During the last week of the Savior’s mortal ministry, He condemned the hypocrisy of the scribes and Pharisees and lamented that the people of Jerusalem would not accept His love and protection.
The Savior condemns the hypocrisy of the scribes and Pharisees
Consider how your set of scriptures compares to sets of scriptures that your family members, ward members, and friends have. Who has the largest set? Who has the most markings and notes in the scriptures? Who has the nicest set?
How would you respond if someone claimed that the person with the largest set of scriptures, the most markings and notes in the scriptures, or the nicest set of scriptures was the most righteous? ____________________________________________________________________________________________________
Why would this be an ineffective way to determine righteousness? ____________________________________________________________________________________________________
If righteousness was determined by outward appearances, it might lead some people to act hypocritically. “The word [hypocrite] generally denotes one who pretends to be religious when he is not” (Bible Dictionary, “Hypocrite”). It could also refer to someone who pretends not to be religious when he or she really is.
As part of the Savior’s final public message given at the temple in Jerusalem during the last week of His mortal ministry, He condemned the hypocrisy of the scribes and Pharisees.
As you study Matthew 23, look for truths that will help you know how to respond when you see others acting hypocritically and what you can do to overcome hypocrisy in your own life.
Read Matthew 23:1–7, looking for what the Savior said about the ways in which the scribes and Pharisees were being hypocritical. The phrase “sit in Moses’ seat” (verse 2) means the scribes and Pharisees occupied a position of authority to teach the doctrine and interpret and administer the law. The scribes were lawyers who studied the law of Moses, and the Pharisees were the religious teachers.
According to the oral tradition, the Jews wore phylacteries, also called tefillin, which were small leather boxes strapped onto the forehead and left arm to show that their minds and hearts were constantly dedicated to God’s law. Inside the phylacteries were small rolls of parchment that contained portions of the Old Testament text. The Jews wore phylacteries to help them remember to follow God’s commandments (see Exodus 13:5–10, 14–16; Deuteronomy 6:4–9; 11:13–21). The Lord did not condemn those who wore phylacteries, but He did condemn those who used them hypocritically or enlarged them so that others would notice they were wearing them.
You may want to mark the phrase in Matthew 23:5 that explains why the scribes and Pharisees enlarged their phylacteries and “the borders of their garments.”
As recorded in Matthew 23:3, what counsel did the Lord give His Apostles regarding hypocrisy?
Based on this counsel, we learn the following truth: We can choose to obey God’s laws even if we see others acting hypocritically.
Answer the following question in your scripture study journal: Why is it important for us to choose to obey God’s laws even if we see other others acting hypocritically?
Read Matthew 23:8–10, looking for what the Savior counseled the people not to do.
The Savior used the phrase “all ye are brethren” (verse 8) to teach the people not to consider themselves better than others because they were all God’s children, equal in His sight.
The scribes and Pharisees thought position and status would make them great. Read Matthew 23:11–12, looking for whom the Savior said He will consider great in the kingdom of God. You may want to mark what you find in verse 11.
As recorded in these verses, the Savior taught the people the following principle: If we seek to exalt ourselves above others, we will be abased. Abased means to be lowered or humiliated or to become less respected.
Jesus also taught the people that if we are humble and serve others, the Lord will exalt us. The phrase “shall be exalted” (Matthew 23:12) implies that the Lord will lift us up, help us become more like Him, and grant us exaltation in the celestial kingdom.
Answer the following questions in your scripture study journal:
Why do we need to serve others in order for the Lord to lift us up and help us become more like Him?
How can being humble help us overcome hypocrisy?
Ponder the good things you do at school, home, and church. Consider where you would place yourself on the following continuum based on your motives for doing good works and your efforts to be humble:
Set a goal to serve others daily, and remember that all of us are Heavenly Father’s children.
