The Case Of The Empty Case

A few years ago, while rushing about getting things ready to record a favorite television movie, I reached for a cassette tape to record the movie. As I opened the tape case, I discovered the case was empty — that what I had thought was a cassette tape, was in fact an empty case. As you can imagine, I was angry with myself for not having investigated beforehand, making certain there was an actual tape in the case. But I also was a bit peeved at the cassette box for fooling me into thinking it held a tape inside, when in reality it only held air.

The above unfortunate experience immediately brought to my mind the story of Jesus and the fig tree (Matthew 21:18-22; Mark 11:11-14,20-24). On one occasion when Jesus was traveling with His disciples, they came upon a fig tree that was in full leaf. It was not fig season, so it was unusual that the tree should appear to be in production mode at that time of year. As Jesus and the apostles approached, it became clear that although the tree had fully leafed as though it were in season, there was no fruit to be found anywhere on it. Jesus cursed and condemned the tree because it appeared to be something that it wasn’t. The tree was just like the empty cassette case which held out the promise of a tape, but had nothing inside.

Too many Christians are simply empty cassette cases — full-leafed, but fruitless fig trees. They show all the outward signs of religion, while within they are barren shells (cf. Matthew 23:27-28; Luke 11:44). They are those described by Paul as “lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, having a form of godliness but denying its power” (2 Timothy 3:4-5). They are like those in Israel of whom the Lord said, “These people draw near to Me with their mouth and honor Me with their lips, But their heart is far from Me” (Matthew 15:8; cf. Isaiah 29:13). Sometimes we convince ourselves that Christianity is something we can put on like a winter coat, and remove it when we no longer feel the chill. We become like the hypocritical Pharisees who sounded trumpets when they gave offerings, prayed aloud on street corners, and wore fancy prayer shawls and phylacteries to convince others how religious they were (Matthew 6:1-2,5). Let us understand that others may be fooled — we may even fool ourselves — but God is not fooled (Galatians 6:7).

There’s a reason why the New Testament describes those who truly come to Christ as being converted (Matthew 18:2-3; Acts 3:19). They have demonstrated a change in heart, in mindset, and in lifestyle. The genuine disciple is not putting on some show of faith, but rather possesses a faith that demands to be shown (James 2:18,22). It is the difference between the sacrifice-free gifts of the wealthy proud folks, and the all-sacrificing offering of the poor widow who held back nothing (Mark 12:41-44). It’s the difference between an empty cassette case, and one with a tape inside.

Mike Riley, Gospel Snippets