Matthew 23
Sermon Bible
Then spake Jesus to the multitude, and to his disciples,

Matthew 23:17

The Visible Temple.

I. A Temple there has been upon earth, a spiritual Temple, made up of living stones—a Temple, as I may say, composed of souls. This Temple is invisible, but it is perfect and real because it is invisible, and gains nothing in perfection by possessing visible tokens. There needs no outward building to meet the eye, in order to make it more of a Temple than it already is in itself. God and Christ and angels—souls, are not these a heavenly court, all perfect to which this world can add nothing? This is true and ever to be borne in mind; and yet no one can deny on the other hand, that a great object of Christ's coming was to subdue the world, to claim it as His own, to assert His right as its Master, to show Himself to all men, and to take possession. When He came He had not a place to lay His head; but He came to make Himself a place, to make Himself a home, to fashion for Himself a glorious dwelling out of the whole world which the powers of evil had taken captive. He was not born in the Temple of Jerusalem; He abhorred the palace of David; He laid Himself on the damp earth in the cold night, a Light shining in a dark place, till by the virtue that went out of Him He should erect a Temple worthy of His Name.

II. And lo! in omen of the future, even in His cradle, the rich and wise of the earth seek Him with gold, and frankincense, and myrrh as an offering. Pass a few generations and the whole face of things is changed; the earth is covered with His temples, as it has been for ages. Go where you will, you find the eternal mountains hewn and fashioned into shrines where He may dwell who was an outcast in the days of His flesh. The invisible temple has become visible, and He has made Him a temple, not only out of inanimate things, but of men also as parts of it. Not gold and silver, jewels and fine linen, and skill of man to use them, make the house of God, but worshippers: the souls and bodies of men whom He has redeemed.

III. The temple is greater than the gold, therefore care not though the gold be away; it sanctifies it, therefore cherish the gold while it is present. Christ is with us, though there be no outward show. Where He really places His Name, there—be the spot a palace or a cottage—it is sacred and glorious. He accepts our gold and our silver, not to honour Himself thereby, but in mercy to us.

J. H. Newman, Parochial and Plain Sermons, vol. vi., p. 280.

References: Matthew 23:18.—Clergyman's Magazine, vol. ix., p. 99. Matthew 23:19.—Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. xiv., No. 831. Matthew 23:22.—R. W. Evans, Parochial Sermons, vol. ii., p. 248.

Matthew 23:23We learn from the text:—

I. That the commands of God are of different degrees of importance. There are matters of more weight than others among the Divine precepts. That God has commanded a thing always invests it with a certain importance, but all His commandments are not of equal gravity. There are higher and lower obligations; and the higher will be first attended to, nay, if need be, will absorb into them the lower.

II. The weightiest of all God's commands have respect to judgment, mercy, and faith. That is a truth which is emphasized over and over again by the prophets in the Old Testament, and the Apostles in the New. The inner is more important than the outer; the spirit than the letter; the principle than the action; the character than the isolated deed. The heart is the great thing, for out of it are the issues of life; and therefore it should have the first and the greatest attention. If that be wrong, nothing can be right; but if that be right, everything will partake of its quality.

III. Attention to the matters of less importance will not compensate for the neglect of those which are of essential moment. Punctilious tithe-paying will not condone oppression, or injustice, or the lack of humble faith in God. Ritual is not religion: it is only, even at the best, the outer garment which she wears on certain occasions; but religion herself is character, and that is a moral unit, giving its quality both to the worship and to the ordinary conduct of the man. It is no vindication for not doing a most important duty, to say that I have done something else that is on a far lower plain.

IV. Where the heart is right with God through faith in Jesus Christ, both the weightier matters and those of less importance will be attended to. The performance of one duty must not be pleaded as an excuse for the neglect of another. In all such matters what is put before us is not an alternative—whether we shall do this or that—but an aggregate, for we are to do this and that.

W. M. Taylor, Contrary Winds, p. 356.

I. On closer observation, the sins of the Pharisees resolve themselves chiefly into four—Pride, hypocrisy, superstition, and a dislike to real spiritual religion. To understand Christ's feelings and actions towards them, you must remember that the men who committed these sins were the enlightened ones of the earth. They knew their Bibles wonderfully. They had the Name and Word of God constantly on their lips. And the cause of truth and of God was committed to them. Hence Christ's exceeding severity with these men. For there are two points on which Christ was always most jealous: the one was the glory of the Father; and the other the interests of religion, and especially the consciences of young believers. Whatever compared with these, whatever offended against these and hurt them, was sure to awake Christ's holy anger, and incur His awful malediction. And this is exactly what pride and hypocrisy, superstition and severity, do. Therefore Christ's utter revulsion of a Pharisee.

