Seven Woes of the Pharisees, Pt. 1

Nov 12, 2023

Seven Woes of the Pharisees, Pt. 1

Passage: Matthew 23:13-15

Preacher: Jeff Crotts

Series: Matthew

Category: Sunday Morning


Matthew 23:13-15 – 7 woes of the Pharisees


[Intro] Ever heard phrase: “I call em’ like I see em’?”

  • An umpire’s phrase.
    • If you’re a good umpire, you are two things:


  • You’re fair and unpopular.
  • Usually, the umpire of a good game remains unremembered.
    • Unless they make a controversial call.
    • What one side or other does not agree with.


  • As our world is grows more polarized in how it defines right from wrong,
  • Faithfulness to speaking Truth will increasingly will cost you.


  • Jesus is the focus of Christianity.
    • Defining him defines your faith.
      • Denominations will characterize X as the Loving/Gracious version of NT God.
      • God of grace who will not confront sin.


  • X is heartbroken but not mad at the world’s sin.


X is full of compassion over hurting sinners and lacking this is always wrong.

X is likewise full of indignation over hurting sinners and lacking this is (likewise) always wrong.   

  • Both equally wrong.
    • NT uses “hypocrite” 18x which 7x in Matthew 23.
    • X pronounces 7 woes and calls the Pharisees “blind” 4x in this chapter.

[KEY] Most severe rebuke X delivers to anyone.

  • Scribes and Pharisees are Jesus’ aim.
    • Seem too harsh?
    • Jesus is cleaning house.
      • Like Prophets.
        • Isaiah 5:8-23 (Isaiah 5; woes leading to Isaiah’s self-pronounced woes);
        • Habakkuk 2:6-20.

[KEY] Chp 23 is X delivering 7 woes against what the Lord hates most.

  • T. Robertson, “The rolling thunder of Christ’s wrath.”


  • Barclay: “This is anger of the heart of love, broken by the stubborn blindness of men…air of savage denunciation…also air of poignant tragedy.”

[KEY] Bible uses, “woe” both as a judgment and warning!

  • Warning translates “woe” as compassion.


  • Judgment translates “woe” as condemnation.
    • Both intentions flow from heart of X in these woes.
    • Both intentions must flow from Xian’s heart in woes.


Prop: 7 provocations of Christ’s indignation


  1. Woe to the pragmatists (vv. 13-15)


  1. They lock the door to heaven.

[KEY] First provocation does not seem like a big deal.

  • Pragmatism is simply the art of being practical.
    • Get something done.
    • Make something happen.


  • @ to Bible, God is never pragmatic.
    • He is Sovereign.
    • Not constrained by deadlines.
      • Pharisees, teach a contrary religion.
        • Guilt-based law-keeping as means for being right with God.
        • Contrary to God’s will and nature.


  • This Religion creates “hypocrites.”
    • Playactors through playacting,


“shut the kingdom of heaven in people’s faces’ (v. 13).


  • “Pretenders…people who wear the mask to cover their true feelings, an external show while thoughts and feelings are different” [Barclay].

[Illus] If ever had a door slammed in your face, you probably remember the event.

  • Pharisees not only harming themselves, hardening hearts in self-righteousness.
    • Shutting other people out of heaven too.
      • Reprehensible; grieves God.
      • Duplicity causes followers to stumble.

“Better a millstone be hung around your neck than cause someone to stumble” (cf. Matt. 18:6).

  • Door is ”locked” from the outside, so people cannot come inside heaven.
    • Like locking your keys inside the vehicle.
    • Neither getting inside.


Verse 13 makes people responsible for leading people astray.

  • Jesus’ indictment is twofold, leader and student.


Verse 14 is not found in the earlier manuscripts in Matthew.

  • Found in gospels, ripping off innocent and vulnerable widows.


  1. They force conversions.

[KEY] Verse 15, X’s 2nd rebuke on “scribes and Pharisees” calling them hypocrites.

  • Misplaced zeal for getting a single convert.
    • How is Pharisees’ zeal be cast in a positive light?


  • More zealous than Xians making disciples of Christ?


  • Making “a single proselyte” (v. 15).
    • Making a full Jewish convert.

