Dr. Charles F. “Chuck” DeVane, Jr., Pastor
Lake Hamilton Baptist Church
Hot Springs, Arkansas
NOVEMBER 22, 2015
1 Then Jesus said to the crowds and to his disciples, 2 “The scribes and the Pharisees sit on Moses’ seat, 3 so do and observe whatever they tell you, but not the works they do. For they preach, but do not practice. 4 They tie up heavy burdens, hard to bear, and lay them on people's shoulders, but they themselves are not willing to move them with their finger. 5 They do all their deeds to be seen by others. For they make their phylacteries broad and their fringes long, 6 and they love the place of honor at feasts and the best seats in the synagogues 7 and greetings in the marketplaces and being called rabbi by others. 8 But you are not to be called rabbi, for you have one teacher, and you are all brothers. 9 And call no man your father on earth, for you have one Father, who is in heaven. 10 Neither be called instructors, for you have one instructor, the Christ. 11 The greatest among you shall be your servant. 12 Whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and whoever humbles himself will be exalted.
— Matthew 23:1-12, ESV
I am not a fan of Jeff Foxworthy. His comedy routine is highly offensive to me, since it has shone the light on some of the nuts who fall out of my family tree. When he said, “You might be a redneck if …” and finished with certain sayings, I knew he was talking about them.
“You might be a redneck if … you burn your yard rather than mow it; … directions to your house include ‘turn off the paved road;’ … your dog and your wallet are both on a chain; … your mother has been involved in a fist fight; … you have to go outside to get something out of the fridge; and, … you come home from the dump with more than you went with.”
There is no “might” or “if” about it, many of my relatives are bonafide rednecks. And I love every one of them! Laugh at them if you want, but there is nothing especially wrong with being a redneck, is there? Even rednecks can love and follow the Lord Jesus Christ.
Hypocrites, however, cannot and do not follow Jesus. God can accept the redneck or the refined. But, He will not accept the religious hypocrite who does not humbly repent, believe, trust, and surrender to the Lordship of Christ and the authority of God’s word.
This is the subject that Jesus used for His last scathing sermon in the Jewish Temple, and it is at least part of the reason He was betrayed, arrested, and crucified. A large Passover crowd heard Him preach it, a multitude that included hypocrites, humble followers, and a huge mass of people in between. We will examine His balanced words in the first part of the chapter now (vs. 1-12), then look later at His totally berating words in the remainder of the sermon (vs. 13- 36). What does the Lord say about you, me, and our family tree?
You Might Be A Hypocrite
Jesus directed the better part of this sermon to the “crowds” and “disciples” to warn them not to follow in the footsteps of the “scribes and Pharisees.” The latter, in the eyes of God, were blatant hypocrites. A hypocrite is an actor, a person who pretends to be godly but is not, one who preaches critically and judgmentally to others, but does not practice what he preaches. At the end of the Old Covenant, Israel was full of them, and the Pharisees were their poster child. As we near the end of the New Covenant, Christian churches and nations built upon Christian principles are full of them, too. Could I, you, or someone we know be a hypocrite?
You might be a hypocrite, if you are religious. Now, not every religious person is a hypocrite. Genuine Christians follow the religious rituals and disciplines of biblical Christianity. Even adherents to other religions like Islam, Buddhism, and Hinduism often practice their religious principles in sincerity and truth, as they see it. As I have often stated, religion is a good thing even if it is not a saving thing, when practiced with love, respect, and a desire to improve the life of your fellow man.
But religion practiced insincerely with ulterior motives is blatant hypocrisy. The Gospels show that most of the Pharisees concocted a cacophony of rules not to keep them, but to use them to control, condemn, and extort money and property from other Jews. Modern radical Muslims use their own version of Islam to terrorize, rape, and murder people of other religions. Some so-called Christian preachers clearly use extreme forms of pentecostal theology to promise health and wealth to their followers, impoverishing them so that they can live immoral and lavish lifestyles. And in what may be the most common form of hypocrisy today, most people who have made professions of faith in Christ are nominal Christians, in name only, and do not worship, witness, give, or serve Christ through His bride, the local church. If your use or misuse of religion makes your life comfortable at the expense of harming someone else’s body, soul, or chance of coming to Christ, then you are a hypocrite.
You might be a hypocrite, if you love to be first. Now, not every person who works to be first is a hypocrite. Everyone should strive to be the best they can be in matters of faith, academics, vocation, and athletic competition. There is nothing wrong with wanting to win the gold medal. Unless, you want to win so that you can call everybody else a loser.
