Probably the most common accusation against Christians is hypocrisy. “I don’t want to go to that church because it’s full of hypocrites.” The response could be, “Yes, and there’s always room for one more,” which would be accurate if hypocrite meant “sinner,” but it doesn’t. The church is most certainly full of sinners, every one of us, but Jesus wants no hypocrites in His Church. The word “hypocrite” comes straight from the Greek word for “actor,” and that’s what it means. A hypocrite is an actor. He’s putting on a show. He’s pretending he’s something he isn’t. He’s pretending he’s a believer. So this can’t describe a Christian. A Christian can call himself a sinner and mean it, without any acting whatsoever, because it’s simply and obviously true. And he can call himself a saint without any acting whatsoever, because God gives to those who repent and trust in Jesus the righteousness of God. The Christian doesn’t pretend, doesn’t act, isn’t a hypocrite. If he falls into hypocrisy, then he needs to repent, turn to reality, confess his sin, receive forgiveness, and live like a child of God, in truth and sincerity.
But there are many hypocrites in the outward fellowship of the Church, many people who call themselves Christians and aren’t. Many actors. And they do give a bad name to the Church. People point to them and have a point when they call them hypocrites, because they are. Our Bible lessons for this morning describe two kinds of hypocrites. Jeremiah gives us the first type, those who claim that Jesus is their Lord but then don’t even attempt to live like it: “Will you steal, murder, commit adultery, swear falsely, make offerings to Baal, and go after gods that you have not known, and then come and stand before me in this house, which is called by my name, and say, “We are delivered!” – only to go on doing all these abominations?”
That’s hypocrisy. Acting like a Christian by going to Church and then living life with no thought of Christ’s Lordship over your life. Once again, we can’t equate being a sinner with being a hypocrite. I know very well that I will sin today. I know all of you will too. You’ll get annoyed when you should be patient or you’ll have an attack of lustful feeling for someone not your spouse or you’ll forget to thank God and worry instead, or selfish anger will rise up in your soul, there’s a million ways your sinful heart can manifest its sinfulness. Being a sinner is not the same as being a hypocrite. You would be a hypocrite if you intend to go out and live like an unbeliever. If you intend to go watch porn or fornicate, because that’s just what you do, then you’re acting right now being in church, you’re pretending you want to live as a child of God and you have no intention of doing so. Or if you intend not to say prayers tonight or tomorrow or the next day, because you never say prayers, despite the fact that your God and your pastor have told you to, then you’re a hypocrite, you have no intention of living the Christian life. Or if you intend to get drunk tonight, drink to excess on purpose, even though you know your Lord says His disciples don’t do that, then you’re acting, pretending to be a Christian.
God’s constant call to His people is that we live like His people. He is abounding in forgiveness, so that even if you have been acting like a hypocrite, even if you have been intentionally sinning and living like a heathen and have just now realized that you can’t continue doing this and be a Christian, He will forgive you all your hypocrisy, He will cleanse you of every bit of it, welcome you as His child, wash you with the blood of Jesus. And when He does that, He is calling you also to stop the hypocrisy. Act like a Christian. If Jesus is your Lord, then live like it.
There is a second type of hypocrisy though, which is, if it’s possible, worse than the first. And that is acting as if you have no sin or as if your sin isn’t serious. This is what Jesus confronted in Jerusalem; it was the stand of the Pharisees and leaders of the Jews. They simply did not think they needed a Savior from sin. They were good enough for God without the cleansing of Jesus’ blood. They acted, they were hypocrites, they pretended they were righteous when they were in fact full of sinful desire and hatred against their God, who had come to visit them in Jesus Christ. St. John says, “If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us, but if we confess our sins, God, who is faithful and just, will forgive us our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness. If we say we have no sin, we make God a liar, and His word is not in us.”
So we are honest. We confess our sins, we take them seriously, and we strive to live according to our God’s commands. It is not our intent to break them. But we do, daily, and the more we try to obey, the more progress we make, the more we see how incomplete our obedience is. The holier we get, the more sinful we see we are. And this drives us again and again to the feet of our Savior, to His Church, where we are not acting when we confess, “I a poor miserable sinner,” we know it, and we want what only Jesus can give, the forgiveness which He has purchased by His death and which He now speaks through His pastor and gives in His body and His blood.
Jesus is pure sincerity. There is no acting about Him. This is what the people noticed, that He did not teach like the scribes and Pharisees. He was real. We live in a world of actors. Men acting like they are women. Women acting like they are men. Academics and politicians acting like they know what they are talking about, acting like it’s normal for men to lie with men or for hair to be purple. People acting like they are content without Jesus. It is all so embarrassing. It’s acting and it's bad acting. The Word of God shines a light on it all and reveals it for what it is – vanity, vanity, all is vanity.
But Jesus is pure sincerity and truth. He does not know how to act except as He is, and He is the Creator and the Savior. If Jerusalem will not weep for her sins, Jesus will. If men act as if they have no sin, Jesus will shed His blood for a sin that He refuses to ignore. If men want to act today as if our nation will continue forever and will not be punished for rejecting God, Jesus points to the reality, to the destruction of Jerusalem, as the archetype, the example for what happens to every nation that rejects God and persecutes His people.
There is only one Kingdom that endures forever. God has raised up countless earthly kingdoms. He called Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon His servant, He says He chose Cyrus the Great of Persia, He raised up Alexander the Great, He lifted Rome to her heights, and every single one of them He made to fall. The image He gives in Daniel is of a statue, with a head of gold, shoulders and chest of silver, waist of bronze, and legs and feet of iron and clay. And suddenly a Rock comes and destroys them all, so that they become life chaff, dust blown away, but the Rock grows and grows and covers all the earth as a Mountain and lasts forever. And that is the Kingdom of Christ.
His is the Kingdom and He is the King to whom we devote ourselves in sincerity and truth. Jesus wept over Jerusalem, He cleansed the Temple that He knew would soon be destroyed, He taught the people He knew would reject Him. He did it with complete sincerity, because He loved them. How much more will He care for us, His Church, His own Bride, His Kingdom that will never pass away? We have a twofold certainty here. First, Jesus died for all, even those who would reject Him. All includes all, His love is universal, see it as He weeps over His enemies and loves them. Second, He teaches His Word to us here in His Church. He comes to us specifically. Baptizes us, puts His name on us, instructs us, forgives us, gives us His Spirit, feeds us with His own body and blood. This is the Kingdom that lasts forever, the Kingdom that has spread to all nations and that rises to heaven. The Temple in which He taught was destroyed. But He is the Temple that remains forever, and we in Him, as we cling to His every Word. Amen.