Our house is very quiet now after the busyness that comes with 15 precious family members coming to celebrate Christmas with us. How quickly the time flies by! It seems like only yesterday that I unpacked all the decorations and my manger set. Now it is time to start putting it away again. However, I never want it to be just a routine I have to go through each year. Have you ever wondered how many people look at it that way? They get out their decorations without ever stopping to consider why they are celebrating or whom they are celebrating. It is just something they do out of habit, and they may even look at church attendance in that light. Certainly, most churches are filled to the brim on Christmas Eve and on Easter, but then, those same places of worship see fewer of those folks in the ensuing weeks. Why is that? Is it because they take Jesus out of His box once in a while and then put Him back in it like putting away the manger set? Some people believe they only have to attend church once in a while, and somehow that inoculates them against sin and pleases God for a while before they have to do it again. This is not a new approach. Relying on church attendance and rule keeping to please God was a fre
quent tactic of the Pharisees.
In Mark's Gospel, Jesus is questioned by the Pharisees concerning his disciples who had not properly washed their hands before eating. Jesus is quick to reply in Mark 7: 6-7: "And He said to them, 'Well did Isaiah prophesy of you hypocrites, as it is written, 'This people honors me with their lips but their heart is far from me; in vain do they worship me, teaching as doctrines the commandments of men.'" What Jesus pointed out here is that the Pharisees were very good at keeping rules...especially their own rules designed to keep them from breaking the Ten Commandments. However, they went through the motions. Their hearts were not in what they did; rather they wanted to impress others with their religious activities.
Matthew's Gospel account further explains the hypocrisy of the Pharisees in chapter 23. Jesus called them out for not practicing what they preach (vs. 3-4). They would lay upon others the heavy burdens of the Law, but they, themselves, found ways around them. Jesus rightly said in verse 5a: "They do all their deeds to be seen by others..." This was their primary motivation. Throughout this chapter, Jesus pointed to the hollowness of their faith, and this is precisely why the Pharisees wanted to destroy Him. He saw through their empty actions done more for show than for God's glory.
As followers of Jesus Christ, this should cause us to do some serious evaluation of our own walk with the Lord before the dawn of the New Year. We need to ask ourselves if we are just going through the motions to look good to others or are we sincere in our efforts to live for the Lord? Are we spending quality time in prayer asking for God's wisdom, guidance and forgiveness for our sins? Do we have a plan for reading the Bible, and are we faithful in following it? This is not meant to be a checklist for us to merely mark off each day. Instead, it is meant to be a guideline for evaluation.
Going through the motions is exactly what the Pharisees were good at doing. Yet Jesus said that their hearts were far from Him. They are like the people that unpack the decorations, go to church out of habit or tradition, and then, when Christmas is over, they wrap up their manger set and put Jesus away again. Christians are meant to walk with the Lord each day living for Him and bringing glory to His name. We will be known by our fruits not by empty deeds.
As we pack up our Christmas decorations, lets not pack away our faith in Christ, but let us seek to stir it up daily that what Jesus said about the Pharisees may not be true of us: "Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you are like whitewashed tombs, which outwardly appear beautiful, but within are full of dead people's bones and all uncleanness. So you also outwardly appear righteous to others, but within you are full of hypocrisy and lawlessness" (Matthew 23:27-28). May we live, instead, for His glory each day! Selah!