"So you, too, outwardly appear righteous to men, but inwardly you are full of hypocrisy and lawlessness.Matthew 23:28(NASB)
Throughout His ministry, the scribes, Pharisees, politicians, and Jewish leaders resisted Christ's message and ministry. Despite the amazing miracles He performed, and the prophesied signs that were fulfilled in their sight, these arrogant men refused to recognise His Messianic claims, and the burning hostility they exhibited towards the Son of God influenced many people against the Lord.
Although Jesus attempted to teach them the truth of the gospel of God, their hearts were hardened against Him and their antagonism toward Him intensified. Finally, our Lord rebuked these blind leaders of the blind with a prolonged and scathing accusation of their lawlessness, and He issued a terrible warning... that judgement awaited them if they continued to refuse to listen to His message.
Jesus was deeply indignant that the truth of the gospel was rejected by Israel's leaders, but He was also distressed that the Jewish people were like sheep without a shepherd - they were being led away from the good news of salvation by Israel's arrogant leaders. Jesus came to receive His inheritance and be crowned King of kings, but His own people rejected Him, because of the pride and stupidity of these blinded guides of the people, who conspired to lead them away from the truth.
Throughout His earthly ministry, the Lord Jesus had longed to gather the children of Israel together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, yet their leaders were not willing to acknowledge the truth, and so God set Israel aside, for a season, until they repent of their sin, nationally, and called on the name of the Lord for salvation. Because of the influence of these Jewish leaders, the nation of Israel would have to face the destruction of their Temple in AD 70 and continue under God's discipline for a further two thousand years.
It was just before He faced the cross that Christ castigated these arrogant men, in the strongest of terms. "You outwardly appear righteous to men," He told them, "but inwardly you are full of hypocrisy and lawlessness." God is not fooled by an outward show of piety, charitable giving, flowery prayers or an array of good works. The Lord looks on the heart of men. He sees our inner thoughts. He sees us as we are and not as we like to appear to others.
He also pronounced seven shocking 'woes' against these pious, hypocritical, religious leaders, who had spurned God's anointed Messiah and rejected His offer of salvation. Over and again Jesus cried out in righteous anger, "woe to you, scribes and Pharisees - you hypocrites!" Every time Christ's piercing 'woe' rang out, He accused them of serious spiritual failure and pronounced them as religious deceivers.
He rebuked them for the heavy religious burden they placed on people, chastised them for defrauding widows of their livelihood, and upbraided them for ignoring the poor and needy. Not only did they deceive the people with propaganda and prevent them from open access to the truth, but they abused their God-given position of authority, and prevented the truth of Scripture from being taught.
Yes, Jesus condemned Israel's leaders for being obsessed with trivialities and for perverting the truth, but we must also be careful not to follow their bad example. He accused them of basking in the praise of men while ignoring the call for inner holiness and we too must make sure that our hearts are pure before God and that He receives the honour due to His name. It is no wonder that the Lord Jesus accused these scribes, Pharisees, politicians, and Jewish leaders of outwardly appearing to be righteous before men, while inwardly being filled with hypocrisy and iniquity - and we must abhor the evil ways of these and walk humbly before our God.
These men had a form of godliness, but the thoughts of their hearts were only evil continuously. These blind leaders made an outward show of their religiosity and prided themselves on their exemplary piety, but they rejected the incarnate Word of God; denied the supernatural power of the Lord, and resisted the eternal truth of the glorious Gospel of God.
Early in His ministry, the Lord Jesus had presented Himself to Israel as God's Anointed Messiah, Who had come to redeem His people from their sin. He came to heal the sick; raise the dead; cleanse the leper and bind up the wounded. He had been anointed by God to tell the good news to the poor; to announce freedom to the prisoners; to give sight to the blind and set oppressed people free. And at the start of His ministry, the Lord Jesus gave His people some wonderful blessings or beatitudes in His Sermon on the Mount, but as His time on earth came to an end he had to pronounce a terrible series of 'woes' on Israel's leadership, because they caused the people to reject the Lord of Glory.
How shocking that the very group who should have promoted Christ's message and ministry to the needy people, were the ones who turned the crowds against the Author of truth, Who was the incarnate Word and Given of salvation. May we learn from the mistakes of these Jewish leaders and give Jesus the honour due to His holy name - in sincerity and truth.
Search me, O God, and know my heart. Try me, and know my thoughts. I do not want to live my life as the hypocritical Pharisees did, appearing righteous and good on the outside, but on the inside, full of greed, self-indulgence, and wickedness. Lord, I confess any hidden sins to You today, knowing that You know them already. I pray that I would live every day in sincerity and truth, lifting up Your name for Your praise and glory. In Jesus’ name, AMEN.