We’ve been talking about: Origin, Evolution, End of Religion. How God has intervened in human history to get us back on track.
Quite the journey. Introduced you to some big ideas. Hopefully challenged you, hopefully encouraged you. And I hope to have shown you how incredibly patient God has always been with humanity even when we get very wrong ideas on how to relate to him.
I would like to say one final time that people use words differently. Some people use the word ‘religion’ to describe a genuine faith in Jesus. And we don’t want to argue over symantics. But when the bible uses the word religion, almost always it uses it in a pejorative way, which is to say in a negative way.
So this morning, when I say the word ‘religion’ I mean the systems that we build that use to try and ‘get close’ to God. Systems that we build as human beings to bridge a gap with God that isn’t really there.
Last week, we talked about how God has accommodated our hard hearts, stubbornness and our religion for a time. Finally penetrates human history to say ‘enough. I want to remind you what I’ve always wanted: live well and be embraced by my love.’
Death of Religion
So for the final week, we’re talking about the End of Religion. What I hope to show you, is how Jesus comes to us and through radical acts, shows us just how irreligous he is, and how committed he is to freeing us from our addiction to religious systems.
It all starts when Jesus comes and has an intervention with humanity. That’s really what it is. “Surprise! I invited you here for an intervention. You thought we were going to the movies, but no, we’re here to do an intervention.” Jesus frees us from our addiction to religion.
John 5 is an amazing chapter. I think of it almost like shock treatment to religious conservative. Helps people ‘get it’. Jesus is shocking that the religious people (Pharisees) have to make a choice. Either Jesus has to die, or has to be followed. Can’t just be ignored. He’s really not lightly suggesting that religion is not that great. No, he’s calling us to a whole new way of being human.
Let’s pretend, 1st century church. A house church. Coming across one of the scrolls written by John would be very precious to us. We’ve got a copy, we’ve brought it to church. I’m one who’s asked to be a reader, not everyone’s literate. Might be some people who are new, hearing these for the first time. Hearing about this non-religious Jesus. Grown up in very religious culture.
Some time later, Jesus went up to Jerusalem for one of the Jewish festivals. (John 5:1)
Now there is in Jerusalem near the Sheep Gate a pool, which in Aramaic is called Bethesda and which is surrounded by five covered colonnades. (John 5:2)
Here a great number of disabled people used to lie—the blind, the lame, the paralyzed. (John 5:3)
Lame. We need a better translation. When I was young, to do ‘lame’ was to be uncool. “My parents are so lame.”
One who was there had been an invalid (disabled) for thirty-eight years. (John 5:5)
When Jesus saw him lying there and learned that he had been in this condition for a long time, he asked him, “Do you want to get well?” (John 5:6)
What an interesting question. Is there a scenario where this man has become so identified with his weakness that he doesn’t even WANT to live a whole, full life given the opportunuty.
“Sir,” the invalid replied, “I have no one to help me into the pool when the water is stirred. While I am trying to get in, someone else goes down ahead of me.” (John 5:7)
They had a tradition that every so often, an angel of the Lord would come and stir the water, and when that happened, the first person in the water would be saved and healed.
Then Jesus said to him, “Get up! Pick up your mat and walk.” (John 5:8)
At once the man was cured; he picked up his mat and walked. (John 5:9)
This is Beautiful language, but also pretty unusual. “Pick up your mat.” Kinda weird. You’re used to it, if you’ve grown up in religious circles. But it’s weird. This man has been disabled for almost 4 decades, and now he’s healed! Who gives a rip about the mat? I mean seriously. It’s like imagine you’re in a wheelchair and someone comes and puts their hands on you and instantly you’ve healed and can stand up and walk. And just as you’re doing that, the man says “Hey don’t forget your sandwich!” – Like who cares about the sandwich?! “Pick up your mat and walk.” – He even says the mat part first!
He makes the healing predicated on this kind of faith reaction. Why? Let’s look…
The day on which this took place was a Sabbath, (John 5:9b)
Remember: we’re first century jews. We would have all gasped. John is an amazing storyteller. Here, he’s leaving the punchline for the very end. The fact that this all happened on the sabbath was the big punchline at the end. And we would have gasped. In fact, let’s try that. Once you hear that this happened on the sabbath, you have to audibly gasp. Do you have your gasp all ready? I’m going to begin at v8 again.
