Matthew: Day 23

Jesus Judges the World


Today's Text: Matthew 23:1-39, Exodus 10:21-23, Romans 8:22-23

Scripture Reading: Matthew 23:1-39, Exodus 10:21-23, Romans 8:22-23

Today’s passage is a doozy. In Matthew 23, Jesus holds nothing back, saving His harshest, sternest rebuke for two groups.

First were the prideful Pharisees, who piled unnecessary burden onto the people. Rather than seeing God’s law as His love, the Pharisees used it as a weapon of position and power. Second were the sidelined scribes. They knew the law, but refused to speak up against the Pharisees’ hypocrisy, and therefore, became a part of the problem themselves. Fearful of the Pharisees’ power, the scribes kept silent, allowing the Pharisees’ perverted message to flourish. They could’ve been a voice for truth, but instead stood by and allowed the Pharisees to abuse the people.  

Jesus strongly condemned the Pharisees and scribes—but why?

Jesus saw their passion for position. The Pharisees were obsessed with increasing their own authority. They cared a lot about titles, requiring people to call them “Teacher,” “Master,” or “Father,” and racked up converts—not for the benefit of others’ souls, but for the sake of showing the power of their sect. They exalted themselves with false humility, and Jesus saw right through it.

The Pharisees perverted the Lord’s priorities. They were strict and precise when it came to small matters within the law, while being careless and loose about the things that mattered most. They pointed out small flaws in others while ignoring pervasive sin in their own hearts.

Jesus condemned the powerlessness of the Pharisees’ prescriptions. In their position of influence, Pharisees and scribes could have pointed people to deeper relationship with the Lord. Instead, they paved a road that led to destruction.

The Pharisees were preoccupied with perception. They cared deeply about what other people thought of them, wanting to be followed, trusted, honored, and revered. More concerned with their outward appearance than substance, they dressed to impress. In Deuteronomy, the Lord told His people to impress His commandments on their hearts, to “tie them on your hands and bind them on your foreheads” (6:8). Jews took that literally. During times of prayer, they tied small leather boxes called phylacteries onto their foreheads with Scripture verses hidden inside. The Pharisees made their phylacteries as large as possible, as if to say, “Look at how much Scripture I can carry on my forehead! More than you!”  

But does it really matter how beautiful you look on the outside, if you’re dying on the inside? Does it matter how beautiful the stone is, when all it marks is a grave?

The Pharisees were persistent in pride. They allowed themselves to carry on in the sin of their day, while still convinced they would’ve opposed the sins of their fathers. Jesus exposes their hypocrisy and self-deception under the microscope of truth. But the rebukes we hear in Matthew 23 aren’t angry rants—they are woes. Jesus feels deep anguish for the Pharisees and scribes, and for the people they are leading astray, to death. He isn’t smug. He’s not pointing fingers. He’s begging them to see the light.

I imagine Jesus’ heart tearing in two as He speaks to them, longing for them to hear and receive the truth. He knows these are the very men whose hardened hearts will soon cry out, “Crucify!” These men and their pride, their empty passions—they will soon lead Jesus to the cross. 


Claire Gibson is a writer whose work has been featured in publications including The Washington Post and Entrepreneur Magazine among many others. An Army kid who grew up at West Point, New York, Claire is currently growing roots in Nashville, Tennessee, with her husband, Patrick, their son, Sam, and their dog, Winnie. Her debut novel, Beyond the Point, will be published next year.

  • He longs to gather us under his wings. We are his adopted children. Praise the Lord.

  • Lindsey Bailey

    I picked some flowers today. They were dainty, pure white petals with smaller, buttery yellow petals on top. I was drawn to their beauty, but as soon as I plucked the first flower, my nose was filled with an awful stench. I was expecting a sweet aroma, but was surprised by the opposite. I brought them in the house anyway and put them in a small, crystal vase assuming the smell wouldn’t be too overwhelming. But, soon the awful smell filled the room. The flowers, in all of there beauty had to be dumped outside. They smelled too bad to be around. Those Pharisees. They were pretty on the outside too, but their, hearts full of pride, stunk. And me. My tendency is also to focus on the outward but am I leaving a stench that turns the unsaved stomach from salvation? The Bible says we should be a sweet aroma, so others will be drawn to him. Only the Holy Spirit can create that sweet aroma from within. Jesus.

  • Leigha Humphries

    I did today’s readings and the devotional very early this morning as usual but didn’t get all my journaling and notes done that I wanted to do, so I decided to wait until tonight to finish out Chapter 25 when I had more time. I had no idea that later in the day I would be presented with what I am certain was a chance to live out Matthew 25:35-40.

