[Jesus continued his condemnation:] "What sorrow awaits you teachers of religious law and you Pharisees. Hypocrites! For you build tombs for the prophets your ancestors killed, and you decorate the monuments of the godly people your ancestors destroyed. Then you say, 'If we had lived in the days of our ancestors, we would never have joined them in killing the prophets.'
"But in saying that, you testify against yourselves that you are indeed the descendants of those who murdered the prophets. Go ahead and finish what your ancestors started."
— Matthew 23:29-32 NLT
The teachers of religious law and the Pharisees were the leaders seeking to honor Israel's great prophets of old. They helped erect monuments and place decorations at the tombs of the prophets of old. By their outward actions, they wanted to signify that they held the prophetic tradition in high regard and sought to live by the prophets' teachings. But Jesus challenged this assumption, once again on the basis of their outward actions that betrayed an inward reality.
Jesus rebuked them and insisted that rather than honoring the teaching and spirit of the great prophets, they would complete the work their fathers did in persecuting and executing the prophets. Of course this hypocrisy would be most clearly demonstrated in their rejection of Jesus, who was not only God's servant and a prophet, but was also God's Son.
The challenge for us who live so many years after Jesus' life is to ask ourselves: Are we the people who would really welcome Jesus into our presence and our churches, or would we reject him like much of the religious bureaucracy of his day?
Almighty and holy God, it makes my blood run cold to see those who were so rigorous in their outward pursuit of religion but who lived in violation of what they pursued. O Father, I don't want to be like the Pharisees: all show and no substance, much talk and little truth. Please help me purge from my heart the duplicity and deceit that Satan would like to use to turn me away from you and blunt my influence for your Kingdom. In Jesus' name, I pray. Amen.