Approaching Easter with Jesus- Beautiful Tombs and Empty Lives

-by Pastor Jacob Marshall, Antioch Missionary Baptist Church

As you make your way up to the Temple, you can’t help but stare at a couple of stone structures down in the Kidron Valley at the foot of the Mount of Olives. Cut straight out of the limestone bedrock and polished to a shine, these huge structures glisten in the noon-day sun.

To all who pass by, they stand as a visual reminder of the power and wealth their owners and families held. These are the ornate tombs of the Family of Hezir and Zechariah, and it was that image that came to mind the moment Jesus of Nazareth made a statement the week of the Passover in the Temple.

(On the left with columns) The 1st Century BC tomb of Benei Hezir, “the sons of Hezir,” a priestly family. (On the right with a pyramid top) The mid-1st Century tomb of Zechariah. Jesus and all those in Jerusalem would have frequently seen these tombs. Courtesy of the Pictorial Library of Bible Lands at Bibleplaces.com.

For hours, the Pharisaical scribes and rabbis, Sadduceean chief priests, and even sympathizers with Herod had all been arriving to challenge this itinerant preacher from Galilee who had setup shop another day in the Temple. The school of Jesus was open and enrolling students, and the religious leaders were furious.

After astonishingly overcoming each attempt by the groups to trap him in a loaded question, Jesus turned the tables on them once again by asking his own questions that embarrassingly revealed their pride and corruption to the hundreds gathered to hear him on the Temple Mount.

Then turning to the crowd, but looking at those still standing in the back who opposed him, Jesus spoke in a voice that filled the court of the Temple.

“Woe to you, Scribes and Pharisees! Hypocrites!

He then called out seven cries of woeful distress about Israel’s leaders, but it was the sixth one that really stuck in my mind.

“Woe to you, Scribes and Pharisees! Hypocrites! You are like whitewashed tombs which from the outside appear beautiful, but on the inside are full of the bones of the dead and everything unclean. In the same way, you also appear righteous from the outside but on the inside you are full of hypocrisy and lawlessness.”

With those brilliantly white tombs in the back of everyone’s mind, Jesus’ charge of hypocrisy against the religious leaders was vividly clear. Here were both tombs and people who, to all who passed by, appeared powerful, impressive, clean, polished, and especially religious and holy. They were envied and honored. Yet in reality, on the inside they were shrouded in darkness and full of death.

Jesus’ point was powerful. Don’t be a beautiful tomb! And the contrast was stunning. Compared to the religious leaders we’d heard all of our lives, this young man was completely different. Of humble appearance and status, there was nothing outwardly impressive about him. But his words and works revealed a life that made us wonder whose son this was. He spoke of and lived out true righteousness. Rather than being full of death; this Jesus seemed full of life.

Now go and see it for yourself in Matthew 21:23-23:39!