Matthew 12:33-37 (NIV) “Make a tree good and its fruit will be good, or make a tree bad and its fruit will be bad, for a tree is recognized by its fruit. You brood of vipers, how can you who are evil say anything good? For out of the overflow of the heart the mouth speaks. The good man brings good things out of the good stored up in him, and the evil man brings evil things out of the evil stored up in him. But I tell you that men will have to give account on the day of judgment for every careless word they have spoken. For by your words you will be acquitted, and by your words you will be condemned.”
Jesus knew what was in the hearts of all people (John 2:24-25), and what was in the hearts of these religious leaders who were opposing Him was very clear at that moment. The words that they spoke and their attitude toward His teachings about the kingdom of God were as clear indicators of bad hearts as rotten fruit is of a bad tree.
What is in a person’s heart will ultimately show up on their face and in their words. Many people wear “masks” that cover up the wickedness of their hearts, and they watch what they say and do in public. But those who see their unguarded moments, who know them in private, know what is behind the mask, who they really are in their hearts.
The real state of the heart is most evident during times of stress or anger, when plans are foiled, or when situations are out of their control. Oddly enough, it is also very evident at the opposite end of the spectrum: when there is no stress, when they are at ease and feel no pressure to maintain appearances. How a person behaves in these situations shows who they really are. That’s why Jesus pointed out that it is our “careless” or “unguarded” words that will judge us when we stand before God’s throne.
The Pharisees were supreme mask wearers. Everything that they did in public was intentionally designed to give the impression of godliness: giving conspicuously to the poor, praying loud and long prayers in public, disfiguring their faces so that people would know that they were fasting (cf. Matthew 6:1-18). But Jesus knew their hearts, and called them whitewashed tombs (Matthew 23:27-28) – beautiful on the outside, but full of corruption on the inside. But in times of stress, anger, or frustration, the odor of all that inner decay seeped out and became evident.
God’s people are not to wear masks that make them look good on the outside while actually being rotten on the inside. Instead, they are to be transformed so that they are naturally good and holy on the inside. Then the righteousness that people see will be genuine, coming from a heart made pure by the presence and power of the Holy Spirit working in them. Those people need never worry that their mask will slip in an unguarded moment, since their external righteousness is not a cover-up, but an accurate reflection of God’s goodness that lives in them.
Father, I thank You that the law of the Spirit of life, real internal transformation, can do in us what the law, the external mask of compliance with Your rules, was not able to do in the Pharisees. We can actually be transformed so that we are righteous on the inside, and so that our righteous actions accurately reflect that inner reality (cf. 2 Corinthians 5:17 and Romans 8:1-4). Continue Your transformative work in my heart until I am purified like gold; until I accurately reflect Your glory to the world around me. Amen.