Devotionals Archive

Daybreak: Matthew 23:1-39

Mar 27, 2021

“Even so ye also outwardly appear righteous unto men, but within ye are full of hypocrisy and iniquity.” (Matthew 23:28)

I have a friend I call my “button buddy,” because we both collect buttons and often work together to organize and catalog our finds. As we sort our recently acquired buttons, we drop them into labeled boxes, categorizing them by the material they are made from. Is it glass, metal, ceramic, wood, bone, shell, horn, Bakelite, or fabric? 

Sometimes we have to put a button in the box labeled with a question mark, to be tested later. For example, we both may think a button is made of horn, but something about the appearance makes us wonder. Another button may resemble Bakelite in appearance, but the feel or the weight doesn’t seem right. Occasionally, a button will stymie one of us, but the other can identify it. Sometimes both of us are completely baffled. Modern buttons deliberately made to imitate older kinds add to the confusion.

When it comes time to do a more careful study of the buttons in the question box, one of the testing methods for determining the type of material is a hot needle. When the hot needle point touches an inconspicuous spot, the truth comes forth, either in an odor, the type of melting reaction, or the needle’s inability to penetrate the button.

As Jesus addressed the multitude and disciples regarding the scribes and Pharisees, He let them know that while they interpreted and taught the Law of Moses, they were not practicing what they preached. The Pharisees were to be separated from anything unclean, but Jesus, who saw their hearts, knew there were many hypocrites among them. Jesus used two illustrations to demonstrate this: the cup and platter, and the sepulcher. They both portrayed the same truth — it is possible to be clean on the outside, but at the same time, defiled on the inside. 

Jesus’ assessment of those who have only an outwardly righteous appearance can serve as a reminder in our day. Sooner or later, the truth comes out, just as the hot needle proves the button’s composition. Living our Christianity merely as a show for others is like washing a cup on the outside only. When we are clean on the inside, our outward cleanliness will not be a pretense. If we are tested, we will be Christians clear through. May God help us to be Christlike, inside and out!


This chapter, the beginning of Christ’s last message, was one of denunciation. Jesus, King of the Jews, loved people and was the epitome of patience; yet He could not tolerate the sham and pretense of these religious leaders. He knew they might lead new converts into hypocrisy. His reference to them sitting in Moses’ seat, in verse 2, indicates they were expounding the Law, not just reading it, since the custom was to stand while reading the Law.

Jesus gave seven accusations regarding Israel’s leaders. His accusations reached a climax as He showed that the current Jewish leaders were following in the footsteps of their predecessors, who had murdered the prophets of God.

Phylacteries, mentioned in verse 5, were little leather boxes that contained Scripture portions. They were worn on the arms and foreheads, and were to be posted in their homes. This reflected the importance of teaching their children and the next generations the commandments of God. However, the phylacteries had become more important to the Pharisees as a status symbol, than for the truth they contained.

The Zechariah mentioned in verse 35 was probably the son of Jehoiada referred to in 2 Chronicles 24:20-21. 

Knowledge of Jerusalem’s approaching destruction brought great grief to Jesus’ heart. He had hoped to nurture the Children of Israel like a mother hen does her baby chicks. However, they rejected Him, and so they would face judgment.

Amplified Outline

(Hannah’s Bible Outlines – Used by permission per WORDsearch)
VI.   The official presentation and rejection of the King
       C.   The rejection of the nation by the King (23:1-39)
             1.   The indictment of the scribes and Pharisees (23:1-12)
             2.   The condemnation of the scribes and Pharisees (23:13-32)
                   a.   For willful error (23:13)
                   b.   For greediness (23:14)
                   c.   For false zeal (23:15)
                   d.   For false teaching (23:16-22)
                   e.   For inconsistency (23:23-24)
                   f.   For externalism (23:25-26)
                   g.   For false witness (23:27-32)
             3.   The rejection of the nation (23:33-39)
                   a.   The coming judgment (23:33-36)
                   b.   His sorrow for Jerusalem (23:37-38)
                   c.   His farewell (23:39)

A Closer Look

  1. From verses 4-7 of our text, cite specific examples of what the Pharisees did to promote themselves.
  2. Write a description of a great person, basing it upon verses 11-12.
  3. How can we avoid hypocrisy in our own lives?


The Pharisees did not care about being holy — their focus was on looking holy in order to receive the people’s admiration and praise. Let’s make sure we do not fall into the same trap!

Reference Materials