Whitewashed Tombs

December 14, 2021

Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you are like whitewashed tombs which indeed appear beautiful outwardly, but inside are full of dead men's bones and all uncleanness. Even so you also outwardly appear righteous to men, but inside you are full of hypocrisy and lawlessness (Matthew 23:27-28)

I’ve done a lot of funerals over the years - a lot of funerals. And I have visited many cemeteries in my time. Some of them are places where family members have been buried. Some of them are where friends have been buried. A number of them have upright headstones marking the graves. Others have a plaque attached to a cement block at ground level. Some of them have mausoleums while others have crypts. Some grave markers, crypts, and mausoleums are very ornate made with colorful granite, beautiful carvings, and inspirational verses, poems, or sentiments. But they all have one thing in common - they contain or mark the spot where dead bodies are buried.

In His condemnation of the Scribes and Pharisees, Jesus likened them to whitewashed tombs. A whitewashed tomb was a grave that was painted over with a mixture of ground chalk and water, kind of like our modern white paint. In the spring, after the winter rains, the Jews would paint the tombs to ‘dress them up’ for those travelers coming into Jerusalem for the Passover. On the outside these tombs were nice to look at, but on the inside they were abhorrent.

For Jesus to characterize the Scribes and Pharisees as such was a stinging rebuke of their hypocrisy of self-righteousness. Isaiah describes self-righteousness this way (Isaiah 64:6), But we are all like an unclean thing, and all our righteousness are like filthy rags . . . . ‘Filthy rags’ in this context refers to the menstrual cloth, and was considered by the Jews as utterly unclean and defiled. Only one thing worse than saying your righteousness was as defiled as a ‘filthy rag’ was to say that you are nothing more than an ornate grave full of dead bones.

The Scribes and Pharisees were physically alive, but spiritually dead. They dressed in ornate robes, wore beautiful headdresses, carried gold or silver plated staffs, etc. They gave the people the impression that they were high holy teachers of God’s Word and were righteous before God in all they did. But Jesus knew the heart and mind of the priests. He knew it was all for show, it was empty, it was false. They had no regard for God’s law or for God’s people (see the previous devotions on the ‘woes’ to the priests). They were spiritually defiled and in need of cleansing. The only One who could provide that cleansing was the Lord God through His Son, Jesus Christ. But they had already rejected Him and were planning to kill Him as soon as possible.

“Lord Jesus, I pray my heart, mind, and spirit are in concert with Your teachings, and that the Law of Love permeates my life as I strive to minister to others. I pray my life will be pleasing and not repulsive in Your sight. To Your honor and glory I ask, Amen.”


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