ESV  Acts 2:11 both Jews and proselytes, Cretans and Arabians-- we hear them telling in our own tongues the mighty works of God." (Act 2:11 ESV)

ESV  Acts 6:5 And what they said pleased the whole gathering, and they chose Stephen, a man full of faith and of the Holy Spirit, and Philip, and Prochorus, and Nicanor, and Timon, and Parmenas, and Nicolaus, a proselyte of Antioch. (Act 6:5 ESV)

ESV  Acts 13:43 And after the meeting of the synagogue broke up, many Jews and devout converts to Judaism followed Paul and Barnabas, who, as they spoke with them, urged them to continue in the grace of God. (Act 13:43 ESV)


[Question] “How should we feel about their zeal?” Even misplaced?

[Illus] Zeal of Mormons or JW’s recruiting, door to door, using material to draw people Inside of their cult. Motivated by pragmatism, making disciples by personal effort for personal praise.

Armenian, Christianity falls prey to a version of this pragmatism where people will live by the mantra: “Because the stakes are so high, we will by any means win people to faith in Christ!”

In wake of man-centered, man-empowered religion, false methods:  “a showtime religion,” consumer church.

[KEY] Ignores 2-key doctrines in evangelism.

  • Sovereignty and Providence of God.
    • God saves.
    • God opens doors for us to win people.


[Appl] 1 Corinthians 9 leveraged in debates.  


Paul willing, “to become all things to all men to win some” must be applied terms of Paul’s deference, not gimmickry.


Willing to defer personal preferences, so people will hear X’s message is our noble example.


  • HS opens the eyes and ears of conversions if they would be saved.


In terms of providence, every evangelistic encounter recorded in Scripture, no matter the crowd size, large, medium, or one on one is coordinated by the Spirit.


Why Paul was content for God making his missions hub; jail. Knew the Lord’s Providence was behind his mission/message. It would go out to all the earth.


Also, in terms of Sovereign Grace, evangelism encounters were clear in X’s mission and throughout Acts for those who would believe and reject.


Christians bear unwarranted pressure for how the mission will get done. The Lord puts us where we are to minister Truth where he wants; (why 1 Cor. 7 says “stay in the position you find yourself in”).


[Point] Pharisee’s overcome every obstacle to make a convert “proselyte.” Get them inside. But what kind of convert do they make?


  1. They condemn their converts.

[KEY] When a legalist wins someone by and to legalism, this convert is doubly bound up in this false religion.

  • Doubly hardened in heart, doubly destined now to hell.
    • Disciples who, “Out Pharisee the Pharisees.”
    • “Doubly devilish” and “Doubly damned.”
      • Leader w/strong convictions.
      • Means sycophant will have fanatical convictions.

“Let us understand that the ruin of those who are lost is not because Christ was not willing to save them-nor yet because they wanted to be saved but could not-but because that man’s salvation is wholly of God and that man’s ruin is wholly of himself” [JC Ryle].


  1. Woe to the blind (vv. 16-22)


  1. Blind by lying to yourself.

[KEY] Jesus uses term “blind” to describe religious leaders.

  • Worse, “blind guides” meaning, “blind leading the blind.”
    • Jesus’ woe judgments were not only indicting but protective.
    • Jesus aims to detach loyalties to false teachers.

ESV  Matthew 15:14 Let them alone; they are blind guides. And if the blind lead the blind, both will fall into a pit." (Mat 15:14 ESV)


  • Leading others astray, what Jesus hates.
    • What Pharisees were doing is making hypocrites.
      • “Hypocrisy” described as “lying.”
        • Lying is dangerous but worse than lying is lying to yourself.
        • “Hypocrite” is a playactor and a playactor might lie to make someone a fool, portraying one thing on the outside while living something else that’s the exact opposite.


  • Deeper version of “hypocrisy” is when someone lies by lying to himself.
    • State of self-deception, believing you’re right with God, living righteously, while not.


  • Self-righteousness has saved you and will keep you from God’s judgment when unsafe.


  • Being self-deceived is depicted as someone who is making oaths before God in terms of inanimate objects.


  • False teachers are characterized by self-deception.


ESV  1 Timothy 4:1-3 Now the Spirit expressly says that in later times some will depart from the faith by devoting themselves to deceitful spirits and teachings of demons,

2 through the insincerity of liars whose consciences are seared,

3 who forbid marriage and require abstinence from foods that God created to be received with thanksgiving by those who believe and know the truth. (1Ti 4:1-3 ESV)


ESV  2 Timothy 3:13 while evil people and impostors will go on from bad to worse, deceiving and being deceived. (2Ti 3:13 ESV)


ESV  Jeremiah 17:9 The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it? (Jer 17:9 ESV)


ESV  James 1:22 But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves. (Jam 1:22 ESV)


[TRANS] Taking the Lord’s name in vain, violates the 3rd commandment.

