Friday Feb 17, 2023
DAY 18 – The Day Religion Died | 21-Day Devotional on Jesus’ Beatitudes and Sermon on the Mount
The Day Religion Died
Matthew 5:17-20, “Do not think that I came to destroy the Law or the Prophets. I did not come to destroy but to fulfill. 18 For assuredly, I say to you, till heaven and earth pass away, one jot or one tittle will by no means pass from the law till all is fulfilled. 19 Whoever therefore breaks one of the least of these commandments, and teaches men so, shall be called least in the kingdom of heaven; but whoever does and teaches them, he shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven. 20 For I say to you, that unless your righteousness exceeds the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees, you will by no means enter the kingdom of heaven.
Over the history of humanity, among people who claim to follow God, there has been a tension between what and who is right or wrong.
There have always been religious leaders who have placed themselves over people as the standard for all others and doing so while claiming God’s permission and a superior station in life. But those people, like the Pharisees, have always been the wrong ones.
This became clear when Jesus entered the religious scene of his day. He made a distinction between God’s intended purpose, and what religious leaders were actually doing. Yes, God did give the Ten Commandments and other statutes to Moses on Mount Sinai and they were designed to be understood, and followed by God’s people. However, we know from Paul’s writings that the Law was intended to reveal the futility of trying to obey the Law in one’s own strength (Rom. 8:3–4) as well as point the people to Christ. (Galatians 3:24)
Paul wrote, “The Law is good” (1 Timothy 1:8), but the problem was the sin nature and weakness of humanity as revealed in their (and our) inability to consistently do what God wanted. We know in history that religious leaders added 600+ lesser rules and man-made “commandments.” In all of this, religious leaders gave (and still give) people a false sense of security, that if they do what was told them, they would be “right with God.”
During Jesus’ time on earth religious leaders imposed rules such as “Sabbath ay’s journey” in which now now was allowed to travel more than 2/3 mile, or mandating practices such as ritual hand washings, and much more.
What is noteworthy is that Jesus routinely broke their laws, while always being true to Moses’ and God's law. One day He healed a man on the Sabbath and told him to pick up his bed and walk, which was “work” and forbidden on the Sabbath. Think about it: To be critical of a man being healed a significant disability because it was done on the WRONG DAY!
On another occasion, Jesus and his disciples were condemned for eating without doing ceremonial washing of their hands––something related to man made rules, not God’s law.
As I write this during Black history month, I'm reminded of the civil disobedience of the people of Rev. Dr. King’s era. They sat at lunch counters that were “whites only,” thus breaking laws. Dr. King said, “It is just to obey a just law and it is unjust to obey an unjust law.” We see that Jesus practiced a form of religious civil disobedience. You could say, He protested religious injustice.
Jesus said, “Unless your righteousness exceeds the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees, you will by no means enter the kingdom of heaven.”
Jesus undermined religious systems while paving the way for hearts to be changed by the Holy Spirit though something called the “New Birth.” (born of the Spirit) There are spiritual disciplines, things we do such as regular prayer and serving others, which may be considered as “pure religion” (James 1:27), but nothing we do is for the purpose of gaining God’s favor and “earning” His righteousness.
A highly education, respected, and religious-establishment man named Nicodemus received a lesson from Jesus about a new reality:
John 3:3 Jesus answered and said to him, “Most assuredly, I say to you, unless one is born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God.”4 Nicodemus said to Him, “How can a man be born when he is old? Can he enter a second time into his mother’s womb and be born?” 5 Jesus answered, “Most assuredly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God. 6 That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. 7 Do not marvel that I said to you, ‘You must be born again.’
During his Sermon on the Mount, Jesus forever changed the paradigm for what it means to be righteous and to walk with God, but religious leaders wanted to hang onto the old ways, maintain control over people, and present themselves as gateways to God. Sadly, we see this same behavior until this day.
As a pastor, I am a spiritual (or “religious”) leader, but I know better than to present my righteousness above the righteousness of God as revealed in Christ. We don't need to follow the example of “Pharisees,” when we have Jesus, the Scriptures, and the Holy Spirit. Our job today is to lead people to Christ, then “shepherd” them in their relationship with God and understanding of the Word. We are are all equal in God’s sight. Our purpose and roles differ, but the Body of Christ is designed to edify, or “build up,” one another.
1. How did religion die when Jesus presented a new reality with His Sermon on the Mount.
2. Why is trying to live by man-made rules ineffective as compared to the being “born again" and following Christ?
3. Why is the righteousness of trying to keep manmade rules lesser than the righteousness of God of Christ
17 “Do not think that I came to destroy the Law or the Prophets. I did not come to destroy but to fulfill. 18 For assuredly, I say to you, till heaven and earth pass away, one jot or one tittle will by no means pass from the law till all is fulfilled. 19 Whoever therefore breaks one of the least of these commandments, and teaches men so, shall be called least in the kingdom of heaven; but whoever does and teaches them, he shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven. 20 For I say to you, that unless your righteousness exceeds the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees, you will by no means enter the kingdom of heaven.
At a first reading it might well be held that this is the most astonishing statement that Jesus made in the whole Sermon on the Mount. In this statement Jesus lays down the eternal character of the Law; and yet Paul can say, "Christ is the end of the Law" (Rom.10:4).
Again and again Jesus broke what the Jews called the Law. He did not observe the handwashings that the Law laid down; he healed sick people on the Sabbath, although the Law forbade such healings; he was in fact condemned and crucified as a law-breaker; and yet here he seems to speak of the Law with a veneration and a reverence that no Rabbi or Pharisee could exceed
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