Have you ever found yourself clinging tightly to the last words of a loved one? Maybe it was your best friend who moved away in the sixth grade or your favorite boss’s farewell address upon retirement. In the last few days of her life, my grandmother spoke words of kindness and love to me that I plan to carry with me until my own dying day.
Sometimes a person’s last words are endearing, truth-bearing, and simply unforgettable.
Lately, I’ve been rereading through the last few chapters of the book of Matthew in the Bible. Something about Jesus’ last words to the general public, the religious crowd, and his closest friends captivates me. While much of the New Testament clearly demonstrates that those closest to him took his words to heart, I’ve wondered if any others did.
Working through Matthew 22 and 23, I realized that some of Jesus’ last words must have been difficult to hear. For instance, after his wedding banquet parable, he explained, “Many are invited, but few are chosen.” No one likes missing an invite or being unchosen to a party let alone the opportunity to experience heaven and God’s glorious presence. (In this case, “the many” invited that Jesus referred to are the many who hear the gospel, and “the few chosen” are the few who welcome the message and do not reject it.)
But what caught my eye was a series of questions by the teachers of the Law and Pharisees that Jesus recognized as verbal ploys. Questions from these religious elites like whether to pay taxes to Caesar, what marriage would look like at the Resurrection, and even which was the greatest Commandment were intended to corner Jesus in a web of words and religious debate.
In thinking themselves clever and wise about matters of the holy Law, Jesus knew the truth of the inner depravity of their souls.
He warned the public to, “…be careful to do everything they tell you. But do not do what they do, for they do not practice what they preach.” In other words, listen and do what they say, but don’t be hypocrites like they are.
From there, he proceeded to blast the teachers of the Law and the Pharisees with seven Woes. Each woe statement outlined some aspect of their hypocrisy. He accused them of being inhibitors of the kingdom of God for others, of “neglecting justice, mercy and faithfulness” in their teaching, and of being phony. Jesus expressed his disapproval and lament over their actions by using robust language. What he said to these leaders was both pointed and scathing.
But the rebuke that really caught my attention was when he called them “blind guides.” These religious teachers were the pinnacle of the intellectual, educated, and knowledgeable. People held these men in the highest esteem, yet, Jesus was essentially calling them fakes.
How can someone appear wise but in truth only be a functioning fool?
The idea that what looks like wisdom on the outside to us might actually be considered a “blind guide” by Jesus left me a little unsettled. So as I reflected on these passages, I began contemplating our sources for guidance in the modern era. After all, the information or help we typically need is only keystrokes away, thanks to the world wide web.
First I considered how our opinions are shaped in the national/international sphere. And immediately I considered the impact of the media at our disposal. I believe bias abounds to some degree within all media outlets. (I would say some a little more than others—but bias is detectable on both ends of the political spectrum.) These days people searching for the whole truth on a news story often have to scan several TV networks or read through several different politically leaning newspapers to understand the greater picture.
Have you ever wondered why the truth of a matter is always so buried or hidden? I know I have.
Then I considered the outlets we go to for personal guidance. Often when stress prevails over our work or relationships, our bodies are left physically riddled with ailments, our minds exhausted from overstimulation, and our hearts are overwhelmed with problems too big for us to solve on our own.
When this happens, where do you go for help? Do you turn to western medicine or homeopathic care? Do you search for a good psychiatrist or a counselor? Or maybe you find it easiest to just knock on your best friend’s door for advice.
Who or what is your personal go-to for guidance?
But what about the arena where our beliefs are collected and cultivated? Where do you go when you need help with the more significant life issues? Do you take to scrolling social media for catchy “words of wisdom,” or do you search YouTube for that “just-right” podcast that suits your moral preferences? Or maybe you take pride in rejecting the notions of all the know-it-alls in the world and are most content to simply look within yourself for your own sense of “truth.”
But are we really capable of coming up with the truth we so desperately need?
I don’t think we are. And as I’ve studied the scripture I’ve come to understand why.
Let me explain.
In Isaiah 8, the people of Israel were described as “people walking in darkness.” How were they walking in darkness? In verses 19-20, we learn that they were consulting mediums and spiritists. Isaiah asks, “…should not a people inquire of their God? Why consult the dead on behalf of the living?” And then he makes it simple for them. He states, “Consult God’s instruction and testimony of warning. If anyone does not speak according to this word, they have no light of dawn.”
And again, later in Isaiah 59, he describes Israel’s depravity: “We look for light, but all is darkness; for brightness, but we walk in deep shadows. Like the blind, we grope along the wall, feeling our way like people without eyes.”
