When asked why some people don't go to church, one of the answers you might hear is that churches are full of hypocrites. We know that Jesus hates hypocrisy, so today we'll be looking at that subject.
This message is based on Matthew 23:1-12.
Here is a little known and fairly useless fact. I’ve always thought that chickens only ate grains and grasses. But they are actually omnivorous. They’ll eat almost anything, including meat. In fact, most chickens, if they see blood, will instinctively consider whatever is bleeding to be food, even if it’s another chicken that accidentally got scratched. Back in the 40’s and 50’s, commercial chicken farmers didn’t take great care of the birds, and there actually became a big chicken cannibalism problem. If one got injured, the others would try to eat it!
So farmers used little, red-tinted chicken sunglasses. The idea was that if everything they saw was red, they couldn’t pick out blood on another bird. If they couldn’t see any blood, they’d go about their little lives and never freak out. I didn’t believe this, so I went to the internet and found this on Wikipedia, “Red-tinted lenses were considered to be effective in reducing internecine pecking because they disguise the color of blood.” Then I found an article from 1953, from the Indiana National Road Traveler newspaper that said, "The deep rose-colored plastic lenses make it impossible for the cannibal [chicken] to see blood on the other chickens, although permitting it to see the grain on the ground."
Here is an ad from 1939 for the Anti-Pix glasses for chickens. It was really a thing. I don’t know when farmers gave up on eyeglasses for chickens, but I came across an article in The Hawk Eye, a paper for farmers in Illinois that reported in 1973 that a farmer had 8,000 chickens fitted with the rose-colored glasses. So in the 70’s, they were still being used. I even saw an article China about a farmer who just had their chickens fitted with them, so they’re still being used in some places.
Why do I bring that up this morning? Because I think I think it’s funny that we put rose colored glasses on chickens, so they will see life in a more favorable way. Of course we often view ourselves through a sort of rose colored glasses, don’t we. We don’t easily see our faults, they seem masked. While at the same time we seem to use super clear zoom lenses while looking at the faults of others.
This week we are continuing the story from where we left off in last week’s message. As Jesus is teaching a crowd, some Sadducees come up to him with a question meant to trap Him. They asked Him about marriage after the resurrection – but they didn’t believe in a resurrection. When Jesus answered them well, some Pharisees decided to give it a try. They had an expert in the law ask a question about the greatest commandment, which we saw last week.
After answering, Jesus asks them a follow-up question – What do you think about the Christ? We saw this last week, too. When they didn’t have a good answer, He turns to the crowds and His disciples again, and that’s where we pick it up this morning. He’s very critical, these are the teachers of the law and the Pharisees, yet they don’t know much of anything about the promised Savior they so desperately need. We picked up todays reading at this point.
In the first part of our reading, He describes three things that they do that nobody should ever do. We’re going to look at those, then we’ll look and find some practical application from this passage, to see how it applies to us today.
1. They do not practice what they preach (v.3). Jesus said you have to obey them, the bible is pretty clear about obedience to those who God appoints over you. Romans 13:1-2 says, “Everyone must submit himself to the governing authorities… he who rebels against this authority is rebelling against what God has instituted, and those who do so will bring judgement on themselves.” We might think of this as meaning only those governmental authorities, but it means everyone God has appointed over you – for the Jew in the first century, it included the teachers of the law and the priests. So you still have to obey them.
Hebrews 13:17 is a verse that we usually apply to those in spiritual authority, our pastors. Certainly then, they were the priests and teachers. It says, “Obey your leaders and submit to their authority. They keep watch over you as men who must give an account. Obey them so that their work will be a joy, not a burden, for that would be of no advantage to you.”
And our reading this morning says, in verse 3, “you must obey them and do everything they tell you to do. But do not do what they do, for they do not practice what they preach.” He goes on to give an example of what He means, “They tie heavy loads and put them on men’s shoulders, but they themselves are not willing to lift a finger to move them.” They required people to keep the laws without exception, to the point that no one could, and they didn’t help them. They added to the burdens people lived with, and did nothing to help them with their burdens. We need to make sure we’re not adding to people’s burdens. I think the church needs to reach out and help people by lifting some of those burdens. We need to find ways to help, not further hinder. Christ sets people free, He would never bind them further.
