Rev. Dr. Niveen Sarras
Isaiah 58 and Matthew 5:12-16… Hypocrisy
February 9, 2020
In 1999, I attended Bethlehem Bible College immediately after finishing high school. This school is very conservative evangelical in which they interpreted Scripture literally. All professors, staff, and president watched students closely. They wanted to make sure to follow the college’s teachings and rules. For example, a male and a female student should not be together alone. We had to be always in a group. We were not allowed to listen to music except hymns. We were not allowed to watch TV or to play cards, or drink alcohol, and more and more rules. One of the professors criticized harshly, my female colleague, who was abused by her husband and dared to ask for a divorce. The president was extra strict. He always preached to us to help the poor, to be kind to one another, and to avoid the pleasure of this world. He encouraged students to live simply. He gave students and me the impression that he lived a Christian life.
One day, his son got married. He had a lavish wedding party in the most expensive hotel in Bethlehem. The food and alcohol were classy. Some of the food and drink were imported. In Palestinian tradition, parents help their sons with wedding expenses. The wedding was extravagant to the point that people of Bethlehem criticized him. One day, I went to college and I saw graffiti in the school restrooms and classrooms criticizing the president for his son’s lavish wedding. For the people of Bethlehem, the problem was not with the extravagant wedding itself but with the president's hypocrisy. He pointed out his finger at Christians who did not follow his understanding of Christianity and forgot about his false piety.
Hypocrisy is a sin. All of us are not immune to this sin. Scripture is full of examples of hypocrites. Jesus and the prophets accused the religious leaders of religious hypocrisy. Isaiah 58 accuses the worshipers of hypocrisy. They sing to the Lord, fast, wear sackcloth and put ashes to show their piety and at the same time, “oppress all their workers, and fast only to quarrel and to fight and to strike with a wicked fist” (v.4). The apostle Paul in his letter to the First Corinthians criticizes some Christians who regard themselves as morally and spiritually superior to other Christians. This is also considered hypocrisy.
What does hypocrisy mean? The word hypocrites come from the Greek “hupokrites.” It literally means “the one who wears a mask.”(Hypocrisy in the church,). Hypocrites wear masks that look nice from the outside, but the mask hid their sins . Hypocrites’ attitudes emphasized external performance rather than inward purity. Isaiah criticizes the hypocrites of focusing on their tradition and rules instead of helping the oppressed and the hungry. These hypocrites were wondering why God did not listen to their loud voice.
We are saved by grace through faith. Our deeds do not save us. However, lots of Christians like to create rules and legalism. Some Christians favor their traditions that is “human made” traditions over the teaching of Scripture. I have two examples:
- Worship and music style.
- Order of worship service. Thou shalt not change any items in the order of worship.
- Alter and candles, and of course the way we do Holy Communion and Baptism. What if I baptize a child by immersing them in water instead of pouring water over their heads?
Christian hypocrites know they are unable to follow their rules, but they expect other Christians to follow these rules and traditions. Hypocrite Christians are concerned with being pure from the outside. They are concerned with the way others perceive them. I met many hypocrites who like to talk about their good deeds. They want people to praise them for their work. They are serving the Lord by going to church and involving in different ministries to gain a good reputation instead of serving the Lord for the sake of the Lord himself. Our Lord Jesus says in verse 16, “let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven.” Jesus does not say so that they may see your good works and give you glory. The purpose of our good deeds must be for the glory of God not for our glory. Unfortunately, these hypocrites have selfish desires. They concern about their own interest and overlook the need of their neighbors. Their good deeds are deceitful. They show that they care about the sick and the poor, but in reality, they are concerned with their reputation.
Our Lord Jesus commands us to be the salt of the earth and the light of the world (Matthew 5:13-14, 16). Hypocrites cannot be salt and light. Their holy mask stands between them and the light of Christ.
The light of Christ can break through the mask and dispel the darkness. When we open our hearts to receive the light of Christ, the mask will fall. Our sin makes our mask stronger and difficult to destroy; therefore, we need Jesus Christ to rip the mask away. When we live in darkness, God does not hear our songs of praise and prayer. Isaiah tells the Israelites that God did not listen to their prayers or notice their fast because they live in darkness. But when they repent, God would hear their prayers. When we become the salt of the earth and the light of the world, the Lord will be glorified, and we will attract more people to church. Isaiah teaches
[If you remove the yoke from among you, the pointing of the finger, the speaking of evil, 10 if you offer your food to the hungry and satisfy the needs of the afflicted, then your light shall rise in the darkness and your gloom be like the noonday. 11 The Lord will guide you continually, and satisfy your needs in parched places, and make your bones strong; and you shall be like a watered garden, like a spring of water, whose waters never fail. 12 Your ancient ruins shall be rebuilt; you shall raise up the foundations of many generations; you shall be called the repairer of the breach, the restorer of streets to live in.] (Isaiah 58).