READ: Matthew 23
BACKGROUND: This is an incredibly powerful passage where Jesus speaks directly to the religious leaders and religious elites of the day – the Pharisees – and points out how incredibly hypocritical they are. He tells them that they’ve missed the point. In their striving for perfection and their ritual-based, works-based religiosity they’ve missed out on the relationship with God that drives it. Their focus on the externals – looking good on the outside – has prevented them from realizing it’s the inside that actually matters.
4 – “Tie up heavy loads” spiritually, not physically
5 – Phylacteries are boxes with Bible verses printed in them they were worn almost like jewelry. The cords symbolized prayer.
15 – It’s not the evangelistic efforts that are the problem, it’s what the Pharisees are converting them too: works-based, external righteousness
23 – Giving a tenth of everything was an important practice. The Pharisees in their legalism, counted out even their spices to the grain in order to do this. They took it to the extreme. But this isn’t what Jesus criticizes. Again, he says it’s okay, but not at the expense of the things that really matter.
24 – Gnats were “unclean” so Pharisees strained their water to avoid accidentally drinking them.
25 – Why whitewashed tombs? 1. It provides a clear picture of being pretty on the outside but rotten on the inside. 2. It was a cultural practice to paint tombs/ gravesites white so that people could avoid going near them unintentionally as this would make them unclean.
35 – Abel = 1st murder in the Old Testament in Genesis 4:8. Zechariah = the last murder in the Old Testament (in the Jewish arrangement of the OT books) in 2 Chronicles 24:20-22. From first to last they are guilty.
THINK: Yesterday was Easter. That means today is the Day of Joy and Laughter! Never heard of it? Most people haven’t. A number of centuries ago a monk was reflecting on the Events of Holy Week: the Triumphal Entry, the Garden of Gethsemane, the Crucifixion, and the Resurrection, and what it all meant. And as he thought about it he came to the conclusion that Easter was the greatest practical joke of all time. On Friday the Devil thought he had won. Jesus was dead, and he was convinced that this meant he had achieved victory. And then God sprung his brilliant joke on Satan. Jesus rose again and unlocked the prison of death from the inside! The monk laughed aloud at this thought, and his fellow monks asked him why. He told them what he was thinking and how it made him laugh to know that God had the last laugh on Easter. The monks decided to call it the “Easter Laugh” and began to celebrate the Day of Joy and Laughter every year on the day after Easter. This was a day dedicated to telling jokes, having fun, and laughing hard in celebration of God’s victory and his humor. This tradition, at one point, was more widespread but exists today mainly within Eastern Orthodox circles and monasteries. I think it’s worth reviving!
Those of you who know me are aware that I really like a good joke, and I have a deep appreciation for humor. And God does too! He created humor and laughter. He even named one of the main characters of the Old Testament Isaac (which means “laughter”) after Sarah’s response to the notion that she could have a baby in her old age. Also, Jesus was a really funny guy. Sometimes I think this gets missed in the translations form Aramaic (which he spoke) to Greek (which the New Testament was written in) to English (which our Bibles are written in). Matthew 23 may seem like an odd passage that has very little to do with this devotional thought, but it isn’t. This, I think, is Jesus at the peak of his humor. He says a ton of hilarious things in this passage. I mean, he’s hammering the Pharisees here, but he’s doing it in a really comedic way. Among this jokes he makes: “You travel over land and sea to win a single convert, but when he becomes one you make him twice as much a son of hell as you are.” Burn! Next he makes fun of the particulars of their oaths – basically saying, “What are you, 10 years-old? Get serious!” Then he says, “You strain out a gnat but swallow a camel.” Think about that word picture! Then he says their focus on externals is liking washing the outside of a cup but leaving the inside dirty. Bam! Jesus is on a roll. Then he caps it off by saying, “You’re a whitewashed tomb,” which basically translates, “You’re so pretty; you look like a corpse with makeup on!” Super-burn!
Jesus was a smart and funny guy. And he got the last laugh at the expense of the Devil on Easter. Tell a joke today. Listen to a joke today. Laugh hard in celebration of God’s victory. Live the abundant life God created you for! Happy Day of Joy and Laughter to you all!
ASK: How does it shape my understanding of God to think that he appreciates humor – that he is funny? How can I live out a faith that is based on what’s inside my heart rather than just on the way I appear to others on the outside?