The hypocritical Pharisees, and all those like them, are masters of giving an appearance of being godly people. They make sure people know how spiritual they are and how fervently they love God. When they create this appearance of goodness around themselves, they also create followers. Christ describes them as traveling land and sea to make a single convert.
Why are they so diligent to make converts? Because they want to save people from idolatry and win them for the true God. That sounds good. But because they are Pharisees and hypocrites, they actually convert them to a new and worse kind of idolatry: the idolatry of believing in your own works. It is a subtle idolatry because the Pharisees use (or rather misuse) the Word of God to teach a person to trust their own good deeds. This subtle idolatry is so hard to spot in yourself that it is almost impossible to escape. So these converts are twice as doomed as the Pharisees that converted them.
This is why false teachers are the greatest evil. I do not say that lightly. The hypocritical Pharisee uses God’s name and God’s Word to deceive a person. Furthermore, what evil is worse than dooming a person to hell? A thief only steals earthly goods. A murderer only kills the physical body. But a false teacher is far worse because he threatens a person’s immortal soul. Of course, they do it with a smile on their face, surely unaware of the danger they are creating, all the while using an appearance of faith and goodness.
Notice that these teachers may not even claim the title of preacher or teacher for themselves. But they still teach and influence people toward their own brand of hypocrisy. Many people are like this, people like your neighbors and friends who are quick to “share” with you their faith. But if they are Pharisees, then what they are sharing is not the true faith, although it is disguised as if it were.
Woe to these teachers! That is to say, they should beware, take warning, and repent. If they do not, then they will suffer the eternal consequences of trusting their own good works and teaching others to do the same.
I am sure that some people want to say, “How dare you, Pastor! How dare you speak badly about good Christians! These are nice people who have loving hearts for Jesus!”
How dare I, indeed. What does Christ our Lord do? Is He gentle and kindly toward unrepentant hypocrites? He calls them a generation of vipers. He calls them blind, hypocrites, children of the devil. The Pharisees on the receiving end of Christ’s words were not obviously evil people. They were nice. They had an appearance of goodness and religious zeal. But Christ called them terrible names and declared that they were heading for hell and bringing others there, too.
But nowadays many people have overly sensitive ears. They are listening for any harsh words or the least hint of hostile intent. Hate speech is so dreaded that any shadow of it must be condemned and rejected and no forgiveness granted.
If these tender ears such as we have today had heard Christ letting the Pharisees have it, they would have branded Christ as a viciously judgmental and hateful person. Yet they never say they are offended by Christ. That would make them seem unChristian. So they must say that people misunderstand Christ. The REAL Christ would not say such things because He is always loving.
Brothers and sisters, we are surrounded by such people. Practically everyone wants to be a little teacher so that you can see how spiritual they are. Practically everyone likes to be seen as a sincere believer. Yet there is danger all around us. So many denominations and preachers and so many opinions of so many hearts hold to teachings that are opposed to the Word of God and faith in Christ.
So what are we to do? Try to please people who twist the Word of God? Should we make friends with those whom Christ condemns? Be friends in earthly matters, by all means. But do not give any appearance of agreeing to their religious ramblings. That is most dangerous. Instead, call them to repentance when they let slip their heresy. In that way you are reaching out in love to them, although they likely will not see it that way. Repentance is their only hope.
For this reason, Christ preached harshly to the hypocrites, wanting them to repent. For this reason, He also sent prophets and apostles. Notice that, as the Sender of prophets and apostles, He is the true God who patiently waits for people to turn to Him. Even now He has sent out preachers and teachers with the true Word in the hopes that hypocrites would see their errors and turn back.
Our Missouri Synod also has its own kind of hypocrisy. It may not seem as obvious as other forms of hypocrisy, but it is real. False preaching plagues some pulpits. People hold their own private opinions against our clear confessions. The Synod has been called to repentance on a number of issues, but so far has given little or no sign of turning away from its errors. May God grant it soon, against the resistance of many stony hearts, so that we may return to the pure teachings of the Scriptures and our Confessions. As matters stand, we are not walking together in unity of teaching.
We must not wait too long. We cannot maintain fellowship with false doctrine forever, or we will also be devoured. For if we claim to follow the Lutheran Confessions but remain in a Synod that openly teaches and practices against those Confessions, then we are hypocrites as well.
Lord have mercy on us.
In the face of the many wolves and deceivers in this world, we must confess this truth: That nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my sinful flesh. But in Christ and His death and His rising from the tomb, we are forgiven and redeemed. He gives His forgiveness freely through His Word, sometimes joined to water and bread and wine. Our life as Christians is in these things. Of course, we exercise ourselves in good works as the Spirit makes us able. But that is not what makes us Christians.
Especially, the feelings in my heart do not make me a Christian, nor how nice I am, nor how much I respect the feelings of others. Especially I am not a Christian because I make an appearance of righteousness in order to win other people over. Instead, I publicly confess that I am by nature sinful and unclean, and point only to Christ as my righteousness.
This is the opposite of murderous false doctrine. Instead of deceiving and killing, pure teaching reveals the truth and gives life. The Spirit enters dead hearts and creates a new heart in Christ. Blood from the Man killed by hypocrites is applied to our hypocritical souls. Thus we are cleansed and declared righteous in God’s sight, apart from works of the Law.
Only in this pure Gospel is the sinful flesh put to death, and the new man created in the image of Christ. Only in this pure Gospel are troubled consciences comforted with the peace of Christ.
The Spirit lead us and many to this true faith, and reject all idolatry of works, that we may dwell in peace together under Christ. Amen.
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