Have you ever been to a funeral of a person of questionable character? I'd imagine it’s pretty amusing in a way. No matter what the person did while alive, no one brings up the uncomfortable truth while at the gravesite. We always want to avoid speaking ill of the dead.
This is understandable, but that’s not what Jesus was condemning here. Apparently the Pharisees preferred dead saints to live ones. While they were alive, most prophets were not revered. Instead they faced ridicule, outright persecution, and even murder. If you were looking to be popular, being a true prophet of God was not the way to do it.
But along came the Pharisees, who built tombs and memorials to honor these men of God. But Jesus claimed that these teachers were not the spiritual heirs of the prophets, but of their murderers. Why would he do this? Aside from knowing their hearts, did he actually have any evidence for this?
Yes. The One the prophets testified about was standing right in front of them, and they firmly rejected him. This was the main point of the prophets: to prepare God’s people for the Messiah. The Pharisees would give great speeches about how wonderful these messengers of the Lord were, and then turned their backs on the fulfillment of everything the prophets worked for.
By rejecting Jesus, they were aligning themselves with the ones who slew the prophets. They always venerated the prophets, but only the dead ones. During the time of Moses, who was a true man of God to them? Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, but not Moses—he must be stoned. During the time of Samuel, whom would they proclaim as a messenger from God? Moses, but not Samuel—don’t listen to him. They continued to pledge respect for the dead saints from long ago, but the One who was calling them back to God right now, standing in front of them, was not worth listening to.
Do we do the same thing? Well, there are denominations right now who claim to be heirs of spiritual giants (like John Knox, Martin Luther, and John Wesley) but--I have to be brutally frank here--who completely ignore what those men stood for during their lives. Those men stood for integrity in following God’s word, but some of the churches who follow in their name, not so much.
What about us? Some of us might be guilty of this. When we claim to reverence the Bible and have it in a prominent place in our home but make no effort to read, study, and obey it, that’s serious. If you claim that Jesus is your Lord, he has a piercing question for you. Now if you’ll excuse me, I need to put my heart under the Surgeon’s scalpel once again.
Holy Father, your standard is so high, and I fall so far short. Thank you for your grace which not only forgives me, but also changes me. Whatever I need to do to cooperate, please give me the strength to do it.