II. (1) God is in His holy temple, and all creation lies—poor and sinful—at His feet. Whatever lifts itself up offends against God's holiness, and rebels against God's sovereignty. Hence Christ's detestation of a Pharisee. (2) And the characteristic of our religion as a test of everything is reality. There is no false sheen thrown upon any part of God's creation. The beauty of the interior generally exceeds the beauty of the, exterior. God in His work and in His truth is all real. He abhors hollowness. Hence Christ's woe to a Pharisee. (3) Truth is always simple. Superstition complicates and clouds God's great, simple plan. Therefore God repudiates it. (4) God is one God, therefore He loves unity because it is His own reflection; therefore he hates all separation. All sitting aloof, all unkind feeling towards brethren, all party spirit—is offensive to God; and this is just what the Pharisees did. Hence again, the rejection and curse of a Pharisee.

J. Vaughan, Sermons, 11th series, p. 109.

References: Matthew 23:23.—J. Vaughan, Sermons, 9th series, p. 109. Matthew 23:23, Matthew 23:29.—D. Fraser, The Metaphors of the Gospels, p. 181. Matthew 23:31-32.—F. W. Farrar, Christian World Pulpit, vol. xxv., p. 401. Matthew 23:32.—Homiletic Magazine, vol. xiii., p. 55. Matthew 23:34-39.—Clergyman's Magazine, vol. iii., p. 347.

Matthew 23:37I. One of the first things which strikes young children as they begin to grow up and look abroad in the world, is the wonderful parental instinct, as it is called, of dumb creatures—that secret and silent law which makes the mother of every animal, almost, so earnestly and affectionately watch over her offspring. Now here our Saviour teaches us that this instinct is not only put into their hearts by Him, but that it is actually a sign and token from Him—a pledge and visible shadow of the peculiar mercy, with which He watches over His Church. Look at the whole history of God's ancient people, Israel. It is nothing from beginning to end but a course of these parental providences. Everywhere the Lord offers to gather them under His wings.

II. For us it is easier to understand how truly this comparison of the hen describes God's mercy to each of us one by one. (1) First, our mother's love, that earliest and sweetest kindness that we are permitted to taste on earth. Whence comes it? Is it not altogether God's gift. Whatever our mothers did for us, and whatever love it was in their hearts to show us, God alone put it in their hearts; it was but a drop from the overflowing fountain of His love. (2) Again, what shall we say of our spiritual mother the Church? Who can count the number of the fourth part of the graces and lovingkindnesses which He through her is ever bestowing upon us? But our Lord's words remind us of one particular action of the mother-bird—the spreading her wings to receive and shelter the young ones, when they want warmth, or rest, or protection. "How often would I have gathered thy children together, as a hen gathereth her chickens under her wings!" So the Holy Dove, the Spirit of Christ, comes down and broods over the waters of baptism, over the souls and bodies of those who are there to be new born, or having been so, comes to them continually in more and more warmth, strength, and life. Christ by His Holy Spirit broods over them, sheltering, warming, quickening, doing all that they need. And in order to do this, observe He gathers them. He gathers us into His holy Church. It is there that His wings are spread, other places have no promise of the same heavenly and life-giving shadow.

Plain Sermons by Contributors to "Tracts for the Times." vol. viii., p. 151.

The Saviour's Sorrow over Lost Men.

I. Words like these, spoken at such a moment, let us see, as far as words can do, into the innermost of Jesus' heart. They are a wonderful expression of His deep-seated desire to save from ruin the worst of men, to save the unwilling, to save to the very last. (1) If ever excess of guilt could have alienated the Saviour, and steeled Him against mercy, it must have been Jerusalem's. Her privileges had been surpassing. The centre of God's worship, the capital of God's elect, to her citizens revelations had been given with a prodigality which almost wearies us. Nothing could exceed her advantages except her crimes. (2) If sinners' sins cannot destroy Christ's willingness to save them, neither can their unwillingness to be saved. Refusal does not overbear this extraordinary desire of God to save us. Neither (3) can delay outweary it. On the contrary, time only tests to the utmost the sincerity of the Divine mercy. The perseverance of the Saviour is the measure of His love.

