As we study the best life ever lived, that is, Jesus’ life, as outlined in the Book of Matthew, we come to chapters 23 and 24. In these two intense interactions between Jesus and those who followed Him, He outlines what it means to be “real.” The question we’ll answer today is, “How can I be ‘real’ in a world that’s phony most of the time?”
This is my favorite Calvin and Hobbes cartoon…
Matthew 23 and 24, the theme is simple: Get Real.
Matthew 23:1-5 “Then Jesus spoke to the multitudes and to His disciples, 2 saying: “The scribes and the Pharisees sit in Moses’ seat. 3 Therefore whatever they tell you to observe, that observe and do, but do not do according to their works; for they say, and do not do. 4 For they bind heavy burdens, hard to bear, and lay them on men’s shoulders; but they themselves will not move them with one of their fingers. 5 But all their works they do to be seen by men. They make their phylacteries broad and enlarge the borders of their garments.”
I laugh at that Calvin and Hobbes cartoon, but the lesson in it is the same as is taught here in Chapter 23 of Matthew. Get real.
Who were the Scribes and Pharisees? They were the religious leaders of the day. They had a problem. They had an image to uphold and they went all out to uphold a holy, religious image to everyone around them. The problem was that they turned what was supposed to be a life that points to God into a life that pointed to them.
Broad borders, what’s that all about? For the garb of the day, serious Israelites put special edges on the borders of their clothing, in response to what God spoke to Moses many years before. The purpose of the blue colored border was to remind them of who they belonged to. The Lord! It reminded them of Him, His special relationship to them, which He initiated. In addition to those borders were phylacteries.
Phylacteries were small boxes that held portions of the Bible, tied to the forehead and to the arm. The Pharisees had big ones for a reason – to be noticed by people. What was meant to produce humility, gratefulness, and a reminder that points to God was turned upside down.
Now we don’t do that, right? Hopefully, for the most part, no. But we do this at times. We walk into church acting a certain way, looking a certain way, speaking a certain way and reacting a certain way because it’s church. How many times over the years have I had a bad attitude toward my family or my circumstances and was angry or whatever, and then I walked into church with a smile and a response of “Great!” when asked how I was. Yes, church is where you find life and answers to bad attitudes, but aren’t we just a little too concerned with ourselves? Or we stay home from church because we just don’t have it together enough…like everybody else. Let’s be honest and humble. I don’t have it all together. You don’t either. And yet we can be pointing to a God who loves us graciously, mercifully, and marvelously so that He gets the credit for anything good in our lives. If we’re a mess, we just admit it and ask for help and prayer because everybody else is in that same boat at one time or another.
Jesus finishes out the chapter with eight “woes.” These were eight pronouncements of impending disaster for those who didn’t repent of their phoniness. Beware the leaven of the Pharisees, Jesus said. He meant that hypocrisy was something that, if you allowed it to get a place in your life, it would spread like yeast spreads throughout a lump of bread dough.
His next point in chapter 24 was a dovetail to this.
Matthew 24:1-2 “Then Jesus went out and departed from the temple, and His disciples came up to show Him the buildings of the temple. 2 And Jesus said to them, “Do you not see all these things? Assuredly, I say to you, not one stone shall be left here upon another, that shall not be thrown down.””
The Temple in Jerusalem had been up and restored for many years. It was quite the edifice in Jesus’ day. Large, beautifully constructed and decorated. The disciples remarked to Jesus about the Temple and gave him a tour of the grounds. But then He said something that shocked them. Not one of these masonry stones will be left on another in a day that’s coming relatively soon. Sure enough in 70 AD, some 25+ years later, the Romans tore it all down and ravaged the city.
Wow, the things we see around us here, that would never happen, right?
It isn’t wrong to build, to plant and to achieve. But it’s just bad judgment to think that everything we see, even our way of life, is permanent and untouchable.
How should we think about the world around us? We hold it loosely, with an open hand, and live like the Lord, the Heavenly, and the Eternal are the most important.
Jesus said this in Matthew 24:42 – “Watch therefore, for you do not know what hour your Lord is coming.”
How can you become more real?
Live your life out using your gifts and passions to represent God well.