“God’s anonymous: Hypocrites”
Grace to you and peace from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus.
The story is told of a zoo that was known for its amazing collection of wild animals. But one day, their gorilla died, and to keep up the appearance of still having a wide range of animals, the zookeeper hired a man to wear a costume to fill in for the dead gorilla.
But on his first day on the job, since he didn’t quite know how to act like a gorilla, he accidentally tripped and fell into the lion exhibit. And since he was sure his life would soon be over, he started to scream...until the lion said, “Be quiet, or you’ll get both of us fired!”
Or think of a police officer who pulled a driver over and asked for his license and registration.
“What’s wrong, officer?” asked the driver. “I didn’t go through any red lights, and I certainly wasn’t speeding.”
“No, you weren’t,” said the officer. “But first I saw you waving your fist as you swerved around a woman driving in the left lane, then you shouted at a man who cut you off, and then you pounded on your steering wheel when the traffic came to a stop near the bridge.”
“But none of those are crimes!” said the man.
“No, they’re not,” answered the officer. “But when I saw the ‘Jesus loves you and so do I’ bumper sticker on the car, I was pretty sure it had been stolen.”
And one more--one sunny day, four high school boys couldn’t resist the temptation to skip class. The next day, they explained to their teacher that they couldn’t come because their car had a flat tire. To their relief, she smiled and said, “Well, you missed a quiz yesterday, so take your seats and get out a pencil and paper.”
And as they took their seats and got ready for the quiz, she said, “First question: which tire was flat?”
Hypocrites. We don’t like them, and we probably never will.
Jesus had something to say about hypocrites. In fact, He had quite a lot to say about hypocrites. And it all started in the book of Matthew chapter 5. I’ll read just the first verse: “Seeing the crowds, He went up on the mountain, and when He sat down, His disciples came to Him” (Matthew 5:1).
It’s easy to say that Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount is the most famous sermon anyone has ever preached. It’s the Magna Carta, the “great charter” of the kingdom of God. It’s in this sermon that we find words like these: “Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted...Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth...You are the salt of the earth, but if salt has lost its taste, how shall its saltiness be restored?” And later, in chapter 6, Jesus even taught them how to pray, saying, “Our Father in heaven, hallowed be Your name.”
Even more, not only did Jesus speak, He spoke with authority! Think of chapter 5, verse 21: “You have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not murder; and whoever murders will be liable to judgment.’ But I say to you…” Verse 27: “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ But I say to you…” And verse 38: “You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’ But I say to you…”
No wonder then that, just as soon as His sermon was over, the Bible says: “The crowds were astonished at His teaching, for He was teaching them as one who had authority, and not as their scribes” (Matthew 7:28-29).
And in the midst of His sermon on love and law and prayer, He also had something to say about hypocrites. Chapter 6, verse 5: “And when you pray, you must not be like the hypocrites.” Verse 16: “And when you fast, do not look gloomy like the hypocrites.” And in chapter 7: “How can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when there is the log in your own eye? You hypocrite.”
So what’s a hypocrite? The word itself comes from Greek theater, when an actor played multiple roles in the same play. You see, whenever he delivered lines that made people laugh, he walked out onto the stage wearing a smiling mask. And when he delivered sad, solemn lines, he wore a frowning mask. And since he had two or more “faces,” people called him a “hypocrite.” In time, the word came to mean someone who was “two-faced,” who pretended to be someone or something that they were not.
If you’d look closely, you’d see that the Bible is full of hypocrites. Cain was a hypocrite. Even though he said he loved God, he refused to bring his very best. He brought the leftovers instead.
Absalom was a hypocrite. Even while he hugged and kissed his father David, he was plotting his murder and overthrow.
Joab was a hypocrite. Even as his cousin and fellow soldier Amasa leaned forward to embrace him, Joab took his sword and killed him.
And worst of all, the hypocrite of all hypocrites, was the disciple Judas. For three years, he walked with Jesus and he talked with Jesus. He was one of the Twelve disciples--a trusted student and friend. Yet he threw it all away for thirty silver coins and a kiss.
Even more, think of Jesus’ words in Matthew 23: “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you shut the kingdom of heaven in people’s faces” (Matthew 23:13). “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you tithe mint and dill and cumin, yet have neglected justice, mercy and faithfulness” (Matthew 23:23). Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you clean the outside of the cup and the plate, but inside they’re full of greed and self-indulgence” (Matthew 23:25). “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you are like whitewashed tombs, which outwardly appear beautiful, but within are full of dead men’s bones” (Matthew 23:27). “You serpents, you brood of vipers, how are you to escape being sentenced to hell?” (Matthew 23:33).
