In front of our house stands a gorgeous cedar tree. At ten metres (thirty-three feet) it looks like a perfectly groomed tower of green. Our grandchildren have even burrowed into the centre and climbed its many branches.

But a very short time ago its shape changed. A gap appeared at the top among the branches where the hydro wires pass through it. The gap grew, so I checked it out, climbing into the centre to have a good look. To my surprise the stump showed advanced signs of rot!

The gap has continued to grow.

Our fallen cedar tree

Until very early this morning when half the tree collapsed onto our front hedge, laying across the public sidewalk.

This time when we phoned the municipal department the report no longer predicted the demise of the tree, but reported its utter fall. So with a back-hoe and dump truck the workers arrived to remove the no-longer-just-sick-but-can’t-be-saved tree.

Now it’s gone.

What a parable. From the outside the tree looked beautiful. Inside it had rotted and then became a danger to property and people.

Religious people who put up a front, but inside live a rotten life endangering others found themselves often the target of harsh words from Jesus during the earthly ministry.

The rotten centre

For example:

“So be careful to do everything they [scribes and Pharisees] tell you. But don’t follow their example, because they don’t practice what they preach. They make loads that are hard to carry and lay them on the shoulders of the people. However, they are not willing to lift a finger to move them. They do everything to attract people’s attention. They make their headbands large and the tassels on their shawls long. They love the place of honor at dinners and the front seats in synagogues…you have neglected justice, mercy, and faithfulness. These are the most important things in Moses’ Teachings. You should have done these things without neglecting the others. You blind guides! You strain gnats {out of your wine}, but you swallow camels. How horrible it will be for you, scribes and Pharisees! You hypocrites! You clean the outside of cups and dishes. But inside they are full of greed and uncontrolled desires. You blind Pharisees! First clean the inside of the cups and dishes so that the outside may also be clean. How horrible it will be for you, scribes and Pharisees! You hypocrites! You are like whitewashed graves that look beautiful on the outside but inside are full of dead people’s bones and every kind of impurity. So on the outside you look as though you have God’s approval, but inside you are full of hypocrisy and lawlessness” (Matthew 23:3-6, 23-28 God’s Word).

Scribes were the academic teachers of religion. Pharisees were lay leaders and teachers. They both taught religion and loyalty to the institution (and them), NOT faith in God.

So, does the parable of the beautiful cedar describe you? If so, turn from institution and formula and institute a radical obedience to Jesus to form and transform your character from the inside out.

Become a person faithful to Jesus Christ, who “is like a tree planted beside streams – a tree that produces fruit in season and whose leaves do not wither” (Psalm 1:3 God’s Word).