Ever hear of a “Potemkin Village?”
In the late 18th century, Catherine the Great, Empress of all Russia, was out touring the provinces of her country.
But Russia was a mess. Poverty and squalor were all over the place.
Conditions were disgraceful.
The second most powerful person in the empire was her boyfriend, Prince Grigori Aleksandrovich Potemkin.
Potemkin wanted to put on a good show for the empress as she toured the country. So at the first village she came to, he made sure that what she saw from her carriage were picturesque houses, neat haystacks and healthy, happy peasants.
But the houses were a cardboard facade – the kind you see on stage in a play.
As she rode out of sight, Potemkin had the facade quickly taken down and rushed to the next village – along with the haystacks and a few healthy peasants.
All day long, Catherine kept viewing the same phony, cardboard village from her carriage.
Today, we call anything gussied up with a false facade or front a “Potemkin Village.”
Jesus warns about something like this in the 12th chapter of St. Luke’s Gospel. He warns His disciples: “Be on your guard against the yeast [or, leaven] of the Pharisees, which is hypocrisy.”
The Bible warns often against hypocrisy. The word itself refers to the mask worn by an actor. Hypocrisy is when we are only playing a role, acting a part. It’s not real. It’s not genuine.
“Satan himself masquerades as an angel of light,” says the Bible
(2 Cor. 14:11). He is the master of the imitation, the counterfeit, the pretense, the mere performance, the “Potemkin Village,” the lie.
In the 5th chapter of Acts, Ananias and Sapphira are struck dead in the Sunday service for their hypocrisy. It didn’t take long for the early Church’s first love to be tainted by pretense – folks merely going through the outward motions for outward show while their hearts were far from God. Sad that Ananias and Sapphira thought God couldn’t tell the difference. Many still think they can lie to the Holy Spirit.
As in the old story of the Trojan horse, the greatest dangers come from within. God knows these hearts of ours. Christ knew what our hearts were like when He died for us. His love alone can cleanse and change these hearts and make us genuine, not “Potemkin” Christians.