1 Then Jesus spoke to the crowds and to His disciples: 2 “The scribes and the Pharisees are seated in the chair of Moses. 3 Therefore do whatever they tell you, and observe it. But don’t do what they do, because they don’t practice what they teach. 4 They tie up heavy loads that are hard to carry and put them on people’s shoulders, but they themselves aren’t willing to lift a finger to move them. 5 They do everything to be observed by others: They enlarge their phylacteries and lengthen their tassels. 6 They love the place of honor at banquets, the front seats in the synagogues, 7 greetings in the marketplaces, and to be called ‘Rabbi’ by people. 8 “But as for you, do not be called ‘Rabbi,’ because you have one Teacher, and you are all brothers. 9 Do not call anyone on earth your father, because you have one Father, who is in heaven. 10 And do not be called masters either, because you have one Master, the Messiah. 11 The greatest among you will be your servant. 12 Whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and whoever humbles himself will be exalted. 13 “But woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! You lock up the kingdom of heaven from people. For you don’t go in, and you don’t allow those entering to go in. 14 “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! You devour widows’ houses and make long prayers just for show. This is why you will receive a harsher punishment. 15 “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! You travel over land and sea to make one proselyte, and when he becomes one, you make him twice as fit for hell as you are! 16 “Woe to you, blind guides, who say, ‘Whoever takes an oath by the sanctuary, it means nothing. But whoever takes an oath by the gold of the sanctuary is bound by his oath.’ 17 Blind fools! For which is greater, the gold or the sanctuary that sanctified the gold? 18 Also, ‘Whoever takes an oath by the altar, it means nothing. But whoever takes an oath by the gift that is on it is bound by his oath.’ 19 Blind people! For which is greater, the gift or the altar that sanctifies the gift? 20 Therefore, the one who takes an oath by the altar takes an oath by it and by everything on it. 21 The one who takes an oath by the sanctuary takes an oath by it and by Him who dwells in it. 22 And the one who takes an oath by heaven takes an oath by God’s throne and by Him who sits on it. 23 “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! You pay a tenth of mint, dill, and cumin, yet you have neglected the more important matters of the law—justice, mercy, and faith. These things should have been done without neglecting the others. 24 Blind guides! You strain out a gnat, yet gulp down a camel! 25 “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! You clean the outside of the cup and dish, but inside they are full of greed and self-indulgence! 26 Blind Pharisee! First clean the inside of the cup, so the outside of it may also become clean. 27 “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! You are like whitewashed tombs, which appear beautiful on the outside, but inside are full of dead men’s bones and every impurity. 28 In the same way, on the outside you seem righteous to people, but inside you are full of hypocrisy and lawlessness. 29 “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! You build the tombs of the prophets and decorate the monuments of the righteous, 30 and you say, ‘If we had lived in the days of our fathers, we wouldn’t have taken part with them in shedding the prophets’ blood.’ 31 You, therefore, testify against yourselves that you are sons of those who murdered the prophets. 32 Fill up, then, the measure of your fathers’ sins! 33 “Snakes! Brood of vipers! How can you escape being condemned to hell? 34 This is why I am sending you prophets, sages, and scribes. Some of them you will kill and crucify, and some of them you will flog in your synagogues and hound from town to town. 35 So all the righteous blood shed on the earth will be charged to you, from the blood of righteous Abel to the blood of Zechariah, son of Berechiah, whom you murdered between the sanctuary and the altar. 36 I assure you: All these things will come on this generation!
37 “Jerusalem, Jerusalem! She who kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to her. How often I wanted to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, yet you were not willing! 38 See, your house is left to you desolate. 39 For I tell you, you will never see Me again until you say, ‘He who comes in the name of the Lord is the blessed One’!”
38 He also said in His teaching, “Beware of the scribes, who want to go around in long robes, and who want greetings in the marketplaces, 39 the front seats in the synagogues, and the places of honor at banquets. 40 They devour widows’ houses and say long prayers just for show. These will receive harsher punishment.”
45 While all the people were listening, He said to His disciples, 46 “Beware of the scribes, who want to go around in long robes and who love greetings in the marketplaces, the front seats in the synagogues, and the places of honor at banquets. 47 They devour widows’ houses and say long prayers just for show. These will receive greater punishment.”
Unless otherwise noted, all Scripture quotations are taken from the Holman Christian Standard Bible®, Copyright © 1999, 2000, 2002, 2003, 2009 by Holman Bible Publishers. Used by permission. Holman Christian Standard Bible®, Holman CSB®, and HCSB® are federally registered trademarks of Holman Bible Publishers.
“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.”