    I stopped at the car wash on my way home from work to deal with several weeks worth of salt and grime from our recent snow and ice and was preparing to vacuum out the passenger side having already finished the driver side. I went over, got the vacuum wand for that side and set about doing the front seat. And I was moving to the back seat, the woman next to me stopped me abruptly and said, “Hey – I was going to use that!”. I quickly said, “oh, I’m sorry – I didn’t know. I am two seconds away from being done.” She immediately became harsh and said “I don’t have time for this. I have a nerve condition (held up her hands) and this isn’t easy for me.” She then turned her back and went to the front of her car. I stood still, vacuum in hand and then as clear as anything, I heard God whisper to me, “Go to her.” And so, I did. I tapped her on the shoulder, extended the vacuum to her, and said “here.” She looked me in the eye and said thank you. We each turned around to do our business. In a few minutes, while I was wiping down the interior, she brought the vacuum back to me and apologized. She said, “I have this nerve condition, fibromyalgia and have had one hellacious day.” I told her I completely understood and then asked if there was anything I could help her with as she was cleaning her car. She said no, but that she truly appreciated it and then proceeded to have small talk with me as we both finished our cars.

    I can assure you that I have never been so certain that I had a test of my character dropped in my lap as in these moments. Now, I have no idea who she was, what her circumstances were, or even whether she was being honest, but I know I showed her grace and that is exactly what Jesus would have done. A vacuum. It was such a small thing but aren’t the small things really big things? Would I have told Jesus – hold on a sec, I’m almost done here. No…I would have given Him anything He needed. So, whether it was literally just the vacuum or a kind word and a smile, I hope I gave that woman what she needed today. She certainly did for me.

    • Michelle

      Thanks for sharing! It’s always encouraging when we recognize God’s voice, and I think when we focus, we hear it more and more.

    • Natasha Reyes

      Thank you for sharing this Leigha! You have just reminded me that God is with me at all times and He can use me to show His grace even in the most mundane moments of my day. I have to keep my heat open to his voice.

    • Ev Howe

      You really shed some light on my situation I am dealing with. Thank you for sharing. I hope I can handle things as graceful as you did. I ask myself what would I have done in your situation and I hope it was the same. Have a blessed day

  • I am deeply convicted by the description of the scribes. How often have I stayed silent instead of being a voice for truth? How often have I let fear silence me? Praying this morning that the light of Jesus inside of me would pierce the darkness and for boldness to speak the truth in love.

  • Caralee Lilly

    In looking at my children, I wonder if I was a Pharisee in how I raised them. Did I present the gospel as something burdensome? Did I strive to create white washed tombs….people that knew their Bible but not their God? As all 3 of my children and how they are not walking with the Lord…I wonder….did I miss it? My heart is broken…oh Lord, please forgive me.

    • Linda G

      I wonder the same thing…but it’s also way too easy as women and as moms to heap blame on ourselves. I’m sure there’s plenty of blame to go around. Be a bit gentle with yourself! God hears a mother’s prayers. I’m sure of that.

    • Amanda Massey

      As a mother of 3 young children, what you have said strikes a cord with me. I honestle never thought that I myself could be Pharisee like with my children. I believe in the power of God’s Word. His Word will not vanish from them. I think we all have to find our own relationship with Jesus and for some of us, we have to go into deep dark places to feel our own depravity and realize our need for him. I pray for your peace and thank God for his grace. I also pray your children will realize their need for him and seek him in a relationship they can call their own. ♡

    • Rebekah D

      As the mother of two young children I have been wondering about this very thing, how it is we should present our faith to our children in a way that they will not only understand, but hopefully one day claim as their own. Caralee, I know this is weighing heavily on your heart, but I believe you should keep in mind that you presented the gospel to them in the way you thought best. Even though your children may not be walking with the Lord, they will never forget what you taught them. Their knowledge of the Bible will forever be in their minds. Remember, as a parent you did what you thought best, rest in that the Lord hears your prayers and you are not responsible for your children’s spiritual walks. Everyone needs to come to their own understanding as individuals. Everyone to a degree is responsible for their own relationship with the Lord. He will make Himself known to them, and I believe your children will recognize Him when He does because of the Biblical foundation you laid for for them.

    • Morgan Lancaster

      It’s never too late to let your children know that you feel you made a mistake when teaching them about the gospel and correct it. That honesty and humility could be just what leads them to Christ.

  • Shannon Davison

    The church I attend just did a few sermons on this chapter. HIGHLY recommend a listen!

    The first was 3 weeks ago, and then this past Sunday the focus was on vs. 23-24.

    This devotion today was a really good summary, but the sermons expand on it and really hit home.

  • Just as Jesus felt deep woe and anguish for the scribes and Pharisees, so are we to feel for our brothers and sisters who have lost their way or twisted their faith.

    Also, has anyone made the connection between today’s passages? I often have trouble.

