Sunday, July 9, 2023


If you follow the actions of Jesus through the Gospels, you will see that when he interacted with the people who were largely rejected by much of society, “the down and outers,” as we might call them, he was patient and kind to them.

Certainly, if they were living lives that were in some way unrighteous, Jesus did not excuse them of their actions. Indeed, he pointed these things out to them and even reprimanded them. 

However, if they were sincerely looking for freedom from the things about their lives in which they felt trapped, he explained to them the way to do it. This he did with gentleness and patience. This was the manner of Jesus if the people were honest with him.

You may think it odd, but the group of people for whom Jesus had little patience were the religious leaders of the day. Although there were some notable exceptions, this group of leaders, whom we primarily know as the Pharisees and the scribes, were not interested in seeking an honest truth. They were interested only in a self-righteous appearance. They wanted merely to be the recipients of admiration by the society of their day and perhaps to enrich themselves.

It was some men from this latter group who gathered around Jesus one day in order to find some fault with him.

At the time that they did this, Jesus was very popular with the ordinary people. The popularity that Jesus had was upsetting to these religious leaders. Not only were they jealous, but they were also upset with him because he would point out to these self-righteous people some of their own hypocrisy. Because of all of this, the reason that they usually came to Jesus was because they were looking for some way to discredit him.

Clean Hands, Dirty Hearts

So it was in the seventh chapter of Mark, when the scribes and Pharisees came to Jesus, they were looking for a way to bring disgrace to him. As they arrived, they saw that Jesus and his disciples were eating with unwashed hands. It was not that their hands were dirty, necessarily, but it was that they were ceremonially unclean.

The Pharisees had put in place an elaborate system of ritualistic cleansing that was to be done with great display and formality. This was meant more for showing their devotion to ritual than it was for hygiene. They were upset that Jesus and his disciples were not following this tradition.

The religious leaders asked Jesus, “Why do your disciples not walk according to the tradition of the elders, but eat with defiled hands?” (Mark 7:5)

As I said, it may not have been that the disciples’ hands were dirty. It was more the fact that they were unclean according to their tradition. However, I also should say that I would not be greatly surprised that their hands may have been a bit dirty. Most of these men were fishermen. They were laborers.

Men who are accustomed to manual labor also get used to not having things so clean when they eat. When it is lunchtime, they often wipe most of the dirt off their hands and onto their jeans, and sit down to grab their sandwich.

I grew up on a farm and I am no stranger to manual labor. My growing-years were before the time when machinery did most of the dirty work. When I was a boy, our own hands did much of the work. It was manual labor, and our hands got dirty!

Many times when we were at work far from the house, we carried our lunch. Most often in these situations, to wash our hands cleanly was simply not practical. At these times, we did as I described above—we wiped the dirt off of our hands the best that we could and sat down to eat.

A few times we had company from the city with us—our cousins or friends. I did notice that the kids were a bit taken back by the uncleanliness of our eating situation. This was great fun for us farm kids and gave us the opportunity to tease them about being so finicky.

So may this have been the situation with the hands of the disciples when the Pharisees commented about the cleanliness of the disciples’ hands. It is a possibility that their hands were a little dirty. But even if this was so, this aspect was not the main concern of the Pharisees. They did not care about the health of Jesus and the disciples. The main concern of the Pharisees was ceremony, not hygiene.

I know this because of the response of Jesus to their concern. Jesus did not tease these men as we teased the city kids. Instead, he called the Pharisees hypocrites. He told them, “Isaiah was right about you. He prophesied about you saying, ‘This people honors me with their lips, but their heart is far from me; in vain do they worship me, teaching as doctrines the commandments of men.’”

Jesus then added, “You ignore the commandment of God so that you can teach the tradition of men.” (Mark 7:8)

Modern Day Pharisees

What Jesus was telling these people was that by their ceremonial washing, they were attempting to hide the filthiness that was within their lives. This is hypocrisy.

At another time Jesus said to them, “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You clean the outside of the cup and dish, but inside they are full of greed and self-indulgence” (Matthew 23:25).

