Only days remained before his death and Jesus continues to battle the religious leaders. He knows that they are planning to lead a movement to kill him and finally opens up on them verbally, with both proverbial barrels. On one hand it is satisfying; Jesus is finally letting them have it. But on the other hand, it is a bit unnerving. After all, Jesus is speaking to the religious people of his day. We have some things in common with them. The message that he shares with them could well apply to some of us. As a religious leader myself, I have to recognize that their proclamations of "woe" could speak to issues that I wrestle with.
Let me invite you to look at this passage as a warning for the types of things that religious people can struggle with. Hence, the types of things that you and I struggle with. I will also make three simple observations:
1.) Jesus accuses the Pharisees of emphasizing the wrong aspects of the law (v 23-24). "They tithe even the tiniest income... yet ignore the weightier aspects of the law - justice, mercy and faith." Do we see justice, mercy and faith as being primary issues, or do we get lost looking at the minor details of religious practice?
2.) Jesus accuses the Pharisees of being concerned for their appearances but not their true spirituality (v 25-28). "Outwardly you look like righteous people, but inwardly your hearts are filled with hypocrisy and lawlessness." Are we more concerned for how we appear to be doing (spiritually, at our work, in our relationships, as parents, etc.) or whether we actually love people and love God?
3.) Jesus grieved over Jerusalem (v 37-39). Although he was rejected and would soon be crucified, Jesus grieved over the city. Even after he unloaded on them with both barrels, we see the heart of the good shepherd. This is the compassion that would drive him to the cross as a savior for sinners.
Later, on the other side of the cross... some of the religious leaders would be drawn to faith in Christ. We know that the apostle Paul was a pharisee before his conversion, and the book of Acts tells us of a revival that saw many religious leaders come into the young church (Acts 6:7). Jesus died for his enemies, while we were his enemies. There is hope for pharisees who look to him in repentance and faith! -MK