When I was reading through today’s Scripture passages, there was one phrase that continued to stick with me: “For you are like whitewashed tombs which on the outside appear beautiful…” This one phrase continued hovering in my mind, lacing itself throughout the principles in today’s texts…and it got me thinking about graveyards.
If you have ever walked through a cemetery on a sunny day, you may understand the weighted beauty a graveyard can possess. There is certain quietness, and often a blanket of reverence that seems to envelop the grounds. One thing that I always tend to notice in those settings is the stark beauty of some of the tombstones.
For a moment, a person could almost forget that they are in a graveyard. The grave markers have a way of catching the eye, summarizing a life, and leaving a sense of beauty on those who pass by it—knowing nothing of the person beneath, except what is expressed on the tombstone.
Many graveyards today do not seem to have space for entire tombs anymore, and our culture as a whole does not use full tombs to bury those who have passed on. But I would imagine that the stark beauty of the whitewashed tombs Jesus speaks of in this passage was very similar to the weighted beauty of our tombstones today. They also serve largely the same purpose.
So when Jesus compares the Pharisees to a whitewashed tomb, which on the outside appears beautiful, I begin to know what He is talking about.
But I don’t believe that Jesus was only talking about how beautiful a whitewashed tomb or tombstone can be. As usual, He was going much deeper than that, speaking to the Pharisees about the deepest state of their heart.
He first accuses the Pharisees of saying one thing and living out another (v. 1-3). This is already serious, when Christ illuminates their hypocrisy. But then, He keeps going deeper into the heart, the core…the place full of dead men’s bones (v. 27).
I believe that by using the metaphor of the whitewashed tomb, Jesus was directly pointing out their inner, prideful intention to fool the world into thinking they were someone that He knew they were not. They were walking around as whitewashed tombs, having put thought into what their tombstone should say…all the while, foolishly and pridefully blocking the way to the Kingdom (v. 13).
Jesus knew their hearts. He knew that beyond the beauty of the whitewashed tomb, they were “full of dead men’s bones and uncleanness” (v. 27).
Jesus used another metaphor as well, to describe this hypocrisy…the metaphor of a dirty cup (v. 25). He accused the Pharisees once again of having cleansed themselves on the outside, while still remaining filthy on the inside.
Dirty cups and whitewashed tombs…this is the way that Christ viewed the Pharisees— and they were supposedly the most spiritual, the smartest, the most holy leaders that the church knew in that day. Jesus saw through their titles, and reproached them for their pride.
He saw past the rim of the supposedly clean cup, and peered inside to see the dregs of their efforts at righteousness. He saw past their whitewashed exteriors, the long prayers they prayed, the respectful greetings they received at the market…and He called them fools (v. 6, 14).
It makes me peer into my own heart, and seek a holy cleansing from God, from the inside out. Is my spiritual life like a whitewashed tomb? Do I only keep it pretty and clean on the outside, to appear a certain way to others?
If Christ were to peer inside the tomb—if He were to read the tombstone that explains who I am and what I am about—would He be able to reconcile the cleanliness of the outside, with the cleanliness on the inside?
The Pharisees followed the laws, down to the letter. They kept the Sabbath day holy, they maintained certain eating habits, they studied and knew the words of God, they tithed…but they “neglected the weightier provisions of the law: justice and mercy and faithfulness” (v. 23). Their whitewashed exteriors meant nothing…and neither do ours. Neither does my own.
Christ calls me to not just clean the outside of this dirty cup, but to clean the inside as well. And I am helpless to keep the inside of my heart clean, without His cleansing. Without His redemption, I am merely a whitewashed tomb that hides the decay inside. My prayer to God can only be this, as the psalmist David first wrote:
Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me. Do not cast me away from Your presence, and do not take Your Holy Spirit from me…Purify me with hyssop, and I shall be clean; wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow. —Psalm 51:10, 7
- The Pharisees did a lot of “good deeds”—but they did them in order to be noticed by men (v.5). They were leaders, and they knew a lot of spiritual things—but they missed out on the heart of the law (v. 23, 24). In each of today’s texts, what were some of these good, spiritual things that the Pharisees did?
- During my life, I have had times where I realized that I was acting like the Pharisees. I’ve made sure that the outside of my spiritual life looked great and clean, when all along there were skeletons inside the tomb (v.23). When you look at your own life, are there areas of pride or hypocrisy? What things are you doing for the eyes of men, instead of the eyes of God? (v.5)
- Read verses Matthew 12:23-24. When Christ talks about tithing mint and dill and cumin, but neglecting the weightier provisions of the law…what is He trying to show the Pharisees about themselves?
- What are some of the weightier provisions of the law that you tend to forget? (v.23). What are some of the rituals and spiritual laws that you tend to focus on as “the main thing”, that Christ might not see as the main thing?