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James Merritt - Calling Out

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    James Merritt - Calling Out
TOPICS: Seeing Red

What surprises a lot of people, and we're in the series, by the way, we're calling, "Seeing Red", because we're talking about the times that Jesus got angry. It really shocks people that Jesus got mad, that Jesus got angry, and we're studying these circumstances and these moments that just lit Jesus up. You know, gentle Jesus, meek and mild, sweet, wonderful Jesus, he could get angry, he could get mad and he could get madder. He could be just like us and nothing made Jesus more angry, nothing, than hypocrisy. And if you have a copy of God's Word and want to look on an app or whatever in Matthew chapter 23, we're in the Gospel of Matthew, the first book in the New Testament. Jesus gave these hypocritical religious leaders called Pharisees, he gave them a verbal, visual, vocal dressing down of epic proportions that nobody ever forgot. But here's what amazes me.

When I read in the New Testament every time that Jesus got angry, what amazes me is not just when he got angry or how he got angry, but who made him angry. He didn't get angry with Judas when Judas betrayed him. He didn't get angry with Peter when Peter denied him. He didn't get angry at the disciples when they ran out on them when he needed him the most. He didn't get angry at Pontius Pilate when Pontius Pilate sold him out. He didn't get angry with Herod when Herod interrogated him. He didn't get angry when the Roman soldiers beat him and spit on him and crucified him. But you knew who made him angry? Religious people, church-going people, people that love to wear their religion on their sleeve, people who talked the talk but didn't walk the walk. It just made him so angry.

People who valued their goodness over God's grace, people who are more interested, listen, in rules than they were about relationships, people who cared more about their preferences than people, people who were one thing on Sunday, but another thing on Monday, people who talk the talk on Sunday, but they didn't walk the walk on Monday. These people really made him mad and Jesus, in all the New Testament, he never talked to anybody like he talked to the Pharisees on this day. He put the metal to the pedal. He gave these people a tongue-lashing that set their hair on fire. Listen to this. If you read this chapter, Matthew 23, here's what he called them. He said they were hypocrites, children of hell, blind guides, fools, robbers, whitewashed tombs, snakes, vipers, and murderers. Other than that, he thought they were really nice people. But I mean, he's calling them all of these names. His mouth was a furnace that day and when he got done, you could smell the smoke in the air.

You could hear the fiery embers cracking on the ground. You say, man, what made you, what really got him ticked off? What was it about these people that upset him? Let's bring it up to the 21st century. What we called Pharisees 2,000 years ago today, we call counterfeit Christians today. People who say they know Jesus, people who say they follow Jesus, people who say, "Oh yeah, I walked down an aisle. I filled out a card. I got baptized. I've got, you know, I've kind of dotted the religious I and crossed the religious T," but their faith is fake. As we study this sermon, remember, this is the last public sermon Jesus ever preached. Last sermon, last words. And it's one that we need to hear today and never forget, because what Jesus was doing was he was calling out hypocritical holiness. He was calling out counterfeit Christians. He was calling out people who would never dare miss church on Sunday, but you can't tell a difference in their life on Monday from the worst pagan in the world. And it really set him off.

Now, let me just be honest. You probably already picked this up. This is not going to be a seeker-friendly message today. I mean, if you came here saying, okay, you know, make me feel good. It may not happen, but it's a message that everybody who claims to be a follower of Jesus needs to hear. Let me just say this. I'm talking to me. One of the advantages and maybe disadvantages of being a preacher is when you're working on the sermon, God works on you. So one of the things I had to realize is, you know, I need to practice three disciplines in my life even if the hypocrite is me, even if I sometimes act the counterfeit part.

So how do we live in such a way that we don't make Jesus angry? Well, first of all, we've got to recognize the core of a counterfeit. We got to recognize the core of a counterfeit. What kind of person is it that really sets Jesus off? Now Jesus is talking to the crowds. He's talking to his disciples and he's talking about the Pharisees. We pick up the story in Matthew 23. "Then Jesus said to the crowds and his disciples, 'The teachers of the law,'" that's the Pharisees, people like me, religious leaders, "The teachers of the law and the Pharisees sit in Moses's seat". Now let me tell you what Jesus is doing. Jesus says, "Look, I want to say something about your religious leaders. They do know their stuff". He says, "Look, we need to recognize the teaching authority that they have". He said, "They sit in the seat of Moses".

