This is the word of the Lord,

Matthew 23:13–15 ESV

13 “But woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you shut the kingdom of heaven in people’s faces. For you neither enter yourselves nor allow those who would enter to go in.
15 Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you travel across sea and land to make a single proselyte, and when he becomes a proselyte, you make him twice as much a child of hell as yourselves.

As the more astute of you have possibly noticed, the ESV translation that I just read from or any of the other modern translations that you have in your hands, has a verse missing.

And you will find a footnote in your Bible’s mentioning the missing v14 and saying something along the lines of ‘Some manuscripts include this verse’.

This is because translators argue about whether this particular verse, among a few others, is or is not part of the original writing.

But we do not have the time now to dive deep into the subject of the tramission, preservation and translation of the Bible, to see how these differences arise.

However, I will say this, any and all of these differences are insignificant in affecting the theological fidelity of Scripture. For example, this verse 14 in this chapter is also found in Luke 20:47, and scholars have no confusion about the inclusion of that text in Scripture. So, in this case, the only question is if Matthew recorded it here or not. But we know for sure Luke did record it.

So, the question remains, do we consider v14 as part of Scripture or not. For now, I will leave it to you discern that for yourselves.

And, I will read v14 nevertheless.

Matthew 23:14 LSB
14 “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.

For the past three weeks, we’ve been considering the false doctrine of perpetual niceness – the centrepiece of this world’s teaching that above all virtues stand the treasury of mushy feelings.

The value placed upon a person’s feelings is much greater than the value of truth and sincerity.

And we saw how the kindness and mercy of Christ looks nothing like this. The kindness of Christ is the kindness that got him killed on a cross. And that cross became the salvation of the Christian and the damnation of the rest of the world.

This is the kind of kindness you are called to imitate. Therefore, when the world hates you, maligns you, persecutes you and even puts you to the death, it is salvation for the Christian and damnation for the rest of the world.

1 Corinthians 1:23 ESV
23 but we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles,

We do not preach ‘Your best life now’, we preach Christ crucified. A message of folly and discomfort. The ‘Good’ in the good news of the Gospel does not refer to the butterflies you feel in your stomach when you hear it. The good is not about how you feel, but about how you can find true rest.

Now, we looked at that and made a case for biblical sarcasm and satire, much of which we see in this chapter.

And I also noted that the kind of satire that Jesus most employed, especailly in this chapter, is the Juvenalian satire, which is the in-your-face, direct, harsh and forceful way to mock.

But, let me remind you that in his Juvenalian satire here, there is more than just mockery. There is curse.

We all love to think about, preach about and share about Jesus’ soft side. But we would rather skip over, ignore and avoid any conversation around Jesus’ harsh side.

The man who welcomed the children into his arms is often worthy of our thought but not the man who beat the people out of the temple.

His words ‘your sins are forgiven’ evoke our emotions, wherease his words ‘how can I give to dogs what is reserved for the children’ feels to us as though Christ is breaking character.

‘You are Peter, the rock’ – we love that.

‘Get behind me Satan’ – we pity Peter for his mistake and excuse ourselves. But what would you have done in his stead if Jesus said he was going to die at the hands of his enemies?

Picture this. Jesus hanging on a cross saying “Father forgive them for they do not know what they do”. Now imagine that same Jesus looking at you and saying “Curse you”.

Let us not forget as I said last week that you are the Pharisee in these pages because you are more like them in their sinfulness than unlike them.

And so, when you hear these curses of Christ, let me remind you that unless you are covered by the righteousness of this Christ, unless you believe in him, unless you are truly saved – these curses are for you.

But if you are saved, the reality of these sins in your life ought to bring godly guilt that leads to repentance. Remember, you will know true disciples by their fruit.

Good trees do not bear bad fruit.

