Jesus Criticizes the Religious Leaders


Matthew 23:1–12 (NLT)
Then Jesus said to the crowds and to his disciples, 2 “The teachers of religious law and the Pharisees are the official interpreters of the law of Moses.* 3 So practice and obey whatever they tell you, but don’t follow their example. For they don’t practice what they teach. 4 They crush people with unbearable religious demands and never lift a finger to ease the burden.
5 “Everything they do is for show. On their arms they wear extra wide prayer boxes with Scripture verses inside, and they wear robes with extra long tassels.* 6 And they love to sit at the head table at banquets and in the seats of honor in the synagogues. 7 They love to receive respectful greetings as they walk in the marketplaces, and to be called ‘Rabbi.’*
8 “Don’t let anyone call you ‘Rabbi,’ for you have only one teacher, and all of you are equal as brothers and sisters.* 9 And don’t address anyone here on earth as ‘Father,’ for only God in heaven is your spiritual Father. 10 And don’t let anyone call you ‘Teacher,’ for you have only one teacher, the Messiah. 11 The greatest among you must be a servant. 12 But those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.
Matt. 1-12 is directed to the crowds and his disciples.  Jesus warns them to not fall into the same patterns of behavior that the Jewish religious leaders demonstrated. He begins by advising his followers to obey whatever the teachers of the religious Law say, but don’t follow their example, His condemnation of them is not based on their teachings, but on their hypocrisy:  “For they don’t practice what they teach.”
One of the problems in the modern American church is exactly this.  Preachers and teachers do not practice what they preach.  If we want people to pray more, then how is our prayer life?  If we want people to read the Bible, then how is our devotional life?  We want people to live holy lives, then what is our thought life like?  Every sermon must be applied to the preacher’s life first.  If we can’t live it, then how can we preach it.
However, we also we know that some preaching is also aspirational.  Paul’s favorite word for believers was “saints.”  There is a great old Gospel song written by Billy Joe Shaver and sung by John Anderson, “I’m Just an Old Chunk of Coal (But I’m Going to Be a Diamond Someday) (1981).  It expresses the aspirational nature of the Gospel.
One of the key expressions of faith unique to Methodism is the concept of moving on to perfection.  Perfection is not promised in this life, but the Bible says that when we see him, we shall be like him. (1 John 3:2)
Yet, Jesus also said, “Be perfect even as your Father in heaven is perfect.”   John Wesley reasoned that why would Jesus give us a command, “Be perfect.”  that was impossible for us.  Absolute perfection is impossible in this life, but that does not mean that we cannot become more and more Christ-like, not through our human effort, but through the work of the Holy Spirit in us.  We call this work God’s sanctifying grace.
God’s sanctifying grace begins the day we are saved and continues throughout our lives as we partake of the means of grace.
Wesley preached a sermon called “The Means of Grace.”  These are those means by which God imparts his grace to us.  These are many:  the sacraments (water baptism and the Lord’s supper), reading and studying the Bible, praying, fasting, worship, preaching, etc.  Wesley called these works of piety, mainly devotional practices both individual and corporate.  The works of mercy are doing good works, visiting the sick, visiting prisoners, feeding the hungry, ministry to the poor, homeless, and immigrants, seeking justice, opposition to injustice, etc.
God the Holy Spirit uses these means of grace to transform us day by day into the image of Christ.  And we will eventually be fully transformed when we see Jesus face to face.  This is our glorification.  Glorification is the final stage of the order of salvation.  It refers tot the nature of believers after our death and judgment.  We will be resurrected and given new bodies (John 11:23-24; Rom. 8:30; 1 Cor. 15:20).
Lord, we know that we are not yet who you want us to be.  As we walk this pilgrim path day by day, help us to grow into the image of your Son, our Lord, Jesus Christ, through the power of the Holy Spirit working in us.  Give us each day your grace.  Help us to walk in this newness of life and live our lives as Easter people, in the light of the resurrection.  Amen.

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