What does that mean? Moses was the law giver and the Pharisees were seen as having the responsibility of teaching the law. As a matter of fact, that word seat, they sit in the seat of Moses, that word seat is the Greek word cathedras. You guess what word comes from that? The word cathedral comes from that. And it originally referred to a seat or a position of ecclesiastical authority. You know, today in a college or a university or seminary, for example, you'll have certain chairs that are endowed by money. And it'll be this chair, it will be that chair or whatever. And professors that hold that chair are recognized that in that particular discipline they're experts. So like, for example, in my seminary, you got a chair of New Testament, you got a chair of Old Testament, you've got a chair of this and the chair of that. And only if you have, if you're an expert in that area, do you get to hold that chair.

So like, for example, when the Pope speaks in full authority, it's called speaking ex-cathedra. It means out of the seat because Catholics recognize he is the ultimate religious authority. Well, back in the day, the Pharisees were looked up to. They were said, you know, you're the PhDs, you know more about God's Word than I will ever know in my lifetime. I rely on you to teach me the truth. If you bring it up to the 21st century today, they would have had huge followings on Twitter. Everybody would have followed them on Facebook. I mean, they would have been the cream of the crop. They dotted every religious I, they crossed every religious T, but they never missed a church service. They always tithe. I mean, on the outside they had their religious act together. Reminds me of a t-shirt I saw one time that said this, "May your life someday be as awesome as you make it look on social media".

That was the Pharisees. I mean, on the outside, they gave every indication. When you saw a Pharisee, you'd say to yourself, "That guy walks with God. Now that God knows the Lord. That guy's got his spiritual act together. Man, I wish I was like him". Their religious report card was always straight As. If you had a question about God, they were your go-to guys. So far so good. But then Jesus said this, "So you must be careful to do everything they tell you, but do not do what they do, for they do not practice what they preach". If you don't practice what you preach, it ticks Jesus off. For you to come to church and say to everybody on the outside, "Look at me, I'm in church today. I'm religious. I'm a follower of Jesus," and then you go out there and you live just like everybody else and you talk just like everybody else and I act just like everybody else, it really upsets Jesus.

Now on the one hand, let's give these Pharisees, these holy hypocrites, their due because by and large, oftentimes what they taught was true. They taught good things. For example, they taught people to keep the 10 Commandments. We ought to keep the 10 Commandments. They taught people to believe in one God. We ought to believe in one God. They taught people that they believed in the resurrection. We all believe in the resurrection. They believed in heaven and hell. We all believe in heaven and hell. They taught a lot of wonderful things. But then you say, if you know anything about the Bible, you know, but wait a minute, you go, wait, wait, wait, wait, wait. But if you don't think about Jesus and the Pharisees, you say, Jesus didn't agree with everything that they taught and you're right. He didn't. As a matter of fact, the entire Sermon on the Mount was somewhat a refutation of what they were teaching.

So why did Jesus say, "Believe what they teach you"? Here's what he meant. Anytime, listen, this is a great thing to remember today. Anytime anybody teaches anything that's true, you ought to believe it. Doesn't matter if they're liberal, conservative, Democrat, Republican, doesn't matter if they're Muslim or Christian. Doesn't matter. If it lines up with God's truth, you ought to believe it because all truth is God's truth. Remember this. A broken clock is right twice a day, right? Broken clock's right twice a day. So that's why, even though, as a Christian, for example, I believe that all other religions outside of Christianity are ultimately wrong, here's what I don't believe. Do I believe that every religion except mine is always wrong? Absolutely not.

Listen, you study any religion in the world, you'll find some truth in every religion. It may be counterfeit at its core, but they will teach some truth. Mormon teach truth. Muslims teach truth. Buddhists teach truth. If it's true is true because all truth is God's truth. But this is why Jesus said, "The problem is not what they're preaching. That's not what I've got a problem with. The problem is what they're practicing," because their life, the outward appearance did not match the inner reality. So in effect, here's what Jesus said. Most of the time, you can believe what a Pharisee says, but what you better not do is behave the way they act. You can believe what they teach publicly, but don't be like them in the way they live privately. Recognize the core of the counterfeit. But then that leads to the second thing that Jesus said. He said, "Recognize the clues to a counterfeit".