The sad part about all of this is that the hypocrisy of religious leaders is not so surprising to us. We also see this in our own day. In fact, it seems even to be quite common. Church leaders with large media organizations are eventually found to be living lives that are completely at odds with the message that they are preaching. Or even more grievous, the very ones who are supposed to be teaching the people righteousness are themselves committing indecent acts even against the people that they have vowed to protect.

It is sickening, and we get tired of hearing about it. Hypocrisy is especially disgusting in people who make a great outward show of self-righteousness, but inwardly their lives harbor an evil lifestyle. Also in the day of Jesus, these confrontations that he had with the religious leaders were not uncommon.

On another occasion, a Pharisee asked Jesus to have lunch with him. When they sat down to eat at the Pharisee’s table, the religious leader also noticed this time that Jesus did not go through the ritual of cleansing his hands according to ceremony.

He commented about it.

Jesus said to him, “You Pharisees like to clean the outside of the cup and of the dish, but inside you are full of greed and wickedness. You fools! Did not he who made the outside make the inside also? If you would pay attention to those things that are within, everything would be clean for you…

But woe to you Pharisees! For you love the best seat in the synagogues and greetings in the marketplaces. Woe to you! For you are like unmarked graves, and people walk over them without knowing it.” (Luke 11:39-44 ESV)

Unfortunately, this hypocrisy goes beyond mere ceremony. It harms other people—innocent people! As we see in the instances in our own day that I cited. For the people who are violated or wronged, it can scar them for life. It is not only the perpetrators, but the victims carry the burden of the wrong done to them to their grave.

Rejecting God’s Commandment in Favor of Man’s Traditions

This is the very thing that Jesus pointed out to the Pharisees. He told them:


You have a fine way of rejecting the commandment of God in order to establish your tradition! For Moses said, “Honor your father and your mother;” and, “Whoever reviles father or mother must surely die.”

But you say, “If a man tells his father or his mother, ‘Whatever you would have gained from me is Corban’” (that is, given to God)—then you no longer permit him to do anything for his father or mother, thus making void the word of God by your tradition that you have handed down. And many such things you do. (Mark 7:9-13 ESV)

This statement by Jesus requires a bit of explanation: Part of honoring one’s father and mother, as God commands, is being responsible for their care in their old age. However, this presented a problem for the religious leaders of the day, since they saw that the money that might otherwise be given to the temple and to them was sometimes instead used to support the elderly.

To avoid this situation, they proclaimed that if a son should declare this portion of his money “Corban,” that is, if he would give this money to God (and by extension to the temple and to the religious leaders), that son was free from the responsibility of caring for his parents.

Their hypocrisy in this case had a very hurtful effect on society. The elderly were left abandoned. Unfortunately, this was not the only situation where the Pharisees ruled against the way of God in order to benefit themselves, for as Jesus told them, they did “many such things.”

Righteous in our Own Eyes

We tend to shake our heads in disgust about these Pharisees who would convince people to give money to them instead of supporting their own parents. Likewise, when we hear of another leader of the church of our own day who has been found out to be living a sinful life, we are repulsed by him.

“What hypocrites!” we say.

We sometimes take these examples of extreme duplicity that I talked about, and compare them with our own lives. When we do that, in our own eyes we suddenly seem quite righteous. It is often much to our own delight that we feel this way. We come to think that perhaps we are not as bad as we thought that we were!

If you sometimes find yourself doing this, beware! This is actually the first step of hypocrisy.

The Hypocrite Within

I do not care how bad you are, you can always find someone that is worse than you are—at least, he or she is worse in your own estimation of them. The difficulty is, that person might be looking at you and thinking the same thing about you!

The Apostle Paul says that when we measure ourselves by ourselves and when we compare ourselves with others, we are without understanding (2 Corinthians 10:12).

This is the great danger in living a duplicitous life. It is startling and it is distressing what great evil the human spirit can harbor within himself if he is allowed to project a respectable lifestyle to others. Again quoting Paul, “It is disgraceful even to speak of the things which are done by them in secret” (Ephesians 5:12) Adulterers and rapists, swindlers and murderers, child pornographers and molesters—all of these have the ability to put on righteous masks in public.

