Big Idea of the Series: This four-week sermon series wrestles with the common statement: “Christianity isn’t a religion, it’s a relationship.” Christianity, by default, is a religion in the common definition of the word. The answer, then, seems to be less about losing our religion than finding a pure one. The aim of this series is to explore what it means to have a pure and un-defiled religion by considering elements like our motives for religious activities, obedience, humility, hypocrisy, and authentic community.
Text: Matthew 23:1-36
Topics: Hypocrisy, Humility
Big Idea of the Message: Jesus rebukes religion done merely for the sake of appearance. Pure religion serves God and others out of humility.
Sermon Ideas and Talking Points:
- In this passage, Jesus adamantly corrects the religious tendency to care about the appearance of things on the outside while neglecting the inside—what really matters. To illustrate this concept, bring with you to the service some various foods and items covered unrecognizably in chocolate coating. Make sure to include sweet things like fruit or Oreo cookies as well as surprising things like sausage or a grasshopper or a piece of sponge. You could even add fancy nuts or sprinkles on top of some to make them appear really appetizing. During the service, present them all on a fancy platter and ask for a brave volunteer to help you conduct a taste test (a teenage boy would be a perfect pick). Warn him or her that some of the delicacies are typical treats and some are surprises. Ask the volunteer to try each thing. How important is it to them that the treat is truly “clean” on the inside?
- “People may not believe what you say, but they will always believe what you do.” The first people who will notice an inconsistency between our actions and our words are our children. In verses 3-4, Jesus describes the religious leaders’ tendency to require of others what they do not perform themselves. Ask your congregation: are there any contradictions in what you tell your kids and what you show them?
- In verses 11-12, Jesus distinguishes between pure religion and false religion by emphasizing humility over greatness. This story is an illustration of such: “A farmer went with his son into a wheat field, to see if it was ready for the harvest. ‘See, father,’ exclaimed the boy, ‘how straight these stems hold up their heads! They must be the best ones. Those that hang their heads down, I am sure cannot be good for much.’ The farmer plucked a stalk of each kind and said, ‘See this, my son! This stalk that stood so straight is light-headed, and almost good for nothing; while this that hung is head so modestly is full of the most beautiful grain,’” (D. L. Moody, ed. John W. Reed, 1100 Illustrations from the Ministry of D. L. Moody).
- Can you serve God and others, and keep it a secret? Not everything has to be posted on social media!
Matthew 23:1-36 Amplified Bible ® (AMP)
23 Then Jesus spoke to the crowds and to His disciples, 2 saying: “The scribes and Pharisees have seated themselves in Moses’ chair [of authority as teachers of the Law]; 3 so practice and observe everything they tell you, but do not do as they do; for they preach [things], but do not practice them. 4 The scribes and Pharisees tie up heavy loads [that are hard to bear] and place them on men’s shoulders, but they themselves will not lift a finger [to make them lighter]. 5 They do all their deeds to be seen by men; for they make their phylacteries (tefillin) wide [to make them more conspicuous] and make their tassels long. 6 They love the place of distinction and honor at feasts and the best seats in the synagogues [those on the platform near the scrolls of the Law, facing the congregation], 7 and to be greeted [with respect] in the market places and public forums, and to have people call them Rabbi. 8 But do not be called Rabbi (Teacher); for One is your Teacher, and you are all [equally] brothers. 9 Do not call anyone on earth [who guides you spiritually] your father; for One is your Father, He who is in heaven. 10 Do not let yourselves be called leaders or teachers; for One is your Leader (Teacher), the Christ. 11 But the greatest among you will be your servant. 12 Whoever exalts himself shall be humbled; and whoever humbles himself shall be raised to honor.
13 “But woe (judgement is coming) to you, [self-righteous] scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites, because you shut off the kingdom of heaven in front of people; for you do not enter yourselves, nor do you allow those who are [in the process of] entering to do so. 14 Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites, because you swallow up widows’ houses, and to cover it up you make long prayers; therefore you will receive the greater condemnation.