How do you know if someone's a counterfeit? How do you know if you're a counterfeit? How do you know if you are a holy hypocrite? See Jesus's biggest problem with these Pharisees and the biggest problem, frankly, these unbelievers have with counterfeit Christians and hypocrites is wrapped up in this. Because, by the way, I told you last week, the biggest, the greatest argument for Christianity is a Christian. But the greatest argument against Christianity is a counterfeit Christian. So here's what Jesus says. "Do not do what they do for the do not practice what they preach".

Let me give you a good example. Have you ever known a gossip who gossips about people who gossip? You ever known somebody like that? It's like the person who is critical of someone because they were caught cheating on their wife, but every night he gets on a pornographic site on his computer. I read a story. I love this story. I read a story about a cowboy at a bar in New Mexico. And he walks in and he says, "I'd like to have three beers". And so the bartender gave him three beers and then he would go in the back room and he would drink a sip out of each one. When he finished those beers, he would come back to the bar and he'd order three more.

So the bartender said, you know, "Beer starts to go flat after you drink it, after you draw it". He said, "I'll be honest. It would taste better if you just bought one beer at a time". Well, the cowboy said, "Well, you see us like this". He said, "I have two brothers. One is in Flagstaff and the other is in Albuquerque". He said, "When we left home, we promised we would drink this way to remember the days we drank together". So he said, "I drink one for each of my brothers and I drink one for myself". And the bartender said, "Well, that's kind of a very nice custom. I didn't know that. That makes me feel good. I get it".

Well, one day the cowboy came in and you know, he's ordered three beers and drinks them in turn. But then one day he comes in and he only orders two beers. Well, the bartender and some of his regular buddies notice he only ordered two beers and they didn't really want to say anything. They just feel bad for him. So when he came back to order the second round of beers, the bartender said, "Look, I don't mean to intrude, but I, you know, I'm sure you're grieving. And I just wanted to offer my condolences for your loss". The cowboy looked kind of puzzled and he says, "What do you mean my loss"? He said, "Well, you're only drinking two beers". He started laughing. He said, "Oh no, no, no. It's not what you think. My brothers are just fine. My brothers are doing okay". He said, "Well, I don't understand". He said, "Well, my wife and I joined the Baptist Church and I had to quit drinking, but it didn't affect my brothers".

You like that, didn't you, Teresa? So good to have you back. Okay, listen, everything that Jesus is saying in this chapter goes back to this one major trait. Holy hypocrites and counterfeit Christians don't practice what they preach. They say that what they need to say on Sunday, but they don't do what they need to do on Monday and then Jesus share some signs of a counterfeit. Let me just give you a few signs of a counterfeit. Let me show them to you. He said, "They tie up heavy, cumbersome loads and put them on other people's shoulders, but they themselves are not willing to lift a finger to move them".

Now, what do you mean by that? What was Jesus referring to? This was really the source of the conflict that he had with these Pharisees. So you see the Pharisees, they were big on knowing all the commandments. They were big on keeping all the commandments. So here's what they did. They went to the Old Testament and they studied the Old Testament and they found out there are 248 commandments of what you ought to do and 365 prohibitions of what you should not do, so they made a vow. They said, "We're going to obey every single one of them. And we're going to make sure you obey every single one of them". But they went further. They were so concerned that they didn't break any of these rules, guess what they did. They made rules about the rules.

So in the end, they came up with more than 1,500 additions to the law. Now these additional rules were not what God said you had to do. This is what they said you had to do to be right with God. Now all of these rules would gathered eventually into a book. You may have heard of this book. It's called the Mishnah. The Mishnah is all the rules about the rules in the Old Testament, right? So you've got all the rules of the Old Testament. There are 248, 365, you've got over 600 of these or 613 rules, then they made all these rules about the rules to make sure you didn't break the rules. They put those in the Mishnah. But they weren't done. They were so concerned that they didn't break the rules and they didn't break the rules about the rules, guess what, they made rules about the rules they made about the rules that God said to make sure that they didn't break any of the rules.

