2018-09-06 - Dead Men's Bones
Originally Published 1997-05-01
The vast majority of the time we see Jesus during his early ministry, He is calm and peaceful. He is, at times, sad or sorrowful as He was at the death of Lazarus or when He viewed the multitude as sheep without a shepherd. There are times when Jesus must have been frustrated, when Andrew asked Him "Show us the Father.", or when Peter cut off the servant's ear in the Garden of Gethsemane. There it would have been frustrating to see Peter miss the point that Jesus had to die, and the crowd of soldiers and the company that saw the miraculous healing and did not see Jesus for who He was and is today. There were certainly times when Jesus must have smiled or laughed out loud, standing next to the soaking wet Peter, who had just walked on the Sea of Galilee at Jesus' calling, and then started to sink at the sight of the wind and waves.
But Jesus' anger was reserved for those who's willful blindness would touch others. He verbally removed the "mourners" at the home of Jairus. These paid weepers and wailers' cries turned to jeers when Jesus told them that Jairus' daughter only slept. They had seen death. They knew death. Or so they thought, and they mocked the Lord. And in the next minute, they probably wondered why they had ever come to the house. Jesus sent them packing. Their mocking railed against the faith that Jairus had shown, and Jesus came to his defense.
But a special rage was held for the spiritual leaders of Israel. There is a section of Matthew in chapter 23 that is called 'The Seven (or Eight) Woes'. Going back into the previous chapter, Jesus had been challenged by the Pharisees with questions yet again. He had taken the questions and shown one for its foolishness and the other was a matter of daily prayer. Then Jesus turned the tables and asked the Pharisees a question. He asked them a question that should have shown them that 'the Son of David' was also 'the Lord of David', the Messiah. When none of them could answer His question, Jesus turned to the crowd, gathered around and began to rail on the Pharisees. Below is an excerpt from Matthew 23:
Matt 23:23-27 -"Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you tithe mint and dill and cumin, and have neglected the weightier provisions of the law: justice and mercy and faithfulness; but these are the things you should have done without neglecting the others. 24 "You blind guides, who strain out a gnat and swallow a camel! 25 "Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you clean the outside of the cup and of the dish, but inside they are full of robbery and self-indulgence. 26 "You blind Pharisee, first clean the inside of the cup and of the dish, so that the outside of it may become clean also. 27 "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. (NAS)
Woe upon woe are fired at the hearts of these spiritual giants of Israel like torpedoes into the burning hulk of a ship. He laid their hearts bare before the people gathered to hear the Itinerant from Nazareth. In verse 23, Jesus upbraids the Pharisees for minding the trivial points of the law and missing the core of it. Justice, mercy and faithfulness are the things that provide stability and safety to family and friends, anyone in need. Without these things the law becomes aboard to beat people with over these trivialities. Unless these things are in place, there is no sanctuary for people to open their hearts, no mirror for the love of God to draw men to them from their sins. Their faithlessness endangered the spiritual condition of the nation. Jesus came to their defense.
Verse 25 likens the cleaning of the cup and dish to the human heart. Cleaning the outside of these things does little to make them worthy of their assigned task in holding food. Unless the inside of the dish is clean, who cares if the outside is clean or not? Verse 27 drives the message home with all the subtilty of a battering ram. Whitewash was applied to the sepulchers and tombs of that day to make them more presentable. It, of course, did nothing to change the fact that it was a tomb. To be anywhere near it made you ceremonially unclean. Jesus was saying, in no uncertain terms, that these men were spiritually dead. He was calling them the blind leading the blind. For all their outward appearances, the Pharisees were like tombs in that they were responsible for the lack of spiritual growth and even the spiritual death that was present in the land at that time. The people were constantly amazed at the authority with which Jesus taught. And it was often contrasted with the teaching of the Pharisees.
Was Jesus casting these men aside? I would like to offer an alternative line of thought. That Jesus was to the point of tough love with these people. He was getting right in their faces and telling them what they needed to hear, whether they wanted to hear it or not. Jesus Christ was reaching out one more time to the men before him, showing them their need. They had heard Jesus speak on the Kingdom. They had seen first hand His mercy with the woman caught in adultery. Jesus was being a faithful friend to these men who hated Him.
But before we get too far up on our high horses, can we be called to the carpet on similar grounds? There is a church on more street corners in our major cities than there are gas stations. There are neat, white steepled buildings in every country hamlet from Portland, Maine to Portland, Oregon. Yet, I find people outside the church who are so disinterested in anything to do with Christianity, they want nothing to do with it. I find people inside who are starving to death spiritually for lack of knowledge in the basics of the Christian faith. Many of the people graduating from our seminaries do not believe in the virgin birth of Christ, His resurrection, or in God at all. I find churches with leaders more interested in protecting the reputation of their ministry than they are in reaching out to a hurting person with the love of Christ. Blind guides indeed.
So, where will the people outside hear a message that reaches their weary ears? Where will the starving Christian be fed the Word of God so they can grow and become strong? When will the spiritual leaders be stirred to reach the hearts of the people for whom Jesus died? When justice, mercy and faithfulness are restored.
When justice is restored, people can see that they are to be held accountable for their actions. They can see they have needs that they can not fill themselves. When mercy is restored, they will see that Christ has made the way for them to be restored to the justice the Father demands. When faithfulness is restored, the leaders of our churches will feed and disciple the members. The members will in turn, be able to go out and reach out to others with the love that Jesus has shown to them. This is the job Jesus left with us to complete.
Without these three things, we are no better than the Pharisees. We, like them, will be filled with the bones and decay of the men and women around us. With these three things, Jesus will empower us to shake the world once again in His name. The day is well spent.Night is falling even now. But there is still time to clean out our hearts to be made useful tools in the Master's hands again.
Lord Jesus, Thank you for being willing to get tough in your love for us. You have satisfied justice for us, shown us mercy where we deserved eternal punishment, and been faithful even when we stumble and fall. Incorporate these things into our lives, so that we can become mirrors of your grace to this lost and dying world. Give us eyes to see and ears to hear what You have to teach us. Clean out our hearts Lord, so that we can be Your beacons homeward, as night time falls. Amen
All verses are from the New American Standard Bible (NASB) unless otherwise noted.