Then I saw in the right hand of him who
sat on the throne a scroll with writing on both sides and sealed
with seven seals. 2 And I saw a mighty angel proclaiming in a
loud voice, "Who is worthy to break the seals and open the
scroll?" I watched as the Lamb opened the first of the seven
seals... 2 I looked, and there before me was a white
horse! Its rider held a bow, and he was given a crown, and he
rode out as a conqueror bent on conquest. 3 When the Lamb opened
the second seal... another horse came out, a fiery red one. Its
rider was given power to take peace from the earth and to make
men slay each other. To him was given a large sword. 5 When the
Lamb opened the third seal... I looked, and there before me was
a black horse! Its rider was holding a pair of scales in his
hand. 6 Then I heard what sounded like a voice among the four
living creatures, saying, "A quart of wheat for a day's
wages, and three quarts of barley for a day's wages, and do not
damage the oil and the wine!" 7 When the Lamb opened the
fourth seal... I looked, and behold
a pale horse: and his name that sat on him was Death, and Hell
followed with him.
—The Book of Revelation of Jesus Christ to Saint John the Evangelist Chapters 1 & 2
What sorrow awaits you teachers of religious law and you
Pharisees. Hypocrites! For you are like whitewashed
tombs--beautiful on the outside but filled on the inside with
dead people's bones and all sorts of impurity. --Matthew 23:27
In biblical times, there was this tradition of marking graves so Jews would not defile themselves by walking too close to them. Graveyards would be marked with lime, the strong scent providing a warning of the death nearby. Many of the tombs would be whitewashed every spring. This was done not so much for beautification but so that the tombs would glow when moonlight reflected off of them, which would enable travelers to better see the tombs at night and avoid defiling themselves. It was kind of like buffing car wax on a dumpster, making them shine and appear pristine. But, inside, there is rotting garbage. Dead things.
In Matthew 23, Jesus was warning the Church Folk of His day--the pastors and prophets and bishops and so-called apostles--comparing their righteousness to whitewashed tombs. This accounts for the visceral response I have to being around a bunch of our own Pharisees. Rather than be delighted to see them, I have a kind of sadness at realizing these are the same guys running the same hustle. Their "ministries" have not progressed, their followers are still composed largely of gregarious, loud and often foul-mouthed Church Folk. They're still having the same Annual Days, still going through the same motions. Still passing the same $100 bill around from pastor to pastor. These are, for the most part, men and women who exude little if any of the love of Jesus Christ, and whose investment is in their repetitious pageantry, the endless chain of celebrations, This Day and That Day.
They glow brightly among the community but they are, in fact, dumpsters. Graves. Their brilliant glow is, in fact, a warning to steer clear of them and the whole racket many of these guys are engaged in. And, while most of us would never stumble into a dumpster--even late at night--far too many of us not only support and indulge these Pharisees, we actively seek them out. Our childhood has socialized us to look for the southern drawl and the pot belly and the sing-song hollering and the pomposity. We don't think a skinny white guy is a pastor, no matter how many degrees the guy has. A kind pastor is a weak pastor, so we don't respect him. And when one of these jokers dies off or gets himself run off, we form committees to go looking for tombs glowing under the moonlight, wheeling in, unbelievably, yet another ridiculous person to replace the ridiculous person we just got rid of. How many of our churches, having been delivered from bondage of Pastor Dumpster, ran right out and got another clown who looked and sounded just like him? The guy's got a three-piece suit, but there's flesh rotting on the inside. There are secrets jammed into closets, agendas hidden under the bed. He looks and sounds just like that last bastard you got rid of, but you can smell it on him--the decay. The lime.
Far too many of us miss the whole point of this Gospel by
making it all about church. Dunking people and filling out
paperwork does absolutely nothing to bring you closer to God.
Joining a church does not, not, not, mean you are saved. A full
fifteen years later, I am still waiting to hear the plan of
salvation preached from a black pulpit in this town. Not once,
not a single solitary time, have I heard a black preacher in
this town explain how salvation is attained. For a town that is
allegedly the Mecca of evangelism, this is the dirty little
secret: we all float around here speaking this ecumenical code
to one another, but nobody is getting saved. We're just climbing
It’s not for us to judge who is and who is not a Christian, but it’s not much of a mystery, either. The love of Jesus Christ, manifest in someone, tends to fairly bubble over with God’s example, while negative behavior and legalism usually suggests religion moreso than faith. We should be more than just religious people: we should be people of faith.
When you invite Christ into your life The Holy Spirit moves in. It’s like having your mother visit your dorm room unexpectedly. You realize things aren’t what they need to be. You see all the wrong turns you’ve made along the way. That’s the big problem with a conscience suddenly made alive through a relationship with Christ: you realize how much time you’ve wasted going your own way.
The Whitewashed Tomb is about cleaning up the outside while the inside is rotted and corrupt, about hiding sin. The opposite can also be true: a renewed inside, a completely new, refurbished You. But the enemy keeps you convicted of things you’ve done wrong—even though God finds no fault in you.
Truth is, some of that is just pain we’ve got coming. Pain we’ve earned by being selfish, thoughtless and Godless. No matter what somebody tells you, humans really aren’t capable of forgiving and forgetting. We are the sum of our experiences and some of those experiences are painful. I believe this is what John meant when he said God would wipe away every tear from our eyes [John 21:4]. Why would there be tears in Heaven, unless the goodness and holiness of God caused us to reflect on what little jerks we’ve been.
Faith is about trusting things we can’t see and can’t touch and can’t prove. One of the toughest things to accept on faith is forgiveness—that it’s over, now. It’s done. It’s gone. Let it go. And when the enemy brings it back to your thinking, when you’re wincing and kicking yourself for the stupid things you’ve done—just call on God. “Lord I believe You. I trust You. I know I’m forgiven.” Because, you are.