Joy to the world

Hillsong Worship

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Jesus v. Religion

Mark 2:23-3:6

Due to some technical difficulties, we only recorded a portion of the audio from this message (2nd half), however, the full written manuscript follows, and as an added bonus, this week we’ve also included the audio for our time of worship together.

Partial Sermon Audio

Full Sermon Manuscript

YouTube sensation Jeff Bethke received 31M views for his video and over 156 comments for his video Why I hate religion, but love Jesus. Since then there have been a number of rebuttals.

  • Why I love Jesus AND I love Religion
  • Why I hate religion AND Jesus too (atheist)

What can’t be denied, is that this video struck a nerve.   Why?

The same reason it struck a nerve when Jesus made similar claims about religion … that were both offensive to the religious and the irreligious.

Two weeks ago, Len did an outstanding job taking us through Jesus’ healing of the paralytic, and pointing out that while the healing of his physical condition was a miracle, the greater miracle was the healing of his spiritual condition … the forgiving of the man’s sins.

The religious leaders said this is blasphemy

Jesus was basically claiming that all sins are against him.  And since you can only forgive sins against yourself … and sins are offenses against God — Jesus was claiming to be God.

Later on in Ch.2 we see Jesus calling Levi (Matthew) to follow him.  Levi is a tax collector.

I just finished the latest season of “The Man in the High Castle” which imagines America if had we lost WWII and now we’re occupied in the east by Germany and in the west by Japan.  Think of America being occupied and oppressive taxes being levied on it’s citizens.  One of our politicians not only helps enforce the oppressive taxes, but adds more on top to help line his own pockets so he can become wealthy.

And Jesus calls this greedy traitor to be one of his closest 12 followers.  That’s going to raise some eyebrows.

Then this tax collector invites Jesus over to hang out and have dinner and drinks with his “disreputable sinner” friends.  And Jesus accepts.

In Mark 2:15 We’re told “there were many people of this kind among Jesus’ followers

To which the religious leaders now ask in verse 16 “why does he eat with such SCUM

Jesus replies in verse 17 … “Healthy people don’t need a doctor—sick people do. I have come to call not those who think they are righteous, but those who know they are sinners.”

That’s why the only criteria we have to be a member/partner at Refuge is to check a little box that says I’m a sinner and I know it.

The Pharisees had turned their religion into an insider’s club.  Only certain people, who lived a certain way, and did certain things, could be a part of the club.

But Jesus always seemed to be more concerned with those who were outside the club.

Last week, we had an amazing night of worship.  But I’ve come to realize; our church doesn’t have the best singers.  Amy amazing.  Some of you guys, not so much.

And that’s a good thing.  Because it means there are so many new people at Refuge, that we don’t know the songs.  So we do our best to mumble along.

At Refuge we welcome and embrace those who are outside the club … Who don’t know the songs … Who are afraid to come up to the stage and pray along side their pastor making him feel even more awkward.

And so now Mark zooms back in on Jesus … as Jesus begins to express that he hasn’t come to START a new religion, but that he’s come to END religion, and replace it with Himself.

(Mk 2:23–28)

23 One Sabbath day as Jesus was walking through some grain fields, his disciples began breaking off heads of grain to eat. 24 But the Pharisees said to Jesus, “Look, why are they breaking the law by harvesting grain on the Sabbath?”

 25 Jesus said to them, “Haven’t you ever read in the Scriptures what David did when he and his companions were hungry? 26 He went into the house of God and broke the law by eating the sacred loaves of bread that only the priests are allowed to eat. He also gave some to his companions.”

27 Then Jesus said to them, “The Sabbath was made to meet the needs of people, and not people to meet the requirements of the Sabbath. 28 So the Son of Man is Lord, even over the Sabbath!”

The law of God directs us to REST from our work 1 day out of 7.

If you remember way back to week # 2 at Refuge, I gave a message about being a church of rest.  That if we did not understand this GIFT (REST) that God has given us … we’d eventually wear out, lose momentum, and not become the community of people that God desires.

