Monday morning Norma Jean got a text message from our neighbors, Hugh and Linda Bozeman who also are members where we worship at West Main. They were having some family over for a cook out and invited us to join them. Of course, we were glad to accept.
Later that morning, I noticed a facebook post by Hugh that read, “I decided to clean my grill this morning. Couldn’t help but think of Matthew 23:27.”
What’s that verse got to do with cleaning a grill?
“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you are like whitewashed tombs which indeed appear beautiful outwardly, but inside are full of dead men’s bones and all uncleanness.”
I had to chuckle when I read it. Not just because I was going to be eating off that grill later that day, but it’s something we’ve all experienced. You’re going to cook out. Of course, the grill looks fine on the outside, but you open the lid and staring you in the face are the remains of a previous cookout. The grate is caked with the unappetizing bits of charred meat. It’s gross. Icky. And yucky. It must be cleaned.
Jesus’ metaphor of whitewashed tombs was one easily understood by the Jews. Outwardly the tombs glistened. But inside were the decaying remains of a dead body. Incidentally, according to the law, anyone who touched a dead body was unclean (Num 19:16).
The Pharisees’ lives were like that. Outwardly they looked fine. They wore their religious garments. Prayed long and pious prayers. Attended Sabbath worship. Demanded strict obedience to the law. And quickly censured not only those who broke it but also those who violated their time honored traditions.
However, these Pharisees had a problem inwardly. Their motives were impure. Their hearts unclean. And their minds had been corrupted. In this scathing denunciation, Jesus points out their pretense and pride. They loved to be exalted. Wear titles. Sit in prominent places. And be honored by others.
Sadly their religion was a sham. A pretense. A farce. Seven times in this text Jesus rebukes them with this phrase: “Woe unto you Scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites!”
The application is almost too obvious to need elaboration. William Barclay put it this way. “A man may smile and be a villain. A man may walk with bowed head and reverent steps and folded hands in the posture of humility, and all the time be looking down with cold contempt on those whom he regards as sinners. His very humility may be the pose of pride; and, as he walks so humbly, he may be thinking with relish of the picture of piety which he presents to those who are watching him. ”
Then Barclay adds, “There is nothing harder than for a good man not to know that he is good; and once he knows he is good, his goodness is gone, however he may appear to men from the outside.”
The problem with this picture is that it’s easier to see the hypocrisy in others. But not ourselves.
Is it possible to preach, but be motivated by pride? Or teach a Bible class, but do so to flaunt one’s knowledge? Or direct singing to receive the praise of men? Or piously lead a long prayer to impress others with our devotion? Or condemn the sins of others with a sanctimonious spirit? Or write a blog to gain followers and receive acclaim? Or post religious messages on facebook to see how many “likes” we can get?
Are we more concerned with how we look? Or how we really are? What’s more important character or reputation? D.L. Moody once said, “If I take care of my character, my reputation will take care of itself.”
The Pharisees focused on reputation. Externals. Outward displays of religiosity. Character took a back seat. But Jesus reminded them, and us, “Blessed are the pure in heart.”
We each need to honestly examine our own inward motives and sincerely ask, “Is my heart right with God?”
–Ken Weliever, The Preacherman