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Practical Religion

And in the morning, It will be foul weather today: for the sky is red and lowring. O ye hypocrites, ye can discern the face of the sky; but can ye not discern the signs of the times?

Faith in Jesus Christ as Saviour transforms us from a shallow meaningless person into one filled with the Spirit of God. If we are born again and the Spirit resides within us, our religion ought to be as full of meaning as our lives are full of the Spirit. How terrible to see many religions in which there is absolute meaninglessness because of spiritual ritualism. Jesus encountered this very same thing in His day as well.

The Pharisees were always guilty of practicing an empty religion. This is why John the Baptist called them a "generation of vipers" (Matthew 3:7). The Pharisees were constantly interested in keeping the ceremonial law, but they had the wrong heart attitude toward God. When Jesus called Matthew to discipleship, the Pharisees were right there to question the Lord's disciples, "Why eateth your Master with publicans and sinners?" (Matthew 9:11). When He cast a demon out of a man who was dumb, the Pharisees accused Jesus of casting out devils through the power of the prince of the devils (Matthew 9:34).

Always the Pharisees were seeking a sign from Jesus that He was the Messiah. Time and again He refused to give them such a sign saying that the sign of Jonah was all they would need. His resurrection after a death of three days would be the great sign to them that He was indeed the Messiah. If they would not believe that sign, neither would they believe any other.

At Magdala Jesus again encountered the Pharisees, this time in league with the Sadducees and Herodians, who again asked Him for a sign. As before, Jesus refused to give them such a sign but at the same time He taught them something about the emptiness and blindness of their spiritual ritualism. Jesus noted that the Pharisees and Sadducees could read the weather signs in the heavens. He said, "When it is evening you say, it will be fair weather for the sky is red." This is comparable to our axiom, "Red sky at night, sailor's delight." But Jesus continued, "And in the morning it will be foul weather today: for the sky is red and lowring" (Matthew 16:3). Or, as we would say, "Red sky in morning, sailors take warning."

Jesus then concluded with the assessment, "O ye hypocrites, ye can discern the face of the sky; but can ye not discern the signs of the times?" These religious leaders could read the skies with the best astronomers and mariners, but could not recognize that Jesus was the Messiah. This was where their expertise should have been, but because they had been involved so long with empty formalism instead of meaningful activity in carrying God's love to the world, they did not have the eyes of faith with which to see Jesus as their Saviour.

An item from a church bulletin clearly points out the inconsistency of pious religion which does not follow through in meeting the needs of people. It is a satirical rephrasing of Matthew 25: "I was famished and you formed a humanitarian club to discuss my hunger...I was imprisoned and you crept off quietly to your church to pray for my release. I was naked and you debated the morality of my unseemly appearance. I was sick and you knew it, yet did nothing but thank God for your own health. I was homeless and you preached to me of the spiritual shelter of the love of God. I was lonely and you left me by myself while you went and prayed for me. You seemed so holy, so close to God; but I am still very hungry, desolate, and cold!"

While the Pharisees had all the trappings of religion, all the robes, all the religious paraphernalia, they had none of the heart, none of what true religion is all about. Yet today as well there are many churches and denominations that have all the trap-pings of religion but none of the heart of the Lord Jesus. It is up to each of us to make sure that we attend faithfully those churches which show the heart of the Lord Jesus and not the heart of the Pharisee. Is your church following Jesus or following the Pharisees? Is your religion practical? Make it a point to pray for your church today.

MORNING HYMN All Thy works with joy surround Thee, Earth and Heav'n reflect Thy rays, Stars and angels sing around Thee, Center of unbroken praise.

Devotional is used with permission from the author. It may be used solely for personal, noncommercial, and informational purposes. Republication or redistribution of this devotional is prohibited.

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