Jesus Christ declares woes upon the scribes and Pharisees
Imagine there are three cups you may choose to drink from. The first cup is dirty on the outside, the second cup is dirty on the inside, and the third cup is clean. Why would you prefer to drink from the cup that is completely clean and not just partially clean? As you study Matthew 23:13–36, consider how you can liken these three cups to what Jesus said.
In Matthew 23:13–36 we learn that the Savior denounced the scribes and Pharisees for being hypocrites. Scan these verses, looking for the number of times the Savior used the word woe as he addressed the scribes and Pharisees. Consider marking each instance of the word woe in these verses. Woe refers to misery, distress, and sorrow.
Read the following scripture references, and then answer the two questions in your scripture study journal:
How were the scribes and Pharisees being hypocritical?
What examples of this kind of hypocrisy do we see in our day?
Read Matthew 23:26, looking for what the Savior told the Pharisees to do to overcome their hypocrisy. Consider marking what you find.
From this verse we learn that as we strive to become spiritually clean on the inside, it will be reflected in our outward choices.
Answer the following questions in your scripture study journal:
What must we do to be spiritually clean on the inside?
How might our efforts to be spiritually clean on the inside help us overcome hypocrisy?
Thinking about the three cups at the beginning of this section of the lesson, consider which cup best represents your current spiritual condition. Set a goal that will help you to be completely spiritually clean.
The scribes and Pharisees made it look like they “would not commit the least sin,” yet they were actually guilty of transgressing “the whole law” (Joseph Smith Translation, Matthew 23:21 [in Matthew 23:24, footnote a]).
The scribes and Pharisees “[bore] testimony against [their] fathers, when [they, themselves, were] partakers of the same wickedness” (Joseph Smith Translation, Matthew 23:34 [in Matthew 23:36, footnote a]).
While their fathers sinned in ignorance, the scribes and Pharisees knowingly sinned and would have to answer for their transgressions (see Joseph Smith Translation, Matthew 23:35 [in Matthew 23:36, footnote a]).
In Matthew 23:29–33 we learn that Jesus condemned the spiritual leaders of the Jews for accepting former prophets but rejecting living ones. Just like in Jesus’s day, we also must be careful not to revere former prophets while rejecting the living prophets of our day.
The Savior laments that the people of Jerusalem would not come to Him
How does a hen protect her chicks?
When danger threatens, hens gather their chicks under their wings to protect them. A hen loves her chicks and would sacrifice her life to protect them.
Read Matthew 23:37–39, looking for how the Savior said He was like a hen.
How did the people of Jerusalem respond to Jesus’s efforts to gather them?
Consider marking the phrase “your house is left unto you desolate” (verse 38). In this context, desolate means empty or abandoned. Because the people were unwilling to be gathered by the Savior, they were left unprotected. Among other meanings, this phrase could refer to the people’s spiritual condition during Jesus’s time as well as Jerusalem’s future destruction. It could also refer to the temple and the loss of temple blessings.
Based on what Jesus taught about the hen and her chicks, what can we receive if we are willing to be gathered by the Savior? Answer this question by completing the following statement: If we are willing to be gathered by the Savior, then ____________________________________________________________________________________________________.
In the following statement by President Henry B. Eyring of the First Presidency, mark the instruction that identifies one way we can show the Savior we are willing to be gathered by Him:
“More than once He has said that He would gather us to Him as a hen would gather her chickens under her wings. He says that we must choose to come to Him in meekness and with enough faith in Him to repent ‘with full purpose of heart’ [3 Nephi 10:6].
“One way to do that is to gather with the Saints in His Church. Go to your meetings, even when it seems hard. If you are determined, He will help you find the strength to do it” (“In the Strength of the Lord,” Ensign or Liahona, May 2004, 18).
Decide what you will do to gather to the Savior so you can continue to receive His care and protection.
Write the following at the bottom of today’s assignments in your scripture study journal:
I have studied Matthew 23 and completed this lesson on (date).
Additional questions, thoughts, and insights I would like to share with my teacher: