A White-washed Sepulcher is Still a Sepulcher

I have recently become reconnected to a childhood friend (thanks to Facebook) which has become instrumental in bringing to light and correcting a long hidden misconception in thinking. It is amazing how God can still teach an old dog new tricks (sometimes daily). It is this transformation by the renewing of the mind that allows us to prove what is that good, acceptable and perfect will of our Father (Rom. 12:2).

My memories of my friend have always been good and wholesome, in fact probably overly wholesome. My memories have always led me to believe that he lived in a perfect home, with a perfect family and that he always did the right things and was a “good person”. I have never been aware of any wrong behaviors or actions. He was and has remained a “good guy” in my mind.

These are major misconceptions brought on by our faulty perceptions and evaluations looking on the outside. Yet we all do it. We look on the outside and think we know some things. I can say with certainty now that he did not live in a perfect home, did not have a perfect family nor was he or is he good. For there is none good but God.

Yet we do this all the time. We look on the outside and judge a person or a matter by our own reason. My friend and I became acquainted in grade school and I remember going to his home on “the other side of town”, which, by the way, was “the good side of town”. Sadly, when we began our Middle School years we went different directions thanks to the bussing and desegregation laws of the early 70’s.

That was tragic and traumatic, being bussed to the other side of town, “the bad side of town”, and losing touch with a good friend in the transaction. Yet I always remembered Mark and our brief friendship.

More tragic than that I went through some major changes quickly. My parents became divorced (they fought continually, even physically) and my world of security, what little I managed to hold to, was destroyed. It was a very, very difficult time for me. I was very sensitive and this crushed me, particularly the loss of a relationship with my father who remained absent for the next five years (ages 12-17) of my life.

To put it lightly, I went to the “Dark Side” to find comfort and solace. It’s amazing how our enemy always wants to present himself as our comforter in our pains. It seems like that is supposed to be Another’s place. Anyway, I got myself way off track from the innocence I had shared with my friend in grade school. In fact so much so that when we were brought together once again in high school years we never reconnected.

I realized that I had become a different person, a person defined by the culture as a “bad” person while he remained a “good” person in my eyes. We definitely ran in different circles.

Now, just in the last few weeks we have reconnected thanks to the internet and Facebook. I am excited to learn that he has become a pastor in the area of central Florida and that he too writes and posts to a blog with a spiritual message. So here is where the story begins that brought the hammers to my strongholds.

He visited my blog and I visited his. He sent me a comment stating, “It would have been cool to have known as friends in 4th grade that we would be writing about God stuff many, many years later.” To which I replied, “I am not so surprised to see you writing about God, but I am surprised to find myself there. I think it would have surprised God too if that were possible. ;).”

Now here is the question that sent me soul-searching and discovering a big fat stronghold right in the middle of my thinking. He replied: “What evidence was there that I might someday write about God? I guess I reflect on my high school and college days and my faith is a surprise. But when I was younger? Thats kinda fuzzy. Fill me in.”

So what was it that made me think he was an easy prospect for writing about God and I was not? It was this business of looking on the outside. I made a judgment, a religious judgment based on what I perceived on the outside. I equated what looked like peace, contentment, happiness and loving family bonding as righteousness. I saw these flowing robes and assumed that because they were white that what was within them was white too.

If you are honest, I think you will admit that you might do this too. When you see a family that is smiling, happy, functional and friendly towards one another it is easy to assume that they know God and are probably “good people”. This is the trap of Religion — the idol of external goodness.

And let me tell you it works. It works very well. It remains the greatest threat to the Real Kingdom. It is a parallel kingdom that sits alongside the true Church and entices those who want to be righteous to find out how to get their own robes and wear them prominently.

I hope that this revelation for me has been a benefit to you. I had placed my friend and his family in a place of righteousness (albeit by works and external measuring sticks) and my own family in a place of unrighteousness. Both are wrong. That is looking on the outside (religion). God looks on the heart (relationship) to determine righteousness.

Now we can better understand the statements that Jesus made concerning the Pharisees.

“For I say unto you, That except your righteousness shall exceed the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees, ye shall in no case enter into the kingdom of heaven.” Matt. 5:20.

This appears to be a commendation of their righteousness, but it is not. It is a condemnation of the of type of righteousness which was built on external observance and religious ritualistic traditions of men (sound familiar?). He is saying that the Pharisees have a righteousness which is contrived by their religious practices and not an internal righteousness which is by faith in Christ.

This is why he in another transaction says, “Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye are like unto whited sepulchers, which indeed appear beautiful outward, but are within full of dead men’s bones, and of all uncleanness.” Matt. 23:27.

For those who are not familiar with the concept of washing the sepulchers of the dead, it was a practice here described in Matthew Henry’s commentary:

“They [scribes and Pharisees] were fair without, like sepulchers, which appear beautiful outward. Some make it to refer to the custom of the Jews to whiten graves, only for the notifying of them, especially if they were in unusual places, that people might avoid them, because of the ceremonial pollution contracted by the touch of a grave.

And this from Barnes’ commentary: “Sepulchers were therefore often whitewashed, that they might be distinctly seen. Thus “whited,” they appeared beautiful; but within they contained the bones and corrupting bodies of the dead. So the Pharisees. Their outward conduct appeared well; but their hearts were full of hypocrisy, envy, pride, lust, and malice–fitly represented by the corruption within a whited tomb.”

So the lesson is that even though things look righteous on the outside, a white-washed sepulcher is still a sepulcher.

Or as another has put it. Whether it is USDA prime flesh or yucky flesh, it is still flesh. We all must, by an act of faith choose to die to our Self, take up our cross and follow Him. There are no things we can do that make us righteous. It is by faith alone – not of works.

My friend was just as lost as I was and had to receive Christ the same as I did, by an act of his will, by grace through faith. So, whether your life before Christ was characterized by continual onslaughts by demons or by an abundant affluence and happiness, you are still dead and need Christ. Lost is lost and dead to God is dead to God.

So take off your robes and put on Christ!