Wednesday, February 1, 2012


Remember that scene in the “The Wizard of Oz?” Dorothy and friends overcome many obstacles in making their way to the Wizard—assuming that he could somehow help them. They enter his chamber and are confronted by an awesome and frightening display. His voice loudly bellows out from a supersized face high on the wall. Flashes of flame usher forth around them. They shrink back in fear. But then Toto (the dog) starts barking at something behind a curtain. So they pull the curtain back and see something startling, a man at a control panel of levers and such. The Wizard is not who he appeared to be at all—he is not a great and awesome wizard—he is but a little man putting on a show.

The Lord Jesus Christ pulled back the curtain and unveiled the truth regarding the scribes and Pharisees. No stronger words of condemnation would pass from His lips (Matthew chapter 23). Eight “woes” were declared unto them. The word was a warning of pending doom. The omniscient and righteous Lord saw through their religious veneer—they had been “weighed on the scales and found deficient” (Daniel 5:27). Their doom was assured (Matthew 23:33).

They were hypocrites. Seven times that word appears. The word was used in that day to describe an “actor, stage player, or pretender.” They were making a good show of religion, but it was just that—all for show. They did not do as they taught (Matthew 23:3-4). They were false shepherds who didn’t care about the sheep (Matthew 23:4). Their deeds were done, not for God, but to be noticed by men (Matthew 23:5). They loved places of honor and to be called by prestigious titles (Matthew 23:23:6-10). They had no capacity or desire to serve and reveled in pride (Matthew 23:11-12). They were caretakers of the broad path that leads to destruction (Matthew 23:13). They took advantage of widows, while pretending to care (Matthew 23:14). They would travel far to make converts to their false religion (Matthew 23:15). They were dishonest (Matthew 23:16-22). They carefully observed countless traditions, but neglected “the weightier provisions of the law” (Matthew 23:23-24). They observed various external “washings,” but their hearts were full of “robbery and self-indulgence” (Matthew 23:25-26). They were “whitewashed tombs…full of dead men’s bones” (Matthew 23:27-28). They feigned honor for the prophets of old, but as with their forefathers, they would one day demonstrate the same kind of hatred towards future prophets (Matthew 23:29-36).

They thought highly of themselves. They epitomized a “righteousness which is in the Law” (Philippians 3:6). Others no doubt highly esteemed them. And measured by a different standard, they might have gotten away with it. But the standard of measure is not man (2 Corinthians 10:12)--our hearts are laid bare before God (Hebrews 4:13).

The contrast between the scribes and Pharisees and Jesus could not be more distinct. He did as He taught. He did not do to please men, but the Father (John 4:34). He came not to lay burdens, but to give rest (Matthew 11:28). They were false shepherds; He is the Good shepherd who laid down His life for the sheep (John 10:1-11). They loved places of honor, He laid aside His divine privileges and became poor that we might be made rich (Philippians 2:7; 2 Corinthians 8:9). They had no capacity or desire to serve, He came to serve and give His life a ransom for many (Mark 10:45). They were caretakers of the broad way, He is the narrow Way (Matthew 7:13-14). They took advantage of the unfortunate, He cared for sick, the blind, the demon-possessed, the widows, the children (Matthew 19:13-14; 21:14). They elevated their traditions, He perfectly fulfilled God’s law (Matthew 5:17-19). They were whitewashed tombs, “in Him was life” (John 1:4).

We do this text a disservice if we merely apply it to people long ago in a place far away. The heart and mind of Jesus is revealed to us in His strong rebuke. What did Jesus think of the Pharisaic cult? We know from His words. What does Jesus think of religious hypocrisy? Can any “self-made religion” (Colossians 2:23) substitute for that which God requires. The righteousness that is bound up in Christ alone is alone acceptable before God. No amount of religious activity can substitute for that. We are all full of dead men’s bones (Ephesians 2:1), apart from God’s intervention. We are all whitewashed tombs, lest we be called forth like Lazarus from the grave (John 11:43; Ephesians 2:5). The sins of the scribes and Pharisees are all too common amongst men. Pride, hypocrisy, self-indulgence, taking advantage of others—these sins are not reserved for the cultists alone. Any religion that invests heavily in self-effort is inevitably hypocritical because heart-change is Christ’s doing, not ours. In Christ alone we receive forgiveness and transformation. Am I fully invested in Christ and His finished work on the cross? That’s the question. Having begun by faith in Him is my walk now characterized by “purity and simplicity of devotion” (2 Corinthians 11:3) to Him.

One Pharisee ultimately found this out. His religious resume was the same as the scribes and Pharisees Jesus condemned. He was amongst those who Jesus warned of (Matthew 23:34). By his own testimony he was “found blameless” “as to the righteousness which is in the Law” (Philippians 3:6). But on the road to Damascus Christ pulled back the curtain—his religious veneer was stripped away. Humbled before Christ, He was saved and transformed (Cf. 1 Timothy 1:12-17). He wrote of his changed perspective: “More than that I count all things to be loss in view of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them but rubbish in order that I may gain Christ” (Philippians 3:8). A divine reappraisal led to a reordering of priorities. Religious self-effort = rubbish. Knowing Christ = of “surpassing value.” Self-righteousness, no matter how impressive, will be proved to be deficient. “The righteousness which comes from God on the basis of faith” is alone acceptable before God (Philippians 3:9). Christ alone can save us from our sins (and from the sin of hypocrisy). Anything less or anything else is bad religion.

Pastor Jerry

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