I would like to begin my first blog on the Pastor’s Perspective by thanking Jim for his gracious invitation to be a contributor and for the wonderful opportunity to serve the body of Christ in this way. In my home church we have been studying verse by verse through the gospel of Matthew for about four and a half years now. And this Lord’s Day we will begin chapter twenty three, which is the strongest denunciation of the Jewish religious leaders anywhere in the pages of holy writ. In this chapter Jesus identifies the scribes and the Pharisees as hypocrites seven times (vv. 13, 14, 15, 23, 25, 27, 29)! This however, was not Jesus’ first confrontation of their hypocrisy (Matt. 6:1-18), but it was the most severe. Just consider for a moment that Jesus’ final public sermon (Matt. 23) consisted of the most scathing diatribe against the Jewish religious leaders imaginable. This ought to give us some insight into our Lord’s profound displeasure of hypocrisy.
But just exactly what is a hypocrite? The Greek word for hypocrite was used in the ancient world to refer to actors, that is, those who pretended to be someone other than they really were. In other words, the religious leaders that Jesus confronted were the kind of men who gave a flawless impersonation of worshipers of God. Stephen Charnock said “A hypocrite may well be termed a religious atheist, an atheist masked with religion.” The supposed spiritual devotion of the scribes and Pharisees was so completely motivated by what men thought about them rather than God’s pleasure (Matt. 6:1; 23:5), that they were practical atheists. Simply put, they lived as if the true and living God had died and they had taken His place. And Jesus made it a point to unmask them for who they really were. So, while we may applaud those who are skilled at acting in the entertainment industry, when it comes to spiritual things, acting like we love God when we really don’t is detestable in the sight of God (Luke 16:15).
Though true Christians are not hypocrites like the scribes and Pharisees in Jesus’ day were, there is the very real temptation to do what we do to please men rather than God. Jesus’ remedy for this in Matthew 23 is to not seek exalted ecclesiastical titles to impress men (vv. 8-10), to seek to be a servant rather than a celebrity (v. 11), and to humble yourself before God (v. 12). May the Lord enable us to shun all forms of hypocrisy and to be authentic in our devotion to Him. I leave you with a quote from Matthew Henry, “We must do such good works, that they who see them may glorify God; but we must not proclaim our good works, with design that others may see them, and glorify us.”