The rules that they added about the rules that they'd already made, they put those in a book called the Gemara. Then they put both of those books together and that book is known as the Talmud. Some of you are familiar with terms. So what is the Talmud? The Talmud is a book that has all the additions to all the laws that God gave and then all the additions to all the additions they gave to make sure they didn't make the additions that they gave. And they went to these great lengths to say what was right, say what was wrong, to say what was lawful, to say what was not. The problem was there were so many and they were so hard, they couldn't even keep them themselves because nobody is perfect. But even though they didn't keep them, they demanded you keep them. Even though they didn't obey all of them, they demanded you obey all of them. And it was their rules. It was their rituals. It was their regulations.

You say, man, I'm glad we don't live in that day anymore. Really? Some of you will relate to this through the church does the same exact thing. When I was growing up, I remember there were rules in our church. You couldn't listen to certain kind of music. You know the length of a boy's hair. Couldn't have long hair. Unheard off that you could wear earrings. Have a tattoo? You are going to hell. If you got a tattoo, going to hell. Couldn't smoke. Couldn't dance. Couldn't play cards. Couldn't go to movies. Don't gamble. Legalism dies hard.

Some of you are old enough to remember. I remember the scandal of the church when women began to wear pants suits. You don't even know what a pantsuit is today. But I remember this. Oh, you can't wear pantsuits in church. And then in case anybody wondered how holy and righteous they were, Jesus said here's another thing they did that ticked him off. They put on a show. He said, "Everything they do is done for people to see. They make their phylacteries wide and the tassels on their garments long".

Now let me just tell you what that means. God had told the Israelites in the earliest days that the law was to be upon their hands and the law was to be in their heart and own their foreheads. What God meant was you need to carry the law in your heart everywhere you go. Don't ever forget what I've told you to do. Well, for centuries these legalists took a spiritual command of God and they turned it into a literal law and that led it led them to build phylacteries. If you've ever get to go to Israel with me, you'll see this. When we go to Israel, you'll see Orthodox Jews. They'll have a box on their forehead, or they have a box on their forearm and they'll have boxes in front of their houses. Those boxes contained Scripture verses. You'll see them all over Israel today. And in Orthodox Judaism, every boy is given a set of phylacteries on their 13th birthday.

Now let me just say this. There's nothing necessarily wrong with that. Here's the problem. Where everybody else would walk around and would wear kind of a normal, smaller box, guess what the Pharisees did. They had triple extra large boxes on their head, they had triple extra large boxes on their forearm, and the tassels that they wore on their garments would be double, extra long. Why would they do this? Because when they walked down the street, they wanted to stand down. You could tell by the size of the box on their head, you could tell by the tassels that were falling from the robes, oh, that is a Pharisee. They literally wore their religion on their sleeve.

You may not ever witness to your neighbor about Jesus. You never ever may ever go out of your way to invite your neighbor to church, but you make sure your neighbor knows you go to church on Sunday. You get the drift? Wearing your religion on your sleeve. And it was all for show. Jesus isn't finished. He continues. "They love the place of honor at banquets and the most important seats in the synagogue. They love to be greeted with respect in the marketplaces and to be called rabbi by others". Just as in a lot of churches today, synagogues typically had a raised platform in the front where leaders would sit. One thing about a Pharisee, they were not backseat Baptist. They were front row phoneys. And they wanted to make sure they were the center of attention, that all eyes would be locked on them from the beginning of the worship service to the end.

And by the way, never called them by their first name. That was a no-no. They wanted to be called rabbi. Same way with a lot of pastors today who are called doctor. You know, in fact, the Latin, you may not know this, the Latin word, the Latin equivalent for rabbi comes from the Latin word, and it literally means to teach and it gives us the English word doctor. Had a man say to me years ago, and never forget it. He said, "You know, James," he said, "there are so many doctors in the pulpit you'd think God was sick".

And by the way, let me just say this. My favorite term for me is pastor. You know, or doc, my buddies called me doc. I'm not into Dr. Merritt. I'm not into that kind of title at all. But I've known pastors who go to school, they'll get mail order degrees. And I'm not being critical, just being honest. They'll get these mail order doctorate degrees. You know why? They just want to be called doctor because some people have this idea if you have a certain title, you're important. Let me just say something to all of us in this room. It is not your title that makes you important. It is not your position that makes you important. It is not your last name that makes you important. The only thing that makes you important is Jesus. That's the only thing that makes anybody important. And because of that, we're all equally important.

