Beware the leaven of the Pharisees

He who refuses to repent is not forgiven. The Scriptures teach us this. Thus the importance of warning the unbeliever (and the falsely assured) of his danger and urging him to repent.

Is hypocrisy any different from other sins, then? In one sense, hypocrisy is the same as any other sin, because every sin is an offense against God, and we must repent or face the judgment of God on that Day.

But there is a sense in which hypocrisy is different from other sins.

Jesus was a friend of sinners — adulterers, idolaters, thieves, swindlers, the immoral, the unclean. For the repentant He had only gentle words, words of forgiveness, reconciliation, and gentle exhortation.

But for hypocrites there there was little of this gentleness. With these Jesus was hard. So hard that we turn a blind eye to it, refusing to see it in the Scriptures. When we are forced to see it, we turn away in embarrassment, confusion, or anger, not understanding how Christ could act so unchristlike, unwilling to understand the Scriptures and rejecting their claim on us. This is a side of Jesus that we never learn about in Sunday School. This is a part of the character of the perfect Lamb of God that we reject as unclean.

1. Jesus’ way with hypocrites: John 6

An extended example of Jesus’ way with hypocrites is in John 6.

1.1. Seeking bread but rejecting the Bread

After the feeding of the five thousand, the crowd was going to try to make Jesus king by force, so Jesus withdrew to a mountain alone (v. 15). The next day the crowd comes across the lake seeking Jesus. That’s where we pick up the Scripture:

25When they found Him on the other side of the sea, they said to Him, “Rabbi, when did You get here?” 26Jesus answered them and said, “Truly, truly, I say to you, you seek Me, not because you saw signs, but because you ate of the loaves and were filled. 27“Do not work for the food which perishes, but for the food which endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man will give to you, for on Him the Father, God, has set His seal.”

The first thing Jesus does is rebuke them. “You’re seeking me not because you believe but because you got your bellies filled.”

28Therefore they said to Him, “What shall we do, so that we may work the works of God?” 29Jesus answered and said to them, “This is the work of God, that you believe in Him whom He has sent.”

Well, this looks promising: They ask Him what they should do, and Jesus tells them, “Believe.”

1.2. Can you top Moses?

Right away, though, we start to see that something isn’t right:

30So they said to Him, “What then do You do for a sign, so that we may see, and believe You? What work do You perform? 31“Our fathers ate the manna in the wilderness; as it is written, ‘HE GAVE THEM BREAD OUT OF HEAVEN TO EAT.'”

Wait a second: Jesus just fed five thousand men (not even counting women and children) from five loaves of bread and two fishes, yet they want an additional sign? They seem to be saying, “Ok, you gave us bread on the ground, but Moses gave them bread out of heaven. If you top that, we’ll believe.”

But Jesus does not need to perform an additional sign: it is His Father, not Moses who gives the true bread out of heaven:

32Jesus then said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, it is not Moses who has given you the bread out of heaven, but it is My Father who gives you the true bread out of heaven. 33“For the bread of God is that which comes down out of heaven, and gives life to the world.”

1.3. Cool, we’ll take that bread then

Like the Samaritan woman, now they’re interested — though they still do not believe:

34Then they said to Him, “Lord, always give us this bread.”

It was great to be fed by Jesus, but it was inconvenient to have to come out to see Him to get it. Wouldn’t it be great if we could get that bread all the time without the inconvenience of having to follow Him? It would be like a magic remote control bread machine that doesn’t require gathering any ingredients!

Jesus reveals that you can’t have the bread without having Him, gives the promise that pertains to those who believe, and rebukes them again for their unbelief:

35Jesus said to them, “I am the bread of life; he who comes to Me will not hunger, and he who believes in Me will never thirst. 36“But I said to you that you have seen Me, and yet do not believe.

1.4. The offense of the necessity of faith

Jesus has just declared, “I am the bread of life”. Now He sharpens the point by declaring that He has come down out of heaven, and gives the promise in more detail:

37“All that the Father gives Me will come to Me, and the one who comes to Me I will certainly not cast out. 38“For I have come down from heaven, not to do My own will, but the will of Him who sent Me. 39“This is the will of Him who sent Me, that of all that He has given Me I lose nothing, but raise it up on the last day. 40“For this is the will of My Father, that everyone who beholds the Son and believes in Him will have eternal life, and I Myself will raise him up on the last day.”

The Jews won’t have any of it. It’s patently obvious that Jesus did not come down out of heaven:

41Therefore the Jews were grumbling about Him, because He said, “I am the bread that came down out of heaven.” 42They were saying, “Is not this Jesus, the son of Joseph, whose father and mother we know? How does He now say, ‘I have come down out of heaven’?”

Gives us pause, doesn’t it, for the many times when we have read the Word of God and said in our hearts, “This is nonsense!” What about Leviathan, or Jesus saying not to store up treasures here on earth, or that all who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus will be persecuted, or that God has hands. The Lord rebuke us for our unbelief.