(Read the verses) Gasp – “I know!!!”
That can’t happen! That would be like a deliberate, thumbing your nose. 10 top things we’re supposed to do, ‘Don’t work on the sabbath. Keep it holy.
Jeremiah had pointed out that one way Israel kept breaking that commandment was by carrying things on the sabbath. Whole rant “Jeresulam, you keep carrying your personal belongings around on the sabbath like your business is more important than the sabbath!”
Jesus says “I know when you’re healed, you’re going to want to walk around and jump for joy and celebrate, that’s great. Just make sure you take your mat with you. On the sabbath! Gasp I know!
so the Jewish leaders objected. (Of course.) They said to the man who was cured, “You can’t work on the Sabbath! The law doesn’t allow you to carry that sleeping mat!” (John 5:10)
That’s their immediate response. They don’t take issue with the healing, they take issue with the mat carrying.
But he (man who was healed) replied , “The man who made me well said to me, ‘Pick up your mat and walk.’ ” (John 5:11)
So they asked him, “Who is this fellow who told you to pick it up and walk?” – Their hearts – hate. (John 5:12)
In their hearts continued to grow hate for Jesus. Later on, religious leaders find Jesus, want to interrogate Him.
So, because Jesus was doing these things on the Sabbath, the Jewish leaders began to persecute him. (John 5:16)
In his defense Jesus said to them… (John 5:17)
You’d think “Guys! It’s not work! I just said a thing, and I wanted him to clean up after himself. I meant no disrespect.”
“My Father is always at his work to this very day, and I too am working.” (John 5:17b)
He doesn’t minimize “I’m not working!” – No, he says “God the Father is working. And I’m working.” “Work work work work work work work.”
Jesus had authority that supersedes the law. He has the authority to say “I’m bringing something new.”
Jesus performs miracles embedded with an irreligious message.
Going out of his way to fight the system. Old West – new sheriff in town. Your time is up. “Aint room enough in this town…”
This guy is healed, roaming around, getting a lot of attention. Jesus has put the religious leaders in a weird position. B/C he obviously has some divine power. Using his power to go against their religious ideas.
Later in conversation (some of the best advice ever):
You study the Scriptures diligently because you think that in them you have eternal life. These are the very Scriptures that testify about me, yet you refuse to come to me to have life. (John 5:39)
Jesus says “Here’s your problem. You study the scritpures as a destination. Thinking the scriptures are going to save you.” Scripture doesn’t save you. Scripture points us to the savior. Which is Jesus.
All scripture culminates on Jesus. The point is Jesus. If you look at the bible as the Holy Book that simply teaches you how to live, you’ve missed the bigger point. Yes the bible teaches us how to live, but the bigger point of the scripture is that scripture points us to Jesus. And we let Jesus teach us how to live.
You can study the scripture, memorize scripture, be obsessed with the scripture, live out the scripture, argue the scripture, you’ve graduated to ‘a pharisee’. But what you aren’t necessarily is someone who follows Jesus.
We study scripture so we can get to know Jesus, then we follow Jesus.
Might sound like semantics, but that small mental shift will make a world of difference.
Jesus heals a man who’s born blind.
As he went along, he saw a man blind from birth. (John 9:1-2)
His disciples asked him, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” (John 9:2)
So here we have a man who needed help. And what do the disciples do? They turn to Jesus and ask him a philosophical question. “Who sinned? Him or his parents that he’d be born blind?”
1st century jews – karma (≠ reincarnation)
These first century jews had a very karma-based understanding of the world. They believed if something bad happened to you, it’s because you sinned or possibly your parents sinned and it was a generational curse. So in their mind, suffering is always punishment.
Well what if you were born with something bad? – Reason why karma and reincarnation fit together so well. – In a very destructive way of course.
