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Matthew 23 contains a brutal attack from Jesus against the Pharisees. He doesn’t hold back saying, “Woe to you” six times with damning evidence of their hypocrisy each time.
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The hypocrisy of the Pharisees is something we’re well aware of from reading the New Testament. When we look through passages like Matthew 23, we think to ourselves, “those dreadful Pharisees!” But when we read the chapter, do we realize we’re looking in a mirror?

When we’re not face to face with Matthew 23, we find it far easier to do what Jesus never did – judge those who sin much more obviously than the Pharisees ever did. Jesus dined with tax collectors and sinners. He defended and then forgave the woman caught in the very act of adultery. None of that means Jesus glossed over sin. He took it very seriously, dying on a cross to save sinners. He told the woman, “Go and sin no more.” And it wasn’t as if he said to the tax collectors and sinners, “Let’s carry on extorting people for money and continue sinning that grace might abound.”

What he did do is deal with sinners in the right way. He spent time with those who had stumbled on the pathway. He picked them up, dusted them off, dealt with them compassionately, with patience and kindness, and instructed them by word and example regarding the right way to live before God.

The Pharisees never did any of those things. They had no time for tax collectors and sinners. What they did have time for was keeping their traditions and rituals intact, doing everything decently and in order, and priding themselves in being the people of God.

All of that should sound very familiar because it’s precisely what we do. Matthew 23 opens the window of our souls and shines a light on what we’re like inside. It’s easy to fool ourselves into thinking we’re the people of God when we do our readings, attend meeting and Bible class, condemn this world for being so evil, and pride ourselves that we’re “in the Truth.”

The example Jesus sets us means we have to take time with those who have drifted away from God.

It is far easier to be a hypocritical Pharisee than a disciple of Jesus Christ. As a Pharisee, we can safely ignore those who aren’t keeping up with our standards while we go through the routine of our religion. Making rules to deal with situations means everyone knows where the boundaries are, and then we can deal with tax collectors and sinners by pointing out where they have crossed the line. Problem solved.

The example Jesus sets us means we have to take time with those who have drifted away from God. The lost sheep need our attention, not our condemnation. It means taking time out of our busy schedule of doing Bible study, attending meetings, being on committees, and defending the Truth. It means getting our hands dirty, lifting people out of the ditch, forgiving and getting involved, and it’s inglorious work.

He’s our champion of justice that we ought to look up to and do our best to emulate.

Jesus told the story of Pharisaical hypocrisy on his way to the cross. He was the furthest thing from a hypocrite. Not only did Jesus preach righteousness, but he also lived it, submitting to a cruel death in the process. He’s our champion of justice that we ought to look up to and do our best to emulate. It is his commendation we should aspire to receive. Not the praises of those who see our outward works of what might look like righteousness but hides our true motives.

Being a hypocrite is the most natural thing in the world because it makes us feel good. But it’s being like Christ, giving ourselves in service to others, that brings eternal life.

Richard Morgan
Simi Hills, CA

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