If you were in the time of Jesus, would you follow Jesus? If, for instance, you were there walking with the crowd, listening to Jesus speak, and watching Him heal the sick and raise the dead, would you follow Jesus? Then, on the other side, you hear the Pharisees throw accusations to Jesus for violating the law or doing what is not lawful, would you follow Jesus?
I have wondered about this. What would I do if I was there? Would I believe what Jesus says or would I believe what the Pharisees say? Upto now, I could not clearly know the definite answer to that considering how frail a human I am. Like the Pharisees, I could also fall into thinking that outward appearances matter above all.
The Pharisees always watched out for any mistakes that Jesus would do. They wanted to catch Jesus doing exactly the thing that the law forbids and then point their fingers at Jesus, accusing Him of being unlawful. Take a look at several instances. In Matthew 12:3-4, the Pharisees accused Jesus that His disciples plucked grains during the Sabbath. In Matthew 12:38-42, they asked for a sign from Jesus. Again, in Matthew 16:1-4, both the Pharisees and Sadducees approached Jesus to ask a sign from heaven. In Matthew 19:3-9, the Pharisees tested Jesus concerning divorce. In Matthew 22:15-22, they tried to trap Jesus by asking Him “Is it lawful to pay tax to Caesar or not?” In all these occasions, Jesus never failed their test. He answered them in His great wisdom and righteousness.
One thing that is obvious in what the Pharisees were trying to advocate is the religious performance of rituals that even when a person disregards the intention or motive, as long as outwardly the person shows pious conduct, then it conveys righteousness. Like the Pharisees, there are times when we fall into the trap of thinking that outward actions come first before inward intentions. We dwell first in what we could see and disregard what is covert.
It should be the other way around. Let us always first seek to be clean and pure inwardly so that whatever righteousness we do outwardly will be genuine and will be out of pure intentions. This is what glorifies God.
“…for I don’t see as man sees. For man looks at the outward appearance, but Yahweh looks at the heart.”– 1 Samuel 16:7 (WEB)
Actions come from what the heart is made of. Our actions — be it words or deed — reveal the condition of our heart. In Matthew 15, the Pharisees were offended when Jesus said that it is not about the food that we eat that defiles us. Why were they offended? The Pharisees were too concerned about the law and that includes what to eat and not what to eat. God indeed honors our faith. But, the point that Jesus is trying to drive here is, we should not judge a person as unlawful only because of the kind of food they eat. There is far more important concern than this. And this concern is what is inside our heart. Jesus explained that what defiles a person is not the food that he eats (Matthew 15:17-18). It is the heart.
“He summoned the multitude, and said to them, ‘Hear, and understand. That which enters into the mouth doesn’t defile the man; but that which proceeds out of the mouth, this defiles the man.’”– Matthew 15:10-11 (WEB)
“Don’t you understand that whatever goes into the mouth passes into the belly and then out of the body? But the things which proceed out of the mouth come out of the heart, and they defile the man. For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murders, adulteries, sexual sins, thefts, false testimony, and blasphemies. These are the things which defile the man; but to eat with unwashed hands doesn’t defile the man.”-Matthew 15:17-20 (WEB)
It is the condition of our heart that we should be most concerned about. For anyone can do pious, religious rituals and obligations yet they are empty deeds before God. We may outwardly honor God with our lips but it is possible that our hearts are far from Him (Matthew 15:8-9). And when our hearts are far from God, no matter how much we can pretend, our heart will speak for us in our actions. It will come out in what we do sooner or later — evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual sin, theft, false testimonies, and blasphemy. But when our heart is pure and when our heart loves God in genuine adoration and submission, every righteous word and deed that come out from us are pure and glorifying to God. Our heart speaks for every action we do. It is the heart that speaks. People may not read the true intention of our heart, but God does. So, which matters most? Who matters most? It is God who matters because He alone knows our heart. It is pleasing God, not man, that matters above all.
Let us seek for a pure heart that loves God and His kingdom as we obey the Lord Jesus Christ. Let us pray for “a clean heart and right spirit within us” (Psalm 51:10).