Weird tradition, not in the bible, but it’s in other ancient jewish writings: the ability to sin ‘in utero’. Somehow reject God before being born. Not exactly sure how that could work. But I like to image. I don’t think you can smoke cigarettes in there or something. Perhaps he gave his parents the middle finger in the sonogram. Maybe he started hooking at 6 months, pimping at 7. And maybe THAT’S why this man was born blind. So the question, who sinned, him or his parents.
They have a ‘Theodicy’ – theological discussion about the origin of evil.
Never mind that there’s a man who’s suffering who we can help.
We want to turn opportunities to help into opportunities to have another discussion.
Jesus said, “You’re asking the wrong question. You’re looking for someone to blame. There is no such cause-effect here. Look instead for what God can do. (John 9:3-5 (MSG))
The disciples knew that this meant basically, ‘healing time’.
Mud in the Eye
Walks over and he stops half way.
Disciples “what’s he doing? I don’t know, maybe he’s revving up the power, or something. Give him a minute.” And then Jesus bends down, picks up some dirt. Disciples “ok…” Spits. (Make a hocking sound)
Never see this scene in stained glass. It’s always the lamb around the neck, holding two fingers up. I have no idea what the 2 fingers are about.
Starts to mix spit and the dirt to make mud. The Disciples look at each other and say: “This is not going well.” Starts to walk over to blind guy, with mud. The guys blind. He doesn’t know! Rubs mud in eyes. Disciples are thinking “Oh my God!!! We’re gonna have a lawsuit on our hands.”
We read on, what day of the week you think this is? The Sabbath. And on the Sabbath, there’s lots of stuff you can’t do.
The “Mishna” which is the Tradition of the elders. It’s also referred to as the “Oral torah”.
Similar to a lot of religious churches – lots of stuff you can’t do, an unwritten law, just understood.
We can now read the Mishna. It was written down hundreds of years later. Tons of stuff you can and can’t do on the sabbath.
Forbidden on the Sabbath:
1. Attempting to heal anyone with any remedy (unless life or death.)
Attempting to heal anyone with any remedy on the sabbath is wrong unless it’s an immediate issue of life or death. If they will die that day, then you’re allowed to try to heal them.
If they can wait one more day, they should.
So chronic illnesses are not exempt. Because they’ve been around for a long time, so the chances of them killing you THAT DAY is very low.
2. Anointing someone with anything for any reason.
Putting anything on anyone for health, for healing, for blessing – not allowed during the sabbath.
3. Making any kind of dough or clay, or kneading bread. – Reminds Israel – bricks.
Also: making of any dough or clay. Kneading of bread. – Reminds Israel of making bricks and being slaves in Egypt.
Actual line from the mishna “You may add water to your breakfast porridge, but you must not mix it on the day of the Lord.” – Pour it in there, hope it seeps up somehow, but can’t mix it.
So look at all 3 of those, are realize that in this act of healing this blind man by making clay and annointing this man, he breaks all 3. Jesus is saying “Here’s what I think about your ever growing mountain of religious regulations.” Pft (Spit)
“It’s all over. This whole thing is over. I’m in authority of the whole system.”
Is he healed? Not yet.
You gotta get some people to lead you over this pool. “The pool of Siloam.” And wash off there. Across town. – Walking – Create a scene. He’s got mud in his eyes. – Dramatic.
He’s making a point. Going through town, bragging about breaking the unwritten rules of religion. Then he’s going to go to this public pool, wash off in it, he’s gonna get the water all muddy.
Why ‘Siloam’? Lots of pools in Jerusalem.
Story goes on to show it was a festival time “Sukkot” (sue-cot, like coal). During Sukkot, they had one particular parade. Went from temple to the pool of siloam and back again.
Go down :
- Bless the water, make it holy
- Take water
- Parade back to the temple.
- Libation ceremony – Pour out liquid – offering.
Go down to that particular pool, bless the water to make it holy, take the water from that pool, parade back to the temple. And there they would have a “Libation ceremony” which is a ritual pouring. So they’d pour out liquid as an offering to God.
Jesus says “But it’s still not bad enough. Where can I send you to really put the cherry on top of this irreligious statement. I know… Go to the pool of Siloam, and go to where this religious festival is happening, and go up to the special holy water, and wash my spit mud out of your eyes in that sacred water, and then you’ll be healed.
