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Whitewashed Tombs

A few days before the Lord Jesus was crucified, He delivered a damning indictment against the scribes and Pharisees according to the record of Matthew 23. The Pharisees were the so-called "separated ones" among the Jewish people, but Jesus had a different title for them: hypocrites. Seven times in this chapter, Jesus described the scribes and Pharisees as hypocrites, and each time He explained that their hollow words and meaningless actions would bring woe upon them. Soon, they would fill up the measure of the guilt of their fathers who murdered the prophets when they themselves would murder the Son of God and His messengers.

In one of the woes given against the scribes and Pharisees, Jesus aptly compared them to beautiful, white tombs that contain nothing but filth and rottenness. Notice His words in Matthew 23:27-28:

"Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you are like whitewashed tombs which on the outside appear beautiful, but inside they are full of dead men's bones and all uncleanness. So you, too, outwardly appear righteous to men, but inwardly you are full of hypocrisy and lawlessness."

This comparison was especially appalling for the Jews because the Law of Moses declared the uncleanness of anyone who even touched a dead body. By using this figure of the tombs, Jesus showed the utter corruption of the scribes and Pharisees from the inside out. Their form of righteousness was purely superficial, and it only served as a guise for the true nature of their hearts.

Today, the scribes and the Pharisees are long gone, but the scourge of hypocrisy remains. It is seen in every individual who pretends to be righteous by his own merit and every group of individuals that uses a bogus, superficial form of righteousness to promote their self-made agenda. Such individuals and groups presume to be standard bearers of law and morality as they attempt to influence and intimidate others to comply with their godless agenda.

The Pharisaic type of hypocrisy is now common in the United States, but it is not commonly recognized. Most often, the term "Pharisee" gets thrown around when someone attempts a strict application of God's word when others are unwilling. The person who insists on following God's law is labeled as a hypocritical, self-righteous Pharisee, but this is not what the Pharisees were. The Pharisees did not insist on God's law but on their own traditions (Matt. 15:1-9). They set their own standards and laws, declared that they were the righteous ones, and condemned others who did not comply with them.

Pharisaic hypocrisy is now found in the many individuals and religious groups who claim to be Christians while they set their own standards for morality and righteousness while rejecting God's word. We see this type of hypocrisy coming from churches and denominations, politicians, news media, and entertainers. They make a claim on Christ while at the same time practicing, condoning, and promoting many behaviors and beliefs that are contrary to Christ's word. In 2Timothy 3:1-5, the apostle Paul warned Timothy of a coming apostasy in which this type of hypocrisy would be in style. Consider his words:

But realize this, that in the last days difficult times will come. For men will be lovers of self, lovers of money, boastful, arrogant, revilers, disobedient to parents, ungrateful, unholy, unloving, irreconcilable, malicious gossips, without self-control, brutal, haters of good, treacherous, reckless, conceited, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, holding to a form of godliness, although they have denied its power; avoid such men as these.

This prophecy is not specifically describing events of our present time, but it does describe a category of persons that still exist. Notice carefully again all of the descriptions for these men and then focus on the latter part, which says that they did not love God but held to a form (shape, shell, or appearance) of godliness while denying its power. These were not irreligious people, but rather they were immoral people who maintained a pretense of worthless, impotent religion.

It is often said that the United States is the most Christian nation in the world, but much of the modern brand of so-called Christianity is nothing more than old, Pharisaic hypocrisy. Man makes the rules, declares that he is righteous, and condemns others who won't follow. The truth of this hypocrisy is disguised in a package that looks like Christianity with church buildings, preachers, and religious traditions, but it is really just an appearance of godliness that denies the power of true godliness. Under this system, men claim to be Christians while practicing and condoning immorality, homosexuality, divorce, abortion, gambling, drunkenness, immodesty, greed, and many other vices. These are accepted under man's new definitions of love and tolerance, which appear as a form of godliness but have no power to save souls. Only the pure, uncompromised gospel of Christ is the power of God for salvation (Rom. 1:16). This is the gospel of grace and faith that comes with the preaching of repentance and baptism, and it is the powerful message the world needs today.

Stacey E. Durham



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