Fools as well as Hypocrites – Matthew 23:13-15

I haven’t mentioned it recently, but you should know that “hypocrite” is a transliteration, not a translation. In the Greek Bible, Matthew 23 is filled with the word “hupokrites” (hoop-ok-ree-tace’). For whatever reason, our translators just moved it untranslated from the Greek Bible into our English Bible. Incidentally, I find it interesting that the most popular and modern versions of the Bible still use the word “hypocrite” rather than what the original word meant. So much for their claims of accuracy and helpfulness. As I hope that you all will remember,“hypocrite” means actor, stage player, pretender, dissembler.” An “hypocrite” is someone who plays a role – someone who is not who he pretends to be. Christ Jesus calls these Pharisees “hypocrites” – they are actors, pretending to be godly, spiritual people. And my theme this morning is that they are THAT and more – they are also fools.

You may have not heard about this, because you have no interest in Hollywood news or gossip, but this is common knowledge in the industry. The National Geographic Society is producing a television movie based on a 2013 book by Bill O’Reilly. It is part a series which so far has included “Killing Lincoln” and “Killing Kennedy.” This movie will be called ”Killing Christ.” The producers have picked their actors, and I assume that it is in production. The man whom they have chosen to portray Christ is Haaz Sleiman. Sleiman is a Muslim. He is quoted as saying that “his faith does not preclude him from playing Christianity’s central figure. The two religions are not as different as they seem. Islam believes that Jesus is a prophet, and they honor him – highly – and they respect him and they follow his teachings.” He says, “So for me, as someone who was raised Muslim, it is an honor to actually play Jesus.” I hope that you can see the irony, hypocrisy and the blasphemy of this situation. This man is pretending to be Christ, just as the Pharisees were pretending to be men of God. They are fools in coming so close to the Lord without receiving what is so important – salvation.

This morning I’d like us to consider what the Saviour said in verses 13 and 15. He describes the hypocritical Pharisees “compassing sea and land to make another proselyte.” The word “proselyte” is once again a transliteration – the Greek is “proselutos” (pros-ay’-loo-tos). It meant, and still means, “a newcomer, a stranger, someone who came from over there to here.” “Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, (fauds and fools)! for ye circumnavigate the globe to make one more Pharisaic convert, but when he is made, ye make him twofold more the child of hell than yourselves.” “Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye shut up the kingdom of heaven against men: for ye neither go in yourselves, neither suffer ye them that are entering to go in.”

How did the Pharisees create these doubly-condemned spiritual monsters? How did they actually shut up the kingdom of heaven against their own converts? Does this have anything to do with modern religion? Among other things, the answers involve their corrupt evangelism.

Let’s consider what exactly it was that the Pharisees were doing.

The rabbis among the Pharisees described two classes of proselytes. The first was a group called “the proselytes of the gate.” We might designate these – the initiates – the baby converts – the beginners.

I don’t know it for a fact, but I would guess that most, if not all, of the Roman Gentiles who came to Christ at some time during His ministry were of this group. These were people who stopped short of circumcision, but who observed what the Jews called the “seven precepts.” They renounced the sins of idolatry, blasphemy against Jehovah, murder, unchastity, theft, and rebellion or disrespect against their spiritual rulers. They also kept the dietary laws of Israel – refusing to eat “flesh with the blood thereof.” And you can add to that – they kept the Sabbath, just like modern Seventh Day Adventists. I would have no problem with anyone trying to live by these rules – except the point the Sabbath and obedience to the hypocritical rabbis. You can be sure that the rabbis were trying to get “the proselytes of the gate” to become “proselytes of righteousness” – the higher order of convert. The “proselytes of righteousness” received circumcision and bound themselves to keep the whole Mosaic law – as commonly taught by the rabbis. But here is the crux of the matter – they actually became proselytes of self-righteousness. The more successful anyone became, the more proud they became of their successes.

The Apostle Paul, first known as Saul of Tarsus, was raised to become one of the strictest of the Pharisees. He called himself “a pharisee of the Pharisees.” Whatever the average Pharisee was he was three times more. If the average Pharisee was an actor – Paul wanted to be President of the Screen Actors Guild. But then the Holy Spirit got hold of this heart and squeezed until Saul was faint and blind. Later, following his salvation his spiritual rebirth – he opened his heart and gave this testimony – “Brethren, my heart’s desire and prayer to God for Israel is, that they might be saved. For I bear them record that they have a zeal of God, but not according to knowledge. For they being ignorant of God’s righteousness, and going about to establish their own righteousness, have not submitted themselves unto the righteousness of God. For Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to every one that believeth.”

