How are we doing, Connectors? I want to wish everyone a Happy Mother’s Day. I hope you’re doing something special for your mom, or your wife, or your grandma, or any other special ladies in your life today.
And also, Happy Launch Day. Today marks the official launch of our church in this location, and we couldn’t be more excited about what God is up to here in our church.
We’re kicking off a brand new series today called Jesus Hates Religion. The title alone might surprise you. It is kind of weird to hear that Jesus was not a religious person. In fact, Jesus hates religion.
It sounds weird because of some common misconceptions that we have about Jesus and about religion. Jesus had great faith, but He was not religious in the way that a lot of people understand religion. He lived a completely sinless, holy life, but He rejected some of the major beliefs of religion today.
Let me pray for us, and then we’ll talk about why Jesus hates religion.
Chicken and waffle flavored potato chips. When I saw this, I thought, “Wow. That sounds AMAZING! Chicken and waffle flavored potato chips! Is this a great country or what?”
So we got a bag, and everyone in my family was excited to try them. I took a chip, and I was prepared for my life to be forever changed.
I bit into the chip…and it was awful. Imagine if Mrs. Butterworth barfed on a French fry. That’s a nice image, isn’t it? But that’s what it tasted like.
I was so disappointed, because these chips didn’t come as advertised. Just the name of the flavor…chicken and waffles…was awesome. I know it’s more of a southern thing, but if you’ve ever had chicken and waffles, you know it’s awesome.
And then I saw the bag. It’s beautiful. A beautiful piece of fried chicken sitting next to a big, fluffy waffle.
The name said it would be awesome. The packaging said it would be awesome. Everything I heard, everything I saw, said that it was going to be awesome.
But when I got to what was inside the bag, it was anything but awesome.
Religious people will tell you that religion is going to be awesome. It’s going to change your life in amazing ways. You just have to have it.
But after you experience religion firsthand, it leaves a bad taste in your mouth. It doesn’t come as advertised.
Instead of setting you free, it keeps you imprisoned. Instead of giving you joy, it makes you miserable. That’s not the way it is packaged. That’s not the way it is sold. But when you open the bag, that’s what you find inside.
In this series, we’re going to see that there is a big difference between faith and religion. There is a big difference between following Jesus and following religion. We’re going to see that religion just doesn’t come as advertised.
We’re going to kick off this series by exploring an encounter between Jesus and a man named Zacchaeus. It’s recorded in the gospel of Luke, chapter 19.
Luke wrote, “Jesus entered Jericho and was passing through. A man was there by the name of Zacchaeus; he was a chief tax collector and was wealthy.” (Luke 19:1-2, NIV)
Luke starts by setting the scene for us. Jesus had entered Jericho, which was a major economic hub in the ancient world. And there was a man named Zacchaeus living in this city.
Zacchaeus was a chief tax collector. A chief tax collector would have done very well financially in Jericho. He would have collected taxes on all the goods that were shipped along this busy east-west trade route.
And tax collectors were able to get even richer because they could cheat people by charging extra for their taxes. As long as the Roman government got their cut, they didn’t care how much extra tax collectors charged the people. They would just look the other way.
As a chief tax collector in Jericho, Zacchaeus was living the American dream over 1,700 years before America came to be. But in midst of it all, something was still missing. Zacchaeus had everything he could ever wish for, but he still kept coming up empty.
He heard that Jesus was in town. He had heard about this roaming preacher, this man who could supposedly work miracles, this man who might just be the Messiah, the one that God had promised. Zacchaeus wasn’t sure about all that, but one thing he knew…he wanted to see for himself.
Maybe your not sure about that stuff, either. You came today, maybe because somebody invited you. Maybe you just heard about that crazy church that meets in a hotel and you wanted to see it for yourself. But when it comes to all this Jesus stuff, you’re just not sure.
And that’s fine. In fact, that’s not just fine. That’s great. Here at Connect, we’d much rather have people ask honest questions than to just pretend like they have all the answers. We’d much rather people express their doubts instead of just keeping them bottled up inside. We’d much rather have an honest dialogue than a closed monologue.
If you’re not sure about all this stuff, we’re so excited that you’re here. And we hope you’ll keep asking the tough, honest questions. And we’ll be honest with you about who we are, as well. We are Jesus people. Unashamed, unabashed Jesus people. But we’re not religious people. We’ll get to that in a minute.
Back to our story…all Zacchaeus knew was that his wealth wasn’t solving all his problems. The questions, the doubts, the fears, the pain…it was all still there. Money didn’t fix any of it.
He heard Jesus was in town, so he went to check it out for himself.
