Key Verse: Matthew 23:28
Big Idea: God does not look at the outside, but the heart.
Matthew 23 is almost the antithesis of the beatitudes in the Sermon on the Mount. There, Jesus had listed various descriptions of the blessed person, but here, He describes those who are under God's judgment. Woe, He said, to the Pharisees and the hypocrites. In each case, Jesus recognized their external righteousness and obedience, but condemned them because it went no deeper. They obeyed the letter of the law, but missed the spirit of it. One of Jesus' pictures is particularly vivid: imagine being told to wash a cup, and washing the outside, while leaving the inside dirty. Perhaps you technically followed instructions, but you obviously did not do what the person wanted.
It is easy enough for us to do something that looks like obedience or holiness, but God is clearly not impressed. Jesus’ words against the Pharisees are strong, going so far as to compare the Pharisees to tombs – beautiful on the outside, but full of death. There is no good kind of sin, whether subtle or flagrant, but there is something especially dangerous about hypocrisy. If someone is caught up in major sin, the are often aware of their sinfulness and are willing to seek desperation. The hypocrite is just as sinful, but has convinced herself (and sometimes other people) that she does not need repentance or forgiveness.
A good doctor does not treat the symptoms of a disease without curing the underlying problem; pain, fever or swelling is useful, because it lets us know that there is a problem. There is no one whose condition is so helpless as the one who does not realize they are sick. God is not satisfied with reforming the outside, or with our own efforts to look good, but with the condition of our hearts. When He changes our hearts through faith in Jesus, everything on the outside will follow.
Discussion idea: Have you ever done something because of how it would look to other people? Why is this kind of temptation so powerful for us?
Prayer focus: Pray for God to search our hearts, and help us to see our hidden faults for Him to forgive and cleanse.