It would be nice to comfort ourselves with the thought, I’m glad I’m not a Pharisee who was in the firing line when Jesus blew a gasket over their wrongdoing. But we can’t take cover that easily. Read these judgements honestly and you will see yourself, your attitudes, your sin exposed. The bible faces us with the reality, “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God,” (Romans 3:23). We also are sinners.
The religious leaders had a deluded view of their own righteousness. They claimed to be better than their ancestors, “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.” (Matthew 23:30). However, while their ancestors killed God’s prophets, they stood ready to kill God’s Son.
Why did Jesus judge them so harshly? The context finds Jesus in the temple. On the way to there he had symbolically cursed a fig tree, the symbol of Israel, for being unfruitful. This was a sign of judgement. But not only does Jesus judge them, he is also about to die for them. It is important to see the Judge is also the Saviour.
This is not an easy passage; it is one of the most difficult in the New Testament. It is a foretaste of the day of judgement. We may want to quickly console ourselves with the gospel, I am forgiven in Christ, my name is in the book of life. I need not fear the judgement day. While that is true for all who put their trust in Jesus, I think we do ourselves, and certainly our Lord, a disservice if we do not remember the seriousness of sin. When we trivialise sin, My sin isn’t so bad, we also trivialise judgement, It’s not fair to judge me! If it is not fair to judge you, is it fair to judge anyone? And if no one is judged is there any justice?
Jesus listed their sins of pride, hypocrisy, oppression, and neglecting justice, but this gave him no pleasure. They were so lost in sin, so blind to their wrongdoing, that they could not see that the Way, the Truth and the Life, the very Son of God, the Light of the world was standing before their eyes. Jesus judged them but he was not a vengeful god rejoicing in the destruction of his enemies. This broke his heart and we read of him saying, “‘Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you, how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, and you were not willing” (Matthew 23:37–38). Even at that moment Jesus wanted to save them, was willing to die for them, but they continued to reject him.
They, and we in our turn, face judgement. But we do so knowing the Judge loves us more than we can comprehend. Far from being unfair, God has done so much to tip the scales in our favour: giving us His word, sending prophets, Son and Spirit, so we can know him and be forgiven. The bible reminds us, He will judge the nations of the world in keeping with what is right and fair. (Psalm 98:9). I am sure, just as Jesus wept over Jerusalem, he weeps over the people of our city with a desire that even now they would turn to him and be saved.
If Jesus was to draw up a list of your sins, what would top the list?
What would you think of God, if in the end he failed to be just?
While we must all appear before the judgement seat of Christ, (2 Corinthians 5.10) celebrate that:
Jesus forgives those who ask (1 John 1.9)
removes their sin as far as the east is from the west (Psalm 103.12)
remembers their sin no more (Isaiah 43.25)
and welcomes his people into heaven (Matthew 25.34-40)
Rev John Malcolm