RELIGIOUS HYPOCRISY vs. AUTHENTIC CHRISTIANITY
These are my teaching notes on Religious Hypocrisy vs. Authentic Christianity. I presented this teaching at the Cornerstone Church on Sunday, March 3, 2019.
Part 4 of ENTOURAGE. Matthew 23:1-12.
INTRODUCTION: THE DESTRUCTIVE POWER OF RELIGIOUS HYPOCRISY
I want you to picture the scene here. It's the week of the crucifixion. On Sunday or Monday, Jesus rode a donkey into Jerusalem and was hailed as king. The next day, he went to the Temple. He's in the courtyard area known as Solomon's Colonnade where the rabbis went to teach. There's a crowd around him and Jesus revealed that he was the promised Messiah - the everlasting king of Israel and the whole world (22:41-46; Daniel 7:13-14).
As you can imagine, that didn't go so well for Jesus. The religious leaders were ticked off and wanted to kill him. They walked out. Now, it's just Jesus and the regular folks.
Then, Jesus taught two things that shocked the crowd: He condemned the highly respected religious leaders for their religious hypocrisy and he pronounced judgment on Israel. Jerusalem and the Temple would be destroyed.
Chapters 23-25 are set up like a criminal trial. Jesus is the prosecutor. The accused are the leaders and people of Israel. The charge is religious hypocrisy; being religious without loving or obeying God. This had happened before in Israel's history:
(Isaiah 29:13) The Lord says: “These people come near to me with their mouth and honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me. Their worship of me is based on merely human rules they have been taught." (See also Isaiah 1)
The verdict is guilty and the sentence is death and destruction on people and city.
God does not like religious hypocrisy. It makes him very angry. Why? God deserves our genuine worship and obedience. Also, it is hard for people to see the true God (glorious, loving, good) when his representatives are such a joke.
HOW TO LIVE AS AN AUTHENTIC DISCIPLE OF JESUS
If religious hypocrisy makes God angry, then we should work hard to do the exact opposite. We should make it our goal to live as authentic disciples of Jesus. This pleases God and it's what the people around us need to see because it paints an accurate and attractive portrait of Jesus.
I've talked to so many people who have walked away from what they thought was the Christian faith. When I ask about it, what they were rejecting was not authentic Christianity at all. They were turned off by people pretending to follow Jesus, but they were loveless, or liars, or selfish. It's so important to be real, to be authentic disciples.
Three actions mark an authentic follower of Jesus:
1. I LIVE OUT THE TEACHINGS OF JESUS - verses 1-4.
Jesus criticized the religious leaders because "they do not practice what they preach" (verse 3). Hypocrites say one thing and do another.
They sat in Moses' seat, the seat in the synagogue where the rabbis taught the Law; that is, the teachings God gave to Moses. It was all very serious, but they only took the low priority things seriously. For example:
(Matthew 23:23) "Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You give a tenth of your spices—mint, dill and cumin. But you have neglected the more important matters of the law—justice, mercy and faithfulness."
They were focused on the small things (Leviticus 27:30), but they ignored the hard to follow, world-changing, lifestyle of mercy and love that was God's priority (Micah 6:8).
Jesus might have been using sarcasm when he said, "You must be careful to do everything they tell you." Maybe he was saying: "They're in the big chair, so obviously they've got something to say. Wink, wink, nod, nod." In other words, don't listen to them just because they're up front. Watch out, because they'll make you into a religious hypocrite.
Think with me for a moment. Be honest with yourself. How much of your lifestyle is the direct result of applying something Jesus taught you? Here's what I mean: Years ago, I taught a spiritual formation course in college. The researchers I read found that most of us learn our "Christian" lifestyle by watching other people and absorbing the culture of our church. It's caught, not taught.
What's the problem with that? No problem if the model we're imitating and absorbing is good, but we all know that the pattern can get messed up over time. A lot of what people think is Christian isn't faithful to Jesus at all. It's just religious. The only way to push back is to study what Jesus actually taught and then to live it out - in the power of the Holy Spirit.
That can be challenging because some of Jesus's teachings are really hard to live out. They just don't fit into our agendas very well. For example, Jesus' teaching on worry:
(Matthew 6:25) I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothes?
Everyone I know worries about something. We think it's normal. We might even think it's essential because it shows we're taking life seriously. But Jesus was pretty clear: do not worry.
We've got to live out the teachings of Jesus, so next Sunday, I will begin a new teaching series called RABBI. We'll dive into Jesus' most challenging teachings and figure out how to live them out. Jesus said, (John 14:23) “Anyone who loves me will obey my teaching."
Jesus isn't looking for flashy religion; he's looking for faithful disciples.
