Life of Christ 114
Note: This is the fifth of an eight part mini-series dealing with the errors of the Pharisees.
The fourth error with which Christ reproached the Pharisees was defiling Israel. 'Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For ye are as graves which appear not, and the men that walk over them are not aware of them' (Luke 11.44).
The the Jew, contact with a dead body was the single most defiling thing, even more so than contact with a leprous person. Consequently, in Jesus' day there was a superstitious idea that one should avoid even graves whenever possible. There were some clearly marked cemeteries, but not all Jews used them. Thus it was that some Jews were buried in the ground in obscure places, and an unwitting Jew might defile himself by unwittingly stepping onto the grave. To avoid such an error it was customary to whitewash the top of the grave so that anyone walking would know to carefully step around, and thus avoid defiling themselves.
|A Jewish cemetery in Jerusalem|
Jesus is saying here that the Pharisees were the equivalent of a dead body in a tomb, and that they had not whitewashed the top to warn people to step elsewhere. In a real sense, this was an important part of Jesus' ministry. He was whitewashing or marking the Pharisees so everybody would see that what was underneath was dead and should be avoided.
It never ceases to amaze me how God's people can be so taken in by those who claim to be ministering the truth of the Gospel. For example, the megachurches of our day are packed, from Africa to Asia to South America to North America, full of Christians (though that, too, is arguable) listening to prosperity gospel preachers proclaim their heresy. But because those men are in a church, refer to the Bible, and handle a pulpit well, the mass of the great unwashed assume they are good, sound preachers. Unwittingly, then, these Christians have defiled their entire concept of Christianity by contact with and reception of the messages that come from such ungodly and corrupt men.
The solution, in my view, is two-fold. First, the pastors of our day simply must equip their people, doctrinally, to be able to discern good and evil. We cannot simply name the names, though I’m not against that, of all erroneous preachers for those names come and go. We must teach them 'the faith', the entire body of doctrine taught in the Word of God. It isn't popular, of course, for some say it is boring and others say it is divisive. Still others say teaching doctrine isn't practical. I would beg to differ with at least the last of those three, and a good preacher can overcome the first. Doctrine is divisive, yes, and it was meant to be. That is a good thing not a bad thing. Doctrine, though accused of being impractical, is the exact opposite, and our illustration under discussion is a perfect example of it. How else can God's people know which preachers to trust and which not to trust initially but by the test of doctrine? It doesn't get much more practical than that.
Secondly, the pastor must include as part of his active ministry, an occasional whitewash to mark the graves of the spiritually dead ministries with which his people may come in contact. Yes, he will intermittently use a broad brush when a narrower one would do, and he will sometimes make other mistakes. He also must guard against the temptation to become his people's authority, and to determine for them who they do and do not listen to. But a pulpit ministry that is bereft of warning will inevitably beget a pew bereft of discernment. Sheep need protected and led. It is one of the shepherd's most important jobs.
The Pharisees were spiritually dead, and Israel was unknowingly greatly defiled by being so receptive of them. A loving and kind and bold Jesus Christ stepped up with a brush, and marked their doctrine and practice for the sepulcher that it was.