So who’s a hypocrite? It’s the façade of caring when you don’t care, of appearing righteous when you’re unrighteous. It’s tares growing among the wheat (Matthew 13:24-30), it’s a whitewashed wall (Acts 23:3), it’s a broken pot covered with cheap silver (Proverbs 26:23), it’s a well that has no water and a mist driven by a storm. And as Peter wrote in his second letter, “The darkest part of hell is waiting for them” (II Peter 2:17 CEV).
No wonder Jesus said in the words of Matthew chapter 6: “You must not be like the hypocrites” (Matthew 6:5).
Now I suppose you could say that it’s easy to see the hypocrisy in others. But it’s not so easy to see it in you and me.
Think of a couple who moved into an apartment with a nice view of other apartments. And as they were eating breakfast one morning, the husband noticed a neighbor hanging his laundry out to dry. He said, “That laundry is filthy. Someone needs to teach that guy how to wash and to use bleach.” For days, he went on rendering judgment on that neighbor’s inadequate washing abilities as his wife silently listened.
About a month later, they sat down again to eat breakfast. And once again, the neighbor’s clothes were out on the line, but this time something was different,
“Look how clean they are!” the husband said. “I wonder who finally taught him how to wash his clothes?”
His wife replied with a smile, “I got up early this morning and washed our windows.”
It’s easy to see the hypocrisy in others. But it’s not so easy to see it in you and me.
But that’s exactly what the Bible calls us to do. Paul wrote to the Romans, “Let love be free of hypocrisy. Abhor what is evil. Cling to what’s good” (Romans 12:9). James wrote, “But the wisdom that comes down from above is first of all pure, then peaceable, gentle...without favoritism or hypocrisy” (James 3:17). And Peter wrote, “So put away all evil, deceit and hypocrisy” (I Peter 2:1).
As one author wrote, “How do you mess up the minds of your children? Here’s a guaranteed way to do it--rear them in a legalistic environment of external religion, where performance is more important than reality. Fake your faith. Sneak around and pretend your spirituality. Then train your children to do the same. Embrace a long list of do’s and don’ts publicly, but never practice them privately. Act one way, but live another.” Then he wrote, “And you can count on it--emotional and spiritual damage will occur.”
Have you heard that excuse? “I don’t go to church because it’s full of hypocrites”? It’s the old standby, the mother of all excuses for not going to church. In fact, in the words of author Brennan Manning, “The single most cause of atheism in the world today is Christians, who acknowledge Jesus with their lips, but walk out of the church doors and deny Him with their lifestyle. This is what an unbelieving world simply finds unbelievable.”
So is the church full of hypocrites? Or to bring it closer to home, is our church full of hypocrites? Maybe it is. But it’s also full of people who want to become more like Christ. It’s a hospital for the sick. It’s a home for the hurting. It’s a refuge for the lost.
But wonder of wonders, instead of being a reason to despair, it causes us to marvel at God’s incredible grace. That He would use ordinary, broken human beings as vessels of His grace is not only inspiring, it’s amazing.
And while the church may sometimes be full of hypocrites, it gives the world a front row seat to the power and the wonder and the grace of God.
A hundred years after Christ, a follower of Christ wrote a letter to a man named Diognetus. This is what he said: “Christians are indistinguishable from other men either by nationality, language or customs. They do not inhabit separate cities of their own, or speak a strange dialect, or follow some outlandish way of life. With regard to dress, food and manner of life, they follow the customs of whatever city they happen to live in, whether it is Greek or foreign.
“And yet there is something extraordinary about their lives. They live in the flesh, but are not governed by the desires of the flesh. They pass their days on earth, but are citizens of heaven.
“They love all men, but are persecuted by all. They are unknown and condemned. They are poor, yet make many rich. They lack all things, yet abound in all. They are dishonored, yet are glorified. They are reviled, yet bless. They are insulted, yet repay the insult with honor. They do good, yet are punished as evildoers. And those who hate them are unable to give a reason for their hatred.”
And he wrote, “What the soul is to the body, Christians are to the world.”
So what’s the answer to our hypocrisy? The answer is humility, the humility to find our hope and help in Jesus.
As Paul once wrote to the Philippians: “Though He was in the form of God, He did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied Himself, taking the form of a servant...He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. Therefore God has highly exalted Him and bestowed on Him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father” (Philippians 2:6-11).
You show Your great grace, dear Father, by calling sinners, just like us, to come to You in repentance and faith. Cleanse our hearts, renew our minds, and help us to find our hope and help in You, for Jesus’ sake. Amen