Monsters In Our Midst

Matt. 23: 1-13


Introd.  Open with story about Churchill Manitoba Canada

  For the last few weeks we’ve all been subjected to reruns of every scary movie ever made: zombies, vampires, guys in hockey masks. Monsters in all shapes and forms are the flavor of the month of October. How did we get such a weird holiday as Halloween? Although we only have this event once a year when we dress in weird and unusually costumes, every day is Halloween in Hollywood.


The origen of Halloween is a pagan holiday can be traced back to The Celtics, who lived 2,000 years ago in the area that is now Ireland and northern Europe celebrated their new year on November 1. This day marked the end of summer and the harvest and the beginning of the dark, cold winter, a time of year that was often associated with human death. Celts believed that on the night before the new year, the boundary between the worlds of the living and the dead became blurred.


To avoid being recognized by these ghosts, people would wear masks when they left their homes after dark so that the ghosts would mistake them for fellow spirits. To keep ghosts away from their houses, people would place bowls of food outside their homes to appease the ghosts and prevent them from attempting to enter

In the 8th century Pope Gregory in an attempt to diffuse the unsavory aspects of this festival, combined a couple of holidays and proclaimed Nov. 1st as all saints day –especially the martyrs - and the evening before as a hallowed eve. It became kind of a monsters verses saints experience.  He was not very successful in changing the nature of the holiday.  In our culture, the monsters get center stage and adulation. The saints are left to clean up the wrappers, gum and candy in the aftermath.  Monsters win by a shutout.

Therefore tomorrow night children across the nation will dress up, knock on your door, and accumulate enough candy to feed a starving third-world nation for a month! It’s easy to condemn society but is there a lesson for us here?

We’ve been convinced that “monsters” are easily identifiable. . . weird, obviously wicked, bent on murder, mayhem and mischief.

A classic “monster” is a creature that takes the best of its qualities and uses them in a horribly wrong way. The amazing ability of bats to negotiate the darkness of night by using sonic signals to hunt swiftly and silently, is made murderous by, “the vampire.” The agility, strength and speed of the wolf are transformed into the terror of the “the werewolf.” Ape in his normal environment is a creature of God but put him in NY and he becomes King Kong.

In today’s gospel text Jesus was preaching against spiritual “monsters,” individuals who took those qualities that should have brought out the best in them, and yet instead they warped those gifts into an overbearing burden for the very people they were suppose to be helping. Whereas hollywood monsters tend to destroy immediately, spiritual monsters take away our life one moment at a time. draining not our blood but our spiritual energy, vitality and influence.

Lets read the story from Matt. 23: 1-13.

 1 Then Jesus said to the crowds and to his disciples: 2 “The teachers of the law and the Pharisees sit in Moses’ seat. 3 So you must be careful to do everything they tell you. But do not do what they do, for they do not practice what they preach. 4 They tie up heavy, cumbersome loads and put them on other people’s shoulders, but they themselves are not willing to lift a finger to move them.

   5 “Everything they do is done for people to see: They make their phylacteries[a] wide and the tassels on their garments long; 6 they love the place of honor at banquets and the most important seats in the synagogues; 7they love to be greeted with respect in the marketplaces and to be called ‘Rabbi’ by others.

   8 “But you are not to be called ‘Rabbi,’ for you have one Teacher, and you are all brothers. 9 And do not call anyone on earth ‘father,’ for you have one Father, and he is in heaven. 10 Nor are you to be called instructors, for you have one Instructor, the Messiah. 11 The greatest among you will be your servant. 12 For those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.

    13 “Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You shut the door of the kingdom of heaven in people’s faces. You yourselves do not enter, nor will you let those enter who are trying to.

Matt. 23 is the beginning chapter of the final phase of Jesus ministry.  The first 12 verses are the prologue to a series of 7 woes that Jesus accuses them of. Verse 13 is the first of the seven woes.  In contrast Matthew records in chapter six, a series of blessings that Jesus has for us.

Jesus was not thinking about Halloween. He was thinking about the costumes and masks that people put on in everyday life to make themselves look spiritual. 

I.  He begins with the monster of legalism.

Legalism is simply altering his message of grace by attempting to be spiritual by keeping the law.

Vs. 2 He says these people sit in the seat of Moses. Legal experts in the law.  People trusted with the responsibility of pronouncing God’s laws. 

It is kind of interesting to note as you read through the gospels, that Jesus doesn’t focus his harshest criticisms on those we would normally classify as “heathens” or non believers or evil doers.  Certainly he doesn’t condone their behavior or attitudes but he zeros in on believers called Pharisees.  He has higher expectations of believers.  

