"Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you are like whitewashed tombs, which outwardly appear beautiful, but within are full of dead people's bones and all uncleanness. So you also outwardly appear righteous to others, but within you are full of hypocrisy and lawlessness. - Matthew 23: 27-28 (ESV)
Chapter 23 of the Gospel of Matthew finds our Lord and Savior passing some harsh criticism towards the religious leaders of His day. It is in vogue today to protect what is false in Christianity by hiding behind the construct of love the world has created. That telling the truth is somehow unloving. Throughout the ministry of Jesus we see that He had no problem calling out those who needed to be called out. He had no problem over turning the tables in the temple. He had no problem calling the Pharisees a brood of vipers. Similarly, in our key verses today we see that He had no problem calling the Scribes and religious leaders of His day whitewashed tombs. I came across this definition today of what Jesus was trying to convey:
"The Queen Mary was the largest ship to cross the oceans 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 3/4 inch steel plate from which the stacks had been formed. All that remained were more than thirty coasts of paint that had been applied over the years. The steel had rusted away. When Jesus called the Pharisees "Whitewashed tombs," He meant they had no substance, only an exterior appearance."
The term whitewash refers to merely adding a coat of white paint over something that needs more than just a makeover. In the illustration here the smokestacks were just repainted over and over again until all that was eventually left was the whitewash! The substance was gone and all that was left was the appearance of substance. Look at how much detail Jesus gets into with the Pharisees here in our key verses. This is not only a personal rebuke to them but a personal warning to us. Jesus taught extensively against hypocrisy. Of trying to look better than we actually are. The famously abused verses regarding "judge not" are actually speaking against hypocrisy, not judging.
We see in the key verses the first thing about hypocrites is that they want to appear beautiful. They want to appear righteous. They want to appear to be something that they not. This is the true spirit of religion. The first people in the church who embodied this was Ananias and Sapphira from Acts Chapter Five. They wanted to look pious and religious. They wanted to appear better than they really were. They held back some of the proceeds from a property sale and gave the rest to the Disciples but told them they gave it all. God struck them both dead. God does not like hypocrisy beloved.
The second thing about hypocrites is that they are hiding something inside. It is not something good. It has two characteristics. It is dead and it is unclean. What does that mean for us today? It is dead means that it no longer provides anything of life for us. It no longer serves any purpose for us in our life. All it can do is suck the life out of us. There is nothing clean about it. It is filthy and it spreads like filth. It has nothing to do with God - who is always clean and always about life. So we have this thing inside of us that we ought to get rid of. Some sin that we cling to but we hide it away instead. We cover it up. We slap a coat of white paint over ourselves and we continue on with our church masks. But inside this dead and unclean thing is eating away at us. Many people can see it too. They can see our own hypocrisy. They can see us raising our hands on Sunday and cursing out our friends on Wednesday. They can see us solemnly praying on Sunday but cheating on our spouse on Thursday. They can see us pretending to be an expert on something that our lives no longer represent. Beloved they can see.
They can see the dead people's bones inside of us. They can smell the uncleanness. Look at the pronouncement from Jesus! You want to appear outwardly righteous to others but within are filled with hypocrisy and lawlessness! These are no small matters for Jesus. The Bible speaks against hypocrisy strongly throughout the Word. The good news today is that God is always willing to accept our true repentance. He is always willing to restore. I think about Peter's prideful stance about never denying Christ and then he went ahead and did it anyway. Yet by the end, he had the courage to demand to be crucified upside down. Let us be honest with ourselves for once. Let us be transparent. The reason why there are so many people hurt in the church is no one feels like they can raise their hand and say they are struggling without getting judged. The truth is we like our masks. We like our secret sins. We like appearing better than we truly are. We are Ananias and Sapphira. If we could get away with it we would like the church to think we are better than we truly are. We need to think of ourselves as the Apostle Paul emulated for us:
The saying is trustworthy and deserving of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am the foremost. - 1Timothy 1: 15 (ESV)
For I am the least of the apostles, unworthy to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God. - 1Cointhians 15: 9 (ESV)
Paul was the opposite of a whitewashed tomb. He never forgot where God found him. Of sinners he is foremost and of apostles he is the least. Let that sink in. We have to stop painting over what really needs to be fixed. We need to clear out the dead bones and clean out the inside of our cup. Look at all the high profile Christian falling every week into some form of sin or scandal. God will not be mocked. We cannot pretend to think we can fool everyone forever. Eventually God will bring to light what we hide in the dark. We need to take a serious spiritual inventory and see where we might be fostering hypocrisy and who we might be hurting by our indifference to it. Then we need to ask God to lay the axe to the root of what needs to be removed in our lives. So that we do not have to wear the masks anymore. So we do not have to lie about the price of the piece of property we want to lay at the apostles feet. So that we embrace the fact that we are the foremost of sinners and the least of the redeemed. Why embrace that? Because when we do that - Jesus is glorified. Jesus us lifted up. Hypocrisy forces us to pretend to be someone we are not but Jesus shows the world that we are a new creation in Him. When His glory is shining through in our lives, we will no longer need to paint over anything. We will no longer need to be whitewashed.