“Woe to you…” We see this phrase over 6 times in Matthew 23. Jesus spent this entire chapter calling the scribes and Pharisees out on their hypocrisy. They had been attacking Him, questioning Him, trying to trick Him and I feel like this was Jesus having enough of it. Jesus was warning the people that even though the religious leaders could talk the talk they were not walking the walk. You see, the Pharisees and the scribes knew how to call people out, they knew the Law and they even dressed the part, but they had no substance inside of them. Having the look isn’t enough when it comes to a relationship with Jesus. They had been working “the look” for hundreds of years and all it was doing was bringing bondage to the people.
If we looked at the outside lives of the leaders, they might seem like decent guys. They were highly thought of leaders in their communities until Jesus came in and broke the system. When Jesus showed up the ugly that was hidden on the inside of these guys came out and people started to see that white washed tombs are not good places. How can we avoid this? How can we be sure that our lives are not centered on just looking like Jesus instead of acting like Him?
Bells and Whistles
New cars can be lots of fun. My first and only new, new car was a Hyundai Sonata. I got it when we lived in Arizona and I loved it. It had that beautiful new car smell, it had the fancy radio stations, tinted windows, basically a lot of bells and whistles. For a 19-year-old, I thought I was something. The thing about that car was that the payment was $300 a month. Ouch! It might have had the bells and whistles but it sure costs to look good.
This reminds me of the life of the religious leaders of Jesus’ time. They looked good but it was costing them to be that way. They were so busy maintaining their reputation and their position that they missed being taught or being transformed by Jesus. I realize that God used their hard hearts in His overall plan for the cross, but imagine if they would have changed? Imagine if they would have stopped worrying about how it looked and really surrendered to being with Jesus?
For years I struggled with the bells and whistles of Christianity. I thought God loved me only on days where I could do my best. I thought He was only proud when I was faithful to read and pray. I struggled for years, even into my 20’s, with developing a relationship and not a religion. I looked like I had it together and like I had an understanding of God, but on the inside, I was hurting and I was depressed.
Hot Air or Breath of Life
“You are just full of a lot of hot air.” Have you heard that statement before? Most of us have. It generally means that someone is talking but not saying much or they are fabricating stories to make themselves look better. Jesus called out the religious leaders for being full of hot air. He identified that they had the right words but the wrong spirit and that if the disciples and the people wanted to listen to them they could but they must not do what they did ( Matthew 23:1-12).
Looking back at the years when I struggled to know God I can see that hot air was not changing me. Words were empty when they were not backed up with action and many believers were saying one thing but living another. I myself was guilty of this, I believed God’s truths and I tried so hard to live them out but I was not letting them change me completely. It took many more years for God to transform how I approached Him and how I reacted to His love.
As believers, we should be very aware of what we are releasing. Are we full of hot air that’s not backed up by our lives or are we releasing the breath of life? Jesus said the Pharisees and scribes were like white washed tombs, appearing beautiful on the outside but within are full of dead people’s bones in them and uncleanness (Matthew 23:27-28). If you have ever caught a drift of something that has died on the air then you know it is not pleasant. That is not what we want on the inside of us. We don’t want our spirits to be dead and our outsides to be faking beauty. God wants to work in us from the inside out and transform that hot air into the breath of heaven.
What if we took this week to self-analyze? Are we white washed tombs? Are we putting on the look so everyone thinks we have this whole “God thing” together or are we really living from a place of deep relationship with Jesus? Lasting transformation starts within and works its way out. Let’s ask God to remove the hot air, and breathe into us.
Bells and whistles make a lot of noise but really serve no purpose. I don’t want to be full of just noise. I want to be a passionate voice releasing God’s promises on the earth and into the lives of the broken.
Why? Why does this matter? Why should we want something more than to look good or even pretend to be good? Why does relationship matter? Because the world has had enough fake. The broken, the hurting, the bitter, the angry, they have all had enough fake gospel thrown at them and it is time for authenticity. It is time for the lovers of God to cross over the chicken line and be authentic.
What does that look like, we may ask? Well, I think it looks like love. I think it looks like bringing people in, listening to them, loving on them and showing them that the wrath of God was poured out on the cross and what remains is a Father that loves them. A Real relationship will bring change, so it is not our job to try and fix others, it is our mandate to share the transformative love of Jesus.
Why is it important that we aren’t just covered in bells and whistles with no substance? Because everyday lives are ending without ever having heard, “Hey, Jesus loves you and I love you.” That is why it matters.