The key to the religion of the Pharisee was obedience to what those people perceived to be the law of God. And the more successful they were in their compliance, the more proud they became. If Moses commanded blue borders to be sown into the fringes of their robes, as Jesus has told us, they enlarged them. If the more spiritual wore phylacteries on their arms, these people tied larger and larger phylacteries on their foreheads. If the law said that God’s people should tithe, these people counted grains of salt and flakes of pepper. If it was expected that people should wash their hands before meals, these people made it a sacred ritual. And with each completed act, they became more and more proud of their righteousness – self induced righteousness. And as Paul tells us, “they being ignorant of God’s righteousness, and going about to establish their own righteousness, refused to humbly submit themselves unto the righteousness of God.”

The first thing that the Pharisees did to shut up the kingdom of heaven against men, was to imply that obedience to the law was the combination which unlocked heaven’s security door. And the more obedient – the more “righteous” the person was– the more digits he would have to the combination. The more obedient the Pharisee was, the less was being left to chance – or to grace. By demanding perfection from everyone around them, they barred the pathway to God. Because perfection is impossible.

Now, please don’t misunderstand, thinking I am saying that God has no standards and the law has no point. No, what I am saying that the Old Testament law – moral, ceremonial, sacrificial, Mosaic or whatever – the law was never designed to make man righteous and therefore acceptable to God. As Paul told the Galatian churches – which were being poisoned by this Pharisaic heresy – the law is our schoolmaster to teach us the truth and to prove that we need a Saviour. We need Someone who can deliver us from our sin, because we have broken the law over and over again. The more proud anyone becomes of his moral attainments, his victories over vice, his religiosity and his churchification, the farther he moves away from his need of a Saviour and the possibility of salvation. Are there any religions or so-called “Christian churches” which teach people that obedience to God’s laws initiate, communicate or consummate salvation? Are there ever any snowflakes in winter? We are surrounded by them. “Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye shut up the kingdom of heaven against men: for ye neither go in yourselves, neither suffer ye them that are entering to go in.”

Another serious error of the Pharisees, and one often condemned by Christ regarded their traditions.

This was the theme of much of chapter 15. When some of them had witnessed Jesus’ disciples eating without the Pharisaical hand washing, they asked, “Why do thy disciples transgress the tradition of the elders? for they wash not their hands when they eat bread?” But Jesus “answered and said unto them, Why do ye also transgress the commandment of God by your tradition?” Ater one vivid example, He added– “Thus have ye made the commandment of God of none effect by your tradition.” There were various traditions among the Jews which were used to circumvent some of the laws of God. And that was in spite of the fact that some of their traditions had roots in the law itself, or perhaps in common sense. For example, as every mother knows, washing hands before meals is a good practice, but it has never taken anyone to Heaven. Cleanliness is not next to godliness. The substitution of the traditions over the Word of God was not only a shame and a travesty, but in some cases it became a deadly spiritual poison.

A modern case in point is baptism. Is baptism a Biblical subject, a Christian ordinance, and a good practice? It certainly is. And what is baptism? According what we learn from the Bible it is the immersion of a humble believer in water, illustrating Christ’s death burial and resurrection. That believer too is professing to be dead to sin but to be resurrected to a new life in the Lord. He identifies with Christ’s death by being buried himself. How did the idea of sprinkling water on person come to be called “baptism”? One answer – tradition. And where did the idea of sprinkling or even immersing babies originate? Not out of the Bible. So why is it practiced so commonly today? The same answer – tradition. And what is the general answer of people who were “baptized” or “christened” as babies, when they are asked whether or not they are going to Heaven when they die? Certainly!!! Paedobaptism – baby baptism, usually by sprinkling – is one of the traditions of the elders which “has shut up the kingdom of heaven against men.”

One of the oldest buildings in Idaho, is just up Interstate 90, on the other side of Fourth of July Pass. I’m referring to the Cataldo Mission, built about 175 years ago by a Jesuit Catholic missionary. That man spent his life trying to baptize adult and infant Coeur d’Alene Indians in order to save their souls. And with every successful “baptism” he virtually guaranteed that soul would spend eternity in hell. Because baptism cannot save – not even immersion. Baptism cannot wash away sin, but it can blind people to their on-going need of salvation.

