Beware the Leaven of the Pharisees series #9 The King’s Denunciation – Matthew 23 (part 6)

14 Jan

Pure in heart—defiled in heart
(Matthew 5:8 NASB) “”Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.”

(Matthew 23:25-28 NASB) “”Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you clean the outside of the cup and of the dish, but inside they are full of robbery and self-indulgence. {26} “You blind Pharisee, first clean the inside of the cup and of the dish, so that the outside of it may become clean also. {27} “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you are like whitewashed tombs which on the outside appear beautiful, but inside they are full of dead men’s bones and all uncleanness. {28} “Even so you too outwardly appear righteous to men, but inwardly you are full of hypocrisy and lawless-ness.”

Jesus used two illustrations: the cup and platter, and the sepulcher. They both stated the same truth: it is possible to be clean on the outside and at the same time defiled on the inside. Imagine using dishes that were defiled! Whatever you put into the dish or cup would also become defiled.

The Pharisees were careful to keep the outside very clean, because that was the part that men would see; and they wanted the praise of men. But God sees the heart (1 Sam. 16:7). When God looked within, He saw “greed and self-indulgence” (Matt. 23:25, NIV).

Jewish people were careful not to touch dead bodies or anything relating to the dead, be-cause this would make them ceremonially unclean (Num. 19:11ff). They would whitewash the tombs lest someone accidentally get defiled, and this was done especially at Passover season. What a graphic picture of the hypocrite: white on the outside, but filled with defilement and death on the inside!

“Blessed are the pure in heart,” was our Lord’s promise. “Watch over your heart with all diligence, for from it flow the springs of life” (Prov. 4:23, NASB). The Pharisees lived for reputation, not character.

Here is one of those passages of Scripture whose depths are immeasurable and whose breadth is impossible to encompass. This incredible statement of Jesus is among the greatest utterances in all of the Bible. The subject of holiness, of purity of heart, can be traced from Genesis to Revelation. The theme is infinitely vast and touches on virtually every other biblical truth.

False Leaders Are Cursed for Their Extortion and Self-Indulgence

Jesus cursed the scribes and Pharisees for their extortion of others and indulgence of themselves.

To illustrate again their hypocrisy, Jesus used the figure of cleaning the outside of a cup and… dish, but not the inside. The Greek phrase behind dish was often used of a platter on which exquisite delicacies were served. The idea is of a person who offers a guest a seemingly lovely meal served with the best wine. But it turns out that, although the utensils are beautiful and ceremonially purified, the food served on them was putrid.

Outwardly the religious leaders gave the appearance of pious devotion to the Lord, but inwardly they were full of the moral and spiritual filfth of robbery and self-indulgence. They were ceremonially immaculate and attractive but spiritually squalid and repulsive.

 Harpageô (robbery) carries the ideas of plundering, pillaging, and extortion, and akrasia (self-indulgence) has the basic meaning of lack of self-control and was often used to denote unrestrained self-gratification. The unscrupulous religious leaders robbed the people they were supposed to serve in order to satisfy their own greed. They plundered both the souls and the wallets of the people and used the ill-gotten gains to serve themselves.

Making the accusation more personal and direct, Jesus said, “You blind Pharisee, first clean the inside of the cup and of the dish, so that the outside of it may become clean also.” No utensil is clean that holds ill-gotten food or drink.

Throughout history false religious leaders have become rich and fat by fleecing those they pretend to serve. Outwardly they appear righteous, caring, and exemplary but inwardly they are rapacious wolves.

 False Leaders Are Cursed for Their Contamination

Jesus cursed the scribes and Pharisees for spiritually contaminating everyone they touched.

After the spring rains had ceased, Palestinian Jews in New Testament times had the custom of whitewashing houses, walls, and particularly tombs. They began this task on the fifteenth of Adar, which roughly corresponds to March, in order to make their communities more attractive for Passover pilgrims. They had an additional purpose for whitewashing grave sites, however, especially those in and near Jerusalem. Because a person became ceremonially unclean for seven days if he touched a dead body or even a grave (Num. 19:16), all tombs were carefully whitewashed to identify them to unwary travelers. They would be prevented from inadvertently touching the tombs and becoming defiled and thereby disqualified to participate in many of the Passover activities, including the offering of sacrifices. In some cases the entire tomb was painted, and in others drawings of bones were painted on it to mark it as a sepulcher. Because of all the whitewash, Jerusalem and its environs glistened in the sunlight during the Passover season.

Like the whitewashed tombs, the scribes and Pharisees on the outside appeared beautiful, but inside they were also like the tombs, full of dead men’s bones and all uncleanness. They were spiritually dead and had no genuine regard for God’s law despite their outward praise of it and claim to be its true interpreters and teachers. In an infinitely worse way than the tombs ceremonially defiled those who touched them, the scribes and Pharisees spiritually defiled those whom they touched.

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Posted by on January 14, 2021 in Pharisees


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