Matthew 23:1-12 The Message
Now Jesus turned to address his disciples, along with the crowd that had gathered with them. “The religion scholars and Pharisees are competent teachers in God’s Law. You won’t go wrong in following their teachings on Moses. But be careful about following them. They talk a good line, but they don’t live it. They don’t take it into their hearts and live it out in their behavior. It’s all spit-and-polish veneer.
“Instead of giving you God’s Law as food and drink by which you can banquet on God, they package it in bundles of rules, loading you down like pack animals. They seem to take pleasure in watching you stagger under these loads, and wouldn’t think of lifting a finger to help. Their lives are perpetual fashion shows, embroidered prayer shawls one day and flowery prayers the next. They love to sit at the head table at church dinners, basking in the most prominent positions, preening in the radiance of public flattery, receiving honorary degrees, and getting called ‘Doctor’ and ‘Reverend.’
“Don’t let people do that to you, put you on a pedestal like that. You all have a single Teacher, and you are all classmates. Don’t set people up as experts over your life, letting them tell you what to do. Save that authority for God; let him tell you what to do. No one else should carry the title of ‘Father’; you have only one Father, and he’s in heaven. And don’t let people maneuver you into taking charge of them. There is only one Life-Leader for you and them—Christ.
“Do you want to stand out? Then step down. Be a servant. If you puff yourself up, you’ll get the wind knocked out of you. But if you’re content to simply be yourself, your life will count for plenty.”
Do we realize what the cross has done? No more “Doctor” or “Reverend,” no more earned statuses or hierarchies. Castes are equalized; authorities are leveled; “self-made men” are made low. But it is not that we despise others, supreme in our own self-confidence as “equal in God’s sight.” We must step down, serve, stoop low. Where once there was hierarchy, now there can be friendship. Status is replaced by love. Respect is no longer a one-way street, but two-way; the former “father” or “doctor” or “reverend” still receives honor, but now freely gives it in equal measure. The Kingdom transcends both Eastern hierarchies and Western anarchies.
“Those exalting themselves will be humbled; those humbling themselves will be exalted.” Grace takes us all down. And then, mysteriously, grace lifts us far higher.
O Thou who, hanging on the cross,
Didst buy our pardon with Thy blood,
Canst Thou not still maintain our cause,
And fill us with the life of God,
Bless with the blessings of Thy throne,
And perfect all our souls in One?
Lo, on Thy bloody sacrifice
For all our graces we depend;
Supported by Thy cross arise,
To finished holiness ascend,
And gain on earth the mountain’s height,
And then salute our friends in light.
—Charles and John Wesley
Hymns on the Lord’s Supper #52