Bible Text: Matthew 23:1-12 | Preacher: Pastor Christian Preus | It is an amazing and beautiful thing that Jesus tells his disciples to listen to the Pharisees and do what they command. Jesus has called these same Pharisees blind and leaders of the blind. He’s told his disciples to beware of their leaven. He’s accused them of replacing God’s Word with their own traditions. He’s called them false teachers and He’s told His disciples to beware of false teachers, to run from them. He’s about to unleash a litany of “woe to you”s on these same Pharisees. And Jesus still says, they sit in Moses’ seat. Therefore listen to them.

It’s beautiful because it tells you how despite man’s sin, despite how much we corrupt the institutions God has made, they are still good, as good as they were when He first established them in Paradise. So we might find pastors who preach lies and live wicked lives, but the office of pastor that God established is still good, still beautiful, still the insistence of God’s love, that men hear His Word and learn to know their Savior. And we might see fathers shirking their responsibilities, abandoning their children, forsaking their duties, but the office of father is still wonderful, established by God so that men lead their families and love them and bring them up in His holy Word. And we might see corruption all over the place in the government, but God’s institution is still excellent, that He commands our leaders to protect the good and punish the evil, so that we can lead godly lives and worship our God in peace. That, first of all, is Jesus’ insistence here, that no matter how false teachers corrupt what He has made, the offices themselves, of pastor, of mother, of father, of ruler, are good because God established them for our good, because He loves us. The scribes and Pharisees sit in Moses’ seat. Therefore listen to them.

That “therefore” is a very important word here. They sit in Moses’ seat – therefore listen to them. He doesn’t say, Listen to them no matter what they say. He doesn’t say, whatever they teach, believe it, no matter what it is. God doesn’t give that privilege to anyone. It is His glory alone and He doesn’t give His glory to another. He is literally the only One we listen to and obey no matter what, because He alone is good, He alone is perfect in all His ways. So let God be true and every man a liar.

No, Jesus says, they sit in Moses’ seat, and therefore hear them. Moses wrote down God’s Word in the first five books of the Bible. Jesus is upholding the Word of the Bible here – Jesus always does this, He quotes constantly from the Bible, He says it can’t be broken, He says it must be fulfilled in Him, He takes it as the unassailable truth that this Bible is the very Word of God. So even when false teachers, hypocrites, blind leaders of the blind, sit in Moses’ seat and teach what Moses commands, you listen, because it’s God’s Word and that’s the Word that deserves your attention, that leads you to Christ and to the joy of sins forgiven and to a clean conscience and to everlasting life with your Creator and God.

But Jesus also teaches the other side of the coin, “But do not do as they do.” You know from the parable of the Pharisee and the tax collector that the Pharisees were decent outward people – they tithed, gave ten percent of their wealth to the church and the poor, they fasted, they prayed regularly. Jesus isn’t saying the Pharisees aren’t good outward examples. They are. We should do all these things. Jesus says, “Do not do as they do,” because they hold on to human opinions instead of God’s Word, as if these opinions are God’s Word.

When Jesus says to his disciples, his first pastors, things like, “He who hears you hears me,” or “Whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven,” He is not giving them free rein to preach whatever they like. He is binding them to preach His Word and nothing else. If the pope preaches that you go to a place called purgatory after you die or offers to give you an indulgence if you follow him on twitter, you don’t listen because this is not the voice of your Shepherd who says, “Come to me all ye who are weary and heavy laden and I will give you rest.” My sheep know my voice and they follow Me, Jesus says, “But they will by no means follow a stranger, but will flee from him, for they do not know the voice of strangers.” When the liberal church leaders of our day preach their opinions on homosexual marriage and transgenderism, we don’ know that voice, it’s strange and silly to us, because we listen to the voice of our Shepherd, who says, “In the beginning it was not so, but God made them male and female, and what God has joined together, let no man put asunder.” When the factions of our time tell us that this is not Jesus’ body and blood, that this is impossible, we listen to our Shepherd who says, “This is my body, this is my blood for the forgiveness of your sins,” and “with man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.” We learn to so love and adore the voice of our Shepherd, who has done the impossible for us, that anything spoken contrary to His Word becomes strange and silly and nonsense, and everything spoken according to His Word gives joy and peace and satisfaction.

