Scripture: “You serpents, you brood of vipers, how are you to escape being sentenced to hell? Therefore I send you prophets and wise men and scribes, some of whom you will kill and crucify, and some you will flog in your synagogues and persecute from town to town, so that on you may come all the righteous blood shed on earth, from the blood of righteous Abel to the blood of Zechariah the son of Barachiah, whom you murdered between the sanctuary and the altar. Truly, I say to you, all these things will come upon this generation.” Matthew 23:33-36 ESV
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Observation: Recapping yesterday’s Daily Focus, Jesus’ seventh and last woe against the scribes and Pharisees builds on the theme of “death.” Because these religious leaders pay tribute to the martyred prophets of Israel and boast that they would have never committed such heinous acts as did their ancestors, Jesus, like a skillful prosecuting attorney, contends that they are guilty by association because, to the contrary of their self-praise, they act just like their forefathers.
In today’s devotion, Jesus continues his diatribe against these hypocritical and corrupt religious leaders, who, while presenting themselves as God’s chosen leaders, furtively plot to kill his Son. Calling them a brood of vipers, he rhetorically questions how they will escape eternal damnation (v.33). Then, with an eye on the future, Jesus prefaces that he is sending emissaries to warn those straying from God to repent. But these supposed guardians of the faith will kill the Lord’s messengers, following in the footsteps of their murderous forefathers: from Cain shedding the blood of Abel (see Genesis 4:8-11) to King Joash ordering the stoning of Zechariah (see 2 Chronicles 24:20-22), spanning the extent of biblical history as recorded in the Hebrew Bible. Jesus concludes with a warning that his prophecy applies to this very generation—setting the stage for his lament over Jerusalem (tomorrow’s Daily Focus).
Takeaway: Even more than their ancestors, Jesus’ contemporaries carry the guilt of pretentiously acting on behalf of Yahweh to rid Israel of a supposed false prophet and blasphemer who, ironically, is God incarnate. And they do so despite the contrary evidence before them. How so? First, John the Baptist prepared the way and attested to Jesus as the Messiah in the presence of those Pharisees and Sadducees sent to assess his ministry (3:7). Secondly, the Pharisees later witnessed Jesus performing numerous miraculous signs (some never before seen) that corroborated his messianic identity with their prophetic writings. Yet, they attributed his miracles to the prince of demons (9:34). Lastly, they heard Christ’s gospel message as he preached in their local synagogues (13:53-54) and to the crowds (from which they spied). But instead of receiving their long-awaited Messiah, in the same vein as their wicked forefathers, these prideful and jealous religious leaders plot to spill innocent blood: first that of the Son of God, then that of his disciples.
Sadly, these blind guides will seduce the crowds to follow their lead in asking for Jesus’ crucifixion (27:20), even spurring the people to bring curses on their next generation (27:25). And as Jesus forewarned, Rome will come down hard on Israel with the first Jewish-Roman war in 66 CE, culminating with the razing of Jerusalem in 70 CE. And today, Israel still struggles to find shalom rest within its borders with hostile resident Palestinians and ongoing threats from neighboring Muslim nations.
So what are we to make of this text? On the surface, as Christians, we see how Jesus’ warning applies to our secular world, which is growing in animosity toward the Christian faith. Many suppose we hold to a religious doctrine that encourages prejudice, hatred, and persecution toward those unlike us. And some feel they must cancel us, whether socially or by legislation that would silence us behind bars. But we must also own within our ranks that we are not always good witnesses of what we profess—earning fair criticism from those outside the church.
Our part? Read, reflect, and apply the Scriptures to our lives under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, along with the plethora of historical and present-day writers who walk the talk. And as periodically mentioned in these devotions, apply what we learn to our lives, for the Holy Spirit will not reveal any more than what we already obey. But when we do, we gain a more meaningful understanding of and love for our beautiful and glorious Lord and Savior.
Prayer: Father God, we thank you for your Son, who humbled himself to become one of us and offer his life as a ransom for those of us who, by faith through grace, turn our affections away from the world to him. Still, we struggle to love and obey you and your Son consistently. So would you please help us read, mark, and digest your Word so that we might grow in our love for and obedience to your Son through the guidance of your Holy Spirit and fellow Christians who live out their faith? Amen.
Rev. Gordon Green, M.Div., M.A. Counseling