If we are constantly tired and exhausted, then church becomes just another thing we have to do, which eventually leads to bitterness, which leads to stress, which leads to resentment … all of which is the complete opposite of being a church that provides REFUGE to a broken and hurting world.

I must admit, hitting up against this topic again, caused me to pause again these last few weeks and evaluate the way we do things here.  If I look back over the last 26-weeks (yay), there have been times when we’ve over programmed.

We had a night of prayer a few weeks ago … and like 10 people showed up, the rest of you did not.


Not good if you skipped because you don’t like to pray …. but good if your lives are already busy, and you purposely made the decision to rest or spend time with your family/loved ones.

In re-thinking that night (and many other things we do currently) … why wouldn’t we just take advantage of a night when we’ve already gathered together?  I’ll just surprise you with it …

Rest/Sabbath is a wonderful gift from God, but the religious leaders in the days of Jesus had turned rest into work by stacking up rules and systems to how one must rest.

Can you imagine if tomorrow, on your day of rest, I gave you a list of 39 things you needed to make sure you did or did not do to rest, and if you messed even one of them up God was going to be mad at you?

Imagine as a husband … Karen honey, you need to rest tomorrow.  It’s gift I want to give you.  And as you do that, you must make sure our house is spotless.  The kids are all bathed.  Your make-up is perfect.  The tassels on the rug are all pointing the same direction.    No dog nose prints on our windows. 

Religion has a way of doing that.  Of taking amazing gifts from God, and turning them into ways to control people.

By this time, there were 39 such rules regarding the Sabbath … one of which the Pharisees here are accusing Jesus and his disciples of doing; picking grain.

Religious people you’ll notice are always looking for little things that others are doing wrong … because it’s easy to point out the specs in others eyes to avoid the plank in your own.

But I love how Jesus replies (He’s throwing some serious shade)

Hey guys, uh, have you read your Bibles?  Do you not remember what David and his companions did when they were hungry?  God gave the Sabbath as a gift.  Not to turn us into rule following robots. 

Mark goes on to record a second incident regarding the Sabbath as we continue to Chapter 3 …

1 Jesus went into the synagogue again and noticed a man with a deformed hand. 2 Since it was the Sabbath, Jesus’ enemies watched him closely. If he healed the man’s hand, they planned to accuse him of working on the Sabbath.  

3 Jesus said to the man with the deformed hand, “Come and stand in front of everyone.” 4 Then he turned to his critics and asked, “Does the law permit good deeds on the Sabbath, or is it a day for doing evil? Is this a day to save life or to destroy it?” But they wouldn’t answer him.

5 He looked around at them angrily and was deeply saddened by their hard hearts. Then he said to the man, “Hold out your hand.” So the man held out his hand, and it was restored!At once the Pharisees went away and met with the supporters of Herod to plot how to kill Jesus.

Why does Jesus become angry?  Why is his heart “deeply saddened”?

Because the Sabbath is a day for restoration.  Of giving rest to the weary.  Repairing the broken.  So to heal a man’s hand is exactly what the Sabbath is all about …

Yet because of religion these leaders had missed the forest for the trees.

Tribal, judgmental, unaccepting, rigid, intolerant, simple-minded, defensive, self-righteous … even hypocritical to their own rules.  (And those are just things that people said about Christians on a YouTube video I watched)

Here in front of these religious people stands a man in need of healing.  And yet they’ve put religion ahead of compassion.

Both Jesus and the Pharisees want to keep the law of the Sabbath.  But both have approached it from two opposing views.

One approach is religion; The other is the gospel.

One is advice on how to live life; The other is the good news of life itself.

Most people in the world believe that IF there is a God, you relate to him by being a “good person.”

In college I took a course called “Many Mansions” which was a study of all the major religions.  What I found was that in all world religions there is a code of conduct.  That the better one did at keeping the moral codes, the more God, Jehovah, Allah, or Vishnu … would love me.  Or in some cases, the more I could transform my inner consciousness, the closer I could get to the divine.

Many of you know I grew up Mormon.  I love the Mormon’s.  Truly.   My parents and brothers and their kids are all Mormon.  Mormonism is the quintessential American religion.

