Bible Reading: Matthew 23:23-39
It’s so easy…that it’s dangerous.
- It’s so easy to be religious…that it’s dangerous.
- It’s so easy to act good, and say the right things…that it’s dangerous.
- It’s so easy to have the appearance of being a Christian…that it’s dangerous.
Jesus was harsher on religious people, especially the hyper-religious Pharisees…than on anyone else. Why? Because they gave the appearance that they followed, and worshipped God…but they didn’t, not really. They were religious…but they didn’t know God. And Jesus played no games with that. It seems like that was the one thing He would not tolerate. He publicly denounced them and pronounced God’s judgment on them. He wanted to make it absolutely clear that: It’s not what is on the outside that counts…but, what is on the inside that counts.
Thoughts about God for My Grandkids:
There was once a young shepherd boy who lived in the days of Jesus. For several years, he had accompanied his father on a 3-day trip to a distant valley where they pastured their sheep. Now, for the first time in his life, his father had gone back home…and left him there alone, to take care of the sheep. It was a proud moment for him. Taking care of the sheep was a huge responsibility. After all, their lives depended on the sheep. If anything happened to the sheep…it would have a bad effect on the whole family. He did his best to do everything right. He wanted to make his father, and his family, proud of him.
His father was supposed to be back at the end of the third week to take his place. Everything had gone fine…for the first two weeks. But it was in the middle of the third week, with four days left, that he realized that he had a problem. While he had carefully managed the sheep, kept them safe, and moved them from pasture to pasture…he had not managed his own food supply, well. And now, with four days left, he barely had enough for two days.
Late that afternoon, as he was bringing the sheep back to where he was camped, he made a wonderful discovery. A fig tree. But, not just any fig tree. No. This fig tree had figs on it. And he loved figs. He counted…one, two, three, four, five. Five figs. And they were beautiful figs. The skin was black and shiny. And they were some of the biggest figs he had ever seen. There was enough for a meal. If he ate the figs tonight and stretched the food that he had at camp…he would make it until his father arrived.
To this shepherd boy, figs were like a delicacy. They were sweet. In fact, they were so sweet that it was almost like eating candy. He carefully picked the figs and placed them in the leather pouch hanging from his waste. He would get the sheep back to the camp pasture…make sure that they were settled down for the night…and then, he would feast on his figs.
Finally, shortly after dark, he sat down near the fire and leaned back against a log. He opened the leather pouch and took the figs out. Oh, they were going to be so good. Look how plump and shiny they were. Taking one fig in his hands he pulled it into two pieces. He closed his eyes and put half the fig in his mouth. “Mmm, that is so…. Wait a minute, what is that?” Something tasted funny. Something was moving in his mouth. He held the other half of the fig up close to the fire…maggots! The inside of the fig was full of maggots. “That’s gross! How nasty!” “Blah, blah, blah.” He spit the fig out of his mouth and into the fire. He kept spitting and spitting…until there was nothing, certainly not any maggots, left in his mouth. Then, he threw the other piece into the fire. “That’s disgusting. I had maggots in my mouth.”
He was so disappointed. He only had five figs…and one was ruined by maggots. He picked up the second fig and tore it in half. This time, before he took a bite, he held it in the light of the fire and looked at it very closely. “Oh, no. More maggots. I can’t believe this.” He threw the second fig into the fire. He tore the third fig in half. Maggots. The fourth fig. Maggots. Finally, he sat there, staring at his last fig. What was he going to do? He was hungry and without the figs he didn’t have enough food. He looked at the fifth fig…started to tear it in half…and stopped. “What if there are maggots in this fig? I can’t go hungry.” He looked at the fig. It was shiny and plump…and looked so delicious. Finally, he closed his eyes, put the fig in his mouth and started chewing. “Maggots!” But he just kept chewing, and chewing, and…
Remember, yesterday we talked about the Pharisees. They were a group of religious leaders among the Jewish people. They were very, very strict. They made up law after law of their own, because they thought that if one of their laws helped them keep the Law of God…then another law, and another law, and another law, and so on…would help them to keep the Law of God, even better. So, they had lots and lots of laws.
But Jesus said that there was something wrong with what they were doing. They kept all of these laws. They had all of these strict requirements. But it was all fake. They did their very best to give the appearance of being super good, super righteous, super spiritual. Maybe they thought that if they convince other people of how good they were…they could convince themselves of how good they were…and maybe even God. But the truth was…they were faking it. You see, while they looked good on the outside…they had maggots on the inside. Well, not really maggots. But you get the idea. Jesus said they were like a beautiful coffee cup. It was washed and cleaned to perfection on the outside. But on the inside…the place where the coffee went…was filthy dirty. He was comparing the Pharisees to the coffee cup. He said that while they acted so religious on the outside…they were filthy dirty on the inside. He said that ”they stole from other people and only thought about themselves.” Maggots. He didn’t stop there. He then compared them to a graveyard. He said that they were like a tomb…that’s the stone box they put someone in when they die. The tomb was beautifully engraved and polished to perfection on the outside. But inside were the bones and decaying body of a dead person. On the outside the Pharisees seemed to be beautiful and polished…but inside, they were like the body of a dead person. On the outside they looked alive…but on the inside they actually were dead. Maggots.
Someone said, “Come on Jesus…tell us what you’re really thinking.” Here is what He meant. It’s not enough to just look good on the outside. It’s not enough to just act good, and obey laws, and go to church, and not cuss. What counts is what is inside. What is in your heart. You see, like the Pharisees, if we’re not careful…we can do the right things, for the wrong reasons. And when you do the right things, for the wrong reasons…you do it for yourself, and not for God. That just won’t work. Why not? Because your outside cannot change your inside…only God can change your inside…and then your inside can change your outside. Did you follow that? Let me say it again. We don’t need a change of appearance, or behavior, or even attitude…outside. What we need is a change of heart…inside. That’s the only thing that will work. And the only way that we can have a change of heart is to accept Jesus as our Savior. Then, He changes us on the inside…in our heart. When that happens…we don’t just act different…we are different. Then, our actions will come from a pure heart. A heart that is devoted to God. Let God clean up your inside…and then your outside will be just as beautiful.
Love you more than bunches and bunches,