    • Erica J.Pitts

      I’m glad you asked. I also had a little bit of trouble connecting the passages today.

  • Lina Klein

    You strain out a gnat but swallow a camel. I am so like a Pharisee at times, focusing on pesky “rules” of my own making and missing the big picture completely. Thank you Jesus for your unfailing patience while waiting for me to come back into the light.

  • Monica Davis

    Awesome word!

  • Kristen Hembree

    Tim Keller tweeted the other day: “Fastest way to become a Pharisee is to hate Pharisees.”
    It’s so easy to read this chapter and think “Man, Jesus is ripping into them!” But I love that the devo pointed out that these are not rants, but woes. Jesus is begging them to change their hearts & ways. Imagine Jesus, knowing that these same people would soon be nailing him to a cross, still reaching out & speaking truth to them. Letting that sink in….

  • This morning’s scripture hit me a little differently. Last night I was perusing some articles about different teachers/preachers and read a few very critical of a pastor I watch online often. I’m now thinking how I need to be careful and always discerning in where my teaching comes from. Are the teachers I listen to faithful to the truth? Is Jesus always in the forefront of what they teach? Am I listening because I hear what I want to hear and it’s comfortable? Or am I seeking to grow my heart and pondering teachings that I find uncomfortable?
    No teacher will ever be perfect (except the one who has already come!) so I pray that the Lord would arm us with discernment to recognize His truth and recognize that which is false. That we would be faithful in testing all teaching and that the Holy Spirit would guide us to deeper relationship with Christ through the teaching & the testing.
    Thank you SRT for being diligent teachers of the scripture and for all the ladies here who share their Spirit led insights! You have all given me much to ponder each day!

  • Janet Caldwell

    Such deep truth cutting me to the core today. I too can be so like those Pharisees, striving for the outside appearance when inside I’m struggling to be who God has created me to be. I want to be honest and transparent with those around me not putting on false outward actions but living a life pursuing what is right- to seek justice, love mercy, walk humbly with God. To seek out the orphan and widow and not hoard up my treasures for myself. To embrace a life of hope and expectancy and anticipation

  • Courtney Cates

    Fantastic devotional. Participating in this study is always the highlight of my day and enriches my understand of the Book of Matthew.

  • Ryann Cox

    Great devotional! Thank you!!!

  • Such excellent writings today! Praise God Indeed for the cross!

  • Andrea Lopez

    Does it matter how beautiful you look on the outside if you’re dying on the inside? Does it matter how beautiful the stone is when all it marks is a grave? WOW! This cut deep.

  • How often am I like the Pharisees? Trying my hardest to show my outward beauty, focusing on the outside of the cup rather than the inside of the cup? More often than I care to admit. God forgive me of my “empty passions” that leave me in desperate need of the cross. Open my eyes to these empty passions that produce no fruit and exchange them for fruit abiding passions that will flourish in your name. Praise be to God that DOES change our hearts. Praise be to God for forgiveness and mercy. Praise be to God for the cross!

  • Marytony Torres

    Wow! It impressed me that these statements from Jesus were not “angry rants” but “woes”! He was still trying to reach out to them. It reminded me of the parable of the prodigal son… about the older brother how he was so angry and self-righteous, but still the loving father reached out and pleaded with him. He never stops lovingly calling us to come back into the light!

  • Hearing this chapter read out loud this morning was moving experience. It led me to tears; Conviction of my own hypocrisy-wanting others to see me as holy, good, with no flaws. When in truth I am unholy ungrateful and filled with the love of the world. For me this is a reminder that my righteousness comes from Christ alone. Through the saving work of Jesus, His life and death and resurrection make me holy and good and with no flaws before God. Thank you, Father, for making a way, otherwise, I would be hopeless and still in my sin.

  • I love the way this devotional thought broke down each way there Pharisees were in error, it makes it more applicable. It’s easy to look at those verses and think surely we aren’t that bad. But then when it’s broken down into the root problems they had it suddenly become clear where I have short comings too. I’ve let pride rear it’s ugly head and get on the way, and I’ve had times where I knew truth and failed to share it. Lord, forgive me and help me to not let pride and appearances get in the way of caring and showing others you!

  • “So Moses stretched out his hand toward heaven, and there was pitch darkness in all the land of Egypt three days. They did not see one another, nor did anyone rise from his place for three days, but all the people of Israel had light where they lived.” Exodus 10:22-23

    This is such a good reminder of current day for me. God loves His people. There are days it feels like having this Faith automatically pins us against so many, regardless of the love, grace and kindness we show … it’s gravely misunderstood. Because of it, there are days this faith walk can make you feel very alone by society’s standards and then there are scriptures like the one above. What a picture it is to me to remember that this faith provides that light. While the naysayers and critics are wrapped in darkness. Prayerful that we will continue to walk in faith, walk in truth and live in this light regardless of what the world throws at us and equally prayerful that those walking in darkness begin to see that they indeed need the light.