But the rabbis, they didn't understand that. They wanted to feel important. So here is one of the marks of a counterfeit. Here's one of the marks of a holy hypocrite. You ready? They value human applause more than divide approval. They value human applause more than divine approval. And that's why Jesus goes on to say to the crowds and his disciples, here's what he said, "But you're not to be called rabbi for you got one teacher. You're all brothers. Do not call anyone on earth father for you've got one father and he's in heaven. Nor are you to be called instructors for you have one instructor, the Messiah". Now, what was Jesus saying? He was saying, "Listen, you need to wake up and understand. What makes you who you are is not what people think you are on the outside that gives you value. It is what God knows you are on the inside that counts".

So this is something for you to remember, not just about me, but about any religious leader that you may want to follow or any religious leader that you listened to or any religious leader that you read after or any religious leader that you admire. Just please remember this. A counterfeit wants you to follow them. The real-deal wants you to follow Jesus. I'll tell you right now, don't follow me. Only follow me as I follow Jesus. Don't imitate me. Only imitate me as I imitate Jesus. See a counterfeit, listen, a counterfeit will want you to give your money to their greed. The real deal wants you to give your money to the Gospel. So you recognize the core of the counterfeit. Recognize the clues of a counterfeit. This is the last thing Jesus said. Recognize the cure for a counterfeit.

So what's the cure? How do you make sure you're not a holy hypocrite? How do you make sure you're not a counterfeit Christian? Well, Jesus gives one final positive word and one last negative word. First, he gives the cure for holy hypocrisy and counterfeit Christianity. Here's what he says. "The greatest among you will be your servant. For those who exalt themselves will be humbled and those who humbled themselves will be exalted". Interesting. We've never thought about it. Jesus said the cure for hypocrisy is humility. That's the cure. Humility. So let me just ask all of us. Now I'm going to talk to me as well as you. I'm talking to me anyway, but I'm just talking to me right now. Do you have the humility to admit that sometimes you're a hypocrite? Do you have the humility to admit that hypocrisy lies within all of us? And do you have the humility to admit that sometimes you put yourself before you put other people?

Takes humility to overcome hypocrisy and what Jesus is really saying here is this. Just be the real deal. Jesus does not expect perfect people. That's what the Pharisees missed. Jesus doesn't expect perfect people. He just expect us to be blameless believers and consistent Christians. Then, listen to this, he closes with the most horrific part of a counterfeit, the biggest danger to hypocrisy. And I'm convinced this is what made Jesus most upset of everything about people who claim to know Jesus, but they don't, people who talk the talk, but they don't walk the walk. And when you read this, you can understand. If you really understand what Jesus did for us, you can understand why it made Jesus angry.

Listen to this. "Woe to you teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites," watch this. "You shut the door of the kingdom of heaven in people's faces. You yourselves do not enter," that's bad enough, "nor will you let those enter who are trying to". Here's the worst thing about these hypocrites and this is the biggest reason why every one of us listening right now, including the one that's doing the talking, every now and then you better do what the apostle Paul said, examine yourself to see whether or not you're really in the faith because this is what really upset Jesus. The worst thing about these Pharisees, the worst thing about these hypocrites were not just that they were not in God's kingdom. That was a big enough problem. The bigger problem was they were keeping other people from God's kingdom.

So how were they doing that? Well, Jesus came preaching grace. The Pharisees, all they talked about was goodness. Jesus came preaching faith. All they focused on was function. By the way, this is true. What I'm saying right now is true of all religions in the world. You know why every other religion in the world outside of Christianity basically is false? They all deny grace. They all deny faith. They all deny the need for a Savior. They all deny the need for repentance. They all teach the same thing, that salvation is not a gift you receive. It is a goal that you achieve. You keep their rules, you follow their regulations, you go through their rituals, and then you just might make it.