Matthew 7:18 ESV

18 A healthy tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor can a diseased tree bear good fruit.

Therefore, the principles laid out here, in this chapter, apply to all. If you are not Christian, repent and be saved from God’s judgment. And, if you are Christian, hate these sins with the utmost hatred and resist the devil in faith and he will flee from you.

Let’s not play games here. There is no ground of neutrality. You’re either with him or against him.

Matthew 12:30 ESV

30 Whoever is not with me is against me, and whoever does not gather with me scatters.

It is taught in biblical hermeneutic [the method of interpretation] that we are not supposed to read ourselves into the text of scripture.

But that does not mean that we cannot identify or relate with what is revealed in the Bible. And in doing so, let me encourage you to put effort in identifying or relating with the folly rather than with the exaltation of the characters in the Bible.

Let’s not water this down. Jesus always called sin, sin. He never let it slide. He never ignored it. Instead, he came to kill it, and on that cross he killed it once and for all, for those who would believe in his name. Romans 6:10

Romans 6:10 ESV

10 For the death he died he died to sin, once for all, but the life he lives he lives to God.

Let us who follow him then, follow him truly. Make no room for sin to thrive and put every effort to make war with it.


This passage contains 7 woes or curses and they stand in contrast to the 7 beatitudes we find in the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 5.

And the beatitudes go like this,

Matthew 5:3–11 ESV
3 “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
4 “Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.
5 “Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.
6 “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied.
7 “Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy.
8 “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.
9 “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God.
10 “Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
11 “Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account.

But now, in Matthew 23, we see the woes. And they go like this,

Matthew 23:13 ESV

13 “But woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you shut the kingdom of heaven in people’s faces. For you neither enter yourselves nor allow those who would enter to go in.

Matthew 23:15 ESV

15 Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you travel across sea and land to make a single proselyte, and when he becomes a proselyte, you make him twice as much a child of hell as yourselves.

Matthew 23:16 ESV

16 “Woe to you, blind guides, who say, ‘If anyone swears by the temple, it is nothing, but if anyone swears by the gold of the temple, he is bound by his oath.’

Matthew 23:23 ESV

23 “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you tithe mint and dill and cumin, and have neglected the weightier matters of the law: justice and mercy and faithfulness. These you ought to have done, without neglecting the others.

Matthew 23:25 ESV

25 “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you clean the outside of the cup and the plate, but inside they are full of greed and self-indulgence.

Matthew 23:27 ESV

27 “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you are like whitewashed tombs, which outwardly appear beautiful, but within are full of dead people’s bones and all uncleanness.

Matthew 23:29 ESV

29 “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you build the tombs of the prophets and decorate the monuments of the righteous,

Here again, we can see how we memorise the former beatitudes and rarely read these latter woes. But let us look at this passage with the sincerity that is required of every Christian.

Let us look at ourselves as through a mirror that reveals our true nature so that if anything be found in remote similarity with the Pharisees, that we may humbly confess our sins, repent and turn to greater faith in the Son of God who nailed our sins on calvary.

Matthew 23:13 ESV

13 “But woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you shut the kingdom of heaven in people’s faces. For you neither enter yourselves nor allow those who would enter to go in.

The Prophet’s Curse

We see here, the prophet’s curse.

Of one thing we can be sure – that the evolution of language hasn’t rendered deeper meaning to words but rather has taken away that depth.

If anything, words have lost their potency – modern slangs and jargons have used them in all the inappropriate places.

What was inappropriate a generation ago is normative tongue in the streets of this generation.

In Matthew 12:36 we are warned that we will have to give an account for every careless word at the day of judgment, and yet, the world is unhinged, bold in their scattering of words and phrases not taking a moments thought about what they are actually saying.

Parents hurl curses at their children in the name of discipline. Children train in profanity because they think it makes them sound cool. The knife of the tongue has become a plaything.

Therefore, if a man curses in our day and age, the context of his speech, and his tone will determine what kind of curse it is. Was it a joke? Was it sarcasm? Or did he really mean what he just said?

