Keep the Law, but not the Lawyers, Matt. 23:1-12

tefillin1 Then said Jesus to the crowds and to his disciples, 2 “The scribes and the Pharisees sit on Moses’ seat; 3 so practice and observe whatever they tell you, but not what they do; for they preach, but do not practice. 4 They bind heavy burdens, hard to bear, and lay them on men’s shoulders; but they themselves will not move them with their finger. 5 They do all their deeds to be seen by men; for they make their phylacteries broad and their fringes long, 6 and they love the place of honor at feasts and the best seats in the synagogues, 7 and salutations in the market places, and being called rabbi by men.  8 But you are not to be called rabbi, for you have one teacher, and you are all brethren. 9 And call no man your father on earth, for you have one Father, who is in heaven.  10 Neither be called masters, for you have one master, the Christ. 11 He who is greatest among you shall be your servant;  12 whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and whoever humbles himself will be exalted. Matt. 23:1-12

The Lord uses the Pharisees behavior to instruct the crowds as to how they were making themselves to be more important than they should.  The Pharisees had the appropriate authority and judgment over the people; as scholars they read the Torah (“sitting on the seat of Moses”) to the congregation. Their authority was not in question, but their lording over their “position” in the congregation to the extent they made themselves very well dressed little “gods” who made difficult rules for everyone to live by.

Pharisee means “the pure ones” or the “ones who separate themselves.” They were given this name by others as an insult to their behavior and like many things in life the name stuck. They were the hard liners, following the letter of the law, condemning all who did not follow their teachings. But, they took it farther than the Law stated, making it near impossible to do even the simplest tasks.


Messiah’s example of their excess was how they made the tefillin and tzitzi. These were little boxes that were tied to the forehead and arms to fulfill the law. They contained probably the beginnings of scripture called the Shema (Deut 6:4-9), Sanctify Me (Ex. 13:1-16), and Observe My Commandments (Deut 11:13-21).And you shall bind them as a sign upon your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes. Deut. 6:8

“You shall therefore lay up these words of mine in your heart and in your soul; and you shall bind them as a sign upon your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes.” Deut. 11:18 

Upon reading the instructions, a non-Jew finds it hard to see why this was interpreted as literal boxes in the first place. But, that is not how Messiah argues His case. His complaint is that they are making them big and fancy, and very expensive.


tallit blue gold TAC-th“Speak to the people of Israel, and bid them to make tassels on the corners of their garments throughout their generations, and to put upon the tassel of each corner a cord of blue;” Num. 15:38

“You shall make yourself tassels on the four corners of your cloak with which you cover yourself.” Deut. 22:12 

The Rabbis to this day argue about the blue color and how the tzitzi are to be tied, again this is not Messiah’s concern. His complaint is that they are too big. They are for show. According Rabbinic tradition they are not to touch the ground.

No ordinary working man can possible wear them this long, as they are impractical for most people. When they are long they will alway be in the dirt and they become a hazard for many tasks. One of the reasons given for women not wearing them is that they will fall in the cooking fire torching the woman.

If Messiah is angry with the Rabbis for expanding on the law, how much more will He be with the Church that has taught that the law has passed away! Messiah condemns them for their showmanship, at the same time encouraging the people to follow their teachings. We are to be doing what they say but, not in a way the honors them, rather a way the honors God.

The whole point of Messiah teachings in these last few days of His life was that He was about to change everything. No longer were the people to be looking to either the Pharisees or the Sadducees for direction. They were to look to their Father in Heaven, not the self annointed “spiritual fathers” within the congregations.

Most importantly, we have a Father, a teacher, a master, a Lord who sees each of us as “brothers.” We are not to be considered greater for any reason; an action of discipline awaits those who do. They will become lesser servants.

Messiah was giving us a new Kingdom with no priests, kings, or lords, except Himself. We were never to honor men for open displays of piety, we were to serve each other.

However, like the Jews before us, we want someone to tell us what to do. We want someone to lord over us. We don’t want to be responsible for our own faith. We have succumbed to that spiritual leader who needs to pray for us because somehow we think that their prayers are better than our own prayers. On and on it goes till we have the same tyrants Messiah put out.

But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s own people, that you may declare the wonderful deeds of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light. 1Pet. 2:9

The Pharisees and Sadducees had now throughly examined the Lamb. They thought to test Him, to weigh Him, to measure Him, but they are the ones that have been found wanting. He proved that He is WORTHY.

Next Week: Seven Woes