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Victory Over Condemnation

Matthew 23 is not a chapter of warm fuzzy feelings. The Pharisees and scribes challenged Jesus at every turn; in Matthew 23, Jesus puts the Pharisees and Scribes in the hot seat and uses some of the strongest language recorded in the Bible. Jesus describes his opponents as “sons of Hell” on the highway to Hell.

As we read Matthew 23, it is easy to take Jesus’ rebukes and critiques and make them about “them.” Most Christians have an idea about who is a modern-day “Pharisee.” But we should be careful about eagerly pointing the finger away from us. Jesus said that the Pharisees “looked good to men outwardly.”  Today’s Pharisees also look good outwardly, and if you have ever used social media, you know that one of the main objects for its users is to appear virtuous, happy, and whole, despite reality.

One major hindrance to spiritual growth and true happiness is the lack of confession of sin. We lack confession because we fear what people will think of us in our failures. Therefore we put up a front of righteousness so that we “appear good to men.” But we will never escape our failures until we quit hiding them. The Apostle James says,

“confess your sins to one another, and pray for one another so that you may be healed.” James 5:16.

Freedom from the highway to Hell begins with confessing sin.

Some people might feel deterred from confession by the strong language Jesus uses in Matthew 23. They fear that Jesus only has condemnation for them. Many today criticize outspoken and bold preachers saying that they are “turning people away” from the Gospel by preaching condemning messages. But that kind of talk comes mostly from people who don't understand the Gospel. The glory of the Gospel is this: everything Jesus preached in Matthew 23 about the coming doom and destruction of Jerusalem and the Pharisees came upon Jesus Himself on the cross. Jesus warned the Pharisees that their vision of God’s Kingdom was not God’s Kingdom, and their stubborn rebellion led them into a fatal head-on collision with Rome. People who collide with Rome get crucified.

If you feel condemned because of your moral failures, the way to escape condemnation is through accepting your guilt, not denying it. After you acknowledge your responsibility, you must place the punishment for that guilt on Jesus. When Jesus spoke of the coming doom and suffering for Jerusalem, He spoke about the imminent destruction and suffering He would endure. In spite of His innocence, Jesus was crucified in the fashion of a violent rebel.

There are arrogant and mean preachers who scream and condemn people to Hell. I'm not advocating that. But we must be free to preach as Jesus did in Matthew 23, with bold truth and directness. A good preacher will tell you the truth about the consequences of sin, but he will do it with compassion and love because he has also been crucified with Christ.

Before the prophet Isaiah preached repentance to Israel, he had an encounter with the holiness of God and realized that he was “a man of unclean lips.” But God cleansed Isaiah of his sin and then He spoke boldly (See Isaiah 6). A true preacher of God’s word will not be shy about condemning sin because he knows what to do with the condemnation: give it to Jesus.

Don't fear the exposure of your sin; know what to do with it. Jesus' sacrifice on the cross is the key to your victory over condemnation. All the condemnation in the word was placed upon Jesus’ shoulders. You shouldn’t try to carry that weight anymore. It will kill you.

“Cast your cares upon the Lord and He will sustain you.” Psalm 55:22

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