“You brood of snakes! How could evil men like you speak what is good and right?” (Matthew 12:34)
Not many of us like snakes, and we like even less to be called one! But the meek and mild Jesus apparently didn’t mind a little face-to-face confrontation. He felt little hesitation in using such strong language, perhaps borrowing from His cousin John the Baptist (Matthew 3:7).
You brood (den) of snakes! How could evil men like you speak what is good and right?
We might assume that Jesus was addressing unscrupulous and violent men; thieves, drunkards, and swindlers. But He’s not. He launches the taunt at the most religiously devoted people of His day; men who agonized over ritual purity and faithfulness to the Law of God.
The Pharisees called God’s people back to God’s way. They were strict about giving, prayer, and studying God’s Word. Evil men like you? If Jesus described this top layer of Jewish culture as “evil men” then how might He describe us? If He called them a “brood of snakes,” what might He call us?
How could evil men like you speak what is good and right?
This Jesus Question cuts through niceties and pleasantries. It slices deep. Evil hearts cannot produce good fruit, cannot speak with purity and authenticity, and cannot truly reflect what is good and right. Much as we might like to think otherwise.
Sin may be private, but it is never entirely personal. We may carefully harbor and conceal wicked thoughts in our hearts — envy, jealousy, malice, anger, and lust — but the thoughts shape us and affect us, despite our best efforts to hide them.
We may practice our sin privately, but sin always finds a way to express itself publicly. It’s an immutable and incontestable spiritual law.
Of course, the people around us may not know the origin, but when they say things like, “Where did that come from?” or “I certainly didn’t expect that” or “That’s not like you” or “Something’s just not right” we can be sure that our private sin is no longer personal. It affects people around us.
Whatever we harbor and hide eventually leaks out. Like the hidden cancer that gradually takes hold of us and produces fatigue, aches, and other symptoms, sin has its symptoms too. And people notice the symptoms, even if they cannot diagnose the disease.
Perhaps these harsh words from Jesus to the fastidiously faithful of His own day, have ongoing relevance today precisely because self-righteousness (just like self-justification) has a way of misleading and misguiding us. The higher we think of ourselves, the less honest we are about ourselves.
This Jesus Question calls us to repentance, integrity, and humility.