This is the word of the Lord,

Matthew 23:25–28 ESV

25 “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you clean the outside of the cup and the plate, but inside they are full of greed and self-indulgence.
26 You blind Pharisee! First clean the inside of the cup and the plate, that the outside also may be clean.
27 “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you are like whitewashed tombs, which outwardly appear beautiful, but within are full of dead people’s bones and all uncleanness.
28 So you also outwardly appear righteous to others, but within you are full of hypocrisy and lawlessness.

Let us pray.

Jesus knows how to throw a punch

Jesus is on a cursing-spree in Matthew 23 and he has the scribes and Pharisees in a state of hysteria, in panic.

Not only have they repeatedly attempted at faulting Jesus, trying to trap him in his theology, but the result of all those attempts culminated in their defeat in Matthew 22:46, where we are told

Matthew 22:46 ESV

46 And no one was able to answer him a word, nor from that day did anyone dare to ask him any more questions.

In this theological showdown, not only has Christ defended himself against all of their philosophical and theological punches, but now he has them backed into a corner, and he launches a relentless barrage of prophetic blows, each one hitting them where it hurts the most.

Look at the repeated blows that Christ delivers against the scribes and Pharisees – [v13,15,23,25,27,29]

Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites!

And then consider the additional phrases of

You blind guides, child of hell, You fools, blind men, blind Pharisee

It is true of ancient literature that repetition was a way of emphasising a point. That is why you have phrases such as ‘Truly, truly’ or the repetitions in the book of Psalms and in other places in the Bible.

Here you have the repetition of the curses, some phrases repeated verbatim.

The Grace of his rebuke

Good and reasonable apologists tell us that we are not meant to win the argument at the cost of losing our opponent. We are meant to win our opponent even if it sometimes costs us the argument.

But this does not mean that we are to pull our punches. It means that our punches must be well directed for the good of their soul.

And sometimes the stern rebuke that saves the soul is more painful than the one that wins the argument.

That is what we see here. Christ, the righteous one, issues an artillery strike on the scribes and Pharisees because they need to hear it.

The persuasion and power of the debater who loves his opponent will therefore be far more zealous than the argument of the one who wants to score a point. Because to the former, this is a matter of life and death.

Jesus who cleansed the temple with a whip of cords, now cleanses the people with a whip of words.

His zeal for his Father’s house consumed him and he said, in Matthew 21:13

Matthew 21:13 ESV

13 He said to them, “It is written, ‘My house shall be called a house of prayer,’ but you make it a den of robbers.”

But now as Jesus uses the whip of words, listen to his accusation, Matthew 23:25

Matthew 23:25 LSB

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.

O Christian, have you not read 1 Corinthians 6:19

1 Corinthians 6:19 ESV

19 Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God? You are not your own,

So much of what Jesus is doing here with the scribes and Pharisees is what he did with the temple.

This isn’t a passion to win the argument, it is the zeal for his Father’s house, which in the OT was the physical temple, and now is you.

The Judgment of his rebuke

But don’t get me wrong. I am not saying that the rebuke of Christ is all of grace and no judgment. No, it is grace for those who are led to repentance by it and it is judgment for those who would deny it.

This is a double-edged sword capable of piercing to the division of salvation and judgment. It is either the cut that leads to repentance or the cut that leads to death.

This is the dual function of the cross and of God’s word. Salvation to those who heed it, and judgment to those who reject it. John 8:31-32

John 8:31–32 ESV

31 So Jesus said to the Jews who had believed him, “If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples,
32 and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”

Matthew 7:26–27 ESV

26 And everyone who hears these words of mine and does not do them will be like a foolish man who built his house on the sand.
27 And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell, and great was the fall of it.”

Our Subject Matter

And on attacking the hypocrisy of these self-appointed spiritual leaders of Israel, we have seen Christ expose the effects of hypocrisy on

1. Evangelism – Obstruction of salvation & the indoctrination of hell

2. Teaching – Lying & the twisting of Scripture

3. Discernment – And today, we are going to see the compromise of priorities, the dangerous imbalance of false piety.

And now we see its effects on our sanctification, our personal holiness.


In this passage, Jesus uses two analogies to describe the state of the Pharisees’ heart.

The first is a common household picture, something that everyone can relate to, about clean utensils.

The second is a more intense, a more darker and provocative analogy, about graveyards.

Now, these aren’t complicated analogies. They speak clearly and we are told of the hypocrisy in their holiness.

The First Analogy

Matthew 23:25 ESV

25 “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you clean the outside of the cup and the plate, but inside they are full of greed and self-indulgence.

• The curse is issued with the same repetitive phrase – ‘woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites!’ – to a group of hypocrites who have their conscience seared in their evangelism to their teaching, their discernment and even to their personal holiness.

you clean the outside of the cup and the plate – There is here some amount of cleansing happening.

