Are we Hypocrites? Part 1 of 4
Matthew 23:1–36 (ESV):
23 Then Jesus said to the crowds and to his disciples, 2 “The scribes and the Pharisees sit on Moses’ seat, 3 so do and observe whatever they tell you, but not the works they do. For they preach, but do not practice. 4 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. 5 They do all their deeds to be seen by others. For they make their phylacteries broad and their fringes long, 6 and they love the place of honor at feasts and the best seats in the synagogues 7 and greetings in the marketplaces and being called rabbi by others. 8 But you are not to be called rabbi, for you have one teacher, and you are all brothers. 9 And call no man your father on earth, for you have one Father, who is in heaven. 10 Neither be called instructors, for you have one instructor, the Christ. 11 The greatest among you shall be your servant. 12 Whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and whoever humbles himself will be exalted.
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. 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.
So, who were the people that Jesus was talking about? The scribes were leaders in the Jewish community who were educated in the Old Testament Law and the Pharisees were a group within Judaism that had the reputation for being righteous and they believed not only in the written Law that’s in the Old Testament but also in their own oral law which they had developed. But in general, both of these groups were very religious people who at least seemed serious about following God’s ways.
And yet, even though these people were very religious and had the reputation for being righteous, Jesus has some very strong words in this passage for them. He gives them seven woes. The idea of the woe is that the person’s situation is miserable, whether they realize it or not. The New Living Translation says, ‘What sorrow awaits you teachers of religious law and you Pharisees.’ That captures the idea of what Jesus is saying here. He’s saying that the scribes and Pharisees’ situation is not good.
But why? Why does sorrow await the Pharisees? Why does Jesus pronounce woes on them? Because they are hypocrites. They seem like they follow God, they seem like they are doing all the right things, and yet inside they are dead, filled with sin and lawlessness. They say that they follow God, maybe they even thought that they were following Him. But inside they were just as dead as everyone else.
Here is the point: 1 Samuel 16:7 - For the Lord sees not as man sees: man looks on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart. The Pharisees hearts were wrong. They didn’t love God. Instead, they loved the praise of men. They wanted to sit at the best place at feasts, they wanted people to call them teacher and rabbi, they wanted to look righteous to others. They didn’t want to follow God’s ways, they just wanted to look like they were. They had all kinds of rules about which oaths were okay to break and which weren’t but they missed the point that they should simply be honest people. They tithed these tiny little plants that grew in their gardens but they ignored justice, mercy, and faithfulness. They washed their cups and plates but inside they were dead.
The Pharisee’s problem was not that they didn’t believe in God. They believed and they studied His Word. Their problem was that they didn’t truly follow God, they just looked like they did. And because of that Jesus says to them, ‘What sorrow awaits you…’
Let us not be like them. Let us not just look good on the outside. Rather let us ask God to change our hearts so that we can truly serve Him. So that instead of Jesus saying to us ‘woe to you’ let Him say ‘Blessed are the poor in spirit’ or ‘blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness’ or ‘Blessed are the pure in heart.’ By God’s grace at work in us, may we be the kind of people who await blessing instead of sorrow.