When we seek guidance other than from God and his Word, we risk developing faulty, worldly wisdom rather than godly wisdom.
1 Corinthians 1:20, the apostle Paul states, “Where is the wise person? Where is the teacher of the Law? Where is the philosopher of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world?”
How exactly did God make foolish the world’s wisdom, you may wonder?
Well, let’s go back to Matthew 22 and 23. The teachers of the Law were blind to the true wisdom sent from God that stood before their eyes–Jesus, the incarnate deity. Their hearts blinded with pride in their own knowledge of the scriptures left them unable to recognize Jesus as the prophesied Messiah – the one able to save them from their sins.
Interestingly, Paul writes in the New Testament, that “[God] will destroy the wisdom of the wise; the intelligence of the intelligent [He] will frustrate.”
But how will this happen, you may wonder?
Paul explains, “For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved, it is the power of God.”
When you think about it the cross represents Jesus, offering himself in our place to atone for our sins. Jesus, as God’s son, became human and suffered death willingly for our sake. We are sinful. He was sinless. Seldom, if ever, does a person of power willingly lay down their life for another less deserving. And for some, to believe that God’s Son gave his life for us does seem foolish.
But if we respond with faith in Jesus and his death on the cross, the power of God that raised him from the dead then comes and dwells in us. Jesus’ death on the cross is the invitation for you and me to experience God’s grace for our sins. To be redeemed—brought back from spiritual death and made new–from a life of sin is a very powerful thing!
So in his final address to the teachers of the Law, Jesus exposed their hypocritical “religious wisdom.” But their wisdom preached self-righteousness and made for stubborn hearts unwilling to be changed by Jesus’ demonstration of humility and godly righteousness.
In Matthew’s account, Jesus essentially said to them that they looked righteous outwardly but inwardly were full of hypocrisy and wickedness. Indeed, they had the wisdom of the scriptures but lacked the power of faith in Christ that could change their hearts and save their souls.
So what can we take away from all these observations of Jesus’ last words to the public?
First, we must “consult God’s instruction,” as Isaiah pointed out. God’s wisdom is found in His Word. We should start in the Bible by searching for the knowledge we need to govern our lives.
Secondly, we must realize that “Christ [is] the power of God and the wisdom of God.” This is why the teachers of the Law were given such harsh last words by Jesus. They refused to receive him as the Messiah God’s prophets had long proclaimed him to be. Like the Pharisees, we can have all the head knowledge of the world but lack true life-changing power when we refuse Jesus.
Even Isaiah knew this when he finished his prophecy to Israel, “…in the future, he will honor Galilee of the nations, by the way of the Sea, beyond the Jordan, The people walking in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of deep darkness a light has dawned.” This prophecy foretold of Jesus. He would be the light of salvation and the light of the world for those stumbling through spiritual darkness.
In fact, not only is Jesus the light we need, but he is also the truth we need. As he stood before Pilate before his crucifixion, he said, “…the reason I was born and came into the world is to testify to the truth. Everyone on the side of truth listens to me.”
My question for you is, are you walking in darkness? Have you experienced the futility of allowing blind guides into your life? Do you realize that the light you long for is found in Jesus? Are you willing to listen to his words of truth to you? If so, I urge you to pick up a Bible and begin by reading what it says about God and His Son, Jesus. Do not waste your life chasing after the wisdom of blind guides. Only Christ possesses the power to transform the dead into the living.
Only the truth found in the Word of God can become the light we need to illuminate the darkness of this present world.
“Light of the World,
You stepped down into darkness.
Opened my eyes, let me see
Beauty that made this heart adore You
Hope of a life lived with you…”
(lyrics from “Here I am to Worship”)
 New International Version, Matt. 22:14
 Matt. 23:13
 Matt. 23:23
 Matt. 23:25-28
Strong, James. “woe” Abingdon’s Strong’s Exhaustive Concordance of the Bible; Nashville, TN;1890, p.1180; “woe” A Concise Dictionary of the Words in The Hebrew Bible; with Their Renderings in the Authorized English Version p. 3759
 Matt. 23:16
 Isa. 59:9b-10a
 1 Cor. 1:19
 1 Cor. 1:18
 Matt. 23:13-32
 Isa. 8:20
 I Cor. 1-24b
 Isa. 9:1b-2
 John 18:37
 Hughes, Tim. “Here I am to Worship.” Here I am to Worship. Worship Together, 2001.