You see, the way of the hypocrite is in many ways far more perilous than the way of those who expressly reject Christ.

2 Timothy 3:13 ESV

13 while evil people and impostors will go on from bad to worse, deceiving and being deceived.

The impostor is both deceiving by his craft, and is also himself being deceived.

The pharisees in this hypocritical act of cleaning the outside and not the inside are deceiving others but are in themselves being deceived that at some point they really think that they are holy.

This is the dangerous position of the false Christian.

but inside they are full of greed and self-indulgence

The two words used here refer to the ‘act of plundering (robbery)’ and ‘lack of self-control’.

Not all hypocrites necessarily have the same sin hidden beneath their mask but you will find the common traits and patterns in all of them.

Here we are given what was hidden in the case of the Pharisees.

They were plundering both the souls and the wallets of the people they were supposed to serve in order to satisfy their greed.

John MacArthur points out that ‘Throughout history, false religious leaders have become rich and fat by fleecing those they pretend to serve. Outwardly they appear righteous, caring, and exemplary, but inwardly they are rapacious wolves.’

But notice how they are also lacking in self-control. Outwardly they are extremely controlling – they have a law for everything – but inwardly they are lawless.

[self-control -> food, phone, desires & passions]

Notice also how Jesus says that they are full of these sins on the inside. This is not some hypocritical behaviour, this is rampant hypocrisy. As high as the appearance of their piety is, so full was their hidden sin.

Matthew 23:26 ESV

26 You blind Pharisee! First clean the inside of the cup and the plate, that the outside also may be clean.

• Cleansing ought to start from the inside. Faith must first penetrate the inward part of the man.

I don’t know how you wash your cups or plates, but I always tend to start with the inside and work my way to the outside.

Here is then how you avoid hypocrisy – first clean the inside.

Every sermon, every parable, every prayer, every song, every exhortation, every testimony, every reading, each and every part of this service is meant for you to first wash your hearts before you wash your hands and your feet.

• It is spiritual blindness that ignores the inner change.

• Also, the way the sentence is structured here seems to suggest that by cleaning the inside, the outside will naturally become clean.

We know this is true because, Luke 6:45

Luke 6:45 ESV

45 The good person out of the good treasure of his heart produces good, and the evil person out of his evil treasure produces evil, for out of the abundance of the heart his mouth speaks.

And so a man cleansed on the inside will not just have an appearance of holiness on the outside, he will be holy through and through.

It might help us at this stage to consider the doctrines of general and divine revelation.

General & Divine Revelation

The Reformers articulated clearly what the early church fathers had held to in what is called the ‘general’ and the ‘divine’ revelations of God.

• The General or Natural revelation of God is the revelation of God’s glory as it is depicted by the natural world and is observable to all mankind.

Romans 1:19–20 ESV

19 For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them.
20 For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse.

This general revelation leaves mankind without excuse and for the sinner it is a damning revelation because it does not save.

As the ‘imago dei’ (images of God) every human being can recognise the glory of the divine, but that is not the same as loving and desiring the divine.

Natural revelation saves no man.

• But the divine revelation of God is the revelation that brings faith. It is the revelation that God brings from his word that convicts the individual of sin, his need for rescue, the redemption of Christ, and leads him to repentance and salvation.

Romans 10:17 ESV

17 So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ.

Ephesians 2:8–9 ESV

8 For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God,
9 not a result of works, so that no one may boast.

Psalm 19 ESV

To the choirmaster. A Psalm of David.

1 The heavens declare the glory of God, and the sky above proclaims his handiwork.
2 Day to day pours out speech, and night to night reveals knowledge.
3 There is no speech, nor are there words, whose voice is not heard.
4 Their voice goes out through all the earth, and their words to the end of the world. In them he has set a tent for the sun,
5 which comes out like a bridegroom leaving his chamber, and, like a strong man, runs its course with joy.
6 Its rising is from the end of the heavens, and its circuit to the end of them, and there is nothing hidden from its heat.
7 The law of the Lord is perfect, reviving the soul; the testimony of the Lord is sure, making wise the simple;
8 the precepts of the Lord are right, rejoicing the heart; the commandment of the Lord is pure, enlightening the eyes;
9 the fear of the Lord is clean, enduring forever; the rules of the Lord are true, and righteous altogether.
10 More to be desired are they than gold, even much fine gold; sweeter also than honey and drippings of the honeycomb.
11 Moreover, by them is your servant warned; in keeping them there is great reward.
12 Who can discern his errors? Declare me innocent from hidden faults.
13 Keep back your servant also from presumptuous sins; let them not have dominion over me! Then I shall be blameless, and innocent of great transgression.
14 Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable in your sight, O Lord, my rock and my redeemer.

• What you have in this precious Psalm is a depiction of natural and divine revelation, and David seems to distinguish the two by the words he uses to refer to God in one and in the other.