II. This language of the departing Saviour tells us how He blesses those who will be gathered. Strong love like His is gentle as it is strong. Only let the mighty Lover who made you gather you to Himself, and you will see how He will cradle you like a mother. For when these bursting words of His tell what He would have done with Jerusalem's citizens, if they would have let Him, they shed light into such secret nests of home tenderness and of low, sweet love, that nothing can be more precious or more wonderful. What wouldest thou, Lord? "I would have gathered thy children together, even as a hen gathereth her chickens under her wings." The very image has its own softness in it. To be sure, it was nothing new to speak of God's care for men as the wings of a bird. Of old, as Moses sang before he died, Israel had been carried by Jehovah across pathless sand-drifts, as an eagle's fledglings are borne upon her strong, broad pinions through the desert air—softly carried, safely, grandly, to its rest. To the faithful of later ages, Jehovah's perpetual keeping was symbolised in the widespread golden wings of cherubim, which cast their shade down upon the mercy-seat of the most holy place, and under that covert pious Hebrew souls were taught to nestle. But these were both majestic types, removed from familiar human things. In the hands of Him who brought divinity down into the bosom of an earthly home, the image grew far lowlier. The fowl of motherly instinct which nestles close upon the ground, and gives of all feathered creatures our homeliest pictures of domestic care—she is His choice; and of all acts of that kindly mother-hen, her most intimate and secret act of love. Ah! it was like the meekness of Jesus to speak thus; and to any fearful, heartbroken evildoer, whose soul craves yet hardly dares to hope for sympathy, is it not heartening to be told in lowly words that you may creep under the mighty shadow of the crucified Redeemer of the world with such confidence as the chicken to its mother's wing?

III. The words of the text give deeper insight still into the Redeemer's heart. Underneath the joy of salvation, it touches a fount of tears. It is, in truth, His last wail of sorrow over men who would not be saved. Who knows the bitterness of love that is unprized and useless? When God weeps to win His children back from crime and ruin, and His children laugh and will not, I know no words to sorrow in, but only tears. Love weeps when justice smites. The Lamb sorrows in His wrath. And it only makes justice the more awful when you see that it has so much of pity in it, and so little of poor personal triumph or ungenerous readiness, that the Judge yearns and wails over the soul He dooms.

J. Oswald Dykes, Sermons, p. 356.

I. Consider the enormity of the sins of which a society may be guilty, beyond the will of any individual man to be found there. Jerusalem had slain the prophets; she had overlaid the Law of God with human inventions. The Scriptures told them of Messiah, and He passed before their very eyes, yet they could not see Him. When an impure woman was to be condemned, our Lord saw that there was not out of a crowd of accusers even one whose conscience would not reprove him as guilty of the very same sin.

II. It is remarkable, too, that the social state is worse than any one man—even the wickedest—would wish to make it. In the ancient and the modern world each offender knows that his particular form of vice can only be practised so long as it is not too common—each is ready to condemn the vices which he does not affect. Yet when the various forces of selfishness work together, they do in fact strengthen one another. And on the great aggregate of human wickedness the watchful eye of the Almighty looks down—not with pleasure, His wrath is kindling against us as a consuming fire.

III. But this guilt, real as it is, is often accompanied by a profound unconsciousness. We, with our well-meant cant about national greatness, and the blessings of a Christian country and and the like, do shut our eyes wilfully to fearful signs of evil within.

IV. It is true that a nation goes through a moral probation, as a man does; that up to a certain point she has her opportunities of retrieval, after this sin is finished and brings forth death. Jerusalem slept not less soundly the day after the Crucifixion than the day before; nor were her markets less thronged, nor the proud carriage of her priests at all abated. Yet the transactions of one week had altered utterly the condition of that place. In God's hand is the sudden thunderbolt that shatters in a moment, and the decay that eats slowly for centuries. But once more, evil itself is punishment and destruction, fraud and wrong-doing are the bandits that steal about and rob you; drunkenness, gambling, impurity, are the monsters that dash your sons and daughters against the stones. But remember that sin, great and potent as it seems, is a conquered kingdom; it looks menacing, its numbers are legion, but the victory gained over it by our Lord was a real victory, and its strength is ready to crumble away when it is touched in earnest. Blessed are all those who make themselves instruments in such a work of love.

