Summary: "The Great Pretenders" sermon is part of the Sermon on the Mount series talking about the hypocrisy of the Pharisees and how they were acting out the part in their giving of alms, prayer and fasting.
Sermon on the Mount
“The Great Pretenders”
A father complained about the amount of time his family spent in front of the television set. His children watched cartoons and neglected their schoolwork. His wife preferred soap operas to doing housework. His solution was that as soon as baseball season was over he was going to pull the plug.
A husband and wife were discussing the possibility of taking a trip to Israel. The husband said, “Wouldn’t it be fantastic to go to the Holy Land and shout the Ten Commandments from Mount Sinai?” The wife replied, “It’d be better if we stayed at home and kept them.”
Tonight I’d like to look at the Jesus’ message to the Great Pretenders.
Read Matthew 6:1-6
At first this section may seem to contradict an earlier teaching where Jesus said, “Let your light shine before men, that they may see your good works and glorify your Father in heaven.” (Matthew 5:16)
What we see are some glaring similarities. Both speak of doing good works, and doing them before others. But Jesus earlier remark makes this a command; while in our text tonight He prohibits it. Is Jesus contradicting Himself?
Not at all! In our text Jesus is prohibiting religious devotion that’s done publically for self-glorification, whereas in His previous statement He commands good works be done so that God will be glorified.
What Jesus is saying is that everything we do is suppose to give God glory, not ourselves. It’s to call attention to God and His kingdom, not to call attention to ourselves.
Jesus is re-iterating a common theme, that is, remembering what our real motivation is. He’s dealing with the hidden thoughts of our hearts. Jesus is more concerned with the motivation behind the deed than He is in the deed itself.
It’s not about what the hand’s doing; rather it’s about what the heart’s thinking while the hand’s doing.
Throughout the gospels there seems to be an enormous appetite on the part of the Pharisees for public recognition.
“They love the best places at feasts, the best seats in the synagogues, greetings in the marketplaces, and to be called by men, ‘Rabbi, Rabbi.’” (Matthew 23:6-7 NKJV)
After they tried to kill Him for blasphemy, Jesus asked,
“How can you believe, who receive honor from one another, and do not seek the honor that comes from the only God?” (John 5:44 NKJV)
Later John commented that the reason they didn’t believe is because they feared losing the prestige and honor within the synagogue.
“For they loved the praise of men more than the praise of God.” (John 12:43 NKJV)
And while it’s easy to criticize the Pharisees, the reality is they’re no different than we are. We all desire to be noticed, valued, and feel important. But what Jesus is speaking against is letting this desire transcend into our devotion to God. The Pharisees were turning their religious devotion toward God into a public performance.
In our text this is seen in two ways.
First is Jesus calling them hypocrites. The Greek term “hypocrite” was used to describe an actor. In Greek plays the actor would wear a variety of masks to portray different emotions. In essence they were hiding who they really were behind a mask, pretending to be someone they were not.
Actors no longer wear masks, but in movies and plays they do the same thing. They become someone other than who they really are in real life. And while this may be good for the movies, it’s deplorable in real life.
So by calling them hypocrites Jesus was saying that by their actions they were assuming false identities. They were making themselves into something they were not.
The second way is seen in the verb, “to be seen.” They wanted to be seen by all those around them. The Greek word is where we get our word, “theater.” These Pharisees were then like actors giving a performance upon a stage.
And they played these roles so well they even began to deceive even themselves.
Once we begin with a lie it kind of perpetuates itself until we perceive it as truth. They became so deceived they actually believed they were acting in God’s best interest. But in reality they were practice these deeds for men, not God.
They are pretenders, hiding behind masks of religious devotion so that no one would see them for who they truly are.
But it goes beyond mere acting, because of what they were doing. They were taking real devotions, like giving, prayer, and fasting and turning them into a theatrical performance. It’s as if these devotions had lost their meaning and power for the sole purpose of making these guys look good.
It’s easy to poke fun at these Pharisees, but Christian hypocrisy is not so funny. It’s being someone else every Sunday. Unfortunately Christian hypocrisy is one of the biggest excuses people use not to attend church or accept Jesus Christ.