In Luke 11 we see some of these same subjects, but the circumstances were different. Please turn there. Look at verse 37 – “And as he spake, a certain Pharisee besought him to dine with him: and he went in, and sat down to meat. And when the Pharisee saw it, he marvelled that he had not first washed before dinner.” The man apparently didn’t bring up the subject, but the omniscient Christ knew what he was thinking. “And the Lord said unto him, Now do ye Pharisees make clean the outside of the cup and the platter; but your inward part is full of ravening and wickedness.” The tradition of the elders had cleaned up the outside of their lives, but their hearts and souls were still corrupt. Then Jesus went on to some of the subjects that we find in Matthew 23. Verse 45 – “Then answered one of the lawyers, and said unto him, Master, thus saying thou reproachest us also. And he said, Woe unto you also, ye lawyers! for ye lade men with burdens grievous to be borne, and ye yourselves touch not the burdens with one of your fingers.” Please remember that these lawyers were not barristers or solicitors, but experts in the Mosaic Law. Now notice verse 52 – “Woe unto you, lawyers! for ye have taken away the key of knowledge: ye entered not in yourselves, and them that were entering in ye hindered.”

What is the purpose of the Lord’s church? What should those Jewish lawyers have been spending their time doing? Among a few other things, they and we are to be teaching the pure and simple Word of God. Sinners don’t need to be trained to keep tradition; they need to hear the Word of God. The other day, I received an email from a preacher friend, extolling the preaching of sound doctrine. A few hours later I got another email from a man that I do not know, but he was responding to the first email, and sent his reply to everyone on the first brother’s email list. He basically concurred to the importance of sound doctrine, but added that the best way to teach that doctrine was not through systematic theologically, but with verse by verse Bible exposition. In other words, he was encouraging what we are doing here this morning. When the Jewish lawyers took Bible verses and taught them, they were usually out of their original context, and they were often placed in the middle of the Pharisee’s traditions. And in the process those experts stopped teaching the message of God. “Woe unto you, lawyers! for ye have taken away the key of knowledge: ye entered not in yourselves, and them that were entering in ye hindered.”

In many ways there are similarities between modern apostate Christianity and the religion of the Pharisees. But perhaps one significant difference, at least from what I’ve been able to learn, is that the religion of the Jew was serious business. In many ways modern religion today is quite different – it has a more entertaining nature.

There is a quote in today’s bulletin which comes from someone recently converted to Christ from one of the extreme edges of humanistic society – formerly a liberal of the liberals. This person talks about the “Disneyland of evangelical culture.” “I have neighbors who are members of one of the big churches in our community. Their church has a fast-food restaurant (so no one gets hungry), a well-known coffee chain (so no one gets sleepy or feels deprived of creature comforts), and a Moon bounce (so children will think that God just wants you to have fun). The church organizes a church-sponsored pool (i.e., gambling program) around the NCAA Final Four. “ I don’t doubt that they don’t have a Superbowl church service as well. The writer goes on – ”When we compare what we do at church, what we learn in Bible study, and what we mean when we call ourselves followers of Christ, our vocabulary may be the same, but the meaning behind our vocabulary is vastly different. Another church in our neighborhood is projecting a budget of 19 million dollars to build their Tabernacle, following this same model.“

Our commission, as a church, and as Christians, is to convey the message of Christ to our neighbors and to the world. We are to supply them with the keys to heaven, through knowledge – information – the Word, Jesus Christ. So many churches, built after the style of Pharisees “shut up the kingdom of Heaven against men.” While the leadership of those churches think that they are coasting their way to glory, compassing sea and land to more one more proselyte, they make them twofold more the children of hell than themselves. Remember, these are not my words, but those of the Lord Jesus.

This world doesn’t need more religion. It certainly doesn’t need more rules and regulations to follow in order to build steps to Heaven. This world – you and I – need Christ Jesus – the Saviour. We need God’s gift of repentance, and His gift of faith, to trust the work which Christ accomplished on Calvary, God’s altar of salvation. Sinners need to be exhorted to repent, not to wash their hands before meals or to wash their sins away in the tradition of baptism. Each of us – you, me and your neighbor – each of use need the Saviour – the Lord Jesus Christ. “He that hath the Son, hath life, and he that hath not the Son of God, hath not life. The wrath of God abideth on him.”

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