So you need to know the voice of your Shepherd. You need to know when your pastors are sitting in the seat of Moses or when they are instead sitting on the seat of destruction. The voice of your Shepherd is simple and beautiful and clear. A child can know it. You read your Bible faithfully, you pray your catechism, and you will recognize the voice of your Shepherd. You don’t need to have high academic credentials and a Dr. before your name to read the clear words of Jesus that tell you you are saved by faith in His blood and not in your own works. You can read in plain English Jesus’ beautiful defense of marriage between one man and one woman till death does them part. You can hear the words of your Lord chanted every Sunday, “this is my body,” “this cup is the new testament in my blood,” and these words will never deceive you. If you continue in my Word, you are my disciples, and you shall know the truth and the truth shall set you free.

I have often found that people who read their Bibles are surprisingly Lutheran even if they don’t belong to Lutheran churches; I’ve had Baptists insist that Jesus gives His body and blood in the Lord’s Supper even though their churches teach the opposite. It’s wonderful. I’ve had Methodists agree that babies can have faith in their Savior, even though their Church denies that babies can believe. Why? Because they read the Bible, and the Bible is clear, and they recognize the voice of their Shepherd. That’s why we’re Lutherans, not because we’re of German extraction or Norwegian heritage or like bratwurst or lefse, it’s this alone, that in the Lutheran Church we hear the clear voice of our Shepherd, the pure Word of the Bible, from our pastors and in our Baptism and on that altar.

Even Luther, who was outrageously educated, a genius who towered over the intellectuals of his time, would again and again study his catechism and say he couldn’t get beyond its wisdom. On his deathbed, he repeated again and again John 3:16, “God so love the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have eternal life.” And the simple words of prayer, “Into your hands I commend my spirit, O Lord, my God and my Redeemer.” The purpose of all learning and education in the end is this – that we hold on to the simple truths our God so clearly speaks to us in the Bible.

Jesus says that the Pharisees bind men with burdens they themselves can’t bear. This isn’t because you couldn’t do what the Pharisees did. You could. Washing hands and fasting isn’t that hard. It’s because after you did them all, you’d still have come no closer to God, no further toward perfection and eternal life. This is what is unbearable. They burden you and then they won’t touch your burden with their little finger, won’t relieve you of it. This is what’s unbearable about every false teaching of our time from the promotion of perversity in our society to all the legalistic rules of the Mormons – after you’ve kept them all, after you’ve submitted to all their propaganda, you still have no Jesus, no Savior who puts down the proud and exalts the lowly.

But the words of our Shepherd are true and noble and good and always lead you to your Savior. His law is unbearable, but it’s precisely because you can’t bear it that God takes its burden from you and puts it on Himself. God’s law tells you to love Him perfectly with all your strength and soul and mind, and you have failed. It tells you to love your neighbor as yourself and you have instead judged him and put your own interests above his. You cannot bear it and so you confess, “Do not enter into judgment with your servant, O Lord, for in your sight no man living is righteous.” And, “If you O Lord should mark iniquity, O Lord, who could stand.” “The law,” St. Paul says, “is our tutor to lead us to Christ.” It tells you what you can’t bear, so that you can see the Man who bore it for you. And there you find your dear Lord Jesus, who did love God above all things and did love His neighbor as Himself. And you see that you are His neighbor, whom He loves. He is your Creator and God and He has become your Brother. He takes every burden of sin and guilt and punishment from you and lays it on Himself and loves you to His death, suffers for you, dies for you, rises to give you an inheritance with God that cannot be taken away from you.

This is why Jesus says call no man Rabbi, except Jesus, and no man father, but your Father in heaven, and no man teacher, but Christ. Obviously you still call your father father, and your pastor pastor, and your president president, but with this truth always imprinted on your heart and your mind, that Christ is head of all things. All things, in home, in government, in the church, all authority has been given to Me, Jesus says. A father is worthy of the name father when he leads his family to Christ. A ruler rules well when he rewards the good and punishes the evil as Christ commands. The pastor stands in the place of Christ when he forgives sins and administers the Lord’s body and blood and teaches the words of the Good Shepherd, when his words are Christ’s words. We want no other head, no other Lord. Every good we receive from our fathers and mothers, from our country, from our pastors and our church, all of it, every good of body and soul, comes from Him. For of Him and to Him and by Him are all things.

This is why we sing, Let none but Christ our Master be. We want no other Master, no other Lord, than our Savior, who uses all authority in heaven and on earth to give to us again today the pledge of His love in His body and His blood and will keep us from every evil until He brings us into the place He has prepared for us.

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