TODAY’S READING: MATTHEW 23-24
“But you are not to be called rabbi, for you have one teacher, and you are all brothers. And call no man your father on earth, for you have one Father, who is in heaven. Neither be called instructors, for you have one instructor, the Christ.” – Matthew 23:8-10
Jesus identified that the scribes and Pharisees loved a special place of honor. One such honor was to be called rabbi, or my master, my teacher.
While it is true that all mankind loves the honor that comes with these titles and many are willing to give it to them, the ultimate point of Jesus’ teaching is not the simple fact of calling someone your teacher. This merely focuses on the external reality instead of the inward truth, which ironically is the whole point of Jesus’ teaching here.
The inward truth is that we have just one teacher. Our one and only teacher is Jesus Christ.
But, why is Jesus Christ our one and only teacher?
Jesus starts this teaching by saying, “The scribes and the Pharisees sit on Moses’ seat, so do and observe whatever they tell you.” To sit on Moses’ seat was to act as a judge. Jesus was likely referring to Deuteronomy 17:8-11, which says, “If any case arises requiring decision between one kind of homicide and another, one kind of legal right and another, or one kind of assault and another, any case within your towns that is too difficult for you, then you shall arise and go up to the place that the Lord your God will choose. And you shall come to the Levitical priests and to the judge who is in office in those days, and you shall consult them, and they shall declare to you the decision. Then you shall do according to what they declare to you from that that the Lord will choose. And you shall be careful to do according to all that they direct you. According to the instructions that they give you, and according to the decision which they pronounce to you, you shall do. you shall not turn aside from the verdict that they declare to you, either to the right hand or to the left.”
But, there was a problem with teaching of the scribes and pharisees as they sat on Moses’ seat. Jesus said, “For they preach, but do not practice.” They teach, but don’t do. They believe one thing, but do another. The external does not match the internal.
Therefore, seven times Jesus says, “But woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites!” Each one of these woes relates to a way in which the teaching of the scribes and pharisees does not line up with they actually do.
We know the failure of our actions to line up with our beliefs as hypocrisy. Hypocrisy is a feigning to be what one is not or to believe what one does not. It is the false assumption of an appearance of virtue or religion. So, a hypocrite is simply a person who practices who hypocrisy.
Indeed, we get our words hypocrite and hypocrisy from the Greek word Jesus calls the scribes and pharisees. The Greek word is hypokrites. It means a pretender or an actor under an assumed character, to play a role. The scribes and Pharisees were certainly guilty of doing this.
But, given the context of Jesus’ teaching, sitting on the seat of Moses as a judge, I think there may be another subtle meaning of hypokrites being used by Jesus.
The Greek word krites means judge. The Greek prefix hypo means below, under, beneath, defective or inadequate. Jesus said the scribes and pharisees were acting as judges, those who sat on the seat of Moses to decide especially hard cases of legal rights and justice. But, Jesus repeatedly calls the scribes and pharisees defective or inadequate judges.
While the scribes and pharisees sit on the seat of Moses, acting as judges, playing the role of judges, they aren’t really able to fill the role. Jesus says that he is the only one that can fill that role. He is the only teacher.
Jesus already clued us in to one reason. The scribes and pharisees teach but do not do. But, read what Luke says about Jesus in Acts 1:1, “In the first book, O Theophilus, I have dealt with all that Jesus began to do and teach.” Unlike the scribes and pharisees, Jesus is our only teacher because he both does and teaches. What Jesus teaches lines up with what he does and what he does lines up with what he teaches. He’s not pretending or playing a role. Jesus is not a defective judge.
As defective judges, the scribes and pharisees could not see beyond the external reality to the internal truth of themselves, let alone others. And, because they could not see the internal truth, they could not judge any situation correctly.
But, Jesus is the word of God. And, Hebrews 4:12-13 says, “For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and spirit, of joints and marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart. And no creature is hidden from his sight, but all are naked and exposed to the eyes of him to whom we must give account.”
Unlike the scribes and pharisees, Jesus is able to discern our internal truths and realities. Therefore, he can judge every case, no matter how hard.
Like no other man, Jesus can see the heart. He knows us better than we know ourselves. Therefore, he is the only one qualified to be our teacher.