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Matthew  ◦   Chapter 23

1 Then Jesus said to the people and to his disciples: 2 "The theology professors, church lawyers and pastors sit in the instructor's seat, like Moses, and know the history,3 so listen carefully to all they teach. But think for yourselves and don't follow their example, for they don't understand the true meaning of what they teach, as evidenced by their failure to live in harmony with it.4 They create man-made rules that discourage, exhaust and weigh people down with religious ritual, fear, and guilt. They control people this way and refuse to relieve these false burdens.

5 "All their actions are designed for effect–to be seen — and they yearn to create a sense of admiration and respect for themselves: They make prayer beads and carry them for display, and wear special clothing meant to mark them as distinct;6 they love to be recognized and honored wherever they go, and especially they seek the highest exaltation in church.7 They also love any attention they can get when people stop them in the shops or restaurants and call them Professor, Doctor, or Pastor.

8 "But don't let people idolize you for you, are all equals–learning the truth from the same Teacher.9 And be sure you don't surrender your thinking to religious leaders — like young children do to their fathers — for you have one Father in heaven and you must surrender yourselves only to him.10 Nor are you to claim to be the final authority on truth–determining what is right and wrong–like teachers are to their students, for you have the One true Teacher, the Messiah.11 So those who are truly the greatest will give the most of themselves in helping others.12 For whoever promotes self will destroy self, but whoever humbles self will experience healing and exaltation.

13 "Misery is yours, you who teach a legal religion, you penal theologians, you counterfeits! Your false teachings obstruct people from being healed and entering God's kingdom of love. You certainly are not healed and do not enter into salvation, but worse still, you actively work to prevent others, who want to be saved, from being healed.14 Misery is yours, you who teach a legal religion, you penal theologians, you counterfeits! You con widows from their homes, yet you make public displays of praying long prayers. Unhealed you choose to remain! Your suffering will be most severe.

15 "Misery is yours, you who teach a legal religion, you penal theologians, you counterfeits! You go around the world trying to convert one person, and when you do, you indoctrinate them so deeply into your false penal system that they become twice as much the child of lies and selfishness as you are.

16 "Misery is yours, you irrational and unthinking teachers! Unbelievably, you say: 'If anyone swears by the temple, it doesn't count; but if anyone swears by the gold of the temple, then they are bound by the oath.'17 You make no sense at all! Think about it: Which is truly most important–the gold, or the temple that makes the gold holy?18 Another of your sayings is: 'If anyone swears by the altar, it doesn't count; but if anyone swears by the gift on the altar then they are bound by the oath.'19 You don't understand the simplest truths! Think about it: Which is truly most important–the gift, or the altar that makes the gift holy?20 Don't you get it? The one who swears by the altar swears by it and everything on it.21 And whoever swears by the temple, swears by it and by the One whose dwelling place it is.22And oaths sworn before heaven are promises made before God’s throne; and the One who sits on it knows the true intent of the heart.

23 "Misery is yours, you who teach a legal religion, you penal theologians, you counterfeits! You keep rules, such as proudly paying a pre-tax tithe and even giving a tenth of the herbs in your garden, but you fail to do what actually matters–to live in harmony with God’s Law, which is his design for life. You fail to ‘do what is right because it is right.’ You are not merciful but judgmental and critical, and you cannot be trusted to protect those struggling with sin. You should have lived lives of love for others, without neglecting the simple instructions of God.24 You are truly irrational and unthinking teachers! You are so focused on keeping the rules — such as dietary laws — that you fail to understand that their purpose is to promote health. You're so confused that you actually think it would be a virtue to die of starvation rather than eat something not on the 'approved' list.

25 "Misery is yours, you who teach a legal religion, you penal theologians, you counterfeits! You work so hard to make yourselves look good on the outside, but the inside–the heart–is full of selfishness, arrogance, and greed.26 You truly don't understand anything about God's kingdom! The mind, the character, the heart — they all must be cleansed first, and then the outside will also be clean.

27 "Misery is yours, you who teach a legal religion, you penal theologians, you counterfeits! You are like highly polished burial vaults: they look beautiful on the outside, but inside are nothing but the bones of the dead, and everything that defiles.28 You are just like that. On the outside you appear to people as good and righteous, but on the inside you are full of lies, selfishness, and evil. You are great counterfeits!

29 "Misery is yours, you who teach a legal religion, you penal theologians, you counterfeits! You go to great lengths to give praise and honor to God's spokespersons and church leaders of the past.30 You say, 'If we would have lived back then, we would never have rejected God’s spokespersons or joined those who killed them.'31 By such claims you condemn yourselves, because you acknowledge such actions are wrong, yet by your actions today you reveal you are the true descendants of those who murdered God’s spokespersons. You're just like them32 and your sins pile on top of the sins of your forefathers!

33 "You slippery serpents! You brood of venomous vipers! You think you can cure yourselves with your own snake oil?34 It's because of your false remedy — your penal legal trickery — that I am sending my spokespersons, instructors and Bible scholars, some of whom you will attack, kill, and crucify; others you will beat–some physically, some verbally–right in church, running them out of town with beatings and the most vicious gossip.35 The pure and holy lives that have been sacrificed through history — from Abel, all the way through to Zechariah the son of Berekiah, who was murdered right in church, at the altar — testify the truth to you.36 But the sad truth is that this generation will reject all this evidence.

37 "O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you sick and hard-hearted people who have rejected the Remedy, killed God's spokespersons, and stoned those sent to you with the cure! How my heart has longed to pull you to safety, like a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, but you would not let me.38 Look around: I leave your house to you abandoned without Remedy, and infected without cure.39 For I tell you plainly, when you see me next, you will say: 'He is the One sent by God to reveal God's true character and provide the Remedy.'"