Friday, 22 March 2013

Matthew 23.23-26

Matthew 23.23-26

23 “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! You pay a tenth of mint, dill, and cumin, yet you have neglected the more important matters of the law — justice, mercy, and faith. These things should have been done without neglecting the others.  24 Blind guides! You strain out a gnat, yet gulp down a camel! 25 Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! You clean the outside of the cup and dish, but inside they are full of greed and self- indulgence!? 26 Blind Pharisee! First clean the inside of the cup, so the outside of it may also become clean. 

Perhaps the most powerful word in this passage is HYPOCRITE.  It is a word that none of us want to hear, it is charged with accusation, it is a word that ends careers and breaks apart friendships.  The interesting thing is that the word in Greek means 'one who wears a mask' - like in a play where the actor puts on the mask of a demon or an angel, a monster or a prince.  The real person is the one hiding behind the mask, behind the facade.  But we see and hear the fake, the charade.  I must confess that I am a hypocrite, I often put up a mask, many different masks in fact.  I play along with things I find tedious, I smile when really I want to explode.  I am a sinner, and the pressure of society of course forces me to wear the mask of a saint.  The question is where in your life do you wear a mask? To whom do you wear them? Have you worn them so long that when you look in the mirror at yourself you actually see the mask, the fake, the lie?

The apostle John writes in his first epistle chapter 1 verse 7 "But if we walk in the light as He Himself is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus His Son cleanses us from all sin. ?"  This is pretty much my life verse, it was at the core of the East African Revival and it contains pretty much the entirety of the Christian Good News.  The challenge is that it calls on us to walk in the light - not in darkness, not in the shade of a mask or in the shadow of a lie.  That horrible two letter word appears at the start of this verse - IF - if we walk in the light, and only if we walk in the light, can we be forgiven and washed clean by God and thus have true fellowship not only with Him but with each other.  You see you cannot truly be friends with someone if they don't know you, you can't have a real relationship with someone if you are always pretending to be someone you are not, if you are living a lie when you speak and living behind a personal facade.  Real relationships only exist between people who are real.

Now Jesus, He was real.  But we often don't know Him as we should because we only look surface deep and we only see what we want to see, we only look at the sanitised Jesus. Jesus was not a handsome man with blonde hair perfectly done and blue eyes who walked around holding little lambs and smiling at everyone.  No where in the Bible will you find that Jesus.  Jesus had no beauty that we would look twice at Him. He was a man of sorrows, yet he told jokes.  He was strong and well built not scrawny and androgenous - He was a carpenter and stonemason for over 20 years! He had rough calloused hands and dirty clothes.  He was pretty much homeless for three years so likely smelt a bit. 

G.K. Chesterton, the great Christian writer, made one serious mistake when it came to Jesus.  Chesterton claimed that the one thing God could not bring Himself to do on earth was be humourous.  Chesterton believed in the stone faced stoic philosopher Jesus who wear a perpetual poker face.  But Jesus spent three years with a group of twelve working class manly men, if He didn't tell jokes it is hard to imagine such friendship.  Last week we heard about passing through the eye of needle - something that can only be understood as a joke, there was no little hole in the wall of Jerusalem that a camel could only fit through when crawling - can you picture in your minds a huge stinking camel spitting on the ground chewing the cud trying to squeeze through the tiny hole on the end of needle?  Can you imagine it's body squishing like jelly to seep through and like a cartoon come out on the other side or even get stuck?  It is funny, Jesus was telling jokes! 

But Jesus wasn't only funny, He was also angry, at times very, very angry.  Twice in the Gospels He gets so full of rage that the only word they writers could use to describe it was one which refers to the image of an angry warhorse snorting in rage.  Even I haven't been that angry, but Jesus, Jesus was passionate! When He saw what was bring done in the Temple he snorted like a warhorse, He made a whip from cords of leather and He went in there tossing over tables, kicking over crates and cages and shouting and whipping people till they got out running away in terror!  In Revelation we again see Jesus angry, He appear on a warhorse in robe with a sword coming out of His mouth and He is 'treading the winepress of the wrath of God' He then cuts people apart with His words, with the sword.  Jesus is a warrior, He leads and army, He treads the winepress of the anger of God against sinners.  Jesus is no push over, no choir boy and no sissy.

