In Matthew 23, Jesus delivered his harshest rebukes, not to sinners nor to His disciples, but to the religious leaders of the day:
Seven Woes on the Teachers of the Law and the Pharisees
“Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You shut the door of the kingdom of heaven in people’s faces. You yourselves do not enter, nor will you let those enter who are trying to.
“Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You travel over land and sea to win a single convert, and when you have succeeded, you make them twice as much a child of hell as you are.
“Woe to you, blind guides! You say, ‘If anyone swears by the temple, it means nothing; but anyone who swears by the gold of the temple is bound by that oath.’ You blind fools! Which is greater: the gold, or the temple that makes the gold sacred? You also say, ‘If anyone swears by the altar, it means nothing; but anyone who swears by the gift on the altar is bound by that oath.’ You blind men! Which is greater: the gift, or the altar that makes the gift sacred? Therefore, anyone who swears by the altar swears by it and by everything on it. And anyone who swears by the temple swears by it and by the one who dwells in it. And anyone who swears by heaven swears by God’s throne and by the one who sits on it.
“Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You give a tenth of your spices—mint, dill and cumin. But you have neglected the more important matters of the law—justice, mercy and faithfulness. You should have practiced the latter, without neglecting the former. You blind guides! You strain out a gnat but swallow a camel.
“Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You clean the outside of the cup and dish, but inside they are full of greed and self-indulgence. Blind Pharisee! First clean the inside of the cup and dish, and then the outside also will be clean.
“Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You are like whitewashed tombs, which look beautiful on the outside but on the inside are full of the bones of the dead and everything unclean. In the same way, on the outside you appear to people as righteous but on the inside you are full of hypocrisy and wickedness.
“Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You build tombs for the prophets and decorate the graves of the righteous. And you say, ‘If we had lived in the days of our ancestors, we would not have taken part with them in shedding the blood of the prophets.’ So you testify against yourselves that you are the descendants of those who murdered the prophets. Go ahead, then, and complete what your ancestors started!”
There is another “Woe to…” in the New Testament that speaks not only to the religious teachers of Jesus’ day, but to all of the rest of us, be we charged with the responsibilities inherent in the pulpit, or in the layman’s lifestyle evangelism.
In his letter to the church at Corinth, the Apostle Paul writes:
“Woe to me if I do not preach the Gospel.” (1 Corinthians 9:16b)
The Gospel, the Good News of Jesus Christ, must be preached in word, behavior, attitude, and action at all times. To emphasize any other aspect of the Bible at the exclusion of the Gospel message is bad theology at best, a diluting of the Gospel as being “the power of God that brings salvation to everyone who believes (Romans 1:16b).”
Society and culture are ever changing and evolving, but the Gospel stands firm throughout all the seasons and ages. As Paul exhorts Timothy in 2 Timothy 4:2-6,
Preach the word of God. Be prepared, whether the time is favorable or not. Patiently correct, rebuke, and encourage your people with good teaching.
For a time is coming when people will no longer listen to sound and wholesome teaching. They will follow their own desires and will look for teachers who will tell them whatever their itching ears want to hear. They will reject the truth and chase after myths.
But you should keep a clear mind in every situation. Don’t be afraid of suffering for the Lord. Work at telling others the Good News, and fully carry out the ministry God has given you.
Preach the Gospel! Proclaim the “good news that will bring great joy to all people (Luke 2:10b)!” May it never be said of us, “Woe to you!”