The Pharisees strived for “Moses’ seat” in the synagogue and made “their phylacteries broad and their fringes long.” These were sorts of blue ribbons for the Jewish religious rulers who could memorize the most Scripture. That’s why to this day I don’t care much for Sunday School pins or other kinds of church awards. If you know a lot of Bible verses and can pass a theology test, but do not love the Lord with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength, and your neighbor as yourself, you are nothing but a two-bit hypocrite, according to Jesus.
You might be a hypocrite, if you like to tell others what to do. Now, not every leader, supervisor, or coach is a hypocrite. In every entity someone has to be in charge, or there would be nothing but anarchy and chaos. Leadership is even one of the spiritual gifts in the New Testament, and fathers as family leaders and pastors and elders and teachers as church leaders are encouraged.
But if you crave titles for titles’ sake, power for power’s sake, if you want to rule over other people because you think you are better than them, and if you use your authority to force or guilt people into doing what you are not willing to do, you are a hypocrite. The Pharisees fit the bill. They liked the titles, because the titles gave them human power over human beings. Human power that does not to submit to divine authority is hypocrisy and harmful to other human beings.
Jeff Foxworthy could probably say it better. But, you might be a hypocrite if you are religious for religion’s sake, love being seen and admired above other people, and enjoy bossing people around just to feel power and control. If so, beware, for God, as you can see in this chapter, is not laughing.
You Might Be A Humble Christian
Religion, rule-keeping, and acquiring knowledge and authority can change you on the outside, while also making you a menace to polite society. Grace, faith, and good works can change you from the inside out, and broadcast the gospel to the world. You might be a hypocrite, according to Jesus. On the other hand, you might just be a fully devoted follower of Christ, also known as a true, humble Christian, if the following things are true about you.
You might be a humble Christian, if you are a real follower of Jesus Christ. You can be a follower of Christianity and still be woefully lost. Lost people love to attend worship on Christmas, Easter, Mother’s Day, and select other occasions. Lost people love to have leather-bound Bibles in their homes, that are never read. Lost people often cover themselves with baptism and communion and other outward clothing. They may name the name of Christ, but they are still lost.
Christians do not only follow the Christian religion, they whole-heartedly follow Christ. They bow before the Lord, freely confess their sinfulness, pray for forgiveness and strength, and rise up to worship Him on Sundays and every day. They don't just ask what Jesus would do, they find out what Jesus has done, is doing, and will do, and immerse themselves in it. They join a long line of pilgrims traveling the narrow way, with Jesus unequivocally at the head of the line. And, they don’t mind being last.
You might be a humble Christian, if you don’t mind being last. I don’t mean to make it your ambition to finish last in a contest by going slow or dropping out. I am speaking of putting yourself last on your list of people priorities.
I’m not a fan of corny acronyms, but true “JOY” in life can be found by putting Jesus first, Other second, and Yourself last. It is a genuine Christian joy, one that delights in the lordship of Christ, the pursuit of gospel witness and good works, and a peace with oneself that come through knowing you have given your all for Jesus Christ. It is the great role of the “servant” that Jesus commends so highly in this text and many others. A “servant” is a true, humble follower, and a follower follows from behind while listening carefully to the leader.
You might be a humble Christian, if you don’t mind being told what to do. Now wait a minute, no one really likes to be bossed around, given marching orders, or otherwise told what to do, do they? Christians delight in doing their duty, when it is God calling the shots, or God’s word being accurately interpreted and obeyed, or God’s sovereignly appointed leader giving the instruction. And even if the leader is a hypocrite, if what they are telling you to do is consistent with the word of God, do it with joy, for ultimately it is God you are obeying, not them.
Are you an obedient servant of the Lord? If you could ask God one question, would you ask Him to give you something, or give you something to do? If you are convinced by the word and the Spirit, that certain things are right and wrong, will you cling to the right? Humble yourself, in the eyes of the law, in the eyes of the Lord, and one day you will be exalted above and beyond anything you’ve ever dreamed possible.
According to Jesus, you might be a hypocrite, or you might be a humble Christian. Most people, however, are like the large “crowd” caught in between. What will God do with them?
Two men robbed a bank, one wore a mask and the other did not. They were arrested, then stood before the judge at arraignment. The one who wore the mask pleaded guilty, while the other pleaded not guilty. Both of them were caught red-handed, so the judge incredulously asked the second man why he pleaded not guilty. “Your Honor,” he said, “I did not wear a mask. I wasn’t a hypocrite about it. I didn’t care if they saw me do it.” Do you think he was exonerated, just because he didn’t wear a mask?
God will humble the hypocrites who exalt themselves on earth. God will exalt the humble servants who sincerely followed Christ on earth. What will God do with the big crowd in the middle who didn’t wear the mask of hypocrisy but would not follow the Lord Jesus Christ?