Let’s take a quick overview of each chapter of this section and follow through with some finer points found within them. You’ll find some encouragement for this tough week in American history (election week 2020), as well as some overlooked teachings of the New Testament. Blessings!
Matthew 23 is a reversal of the Sermon on the Mount. Whereas in Matthew 6, Jesus pronounces blessings, here Jesus pronounces “woes” upon the scribes and Pharisees, the religious leaders of Israel, whom he calls hypocrites. They are hypocritical in that they practice all of the outward details of their law but, as Jesus says, they “neglect the weightier matters of the law” that lie at the heart of God’s commands: mercy, justice, and faith. (Matt. 23:23)
Matthew 24 features Jesus foretelling important future events, namely the destruction of the temple and also His own return (parousia) as King at the end of times. Keep in mind we are getting closer to the end of Christ’s earthly ministry, which of course means His arrest and crucifixion. So naturally, He gives instructions about what to expect once He ascends back to the Father’s right hand to be enthroned. The Romans will destroy the temple in A.D. 70 (cf. the Arch of Titus in France), and the followers of Jesus will experience intense persecution (Matt. 24:9-14). Jesus teaches His disciples that nobody but the Father knows when the Son of Man will return (Matt. 24:36), so tells them to stay diligent, faithful, and watchful in the mean time.
Matthew 25 continues with Jesus’ teaching on future events, featuring a couple of parables that portray the importance of being diligent in Kingdom labors until Jesus returns. These are the parable of the ten bridesmaids and the parable of the talents. The chapter ends with Jesus describing his judgment of the world upon his return, at which time He will separate the sheep from the goats, the inheritors of the Kingdom from the cursed ones who will go away into “the eternal fire.” The two groups are distinguished by how they treated others: those who helped the needy vs. those who helped themselves.
As Jesus approaches His time to be arrested, flogged, and crucified, He offers us a lot of important, last minute details. I want to draw our attention to a few passages that may be particularly relevant in this election season, including some phrases that may have also been neglected at times. Let’s begin with that.
THE WEIGHTIER MATTERS OF THE LAW: JUSTICE, MERCY, and FAITH
First, let’s look closely at Matthew 23:23. Here Jesus denounces the scribes and Pharisees for neglecting the “weightier matters of the law,” which are justice, mercy, and faith. He says they should have practiced these central matters without neglecting the others. This phrase “weightier matters of the law,” contributes to our understanding of sin, namely: that not all sins or breaking of God’s laws are created equal. “All have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God,”(Romans 3:23), absolutely and undeniably, but that does not take away from the fact that some sins are, in fact, greater (or heavier, or worse) than others. We must be careful about how we judge this, of course. Nonetheless in John 19 when Pilate is interrogating Jesus, Jesus says: “…the one who handed me over to you is guilty of a greater sin.” Not all sins are equally wrong; this is worth noting and remembering. On the positive side of the equation, we must remember what God does consider the weightier matters: mercy, justice, and faith (Matt. 23:23)
KEEPING LOVE ALIVE IN TOUGH TIMES
Second, in this time of social unrest and anxiety in the USA, let all readers take note of Jesus’ words in Matthew 24:12. In his foretelling of future destruction of the Second Temple and persecution of God’s people, Jesus includes this: “And because of the increase of lawlessness, the love of many will grow cold.” This is yet another example of how plain and clear the teaching of Jesus is, yet how difficult it is to obey. Let us guard our hearts and not let our love for God and neighbor grow cold when things around us turn chaotic.
FREE WILL TO CHOOSE GOD & FORGIVE NEIGHBORS
Finally, our relationship with God is in our hands to a great extent, despite the resurgence in popular Calvinist teaching in our land. (Check out our previous post on Romans 9-11 for help with that.) Verses like Matthew 23:37 testify of the willingness of God, but the hardness of the hearts of humanity at times. “Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it! How often have I desired to gather your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing!”
The final question here is to consider: are you willing? Am I willing? God has made it simple for us: trust and obey His Son, Jesus, by submitting to his teaching of loving God and loving neighbors, which includes not only helping them but also forgiving them in order to keep the forgiveness offered to us graciously in His Anointed, Jesus (Matt. 6:15). Let all Christians heed the words of Christ.