Matthew 23:2-3 – “The scribes and the Pharisees sit on Moses’ seat, so practice and observe whatever they tell you – but not what they do. For they preach, but do not practice.”
Can you imagine what it would be like for someone to say of you what Jesus said of the Pharisees in Matthew 23:3? “Believe what they tell you to do, but don’t live like they are living.” Professional sports coaches almost always are in their roles because they used to play the sport. Joe Torre, Don Mattingly, Mike Matheny, and Joe Girardi were all baseball players who were relatively successful as players. They are now coaching or in management and can tell their players to play with specific technique and skill because they themselves were successful. The scribes and Pharisees were a bunch of book nerds who had no social skills. They lacked compassion, common sense, and kindness in their hearts. They knew how to teach people, but couldn’t back their teaching with their lifestyle.
As a result of such terrible examples, Jesus attacked them very directly in Matthew 23. He pronounced seven woes on them. He said that they “do all their deeds to be seen by others.” Jesus called them “blind guides,” “hypocrites,” and “whitewashed tombs.” As we study the Pharisees and Jesus’ strong words against them, we need to consider who this message might be applicable to today.
For us today, I think three points should be considered. First, are we hypocrites? When the world sees us, do they see hypocrisy? Do they see us as leading them with our words but losing our credibility as we fail to live out what we are preaching? One of the unique things about the world is that they have a mistaken view on who Jesus is. Many see Jesus as merely loving and tolerant. Notice I say “merely” because they fail to acknowledge all of Jesus’ teaching. The world may look at us as we stand for what we believe in and see us as hypocrites. So there is a sense that their perception of us as being hypocrites may be unavoidable due to their misunderstanding of Jesus. But are we entering into relationship with these people to help them really get to know the real Jesus, and help them understand that we are not the hypocrites that they think we are?
Second, are we blind guides? When we are reminded over and over again to make disciples, do we even know what that means? The only way we can ever know what it means to make disciples is if we are a disciple ourself! If you are not a follower of Jesus, then how in the world could you ever lead someone else to follow Jesus? If you are not a follower of Jesus, stop trying to lead others to follow Jesus, and instead go to the Lord and ask him to change your heart and help you to follow him.
Third, are you a whitewashed tomb? Do you do yourself up on Sunday mornings and when you are with your Christian friends, while inwardly you waste away? Jesus said that outwardly they “appear beautiful, but within are full of dead people’s bones and all uncleanness.”
Only you can answer these tough questions. Hearing these challenges from Jesus is the first step in having your eyes open and your hearts made alive. Have you been playing the church game? Is it time to finally admit that while you have been doing all the right things on the outside, you feel like you are wasting away on the inside? Turn to Jesus! Turn to Jesus!