Then Jesus spoke to the multitudes and to His disciples, saying: “The scribes and the Pharisees sit in Moses’ seat. Therefore whatever they tell you to observe, that observe and do, but do not do according to their works; for they say, and do not do.” (Matthew 23:1-3)
The Sermon on the Mount is one of the most famous sermons in history. It is a hallmark of the teaching of Jesus as a collection of teachings foundational to the ministry of Jesus. Great multitudes came to hear the man from Nazareth, and when His disciples came to Him, Jesus opened His mouth and delivered the preamble of the Christian constitution that would define the kingdom of God. There would be many times in the short span of His ministry, Jesus would gather disciples around Him and expound on the mysteries of the coming kingdom. His popularity brought criticism, envy, and a concerted effort by the Jewish leadership to discredit and destroy Him. The religious sect of the Pharisees and the scribes were the harshest critics of Jesus, often trying to trap Jesus in His teaching. When Jesus finished the sermon on the mountain, the people were astonished at the authority of Jesus, for He taught them as one having authority and not as the scribes. The popularity of Jesus was high at the beginning of His ministry, but that would change in just a few years.
In one of His last public discourses before His crucifixion, Jesus spoke to the multitudes and His disciples of the influence of the scribes and Pharisees. This sermon would be the antithesis of the sermon delivered on the mountain, at least in character. While the sermon mountain was challenging and thoughtful, the message in the temple courts would be a harsh, stinging rebuke of Jewish hypocrisy. Jesus knew His hour had come to glorify the Father. He knew He would be killed from the envy of the Jewish leaders who wanted Him dead. The scribes and Pharisees would be glad to be rid of the man from Nazareth, but Jesus had one last message to the people about the Jewish leadership. The sermon of Jesus is one of the harshest, brutal, severest criticism of their hypocrisy. It is a message that resonates with the wrath of God.
Jesus warns the people to reject the example of the Pharisees and scribes. He recognized the harsh treatment the leadership burdened the people with and revealed their motives as self-serving. Pride exalted the hearts of the scribes to seek the honors of men and glory of power. They were not interested in the welfare of the people but in their own pockets filled with money. Jesus would call them hypocrites, blind guides, fools, serpents, brood of vipers, and murderers. His language was plain and unyielding. He charged them with loving the best places and greetings of human glory and to be called by titles. The Pharisees and scribes bound heavy burdens on the people to fill their coffers. They traveled land and sea to make a proselyte and made him twice as much a child of hell as themselves. He calls the leaders whitewashed tombs which appear beautiful outwardly, but inside are full of dead men’s bones and all uncleanness. They seemed to be righteous to men but inwardly were hypocrites and lawless—hard preaching.
There is a false image of Jesus Christ that He was never critical or harsh toward others. This is contrary to the doctrine of God, who is full of goodness but also filled with wrath against those who refused to obey Him. Jesus preached powerful lessons and sermons on love, grace, mercy, and truth. The Son of God also addressed the sins of the world and especially those found among His own people. There is a time for hard preaching when the subject matter is hardened hearts. The scriptures will bring joy and hope to the pure in heart, and the same word will bring judgment and condemnation to those who will not submit to Christ. Harsh preaching is not done in spite but in the holiness of the character of God who demands righteousness without hypocrisy. There will be a judgment, and all men will find the goodness and severity of God. To those who abide in the word of God, there will be a blessing. For those who reject the Lord, severity. That is the message of preaching the gospel of Jesus Christ.