  • Someone who commits to do something.
  • Who never intends to follow through.


ESV  Matthew 5:33-37 "Again you have heard that it was said to those of old, 'You shall not swear falsely, but shall perform to the Lord what you have sworn.'

34 But I say to you, Do not take an oath at all, either by heaven, for it is the throne of God,

35 or by the earth, for it is his footstool, or by Jerusalem, for it is the city of the great King.

36 And do not take an oath by your head, for you cannot make one hair white or black.

37 Let what you say be simply 'Yes' or 'No'; anything more than this comes from evil.

(Mat 5:33-37 ESV)


  • X’s point here is the same.
    • Speak the truth based on the accountability of God, not empty religion.
      • Making a promise is not sin.
      • Making a promise you never intend to keep is.
        • “…not swear falsely, but…perform to the Lod what you have sworn” (v. 33).


  • When people make a promise by an inanimate object or even by heaven, then these things cannot hold you accountable.



  • Hear old adage,
    • “I swear on my mother’s grave!”
    • Powerful statement, with no teeth.


ESV  Psalm 56:12 I must perform my vows to you, O God; I will render thank offerings to you. (Psa 56:12 ESV)


ESV  Matthew 5:37 Let what you say be simply 'Yes' or 'No'; anything more than this comes from evil. (Mat 5:37 ESV)



  1. Blind by lying to God.


[KEY] X 2nd woe is to Pharisees teaching people in lying to God.


  • Swearing by temple items, some more binding than others is Playing Games w/God.


  • X calls them, blind guides (v. 16), blind fools (v. 17), and blind men (v. 19).
    • Commitments to empty, half-hearted.
      • Whether you swear by gold or the temple.
      • Or gift or the altar.


  • Jesus deconstructs this as fool hearty.


[Appl] This is “the science of evasion…Jesus is presenting a caricature of Jewish legalistic methods. You have brought evasion to such a fine art that it is possible to regard an oath by the Temple as not binding.” [Barclay].


The gold is, [oath-worthy] but the temple not.”


X uses reductio ad absurdum [X making absurd conclusions to make his point]. Creating loopholes to get out of their commitment.


[TRANS] Verses 20-22 comes back to:


“So whoever swears by the altar swears by it and by everything on it. And whoever swears by the temple swears by it and by him dwells in it. And whoever swears by heaven swears by the throne of God and by him who sits upon it” (vv. 20-22).


  • X’s point is that whatever commitment made as an oath will be accountable to God, whether the person believes he’s found a loophole or not.


  • Everything we do will be brought to bear before the watching judgement of God.


ESV  Romans 14:10 Why do you pass judgment on your brother? Or you, why do you despise your brother? For we will all stand before the judgment seat of God; (Rom 14:10 ESV)


ESV  1 Corinthians 3:13 each one's work will become manifest, for the Day will disclose it, because it will be revealed by fire, and the fire will test what sort of work each one has done. (1Co 3:13 ESV)


ESV  2 Corinthians 5:10 For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each one may receive what is due for what he has done in the body, whether good or evil.

(2Co 5:10 ESV)


  • Everything brought to bear and everything that’s “wood, hay, and stubble” will be burned.
    • Romans 8:1 reaffirms how Christians will be spared condemnation and 2 Corinthians 7 says the Corinthians suffered no loss in heaven.
      • Nevertheless, there is accountability.
      • Now and in heaven.
        • Playing games with God is a dangerous.
        • Present chastisement, future loss.


[Question] “Who really holds you accountable?” Your spouse? Your close friend?


  • Only One Person really can.


[Illus] I remember a spiritual leader who said he allows his staff to track his whereabouts on their cellphone app. Noble, but it is important to keep coming back to the one true means of accountability and that is God himself.


Remember Paul’s appeal [over and over again] to his integrity of ministry?



