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The Final Sermon of Jesus

by Stephen Davey Scripture Reference: Matthew 23:1–39; Mark 12:38–40; Luke 20:45–47; 21:1–4

Jesus’ strongest condemnation was reserved for religious leaders and teachers. This is a reminder that if those who teach others are leading them away from Jesus Christ rather than to Him, they are actively engaging in evil. They should be exposed and sternly rebuked.


If you have ever heard some old, faithful pastor deliver his final sermon, his farewell sermon—and I have heard a few over the years—it is usually encouraging and uplifting and challenging words that are long remembered and cherished.

Well, you had better buckle up, because Jesus is about to deliver His final public sermon, and it is going to be long remembered by those who hear it. It is a powerful message of warning and judgment.

Jesus is in the temple court, where He has handled all the tricky, devious questions and challenges from Pharisees, scribes, Herodians, and Sadducees. Now in Matthew 23 He concludes His time of teaching in the temple with a message that begins this way:

“The scribes and the Pharisees sit on Moses’ seat, so do and observe whatever they tell you, but not the works they do. For they preach, but do not practice.” (verses 2-3)

They are sitting in the seat of Moses—teaching the law of Moses, that is. The commands they teach ought to be observed. But these teachers are not themselves personally living by them.

I remember listening to a man preach on the radio, a best-selling author who traveled the world holding audiences spellbound. It was only after he died that it was proved he had mistresses in several different countries where he traveled. He was not practicing what he was preaching. Years ago, my wife and I were in Vienna, Austria, touring a beautiful mansion and grounds a Catholic Bishop had built centuries earlier. The guide said that this bishop lived there with his mistress and their children.

These men Jesus is describing hold positions of honor in their religious communities. They are preaching, but they are not practicing.

Jesus describes how these religious hypocrites love to put on their followers the burden of traditions and rules that they will not bear themselves (verse 4). All they want is attention for themselves (verse 5). They want the places of honor in public (verse 6). And they love to be addressed with special titles (verse 7).

They loved titles. I remember years ago receiving an honorary doctorate. It was a very kind gesture, but it made my head swell up. I finally took the diploma down and put it in the closet and removed the title Dr. from any books or literature that we published since that time. I agree with an old preacher who once said an honorary doctorate is like putting whipped cream on an onion. Well, I am an onion. And whipped cream did not help me one bit.

Jesus says in verse 9, “And call no man your father on earth, for you have one Father who is in heaven.” Jesus is not referring to your biological father but to any spiritual leader. Do not call him father. Frankly we are all ordinary clay pots into whom the glorious gospel has been poured (2 Corinthians 4:7).

Now along that same line, Jesus has a reminder for them in verses 11-12:

“The greatest among you shall be your servant. Whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and whoever humbles himself will be exalted.”

The scribes and Pharisees who are standing there are probably seething with anger as Jesus effectively warns the people about them. But they have not heard anything yet! Jesus now begins to address them directly with a series of woes. A woe is essentially a pronouncement of judgment. It is not vindictive or spiteful, but it is a severe warning.

There are seven woes in this chapter, and each one gives a reason for it. And keep in mind that Jesus is describing the scribes and Pharisees as a whole. Some are, in fact, sincere and actually seeking the truth about Jesus. And some are going to come to faith later on.

Jesus begins in verse 13:

“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you shut the kingdom of heaven in people’s faces. For you neither enter yourselves nor allow those who would enter to go in.”

In other words, “Your rejection of Christ is bad enough, but you are leading others to reject the Lord as well.”

The second woe, in verse 15, is related to their pursuit of making new converts. Jesus says that their converts actually become children of hell—they are more lost than ever.

In the third woe, in verse 16, Jesus calls the scribes and Pharisees “blind guides” who make all kinds of pious-sounding vows or oaths; but they do not mean any of it. They find convenient ways to break their promises whenever they want to.

Woe number four is in verse 23. Jesus says, “You tithe mint and dill . . . and have neglected the weightier matters of the law: justice and mercy and faithfulness.” Here they are, almost comically, counting out little tiny dill seeds so they can tithe one out of ten. Yet they ignore far more important matters of integrity and justice. As Jesus puts it in verse 24, they try to avoid swallowing a little gnat, but then they will swallow a camel! That is, they focus on minor things and minimize major things.

Both the fifth woe in verse 25 and the sixth one in verse 27 emphasize hypocrisy again. Jesus says they are like a cup that appears clean on the outside but is filthy inside. Nobody does that. I drink coffee just about every morning. If that bothers you, I hope you will get over it soon. Now I would never leave coffee in my cup from yesterday and just clean and wipe off the outside. A clean cup is clean outside and inside.

Jesus goes on to say that these religious leaders are like whitewashed tombs, with clean headstones hiding the death that’s on the inside. He says in verse 28, “You also outwardly appear righteous to others, but within you are full of hypocrisy and lawlessness.”

The seventh and final woe highlights this same kind of hypocrisy. These religious leaders built beautiful tombs for prophets whom their ancestors had martyred. Jesus says to them that they share the same killer instinct of their forefathers—even now they are plotting to kill Jesus

Jesus then hammers down the verdict in verse 33: “You serpents, you brood of vipers, how are you to escape being sentenced to hell?” Beloved, I cannot imagine stronger words from Jesus.

This stirring, convicting message is followed by two incidents. First, in verse 37 Jesus laments over Jerusalem—He weeps over the nation Israel. He grieves that judgment is coming.[1]

He concludes by saying in verse 39, “You will not see me again, until you say, ‘Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.’” Now that is a little a ray of hope for Israel. God has not abandoned them entirely. The Bible tells us that one day the nation will welcome Jesus back when He returns at His second coming to establish His millennial kingdom!

Then there is one more brief scene recorded in both Mark and Luke’s Gospels while Jesus is still in the temple court. He has evidently taken a seat, and He is watching as people are putting money into the temple offering boxes. Mark 12:42 records, “A poor widow came and put in two small copper coins.” This amounted to less than a cent. Note what Jesus says to His disciples here in verses 43-44:

“This poor widow has put in more than all those who are contributing to the offering box. For they all contributed out of their abundance, but she out of her poverty has put in everything she had.”

Here is a woman who stands in vivid contrast to those hypocrites. She is not putting on a show for others. She has no idea the Lord of the universe is watching her. There is no hypocrisy, just simple, honest, sacrificial worship of her Lord.

Beloved, let’s be more like her and less like these religious leaders as we seek to exalt the name of Christ in our world today.

[1] Ed Glasscock, Matthew, Moody Gospel Commentary (Moody Press, 1997), 457.

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