The religion was founded in the early 1800’s by a guy named Joseph Smith.  You can Wikipedia and get the full back story, but the the general focus of the religion, is just that … RELIGION.  All of the teachings revolve around

  • How to be a good person.
  • How to work your way up the ladder into Heaven.
  • How to work your way up to the highest levels of Heaven.

Celestial … Follow allow the Mormon rules

Terrestrial … Follow the law of Moses

Telestial … Follow carnal law (our own desires)

Out Darkness … Worst of the worst (including ex-Mormons like me)

In that religion I’d be interviewed a couple of times per year by my bishop (lay church leader) to see how you were progressing.  If you were doing all the right things … … which included not drinking coffee or wine, full tithe to the church, wore your special underwear …

And if you could lie your way through all that, you’d be allowed to go visit their temples, their holiest places, a place you did more top secret religious things that were necessary to achieve the highest level of Heaven.

I’d love to tell you what happens in those secret temple rituals, but I never made it.

In the Mormon religion, the harder you worked, the better chance you had at getting to the highest level.  The more you followed the rules, the more favorable you were perceived by other church members.

The Mormon’s believe in a Jesus, but it’s a Jesus PLUS …

Yes, there is Jesus, but you need put in the work to be all your can be.  If you progress far enough, you can become divine yourself.  You can even be your own god.

As I said, it is the quintessential American religion.  Pull yourself up by your bootstraps.  Work hard.  Do good.  Win favor.  Set goals.  Achieve success.

And unfortunately, tomorrow morning, all around America, people will be showing up to Christian churches, where that’s exactly the message the congregations they’ll hear.

Religion says // If I perform.  If I obey …. I’m accepted.

But the Gospel of Jesus … is not only different from that, but absolutely-diametrically opposed to it.

The Gospel says // Because of Jesus, I am accepted.  Period.  The End.

In religion, the purpose of obeying the rules is to assure you that you’re all right with God.  As a result, we come to the law concerned about the details.  We want to know exactly what we have to do.  What buttons we need to push?  We get wrapped up in the details but miss the spirit of God’s law.

Like the Pharisees … we miss the forest of compassion for the trees of religion.

IBM Story // A man named John, dressed in blue-jeans, walked into a bank to finalize a business transaction.  The teller told the man, that the officer that John needed to see wasn’t in, so he’d have to come back another day.  John said that would be fine, and he asked the teller to validate his parking ticket.  The teller then informed him that, according to bank policy, she couldn’t validate his parking ticket because he had not technically completed a financial transaction. John asked for an exception, since he had come to the bank intending to do business, but wasn’t able to because the appropriate officer wasn’t in. The teller didn’t budge. She said, “I’m sorry; that’s our policy.  Rules are rules.”

So John decided to make a business transaction. He decided to close his account. John’s last name was Akers. He was the chairman of IBM, and the account he closed had a millions in it.  This qualified as a financial transaction, and the teller was able to validate the parking ticket.

Technically, the teller was right, since no money changed hands, she didn’t need to validate the parking ticket.

Technically, the Pharisees where right.  The letter of the law said no picking grain on the Sabbath.  No work at all on the Sabbath.  Technically, healing a man’s shriveled up hand is work.

They were more concerned with the rules that they were loving people.  They got the letter of the law, but missed the spirit of God’s law, which always comes back to loving our neighbor.

When we focus only on law, we also run the risk of allowing our lives to be controlled by guilt.

Truth be told, as a Mormon, guilt had become my primary motivator.  Which made me extremely self-centered because I was constantly wondering if I was doing the right things.

As we’ve said before, when we become focused on ourselves, it becomes very difficult to focus on God and his grace.

How many of our brothers and sisters in Christ feel like this today.  Or kids in youth groups?   Riddled with guilt.

In religion, the keyword often is “DO” … do more, try harder.  And so we try to do enough good, to make up for our mistakes, and earn God’s favor.

But where religion is all about the DO … The gospel is all about the DONE.

Followers of religion sooner or later are going to find themselves exhausted.  Drained from trying to maintain appearances.  Tired from trying to keep all the rules.

Only to look in the mirror each morning to see a hypocrite staring back at you.

