Sermon on the Gospel According to Matthew | Hypocrisy | Matthew 23:1-12

Hypocrisy (Matthew 23:1-12)

In October 2008, I started having chest pains. My PCP sent me to a cardiologist, and he ran a few tests; however, while we were waiting for those results, one morning, I woke up in horrible pain. Tammy rushed me to the ER where I was seen immediately.

In the ER, I was given nitroglycerin, and the pain stopped. The doctor told us that was a telltale sign that something was wrong with my heart. I spent 3 days or so in CCU having a bunch of tests. I was finally diagnosed with Prinzmetal angina; it’s just a fancy way of saying coronary artery spasms—pretty much like a charley horse in the coronary arteries. The treatment is simply to take a nitrate; I pop a high dose nitrate every morning, and I feel just fine. But I can certainly tell if I miss a dose!

My heart scare turned out to be an extremely minor issue that is easily controlled with medication. Have you had your own heart scare? How many of you have pacemakers? Have any of you have had stress tests or echocardiograms? How many of you have undergone a catheterization to check for blockages? Have any of you undergone bypass surgery because of blockages? How many of you take blood pressure medication?

Our hearts can give us a host of problems, but the spiritual heart creates even more problems than the physical one: “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick” (Jer 17:9). The heart of the scribes and Pharisees was “desperately sick,” and Jesus publicly condemned that heart in this morning’s text.

Jesus’s condemnation spoke to the heart and how one must live as a Christian; Jesus taught: “Authentic Christianity comes from the heart.

Scripture (Matthew 23:1-12)

verses 1-4:

The scribes and Pharisees sat on Moses’ seat; that expression meant that the scribes and Pharisees explained Moses’ teaching. They did so properly Jesus said, for his disciples were to follow their teaching, but Jesus didn’t want his people living as the scribes and Pharisees, for they preached but didn’t practice. They talked a good talk, but they themselves didn’t live by what they taught.

verse 5-7a:

The scribes and Pharisees did “all their deeds to be seen by others.” They weren’t concerned with honoring God, but they cared about what other people saw.

They made their phylacteries broad and their fringes long. Phylacteries were small boxes someone affixed to his head and left hand during evening prayers; inside the boxes were passages of Scripture. The practice was based on Deuteronomy 6:8. In Numbers 15:38-39 and Deuteronomy 22:12, God commanded the Israelites to wear tassels on their clothing as a reminder of God’s law. Nothing wrong with the phylacteries or the tassels—God commanded the tassels; the problem lay in the scribes and Pharisees’ using the phylacteries and tassels to draw attention to themselves.

The scribes and Pharisees loved “the place of honor at feasts and the best seats in the synagogues.” In the Mediterranean world, one’s seating at a feast showed his importance. Synagogues continued that practice. The scribes and Pharisees wanted the best spots so everyone would see them.

The scribes and Pharisees loved “greetings in the marketplaces.” Greetings were so important in the first century that there were detailed rules about who greeted whom and when. Failing to greet someone with superior knowledge in the law was a great insult. The scribes and Pharisees liked to be the center of attention.

verses 7b-10:

The scribes and Pharisees liked special names for themselves, but Jesus reminded his followers that those names have no place in his kingdom, for Christians are equals before the Father.

verses 11-12:

Jesus concluded this section of Scripture with a reminder of the humility God requires from his people, a humility the scribes and Pharisees greatly lacked.


Authentic Christianity comes from the heart.” The scribes and Pharisees had wrong motives because they had wrong hearts. They did great deeds—they even did what was right—not to glorify God but to honor themselves. Honoring God must always motivate your service:

  • “Let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven” (Matt 5:16).
  • “Beware of practicing your righteousness before other people in order to be seen by them, for then you will have no reward from your Father who is in heaven” (Matt 6:1).

How can you have authentic Christianity which seeks to honor God over self?

Examine your heart.

You must Examine your heart to discover your motives. Why are you in the assembly this morning? Why do you contribute of your goods? Why do you serve when the elders ask? Why do you help someone in need? Is it to look good or is it because you love God?

Loving God must consume you. What’s the greatest command? Jesus said: “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment” (Matt 22:37-38). Loving God entirely means God is the center of your universe; he is more important than your family or your friends or your career or your possessions or your hobbies or anything else.

How much do you really love the Lord? Are you like Andrew, Peter, James, and John who left their livelihoods as fishermen to follow Jesus, or are you like the scribes and Pharisees? Are you like David, a man after God’s own heart, or are you like the scribes and Pharisees? Are you like Moses, the most humble man on earth, or are you like the scribes and Pharisees? Are you like Paul, willing to endure hardship after hardship to serve the Lord, or are you like the scribes and Pharisees?

Examine your heart. What do you see?

Explain to your heart.

After you Examine your heart, Explain to your heart why God must be your heart’s focus. If God isn’t your heart’s focus, explaining to your heart why he must be will put him there. If God is your heart’s focus, explaining to your heart why he must be will even more firmly plant him there.

Why should God be your heart’s focus? We could answer that as the Creator he deserves all praise; that’s absolutely true: “Let them praise the name of the LORD, for his name alone is exalted; his majesty is above earth and heaven” (Ps 148:13). Explain to your heart that as the Sovereign of all, God deserves the exalted place in your heart.

Yet, what if you got personal and explained to your heart what great things God has done for you? Every blessing in your life came from God: “Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change” (Js 1:17). How has God blessed you?

  • What sins has God forgiven?
  • What skills did God give you to earn a living?
  • What blessings has the church given you?
  • How often has God put food on your table?
  • How has your family enriched your life?
  • How many blessings do you have in Christ?

Contemplate all the great things God has done for you and place him on his rightful throne in your heart.

Where is your heart this morning? Is your heart like that of the scribes and Pharisees—a heart that loves to be seen by others? Or, is your heart a humble heart that seeks to glorify God above all?

This sermon was originally preached by Dr. Justin Imel, Sr., at Church of Christ Deer Park in Deer Park, Texas.

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