2. Everything they do is done for men to see (v.5). They dress the way they do so others will notice them. They make their phylacteries wide and the tassels on their garments long, so they stand out. Does anybody know what a phylactery is? It is a box that they would wear on their foreheads and arms during prayer time, they would hold scripture passages. They would have extra-large ones, implying they were extra holy. They dressed in a way that when they walk through a crowd, everybody knows who they are.
In verse 27, it says, “Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You are like whitewashed tombs, which look beautiful on the outside but on the inside are full of dead men’s bones and everything unclean.” They did things for show, to look good before others. And they looked the part, they looked like really holy men. But inside they were far from God. They didn’t live that way. They wanted to look that way, they took extra precautions to look that way, but they didn’t live that way. Which brings me to the third…
3. They love honor, they actively seek to be honored (v.6). They were quick to sit at the head table at a banquet, the place of honor. They felt like they deserved it. They would sit in the best seats when they were in the Synagogues, or wherever they were. They loved to be recognized in the marketplaces, recognized as somebody important, even called Rabbi. They really lived as if they were better than others. And expected others to recognize that, and treat them accordingly.
But the truth is, they weren’t any better than anybody else. The truth here is that no one is any better than anybody else. We’ve all sinned. We all have the same opportunity to find forgiveness and salvation through a relationship with Jesus Christ. We all desperately need what only Jesus can offer.
The only difference between us and the people outside these walls is that we’re seeking that relationship. That doesn’t make us better, it isn’t anything we’ve done on our own. It’s all Jesus. He drew us to Himself. He filled us with His Holy Spirit. He treats us with grace and mercy. And He does it because He loves us. As much as I still struggle to do right. As much as I still sin. He loves me. Do you recognize how amazing that is? How can I stand up and pretend I’m anything? How can I think I’m better than anybody else? How can I judge anybody? I’m nothing without God’s generous grace. And when I truly recognize that, God comes near. And I can enjoy a real fellowship with Him and with other believers.
I want to change track a little bit here. What do you think one of the most popular words used by non-Christians to describe Christians? It’s the word hypocrite. “They’re ‘hypocrites.” The word hypocrite comes from a Greek word that literally means “an actor.” But some people don’t come to church because they don’t see a difference in how we live our lives. We talk a good game, but we really aren’t any different. So they stay away.
I found this on the internet: “Not going to church because of the ‘hypocrites’ is like not going to the gym because of ‘out of shape people,” Or like not going to visit kindergarten because of all the kids who can’t read. Or like not going to the emergency room because of all the sick people. The truth is, none of us are perfect. But all of us who are actively seeking Jesus with all our hearts are becoming better.
And honestly, not everyone here is using all the resources God provides them here. In fact it’s probably not physically possible to be in every Sunday School class every week, and every bible study every week. But at least most of us are in at least one, so we are where we need to be, in the place where we can find healing and restoration. And so the big question for us this morning is, “are we actively examining our lives and seeking to change them for the better, to become more Christ-like?” Or are we just going through the motions.
Truth is, there probably are people present here this morning who have been just going through the motions. The love of Christ isn’t in them. They’ve been “acting” like a Christian at church and in front of other believers, maybe for most of their lives. But they haven’t really had an authentic experience of being born again. That doesn’t have to be you. You can surrender to Christ this morning, and begin a relationship with Him, begin to experience His grace, His love.
If you can’t remember a time you’ve done that, a time when you’ve come to Jesus and surrendered yourself to Him, a time you became a follower of His, you can do that today. You can come forward after our service and talk to me or anybody on our Diaconate. You can begin a new life today.
Churches in America do have the unfortunate reputation of hypocrisy—judging others and looking down on others. Appearing to have it all together while we’re here, and acting just like everybody else when we’re not. The answer is to remember who you are before God. We’re no better than anybody else. We’ve all sinned. We all desperately need what only Jesus can offer. And it’s not something we find once and no longer need again. We need to keep coming back to the well again and again. We can only find it in a personal and ongoing relationship with Christ.