“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 ESV)
Today we study the fifth and sixth of Jesus’ seven “woes” – words of condemnation – spoken against the Jewish religious leaders and their religious system. Jesus’ comments are still very applicable to those today who participate in man-made religious systems instead of pursuing a relationship with God through Jesus.
The fifth “woe” from Jesus again identifies the scribes and Pharisees as hypocrites – people who pretend to be something they are not. Outwardly these men had the appearance of piety but inwardly they were corrupt – full of greed and self-indulgence. They pretended to care for others but they really only cared about themselves.
Jesus used the illustration of washing the outside of a cup but leaving the inside dirty. One might think, from its appearance, that the cup was usable. But the inside would reveal that it is not. Likewise, what people are on the outside is not necessarily a reflection of what they are on the inside. This is true of all of us. But when it comes to our leaders, it is unacceptable. A corrupt person can only lead people into corruption like a contaminated cup can only contaminate those who drink from it.
Jesus says we should clean the inside first. Then He says something quite profound. He says when we clean the inside the outside becomes clean too.
Many people, especially leaders, go out of their way to build a good reputation. But they neglect their character and are often, as Jesus points out, lacking character. As usual, God’s way is the opposite of what we normally do.
We are to become men and women of character first. We do this by walking closely with God and following His commands. The byproduct of this will be an esteemed reputation among our peers and subordinates.
Not only were these religious leaders corrupt on the inside they were also spiritually dead as Jesus’ states in His sixth “woe”. These men were like whitewashed tombs which outwardly appear beautiful but within are full of dead bones and uncleanness. Knowing a bit about Jewish culture helps in understanding Jesus’ words here.
According to Old Testament law anyone who touched a grave was unclean for seven days. Prior to the Passover week the Jews would whitewash tombs in and around Jerusalem so they would be easy to spot and therefore avoid by the crowds who flocked to the city. No one would want to accidentally touch a grave at this time of year otherwise they’d be unclean – ineligible to participate in the Passover celebration.
Jesus is condemning the Jewish religious leaders for going to great care to outwardly appear righteous to others so people would follow them. But like tombs, they were spiritually dead inside – full of hypocrisy and lawlessness.
Sadly there are leaders today – in government, business, and churches – who care more about what people think of them (their reputation) rather than what God knows them to be (their character).
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