1.5. Patient teaching

Jesus steps back for a moment and patiently teaches again how salvation works. The Jews want the Father without Jesus, but Jesus explains that you can’t have the Father without coming to Jesus:

43Jesus answered and said to them, “Do not grumble among yourselves. 44“No one can come to Me unless the Father who sent Me draws him; and I will raise him up on the last day. 45“It is written in the prophets, ‘AND THEY SHALL ALL BE TAUGHT OF GOD.’ Everyone who has heard and learned from the Father, comes to Me. 46“Not that anyone has seen the Father, except the One who is from God; He has seen the Father. 47“Truly, truly, I say to you, he who believes has eternal life.

1.6. The disturbing offense of being given His flesh to eat

Indeed, there’s no life without Him, Jesus continues. And that’s where we would stop. But Jesus doesn’t stop:

48“I am the bread of life. 49“Your fathers ate the manna in the wilderness, and they died. 50“This is the bread which comes down out of heaven, so that one may eat of it and not die. 51“I am the living bread that came down out of heaven; if anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever; and the bread also which I will give for the life of the world is My flesh.”

Notice the progression:
Jesus gives them bread, but they will not believe. He teaches that He is the bread of heaven, and they are offended. So now does He draw back? Far from it. He plunges the Sword of the Spirit ever deeper, just in the spot that hurts most: Not only is He the bread that came down from heaven, but this bread is His flesh.

Well that’s just raunchy, say the Jews:

52Then the Jews began to argue with one another, saying, “How can this man give us His flesh to eat?”

1.7. AND blood to drink??!

Is Jesus a madman? How can He continue? Yet He presses the Sword of the Spirit still deeper: you must eat His flesh AND drink His blood. Over and over He says this:

53So Jesus said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink His blood, you have no life in yourselves. 54“He who eats My flesh and drinks My blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day. 55“For My flesh is true food, and My blood is true drink. 56“He who eats My flesh and drinks My blood abides in Me, and I in him. 57“As the living Father sent Me, and I live because of the Father, so he who eats Me, he also will live because of Me. 58“This is the bread which came down out of heaven; not as the fathers ate and died; he who eats this bread will live forever.” 59These things He said in the synagogue as He taught in Capernaum.

1.8. A division

At this point a visible division occurs between those who accept the Word of God and those who reject it:

66As a result of this many of His disciples withdrew and were not walking with Him anymore.

The Twelve, however, remain.

2. Faith, obedience, and hypocrisy

How could Jesus treat His disciples this way? Wasn’t it unkind, even hateful, to be so pointed with the other disciples so that they stopped following Him? Or at least wasn’t it unhelpful, poor strategy, for Him to alienate so many at this time? Wouldn’t it have been better to be more gentle and avoid causing a division, so that at least these men and women would still be following Him, hearing His words from day to day? Maybe they would pick up something that would help them, or maybe eventually they would come to the truth. Why has Jesus driven them away?

It turns out that Jesus is not interested in having followers who say ‘Lord, Lord’ but do not do what He says. Such a man looks like a follower of Jesus, but he does not obey, he does not bend the knee — because he has no faith. Such a man is a hypocrite.

2.1. The leaven of the Pharisees

Not only a hypocrite’s own soul but all those around him are in special danger.

When an ordinary sinner hears the warning of the wrath and judgment of God on his sin, he fears and repents, flying to the cross for his salvation. Or at least he understands that he should.

But the hypocrite hears such warnings and thinks, these don’t apply to me! The hypocrite says, “I am a follower of Christ” but refuses to submit to His teachings. Unless he repents, he will not be saved. And he will lead those around him to hell too:

“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites, because you travel around on sea and land to make one proselyte; and when he becomes one, you make him twice as much a son of hell as yourselves.
-Matthew 23:15

And

“Beware of the leaven of the Pharisees, which is hypocrisy.”
-Luke 12:1

A little leaven works through the whole lump. Hypocrisy must be exposed and rooted out, down to the last bit, because it taints, poisons, and destroys.

2.2. How to love a hypocrite

Ordinary calls to repentance aren’t enough for the hypocrite, who has trained himself to ignore them on principle. Over and over again in the Scriptures we see that God’s love to the hypocrite involves getting in his face, confronting him with his sin, purposely giving offense, ripping off the veneer of respectability and calling to repentance. Every faithful prophet of the Lord did this.

A purposeful, pointed giving of offense does two things:

First, it makes it impossible for the hypocrite to continue to live in this of complacent disobedience — either he will humble himself and repent, or he will be outed for what he already was, an enemy of the Lord.

Second, the hypocrite appears to be a model of holiness and he is always drawing other sheep into his hypocrisy, for he teaches it by word and by example. Giving offense protects the other sheep from being drawn away into his hypocrisy, for its seductively appealing winsomeness is ripped away, exposing it for the rank rebellion it is. But have the sheep been taught to judge right from wrong by the Scriptures? Have they learned to reject the false and love the truth?

2.3. Hypocrisy and missions

This is why it is not sufficient to teach the nations about “love” and “Jesus”. We must make disciples, teaching them to obey everything He has commanded us.

Otherwise we would be better off to stay home.

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