The following message is based on Matthew 23:13-39, entitled: “Our Hypocrisy; God’s Patience”
Unfortunately, things are not always as they seem. The “Queen Mary,” was the largest ship to cross the ocean when it was launched in 1936. Through four decades and a world war she served until she was retired, anchored as a floating hotel and museum in Long Beach, California.
During the conversion, her three massive smokestacks were taken off to be scraped down and repainted. But on the dock they crumbled. Nothing was left of the ¾ inch steel plate from which the stacks had been formed. All that remained were more than thirty coats of paint that had been applied over the years. The steel had rusted away.
At times in our lives, we are like those smokestacks, appearing as one thing, but in reality something else. This is called hypocrisy. Hypocrisy. We all struggle with it from time to time. It’s like the man told the pastor, “I’d come to church if it was not for all the hypocrites! At this the pastor responded, “Don’t let that stop you. We could always use one more.” This morning, I’d like to address the subject of hypocrisy. For that, we turn to Jesus’ words in Matthew 23, as He addressed the religious rulers of His day. Is there a message in His words for us today? Let us first discover that…
CHRIST ADDRESSES HYPOCRISY IN A SERIOUS WAY.
Matthew 23:23 “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you tithe mint and dill and cummin, and have neglected the weightier provisions of the law: justice and mercy and faithfulness; but these are the things you should have done without neglecting the others. Many times in this passage, Jesus introduces condemnation on the religious leaders with the term, “Woe.” The Greek term denotes horror, disaster, or calamity. It comes from the Woe oracles in the Old Testament especially found in Isaiah and Habakkuk. It is as if God is bringing charges against these leaders for their wayward living. On the outside, they appeared to be pretty spiritual, but their hearts depicted something else. The term “Hypocrite” in the Greek denotes “one who pretends to be other than what he is.”
The definition of the English term “hypocrite” is a person who puts on a false appearance of virtue or religion or a person who acts in contradiction to his or her stated beliefs or feelings. The Pharisees and Scribes were a source of instruction, but inwardly they were hypocrites. In the remaining verses of Matthew 23, Christ will pronounce judgment upon them and address their hypocrisy. What is the definition of a hypocrite? Jesus gives us the definition in verse three: “…for they say things, and do not do them (Matthew 23:3).”
Jesus is addressing several actions by these rulers: their evangelism, tithing, and swearing, among other things. To each one, they practiced different forms of spiritual incongruency. For instance, in spreading their teachings, they operated overt control over people, producing replicas of themselves rather than true followers of God. In their charitable giving, they tithed those things of lesser value, while secretly practicing self indulgence or ignoring the weightier things of God’s moral code. Lastly, in order to emphasize their honesty, they would swear carelessly, rather than letting their yes be yes and their no be no. The trouble was that these were the spiritual influencers of the day! This was the best of the best! That was a troubling thing!
Here, we can know that hypocrisy is hated by God. Only the Lord is able to see the condition of our hearts and He knows what we are on the inside. King David prayed in Psalm 51:6: “Surely you desire truth in the inner parts; you teach me wisdom in the inmost place.” He also sees our every action. And so we must know that we are accountable to Him and Him alone. John Milton, in Paradise Lost, said: “Neither men nor angels can discern hypocrisy, the only evil that walks invisible- except to God.”
What will people say about us? There are things in my life that I am not happy with; things that I would change. Where does change come from? The Holy Spirit works in the heart and gives us the grace to change. We cannot give up on change. Could there be something that the Holy Spirit is prodding you about? Is there incongruence in our spiritual walk? Next, we discover that…
GOD IS PATIENT AND KIND, ALWAYS WANTING US TO COME BACK TO HIM.
Matthew 23:37 “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, who kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to her! How often I wanted to gather your children together, the way a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, and you were unwilling. 38 “Behold, your house is being left to you desolate! 39 “For I say to you, from now on you shall not see Me until you say, ‘Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord!’”
What Jesus says about Himself should cause us to take notice. Although the inhabitants of Jerusalem had not believed in Him; although they had mocked Him and disregarded His teaching, Jesus relates the heart of God hear when He expresses His patient love. It is said of Moses’ experience, when He was hid in the cleft of the rock and allowed to see God passing before Him, notice the words in Exodus 34:6: “And the LORD passed before him and proclaimed, “The LORD, the LORD God, merciful and gracious, longsuffering, and abounding in goodness and truth, … .” From Jesus’ words, what can we learn about God? For one, He is patient and kind.
Secondly, although He is patient and kind, but His patience does not last forever. The desolation that is mentioned in verse 39, would occur in 70 A.D. when the Romans would raze the temple and fully demolish every religious representation. Josephus writes that this was a horrible time, where scads of the cities inhabitants were crucified as public spectacles under the Roman emperor Nero. It was truly both a temporal catastrophe and a form of divine judgment.
Thirdly, the human will is stubborn, especially towards spiritual things. If we rely upon our wills to bring us back to God, they never will. And, if the truth were known, we all have some hypocrisy in our hearts. I know I do. So what is the proper approach? Allow me to suggest three actions.
The first is detection. We must ask God to put us under His microscope! We must ask Him to seek our hearts and identify those places, those actions that simply are not Christlike. Psalm 139:23: “Search me, O God, and know my heart; Try me, and know my anxieties….”
The second is confession. Once we identify anything in our lives that smells of hypocrisy we must come to Christ and confess it. Our wills must be broken and our hearts must be rent in two, if the Holy Spirit would ever do something genuine. Someone once said that confession is simply agreeing with the Holy Spirit on what He’s convicting you of. Third is correction. To be dissatisfied with any continued hypocrisy and renounce it. We must think on the subject as God thinks. We must be repulsed by our own hypocrisy.
I hope you have learned two important things. For one, CHRIST ADDRESSES HYPOCRISY IN A SERIOUS WAY. Secondly, GOD IS PATIENT AND KIND, ALWAYS WANTING US TO COME BACK TO HIM. It is a call to single-mindedness. Joseph Bayly wrote a beautiful piece, entitled “A Psalm of Single-Mindedness.” Read its words as you think about the hypocrisy that sometimes lurks in the corners of our lives:
Lord of reality
make me real
an actor playing out his part
I don’t want to keep a prayer list
but to pray
nor agonize to find Your will
but to obey
what I already know
theories of inspriation
but submit to Your Word.
I don’t want to explain the difference
between eros and philos
but to love.
I don’t want
to sing as if I mean it
I want to mean it.
I don’t want
to tell it like it is
but to be it
like you want it.
I don’t want
to think another needs me
but I need him
else I’m not complete.
I don’t want
to tell others how to do it
but to do it
to have to always be right
but to admit it when I’m wrong.
I don’t want to be a census taker
but an obstetrician
nor an involved person, a professional
but a friend.
I don’t want to be insensitive
but to hurt where other people hurt
nor to say I know how you feel
but to say God knows
and I’ll try
if you’ll be patient with me
and meanwhile I’ll be quiet.
I don’t want to scorn the cliche’s of others
but to mean everything I say