Jesus came to free us from all of that.  He said I am the WAY, and the TRUTH and the LIFE … I’ve come to free you from religion.

Don’t believe me?  Let me just let the words of Jesus speak to us …

 Mt 11:28–30 (msg)

 “Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to me. Get away with me and you’ll recover your life. I’ll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me—watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly.”

But listen to words of Jesus again as he speaks about the religious …

Mt 23:4–15 (nlt)

4 They crush people with unbearable religious demands and never lift a finger to ease the burden.

5 “Everything they do is for show… 

And they love to sit at the head table at banquets and in the seats of honor in the synagogues. They love to receive respectful greetings as they walk in the marketplaces, and to be called ‘Rabbi.’ 

11 The greatest among you must be a servant. 12 But those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.

13 “What sorrow awaits you teachers of religious law and you Pharisees. Hypocrites! For you shut the door of the Kingdom of Heaven in people’s faces …

Notice when it comes to the Sabbath, Jesus doesn’t say … look now, that Sabbath thing I told you about when I gave those Ten Commandments … scratch that.  

He gives us the spirit of his law … the Sabbath was made for MAN, not man for the Sabbath.  So the Son of Man is even Lord OF the Sabbath.   

He’s affirming the original law of the Sabbath, even celebrating it.  We all need rest.  Yet He kills the legalism around its observance.

He’s saying … as Lord OF the Sabbath, I can give you rest.   Stop trying to prove yourself, to convince God, others, even to yourself.  My grace is sufficient.    

Often times, we think the gospel is for people outside the church.  We’re supposed to go and proclaim the gospel.  To share the good news.

This is true.  This is biblical.

BUT … the gospel isn’t just for people outside the church to be saved, it’s for the people inside the church as well.

Grace doesn’t just ignite the Christian life, it’s the fuel that keeps our engine going going everyday.  Once God saves us, he doesn’t move us beyond the gospel and grace.

 That’s why I’ll preach the gospel in some way every week.  If every week, you don’t come to Refuge and hear the message of the grace, call me out on it.

And if you get tired of hearing it, find another church, or read the bylaws on how to get me fired.  Because I won’t stop preaching grace every week, because quite frankly I need to be reminded of it myself every single week.

A pastor friend once recommended a book to me, I don’t remember the book, but it was primarily about grace, and he said “hey, I thought you might enjoy this because I know you’re one of those grace guys” … He’s a good friend, so I don’t think any ill will was taking place.

But often what someone means is … oh, you’re one of those Christians who think we can just do whatever we want?  The worse stuff you do, the more opportunity there is for God’s grace huh? 

Actually, yeah, the worse stuff you do, the more opportunity there is for grace …

BUT if lawlessness is how you approach life once you’ve learned of grace, you’ve missed Gospel.  You don’t know Jesus, any more than the religious.

As Paul says in Romans 6 …  Well then, should we keep on sinning so that God can show us more and more of his wonderful grace? Of course not! Since we have died to sin, how can we continue to live in it?

Legalism and Lawlessness are 2-sides of the same coin, both equally wrong, both equally dangerous.

Legalism is what we’ve been talking about.  It’s religion.  People trying to save themselves by keeping a set of moral codes or rules.  If we’re honest, the seed of legalism is within all of us.  If I’m good, God owes me.  If I’m good enough, then I won’t have this guilt, and then I’ll be free.

On the other side of the coin is Lawlessness.  I don’t need the laws of God.  Those ten commandments are ancient religious hoo-ha.  I’ll determine what’s right and wrong.  My own moral code.  Seriously, who could ever love their neighbor as themselves.  Impossible.  I’ll make my own rules, and then I’ll be free.

But do you see, whether it’s legalism or lawlessness.  Religion or irreligion.  We’re still trying to save ourselves.  We’re still trying to find freedom.

I’ll often hear people say … well we need equal parts of both.  I like a preacher who preaches equal parts law and grace.  A good balance.  Beat me down with the law, then build me back up with grace.

But if we frame it this way, it keeps us from understanding the depths of grace.

