37. And as he spake, a certain Pharisee besought him to dine with him: and he went in, and sat down to meat.
38. And when the Pharisee saw it, he marvelled that he had not first washed before dinner.
39. And the Lord said unto him, Now do ye Pharisees make clean the outside of the cup and the platter; but your inward part is full of ravening and wickedness.
40. Ye fools, did not he that made that which is without make that which is within also?
41. But rather give alms of such things as ye have; and, behold, all things are clean unto you.
42. But woe unto you, Pharisees! for ye tithe mint and rue and all manner of herbs, and pass over judgment and the love of God: these ought ye to have done, and not to leave the other undone.
43. Woe unto you, Pharisees! for ye love the uppermost seats in the synagogues, and greetings in the markets.
44. Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye are as graves which appear not, and the men that walk over them are not aware of them.
45. Then answered one of the lawyers, and said unto him, Master, thus saying thou reproachest us also.
46. And he said, Woe unto you also, ye lawyers! for ye lade men with burdens grievous to be borne, and ye yourselves touch not the burdens with one of your fingers.
47. Woe unto you! for ye build the sepulchres of the prophets, and your fathers killed them.
48. Truly ye bear witness that ye allow the deeds of your fathers: for they indeed killed them, and ye build their sepulchres.
49. Therefore also said the wisdom of God, I will send them prophets and apostles, and some of them they shall slay and persecute:
50. That the blood of all the prophets, which was shed from the foundation of the world, may be required of this generation;
51. From the blood of Abel unto the blood of Zacharias which perished between the altar and the temple: verily I say unto you, It shall be required of this generation.
52. Woe unto you, lawyers! for ye have taken away the key of knowledge: ye entered not in yourselves, and them that were entering in ye hindered.
53. And as he said these things unto them, the scribes and the Pharisees began to urge him vehemently, and to provoke him to speak of many things:
54. Laying wait for him, and seeking to catch something out of his mouth, that they might accuse him.
I want to talk to you about “Masters of Hypocrisy.” This passage deals with one of the great sermons and teachings of our Lord Jesus directed very pointedly toward religious leaders of His time, in particular the Pharisees and Scribes. They were constantly in conflict with Him, searching an opportunity to condemn Him or speak against Him, or revile against Him and His ministry and find fault. That provoked some very strong language from Him at times in reference to Him and their hypocrisy. This is a very heavy word that I am going to attempt to bring tonight because it has to do with the message of Jesus to these masters of hypocrisy. As we look at what Jesus said to them we can see some principles at work in this passage that nevertheless may apply to us. I hope that you will be open to the Word of the Lord, and indeed, if the Lord speaks to our heart personally, that we can respond in humility and in love.
After reading the introduction of verses 37-39, Jesus went on to speak six woes upon the Pharisees and Scribes that dealt with different manifestations of their hypocrisy. I want to talk about these six woes.
Jesus was invited into a Pharisee’s house to share a meal with him. They went in and sat down to eat and Jesus did not go through the regular ritual ceremony of washing that was ordinarily necessary in the eyes of the Pharisees before He went to sit down to eat. This caused the Pharisee to marvel that here is a man who indeed is given out to be a prophet of God, one who is certainly a Jew and perhaps has been referred to as a rabbi, a teacher, and he should know every little part of the law and practice the Pharisees’ religion. And here was something in the Pharisee’s mind that was a major breach of religious tradition and practice; failing to go through ceremonial washing before He sat down to eat a meal. He marveled at it. Jesus understood what was in his heart and He spoke to him and said, “You Pharisees have the practice in your life of making very clean the outside of the cup and dish and platter, but on the inside you are filled with ravening and all kinds of evil and wickedness and hypocrisy.” That just simply set him on fire, so to speak, to preach this message against the hypocrisy of the Pharisees and the Scribes. I’m going to be looking at this in particular. I want us to understand what the true nature of hypocrisy is really all about.
First of all, in verse 42, He begins to pronounce the first woe upon the Pharisees and said, “You Pharisees, you tithe on mint and rue and all manner of herbs, and pass over judgment and the love of God; these ought ye to have done, and not to leave the other undone.” Jesus is striking deep in the hearts of the religious leaders who are coming against Him because they are distorting justice and judgment. They have literally passed it over as if it meant nothing. They have passed over the love of God, acting and living out the love of God to people. They have majored on minor things. He said you tithe on the herbs and spices that you grow, which is fine, He said. But you have left off the weightier matters of the judgment and justice of God in your dealings with others and you have left off the love of God. You are operating void of God’s love. You are carrying on religious tradition where you just give first rate loyalties to second rate kinds of things and you have left off the weightier things of the judgment of God and the love of God. What an empty kind of life. What hypocrisy to pay so much attention to the outside of the cup and platter and pay no attention to what is on the inside. From what Jesus said in the beginning, He draws all these special woes and words to the people to let them know exactly the utter depth of their hypocrisy and their failure to really love God and respect Him and honor Him; leaving off weightier matters, paying no attention to the love of God, not giving justice and righteousness toward other people, but taking advantage of them.
