Simeon prophesied concerning Jesus, saying, “He will set up a standard that many will attack. Thus He will expose the secret thoughts of their hearts” (Luke 2:34, 35 – J.B.Phillips paraphrase)
When people criticized and attacked Jesus for the high standard of life that He preached, they didn’t realize that by their actions and words they were actually revealing the inner state of their own corrupt hearts – in a way that would never have taken place if Jesus had not come into their midst.
When Jesus was teaching in the synagogue in Capernaum once, a demon-possessed man began to cry out. The demon in that man had been peaceful and quiet during all the many years that the Pharisees had preached in that synagogue. But the moment Jesus came and preached, the man’s inner condition was exposed (Mark 1:21-27).
The inner condition and attitude of people’s hearts were always exposed, whenever Jesus came into their midst.
All the religious rulers in the synagogues appeared to be holy in the eyes of the people. But when Jesus came into their midst, their deceptive external appearance was stripped away and they were shown to be hypocrites and deceivers.
When Jesus once came into the midst of a group of Pharisees who wanted to stone a woman caught in adultery, their inner heart-attitudes were exposed immediately (John 8:3-11). They wanted to find some ground to accuse Jesus (John 8:6). But Jesus told them that the one who was without sin alone could throw the first stone. Immediately the inner condition of their hearts was exposed – and they all had to walk away, “beginning with the older ones”!! The senior Pharisees are always the biggest hypocrites!!
There we see that God used even a woman’s sin to expose the wickedness of those who accused her – as soon as Jesus came into the midst.
If we don't heed the word of Jesus speaking to our hearts today saying, "Don’t judge others. Let the one who is without sin throw the first stone", we too can end up with that crowd of Pharisees finally, and be cast away from Jesus' presence eternally. It is always best to leave all judgment with God, the only Righteous Judge.
Pilate looked like an all-powerful ruler who was afraid of no-one and cared for no-one’s opinion. But when Jesus stood before him and spoke to him, Pilate was immediately exposed for what he really was. Even though he knew that Jesus was innocent, he still handed Him over to the people to be crucified. Thus Pilate stood exposed as a coward who was afraid of people’s opinions.
In all these cases, we see that the opposition of people to Jesus revealed their own inner condition – thus fulfilling the prophecy of Simeon (above).
Today we who are members of the Body of Christ are to fulfil this same ministry that the first Body of Christ (Jesus Himself) fulfilled.
When carnal Christians today criticize us for proclaiming the same high standard of life that Jesus preached, those critics don’t realize that they are actually revealing the carnality of their own hearts thereby – in a way that would never have happened if we had not come into their midst proclaiming the new-covenant standard.
To give just one example: We proclaim that “Jesus and the apostles are our examples in financial matters. There was a heavenly dignity about them and so they never once asked anyone for money for their own needs or for their ministry. They asked believers only to help the poor”.
Carnal preachers and pastors will immediately question this standard of God’s Word that we proclaim, and quote the example of the Levites under the old covenant. Thus the secret thoughts of their hearts are exposed: (1) Their disregard for this New Testament standard in financial matters; (2) their unbelief in God’s ability to provide for them, and (3) their ignorance of the fact that the old covenant has been abolished and that Jesus and His apostles are our examples now, and not the Levites (Heb.8:7-13; 12:1,2; 1 Cor.11:1; Phil.3:17).
And that is just one example. There are many more.
We should not be surprised then, if we are opposed (like Jesus Himself was), by religious leaders and preachers in our day. We carry out the same ministry that the first Body of Christ (Jesus) fulfilled on earth 20 centuries ago. And the result will also be the same: God will use the opposition of people to our message to reveal the carnality of their hearts.
Sometimes God uses even the suffering of His people to expose the inner heart-condition of others.
When Jesus suffered, hanging on the cross, the inner thoughts of many people were revealed. The passers-by mocked Him – and thereby revealed the corruption of their hearts. On the other hand, one Roman soldier’s inner sincerity was also revealed, when he declared that Jesus was the Son of God. The inner heart of one crucified thief was revealed as corrupt – and he went to hell; while the inner heart of the other crucified thief was revealed as truly repentant – and he entered paradise.
In Mark 3:2, we read that when Jesus came to a synagogue one day, His enemies were so angry with Him that they "watched Him closely" to find something to criticize. Modern-day Pharisees also watch the lives of upright believers very closely to find some fault that they can criticize.
The more angry you are with someone, or jealous of him, the more closely you are likely to watch his life, to find some fault in him. There may indeed be some trivial fault in his life, or in his home, or in his family (as there are in all people). But God uses those trivial faults in His servants to expose the wickedness of those who judge them.
The Lord says, "Among my people are wicked men who lurk for victims like a hunter hiding in a blind. They set their traps to catch men. Their homes are full of evil plots....... Should I sit back and act as though nothing is going on?" (Jer.5:26, 29 - Living).
At one time, the Pharisees, "plied Jesus with a host of questions, trying to trap Him into saying something for which they could have Him arrested" (Lk.11:54 - Living). On another occasion, "they sent other religious leaders to talk with Him to try and trap Him" (Mk.12:13 - Living).
The descendants of those Pharisees "who watch others closely" and ply God’s servants with questions (to trap them) are found in abundance in Christendom today. So we must be "wise as serpents", as we move in their midst, "as lambs in the midst of wolves" (Matt.10:16).
One of the quickest ways for anyone to become a first-class Pharisee is by "watching other believers closely". If you want to avoid being a Pharisee, finish once and for all with that habit – for that is never done with a good motive, to help people, but only with a view to find fault with them.
Mercy is a great antidote to Pharisaism. So learn to be merciful to others just as God has been merciful to you.
When Jesus walked on this earth, the love and mercy and goodness of God were manifested through His life.
Today, we too can be filled with the Holy Spirit (the Spirit of Christ), so that, that same love, mercy and goodness can be manifested through our lives as well (as promised in Romans 5:5).
May it be so. Amen.
SI Moderator - Greg