When a horse seems to get out of control, its rider will give the command, “whoa.”

When someone tries to approach you in a way that is unappealing to you, you say, “whoa.”

But when Jesus saw the junk that the religious leaders of the day were preaching and teaching, He said “Woe!”

When Jesus encountered the woman at the well, He didn’t speak woe to her – He spoke to her situation then sent her to go tell her countrymen about Him…

When He was presented with the woman caught in the act of adultery, He didn’t speak woe to her – He said He didn’t accuse her; go and sin no more…

When Jesus encountered Zacchaeus, a tax collector and thief, He didn’t speak woe to him – He told him that this day salvation has come into his home.

So, what is woe?

woe  [woh]


1. grievous distress, affliction, or trouble: His woe was almost beyonddescription.

2. an affliction: She suffered a fall, among her other woes.


3. an exclamation of grief, distress, or lamentation.


1. anguish, tribulation, trial, wretchedness, melancholy. See sorrow.

Matthew 23:13-33

13 “But woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you shut the kingdom of heaven in people’s faces. For you neither enter yourselves nor allow those who would enter to go in.

14 Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you devour widows’ houses and for a pretense you make long prayers; therefore you will receive the greater condemnation

15 Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you travel across sea and land to make a single proselyte, and when he becomes a proselyte, you make him twice as much a child of hell as yourselves.

These verses illustrate how religion tries to go about creating converts but denies them the power of relationship with God. The reason the church today lacks power is because it lacks the revelation of relationship. Relationship (Parent/child) existed before any other institution. The second verse shows how religion teaches you to “pray hard” to get results from God. Truth is, God knows your situation before you do and has laid up provision for it. Long, flowery prayers are simply for the edification of themselves.

16 “Woe to you, blind guides, who say, ‘If anyone swears by the temple, it is nothing, but if anyone swears by the gold of the temple, he is bound by his oath.’ 

17 You blind fools! For which is greater, the gold or the temple that has made the gold sacred? 

18 And you say, ‘If anyone swears by the altar, it is nothing, but if anyone swears by the gift that is on the altar, he is bound by his oath.’ 

19 You blind men! For which is greater, the gift or the altar that makes the gift sacred? 

20 So whoever swears by the altar swears by it and by everything on it. 

21 And whoever swears by the temple swears by it and by him who dwells in it. 

22 And whoever swears by heaven swears by the throne of God and by him who sits upon it.

These verses show how religion places more emphasis on money than ministry. How it places more emphasis on cash and coinage than the church. Yes, it takes money to run ministry but money should never be the focus of it. As always, Jesus gets right to the heart of the matter by getting to the heart of the man.

23 “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. 

24 You blind guides, straining out a gnat and swallowing a camel!

These verses are often one of the touchstones for tithing under the New Covenant. However,  these verses do not constitute an instruction to tithe, rather, they speak of how religion embraces one aspect of truth but conveniently ignores many others. It’s really worth noting that the tithe spoken of here is not money. It’s also funny how religion will strain against homosexuals but accept liars, thieves, and adulterers…

25 “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. 

26 You blind Pharisee! First clean the inside of the cup and the plate, that the outside also may be clean.

27 “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you are like whitewashed tombs, which outwardly appear beautiful, but within are full of dead people’s bones and all uncleanness. 

28 So you also outwardly appear righteous to others, but within you are full of hypocrisy and lawlessness.

These verses deal with the emphasis religion places on outward appearance. Y’all, what you wear, how you wear your hair, how you walk, or how you talk has no bearing on either your righteousness or holiness – neither of them are anything you earned, anyhow!

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. 

These verses illustrate how religion will destroy its own then build monuments to those it destroys. In an interview Michael Cheshire had with an atheist, the atheist said something truly profound: “Christianity is the only religion that eats its wounded.”

First of all, life in Christ isn’t a religion, but I digress…

Relationship with God compels those who are spiritual to restore those who have fallen. Religion seeks to destroy the likes of Andrew Wommack or Joel Osteen but, rest assured, if they succeed, there will be descendants of those who destroyed them who will build monuments to them later.

It won’t be long before calvinists build monuments to Michael Servetus…

33 You serpents, you brood of vipers, how are you to escape being sentenced to hell?

This is another one where the religious hang their hat…they say we must preach hell because Jesus preached hell.

Here’s a revelation, He didn’t preach hell. Ever. He only mentioned it in the course of teaching a greater truth. Moreover, Jesus didn’t proclaim hell to the many sinners He encountered, he only proclaimed it to the religious leaders.

To sum it up, Jesus’ message is one of Grace and Truth. It is a message of Love and Liberty. It is not a message of woe to either sinner or saint. It’s not even a message of woe to religion – to religion, His message is a wake-up call to stop heaping burdens on people. In verse 4 of Matthew 23, it tells how religious leaders will place burdens on others which they, themselves will not lift. Religion is hypocritical – it says do one thing but its leaders do contrary to that (Matthew 23:2-3).

It is noteworthy that Jesus pronounced WOES to the religious orders of the day but WHOLENESS to everyone else!

I leave you with this, the antonym of woe is joy!

Jesus came bearing a message of joy. This is a joy that wins over any woe. It is a joy that trumps any trial. It is a joy that supersedes any situation.

Jesus IS joy!

© 2014 – Derrick Day (www.derrickday.com)