Jesus said John the Baptist was the greatest man born of woman. Then how do we know who was the worst? Perhaps it was not a single person such as Cain or King Saul or Ahab or even Judas. Perhaps it was an entire class of people. Perhaps Jesus described them when He confronted a group of self-righteous, religious hypocrites in Matthew 23.
They burden people’s lives but offer no help. What “good” they do is done to be seen by others. They wrap themselves in Bible verses and religious-looking clothing. They love places of honor and, in public, love to be addressed by their official titles.
Their teaching prohibits others from entering God’s Kingdom, though they are not entering either. They work to gather a following, and then make their followers twice as bad as they are. They are as spiritually blind as those they claim to be leading. They place more importance on the cost of their church building than on its reason for being. They value the offering more highly than they do the altar on which it is to be dedicated.
They painstakingly give 10% of what they own but ignore the laws of justice, mercy and faithfulness. They are careful to wash themselves and their clothing squeaky-clean but harbor filthy thoughts inside. They are like beautiful tombs full of rotting corpses–looking good but smelling filthy to the Lord.
One of the best contrasts between rank hypocrisy and genuine righteousness appears in Jesus’ illustration found in Luke 18:10-14. A religious hypocrite went into the Temple and prayed to himself–not to God but to Himself, “God I thank you that I am not greedy, dishonest and unfaithful in marriage like other people. And I am really glad that I am not like that tax-collector over there. I go without eating two days a week, and I give You one-tenth of everything I own.” (CEV)
The tax-collector could not even look upward toward heaven. He was so sorry for the wrong things he had done that all he could say was, “God, have pity on me. I am such a bad sinner.” (CEV)
Jesus ended His illustration by saying that it was the tax-collector who pleased God, because he was humble and honest, and did not consider himself better than others.