Woe to You Pharisees Part 3 – Unmarked Graves and White-washed Tombs
Opening Thoughts: When I was in high school someone played a trick on me, they grabbed a quarter and placed it on a white piece of paper, then they took a pencil and drew around the quarter with the pencil making a nice quarter size circle. They then told me that I was to place the quarter in one of my eye sockets and squeeze down on it to hold it there, while at the same time looking at the paper with my other eye, and with my face over the circle I was to try and drop the quarter into the hole perfectly. I was told it could be done and there were people out there who had been able to do it. Of course each time I tried I missed the circle and every time I missed the circle the guy playing the trick on me would take the quarter and draw another circle on the page. After several dozen circles and the same amount of tries I gave up stating that it was an impossibility. I doubted in my mind that anyone had ever done it before and that it must be some kind of joke. Turns out that every time they drew a circle around the quarter lead from the pencil went into the ridges around the quarter, and every time I placed it in my eye socket well you get the picture, it looked like I had two black eyes. I walked around for about 10 minutes with every student asking me where I picked up the shiners. It wasn’t until I looked into the mirror that I realized how dirty I was and in need of a good face wash. You see no one could ever hit those circles and the guys that were trying to make me do it made a mess and a mockery of me.
Luke 11:44 ESV … Woe to you! For you are like unmarked graves, and people walk over them without knowing it.”
Unmarked Graves: So what’s the BIG deal about an unmarked grave, I mean, haven’t you ever been to the cemetery and all of a sudden you looked down to realize you were standing on a very old grave that was poorly marked? I have. Was Jesus saying that this was disrespectful or what was He getting at? Why was he referring to the Pharisees as unmarked graves that people unknowingly walk over and what was the danger for the people who walked on them? Under the law anyone who touched a grave or tomb or human bone was immediately unclean, they were instantly enrolled in a cleansing process that took seven whole days. Part of the procedure was to sacrifice a burnt offering to the Lord, they would then need another CLEAN person (someone who had not been contaminated) and that person would take fresh water from a basin along with a hyssop branch and sprinkle it over everything that the unclean person touched. They would do this for several days and on the seventh day the unclean person themselves would have to sprinkle themselves, wash their own clothes, then take a bath. No matter how you slice it this was an intense process but nonetheless a serious requirement by the law for cleansing. The consequence for not being cleansed was that you would remain unclean and everything you touched would become unclean as well. Read the passage below:
Numbers 19:14-22 ESV …. “This is the law when someone dies in a tent: everyone who comes into the tent and everyone who is in the tent shall be unclean seven days. And every open vessel that has no cover fastened on it is unclean. Whoever in the open field touches someone who was killed with a sword or who died naturally, or touches a human bone or a grave, shall be unclean seven days. For the unclean they shall take some ashes of the burnt sin offering, and fresh water shall be added in a vessel. Then a clean person shall take hyssop and dip it in the water and sprinkle it on the tent and on all the furnishings and on the persons who were there and on whoever touched the bone, or the slain or the dead or the grave. And the clean person shall sprinkle it on the unclean on the third day and on the seventh day. Thus on the seventh day he shall cleanse him, and he shall wash his clothes and bathe himself in water, and at evening he shall be clean. “If the man who is unclean does not cleanse himself, that person shall be cut off from the midst of the assembly, since he has defiled the sanctuary of the LORD. Because the water for impurity has not been thrown on him, he is unclean. And it shall be a statute forever for them. The one who sprinkles the water for impurity shall wash his clothes, and the one who touches the water for impurity shall be unclean until evening. And whatever the unclean person touches shall be unclean, and anyone who touches it shall be unclean until evening.”
White Washed Tombs: If you or I happen to be walking through a cemetery and accidentally step on an unmarked grave it’s no big deal but if the Jews did this it was like, “Are you kidding me?! I just stepped on a grave, there goes all my plans for the week!” It was a week of isolation and rituals just to be cleansed from this accident. I’m guessing there wasn’t that many trips to the cemetery to visit the graves of relatives back then, it was far too risky.. Can you imagine? “Dad, Johnny touched the grave again!” This was the very reason that in Jesus time all the graves would be white-washed. The white-washing of a tomb wasn’t just to make it look pretty, it was so it would stand out so that you wouldn’t accidentally walk over it, step on it or bump into it.
Matthew 23:27-28 ESV … “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you are like whitewashed tombs, which outwardly appear beautiful, but within are full of dead people’s bones and all uncleanness. So you also outwardly appear righteous to others, but within you are full of hypocrisy and lawlessness.
False Religion and Hypocrisy: By calling the Pharisees “unmarked graves” Jesus meant that the people who followed them would unknowingly remain unclean and defiled. That’s the deception of a false teacher, they don’t come out with signs on their head that read “Bad guy” or “Wolf”, it just doesn’t happen. They will many times preach 80% truth but as we know 80% truth is a whole lie! The Pharisees would weigh people down with extra-Biblical commands, extra duties, etc. They would look down on people for being a mess and missing the mark yet they themselves were filled with lawlessness. I was once in that boat, I appeared righteous to OTHERS on the outside, but inside I was full of dead men’s bones. Sadly there are many people today who follow a gospel that depends on their own efforts to clean up and to obey the commands but this is dangerous theology which draws little circles on pieces of paper for you and tells you to hit the MARK. Every time you try you keep getting messier and messier. Men are bound up in porn and are told that all they need is ‘more accountability’, women struggle with the pride of self complex issues and are encouraged to have a better self esteem and to believe in themselves. Every time we miss the MARK someone creates more circles for us, so we try and hit those ones, the more we try the more we fail and the messier we get. Jesus was calling the Pharisees names because they fit, people viewed them as good teachers (beautiful looking tombs) yet every time they opened their mouths they made people unclean just like an unmarked grave.
The Cure is the Conclusion: God is Just, Holy and Good. He will one day come back and rid the world of its sin and sinners. All those who tried to clean up their own lives, tried to quit sinning, tried to be good little Christians, tried to stop lusting, tried to have more self confidence and the works did nothing more than make themselves more filthy and more worthy of punishment. Why? Because the law of God shows us that we can never hit the circle on the paper nor have we ever been able to. We don’t need to try harder, pray louder, quieter, longer or shorter. Going on a missions trip won’t free you, joining a cell group, home group or community group won’t even do it. Belonging to 15 accountability groups, leading an accountability group or securing your internet with a net-nanny won’t hold you back from smut. Hanging out with positive speaking people, reading positive magazines, books or even memorizing every Psalm in the Bible won’t rid you of the inverted pride, which is a twisted self complex. Neither preaching, teaching, nor will singing worship sustain you, even if you fill your life with every imaginable church activity the only thing you’ve done is given yourself less time to sin, but the moment you have a few moments alone, bam .. you fall. No, we don’t need behaviour modification, we desperately need to see our sin in the light of God’s holiness which is revealed through His law. This produces godly sorrow, true repentance and salvation that comes from the Holy Spirit of God taking up residence inside of your very being. Jesus is that clean person that the law requires to cleanse you with Hyssop. He’s the fresh water in the bowl and He’s both the blood and ashes from the burnt offering. He’s the only cure. If you have been trusting in your own efforts to quit the sins you love, STOP! Don’t allow anyone else to draw more circles for you. Simply fall at the foot of the cross and plead guilty and beg for new LIFE!
Preparing The Way
~ Shane Martin