In verses 3-4, Luke wrote, “[Zacchaeus] wanted to see who Jesus was, but because he was short he could not see over the crowd. So he ran ahead and climbed a sycamore-fig tree to see him, since Jesus was coming that way.” (Luke 19:3-4, NIV)
Zacchaeus wanted to see Jesus who Jesus was. He wanted to see what the buzz was all about, but he was a short man. He couldn’t see Jesus because of the crowd.
And this is something that the church better take note of. What people need to see is Jesus, but often they can’t see Jesus because the church has come to value the crowd.
The church has tried to crowd peoples’ calendar with so much stuff that people miss Jesus.
The church has tried to crowd peoples’ hearts with so much extra, unbiblical teaching that people miss Jesus.
The church has tried to crowd out the life-saving message of the gospel with so much self-help, pop psychology that people miss Jesus.
Zacchaeus had to find his way around the crowd so he could see Jesus. And people today have to do the same thing when the church becomes all about the crowd.
Here at Connect, we are all about getting back to the basics of who God wants us to be and what God wants us to do. In short, we are a church that’s all about Jesus. Everything else is secondary compared to helping people see Jesus instead of the crowd.
Zacchaeus had to climb a tree just to get a glimpse of Jesus. Our church’s goal is to move the crowd out of the way so the tree becomes unnecessary. Everything we do…everything we believe…everything we are is designed to do one thing…help people see Jesus.
If you leave today thinking, “That was kind of cool. Their band was good. My kid had fun. I actually stayed awake for the entire sermon,” then we have missed the mark.
When you leave today, our hope is that we cleared the way for you to see Jesus. That’s how success is measured here at Connect. The benchmark of success is this question: did that help people see Jesus? If the answer is yes, then we succeeded. If the answer is no, then we failed. Simple as that.
Now, check out what happened next in our story. “When Jesus reached the spot, he looked up and said to him, “Zacchaeus, come down immediately. I must stay at your house today.” So he came down at once and welcomed him gladly.” (Luke 19:5-6, NIV)
At first, this seems a little weird, at least to me. Jesus and Zacchaeus had never met before. This is kind of a strange first encounter.
Think about it this way…if this is your first time at Connect, how would you feel if I walked up to you and said, “I must stay at your house today!”
How are you going to react? You’re going to look at your spouse and say, “Honey, let’s get out of here! Seriously…grab the kids and let’s GO! We picked the WRONG church today!”
It’s just weird for a first meeting to include the words, “I’m coming to your house today. I know you didn’t invite me, but I MUST come to your house today!”
But as strange as it may seem, that’s exactly what Jesus said to Zacchaeus. In the middle of this huge crowd that surrounded Him, Jesus was able to pick out Zacchaeus. He knew that Zacchaeus was hurting. He knew that Zacchaeus kept trying to draw water out of a well that had run dry. So Jesus makes this bold statement, “Zacchaeus, I must stay at your house today!”
And something happened in Zacchaeus’ heart and mind…because he immediately left his perch in the tree. He came down and welcomed Jesus gladly.
There is something so compelling about Jesus’ invitation to us. And here at Connect, that’s what we desperately want people to see. We want to help people see past the crowd of all the extra religious baggage, and we want them to hear the simple, loving, compelling invitation of Jesus.
That’s what Zacchaeus heard…and that’s why his response was decisive and immediate. He welcomed Jesus gladly.
But here is where the story takes an ugly turn. And it’s not just in the story of Zacchaeus. This same scene still plays out over and over again today.
Jesus invited Himself to Zacchaeus’ house. Zacchaeus immediately accepted the invitation and took Jesus into his home.
Now, look at what Luke wrote in verse 7. “All the people saw this and began to mutter, “He has gone to be the guest of a sinner.” (Luke 19:7, NIV)
Everything has been great up to this point. But now the story takes an ugly turn, because it runs smack into religion.
We’ve already talked about the reputation of tax collectors. They were robbers. They were con men. Zacchaeus being a chief tax collector meant his reputation was probably even worse.
And not only were tax collectors a rough group of people, but their entourage was equally rough. A wealthy tax collector would attract all sorts of “sinners.”
If you were looking for a good time, all you had to do was go to one of this guy’s parties. If you were looking for it, you could find it there. You want to get wasted, go to his party. You want a hook up, go to one of his parties.
But the crazy thing is, Jesus knew all of that and He still invited Himself right into the middle of it. And the religious people couldn’t believe it.
Look at how Luke described it. The people saw that Jesus had gone to Zacchaeus’ house and they muttered among themselves. They’re complaining. They’re criticizing. They’re grumbling.
And it’s all because Jesus was hanging out with the wrong people. But this is a scene that reappeared over and over again throughout Jesus’ life. He was ALWAYS hanging out with the wrong people. He ALWAYS surrounded Himself with lost people. And the religious people ALWAYS lost their minds over it.
