Sensing the Lord asking me to pay attention. Feeling like I am staring with a purpose I continue to watch the men as they find spots throughout the cabin, wrap themselves in their prayer shawls and begin praying. Their phylacteries are on their foreheads and their arms. They hold the Torah and rock front to back and recite their prayers in Hebrew. All around the plane every Orthodox Jewish man is praying or preparing to pray. I soak it in as Matthew 5:20 comes to the forefront of my mind “For I say to you that unless your righteousness surpasses that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will not enter the kingdom of heaven.” As I continue to take in the scene the Spirit prompts me that the Lord is giving me a real life word picture of the scribes and Pharisees. I think “this is what empty religion looks like.” I’m startled by the bluntness of my thought.
You see, the Scribes and Pharisees were the religious leaders of their day. They did all the right and religious things, yet they missed the biggest part: faith in Jesus as the Messiah. As I carry on watching the men my heart sinks. I realize their outward religious is hopeless without Christ. These men praying their good yet rote prayers have no hope apart from Christ.
I continue to look around. Through the seat in front of me I see my friend sitting by the window with her Bible open. She is no different in practicing her religious duties, but something is obviously different: her heart.
It’s the heart that matters with righteousness, not just the outward action. Jesus tells the people the same thing in the Sermon on the Mount as He ushers in a new way of thinking regarding the heart in the midst of the action. The only way our righteousness can surpass that of the scribes and the Pharisees is to have a heart that is fully sold out to Jesus. In turn a heart dedicated to Jesus compels us to live our life in a way that looks like Christ.
I look around the cabin again, realizing this is just the beginning of things the Lord is going to show me. I realize how dry my own heart is and how desperately I need this time in the Land. I realize that this trip is a gift from the Lord in so many ways and for the first time in quite a while I am grateful to just sit and soak up things with the Lord. I realize how much I miss that sweetness that comes with walking close with Jesus and I remember the trip has just begun and there is so much more for me to learn.