Archbishop Thomson, Lincoln's Inn Sermons, p. 356.

The Invitation refused.

I. To the great fact of God's continual, efficient calls every man's own conscience is the best witness. Doubtless these calls fall louder and deeper sometimes on the spiritual ear than they fall at other times. They lie thickest, I believe, in early life. There are states of mind we can scarcely say how, and there are providential scenes we can scarcely say why, which give an intensity to those many voices—when a verse of Scripture will sometimes roll its meaning like thunder, or when a whisper of the soul will carry an accent tenfold with it. But the call is not confined to these specialities. There is a finger of a man's hand, which is always waking the strings of thought. It is when we lie down; it is when we rise up; it is when we sit in the house; it is when we are walking by the way. Perhaps not a room in which we have ever lain down to sleep; perhaps not a church into which we have ever entered, even with careless foot; perhaps not a sin which we ever deliberately did; perhaps not an incident for weal or woe, that lies on the chequered path of life—but there was something there that swelled that "how often."

II. Some there are who will rise up and say, "I do not consider that I have ever yet been called." And these divide themselves into two classes: (1) Those who wish they could believe that they had been called, but cannot bring their mind to think that anything so good has happened to them, as that God should so remember and desire them as that He should call them; (2) those who virtually complain, "I do not hold that I have yet received my call. Why does not God, if He would yet save me, make some great interposition on my behalf?" Alas! for the guilty unbelief of the one, and the awful presumption of the other. Of all the refusals of God's love the real secret is the same. They may cover themselves up with various pretexts, but the cause is one. It is not in any outward circumstances; it is not in any particular temperament; it is not in the want of power; but our Saviour points to it at once with His omniscient mind. "How often would I have gathered ye, and ye would not!" It is the absence of the will; it is the want of that setting of the mind to God's mind; that conformity of the affections to God's promises; that appreciation of unseen things; that spiritual sense, which is the essence and the beginning of a new life. Therefore they cannot come.

J. Vaughan, Fifty Sermons, 1874, p. 86.

Christ is set forth here under the symbol of a shelter. This is the central thought of the text, and we are now summoned with all humility and reverence to study it.

I. The first thing suggested by this symbol is the idea of danger. Not only or chiefly were the Jews warned of danger from the stroke of the Roman eagle, which was about to rend them as its prey. Great as was the political calamity that menaced them, their greatest danger was spiritual; the danger shared by all, in every age, who have broken the law, but have not accepted the Saviour. Infraction of law must be followed by infliction of penalty. Danger is implied in this very image, though at first sight it seems only to suggest ideas of beautiful tenderness and peace. No place for this figure would have been found in the symbols of Christ if there had been no danger.

II. The symbol of a shelter is so presented as to set forth the glory of Him who is thus revealed. It is Divine protection that is offered you. The overshadowing wing of omnipotence is spread in your defence. All the perfections of the sovereign Spirit combine to make the living shield which beats back the destroying stroke, and which is broad enough to canopy a fugitive world.

III. This symbol of a shelter illustrates in the highest degree the condescending tenderness of Christ. It does so by its homely simplicity, as well as by its ineffable pathos.

IV. This symbol of Christ is so set forth as to suggest the idea of a shelter, afforded by one who interposes his own life between us and danger. A rock, out in the blinding glare of the wilderness, is a shelter to the traveller by being his substitute, and receiving the sunstroke on itself. A shield in the day of battle is a shelter to the warrior only when the shattering blow rings on the shield itself. Christ is a shelter to trusting souls only by interposing His own life between them and the shock of doom.

V. Note the ends to be attained by the sinner's flight to the Saviour. It is obvious that the immediate result is safety. But it would be a radical mistake to suppose that the Gospel urges men to seek safety only for safety's sake. Safety in Christ is the first step to practical godliness.

VI. This symbol of Christ is drawn in such a way as to show that man is responsible in the matter of his own salvation.

C. Stanford, Symbols of Christ, p. 275.

I. Men, while they are in a state of nature, are exposed to imminent danger. As transgressors of the law of God, they are liable to its penalty.

