By Shawn Tomlin
The passage of scripture that we will be discussing is one of my favorites when it comes to Jesus interacting with the Pharisees and Scribes. Jesus really lays down the law, and in so doing, reveals to the scribes and Pharisees their sin, just like how the law is supposed to work.
The main focus of this passage is the exposing of the Pharisees and Scribes in their sinful actions. Jesus shows them that they aren’t really fulfilling the Law for the simple fact that although they appeared to be the holiest guys around, inside they were “full of dead men’s bones and all uncleanness” (Matthew 23:27). They appear from the outside to be beautiful, shining examples of righteousness, but in their hearts they aren’t any better than anyone else. They are spiritually dead, and the hearts within each one of them is stone cold. The irony of all this is the fact that they think they are crushing the Law, fulfilling it to the tee, and are fully righteous before God. Jesus tells them otherwise.
In this 11 verse passage Jesus calls these men several different things. To start out in verse 23 Jesus calls them “hypocrites” and refers back to this description quite a bit. But in verse 23 Jesus rebukes their observance of the Law. The fact that they focus so much on their man-made traditions that they have forgotten the weightier things of the Law. They are sure everyone sees them tithing spices, but the don’t bother to love God with all their heart, soul, mind, and strength, or their neighbor as themselves. Their focus on how righteous they were, and how holy they appeared before others completely bypassed what the Law really does. It points us to the One promised that can save us because the Law can’t. These Pharisees were standing before their Messiah, their Lord, and were so caught up in their own self-righteousness that they couldn’t recognize Him, or simply they didn’t want to.
Our sin causes us to turn from God and warp in on ourselves.
In verse 27 Jesus follows up by comparing the Pharisees to whitewashed tombs. Which the scripture says, “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. So you, too, outwardly appear righteous to men, but inwardly you are full of hypocrisy and lawlessness.” These men are appearing to be righteous and full of holiness because of the Law, but the opposite is true. They, because of the Law, which they think they are fulfilling, are condemned by the very same Law.
Before God, we are no different. We are all condemned under the Law for the simple fact that by our nature we hate the Law, we hate God, we hate it all. So just like the Pharisees, we take the Law, and manipulate it so instead of glorifying God, we glorify ourselves. Our sin causes us to turn from God and warp in on ourselves. There’s no way we can save ourselves from that. Even when we think we are fulfilling the Law, we are only deceiving ourselves. We can’t. We don’t even want to fulfill the Law, we only want to break it, which we do with every breath we take.
So Jesus asks a question in verse 33, “how will you escape the sentence of hell?” The thing was, the answer to that question was the man standing before them. The infinite God, clothed in human flesh. Christ is the way out of our sinful state. He was punished on the cross for our sin, so in our faith, we won’t be. More than that, he was the fulfillment of the Law for us. Death has no grip on us anymore because of His resurrection. The answer is Christ.
“The LORD bless you, and keep you;
The LORD make His face shine on you,
And be gracious to you;
The LORD lift up His countenance on you,
And give you peace.”