Matthew 23:25-26 (NIV) “Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You clean the outside of the cup and dish, but inside they are full of greed and self-indulgence. Blind Pharisee! First clean the inside of the cup and dish, and then the outside also will be clean.”
The Pharisees and teachers of the law were indeed very good at keeping the outside of the cup, their outer life, clean and polished, and looking wonderful. But the inside of the cup was another matter entirely.
Jesus knew what was inside a person, and in the case of these leaders, He knew that their hearts, the insides of their cups, was filled with greed and self-indulgence, and even more evil things. And God, who looks not at the outside of a person but at the heart (1 Samuel 16:7), did not even see or take into account their scrupulous attention to all of the fine points of the law. He only saw the evils within.
Jesus’ solution to this problem was simple, elegant, and perfectly effective. He was urging these men to repent, so that their hearts, the inside of their cups, could be made spotlessly clean, something that no amount of good works or renewed efforts could ever accomplish. It is something that only God Himself can do. And then, with hearts that are perfectly clean and pure, their actions, the outside of the cup, would be clean, pure, and holy as well.
The biggest problem that these leaders and teachers faced was that, in their worldview, they believed that if they got their outer lives clean enough, their hearts would follow along. But Jesus knew that only God can cleanse a heart, and He does that work from the inside for those who repent and believe. No amount of outer “scrubbing” can ever make a heart clean.
Father, I wonder how many of us today have fallen prey to that same inaccurate worldview. How many of us try to be holy by trying to do more holy things and less bad things, instead of merely asking You and allowing You to cleanse our hearts? If we let You make our hearts clean, our actions will follow suit. Help us to be humble enough to ask You for the inner purification we need to be genuinely holy at heart, and not try to approach true righteousness as a self-improvement program. Amen.