February 5 | Daily Devotion

Lectio Continua: a continuous reading of every verse

Lectio Semi-continua: shorter reading selections from the passages

Lectio Divina

“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.” ~Matthew 23:27

God saved His people for worship. He also created time for worship (the Sabbath), designed space for worship (the tabernacle), gave rituals for worship (sacrifices, feasts, etc.), and appointed people to lead in worship (priests, singers). If some of Israel’s worship practices seem foreign, it is because they are! Join other Christians in another culture and you will have the same feeling. However, the worship of Israel was, in fact, very contemporary to the period in which God’s people lived. We have been blessed with a surfeit of studies on ancient cultures, and so we know that even the design of the tabernacle was similar to dwellings of the ancient world. Music, dress, ritual, all of it was very much in keeping with the times.

The Israelites’ temporary place of worship went beyond the practical. Yes, it was functional, but it was also colorful, ornate, and well-crafted. The people gave of their best to create something that was worthy of their God. (See both Haggai 1 and Malachi 1 for God’s condemnation when Israel gets “cheap.”) As we have already observed, beauty glorifies God. (He came up with the idea in the beginning; then created people, His image bearers, who create beautiful things!) Anyone who opposes making attractive spaces for worship (or other purposes) needs to rethink their reading of Scripture and church history![1]

However, our worship must never be merely an external display. It needs to be beautiful from the inside out! This is the concern that Jesus addressed in Matthew 23:23-39. Many of the religious leaders (and the people who followed them) were putting on a good show, but their hearts were full of ugliness! When churches or people present a cleaned-up outside, but fail to attend to heart issues, Jesus likens them to dirty dishes (wiped on the outside but not the inside) and well-maintained cemeteries (stately to look at but full of dead bodies).

So here’s a call to deal with our own heart issues, greed, lust, hatred, envy, bitterness, pride, and all the stuff that makes us ugly! God loves beauty, and He wants us to reflect it back to Him from the inside out.   Pray that He will help you identify what is ugly in your heart. Ask for His forgiveness and cleansing. And fill yourself with His Word and the pursuit of His ways so that you are beautiful all the way through.

[1] The earliest Christians continued to go to the temple (a beautiful place) for worship while also meeting in homes during the week. After the destruction of the temple (ca. 70 AD), many of the earliest places for Christian worship, from homes to catacombs, were festooned with art.

Lectio Divina  is written by F. Lionel Young III, who serves as the senior pastor of  Calvary Church  in Valparaiso, Indiana. He is the author of  A New Kind of Missionary, a popular introduction to global Christianity.