During the last years of my pastorate at Midlothian Bible, I spent a lot of time in intensive care or visiting those who were dying on hospice. Being right there when folks die makes it tough to ignore the ugliness of death. But then being with folks at the viewing a day or so later often presented a vivid contrast. At the viewing we would stand looking into the open coffin, and I often heard, “They look so beautiful.”
In His exposure of the religious leaders who would arrest Him in Gethsemane, Jesus didn’t comment on the wonderful things morticians can do with cosmetics. Instead He used an illustration from the cemeteries in Jerusalem. Especially at High Feast times, the graves in the Holy City received a new coat of white plaster. This protected the pilgrims from inadvertently making themselves unclean for seven days by getting too close to the dead (Numbers 19:16). This practice produced an interesting irony. The newly painted graves gleamed in the sun. They were beautiful, but Jesus focused on what was inside.
“Woe, to you, scribes and Pharisees, play actors. You are like white washed graves. On the outside you shine with beauty, but inside you are filled with death and all uncleanness.” - Matthew 23:27
Jesus made this same point about the contrast between the outside and the inside in the previous “Woe” when He used the example of cleaning the outside of a drinking cup, but leaving the inside filled with crud (Matthew 23:25-26). The crud Jesus pointed His finger at in those who rejected Him was greed, self-indulgence, pretense, and lawlessness.
There is no religious practice on earth that can cure these internal flaws that plague all of our hearts. This was why Jesus had to die and then rise again. He doesn’t use cosmetics. He gives us a new heart and ultimately will give us a new body that will never decay if we trust Him. The cross and the resurrection prove that He is the only Savior who can give life to the walking dead.
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