ESV  Philippians 1:8 For God is my witness, how I yearn for you all with the affection of Christ Jesus. (Phi 1:8 ESV)


ESV  Romans 1:9-10 For God is my witness, whom I serve with my spirit in the gospel of his Son, that without ceasing I mention you

10 always in my prayers, asking that somehow by God's will I may now at last succeed in coming to you. (Rom 1:9-10  ESV)


ESV  1 Thessalonians 2:5 For we never came with words of flattery, as you know, nor with a pretext for greed-- God is witness. (1Th 2:5 ESV)


ESV  1 Thessalonians 2:10 You are witnesses, and God also, how holy and righteous and blameless was our conduct toward you believers. (1Th 2:10 ESV)


  • From the OT.


ESV  1 Samuel 12:5 And he said to them, "The LORD is witness against you, and his anointed is witness this day, that you have not found anything in my hand." And they said, "He is witness." (1Sa 12:5 ESV)


ESV  1 Samuel 16:7 But the LORD said to Samuel, "Do not look on his appearance or on the height of his stature, because I have rejected him. For the LORD sees not as man sees: man looks on the outward appearance, but the LORD looks on the heart." (1Sa 16:7 ESV)


ESV  1 Samuel 20:12 And Jonathan said to David, "The LORD, the God of Israel, be witness! When I have sounded out my father, about this time tomorrow, or the third day, behold, if he is well disposed toward David, shall I not then send and disclose it to you? (1Sa 20:12 ESV)


  • Practically from NT



ESV  1 John 1:8-10 If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us.

9 If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.

10 If we say we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us.

(1Jo 1:8-10 ESV)


  • X’s point is that you be warned from being a blind guide, blind fool, or blind man.


ESV  Matthew 5:37 Let what you say be simply 'Yes' or 'No'; anything more than this comes from evil. (Mat 5:37 ESV)


ESV  Matthew 21:28-32 "What do you think? A man had two sons. And he went to the first and said, 'Son, go and work in the vineyard today.'

29 And he answered, 'I will not,' but afterward he changed his mind and went.

30 And he went to the other son and said the same. And he answered, 'I go, sir,' but did not go.

31 Which of the two did the will of his father?" They said, "The first." Jesus said to them, "Truly, I say to you, the tax collectors and the prostitutes go into the kingdom of God before you. (Mat 21:28-31 ESV)


  • Discern both sins of pragmatism and lying. Along with disciple-making.


ESV  Acts 5:1-11 But a man named Ananias, with his wife Sapphira, sold a piece of property,

2 and with his wife's knowledge he kept back for himself some of the proceeds and brought only a part of it and laid it at the apostles' feet.

3 But Peter said, "Ananias, why has Satan filled your heart to lie to the Holy Spirit and to keep back for yourself part of the proceeds of the land?

4 While it remained unsold, did it not remain your own? And after it was sold, was it not at your disposal? Why is it that you have contrived this deed in your heart? You have not lied to man but to God."

5 When Ananias heard these words, he fell down and breathed his last. And great fear came upon all who heard of it.

6 The young men rose and wrapped him up and carried him out and buried him.

7 After an interval of about three hours his wife came in, not knowing what had happened.

8 And Peter said to her, "Tell me whether you sold the land for so much." And she said, "Yes, for so much."

9 But Peter said to her, "How is it that you have agreed together to test the Spirit of the Lord? Behold, the feet of those who have buried your husband are at the door, and they will carry you out."

10 Immediately she fell down at his feet and breathed her last. When the young men came in they found her dead, and they carried her out and buried her beside her husband.

11 And great fear came upon the whole church and upon all who heard of these things. (Act 5:1-11 ESV)


  • Their sin was not that they did not give enough.


  • They portrayed they gave more than they actually did.
    • Their deepest sin was that they lied directly to God.
    • Anytime we lie to ourselves,


  • We are really lying right in the face of God.
    • Staying relaxed while in this state is self-deception.


  • Leading others astray into this kind of relaxed religious stupor is what the Lord hates most.


Barclay: “…God hears every word we speak and God sees every intention of our hearts. In view of that the fine art of evasion is one in which a Xian should be foreign. The technique of evasion may suit the sharp practice of the world; but never the open honesty of the Xian mind.”



[Question] “What are you to do?”


  • Bow in humility the Lord and accept that God is your witness to everything that’s going on inside of you.


  • Then, rejoice in the grace of God, because he through the grace of Christ, God accepts you has his son.


  • Grace covering what God Hates.


  • Grace as foundation for your acceptance.

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