Matthew 23

It was one of the worst smells I can remember, and it came without any warning. When you open a freezer, you don’t really expect to be greeted by any scent at all . . . unless something has gone horribly wrong. Sometimes, though, things go wrong. As I walked downstairs toward the freezer in the basement, nothing seemed amiss. When I switched on the light, nothing seemed amiss. But when I opened the freezer, it was putridly apparent that something was wrong–even though everything appeared to be fine on the outside. The breaker had tripped, the freezer had thawed, and everything inside had combined into one of the worst odors I can remember. So, I can tell you that everything looking right (or even smelling right) on the outside doesn’t necessarily mean it’s working right on the inside.

In Matthew 23, Jesus had some strongly worded warnings for the scribes and the Pharisees. He started by telling the crowds to do what the scribes and the Pharisees said instead of what they did, and it only got worse from there. On the outside, Jesus said, they appeared to be doing the right things, but on the inside, their hearts reeked of arrogant self-righteousness, of greed and self-indulgence.

When I opened the freezer door that day, what greeted me was repulsive. It didn’t take me long to close that door and to seek out fresh air. Jesus’ warnings to the scribes and the Pharisees tell us that the hypocrisy of professed believers can have a similar effect on those who see it. That’s a warning for each of us to consider carefully today. Do our actions match what we say we believe? And if the answer is “no,” let’s not miss verse 37, “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it! How often would I have gathered your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing!” Jesus certainly didn’t downplay the seriousness of the sins of Israel, but He also was clear in his desire that–if they had been willing–He would have gathered them beneath His protection. Unfortunately, they were not willing, but that doesn’t have to be the case with us. When we uncover hypocrisy in our hearts, let’s repent and find restoration in Jesus.

After I caught my breath, I can’t say I was excited about cleaning up the mess left behind by a freezer without power, but pretending it wasn’t there didn’t make the mess go away. In fact, if ignored, it was only going to get worse, so I gathered the necessary supplies and got to work. The reality is that we all have places where our words and our actions don’t match up, and in His grace and by His Spirit, Jesus will at times let us smell the stench of our own hypocrisy. When He does, we’ll likely be repulsed. We may be tempted to slam the door and run away, but ignoring the issue won’t make it better. Instead, let’s take our hypocrisy to Jesus and let the Spirit do the work of aligning our words and our actions with His words and His actions.

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