Hypocrisy is what makes it possible for an evil person to live with himself. As long as he or she is able to appear righteous to others, these hypocrites are able to exist in their daily lives. But the difficulty is, in living this way, they never deal with the great evil that they harbor within their spirits.

This is the dark aspect of hypocrisy. If there is something about your life that you are harboring deep within and you are afraid that it will one day come to light, you need to bring it to Jesus. The true fact of the matter is, it will indeed one day come to light.

Jesus spoke often of the coming judgment. He once said, “All who are in the grave…shall come forth. Those who did good deeds to the resurrection of life, those who committed evil deeds to a resurrection of judgment” (John 5:29).

Come to Jesus. He will make you clean now.

Hypocrisy and Respectability

There is another aspect of hypocrisy that may not have the same dire effects as those things that I have mentioned, but they are destructive nonetheless. This form of hypocrisy is fueled by the desire to want people to think that we are more righteous, or in some way better than we actually are. We put on airs, as we say. This form of hypocrisy comes because we all desire to be respected by others.

The truth be told, who among us cannot look at our own lives and also see a bit of this kind of hypocrisy? In one way or another, we all want be respected and accepted. I cannot say that this inner need of ours is necessarily a bad thing, since we all have a desire to belong. It is just that we should learn to go about it in the right way.

I am not saying that instead of trying to appear more righteous than we really are, we should hang out our dirty laundry for all to see. But if we are to be honored, it is not we who should seek to bestow this honor upon ourselves. Rather, it should be God who does this. If God wishes to point out something about us as exemplary, he will do it through others or through situations that he brings to us.

Jesus spoke to this inner desire of ours to be honored and respected. One day when Jesus was invited to attend an important meal, he noticed that some people where positioning themselves so that they could sit at the most respected places of honor at a table.

He said to them, “When you are invited by someone to a wedding feast (for instance), do not sit down in a place of honor, lest someone more distinguished than you be invited by him, and he who invited you both will come and say to you, ‘Give your place to this person,’ and then you will begin with shame to take the lowest place. But when you are invited, go and sit in the lowest place, so that when your host comes he may say to you, ‘Friend, move up higher.’ Then you will be honored in the presence of all who sit at table with you.” (Luke 14:8-10 ESV)

Acceptance and respectability is something that we all desire.

“But what if this never happens?” you may say. “I have tried to not promote myself and the good things that I do, and still no one recognizes anything about me.”

If this is your situation, I am sorry to hear about it, but again, you are not alone. Perhaps all of us feel this in one way or another. Perhaps all of us have done things, helped out, or tried to keep our lives pure, and no one seems to notice or to even care. As you might expect, Jesus also speaks to this when talking about a hypocritical life. He says:


“Beware of practicing your righteousness before other people in order to be seen by them, for then you will have no reward from your Father who is in heaven.

“Thus, when you give to the needy, sound no trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, that they may be praised by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward. But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your giving may be in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you. (Matthew 6:1-4 ESV)

This is the other aspect of the final days and the judgment of our works. Not only will those hypocrites finally be called upon to pay for their sins, but those who have done well will receive the rewards prepared for them by the Father.

True Respectability

We can choose how we are to receive our reward for doing right. You might prefer to choose it now and receive some instant gratification. It feels good—at least for a little while. But if you are looking for something that is more enduring than a medallion around your neck, or a congratulatory phone call from the president, listen to what the New Testament writer James has to say. He tells us that “Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change” (James 1:17).

Jesus said of his second coming to earth, “I am coming quickly, and my reward is with me, to give to every man according to what he has done” (Revelation 22:12)

This is an honor that will endure. The lesson is this: “For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted” (Luke 14:8 ESV).

Think about it—do you truly want a congratulatory phone call from the president? Rather than that, let the honor that you seek come from God.

How about this instead—the Sovereign Lord of the Universe, the Creator and Sustainer of all that there is, one day after your life of work is over, putting his hand on your shoulder, looking you in the eyes, and saying, “Well done, you good and faithful servant…enter into the joy of your master” (Matthew 25:23)

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