It brings us to mind the sermons that Amos the prophet preached long ago, long before Jesus, about the same kinds of things that were taking place among religious leaders of his time when he came bouncing up against the worship of Israel in the northern kingdom. He had some woe sermons himself. One of them had three main points; woe, woe, woe. He cried out against the abuses and the abominations that the people, the priesthood practiced, and the high society practiced and all the things that they did, while at the same time, pretending to be so worshipful to God and so faithful to God. Of course, Amos was invited to leave because that’s usually what happens to prophets who begin to bounce up against institutionalized religion where the fresh fire of God and the fresh anointing of the Holy Spirit has been ruled out and shut out. When a true prophet begins to speak, people who are bound by traditional legalistic kind of religion, they get upset and pretty soon invite the prophet to leave as they did Jesus and as they did others before Him.
He continues in the next woe in verse 43 and said ‘Woe Pharisees! For ye love the uppermost seats in the synagogues, and greetings in the markets.’ Here are people who because of their influence and their power, usually based on material worth, who would gain the high places of honor in the synagogue where they could be looked up to with reverence and respect from the common people. Then they loved as they went through the market places and public places and they walked so proudly with their head so high and so proud of themselves because of their religious dedication to tradition and see people bowing to them and giving them honor and stepping aside and showing special kind of adoration and reverence to them. It is the feeding of pride while humiliating others. It is the feeding of the selfish ego while looking down upon people who are supposed to be less fortunate. Like the Pharisee who prayed in the temple, you remember, that Jesus referred to. He said ‘I tithe. I do this and I do that. I’m proud that I am not like this publican.’ And the publican dropped his head and smote his breast and said ‘God, be merciful to me, a sinner.’ Jesus said that that man who in an attitude of repentance humbled his heart before God, went home justified rather than the other who was so proud of himself. So this principle that Jesus is coming against in verse 43 is this feeding of pride at the expense and humiliation of other people.
The Bible says and teaches us that if we exalt ourselves, we will be abased. If we humble ourselves, we will be exalted. Which is to say God has a divine law at work in His kingdom and in this world that people who exalt themselves in pride and they are always looking at their own importance, they will be brought down because the law of God says that they will be humbled and brought low.
In verse 44, He brings another woe against the Pharisees and scribes and says ‘Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For ye are as graves which appear not, and the men that walk over them are not aware of them.’ Now when you look behind what Jesus is really saying here, the Pharisees and scribes felt that if a person walked over a grave – any grave – that there was a certain amount of defilement that would come from being that close to a person who was dead. And if you happened to walk over a grave that was unmarked you still could be defiled, but certainly if you walked over one and you knew where it was, then you had to go through all kinds of ritual ceremonies of washing to be clean again from that defilement. Now, here’s what Jesus was saying. He is saying that these people are pretending holiness when really they are a source of corruption and evil. They are filled with corruption and evil and they are like these graves that people walk over and become defiled. They are a source of defilement. There is such hypocrisy that prevails in their lives until there is a presence that comes from them. There is an influence. There is an aura that comes with them that brings defilement to others. Jesus said ‘You are like graves that people walk over and they don’t realize it, but they are being defiled because of you.’ Death and the stench of death, so to speak, and the influence of death coming from them to contaminate the lives of people they come in contact with. You better believe that when Jesus is speaking that straightforward and with such authority that He is rousing the ire and anger and wrath of people who are listening to Him.
It is at that point that one of them speaks out to correct Him and stop Him and say to them in verse 45 ‘Then answered one of the lawyers, [the people who really knew the spiritual law, the people who knew the law of Moses, who knew the Scriptures] and said unto him, Master, thus saying thou reproachest us also. You are bringing a reproach upon us.’
That riled Him again because he directed His words then in particular to the lawyers, the teachers of the law, and began to say in verse 46, ‘Woe unto you also, ye lawyers! For ye lade men with burdens grievous to be borne, and ye yourselves touch not the burdens with one of your fingers.’ Here is the height of hypocrisy. Becoming people who give burdens upon others and see how many burdens you can heap upon others and judge them as to how they carry them, but never lifting a finger to be a burden bearer. Never being a burden bearer. If there is anything the Bible teaches and that Jesus Himself teaches us, it is to share each other’s burdens. We are to share in love the hurts and the burdens that people bear instead of always through judgment heaping more burdens upon them that they can’t even bear.