The biggest lie Satan wants us to buy about grace is the idea that grace is dangerous, and therefore needs to be kept in check.

I call it the … Yes Jesus, BUT …

Yes Jesus died for my sins … BUT there’s some stuff I need to get straightened out so that He’ll love me.

Yes Jesus said “it is finished” … BUT what he really meant was that his part was done, now it’s time to do mine.

Yes Jesus … BUT I need to make sure I’m going to Church.  I need to make sure I’m showing up to all the activities.  Keep up my appearance that I have it all together.  That I have all the answers.  That I never have any doubts.  I need to DO MORE, TRY HARDER …

…. and we’re right back to religion.

I want Refuge to be a church that lives radically for Jesus.  I want to be a church that changes the world.  No idea how, but that’s the desire.  I know it’s going to take effort, work, sacrifice …

But if we don’t constantly marinate in the gospel, we’ll eventually just wear out.

I can get my kids to obey by either (a) a guilt trip or (b) make them afraid.  Consequences.  And if this is my tactic, I can get them to obey for a little while, but they won’t obey for the next 20-years.  I doubt they’ll still love me or want to spend any time with me because all they’ll remember are guilt and fear.

I want my kids to live and love life.  To be obedient to the things I know will keep them safe.  To be kind to their friends.  To not eat fun dip for breakfast.

But for them to listen to me as a dad long term, they have to be motivated by something bigger than fear and guilt …

Because of my background as a Mormon, I feel a special calling to show the radical grace of Jesus to folks in that religion.

Mormon missionaries are usually young men ages 19-21, they go for two years on missions … it’s a hard gig.  It’s basically knocking on doors, and telling people about their religion.

And if it wasn’t hard enough telling people they had to give up Starbucks to join your church … in the internet age all their beliefs are out there.  What do you mean you wear holy underwear?  What’s this stuff about Jesus and Satan being brothers?  So you didn’t allow black men to be a part of your priesthood until 1978?

Both my brothers where Mormon Missionaries … one in Mexico, the other in Korea.  So I have a soft place in my heart for these young men.  And no matter where I move, they seem to find me (witness protection).

For a while, one of my ministries was inviting these young men into our home.  They of course were excited not to get the door slammed in their face.

But I’d have one-rule.  I’ll listen to what you have to say, so long as you give me equal time to share my faith with you.

This one time, we were talking about grace, and they of course were like … so you mean with your grace, you just do anything you want.  No rules.  Jesus just accepts you?

I was trying to think of how to express this all to them … and we had just adopted Emery so I said …

You know, that picture over there is my new daughter.  We adopted her.  Made her a part of our family.  We love her.  I’ll never stop loving her.

I think I know what’s best for her, so of course I want her to obey me.

But we didn’t adopt Emery with contingencies.  OK, we’ll let you come live with us Emery, but we’ve got a few rules you’ll need to follow to stay with us.  First, no crying in the middle of the night.  Second, when you become a teenager, no back talking. Don’t fight with your sisters.  Brush your teeth.  

And if you do all that Emery, then we’ll adopt you.  But if you mess up, well, back to the adoption agency you go. 

No!  We said, we will adopt Emery.  You will be our daughter.  We love you unconditionally.

Sure we want her to be obedient, because we think we know what’s best for her.  We want to protect her.

If a kid at school yanks a wad of her hair out, you’ll have to restrain me to not go beat the living daylights out of that kid.  I’ve never wanted to hurt a 5-year-old so much.

But I will never, ever stop loving her.  And I hope she knows this.  And I hope, over the long haul, this is what brings her to obedience.  Because she knows my love for her, and knows I want what is best for her.

Not only does God love us immeasurably more than I love my daughter (that’s hard to even imagine), He sent Jesus, who paid a price also immeasurably more than we can imagine, so that He could be our Father, displaying that love.

At the end of creation, the Lord said “it is finished” and He could rest.

Because of Jesus’ teaching tonight on the Sabbath we’re told that …

6 At once the Pharisees went away and met with the supporters of Herod to plot how to kill Jesus …

Which eventually leads to the cross, where the Lord of the Sabbath, said again, “it is finished” … so we can rest.

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