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From Pretence to Purity

Seeking True Holiness

Matthew 23 captures Jesus in a moment of prophetic fervour, unleashing a barrage of truth upon the scribes and Pharisees. Their veneer of piety crumbles under the weight of Christ’s rebuke, exposing the hypocrisy festering within their hearts. In this chapter, we witness Jesus delivering a series of devastating blows to the scribes and Pharisees, punctuating each with the refrain, “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites!” This repetition serves as a resounding echo, driving home the severity of their spiritual condition. Like a skilled debater, Jesus dismantles their façade of righteousness, revealing the rot of hypocrisy festering within.

Some may question the severity of Jesus’ rebuke, but I believe it is born out of a profound love for the souls of the scribes and Pharisees. It is a grace-filled confrontation aimed at jolting them out of their spiritual slumber. Jesus, the righteous one, wields words like a surgeon’s scalpel, cutting through the layers of self-deception to expose the truth hidden beneath. Good and reasonable apologists tell us that we are not meant to win the argument at the cost of losing our opponent. We are meant to win our opponent even if it sometimes costs us the argument. But this does not mean that we are to pull our punches. It means that our punches must be well-directed for the good of their soul. The persuasion and power of the debater who loves his opponent will therefore be far more zealous than the argument of the one who wants to score a point. And sometimes the stern rebuke that saves the soul is more painful than the one that wins the argument. That is what we see here as Jesus rebukes the scribes and Pharisees because they need to hear it.

Yet, Jesus’ rebuke carries both grace and judgment. It is a double-edged sword, capable of piercing to the depths of salvation or judgment. Those who heed His words find life, while those who reject them face condemnation. This tension underscores the seriousness of hypocrisy and the urgent need for repentance.

Hypocrisy & Holiness

In Matthew 23:25-28, Jesus employs two vivid analogies to illustrate the depth of hypocrisy within the scribes and Pharisees. First, he likens them to meticulously cleaned cups hiding inner filth—a stark warning against prioritizing outward appearances over inner transformation. Second, he compares them to whitewashed tombs, beautiful on the outside but filled with death and uncleanness within.

“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you clean the outside of the cup and the plate, but inside they are full of greed and self-indulgence. You blind Pharisee! First clean the inside of the cup and the plate, that the outside also may be clean. “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 23:25-28

In unpacking these analogies, we confront the sobering reality of hypocrisy’s corrosive effects on sanctification. The outwardly pristine façade of hypocrisy masks a rotting interior, devoid of true spiritual life. Despite their outward displays of righteousness, the scribes and Pharisees are spiritually bankrupt, lacking the genuine transformation that comes from an inward renewal. The Pharisees may have understood the general revelation of God, evident in the natural world, but they lacked the divine revelation that brings true faith and repentance. They were whitewashed tombs, pristine on the surface but devoid of spiritual life within. Only through a genuine encounter with Christ, the source of divine revelation, could they experience true transformation.

If the first analogy addresses the issue of their act of hypocrisy, the second one addresses the state of their hypocritical hearts. The sum of their holiness was indeed an act of appearing righteous while avoiding the hard path of humility and sincerity. But the condition of their hearts were like whitewashed tombs. It used to be in the Old Testament that the Jews were considered unclean for seven days if they touched a tomb. The scribes and Pharisees were tombs that corrupted those who touched them or were touched by them. This is the danger of hypocrisy for if out of the abundance to the heart, the mouth speaks, then it shall be out of the abundance of the heart that the hypocrite blesses the people, and hypocrisy is no blessing but is the very thing that brings the curse of Christ in Matthew 23.

As we reflect on Jesus’ scathing rebuke of hypocrisy, let us heed the call to authentic sanctification. Let us not settle for outward displays of piety while neglecting the inward renewal of our hearts. Instead, let us embrace the transformative power of the Gospel, allowing it to penetrate every aspect of our lives. May we be like cups cleansed from within, radiating the genuine light of Christ to a world in desperate need of His grace.

Where does our hope lie? How may whitewashed tombs see the light of life? Our hope lies in none other than the man who stood in front of a tomb and cried, “Lazarus, come forth”. Our hope is in the Christ who died for our sins and was laid in a tomb for three days, only to rise again, to roll the stone away that no man or principality or power can ever put back in its place. We hope because Christ lives and we live in him. If he defeated death, then in him, we too shall live.

Hypocrisy is not the way of the Christian. It is the way that the Christian abandoned in the tomb of his old life. Holiness is the way of the Christian.

This article is created from a sermon preached by @michaelteddy called ‘Hypocrisy & Sanctification’. Click here to view the full sermon.