Jesus Journey: 40 Days in the Footsteps of Christ

Day 16

All An Act

Read Matthew 6:1–5

I ask our driver to take a detour to the next hill on the horizon. Although it’s not on the list of sites to see for most Holy Land visitors, it holds rare treasures for those willing to leave the well-trod tourist path. It’s the active archaeological excavation of the ancient town of Sepphoris.

It’s a fascinating site, because this village was being built when Jesus was a young man.

Was Jesus ever here? Well, an old tradition says this was his mother Mary’s hometown.

But even more persuasive to me: The Bible says Joseph (and probably Jesus, as Joseph’s son) was a carpenter. In Greek the word for carpenter is tekton, which is a general word for builder, or artisan, not just someone who worked specifically with wood. In fact, there was a lot more stone than wood in the land of Jesus, so stonemasonry probably more accurately describes the trade Jesus learned from Joseph.

There was not a lot of stonework available in Nazareth, which in Jesus’ time, as we’ve seen, was just a tiny village. The small first-century village currently being excavated there had no paved roads, mosaics, or other stone features beyond the rock walls of the few modest homes. So it’s logical to assume that Joseph, probably with Jesus as an assistant, worked his trade in neighboring Sepphoris.

This city was being developed in lavish Greco-Roman style during Jesus’ early years. Josephus called it “the ornament of Galilee.” It had a lot of stonework, large and small. We stroll down ruins of paved, colonnaded streets and ooh and aah at artwork — mostly mosaics — inside the ruins of ancient homes.

Sepphoris was the capital city for the area west of Galilee governed by Herod’s son Antipas until about 20 AD, when he replaced it with Tiberias, the city he built on the lakeshore and named after his friend Tiberius Caesar.


One of the most impressive buildings in Sepphoris was its beautiful theater.

It’s unlikely that, as a Jew, Jesus ever attended one of the plays here, since they were often based on pagan myth. But ancient writers explain that actors in the first century would regularly come out to the city streets and, to attract crowds to the show that day, blast trumpets and bang drums, and then perform parts of their drama as a “teaser,” sort of like movie trailers today. So Jesus would definitely have seen these previews of coming attractions.

I can imagine Jesus and Joseph on their way to a job in Sepphoris, walking past a busy street corner where actors loudly strutted while wearing their grotesque theatrical masks (in Greek theater, actors typically wore masks to portray their characters instead of make-up as modern actors do — in fact, the Greek masks representing comedy and tragedy are the icons of the acting profession to this day).

Jesus’ impression of these street performers might even be evident in the Sermon on the Mount. He used the word “hypocrite” several times in this message. That’s a word that has developed a very specific meaning in English, but in the Greek language of Jesus’ day it meant one thing:

An actor.

In the gospels, Jesus uses this word seventeen times in his critique of the religious leaders of his day! Try reading Matthew 6:1–5, substituting the word “actor” for “hypocrite”:

“Be careful not to practice your righteousness in front of others to be seen by them…”

The phrase “to be seen” there contains a verb in the original Greek, theomai, which is directly related to our English word theater, further establishing the possibility that Jesus is developing a theatrical metaphor.

“…So when you give to the needy, do not announce it with trumpets, as the actors do in the synagogues and on the streets, to be honored by others…”

“When you pray, don’t be like the actors who love to pray publicly on street corners and in the synagogues where everyone can see them…”

“When you fast, do not look somber as the actors do, for they disfigure their faces to show others they are fasting…”

Or Matthew 23:25:

“Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you actors! You clean the outside of the cup and dish, but inside they are full of greed and self-indulgence.”

Adds an interesting angle, doesn’t it?

He didn’t say they were jerks. He didn’t say they were stupid. He said they were actors. And when we misunderstand the term “hypocrite” we miss the way it could apply to us.


Ferdinand “Fred” Demara, Jr., must have been a great actor. The world was his stage. Literally.

Throughout his life, he masqueraded as a monk, a surgeon, a civil engineer, a deputy sheriff, a doctor of psychology, a cancer researcher, a teacher, and a prison warden. Faking credentials as a Navy doctor on a ship during the Korean war, he even performed several surgeries — successfully. While each patient was prepped, he would disappear to his room with a textbook on surgery and speed-read the relevant section!

But ultimately, he was always caught. He did well fooling people for a while, but each time the mask eventually slipped.

He finally settled down when he became a Christian and graduated from Multnomah Bible College in Portland, Oregon. He then moved to Los Angeles, where he worked as a well-loved hospital chaplain for the rest of his life. But after a lifetime of pretending, Fred Demara found the satisfaction of authenticity. He said that for years he was afraid to be real, that he was trapped in pretending.


Jesus looks around at the Pharisees and sees people trapped in pretending too.

In fact, one of Christ’s biggest criticisms of his own religious authorities was that their system actually encouraged “acting.” Legalistic systems always do.

If there is a religious system with external gauges for spirituality, a checklist of behaviors to accomplish, people will naturally want to become high achievers, to get gold stars and merit badges and standing ovations. And their spiritual lives become less about a relationship with God and more about the applause.

Grace, because it emphasizes God’s unconditional, initiating love, encourages honesty. That’s because you know you can’t do anything to make God love you more, and you know you can’t do anything to make God love you less. You might as well be authentic.

So in what areas of your life might Jesus say you were an actor?

Drop the mask. God sees the heart. You don’t have to perform for him.

And you can stop living for the applause of others. You already have the grace of the Father. What more could you need?

Jesus does not call you out of one performance-oriented religious system into another. He calls you from acting to honesty, from performing to reality. Dropping the mask is the first step toward becoming a real Christ-follower!

But Jesus doesn’t just skewer superficial religion. Next, he speaks to the superficiality of fame and fortune.


When you’re tempted to play a role today make a conscience effort to drop the mask and let Jesus shine through.