You remember the legalism of the Judaizers who came and interrupted the Gentile mission that caused the conference in Acts 15, the Jerusalem Council to meet and decide whether or not a person had to become a good Jew first before he could become a Christian. It was finally settled. In one of the speeches, one of the speakers said ‘Why should we try to heap upon others [the Gentiles] burdens that we ourselves have not been able to keep?’ That’s the way of some people. They don’t worry about whether or not they keep the law or they practice the truth or live by the Word. The whole thing is geared to some way, somehow to set themselves up in judgment as to whether others live right. I’m not going to make special applications much along here, but if you want to take an application to yourself, that is up to you. Not lifting one finger to help bear someone’s burden. So calloused and unconcerned that when people are in trouble and when they are struggling and need help and an encouraging, comforting word, we withhold that love from them and that care. A tragic kind of hypocrisy, pretending perhaps to care and live by the book, but at the same time failing to show care and love, not even to the lifting up of our little finger.
He continues with the fifth woe. He says in verse 47 ‘Woe unto you! For ye build the sepulchres [or tombs] of the prophets, and your fathers killed them.’ Then He goes on to say that you are taking part in actually persecuting and killing the prophets when you honor the dead prophets with tombs that you build for them. You see, there is no threat. There is no disturbing force and threatening from dead prophets. But it is the living ones like Jesus who is bouncing up against the traditional religion of Judaism where the persecution really comes and they are being threatened with their very existence and their system. He says ‘You are putting yourselves among the people who have killed the prophets and not only that, but every person who has suffered persecution at the hands of wicked people, especially in the name of religion, from Abel all the way down to a man named Zacharias who was killed before the temple. All of these are heaped upon you and you become guilty and responsible for them and for what happened to them.’ I’m telling you, that’s the kind of guilt that no one wants to have passed upon him. To share in the guilt of a long line of the fathers of Judaism who have slain the prophets and mistreated them and driven them away. Jesus says when you come to honor some who are dead, it is the height of hypocrisy because you have accepted what your fathers did and you are joining in with their act and their blood in verse 50 ‘That the blood of all the prophets, which was shed from the foundation of the world, may be required of this generation; 51 From the blood of Abel unto the blood of Zacharias, which perished between the altar and the temple: verily I say unto you, It shall be required of this generation.’
What guilt! What condemnation! Pretending to give honor to God’s prophets and especially the ones who had come with the message of correction and repentance to Israel in times past. To those prophets who are despised and rejected; Jeremiah in the dungeon, Amos being told to go back south – don’t prophecy here, others being persecuted and killed. Jesus went on to say that God is raising up prophets and apostles, that they themselves would be condemning in that very day. The height of hypocrisy – to honor someone of the past that if you had been there you would have joined in killing as well as the others, Jesus said.
Then we come to verse 52. I think this is one of the most severe kinds of challenges and words of condemnation in the whole list. I am really disturbed as I come to bring this. I have prayed earnestly about this message because sometimes we think of hypocrisy as being just certain little things. But, oh the words of Jesus reach deep into our hearts. I tell you frankly, as a preacher of 40+ years, it is easier to preach any part of the Bible than it is to preach the teachings of Jesus Christ. And it is a lot easier to live instructions of other parts of the Bible than the teachings of Jesus. When you come right down to being like Christ is, it is a challenge that goes deeper than we could possibly imagine.
Here’s what this last woe says. Again, it is to the lawyers, the teachers of the law and those who are supposed to understand the word and get that across to the people and let them see the true light. He says to them ‘Woe unto you, lawyers! For ye have taken away the key of knowledge: ye entered not in yourselves, and them that were entering in ye hindered.’ What a challenge. What a word of condemnation. What a word to people who are steeped in such hypocrisy that they are hindering people from understanding the truth. This is what hypocrisy really is. While pretending to teach the truth, hinder people from understanding the truth because they were masters in Scripture, supposedly. And if they were, they would have known what the Scripture said about Jesus and the apostles. They would know what the Scriptures have said. For example, John gives a parade of witnesses in chapter 5 of the gospel of John where he throws out tremendous witnesses to the authenticity of the ministry of Jesus. Jesus said ‘You had John the Baptist. You wouldn’t believe his witness. He testified of me and if you wouldn’t believe that, why not believe the works that I do?’ The thing about it, people who are steeped in hypocrisy and they don’t want to hear the word of God and don’t want you to hear it, they take a firm stand against hearing the Word of God and make it so that people will misread it and they never recognize good works. It’s like our politicians now. Nobody says anything good about any politician and what he’s done, especially our liberal media. They wouldn’t dare give one inch of credit to what the President has done, but you can tell for sure where they all stand in their attitude. People who throw stones and who criticize absolutely ignore the works as Jesus said. He said ‘My works should be a witness to you as to who I am and that God is with me.’