But, the Pharisees and Scribes have no such confusion. The moment Jesus issues the curse, ‘woe’, they recognise exactly what’s happening. This is the prophetic utterance of the Prophet of prophets.

This has always been the job of the prophet – to be the voice of God to the people. To take of God’s revelation and bring it to the people.

Now, God would use such men as instruments to communicate his blessing or his judgment. And we see that throughout the OT.

So, when Jesus says ‘woe’ after the manner of the prophets of old, he is delivering the divine judgment upon the pharisees and scribes. And this intention of Christ is clear to all his hearers.

The word for ‘woe’ suggests a guttural outcry of anger, pain, or both. Jesus uses this word as a declaration of judgment upon the so-called self-appointed leaders of Israel.

This should give you a picture of the tone and volume that Jesus possibly employed in declaring these woes.

For the one who with a whip of cords drove the people out of the temple, and no one dared questioned him then, has now that same fire in his eyes.

And this Prophet of prophets is no mere prophet. He is God incarnate.

to you, scribes and Pharisees

The fact that these curses are issued against the scribes and pharisees is significant because they were not alone in their rejection of Christ, for much of the general Jewish populace opposed Christ.

John 2:23–24 ESV

23 Now when he was in Jerusalem at the Passover Feast, many believed in his name when they saw the signs that he was doing.
24 But Jesus on his part did not entrust himself to them, because he knew all people

John 4:48 ESV

48 So Jesus said to him, “Unless you see signs and wonders you will not believe.”

Matthew 12:39 ESV

39 But he answered them, “An evil and adulterous generation seeks for a sign, but no sign will be given to it except the sign of the prophet Jonah.

If then, many of the Jews are complicit in this rejection of Christ, why is it that he pronounces judgment on the scribes and pharisees?

Because they are the leaders. They are the self-appointed heads of this household. They are the teachers, the guides, those whom the people follow. They claim to know and understand God’s word.

James 3:1 ESV

1 Not many of you should become teachers, my brothers, for you know that we who teach will be judged with greater strictness.

Matthew 18:6 ESV

6 but whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him to have a great millstone fastened around his neck and to be drowned in the depth of the sea.

It is amazing to me how so many Christians love to have the place of honour, to be teachers, mentors and counsellors. Yet, they fail to recognise the seriousness of these responsibilities.

For though all the people sin and will incur judgment, the flames of the wrath of that judgment will first touch the leaders of the people. They will be the first to give an account.

But let us not be mistaken in thinking that this judgment will not fall upon those who stand behind these leaders. Numbers 16:31-33

Numbers 16:31–33 ESV

31 And as soon as he had finished speaking all these words, the ground under them split apart.
32 And the earth opened its mouth and swallowed them up, with their households and all the people who belonged to Korah and all their goods.
33 So they and all that belonged to them went down alive into Sheol, and the earth closed over them, and they perished from the midst of the assembly.

They will all likewise be consumed who do not repent and turn from their sins.

The Wages of Hypocrisy

Like we saw last week, the sin of the Pharisees in all this is the sin of hypocrisy. For though they make much of themselves in their hearts before others, they lie and are hypcrites whose lives are wrought in sin.

The word for hypocrisy literally means to ‘act under a mask’. This is spiritual acting and only God knows how many so-called professing Christians will win their Oscars in hell.

Now, let me be clear. Though all hypocritical behaviour is sinful and must be dealt with, the kind of rampant hypocrisy we see here is of a very serious kind. This isn’t an issue of genuine misunderstanding on the part of the Pharisees but a diligent effort at deception.

• Hypocrisy can be the very real evidence of the lack of salvation. If you have to work hard to pretend to look like a Christian, instead of working hard to be Christian, you have to question your salvation.