15 “Woe to you, [self-righteous] scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites, because you travel over sea and land to make a single proselyte (convert to Judaism), and when he becomes a convert, you make him twice as much a son of hell as you are.
16 “Woe to you, blind guides, who say, ‘Whoever swears [an oath] by the sanctuary of the temple, that is nothing (non-binding); but whoever swears [an oath] by the gold of the temple is obligated [as a debtor to fulfill his vow and keep his promise].’ 17 You fools and blind men! Which is more important, the gold or the sanctuary of the temple that sanctified the gold? 18 And [you scribes and Pharisees say], ‘Whoever swears [an oath] by the altar, that is nothing (non-binding), but whoever swears [an oath] by the offering on it, he is obligated [as a debtor to fulfill his vow and keep his promise].’ 19 You [spiritually] blind men, which is more important, the offering, or the altar that sanctifies the offering? 20 Therefore, whoever swears [an oath] by the altar, swears both by it and by everything [offered] on it. 21 And whoever swears [an oath] by the sanctuary of the temple, swears by it and by Him who dwells within it. 22 And whoever swears [an oath] by heaven, swears both by the throne of God and by Him who sits upon it.
23 “Woe to you, [self-righteous] scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you give a tenth (tithe) of your mint and dill and cumin [focusing on minor matters], and have neglected the weightier [more important moral and spiritual] provisions of the Law: justice and mercy and faithfulness; but these are the [primary] things you ought to have done without neglecting the others. 24 You [spiritually] blind guides, who strain out a gnat [consuming yourselves with miniscule matters] and swallow a camel [ignoring and violating God’s precepts]!
25 “Woe to you, [self-righteous] scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you clean the outside of the cup and of the plate, but inside they are full of extortion and robbery and self-indulgence (unrestrained greed). 26 You [spiritually] blind Pharisee, first clean the inside of the cup and of the plate [examine and change your inner self to conform to God’s precepts], so that the outside [your public life and deeds] may be clean also.
27 “Woe to you, [self-righteous] scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you are like whitewashed tombs which look beautiful on the outside, but inside are full of dead men’s bones and everything unclean. 28 So you, also, outwardly seem to be just and upright to men, but inwardly you are full of hypocrisy and lawlessness.
29 “Woe to you, [self-righteous] scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you build tombs for the prophets and decorate and adorn the monuments of the righteous, 30 and you say, ‘If we had been living in the days of our fathers, we would not have joined them in shedding the blood of the prophets.’ 31 So you testify against yourselves that you are the descendants of those who murdered the prophets. 32 Fill up, then, the [allotted] measure of the guilt of your fathers’ sins. 33 You serpents, you spawn of vipers, how can you escape the penalty of hell?
34 “Therefore, take notice, I am sending you prophets and wise men [interpreters, teachers] and scribes [men educated in the Mosaic Law and the writings of the prophets]; some of them you will kill and even crucify, and some you will flog in your synagogues, and pursue and persecute from city to city, 35 so that on you will come the guilt of all the blood of the righteous shed on earth, from the blood of righteous Abel to the blood of Zechariah [the priest], the son of Berechiah, whom you murdered between the temple and the altar. 36 I assure you and most solemnly say to you, [the judgment for] all these things [these vile and murderous deeds] will come on this generation.
- What is one thing that stood out to you from this week’s message?
- Have you ever done something “religious” in order to look good in front of others? What was it?
- How does social media effect how we serve God?
- What’s one thing you can do for someone else this week, that won’t bring you any attention (other than from this group)?
- How can I pray for you?
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P.S. I look forward to Seeing you inside the next weeks Sermon
Text: Amos 5:11-27
Topic: Worship, Motives
Big Idea: We can perform all the religious acts we can think of, but if we are doing them for show, God will reject them. God doesn’t require our perfection, but He does desire pure hearts and honest motives