Early in his ministry Jesus claims to have authority to forgive sin and calls himself the Lord of the Sabbath. This sounds like blasphemy unless Jesus is actually God.
13 He went out again beside the sea, and all the crowd was coming to him, and he was teaching them. 14 And as he passed by, he saw Levi the son of Alphaeus sitting at the tax booth, and he said to him, “Follow me.” And he rose and followed him.
15 And as he reclined at table in his house, many tax collectors and sinners were reclining with Jesus and his disciples, for there were many who followed him. 16 And the scribes of the Pharisees, when they saw that he was eating with sinners and tax collectors, said to his disciples, “Why does he eat with tax collectors and sinners?” 17 And when Jesus heard it, he said to them, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. I came not to call the righteous, but sinners.”
Jesus is still eating with sinners. The church is full of them. On any given Sunday, in the midst of any given Christian congregation, you will find them. Jesus is comfortable there and intends to make these people his friends.
One reason I say this has to do with our perception of hypocrisy. The true hypocrites in this story were the scribes of the Pharisees who thought eating with certain people was beneath them. Who were they to feel so self-righteous? In reality they needed Jesus too.
The church that we see is often a lot like the crowd here at Levi’s banquet. Jesus is surely present and so are his disciples. The disciples, as we know from the Gospels and Acts, were themselves in a state of continuous spiritual growth. They were imperfect on their very best days. And then there are those who are generic followers. They may not even be believers just yet. Or maybe they are very new to the faith and each day brings them a major lesson. Or they may just be friends of Levi who came to the banquet, who just heard of Jesus that day, and have no desire to repent of anything at this time.
Let’s expect a lot of ourselves as far as holiness and spiritual growth. Let’s also be gracious with others. You’re going to find yourself sitting next to some sinner, tax collector or present day equivalent next time you attend any church gathering. This isn’t the wrong crowd, but the right one, if you are looking for Jesus.
By listening to Jesus we learn that there is a great danger in hypocritical religion. The scribes and Pharisees were guilty of it then, but many besides them have been guilty of it too. Many are still guilty of it now.
In response we ask you to please show us where the practice of our faith does not measure up to your standards. Transform our hearts so that we become people who are inwardly pure. Let our love for you and for others cause us to grieve over sin and truly fear the day of your coming judgment.
And let us always be prepared and eagerly waiting for the return of our Lord Jesus Christ.
In his name,
As Jesus cuts into the religious hypocrites of his day, one of the “woes” he pronounces on them is this:
27 “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you are like whitewashed tombs, which outwardly appear beautiful, but within are full of dead people’s bones and all uncleanness. 28 So you also outwardly appear righteous to others, but within you are full of hypocrisy and lawlessness.
It’s a graphic picture. Rotting corpses lying behind clean, newly painted, white outer walls. The smells of fresh paint and decomposition combine in an oddly unpleasant mixture. We might only wish the scribes and Pharisees that Jesus referred to were the only ones ever to be found guilty as charged.
Unfortunately, as long as there shall be religion in a fallen world, we can count on the existence of religious hypocrisy. If the world, the flesh and the devil can’t get us to fall headlong into sin and drown, they will keep trying to find something for us to dip our toes in when no one is looking. It may be some secret dishonesty or indiscretion. It may be a smug self-satisfaction that we are not as evil as someone else. It doesn’t matter what the rottenness is caused by, it only matters that it is there.
The starting point in reversing the process is simple honesty that hypocrisy is real, wicked, and consistently knocking at our door. Basic honesty with ourselves and others removes the need for religious hypocrisy and is almost already its opposite. We don’t have to clean up the outside to impress anyone and the inside will not deteriorate beyond a certain point. The Holy Spirit, if he dwells within, will see to it.
It’s the confessing sinner that is able to repent of sin and the humble servant that can somehow live with an outward flaw. Hypocrisy is an obstacle in the way of genuine spiritual growth. The highway toward true holiness has many off-ramps that lead to hypocrisy. We need to be sure not to take any of them. When our inside and outside are in harmony, both trending toward a Christlike end, all is well. One day we shall be inwardly and outwardly pure.
We say yes to your invitation to come to marriage supper of the Lamb, our Lord Jesus Christ. As we do, however, we admit that it is only by your grace and his shed blood that we can come. It is not on the basis of our own righteousness.
We then confess our belief in Jesus as both our human Savior and our divine Lord.
We acknowledge our belief in the resurrection of the dead, and to that end we cry, “Maranatha! Come Lord Jesus,” as we await his soon return.
We also pray that you would help us to be model citizens while here on this earth, obeying those in authority and faithfully paying what we owe. At the same time help us to remember that all earthly authority is still subject to you.
Finally, we ask your help in doing all that we do in love, first of all in love for you, but also in love for others – a love that no one could deny in both our attitudes and our behavior.
And we pray all of this in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.