    • AE

      Beautiful ^

    • Suzi Hooyboer

      I’m actually day behind but your words and that scripture resonated deeply with me. Faith in the world does feel so lonely at times.

  • Kelly Chataine

    Jesus’ woes. His heart aches. He loves this brood of vipers and will soon die for them, if only they would hear Him, see Him and know Him.
    What does Jesus lament concerning my life, passions and actions? This is worthy of deep reflection which will most definitely lead to confession and forgiveness. Isn’t that beautiful!

    • Debbi

      Kelly, thank you for making this personal. I need to consider what Jesus might lament in my life.

    • Debbie Lanier

      Yes, thank you, Kelly, for making this more personal. It’s so easy to self-righteously look at the Pharisees and scribes, pointing a finger at them. However, I must remember for that one finger pointing at them, I have 3 pointing back at me! I am just as guilty! Father, forgive me for my own smug, self-righteous behaviors!

  • Lynn Shelfer

    “Does it matter how beautiful the stone is when all it marks is a grave?” So profound!!

  • As we look at the Pharisees and point our finger at them and say “Shame on you”, I pray that we can see ourselves in the Pharisees. I pray that we can see the times that we have been full of pride and that we confess that to God. I don’t think that Jesus said these words to just the Scribes and Pharisees, he was looking forward to 2018 and knew that we needed to hear these words too. When we confess our sins, He is faithful and just and will forgive.

  • Hannah Zeller

    The most incredible part of today’s reading is that even with all of the rejection and hypocrisy of those people, Jesus still expresses how often He longs to gather them to Himself. I am so grateful that His love pursues us especially when we don’t deserve it.

  • Churchmouse

    Woe indeed. How like a whitewashed tomb I can be. With each reading of Jesus’ woes, my head bows low. But knowing His words come from grief and sadness over how much of Him I’m missing… That encourages me and lifts my head to look Him in the eye and say “I’m sorry.” Grateful for His forgiveness. Grateful His mercies are new every morning. Grateful for His Spirit within which enables and empowers me with a fresh start. Humbled and grateful.

  • Katie Morrison

    I was just thinking the same thing, the biggest thing that stood out to me, is that Jesus points out that they don’t practice what they preach. God guide us mad give us the self discipline to practice what we preach, to reach others for Your glory and honor you. Gossip divides and we should love others, how often do we question if what we are saying is gossip or is just pointing out the obvious? When in doubt, run from even the hint of it—I pray I will not question where that line is, but will be so far away from the line that I’m moving closer and closer to Jesus’ heart. Thankful for the words that allowed me to reflect on this! Jesus is bringing some things to light for me!

  • Jessica M

    Sisters, I’d like to request prayer tonight for my best friend, Angelina. She’s been struggling with depression for over two years now, and though she’s seeing a therapist and on medication, things seem to be getting worse for her rather than better. It’s been hard enough watching her go through this, but the other day she admitted to me that she’s not sure if she believes in God anymore and I was heartbroken. And I’m scared. Depression has stolen so much from her already and I don’t want to see it steal her faith too.

    So, please pray that God’s light will break through her darkness and that she’ll come to believe again that He is real and He loves her. Please pray for healing and for a breakthrough. Thank you so much.

    • Mercy Me

      Jessica, I will pray for your friend Angelina.

    • Wendy Garner

      I am praying in agreement with you for Angelina right now.

    • Churchmouse

      Praying for your friend. Praying the light of His love and His Word breaks through the darkness which presses down on her. Praying for strength. Grateful she has counseling and medication to aid her. Grateful she has your support and that you have brought her need here so that many may intercede.

    • Other Karen

      Praying ❤️

    • Debbie Lanier

      Yes, LORD, together we pray for Angelina, for her deliverance out of this deep pit of depression. We ask for Your Light to shine in the darkness of her despair, and for strength that she will reach up and take Your Hand. “A bruised reed he will not break, and a smoldering wick he will not snuff out. In faithfulness He will bring forth justice;” (Isaiah 42:3)
      In Your Compassionate and Victorious Name, Jesus, we pray, Amen.

  • Tracy Sims

    Yes, Jesus help me to see the light!

  • Elisabeth

    Can I just point out how much I like your use of language? Beautifully written!

    But aren’t we all sometimes ‘Pharisees’? In my opinion, each of the phrases about the Pharisees can also be applied to our own lives. We, too, can put our “passion for position” above everything else. We, too, often “pervert the Lord’s priorities. We, too, are proud and preoccupied with perception. And Jesus is begging us, too, to see the light.

Further Reading...