We all want progress. But progress means getting nearer to the place where you want to be. And if you have taken a wrong turning, then to go forward does not get you any nearer. If you are on the wrong road, progress means doing an about-turn and walking back to the right road; and in that case, the man who turns back soonest is the most progressive man.” – C.S. Lewis

There are many who would never think of telling a falsehood but are not ashamed to act one.” – Charles Spurgeon

• Hypocrisy is a serious offence. Pretending to be Christian is a serious offence, one that invoked not the grace of Christ, but the wrath of Christ.

For you shut the kingdom of heaven in people’s faces
How do they shut the kingdom of heaven in peoples’ faces?

• Their hypocrisy has effectually resulted in shutting out the people from the kingdom that they claimed to bring them into.

What did these leaders do in their hypocrisy? In their blindness, they led the blind. Matthew 15:14

Matthew 15:14 ESV

14 Let them alone; they are blind guides. And if the blind lead the blind, both will fall into a pit.”

Here’s an example, Matthew 15:3-6

Matthew 15:3–6 ESV

3 He answered them, “And why do you break the commandment of God for the sake of your tradition?
4 For God commanded, ‘Honor your father and your mother,’ and, ‘Whoever reviles father or mother must surely die.’
5 But you say, ‘If anyone tells his father or his mother, “What you would have gained from me is given to God,”
6 he need not honor his father.’ So for the sake of your tradition you have made void the word of God.

This is what hypocrites do? They raise a high standard on tradition that surrounds the commandment of God. This distracts people from the real matters of the Law. And in so doing, it is an act of misdirection.

They shut people from the kingdom by leading them away to the carnal principles of this world, to things less at the cost of those that are more.

• Another way they do this is through the burden of legalism as we saw a few verses earlier in v4 of this chapter. Matthew 23:4

Matthew 23:4 ESV

4 They tie up heavy burdens, hard to bear, and lay them on people’s shoulders, but they themselves are not willing to move them with their finger.

The people are so preoccupied with these legalistic artefacts that they never reach the gates of God’s kingdom unfamiliar with the truth of Hebrews 12:1

Hebrews 12:1 ESV

1 Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us,

How the hypocrisy of many Christian parents have led their children astray! Heaping upon them the burden of unnecessary law and tradition instead of showing them the glory of Christ.

Why? Because it was easier. It was easier to heighten the standards of traditions cause they were easier to keep than the matters of the heart and true character. It was hard to lead by example in real faith and so they put on a mask and pretended.

And how many children grew up learning to imitate the pretending, and eventually to hate it.

It is not discipline that drives the child away from Christ. Proverbs 22:6

Proverbs 22:6 ESV

6 Train up a child in the way he should go; even when he is old he will not depart from it.

Training is profitable, but hypocrisy is damnable. The abandonment of the former and the pursuit of the latter are both terrible.

For you neither enter yourselves nor allow those who would enter to go in

• The hypocrite never enters the kingdom for he prefers the outer glory without the inner change. This is the reason he pretends. To enter would mean to be made new. That would be too real for him.

• And then through their hypocrisy they hinder others who would like to enter.

Matthew 23:15 ESV

15 Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you travel across sea and land to make a single proselyte, and when he becomes a proselyte, you make him twice as much a child of hell as yourselves.

Evangelism in the OT

By and large, the OT religion of the Jews was not an overtly evangelistic one. As John Piper once said, “The OT was a come and see religion” whereas the NT is a “Go and Tell religion”.

So the practice of their faith in the OT had to do with Israel’s distinct identity in the world as the people of God. There were many who did come and become a part of this people, but evangelism was not a high priority.

But then, we see here the zeal for evangelism that the pharisees manifest. They travel across sea and land to make a single proselyte. The effort is much and the result is little, and yet, they pursue it with zeal.

Child of Hell

See here the Juvenalian unmasking of the Scribes and Pharisees. These so-called leaders of Israel, self-appointed, now unmasked by God as being not just children, but children of hell. This is a double insult.

And when such men evangelise, they make the proselytes twice the children of hell.