Many scandalous people heard gracious words from the mouth of Jesus. Those who considered themselves totally depraved, unrighteous, guilty, wretched, vile, and without hope, found themselves warmed by the Friend of Sinners. Jesus pursued such, dined with such, taught them truth, touched their souls, pronounced them clean, and set them forth on the path of holiness.
However, many devoutly religious individuals received words of condemnation from the lips of Jesus. He reserved his toughest comments for many who were externally exemplary in pious living. Listen to the account of Mark:
And in his teaching he said, “Beware of the scribes, who like to walk around in long robes and like greetings in the marketplaces and have the best seats in the synagogues and the places of honor at feasts, who devour widows’ houses and for a pretense make long prayers. They will receive the greater condemnation.” (Mark 13:38-40)
Christ speaks of worshipers who walk about in long robes. They take incredible pride in their external appearance. Jesus then comments on worshipers who appreciate certain greetings. Their names, titles, decrees, and accomplishments are like music in their ears. Additionally, these scribes cherish the the best seats and places of honor. Everyday they are looking out for “Number One” and expecting their peers to do the same. However, while they are looking after their own interests, they disregard and damage those most needy in their midst. But oh, how they pray! Their prayers are long. Their prayers are loud. They are verbose, but they are shallow.
About such religious individuals, the Teacher says, “Beware!” Externally-focused worshipers are dangerous to themselves and their impressionable followers. According to Jesus, the hell awaiting such worshipers is more severe than for others. Therefore, before Jesus dies in Jerusalem, he takes time to passionately warn his disciples against their being satisfied with an external show of religion. Jesus sees the external religiosity of the scribes and Pharisees, and he is not impressed. Why? Because Jesus looks right through their external veneer and sees arrogant and corrupt hearts within.
Friends, Christ is interested in the outward appearance. He is interested in seeing good fruit. He desires to see worshipers who let their light shine before men. He is thrilled by religious folk who are examples of the believer in word and deed. External holiness is important to Jesus. In addition, titles, degrees, credentials, accomplishments, and honors are not wrong. It is good to show respect to others, and it is good to be respected. Additionally, to pray loud and long is not sinful. One ought always to pray. One ought to pray without ceasing. One ought to pray privately in their closet and publicly in the House of Prayer. One ought to speak prayer, sing prayer, and even shout forth prayers at times. In addition, good, rich, and learned vocabulary is not to be disdained. A good external show of religion is not sinful. One only has to look at the Tabernacle, Temple, and Heavenly Jerusalem to see who God glories in external excellence. Let us be jewels of honor in his crown!
However, while we are somewhat concerned with external worship, let us not be solely concerned with externals. May we give higher concern to the “inside of the cup.” And let us pursue being respectable and honorable, and let us enjoy respect and honor when it is given, but let us need it not. Instead of focusing on ourselves, let us be internally humble and focus instead on others — especially those who are most in need. And when we pray, may our internal hearts not contradict that which flows forth from our external lips.
Beware friends, ministers and laity may be impressed when Jesus is not. According to Scripture, man looks on the outward appearance, but God looks at the heart. Jesus sees us, and he sees right through us. Let’s talk to him about what he sees.