Jesus’ Indictment of Hypocrisy (Matthew 23)

In Matthew 23, Jesus gives a stinging rebuke of the hypocrisy in the scribes and Pharisees. This chapter contains a third of all references in the NT to hypocrite (6 out of 17) so it serves as a fitting place to consider the subject. A hypocrite originally referred to a stage actor, but in the NT, this word took on the metaphorical meaning of “a moral or religious
counterfeit” (Friberg’s Lexicon). The accusation is a serious one. In the first century, as well as today, no one wants to be called a hypocrite. This word strikes at the very heart of a person’s worth and respectability. A hypocrite is fake, lacks integrity and possesses no honor. Consider Jesus’ words in this chapter.

They preach but do not practice (v 2-4). It is much easier to preach a holy life than to live it. The Jewish leaders had fallen into the habitual practice of living a lie. The words of God were on their lips but they failed to penetrate their own hearts.

They desire honor and lack humility (v 5-12). The true motivation for the Jewish leaders shifted from pleasing God to maintaining their position and respectability before others. Pride dominated their motivation and prevented them from approaching God in an
acceptable manner.

They make converts but remain unconverted (v 13-15). The invitation to become a child of God is serious business and requires a strong commitment. The Pharisees proclaimed this strong message, but they failed to live it. They made steep demands of others when they were unwilling to make the difficult changes in their own lives.

They swear to escape telling the truth (v 16-22). As if truth telling had become a game subject to ever changing rules, the Pharisees perfected the art of swearing. They used this game to avoid telling the truth to others, manipulating others when it suited their desires.

They have neglected the weightier matters of the law (v 23-28). Although they presented the appearance of true disciples by extending themselves to the small matters, the scribes and Pharisees lacked spiritual depth. They addressed the minutia of the Law, but they failed to live according to the big principles of the Law.

They underestimate their own ability to sin (v 29-36). The Pharisees honored the prophets, denying that they could ever be guilty of murder. It is much easier to claim innocence, especially of “big” sins, than to examine one’s heart and see the potential for
sin. Godliness does not come through big boasts but through careful attention to one’s own heart.

Jesus closed his indictment against hypocrisy with a lament (v 37-39). He earnestly
desired to provide safety and security for the lost, but he would not force others to accept God’s plan. They rejected the very Savior who could have saved them. The result was an empty people and a desolate house.

This chapter has looked at the hypocrisy of other people, but it begs for self-examination. Can you find some of these same dangers in your own heart? Have you been living a life of hypocrisy? God had a special relationship with Jerusalem, but I doubt that his reaction would be any different if it were recorded of our actions today. He still laments sin. He still desires to provide salvation. Those who reject him are still left desolate and without hope.

Biblical Meditations (The Broadmoor Bulletin), November 6, 2011

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