But check out what Luke writes in the next verse. “But Zacchaeus stood up and said to the Lord, “Look, Lord! Here and now I give half of my possessions to the poor, and if I have cheated anybody out of anything, I will pay back four times the amount.” (Luke 19:8, NIV)
We don’t know everything that happened at Zacchaeus’ house. We don’t have a record of what he said or what Jesus said that led up to this point. But here’s what we do know…when Zacchaeus met Jesus, everything changed.
This chief tax collector…this con man…this thief, vowed to give it all back…multiplied by 4!
And here’s how Jesus responded to finish up the story. “Jesus said to him, “Today salvation has come to this house, because this man, too, is a son of Abraham. For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost.” (Luke 19:9-10, NIV)
Jesus did what Jesus does. Changed this guy’s life. Turned a lost person into a found person. And in fact, Jesus states that this is why He came.
Jesus came to seek and to save the lost. That was His singular mission. It’s why He came. It’s why He lived a sinless perfect life, so He could later become our perfect sacrifice when He died on the cross for our sin. His death paid the price of our sin in full. And then, He rose from the dead. His resurrection to life gives us a new life. A second chance. A fresh start. Eternal life. That’s what Jesus is all about. And that’s what our church is all about.
In our story, the dichotomy couldn’t be clearer. All the religious people could see was who Zacchaeus was. They didn’t see who he was going to be.
Jesus saw past his past, and even his present. He saw who Zacchaeus was going to be.
And that’s the difference between religion and grace. Religion condemns. Grace heals.
Religion judges based on the past. Grace gives a second chance for the future.
That’s the difference between religious people and grace people. Religious people see who a person has been. Grace people see who a person can become in Christ.
That’s who we are at Connect. We don’t want to create religious people. We want to create grace people.
We don’t want this to be a religious place. We want it to be a grace place.
Now, we need to be sure that we understand what we’re saying here. Grace doesn’t mean that we just give sin a wink and a nod, and then move on our way. Just the opposite. Grace fully recognizes the depth of our sin because grace recognizes the high price that was paid for our sin.
In the book of Mark, Jesus Himself said, “For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” (Mark 10:45, NIV)
Jesus is talking about Himself here when He said, “The Son of Man.” Jesus was fully God, but He was also fully human. He was the Son of God and the Son of Man.
And Jesus tells us that He came to serve us, even to the point where He gave us life as a ransom for us. Sin and brokenness held us in slavery, but He died to set us free.
Grace doesn’t overlook or excuse sin. Just the opposite. Grace recognizes the steep price that God paid for our sin. It cost Him His own Son.
But it’s also that same sacrifice that sets us free, that gives us a new life, a second chance.
And that’s why grace people never see anyone as a lost cause. Grace people never give up on a person. They always keep praying. They always keep hoping. They always keep believing.
And maybe you’re here today because some grace people invited you. You may not feel like you belong in church. You’re too messed up to belong in church.
Here at Connect, we’re a bunch of grace people who would simply say, “You’re right. You’re not good enough to be part of the church. And neither are we. We are broken, struggling, and sinful. But Jesus changes everything. We are made clean by His blood. We have a second chance through His resurrection.”
That’s what the religious people in our story missed. It’s what religious people always miss. All they saw was who Zacchaeus was…the robbing, swindling thief.
They never saw who he would become…the repentant sinner. The generous, giving person. The person who was saved and forever changed by the grace of God.
Go back to what Jesus said about Zacchaeus. “Jesus said to him, “Today salvation has come to this house, because this man, too, is a son of Abraham. For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost.” (Luke 19:9-10, NIV)
Jesus declared that salvation had come. Zacchaeus was forgiven. Zacchaeus was free.
But did you notice this? Zacchaeus was forgiven of his sin of greed. But we are never told that the religious people were forgiven of their sin of pride.
And if you want to know exactly why Jesus hates religion, that gets to the very core of it. He hates pride.
Grace people understand this. They aren’t proud or arrogant or holier-than-thou because they know their sinfulness very, very well.
But they also know Jesus very, very well. They know how Jesus has changed their life, and they desperately want to see Him change the lives of other people, too.
And that’s why we offer a chance for you to respond to the gospel every week here at Connect. If you have questions or doubts that you need to talk through, we’re here. If you need prayer…if things are just breaking apart in your life and you need someone to pray with you…we’re here. If you’ve come to the point of faith and you’re ready to surrender your life to Christ, we’re here.
We’re here, not because we are good enough…but because Jesus is good enough. He has completely changed our lives and our eternities, and we’d love to introduce you to Him today.