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March 8, 2017: True Religion

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Today’s Bible Reading: Numbers 18-20Psalm 55Matthew 23:25-39Romans 6:1-14

Matthew 23:25-39:

Jesus’ denouncement of pharisaic, fake religion continues.

Such fake religion is characterized, next, by a concern for external cleanliness over against internal (23:25-26). Washing, ritual cleaning—all these are ways to cover up the malice within.

This, then, has a repercussion and an effect. Such fake religion creates “whitewashed tombs” (23:27), movements and people that look great on the outside, but really are hiding death and decay within.

And, finally, fake religion has a rather ironic, if not devastating, tendency (23:29-36). First it kills the prophets. Then it builds tombs to commemorate them. To live in the time of a prophet, and to be pierced by his words, is a distinctly uncomfortable experience. Fake religion gets rid of prophets. It does not want to have God’s Word pierce, but rather silent the prophets—even kill them. However, prophets tend (albeit sometimes after their death) to gather enthusiastic and popular followings. People tend to like the unvarnished truth told to them straight, and so it is politic not only to kill the prophets while they are alive, or at least silence them (to avoid having to face any uncomfortable truths), but then also to commemorate them once they are gone (so to ride on their coattails of popular acclaim now that their uncomfortable words and ministry can no longer be directly targeted at you). Such tendency you can find the world over. Kill the preachers. Oppose them. Silence them. Then publish multivolume sets of their works!

All of this leads to Jesus feeling a great sadness towards the center of God’s people, Jerusalem (23:37-39). He characterizes his emotion as like a hen wanting to gather her chicks under her wings—he has a maternal emotion towards Jerusalem (one of the times in the Bible when maternal feelings are imputed towards God). But Jerusalem is not willing to be nurtured and protected by Jesus. And so Jerusalem will not “see” or “recognize” the coming of God to them until they change their attitude and have an internal disposition to welcome those coming in the name of the Lord.

The lesson of all this is to ensure that we have genuine Christianity. Many people oppose Christianity, but what they are really opposing is the kind of fake religion that Jesus also opposed. Pharisaism did not die in first century Israel, and it is not only a Judaistic phenomenon. Its spirit lives on in many religions, even in so-called “Christianized religion.” Essentially, it is about looking good to other people (“hypocrisy”) rather than loving God. Religion, piety, and faith are all used to impress those people around you rather than to grow in a loving, personal relationship with God. May we seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness (Matthew 6:33).

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