Monday, February 09, 2009

Sermon 1/18/09 What Would Jesus Say Part 2: "About Being Hypocritical"

"What Would Jesus Say to about being Hypocritical?

Matthew 23

Some of you may have recently read or heard about Spencer Osborne, the pastor in Indianapolis that was arrested because he had two wives. According to court records, this was not the first incident of him having two wives. An article on the “Fight Bigamy” website says,

According to court records, when Osborne married Tucker Osborne on Nov. 11, he already was married to Gidget Harris. When he married Harris on Feb. 12, 2005, he already was married to Tonya Washington. Osborne married Washington on Sept. 18, 1999. Washington divorced him June 15, 2005.

The article went on to say that this was not his first church to work in. In 2006 he was dismissed from another church for stealing money.

I don’t know about you, but I cannot imagine being able to have two wives at the same time. How does this happen? After I read this news story from an Indiana news website, one of the comments really caught my attention. It said,
This is nothing but more Christian bashing. Preachers should be left alone. Their private lives and finances should be sacrosanct… and no I don't really believe that, I think they should all be exposed for the frauds they are.
I am sure this person’s impression of pastors and probably Christians are shaped by our all of the stories about how we confess to live a certain way, but our actions show otherwise. It is like this pastor, who was living two lives.

On several occasions, Jesus talked about this very thing. In Matthew 23, Jesus has a whole litany of things to say to those who are hypocritical. Matthew 23 begins by saying,

Then Jesus said to the crowds and to his disciples: "The teachers of the law and the Pharisees sit in Moses' seat. So you must be careful to do everything they tell you. But do not do what they do, for they do not practice what they preach. They tie up heavy, cumbersome loads and put them on other people's shoulders, but they themselves are not willing to lift a finger to move them.
"Everything they do is done for people to see: They make their phylacteries [wide and the tassels on their garments long; 6 they love the place of honor at banquets and the most important seats in the synagogues; they love to be greeted with respect in the marketplaces and to have people call them 'Rabbi.'

To better understand Jesus’ strong words in this chapter, it will be helpful to understand who he is speaking these words to. His target for these words is the scribes and Pharisees, who were part of a religious group in early Judaism. Scribed were legal experts who knew the Old Testament law very well. Scribes were probably also Pharisees, but not all Pharisees were scribes.

Pharisees, like most groups did not all agree on everything, but there were some things they had in common, which help us to understand who they were. They were a Jewish group that believed it was important to maintain the purity system and the Old Testament laws. They were traditionalists in the sense that they believed it was necessary to live by the law in order to follow God. They were not the most powerful group in Jesus’ day as far as political leadership, but they certainly did have influence on the common people. Oftentimes they would impose strict rules for the people to ensure that they followed the Old Testament law. Pharisees also believed that when people died, they would experience a physical bodily resurrection when God’s kingdom was reestablished for the Jews.

Sometimes it is helpful to compare these groups in Jesus’ day to groups from our own day. Oftentimes they are compared to “conservatives” or “evangelicals.” Conservatives, like the Pharisees stressed high moral values and tended to try to influence those around them to live up to high moral standards. They also, like modern day conservatives, place a greater emphasis on the Bible (Or Old Testament laws) then other groups did. For example, Sadducees placed more value on the Temple.

In other ways, the Pharisees could be quite progressive. They were more willing to learn from the Jewish traditions that were passed down. They accepted the writings of the prophets and tended to have some “progressive” views on the afterlife. They believed that there would be a resurrection of the dead for those who followed God, which would have been progressive at the time.

In Matthew 23, Jesus gives seven woes (excluding vs. 14 because it is not is some early manuscripts.) to the Pharisees.

1. Keep people out of the kingdom of heaven
2. Get a convert and make them worse
3. Make oaths so they can lie
4. Make tithes, but neglect justice
5. Look good in public, but are bad on the inside
6. Good public life, bad private life
7. Claim superiority over those from the past when they commit the same sin.

Unrealistic Expectations

Jesus begins chapter 23 by saying that the problem of the Pharisees was not what they were actually teaching. Jesus says that the people should obey their teaching. Jesus’ problem with the Pharisees was that their own lives were not matching up with what they were teaching. In other words, they were being “hypocritical.” In the bible, being “hypocritical” meant “to be an actor.” Jesus was saying that they put on an act.

Jesus says they are hypocritical not just because they ask everyone to live up to a certain standard, but because they will not do anything to help the people live up to the standard. Jesus uses the illustration of them tying heaven burdens to people’s shoulders, but are not willing to move a figure to help. They are keeping people away from God’s kingdom because they make it impossible to live the way God wants them to live.

It reminds me of work in high school. I worked at an open air market and we actually sold dirt. We would have to mix it up with fertilizer and then bag it. I remember my boss would come and show me how to do it every time I went to make it. Then, I would begin the process and would stand right beside me. He would stop me at every step and tell me I had done the job wrong. He had made the process so complicated with his unrealistic expectations.

Not only that, but Jesus does not see these religious leaders living up to this standard in their own lives. The people who are influenced by the Pharisees are not even able to see an example of the kind of life they are being asked to live.

Only Outward Focus

Jesus then goes on to say that they are hypocritical because they are only concerned about their outward appearance, while neglecting what is on the inside. He gives the example of the Pharisees wearing phylacteries and tassels (boxes that contained Scriptures as a reminder to obey God) all the while, they are not actually following the teachings they espouse. In other words, they are acting pious while living poorly.

How then do Jesus’ words about hypocrisy speak to us in our post-modern world?
This week I heard some astonishing news about how much money people spend to make themselves look younger.
The American Society for Aesthetic Plastic Surgery, in their report on 2007, said that 11.7 million cosmetic procedures were performed in the U.S. Over the last 10 years the number of surgical procedures performed has increased by 114%. More astoundingly, the number of nonsurgical procedures increased by 754%.
In 2007, 90.1% of cosmetic procedures were performed on women. However, procedures performed on men are growing much faster. In fact, procedures done on men increased 17% since 2006.

While we tend to only be concerned with our outward appearances, God is concerned with what is on the inside. When we only take steps in our lives to look good on the outside and neglect the real issues of the heart and soul, we are being “hypocritical.” Jesus tells us that we must take steps to clean up the inside. What good does it do to clean the outside of the cup when the inside is filthy?

No comments: