by Don Watson



Jesus had just finished spewing out his most passionate warning in Matthew 23:27 to the Pharisees and lawyers for their hypocrisy, saying things like, "You put on airs and pretend to care about righteousness by washing your hands and polishing your cups, while inside you are filthy. You are white-washed graves, attractive on the outside, but inside full of dead men's bones".

Because of Jesus' strong words, we often forget that these men were God's children and He loved them. He did not want them lost, but He saw the danger of where they were headed. Like men running down a steep hill towards a precipice, he could no longer be tactful or gentle. He boldly calls them hypocrites and exposes the deceitfulness of their lives. Webster's Online Dictionary defines hypocrite as a fraud, deceiver, pretender, charlatan, impostor, Pharisee, dissembler, Tartuffe, Pecksniff, Holy Willie, whited sepulcher, and finally phony (Not sure I've ever heard of some of those). But hupocrites is the Greek word for actor – someone who wears a mask (Which actors often did to depict their character).

In a "Letter To the Rev. John M'Math" inclosing "Holy Willie's Prayer", Robert Burns describes these kinds of people as giving "their three-mile prayers, and half-mile graces." Hypocrites are condemning and judgmental, oblivious to their own sins, but think they clearly see the sins of others. Since they perceive they have no sins, they do not feel any need of grace and therefore do not give it. 

Hypocrisy, to God, is extremely dangerous, because it does not recognize the brokenness in all of us that requires divine healing. Hypocrites are like children who, not wanting to hear the truth, put their fingers in their ears and block it out with loud "La, la, la, LA”. They are like a person who pretends they don't have skin cancer. They cover it, put make-up on it, and act like a well person, while healing from a skilled surgeon is but a quick visit away. John wrote in his first letter, "If you confess your sins, [God will not only cause you to experience forgiveness] but He will "cleanse you from all unrighteousness." (1 John 1:9) Two verses before, John said, "If we walk in the light . . .we have fellowship one with another, and the blood of Jesus Christ cleanses us from all sin." (1 John 1:7). But the Pharisees were not "walking in the light," they were hypocrites, God's children wearing a mask – pretending to have no sin. God could heal them, He wanted to heal them, but He could not unless they gave Him permission. 

So, in Luke 11, Jesus, like a surgeon, is exposing the cancer: "Look, it's there, and there, and there! Let me take it out!" But it only makes them angry. So Jesus moves on . . . to us. That's what Luke 12 is about. Because he knows that within all of us are the seeds of hypocrisy and we need to give it Him, or we too will put on our masks and join the ranks of the Pharisees.

"Jesus turned first to his disciples and warned them, 'Beware of the yeast of the Pharisees – their hypocrisy. The time is coming when everything that is covered up will be revealed, and all that is secret will be made known to all. 3 Whatever you have said in the dark will be heard in the light, and what you have whispered behind closed doors will be shouted from the housetops for all to hear!' “(Luke 12:1-3).

Hypocrisy is like yeast in at least 2 ways. First, it is like a lump of dough getting bigger and bigger from the yeast inside.  Just so, hypocrisy – pretending, acting like we are holy – will grow in us, like yeast does, until we will begin to believe we are actually holy. You see, if we do not believe the gospel – the good news that we ARE unconditionally loved by God and accepted exactly as we are – we will either become hopelessly discouraged or we will put on a mask and act as though we have conquered our sinful nature and are holy. Second, hypocrisy is like yeast in that it will spread to the rest of humanity around us. When people are pretending to be holy, they are critical and judgmental.  In order to socially survive, avoid their judgment and be accepted, we put on our masks and become like them. We derive our value from friends who are influential, the church board, some social club, or the Joneses next door, instead of God. Acquiring "stuff" is important to us, because it provides a measuring device that assures us and other hypocrites of our value.  We exclude the marginalized of society who cannot or will not conform to our standards of success or behavior. We ignore the homeless, prisoners, poor, sick, and dying especially if their sins caused their condition. We conclude they are getting what they deserve. They are reaping what they have sown. 

But Jesus reminds us all that one day there will be no masks and we will see that no one is any holier than anyone else.  What God knows right now about everyone, everyone will know about everyone. Jesus, in effect, is saying, "So live that way right now! Don't pretend.  Walk in the light."  This is not a call to be as bad as you can be, but an awareness that we are all in this mess together.  We are all hurt and broken and desperately need each other on this journey. "

Next, Jesus addresses the pressures that exist to join the ranks of the Pharisees.  "Dear friends, don't be afraid of those who want to kill your body; they cannot do any more to you after that. But I'll tell you whom to fear. Fear God, who has the power to kill you and then throw you into hell. Yes, he's the one to fear." (Luke 12:4-5).

We are so afraid of people, aren't we? "They can destroy my reputation!" "He can demote me, lower my pay, or take away my job!" The faithful reformers during the Dark Ages could have cried out, "But the church can kill me!" But think about it. Kill you is the worst they can do, right? That's all! Dead end, right there! But not to God; His power goes beyond death and the grave. So why do we cater and cower to the weakness of fellow hypocrites? If you're going to fear somebody, fear the Almighty God who can send you to hell. 

Sounds horrible, right? But then, Jesus hastens to remind us who this God IS that we should fear. He says, "What is the price of five sparrows-two copper coins? Yet God does not forget a single one of them. And the very hairs on your head are all numbered. So don't be afraid; you are more valuable to God than a whole flock of sparrows." (Luke 12:6-7)

At the center of our hypocrisy is our need to be valued by those around us. How many kids have put on a mask and pretended to be something they weren't so their parents would be proud of them or their peers would accept them. How many religious people have denounced certain sins and sinners so they would be respected by their fellow Christians while hiding their own struggles with the same sin? We criticize people for smoking, dancing, eating meat, or drinking alcohol, while we ignore the poor and do nothing to relieve their poverty. We judge those who, in our way of thinking are lazy, while we work only to enrich ourselves and take care of our own needs. We desperately need to feel better about ourselves, so we put on our "Judge Mask" so people will notice our "goodness" and we feel better about ourselves.  Truth is, we are all hypocrites and Jesus is warning us that slippery slope will take us far away from Him. Like the Pharisees of His day, conspiring to destroy Him in the person of the poor and others less fortunate than ourselves.

Lastly, Jesus declares that "… everyone who acknowledges me publicly here on earth, the Son of Man will also acknowledge in the presence of God's angels. But anyone who denies me here on earth will be denied before God's angels. Anyone who speaks against the Son of Man can be forgiven, but anyone who blasphemes the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven." (Luke 12:8-10).

A hypocrite believes that he is nothing unless human beings acknowledge him as something – so he puts on the mask they want to see. God, on the other hand, is the only one who really loves us for us – regardless of our accomplishments or possessions or behavior. We are valuable because we are His child. Jesus came to proclaim that truth in every miracle, in every conversation, and especially when he died for us on the cross. To wear no mask, to live in the light with all our failures, sins, and inadequacies, to be exactly who we are, because we know that in a relationship with Jesus, he will accomplish all our righteousness, is to "acknowledge Jesus publicly here on earth." But to "deny" Jesus is to make Him "nothing," while all the people around you, and what they think, mean everything. By putting on a mask, we insist that we are not God's child. So God honors our decision in heaven.

But here's the critical part of that verse: Jesus says if we speak against Him, we can be forgiven, but not if we blaspheme the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit's job is to convict us of sin, expose to our blind eyes the things that would hurt us. But if we refuse to receive his testimony to us – insisting that we are holy and righteous – how will Jesus save us from the sin that would destroy us? (Matthew 1:21). Every time the Spirit tries to convict us, we declare this voice must be from the Devil because we are sinless, and so we reject the Holy Spirit. 

I think most of us believe that we only do this as individuals, but churches can do this, denominations can do this, businesses and governments can do this. We are right because we are the Remnant, or because we are Americans, or because we are the #1 computer business in the world. Any person or any institution that thinks they do not need to live in constant repentance – a constant turning towards God and submitting everything to Him for scrutiny, is in grave danger of being a hypocrite and thus grieving and eventually rejecting the Holy Spirit. 

God wants to set us free from the bondage that comes from having to always be right or holy. He loves us exactly as we are.  Only Jesus is holy and he wants every person, church, business and institution to be in an open, nothing hidden, authentic relationship with Him. That choice of honesty, ripping off the mask, gives God permission to embrace us, cleanse us, and include us within the fellowship of the Divine Trinity.