Matthew 23:1-32. Jesus’ greatest challenge with people was with the religious leaders. These were people who were influenced and dominated by a religious spirit, a spirit that blinded them from seeing the kingdom of God. Many believers and churches today, particularly those in the Western world, are characterized by a spirit of religion. Some of our churches have lost their first love: they have lost their passionate love for Jesus Christ. Unlike persecution, this spirit cripples the church from within. Believers must identify and destroy the spirit of religion.
Let’s look at some exegetical notes that can assist us in understanding the passage in Matthew. In verse 5, phylacteries were boxes containing Scripture verses such as Deuteronomy 6:4-9. In verse 6, the most important seats in the synagogues referred to the bench in front of the “ark” that contained the sacred scrolls. Those who sat there could be seen by the worshipers in the synagogue. In verse 24, the strict Pharisee would carefully strain his drinking water through a cloth to be sure he did not swallow a gnat – the smallest of all unclean animals. But, figuratively, he would swallow a camel – one of the largest unclean animals. In verse 27, whitewashed tombs referred to graves that were whitewashed to make them easily visible, especially at night. This was because if a person stepped on a grave he became ceremonially unclean. Jesus’ point was that the tombs appeared clean and Louvores beautiful on the outside, but they were dirty and rotten on the inside.
Characteristics of the spirit of religion
There are various characteristics of the spirit of religion. We can identify some based on the examination of our text. One of those characteristics is hypocrisy. In verse 2, Jesus accused the religious leaders of not practicing what they preach. Religious people can quote Scripture, some can preach well; however, they do not live what they preach. Because of this, they are a stumbling block to sinners coming to repentance (verse 13). One of the biggest challenges to people coming to Christ is the level of hypocrisy in the church. While not giving people an excuse to reject salvation, there are some persons who do not want to come to church or accept Jesus as personal Lord and Savior because they are turned off by the way that professing Christians live.
Two other characteristics of the spirit of religion are ostentation and pride (verse 5). Religious people are pretentious and proud. Some of them are as fake as the weave that women like to wear. They do things for people to see, and they love position and titles (verses 6, 7). Religious people mislead others (verse 15). They undermine the faith of others and turn others into religious hypocrites by filling them with false information, half-truths, gossip and slander. They turn them into persons who are ineffective in their faith.