Matthew 23:1-4

MAKING RELIGION A BURDEN

Matt. 23:1-4

Then Jesus said to the crowds and to his disciples, “The Scribes and Pharisees sit on Moses’s seat. Therefore do and observe everything they tell you; but do not act as they act; for they speak, but they do not do. They bind burdens that are heavy and hard to bear, and place them on men’s shoulders; but they themselves refuse to lift a finger to remove them.”

Here we see the lineaments of the Pharisees already beginning to appear. Here we see the Jewish conviction of the continuity of the faith. God gave the Law to Moses; Moses handed it to Joshua; Joshua transmitted it to the elders; the elders passed it down to the prophets; and the prophets gave it to the Scribes and Pharisees.

It must not for a moment be thought that Jesus is commending the Scribes and Pharisees with all their rules and regulations. What he is saying is this, “In so far as these Scribes and Pharisees have taught you the great principles of the Law which Moses received from God, you must obey them.” When we were studying Matt. 5:17-20 we saw what these principles were. The whole of the Ten Commandments are based on two great principles. They are based on reverence, reverence for God, for God’s name, for God’s day, for the parents God has given to us. They are based on respect, respect for a man’s life, for his possessions, for his personality, for his good name, for oneself. These principles are eternal; and, in so far as the Scribes and Pharisees teach reverence for God and respect for men, their teaching is eternally binding and eternally valid.

But their whole outlook on religion had one fundamental effect. It made it a thing of thousands upon thousands of rules and regulations; and therefore it made it an intolerable burden. Here is the test of any presentation of religion. Does it make it wings to lift a man up, or a deadweight to drag him down? Does it make it a joy or a depression? Is a man helped by his religion or is he haunted by it? Does it carry him, or has he to carry it? Whenever religion becomes a depressing affair of burdens and prohibitions, it ceases to be true religion.

Nor would the Pharisees allow the slightest relaxation. Their whole self-confessed purpose was to “build a fence around the Law.” Not one regulation would they relax or remove. Whenever religion becomes a burden, it ceases to be true religion.

Back to: THE GOSPEL OF MATTHEW (Chapters 11-28)

Back to: Barclay’s Commentary

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