Jesus was the friend of sinners. When he was approached by men and women who considered themselves spiritually destitute, guilty, condemned, and without hope, he was incredibly gracious. Kind actions and tender words of affection flowed forth from his lips towards such totally deprave folk..
However, Jesus was not a friend of many Pharisees, Sadducees, Priests, Scribes, Elders, and Teachers. They were impressive to their worshiping neighbors, but they were offensive to the Son of God. Consistently he moved away from their presence, hid his truth, and when he did speak he thundered forth words of judgment. He saw right through them. Externally, they were exemplary in their piety. Internally, they were frauds. Therefore, he often called them out and told his followers to beware of their influence.
One such example of this is found in Mark 13:38-40:
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)
These unacceptable external worshipers made a big deal about their clothing; they walked about in long robes. It seems they took religious pride in their appearal.
The holy men opposed by Jesus also made much of their titles and positions. They loved being recognized as the most powerful, most wise, or most important individual in the room. Hearing their name being saluted by the common folk was like sweet music in their ears.
Additionally, these ones against whom Jesus postured himself, they cherished the best seats and places of honor. It mattered not whether they were in the public or private sector, they were consistent in their looking out for Number One. They did so, and they expected their peers to do the same.
However, while looking out for their own interests and preferences, it mattered not if they offended their neighbors. If a widow found herself in the route of their self-parade, she would be run over.
But oh how they prayed. Their prayers were long. Their prayers were loud. They are verbose. Professional religion was their flame to fame. It was who they were. It was what they did.
And what was the result? They were impressed with themselves. Their fellow worshipers were often impressed with them. However, neighbors were harmed, Jesus was mad, and the Father reserved greater condemnation for these externally driven holy men. This is why the Master proclaimed, “Beware!” They were dangerous, not only to themselves, but also to their more impressionable followers.
Friends, what are we to learn from this? I think Christ would have us focus on three things.
First Focus – Heart
Jesus sees right through our religious external veneer. He looks past the show and sees the heart. He would have us pay supreme attention to the “inside of the cup.” As the modern song goes, he would have us worship “From the Inside Out.” We should be men and women who pray without ceasing and do so in our closets. We should give with joyful hearts when no one else is watching. Our primary religious exercises should be adoration, confessions, thanksgiving, and supplication. In addition, the primary supplication we should make should be praying for a heart of repentance, faith, and divine affection. We should continually die to self and live for Christ; we must decrease in our affections as he increases. Christ would have our hearts, minds, and souls. He would have us internally commune with him in a manner that does not contradict our outward words and works.
Second Focus – Neighbor
Then, after focusing first on Christ, we should focus next on our neighbors. Let us be humbly aggressive. Let us have less love for ourselves and more passion to see others improved. New Covenant true religion is less outward ceremony and more neighborly compassion. James puts it like this, “Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world.” (James 1:27)
Third Focus – Testimony
We are now ready to focus on our external appearance. There is an external Christian testimony with which we are to be concerned. Christ tells us to “let our lights shine before men that they may see our good works.” Therefore, after being concerned with the heart, which only Jesus can see, we are then ready to be concerned with the outward appearance upon which man looks. So like the Priests, after we have the addressed our insides, let us dress the outside accordingly. And like the Priests, let us pursue being respectable and honorable. It is a wonderful thing when respect and honor are given to us. Let us not need or look for the chief seats, then when they are offered to us we may graciously enjoy the privilege or pass it along to others. And like the Priests, let us learn to worship in public. It is an honorable practice to go to the house of the Lord and encourage God’s people to adore, confess, give thanks, and offer forth request. Friends, Christ is interested in the outward appearance. He is interested in seeing good fruit. He desires us to be like clean cups — within and without. Christ is honored when his children glorify him by being examples in word and deed. External holiness is important to Jesus. 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, let us not take pleasure in our outward conformity to God’s Law while being apathetic towards our neighbors and oblivious to our cold hearts.
With that being said, let us repent and experience the tenderness that flows forth from Christ.
With his omniscient gaze he sees our external show. Frankly, despite our best efforts, it is not that pleasing to him. We all fall short of his standards for external piety.
In addition, he sees the worship casualties that lie in our wake. This has always made him horribly angry. He hates the sin of apathy and abuse.
Then with his all-seeing eye he sees our internal condition. From his divine and perfect perspective, our natural hearts are wretchedly putrid. There is not one righteous, no not one. There is none who meets his holy standard.
For those who are opposed to Christ, condemnation awaits. It is hot and horrible, and even worse for those who transgress Christ’s Law while holding a copy of it on their shelves.
However, for his beloved, those whom he died for on the cross, and those who find themselves not satisfied with their public religiosity, Christ has serious words of correction and kindness. He would have us repent of our sin, love our neighbor, and then walk in obedience to his external standards. While he has no affection for self-righteous Pharisees, Sadducees, Priests, Scribes, Elders, and Teachers, he has a never-ceasing supply of love for those who confess their sin and strive to be led by the Holy Spirit.
On this Lord’s Day, when many of us have taken great pride in our public religiosity, perhaps it is time for us to spend additional time in the prayer closet with God. He waits to soothe us with his love.