For all that the Pharisees understood, they did not possess the divine revelation of God. John 5:39-40

John 5:39–40 ESV

39 You search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; and it is they that bear witness about me,
40 yet you refuse to come to me that you may have life.

The hypocrite can read the laws and understanding something of the effect of love, grace, mercy and judgment. But what he cannot do is be captivated by them in spirit and in truth.

John 3:3–5 ESV

3 Jesus answered him, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God.”
4 Nicodemus said to him, “How can a man be born when he is old? Can he enter a second time into his mother’s womb and be born?”
5 Jesus answered, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God.

The Second Analogy

Matthew 23:27 ESV

27 “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you are like whitewashed tombs, which outwardly appear beautiful, but within are full of dead people’s bones and all uncleanness.

• In this second analogy, Jesus invokes the picture of tombs – burial sites.

John MacArthur in his commentary tells us that the Palestinian Jews had the custom of whitewashing houses, walls and particular tombs to make their communities more attractive for the Passover pilgrims.

But there was an additional reason why they did this.

According to the law, anyone who touched a grave was considered ceremonial unclean for seven days.

Numbers 19:16 ESV

16 Whoever in the open field touches someone who was killed with a sword or who died naturally, or touches a human bone or a grave, shall be unclean seven days.

So by whitewashing the tombs, travellers wouldn’t accidentally touch the tombs and inadvertently become ceremonially unclean.

• The scribes and Pharisees are like these whitewashed tombs that appear beautiful on the outside.

but within are full of dead people’s bones and all uncleanness –

If the first analogy addressed the issue of the hypocrite’s hidden sin, this one addresses the state of the hypocrite’s inner man.

And the picture is grotesque. It is the picture of darkness, of those who do not know God.

Full of the bones of the dead. Their inner man is a valley of dry bones that have no life.

This is the desolate desperate picture of that church-going, Bible-thumping, doctrinally-ecstatic, gifted professing Christian whose inner-man, whose private life does not reflect the glory of God.

Notice the use of the words ‘full of’ and ‘all’, again depicting the measure of the impurity, unholiness and death that fills the heart of the hypocrite.

• But notice also what such an analogy implies. These scribes and Pharisees were the self-appointed teachers of Israel. Matthew 23:2

Matthew 23:2 LSB

2 saying: “The scribes and the Pharisees have seated themselves in the chair of Moses;

But they are whitewashed tombs full of death and uncleanness on the inside. But they are tombs, so if anyone were to touch them or be touched by them, they would be unclean.

The unholiness of the leadership that the work of their ministry resulted in the unholiness and damnation of the people they claimed to serve.

They spiritually defiled those who touched them and those whom they touched.


Matthew 23:28 ESV

28 So you also outwardly appear righteous to others, but within you are full of hypocrisy and lawlessness.

There is an appearance of righteousness that masks a life full of hypocrisy and lawlessness.

Matthew 7:21–23 ESV

21 “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven.
22 On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?’
23 And then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.’

The Lord your God is not pleased by you calling him Lord, or by you working in the ministry, or even by you doing mighty things, if you are not as a people, a truly righteous people.

To merely recognise yourself as a sinner is to have the general revelation of God. Many unbelieving, nominal Christians agree with that confession.

But it is one thing to see it as a mere fact, and another thing to be heartbroken by your sin.

So, if these are whitewashed tombs, what are they to do? How are they to be saved?

Because there was once a traveller who stood in front of a tomb and cried out, “Lazarus, come out”.

Ezekiel 37:3–10 ESV

3 And he said to me, “Son of man, can these bones live?” And I answered, “O Lord God, you know.”
4 Then he said to me, “Prophesy over these bones, and say to them, O dry bones, hear the word of the Lord.
5 Thus says the Lord God to these bones: Behold, I will cause breath to enter you, and you shall live.
6 And I will lay sinews upon you, and will cause flesh to come upon you, and cover you with skin, and put breath in you, and you shall live, and you shall know that I am the Lord.”
7 So I prophesied as I was commanded. And as I prophesied, there was a sound, and behold, a rattling, and the bones came together, bone to its bone.
8 And I looked, and behold, there were sinews on them, and flesh had come upon them, and skin had covered them. But there was no breath in them.
9 Then he said to me, “Prophesy to the breath; prophesy, son of man, and say to the breath, Thus says the Lord God: Come from the four winds, O breath, and breathe on these slain, that they may live.”
10 So I prophesied as he commanded me, and the breath came into them, and they lived and stood on their feet, an exceedingly great army.

This is the Lord now himself who calls you out of the tomb of death to be born-again.

And this Jesus, your Lord and Saviour, did this by dying and laying himself in the tomb, and then rising again. On that Sunday, as Jesus rose, the stone was rolled away and no one has ever set it back in its place.

Because death could not keep, death cannot keep you either, you who are in Christ Jesus.

Hypocrisy is not the way of the Christian. It is the way that the Christian abandoned in the tomb when he was united with this Christ.