And when people see this, they will be forced to make a…. choice. Jesus was certainly irreligious but yet he seems to have this supernatural power so people had to decide what they thought.
Religious leaders had to reconcile this, so they decided that he was using the power of Satan.
Jesus is not subtly challenging religion, he’s breaking all these sacred traditions to make an irreligious statement. Jesus wasn’t just ignoring their religious rules, he was attacking them.
It was like he was putting a huge X on the religious establishment to show the wrecking ball where to hit. He has the authority. He’s making a statement that it’s over.
NT Wright calls this period “the day the revolution began.” It’s an amazing change. You could call it ‘good news’ – early christ followers did. “Gospel”.
And now we can celebrate this with joy and freedom, instead of pressure. It would be a real sad thing for us to drop the ball on communicating this to others.
Jesus died on the cross not just for our SIN but for our RELIGION.
Ephesians 2 and Colossians 2 both tell us that The law was crucified to the cross. (Colossians 2:14 / Ephesians 2:15) The whole old covenant.
Jesus Christ was the final sacrifice. For our sin, shame, religion. Beautiful, good news message.
Sad: “Christian Religion”
Sad: Followers of Christ followed it for a time, then ‘This is so great that we should make a religion out of it!’ And the “Christian Religion” is born.
Make our own: Rules / Rituals / Routines / Holy Places / Holy Men – Place ourselves between them and God.
Make a power broking system where men have to come to us to get access to God. If they disobey us, we can cut them off, as the keeper of God!
- March against people,
- Kill people
- until everyone confesses that “Jesus Christ is Lord!”
Turn it BACK into the thing Jesus came to destroy. But we do it in the name of Jesus, so it’s tricky. It’s so… Crafty, sneaky. It’s almost as if that serpent is still at work. And he is. In whatever way he can, to place you under a system when you need to perform in order to ‘access’ God.
As we wrap up the series, I want to read one final piece of scripture, it’s in the last book of the bible, in the second to last chapter.
Revelation 21 is a beautiful picture of where we’re going.
This is a picture of where we’re going. It’s the climax of the Christian faith, and really the climax of human history.
Then I saw “a new heaven and a new earth,” for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and there was no longer any sea. (Revelation 21:1)
The sea in ancient cultures was symbolic of struggle, heartache, and evil
I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband. (Revelation 21:2)
And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Look! God’s dwelling place is now among the people, and he will dwell with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. (Revelation 21:3)
So where we’re going (this new city) looks an awful lot like where we came from (the garden). Did you notice there was no religion is the garden? No special Holy Institution that is the gatekeeper for the presence of God. No Holy mantra to make God appear. No Holy practice that needs to be performed so that God will come near.
I did not see a temple in the city, because the Lord God Almighty and the Lamb are its temple. (Revelation 21:22)
Temple was the symbol of the religious establishment. – Where sacrifices took place.
Where we’re going there is no temple, because God Himself is the temple.
We’re living in intimacy with God. Wrapped in Him. There’s nothing closer than that. And we as Jesus followers, we’re a movement of people who live in that reality now.
CLOSING STATEMENT: We created religion. We did. It was never God’s plan. It was never God’s heart. He wanted to live in loving relationship. But we got off track. We bought the lie. We believed that God was far away when He wasn’t. And even as the religious systems evolve into horrendous religious atrocities, God patiently works with us and always reminds us that a better way is coming.
Thank God for Jesus. He came to put an end to the systems that we built and reminds us that God is here. This is the end of religion.
(Close – communion)
And as we close, I want you to go back to what we did the first week, which is to take inventory of your own heart.
Think about the ways that you can subtly fall into religion.
- Thinking you’re good enough because of all the good stuff you do
- Thinking you’re not good enough because of all the bad stuff you do.
Either case: relating to God based on your own goodness. As your eat the bread, drink from the cup, I want it to be symbolic of you just stopping and resting. “It’s not because of me, it’s because of you, and I know that you’re here with me, even now.”
Maybe you feel like you’re close to him, maybe you feel far from Him, but just stopping and saying ‘You’re here w/me.’
(Pass) (Apostles Creed) (Prayer)