Matthew 23:29-24:2 (ESV)

29 “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you build the tombs of the prophets and decorate the monuments of the righteous, 30 saying, ‘If we had lived in the days of our fathers, we would not have taken part with them in shedding the blood of the prophets.’ 31 Thus you witness against yourselves that you are sons of those who murdered the prophets. 32 Fill up, then, the measure of your fathers. 33 You serpents, you brood of vipers, how are you to escape being sentenced to hell? 34 Therefore I send you prophets and wise men and scribes, some of whom you will kill and crucify, and some you will flog in your synagogues and persecute from town to town, 35 so that on you may come all the righteous blood shed on earth, from the blood of righteous Abel to the blood of Zechariah the son of Barachiah, whom you murdered between the sanctuary and the altar. 36 Truly, I say to you, all these things will come upon this generation.

Jesus pronounced the last woe, the seventh of seven, upon the scribes and Pharisees. He called them hypocrites again because they spent time building the tombs of the prophets and decorating the monuments of the righteous. In other words, they looked at those whom the nation’s leaders persecuted in the past and honored them, insisting they would never do or have done such a thing. Yet ironically, Jesus, the very God-man and the ultimate prophet, sat right there in their midst and they were plotting to kill him. Their attitude and actions toward Jesus showed they were just like their fathers and would have done the same thing. Jesus then spoke firmly with the religious leaders. He told them clearly that they were like snakes, and their destiny was the same hell that those who persecuted the prophets earned. Jesus recalled Abel, the first righteous man killed in the Scripture (Genesis), and then Zechariah, whose murder was recorded in 2 Chronicles, the last book in the Hebrew Bible. The Hebrew Bible contained the same books found in our Old Testaments, but they were arranged differently. So Jesus was saying that from Genesis to 2 Chronicles, or from cover to cover, the religious leaders had always killed those whom God sent to them.

It is easy to look at tragedies of the past with the advantage of hindsight and insist that we would never do such things. The scribes and Pharisees really believed they would never have persecuted God’s messengers like their ancestors, yet they were plotting and planning to get rid of the Messiah. Too often, we think more highly of ourselves than we should and believe we would have done things differently if given the chance. On the other hand, we can also feel doomed to repeat the mistakes of our ancestors and follow their bad habits, even practicing sinful behaviors we once insisted we would never be found doing. But with God’s help, we can put an end to ungodly patterns today by saying “no” and refusing to do what’s always been done. You don’t have to repeat the past. It may not be popular, it may not be easy, and we may be rejected because of it, but let’s do things God’s way. We don’t want people looking back at our lives and insisting they would never be found doing what we did.