And this is how Jesus is in the passage today.  It is impossible to seriously read this passage and not imagine Jesus being angry when He says it.  Jesus is rude, He insults the nice religious types who love going to church and keeping lots of rules and telling others to.  He calls them liars, hypocrites, a brood of vipers and He publically condemns them to Hell.  Powerful and emotional stuff.  The real Jesus - not the mask we like to make Him wear.  Jesus first rips into the Pharisees and Scribes by calling them the real hypocrites of society - they appear all good and pure and religious and obedient but really they are fakes and phonies, they are dead inside and heartless.  He mocks them by pointing out how the meticulously spend time weighing out a tenth of every spice on their spice rack so they keep the Law (or their own interpretation of it) and yet whilst getting all OCD on spices they ignore Justice and mercy and humble faith with repentance.  We see the call for Justice in Isaiah and the need for mercy in Hosea and the humble faith with broken heart in the Psalms.  But the Scribes and Pharisees were too busy making up extra laws to read those.

He then calls them blind, as if they were idiots who can't see the truth in front of their faces.  He makes a joke of how they sieve out the flies and gnats and insects from their spices and foods so as not to break the food laws but whilst concentrating on that they open up their mouths so impossibly wide that a whole camel, equally unclean and against the Law, jumps down their throat! Again here we see the humour and passion of Jesus - it is a hilarious image.  Sometime we say we are so hungry we could eat a horse, but eating a camel, that is a bit too far!  Jesus continues His attack by making clear how dirty and filthy the Pharisees are on the inside - Jesus can see right through their masks and charades.  They hide behind the Law and use it to appear pious and good and righteous but really they are sinners like everyone else, probably greater sinners because of their misplaced pride.
The Pharisees tried to make themselves righteous and good through works, but doing good things and keeping on the right side of the line and keeping everything in order.  But people are saved by faith not Law.  In fact the Law is a curse, Saint Paul tells us in Galatians that "Christ has redeemed us from the curse of the Law."  We no longer need to lie and be fakes and appear all good and holy.  We have confidence in Jesus not in ourselves.  We are free to be vulnerable and broken - because only broken people can be used by God.

In the letter to Sardis from Jesus in Revelation Jesus tells the people "I know your works - you have a reputation for being alive, but you are dead... be alert and strengthen what remains... remember what you have received and heard; keep it and repent."  Jesus sees through our reputations for being alive and knows how dead we really are - He knows our real works which we try to hide.  He calls us to strengthen ourselves and remember what we have received from Jesus - forgiveness and real righteousness, the righteousness of God.  That is why Jesus calls on them to repent, so they can be honest and be washed clean.

We need to live in the light, no more masks and no more lies, we get things wrong in life, we are sinners, we are broken, we are as far from perfect as the East is from the West.  We know this is true, and Jesus Christ knows this is true, but we need to let others know it is true so that we can truly have fellowship with one another.  We all have a little attorney on our shoulder who tells us that we have an excuse for the things we do wrong, or it was OK because someone else has done worse or it was only once or God doesn't love you so you should be able to do it.  But this is Satan, and he wants you to make excuses, to lie to yourself , to God and to each other about who we really are and what we really do.  There is only one way to defeat Satan, to move into the light, to have true fellowship and be washed clean - we need to recognise that we do not deserve forgiveness from God, but that in Jesus Christ He gives it to us out of love, we need to recognise this grace and come to the Cross on our knees to be washed in His most precious blood which flows freely from His side for you and me.  Then we will be clean, then we can be honest, then we can start again, then we can have fellowship with God, with each other, and then we can finally own ourselves and look in the mirror and see not a mask but the face of a forgiven child of God.


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