Appearances and Realities


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My son posted an article written by a young woman who was chastised by an older woman for wearing holy jeans in church. She was accused of being disrespectful to God. I am reminded of the charge Jesus made against the Pharisees about being whitewashed tombs.[1] They looked good and clean on the outside, but they were empty on the inside.

We are good at making ourselves look good on the outside, but that isn’t that counts.

Jesus was pretty clear when he commended that we should stop judging by appearances.[2] How did this elderly woman know that the young church attendee was disrespecting God? God judges the heart,[3] and God alone.[4] He weighs our motives.[5] The people who look good to us, may be anything but good[6], and the opposite is certainly true as well.

It’s no wonder that millennials are leaving the church in big numbers. If this older woman represents what is important to the average churchgoer today, the Pharisees are still leading the way in religious circles.

The thing is that human nature in the 1st Century is human nature in the 21st Century.

We live with an illusion that we are somehow more enlightened, less barbaric and more advanced that our ancient counterparts. There is some evidence that this assessment may be true. We don’t stone people to death for moral crimes anymore. Activists parade in the public square today to support human rights rather than gathering in the public square to watch executions. But we shouldn’t ignore the signs that suggest a different narrative.

More people were killed by genocidal rulers in the 20th Century than in all the previous centuries combined. Look at the awful number of people killed in Chicago alone every week, month and year. We don’t burn babies on the outstretched arms of Molech anymore; we tear them limb from limb in the womb.

Appearances are deceiving.

But we tend to think we know better.

Soon after the story of the woman caught in adultery when Jesus says, “Let he who is without sin cast the first stone,” Jesus has the following dialogue with the Jews who can’t wrap their head around what they just witnessed (John 8:31-40):

“If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples.  Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”

They answered him, “We are Abraham’s descendants and have never been slaves of anyone. How can you say that we shall be set free?”

Jesus replied, “Very truly I tell you, everyone who sins is a slave to sin. Now a slave has no permanent place in the family, but a son belongs to it forever. So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed. I know that you are Abraham’s descendants. Yet you are looking for a way to kill me, because you have no room for my word. I am telling you what I have seen in the Father’s presence, and you are doing what you have heard from your father.”

“Abraham is our father,” they answered.

“If you were Abraham’s children,” said Jesus, “then you would do what Abraham did. As it is, you are looking for a way to kill me, a man who has told you the truth that I heard from God. Abraham did not do such things. You are doing the works of your own father.”

We are not illegitimate children,” they protested. “The only Father we have is God himself.”

Why did the people respond to Jesus by saying, “We are not illegitimate children”? I think it could be because they knew his story. They knew Jesus as born to a woman who was not married when Jesus was conceived. They were comparing themselves to Jesus, judging by what they saw and what they knew.

But they didn’t know what they didn’t know. And, that is the problem.

The people judged Jesus by appearances. They Justified themselves in comparison to Jesus, who appeared to have been conceived out of wedlock. They would not have believed the Virgin birth. It would have seemed too far-fetched, and they naturally assumed the Jesus was born as the result of sin.

While it is perfectly understandable that they would reach that conclusion, it does not necessarily flow from the fact that a person is born as a result of sin, out of wedlock, that such a person is, therefore, morally inferior. The stigma of being born out of wedlock, being born to a drunkard, being born to a prostitute, etc., still carries forward today. We judge people by appearances.

We judge people by how they look. We judge people by information we know about them. But we don’t know what we don’t know.

We also fear that we will be judged by how we appear to other people and by what other people think of us, whether it is true or not, because we are aware that human judgments are prone to be influenced by half-truths and mistaken assumptions.

Nothing has changed much since the 1st Century in that regard.

God alone judges the heart. God alone sees the heart and the attitude of the heart. This is both comforting and terrifying. It’s comforting to know that God knows the whole truth about us. On the other hand, if God knows every thought that enters my head, every thought that I have ever entertained, every cruel and unkind thought, every impulse that I have not rejected and every thought that I have ever acted on, I have much to be ashamed of. Think about having all of your thoughts, urges daydreams, and impulses that you have not taken captive played out on a movie screen for the world to see. God sees it all.

We should not be worried about what others think of us, but we should be concerned about the condition of our own Hearts. Neither should we be judging others; we should be considering our own hearts. It isn’t that we can change our hearts and mold them to be acceptable to God. It’s a matter of coming to the realization God knows us for who we really are. He also knows us for who we made us to be.

He is the potter, and we are the clay.[7] God made us, and only He can mold us into what He made us to be. We cannot change ourselves, but we can allow ourselves to be molded by Him if we submit to Him

Jesus said to the adulterous woman, after he revealed to her that she was not condemned, “Go and sin no more!”[8] God forgives us freely, but with the forgiveness comes the admonition to go and sin no more. Anyone who sins is a slave to sin. Jesus sets us free from sin, but we must submit to him humbly, honestly, baring the sin to him that he already knows.

There is no hiding your heart condition from God, but that is ultimately good news, because God is our physician who can heal us from our ruinous ways.

In the meantime, we need to stop judging by appearances. We need to stop condemning people to those assumptions that we make. We need to be like Jesus with the adulterous woman. Instead of condemning people to their condition, we need to see them as God sees them, capable of receiving His forgiveness and entering into the freedom to go and sin no more.

The grace that we show others is an indication of the grace we, ourselves have received and embraced. The measure by which we judge others is the measure by which we are judged.[9] If we haven’t received the forgiveness of Jesus and the invitation to go and sin no more, it will be reflected in the way we judge others.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

[1] “Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You are like whitewashed tombs, which look beautiful on the outside but on the inside are full of the bones of the dead and everything unclean. In the same way, on the outside you appear to people as righteous but on the inside you are full of hypocrisy and wickedness.” (Matthew 23:27-28)

[2] “Do not judge by appearances, but judge with right judgment.” (John 7:24)

[3] Jeremiah 17:10

[4] 1 Kings 8:39

[5] Proverbs 16:2

[6] “But the LORD said to Samuel, ‘Do not look at his appearance or at the height of his stature, because I have rejected him; for God sees not as man sees, for man looks at the outward appearance, but the LORD looks at the heart.’” (1 Samuel 16:7)

[7] Isaiah 64:8

[8] John 8:11

[9] Matthew 7:2

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