2. I LIGHT THE WAY TO JESUS - verses 5-10.
We can get in the way of people seeing the real Jesus. That's what verses 5-10 are all about:
The religious leaders loved their STYLE. They accessorized for maximum attention-grabbing. They wore Bible boxes on their foreheads and and prayer shawls over their shoulders (as did Jesus, Matthew 9:21). The boxes held tiny papers with Bible verses , such as Deuteronomy 6:3-4, written on them. The prayer shawls had tassels around the bottom, which they touched and counted to keep track of their daily prayers. But these guys supersized the boxes and the tassels so everyone would be sure to look and gasp in awe: "Such a holy man. Oooo." Here's the hypocrisy: they were acting all devoted to God while they were drawing all the attention to themselves.
The religious leaders loved their STATUS. They were honored at banquets and hailed in the marketplace. Rabbi literally means "my great one." Again, you can see the hypocrisy of this: they were portraying themselves as totally devoted to the Lord, but they were claiming all the praise for themselves.
That's not how we want to live. Authentic disciples make it all about Jesus. We give Jesus all the credit, all the glory, all the attention. We get out of the way so that Jesus shines bright. This is how the apostle Paul wrote about leaders in the church:
(1 Corinthians 3:5) What, after all, is Apollos? And what is Paul? Only servants, through whom you came to believe.
Those who serve in the military, wear uniforms, receive medals, are saluted and called by their rank, "Yes, general!" That is not wrong; that is the military way. But that is not the way of the church. All the attention is to be on one person - Jesus - and not his followers. It's not that it's wrong to be called rabbi or father or teacher if that's our role or function. But it is wrong to demand these or to use these as ranks and titles and honors that draw attention away from Jesus. It's much better to call each other by our names.
An authentic disciple wants Jesus to get all the credit for all the good that's going on. We're the signpost, he's the attraction. We're the spotlight, he's the show. This is the most basic principle in the Bible: God alone gets the glory. He made everything for his glory. We exist for his glory.
(Isaiah 42:8) I am the Lord; that is my name! I will not yield my glory to another or my praise to idols.
Take a moment. Can you think of anything in your life that draws people's attention away from Jesus and onto you?
I grew up in a church where some of the ladies wore big hats. I couldn't see past them to the vicar and what he was doing up front. What's your big hat?
I've noticed two behaviors that tend to draw attention away from Jesus:
When we're critical of people and we write them off. That gets in the way of people seeing the amazing grace of Jesus and the power of his blood to cleanse and forgive.
When we have a negative, pessimistic attitude. That gets in the way of people seeing the faithful love of Jesus in our lives, his power at work in us, and the hope we have in Jesus.
What's your big hat?
3. I LAY DOWN MY LIFE LIKE JESUS - verses 11-12.
Here is the most important key to authenticity: disciples of Jesus imitate Jesus who entered our world as a humble servant. Jesus said, (Luke 22:27) "I am among you as one who serves." The context in which he said it was his impending crucifixion. He served us by dying for us, laying down his life to rescue us from God's justice and our bondage to sin and Satan. If Jesus had not served, we would not be saved.
The apostle Paul hit the nail on the head when he asked the Christians in Philippi to have the same attitude as Jesus. Then he quoted from one of the earliest Christian worship songs:
(Philippians 2:5-8) In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus. 6 Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage; 7 rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. 8 And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death—even death on a cross!
Jesus blazes brightest in the world when his disciples go into the darkest places to serve in Jesus' name. This is why our young adults will spend time with Diedre in Berlin this May. She serves women who work on the streets and they need to see the love and power of Jesus on bright display.
Wherever disciples go, they serve. This was the scandal of the early church. The followers of Jesus were called his slaves - douloi. It is only possible to be an authentic follower of Jesus if we reduce the purpose of our lives to one thing: to serve Jesus by serving people; laying down our lives for others just as Jesus did for us.
Reflect on that. Are you like Jesus, who was among us as one who serves? It all begins by yielding our lives to Jesus. Then, out of that attitude of surrender, we follow his leading. We don't all serve the same way. My suggestion is to take some time to listen to Jesus as he helps you figure out how you can best use your life to help people. He'll show you how by putting a burden on your heart. Stay focused on that.
CONCLUSION: SHINE, JESUS, SHINE!
Authentic disciples make Jesus available to the world. This is because our lives accurately reflect the character of Jesus. We show off the beauty of Jesus without getting in the way.
If you think about it, isn't this how you came to know Jesus? Someone made Jesus "visible" to you; their lifestyle pointed away from themselves to the superior worth of Jesus. Maybe it was a parent, or a teacher, or a friend. They shone a spotlight on Jesus' love, mercy, greatness or goodness. Right? And you felt your heart drawn to him until that moment you were willing to commit to him, to trust and follow him as God and Savior.
I want us to be a church of authentic disciples. What an impact we will have. How Jesus will shine through us into a dark world!
Let's take a quiet moment to commit to being authentic disciples: "Lord, help me. Holy Spirit control me. I want to live out the teachings of Jesus. I want to light the way to Jesus. I want to lay down my life like Jesus. Shine through my life Jesus, for your glory alone. Amen."