Friday, November 1, 2013

Whitewashed Tombs and Snow Covered Dung

"Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you clean the outside of the cup and of the plate, but inside they are full of greed and self-indulgence. You blind Pharisees! 

First clean the inside of the cup, so that the outside also may become clean.

Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you are like whitewashed tombs, which on the outside look beautiful, but inside they are full of the bones of the dead and of all kinds of filth. So you also on the outside look righteous to others, but inside you are full of hypocrisy and lawlessness." Matthew 23: 25- 28

Whitewashed Tombs

In the context of these famous seven "woes" of Matthew 23, Christ also calls the scribes and Pharisees snakes, children of hell, blind guides, fools, murderers,  vipers! He compared them to whitewashed tomb which means they are nicely decorated dead people who are putrefying and fetid. 

Our Lord is not pleased with these men. I doubt Christ is dealing in hyperbole in the passages above. When the Son of God calls you filthy, lawless and a hypocrite, you can assume it is not an exaggeration; you are truly corrupt. 

Yet, the Pharisees were not outsiders like gentiles or unbelievers. They were the leaders of His covenant! These men didn't sneak into authority without God's knowledge. They had been deliberately anointed Hebrew leaders as part of God's requirements. They were men of the circumcision, set apart and consecrated as Israel's authorities. 

St. John Chrysostom wrote of the moral fall of these great men in whom the Holy Spirit had worked, "What mournings and lamentations does this call for when the members of Christ have become a tomb of uncleanness?" (Homily 73 on Matthew, section 3.) 

And do not forget that Jesus considered these same scribes and Pharisees, even with such corruption, legitimate leaders. For in the first verses of chapter 23 He tells the crowds, "You must obey them [Pharisees] and do whatever they tell you.

These were God's chosen men. They were His. And yet, their hearts were dark and filthy. 

Much like today...

Fast forward for a moment to the Reformation. 

Dr. Martin Luther, like Jesus and His disciples, often used earthy comparisons. 

Luther's followers credit their leader with the theological teaching that believers are snow-covered dunghills.  God imputes His righteousness to us and our sins are covered by Christ's merits. Because of the Cross, our facade appears clean to God even when sins reign in our body.

Imputed righteousness is the interpretation that the reformers came to when they read Paul's own personal "woes" in Romans 7. The apostle laments:
"I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate....  It is the sin that dwells in me.... nothing good dwells in my flesh! (I can hear Paul yell, "I am a dunghill!") I can will what is right, but I cannot do it. For I do not do the good I want but the evil I do not want is what I do...
For I delight in the law of God in my inmost self, but I see in my members another law at war with the law of my mind, making me captive to the law of sin that dwells in my members. Oh wretched man that I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death?" 

Paul, the best of the Pharisees, saw himself just as Christ saw the Pharisees (and many Christians today see themselves): whitewashed tombs, hypocrites, snow-covered dunghills. 

Yet as similar as the metaphors of whitewashed tombs and snow-covered dunghills are, Christ and Luther dealt with them quite differently. 

Martin Luther assumed sin was an irreversible condition of fallen man. And the very best that could be achieved is a nice, clean spiritual facade so that God can't see your wickedness for He sees Jesus in your place. All Christians can ever expect on this earth is a snow-covered dunghill or a whitewashed tomb.

But did Christ agree with that?

Christ admitted that the Pharisees looked good from the outside. Their dunghills were absolutely covered by snow. But that cleaned up outer shell wasn't a gift of grace. Christ called that hypocrisy, not imputed righteousness.

Yet before the Cross, before the full outpouring of Grace and the Holy Spirit, Jesus chastised the Old Covenant leaders for their inability to become internally holy. Jesus did not show understanding for the Pharisees' weakness nor sympathy for being enslaved in sin. He publicly exposed their prideful motives. There is nothing about unmerited grace being applied to their account because of faith apart from their works. He did not remind them that His righteousness was credited to them, so they would feel no condemnation. And they certainly did feel condemned by His words. 

Jesus said to clean the inside first! Christ doesn't cover your wickedness with snow to make the dunghill acceptable. We are to tackle the inside, the underneath, first.

I realize some will say, yes, but their whitewash was their own works and the snow is God's works. One is the righteousness of man and one is God's. But Christ's words were clear. When you cover up your wickedness and you have nothing but a symbolic facade of holiness, you are a hypocrite. There needs to be something real to your sanctification. 

But, some Christians will ask, after Paul's rant in Romans 7, how can he glory in Romans 8: 1 that states, "There is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus?" Is Paul thrilled that the struggle he has with sin is no longer necessary? Is he now going to rest as a hypocrite and a whitewashed tomb? 

No! For the apostle tells us that we have been set free from the law of sin and death! Not simply a symbolic or legal freedom, but the life of the Spirit brought to us through Christ's fulfillment of the law and our flesh is dead to sin when Christ is in us.  His life gives life to our mortal bodies. 

Clean yourselves through and through. Do not allow yourselves to be only clean on the outside. Do not have a false facade of righteousness. Be truly righteous both inside and out--not a superficial cleaning on the outside. 

Christ never called us to dung-hillness, but as is written, "as He who called you holy, be holy yourselves in all your conduct... You shall be holy, for I am holy."

Be more than just whitewashed tombs or snow-covered dunghills. God is calling us to sainthood. 

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