November 12, 2007

Trinity 23 Sermon - Matthew 22.15-22

When Jesus says, “Why do you test Me, you hypocrites?”, He is speaking to the disciples of the Pharisees. When St. Matthew puts pen to papyrus, though, the words of Jesus become a sharp javelin directed at our own hearts: “Why do you test Me, you hypocrites?”

Just what is a hypocrite? The history of the word is most interesting. Originally it meant “one who gives an answer,” and then, one who answers in dialogue, like reading a script of a play, a theatrical production. So a hypocrite is an actor, someone playing a part. Actors in the ancient world would play multiple parts in the same production, so they would wear masks. A hypocrite plays a role, wears a mask, and practices the art of illusion. It is chiefly in the Bible that hypocrisy becomes a sin. What does a hypocrite do, but act out something that is not true, is not consistent with reality? A hypocrite acts out a lie and puts on a show.

Are you a hypocrite? You want to answer, “No” – but look at yourself. Are you a Christian, or do you just play one while at church? Do you practice the art of illusion, deceiving others—or even yourself—about who you really are?

The Word of God says, “The hypocrites in heart store up wrath” [Job 36.13]; i.e., in their hearts they harbor anger, grudges, resentments, but do not deal with offenses and forgiveness the way God’s Word teaches us to. The Lord Jesus says, “You outwardly appear righteous to men, but inside you are full of hypocrisy and lawlessness.” In hypocrisy, words radically contract thought, disguising a wicked character with a show of religiosity. “Why do you test Me, you hypocrites?”

Are you a hypocrite? Yes.

But have you been baptized? What does that mean?

To be baptized is to reject and depart from every form of hypocrisy. St. Peter instructs us about what our baptism means: “Laying aside all malice, all deceit, hypocrisy, envy, and all evil speaking, as newborn babes, desire the pure milk of the word, that you may grow thereby.” To be baptized, then, leads to sincerity in its deepest sense – renouncing every form of perversity. For example, in 1 Cor. St. Paul likens this sincere, authentic Christianity with repudiating all sexual immorality, concluding: “Therefore let us keep the feast [i.e., the feast of the New Testament, the Holy Communion, the feast where we remember, celebrate, and receive the benefits of Jesus’ death and resurrection], not with the old leaven, nor with the leaven of malice and wickedness, but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth.” “Flee from sexual immorality” [1 Cor. 5.8; 6.18].

So what does a hypocrite do? The hypocrite is zealous for his neighbor’s virtue while not correcting himself [Spicq]. He is quick to point out the faults of others, but excuses, dismisses, explains away his own faults. “Hypocrite! First remove the plank from your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye” [Mt. 7.5].

Hatred is only good if it is hatred for evil; so true hatred for evil includes hating the evil in yourself. Hating the wickedness and sin within yourself makes you humble and gives you compassion for others, because you understand the weakness of the human nature and are yourself engaged in combat with it.

So do you stand here in this church singing praises to God as a hypocrite? The LORD said through Isaiah, “This people honors Me with their lips, but their hearts are far from Me.”

So “Why do you test [the LORD], you hypocrites?” Behold the Son of God, in whom there was no hypocrisy, no guile. He did not play a man, but truly became one for us and for our salvation. The image of Caesar was stamped upon the tax coin, but the Lord JESUS is the very image of God. Jesus was true God; yet Jesus as a Man rendered back to God, the Father, the things that belonged to Him.

And what did man owe to God? Obedience, where Adam the first man was disobedient; Sacrifice, to take away sin; Righteousness, where we have been unrighteous. Jesus alone rendered to God what we could not. By the obedience of Jesus, by His perfect life, by His atoning death, taxes are paid, debts remitted, sins forgiven. Your tax, your debt, your sin.

So our hope is not wrapped up in earthly kingdoms, although we must obey them and be the best citizens possible. Our hope is not in:

· the next election;

· immigration reform,

· the future of Social Security

· any earthly army, any political messiah, piece of real estate, or any earthly flag.

“Our citizenship is in heaven.” We are waiting for our Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, and our hope is entirely in the divine welfare He will provide: “He will transform our lowly body to be like His glorious body, by the power that enables Him even to subject all things to Himself.” We read those words at the graveside when we bury our dead. There, Caesar’s kingdom no longer has anything to offer or demand. There at the grave, all there is is hope in Christ Jesus, who promises us the resurrection of the body and life in His kingdom. He will surely do it.

O hypocrites, look to Jesus, who played the part you never could! Renounce your hypocrisy, confess your sins, and rejoice that God has had mercy on you.

There is Judas in all of us. There is hypocrisy in all of us. Let us mourn that hypocrisy and pray, “Lord, I believe; help Thou my unbelief. Transform my hypocrisy so that my heart matches my lips; as You fill me with Your body and blood, create in me a clean heart free from playing games and being deceitful. And at the last, transform my lowly body to be like Your glorious body, in the resurrection unto life You have promised to those who eat Your flesh and drink Your blood.”

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