And the very people that needed to come to God, the very people that needed God looked at these people who claim to be close to God and when they saw their hypocrisy and they saw what a counterfeit they were, when they saw all these rules and all of these rituals that didn't work for them, when they saw that their religion hadn't made a real difference in their life, here's what they said, "Forget you and forget God". I'm going to be very honest and very forthright. There are certain people who claim to be Christians that I've watched and I've noticed and I've seen that I just wished they wouldn't let anybody know they were a Christian because there are certain Christians that I've looked at and I've seen, and I'm not being judgmental. I'm just being factual.

And I look at them and I say, "If I were not a believer, if Jesus has not changed your life more than what I see, I don't understand why I need Jesus". You know what's interesting? Here's what's really interesting. I didn't know this till I was working on this series. Do you know who talks about Pharisees more than anybody in the Bible? I'm talking about writers of the Bible, books of the Bible. Matthew. Of all the Gospel writers, nobody talks more about Pharisees and in a more negative way than Matthew.

Matthew mentions Pharisees 28 times. And I thought about that. Matthew, why were you so obsessed with the Pharisees? Let me tell you why. Matthew was a tax collector. Matthew was an unbeliever. He was hated by the Pharisees. Tax collectors were looked upon as low as prostitutes. The Pharisees despised tax collectors. Matthew was lost. He was outside the kingdom looking in and had it not been for Jesus, Matthew would have died lost. Matthew would have never written this book. Matthew would be in hell today. You know why? Because of those holy hypocrites and those counterfeit Christians who on the outside said, "Oh yeah, I love God. I know God. I'll walk with God". They talked the talk. They didn't walk the walk.

So I want to ask you this. I want to ask me this. You say you're a believer. You say you're a follower of Jesus. You say you know the Lord. Here's my question. If you never told anybody what you just said and people just watched you and they listened to you and they observed the way that you live your life, simple question, would you be more of a barrier to Jesus or would you be more of a bridge to Jesus? A poet wrote these very poignant words. "It is all in vain to preach the truth to the eager ears of the trusting youth if whenever the lad is standing by, he sees you cheat and he hears you lie".

This message was so convicting to me because I'm a religious leader. Hopefully I'm not a Pharisee, but I'm in the same position they are. I sit in Moses's seat. I am a preacher of God's Word. And that's why I don't want you to read this text as if, well, that's just something Jesus was talking about 2,000 years ago. Listen, I want you to do what I to do. Look yourself in a mirror right now and ask yourself this question. Lord, am I holy hypocrite? Lord, am I counterfeit Christian? And I just wonder right now, you don't have to close your eyes, but I wonder if you'd just pray a one sentence prayer right now.

I wonder if you'd just say, "Lord, would you just take anything out of my life that would be a barrier to people coming to Jesus and would you put anything in my life that would make me a bridge to Jesus"? I want to leave you with two quotes. Mahatma Gandhi, the Indian activist, Mahatma Gandhi said this. "I like your Christ. I just don't like your Christians because your Christians are so unlike your Christ". That's devastating. "I like your Christ. I just don't like your Christians because your Christians are so unlike your Christ". And nobody could have put it better than the atheist author Mark Twain who said, "If Christ were here, there's one thing he wouldn't be. A Christian". "If Christ were here, there's one thing he wouldn't be. A Christian".

So I want to say one word to two groups of people and we're finished. If you're not a follower of Jesus, if you're listening right now, you're in this room and you're not a follower of Jesus, and the reason you're not a follower of Jesus is because you've seen people who said they were a follower Jesus, but they didn't live like followers of Jesus, here's my word to you. Don't get bit by the hypocrite. Don't get bit by the hypocrite. I've had people say to me, you've heard it before. I tell you why I don't go to church. Got hypocrites in the church. You're right. Got tons of them.

In fact, you got one preaching to you right now at times. Yeah, we're full of hypocrites. Sure, because everybody's a hypocrite at one time or another. Everybody's a hypocrite. By the way, I got news for you. Don't go to Kroger. It's full of hypocrites. Don't go to Walmart. It's full of hypocrites. But let's just get real. Don't get bit by the hypocrite. If you are a follower of Jesus, don't be a fit for a counterfeit because there's nothing that makes Jesus more angry than holy hypocrisy and counterfeit Christianity. God help us to live the Jesus that we say that we love. Would you bow with prayer? Bow for me with prayer?
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