II. Our Lord Jesus Christ offers Himself as a shelter against this danger.

III. He fulfils this function with condescending tenderness.

IV. He delivers His people by the substitution of His own life for theirs.

V. The immediate result of application to Him is safety.

VI. Men are responsible in the matter of their own salvation.

G. Brooks, Five Hundred Outlines of Sermons, p. 323.

References: Matthew 23:37.—D. Fraser, The Metaphors of the Gospels, p. 209; J. B. French, Christian World Pulpit, vol. xxx., p. 364; J. Keble, Sermons for Sundays after Trinity, part i., p. 323; R. Heber, Parish Sermons, vol. ii., p. 421. Matthew 23:37, Matthew 23:38.—Clergyman's Magazine, vol. v., p. 31; J. M. Neale, Sermons in Sackville College, vol. ii., p. 243.

Saying, The scribes and the Pharisees sit in Moses' seat:
All therefore whatsoever they bid you observe, that observe and do; but do not ye after their works: for they say, and do not.
For they bind heavy burdens and grievous to be borne, and lay them on men's shoulders; but they themselves will not move them with one of their fingers.
But all their works they do for to be seen of men: they make broad their phylacteries, and enlarge the borders of their garments,
And love the uppermost rooms at feasts, and the chief seats in the synagogues,
And greetings in the markets, and to be called of men, Rabbi, Rabbi.
But be not ye called Rabbi: for one is your Master, even Christ; and all ye are brethren.
And call no man your father upon the earth: for one is your Father, which is in heaven.
Neither be ye called masters: for one is your Master, even Christ.
But he that is greatest among you shall be your servant.
And whosoever shall exalt himself shall be abased; and he that shall humble himself shall be exalted.
But woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye shut up the kingdom of heaven against men: for ye neither go in yourselves, neither suffer ye them that are entering to go in.
Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye devour widows' houses, and for a pretence make long prayer: therefore ye shall receive the greater damnation.
Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye compass sea and land to make one proselyte, and when he is made, ye make him twofold more the child of hell than yourselves.
Woe unto you, ye blind guides, which say, Whosoever shall swear by the temple, it is nothing; but whosoever shall swear by the gold of the temple, he is a debtor!
Ye fools and blind: for whether is greater, the gold, or the temple that sanctifieth the gold?
And, Whosoever shall swear by the altar, it is nothing; but whosoever sweareth by the gift that is upon it, he is guilty.
Ye fools and blind: for whether is greater, the gift, or the altar that sanctifieth the gift?
Whoso therefore shall swear by the altar, sweareth by it, and by all things thereon.
And whoso shall swear by the temple, sweareth by it, and by him that dwelleth therein.
And he that shall swear by heaven, sweareth by the throne of God, and by him that sitteth thereon.
Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye pay tithe of mint and anise and cummin, and have omitted the weightier matters of the law, judgment, mercy, and faith: these ought ye to have done, and not to leave the other undone.
Ye blind guides, which strain at a gnat, and swallow a camel.
Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye make clean the outside of the cup and of the platter, but within they are full of extortion and excess.
Thou blind Pharisee, cleanse first that which is within the cup and platter, that the outside of them may be clean also.
Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye are like unto whited sepulchres, which indeed appear beautiful outward, but are within full of dead men's bones, and of all uncleanness.
Even so ye also outwardly appear righteous unto men, but within ye are full of hypocrisy and iniquity.
Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! because ye build the tombs of the prophets, and garnish the sepulchres of the righteous,
And say, If we had been in the days of our fathers, we would not have been partakers with them in the blood of the prophets.
Wherefore ye be witnesses unto yourselves, that ye are the children of them which killed the prophets.
Fill ye up then the measure of your fathers.
Ye serpents, ye generation of vipers, how can ye escape the damnation of hell?
Wherefore, behold, I send unto you prophets, and wise men, and scribes: and some of them ye shall kill and crucify; and some of them shall ye scourge in your synagogues, and persecute them from city to city:
That upon you may come all the righteous blood shed upon the earth, from the blood of righteous Abel unto the blood of Zacharias son of Barachias, whom ye slew between the temple and the altar.
Verily I say unto you, All these things shall come upon this generation.
O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, thou that killest the prophets, and stonest them which are sent unto thee, how often would I have gathered thy children together, even as a hen gathereth her chickens under her wings, and ye would not!
Behold, your house is left unto you desolate.
For I say unto you, Ye shall not see me henceforth, till ye shall say, Blessed is he that cometh in the name of the Lord.
William Robertson Nicoll's Sermon Bible

Text Courtesy of Used by Permission.

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