is a deceptive message that compels people to give that they will receive an abundance. They will, but not where the teachers say they will. Our treasure, our wealth will never be in this world as that is a poor investment. We can’t take it with us and to those who receive it when we are gone will most likely squander it. And when all is said and done it will be consumed in fire. The treasure that I will receive in abundance is stored in a place that is eternal and shall never be taken away. I invest here of my time, talent and treasure for the reward that the Father has for me in my heavenly home. This is what the poor widows thought they were doing and I believe that today they have their reward in a place where there is no pain, no sorrow, and place of joy and peace and a place of complete security. For the scribes and Pharisees they received their reward as well. But where is it now, where are they, both are gone never to be seen again until the Great White Throne Judgment.

Jesus also rebuked the scribes and Pharisees for their pretense of long meaningless prayers. They would stand in public places and grant long prayers believing that the populace would view them as superior in their connection to the Father God. I suspect that the prayer they were offering was what is known as the Shemoneh Esrei.

The Shemoneh Esrei was the most important prayer of the Synagogue. The meaning of the term Shemoneh Esrei is eighteen. This is because originally it was a prayer composed of eighteen blessings. Today there are nineteen as one more blessing has been added. This was a recited prayer which means to me that it was not a prayer form the heart. It was composed into three parts. The first part was praise and recited three blessings, their fathers, God’s might and the holiness of God’s name, Yahweh. The second part was the twelve petitions knowledge, repentance, forgiveness, redemption, healing, prosperity, ingathering of exiles, restoration of justice, against heretics, righteous ones, rebuilding of Jerusalem, Kingdom of David, and acceptance of prayer. The last part was thanksgiving, worship, gratitude, and grant peace. This prayer was preceded by one hour of meditation, followed by the hour it took to recite the prayer and after the prayer one more hour of meditation. This three hour prayer was preformed three times each day as the scribes and Pharisees devoted nine hours each day to prayer.

The problem was that they made these long prayers on a pretense for the benefit of the poor which they wished to influence rather than a prayer to the heavenly Father. They wished to appear as highly devoted men of God to impress the people that they might extort from them their worldly wealth for themselves. They also would charge the people sums of money in exchange for their prayers for them. Their hearts were filled with covetousness of their neighbor’s possessions and their deception was to gain the property of believing souls for their own profit. The scribes and Pharisees had vailed religion in the cloak of cruel rapacity. I believe that we as Christians should and must support the Church as this is our loving duty. But as then it is now that many religious institutions are operating for profit to their own benefit and not the Kingdom of God. Lord I pray that you give us a discerning spirit.

Jesus warns the scribes and Pharisees that they for their hypocrisy, their covertness and the deception aimed at His children they will receive a greater condemnation. I often have wondered what a greater condemnation could be than the fiery lake of fire that awaits the rebellious souls of the unrepentant. In searching for the answer to this question I must look at this verse from Paul’s letter to the Corinthians concerning the Lord’s Supper. “For he who eats and drinks, eats and drinks judgment to himself if he does not judge the body rightly. For this reason many among you are weak and sick, and a number sleep.” (1 Corinthians 11:29-30)

There are many, perhaps most, who walk through this world in their own sinful selfish way with no regard for God the Creator or His Word and law. It may seem unfair to the faithful but their life is good as it appears on the outside. Sadly their day to bow before the Lord is coming and then they will know the truth but it will be too late for them to be saved. For those who know the truth of God and have a disregard for it and confess their belief and yet walk willingly in sinful ways have a greater condemnation awaiting them. Such as it was for the Corinthians who did not discern the difference between the Lord’s Supper and a common meal. By their lack of respect for the sacrifice that our Lord made on their behalf their life here in the now was filled with spiritual condemnation.

The one who rejects God is given over to their own way and whatever they can glean form this world is their reward before they face judgment. The one who accepts the Word of God and then retreats and uses the knowledge of the Lord for his own profit has placed himself in a very perilous position. God will not be mocked! “Do not be deceived, God is not mocked; for whatever a man sows, this he will also reap.” (Galatians 6:7) They may find themselves in the position of the Corinthians. Spiritually weak, physically sick and at a loss for their life. I would not want to suffer in vain in this world only to find an empty storehouse in the world to come, would you?

Thomas N Kirkpatrick

First Baptist Church of Durant, August 10, 2014

Durant Bible College

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