Reading this passage makes me cringe. Everything in me wanted to skip it and dismiss it. But these words are from the mouth of Christ and He meant them every bit as much as the words on the Sermon on the Mount. In fact, there are eight woes as there are blessings in the Beatitudes. For every attribute He glorifies in the faithful believer He warns against in His curses in the Pharisee.
While hearing these harsh words may seem out of character for my loving, kind Jesus—these are the things He hates. And if I want to truly please Him, seek His kingdom, and know His heart, I must know what displeases Him most. These are a few things God utterly despises:
1) Magnifying the minutiae of the law and ignoring the majors.
Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you tithe mint and dill and cumin, and have neglected the weightier matters of the law: justice and mercy and faithfulness. These you ought to have done, without neglecting the others. You blind guides, straining out a gnat and swallowing a camel! (v. 23-24)
Jesus here refers to the tithes of the temple, implying that the Pharisees were more concerned with the works and duties of it, taxes, and tithes than the things of true religion. They pressed others to conform to the dogma of their leaders while holding murder in their hearts. He knew they would pay off Judas to hand Him over to be killed. Already, they had put sacrifice before mercy.
2) They made religion more about the outside than the inside.
Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you clean the outside of the cup and the plate, but inside they are full of greed and self-indulgence. You blind Pharisee! First clean the inside of the cup and the plate, that the outside also may be clean. (v. 25-36)
The Pharisees cared more about their outward appearance to others than commending themselves to God. Their piety and righteous acts took precedence over holiness and true righteousness. Jesus exhorts them to make their work about cleaning the inside, purifying their hearts, and letting this work its way out. Outward in will never do.
But in the midst of His call out, He still offers a way out: even after He has given His life, He still offers to send prophets and wise men (v. 34). He will stop at nothing to have them back—He wishes not for their destruction but for their repentance and salvation.
“Christ’s design is to gather poor souls, gather them in from their wanderings, gather them home to himself, as the Centre of unity; for to him must the gathering of the people be.” (Matthew Henry’s Commentary)
Jesus, may my heart be about the justice, mercy, and faithfulness. Root out my desire to make my religion about me. I want to trust in Your righteousness not my own. Thank You for saving me. – Christian
[For further insight into the passage, read Matthew Henry’s Commentary which guided my study)