Then He said to them ‘Search the Scriptures for in them you think you have eternal life. The very Scriptures that you are supposed to know so much about, these are they that testify of me. They are witnesses of who I am. If you knew the Word, then you would know that the Word says what it says about me.’ Then He said as He referred to Moses ‘Because Moses talked about me.’ In the midst of all those witnesses that Jesus has given in that fifth chapter of John is one of the saddest lines in the Bible when He said ‘And yet ye will not come unto me that ye might have life.’ With all this proof you will not come to me that you might have life.
This is the same kind of thing He is speaking to these people of the law of Moses who are supposed to know it and teach it. They have a way of teaching it to push away the truth of Jesus Christ. I remember listening to a Jewish Rabbi teach some years ago and talk to us about Isaiah. When he started talking about Isaiah 53 and those suffering servant poems in the book of Isaiah, we asked him, ‘Who is this talking about?’ ‘Oh, that is only the Jewish people themselves and their sufferings and what they had gone through in this world.’ They are still trying to hinder people from understanding the truth that would reveal Jesus Christ. You and I know from the way the New Testament writers interpreted Isaiah and the way they quoted it that all those references have to do with Jesus Christ and His ministry and what should come. But they taught in such a way as to blind people.
In our times now there are people who are failing to open this book as it is and would lead us to believe all kinds of heresies in these days, that would cause us to turn away from the real holiness of God and the fire of the Holy Spirit and somehow come up with a religion that is just seen and is beautiful and wonderful, but it does not have the presence of the Living God. I say if we have God’s presence, if we have the Holy Spirit at work, we will have to humble ourselves before God and be purged from all hypocrisy and come with our hearts open and clean to Him for Him to pour out His blessing and Spirit upon us in these last days.
How do we get past this list of woes and become free from the woes that are pronounced upon these Pharisees? One thing for sure, we cannot just become steeped in some kind of tradition and hold the tradition up as holy instead of honoring Christ in our midst and His holiness as our glory. We must be purged from inward corruption. We must be purged from inward defilement. All these years that we have preached holiness, there are so many messages that we used to hear about inward holiness and defilement that caused us to bow our hearts in brokenness and repentance in the altar when we stood in the presence of a High and Holy God.
I remember being in a camp meeting when I was just a young preacher and my wife and I had just gone to Alabama to do some preaching revivals. We went to the camp meeting and I remember in the night services we would almost shout our shoe heels off, it was so great and wonderful. But then, I remember the preaching of R. P. Johnson at the 11 o’clock hour. When he got through presenting Christ, nobody wanted to run. Everybody wanted to crawl to the altar and weep and open up our hearts and humble our hearts before God.
To be free from these kinds of woes for hypocrisy, we have to treat other people right and do justly, do right toward others in the love of God. This thing of trampling on other people to satisfy our selfish ambition is so absolutely carnal and evil until the judgment of God comes down upon it sooner or later.
It means, if we want to be free from these woes that Jesus pronounced upon hypocrisy, that we must humble ourselves and elevate others. Nobody has ever been able to lift himself one inch by pushing down on somebody else. The way to really exaltation is first humility. That is something we do – humble ourselves. If we are to overcome and be free from the woes pronounced upon hypocrisy, we must become burden bearers instead heaping burdens upon other people. When church becomes nothing but burdens to carry, a budget to raise, a house to fill, burdens become so heavy and you wonder where ministry comes in. Where does ministry come in to the people who are tired and weary? I say to you tonight that God is calling upon us to minister. Instead of piling burdens upon people, to be burden bearers and to do more than the Pharisees when they wouldn’t even lift one little finger. God is still wanting hands that reach out to help people bear their burdens.
If we are to escape the woes pronounced upon these people, then we are to give proper respect and honor to other people and not be deceitful in the way we teach them, but somehow through our lives and what we preach. You don’t realize how hard this is striking at my own heart because as a teacher of the Word of God every day and here weekly, sometimes the responsibility hits me so hard until I feel almost like staggering or crawling to the pulpit. Because one day we stand before the Judgment Seat of Christ to give an account for the way we’ve taught people and if we’ve soft-pedaled it and if we’ve just covered over things and made it so easy that people can just develop to be carnal Christians with no humility and no repentance and no obedience to God’s will, then somehow we will be standing in judgment and have to face it.
Please stand to your feet. The ladies were playing a song at the beginning that says ‘Search me, oh God, and know my thoughts. See if there is any wicked way in me.’ Sometimes we get so soothed over that we are not even aware of what is taking place in our hearts. I know of one of our outstanding leaders who, on his deathbed, sent a message of repentance to a friend, to another minister and said ‘Forgive me of my part of a certain thing.’ You see, sometimes things can harbor there that we are not even aware of. I pray that in this moment that God would speak to our hearts through His Word and through His Spirit. Will you join me in prayer?
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