As his ministry draws to a close, the Lord Jesus has some strong words for the Pharisees. They had set themselves against him from the start, and could not follow the kind of teaching he brought. Jesus wanted men and women to grow in faith and love, hence the simple but challenging teachings of the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7). The Pharisees however were only interested in rules, rituals and rewards. Theirs was a religion in which regulations closely followed were bound to bring a reward from God – how could He fail to bless those who were full of such obedience and goodness?

This teaching relegates God from One who gave His only son because He loved us, to One who simply hands out blessings or punishments depending on measurable performance. In seven woes in Matthew 23 (counterparts to the beatitudes of Matthew 5) Jesus showed the folly of their ways and just how dangerous it was. “But woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you shut the kingdom of heaven in people’s faces. For you neither enter yourselves nor allow those who would enter to go in” (Matthew 23:13). Their actions were performed to be seen of others. They wanted the praise of men for all that they did. As Jesus says so bluntly – they have had their reward.

Each must examine his or her heart to consider the motives for everything they do. It is easy to put on a brief show of righteousness and godliness, but what are we like on our own? God sees into every corner of our hearts and knows just the kind of people we are.

David understood and appreciated this (Psalm 38). He lays before God his anguish at his sin. He has failed and is aware how dreadful this is. He casts himself on God’s mercy, seeking forgiveness and blessings, regretting anything he has done against his God. As a result forgiveness was grant to David, and he will live for ever in the Kingdom. Whilst our Lord remains away, now is the time for some serious soul-searching. Whatever we might look like on the outside, what is in our hearts which only us and our Heavenly Father know about?