To the world the Pharisees embodied piety and purity. They took the Torah so seriously that they committed their lives to itemizing and analyzing every possible interaction there might be between daily life and the laws of Moses. They insisted that the Sabbath be as separated as possible from the rest of the “work week.”they insisted on circumcision.  They carefully calculated and itemized tithes for all sorts of holy and helpful reasons. Those things aren’t wrong but the Pharisees went a step further. They began to impose all kinds of restrictions and regulations that weren’t really in the law of Moses. 

 By taking the best intentions and connecting them to nitpicking legalism, the Pharisaic mission became a witchhunt  a kind of spiritual police force. Their pride overwhelmed their piety.

Jesus said about the teachers of the law and the Pharisees, “They do not practice what they preach.” Do you know why he said that?  Because no one could obey all of the minute that they added to the basic law of Moses.  They couldn’t even keep it themselves. That’s why Paul tells us in I Cor. 9:20 – I am not under the law but under grace. Heb. 10 says the law was meant to lead us to Christ not to be an end in itself.  This is the great divide between Jews and Christians. I read an interesting book a few months ago about a man who tried to follow the entire law for a year.  The year of living Biblically.  He couldn’t do it – no one can – that’s why we have Jesus.

It’s called legalism –the attempt to be righteous by keeping the law - it’s a monster that destroys the joy of our salvation and Hebrews says it enslaves us again to a system we can’t keep. 

If we are to avoid the spiritual monster of legalism, we have to resist the temptation to add heavy burdens.

It’s the temptation we have to be Jesus plus people. the Pharisees insisted on adding hundreds of things to the law and made it so burdensome and cumbersome that no one could keep it.  Vs. 23 it says They neglected the weightier issues of love and justice.  A heavy burden to live by the law instead of by grace. It’s why many people give us the Christian faith. We do the same thing today.

II.  The monster of religious showmanship.  Vs. 5-7

We talk about “wearing your religion on your sleeve.” The Pharisees literally wore their religion on their foreheads and arms for everyone to see. They wore phylacteries, little leather boxes on their foreheads. These boxes contained verses from the Old Testament. They also liked to wear long tassels. The Pharisees, in order to draw attention to themselves ... wore especially big ones, so that they might demonstrate their exemplary obedience to the Law and their exemplary piety. Common people like shepherds and fishermen did not wear them. We’re more spiritual than you syndrome.

  Here’s the principle: If we are going to expel the spiritual monsters of showmanship we have to resist the temptation to be known for our appearance rather than our character.

We are not defined by what we look like on the outside. As Gentiles, we aren’t concerned with tassels, phylacteries but there are times we put on a spiritual mask so people can see how spiritual we are: Be careful of spiritual pride – it often comes before the fall. Be wary of individuals who want to tell you how spiritual they are.

In Matt. 6 Jesus says: you need to give but don’t do it such a way that it calls attention to yourself; you need to pray but don’t stand up with upraised hands in front of everyone; you need to fast but don’t brag about how much you are sacrificing. 

III.  The monster of elitism  vs. 8-12

A basic principle of interpreting scripture is that we start with the big story and then interpret the individual verses. Many people err because they do the reverse – take one verse and build a case around it. Don’t call anyone rabbi, or father or teacher. At face value most everyone does that.  The principle here is the same one that we saw in verses 1-4.  Rabbi, father, teacher should lead you to Christ not to themselves. Jesus teaches humility and privacy, so that the one glorified is not a person, but God.

Ever since Adam and Eve’s fruit picking expedition, people have wanted to be god. We lust for the best seats. We crave titles and entitlement.  We desire distinction. Power, prestige, recognition, respect, reverence. Our “monstrous” side wants it all.  . . . whoever exalts himself will be humbled.

If we are going to rid ourselves of this spiritual monster, we have to resist the temptation to make ourselves little gods

We are to be godly but we can never take the place of God; we can never take his glory from him; we can never make it appear as if we are the givers of things.

He uses three expressions of respect, privilege and honor – rabbi, father, and teacher.  When you use those terms to exalt yourself, you are guilty of elitism.  He says we are all brothers and sisters in Christ.  We are all in need of repentance, redemption, and  forgiveness.


Jesus is speaking to us. Be careful you don’t allow the spiritual monsters of legalism, showmanship and elitism to creep into your life.  While it may make you feel important, it may feed your ego– here’s the bottom line.


Vs. 13 You shut people out of the kingdom.

when we resort to legalism, applying our preferences to make sure everyone acts like we do, we shut people out.

No one can do it


While we draw our beautiful spiritual robes around us, exalting ourselves, Christ is shut out.  People are turned off.   Witnessing is blunted. 


When we practice spiritual elitism, desiring prestige and power over being a servant of God, we turn people off.


After we become Christians, God really only asks us to do two things – very simple –  grow in your spiritual experience  - share your life with others.  Spend the rest of our lives weaving those concepts into everything we do.