Matthew 23:1-4 (ESV)
Then Jesus said to the crowds and to his disciples, “The scribes and the Pharisees sit on Moses’ seat, so do and observe whatever they tell you, but not the works they do. For they preach, but do not practice. They tie up heavy burdens, hard to bear, and lay them on people’s shoulders, but they themselves are not willing to move them with their finger.”
This reference opens a monologue of rebuke directed at the scribes and Pharisees. It’s 36 verses long. Jesus (who is God) directly addresses the religious elite, warning them strongly, for they not only failed to carry the burdens of the people, but they actually added to them. Such is the opposite of what the God they were to represent and to teach about, ontologically is… as shown by His very being and character. It is why Jesus was so furious with them. In other words, the scribes and Pharisees were to emulate Him; not neglect their special calling to be examples of Him, in order to help the people of God to become holy.
In the Old Testament, burden relief is an important theme which has always been in play. Here, the psalmist quotes God as He reviews the action that He took for His people during the Exodus. It is meant to remind the reader about who God is by what He did…
Psalms 81:6-7a (ESV)
“I relieved your shoulder of the burden;
your hands were freed from the basket.
In distress you called, and I delivered you…”
Earlier in his Gospel, Matthew had quoted Jesus who was repeating the same idea. In addition, He encouraged all who were in need of having their burdens taken care of by another, to receive the rest that He provides…
Matthew 11:28-30 (ESV)
“Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”
God’s Ethic… Bearing Burdens
Bearing the load of others is what we (Christians) are to be about at all times. In doing so, we not only avoid God’s rebuke, but we actually fulfill His Son’s law…
Galatians 6:2 (ESV)
Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ.
God is in the business of carrying burdens. It pictures not only His character, His very being (who He is), but it also describes His ethic. It fulfills His law. Therefore, He requires the same of His people… to practice what the scribes and Pharisees failed to do when they were not willing to move them with their finger.
Godspeed, to the brethren!