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September 19, 2021 | Doug Sauder
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“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you are like whitewashed tombs which indeed appear beautiful outwardly, but inside are full of dead men’s bones and all uncleanness.”—Matthew 23:27 (NKJV)
It is fairly easy for me to identify with beautiful tombs. The city I grew up in, New Orleans, is situated six feet below sea level, surrounded by levees built to protect it from flooding. Because the city sits so low, tombs are erected above ground. They run the gamut from the ordinary to the extravagant. Most have marble columns and stone entranceways, but as beautiful as they are, their contents were revealed when Hurricane Katrina besieged that city many years ago. The floods washed many of the corpses out of their tombs, and the remains subsequently had to be reburied. That scene, as unforgettable as it was, stands as a textbook illustration of the religious leaders in Jesus’ day and who we are apart from Christ.
In order for pious rulers of Jesus’ time to justify their devout attitudes, a facade of righteous perfection was necessary to maintain. Religious rules were to be followed to the letter, with no room for deviation. Sacred tradition often supplanted any plea for compassion or needed assistance. The danger in knowing this truth is the propensity we have to fall into the same trap. Like the Pharisees in Jesus’ time, we too, run the risk of following the letter of the law to the detriment of meeting a divine need. Listen to how Jesus addressed those who thought they were right in their own eyes: “Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You give a tenth of your spices—mint, dill and cumin. But you have neglected the more important matters of the law—justice, mercy and faithfulness. You should have practiced the latter, without neglecting the former. You blind guides! You strain out a gnat but swallow a camel” (Matthew 23:23-24 NIV).
What about us? Do I give to God what is rightfully His (tithes, worship) but neglect an obvious need within the body of believers? Am I guilty of donating to charities but neglect the widow who has a hard time making ends meet? Do you see how easy it is to convince ourselves we are centered in God’s will while missing weightier matters? What benefit do I derive from looking outwardly acceptable while dismissing a brother or sister’s obvious need?
The Lord told the prophet Samuel all we need to know regarding how we appear to Him: “Don’t judge by his appearance or height, for I have rejected him. The Lord doesn’t see things the way you see them. People judge by outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart” (1 Samuel 16:7 NLT).
DIG: Am I quick to obey the Holy Spirit’s prompting related to a need within the body of Christ?
DISCOVER: Ask God to give you a desire to hear His still small voice, especially after you have obeyed in the “big things.”
DISPLAY: For a greater perspective on going “above and beyond,” reread Luke 10:30-37. Although this may be a familiar account, notice the ways this man went the extra mile.