Jesus speaks jarring words against the religious leaders of his day. He describes them as those who honor God with their lips, that is, outwardly, but inwardly their hearts are far removed from him. They are more concerned with pleasing the eyes of people than with pleasing God.
He even goes as far as to call them “hypocrites.” The word hypocrisy has its roots in pretending, its origin coming from theatre, referring to a play-actor. Hypocrisy is a form of lying, and can be a form of self-delusion.
Hypocrisy is the most dangerous reality for someone claiming to know, love, and follow Jesus.
The religious during Jesus’ day were following traditions over God’s commands. We, like them, can do this unintentionally:
We slip into convenient routines that cost us nothing more than an hour on Sunday.
We dress in our “Sunday best,” put on a smile, and pretend like everything is wel..
We don’t want anyone to know our struggles.
We make sure that we look great on the outside no matter what is going on inside our hearts,
We make Christianity a religion instead of an authentic, ongoing relationship with God. And God is not pleased with this.
God has a brazen message for those who elevate traditions over his Word: They do not honor God, and their worship is in vain. Traditions are not inherently wrong, but ceremonial obedience sickens God when it does not spring from a transformed heart. If we pull all of the denominations together, we will discover that, over time, we have added thousands of traditions to the fundamental teachings of Jesus.
How often have our traditions saved us eternally? Is it possible that our traditions actually prevent us from seeing God as He actually is? Is it possible to live in routines of traditions, and out of touch with Jesus?
Jesus didn’t die so we could have a sweet, pretty religious life. He died to create a new type of humanity, to create a people who belong to God with their hearts and where God is theirs, and they are his. He died for reconciliation, not religion.
Religion is based on our performance; following Jesus is based on his performance.
Religion is about rules and routines; following Jesus is about allegiance and devotion.
Religion is convenient; following Jesus is sacrificial.
Religion demands part of my life; following Jesus demands all of my life.
Religion is a Sunday thing; following Jesus is an everyday thing.
Religion leads to despair and pride; following Jesus leads to confidence and humility.
Religion leads to hate; following Jesus leads to love.
Religion leads to war; following Jesus leads to peace.
Religion says, “Try harder.” Jesus says, “It is finished.”
The true call to follow Jesus is to lay down our lives and lose our lives for his sake. Jesus calls us to take up our cross and follow him: In other words, to die to ourselves and live for him. This is a call to bear our cross and be willing to endure pain, shame, and persecution for his sake and his cause.
Following Jesus isn’t about following rules; it’s about giving our full and undivided devotion to him. It’s living in light of his death. It’s responding to God’s grace by giving our lives to him as he gave his life to us.
He is our highest priority, and in him, we find our greatest value. He is our treasure and our reward. He has given us his life, and now to him, we freely give ours.
In the end, there are only two types of people: Those who have met Jesus and now follow him, and those who have not met Jesus and do not follow him. There is no in between.
It’s terrifying to think of so many people who day in a day out go through the motions of tasteless, apathetic religious activities, all the while avoiding the God they claim to worship. What is more is that none of us is immune to this deception. If anything, we are prone to it. Our western culture gives us every little distraction and comfort we need in order to stay disconnected with God.
Never forget that although we are rich (in view of the world) we are desperately poor in spirit, needy for God’s presence and life-giving Spirit. Nothing can supplement God’s presence. Jesus thought it so important that he gave his life that we might have that presence.