Welcome to Week 3 of this amazingly controversial series entitled “Jesus Hates Religion”. My name is Brian Morrissey and I am the Worship and Teaching Pastor here at Connect Christian Church. I am fired up because this is my first time preaching here at the Holiday Inn and I am ready for Jesus to set people free this morning.
In this series we are exploring the controversy that Jesus stirred up when he took on the established religious base of people in his day and age. These were religious leaders who attempted to conceal their sinful nature behind the rules and regulations of their religion. And I want us to clarify what we mean by the title “Jesus Hates Religion.”
The apostle James, the half brother of Jesus describes what true religion is in his book near the end of the New Testament. He says this about religion: 26 Those who consider themselves religious and yet do not keep a tight rein on their tongues deceive themselves, and their religion is worthless. 27 Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world. (James 1:26-27,NIV)
True religion is taking care of orphans and widows and keeping ourselves from being polluted by the world, but often “religious people” are nothing but polluted by the world. They were in Jesus’ day and age and that’s exactly why his harshest criticisms were reserved for the religious people because they should have known better.
This series is all about a religious paradigm mindset by people who pretend they’ve got it all together and put on a false pretense that you have to follow extra rules and regulations and adhere to specific traditions and jump through sacred hoops if you want to follow Jesus. But my hope is that we can cut straight to the truth of who Jesus was and what His mission was really all about.
Jesus was all about breaking down any walls and barriers that stand between anyone and His love. So as we prepare to jump into the Word today and discover the next controversial thing that Jesus laid out against religious people, let’s pause and pray it up.
It was the summer of 1996. I was beginning my college career at San DiegoStateUniversity by enrolling in the Music Department. My Music Teacher was a great mentor to me in High School and I had aspirations of one day teaching music as well, so I decided to major in music education. However, there was an obstacle in my path.
Before we could choose anything related to music as our major, we had to first audition on our primary instrument before a panel of four professors who would judge us on the quality of our performance. This quality would then dictate our major of preference, or what we would be allowed to study.
Now, I need to set the scene for you because I had done just about all there was to do vocally at my High School in northern California, not to mention the fact that I had been singing in the church for many, many years and I was extremely confident of my vocal skills.
And I stood outside the judging room in my shirt and tie and went over my Italian Aria in my head again and again as I waited patiently for my name to be called for my audition.
Now, I’ve watched American Idol and the Voice and I can understand what some of those contestants feel like. It’s rough to stand in front of a panel of judges that you don’t know and have never met, but every moment that went by, my confidence began to swell. I had a good feeling about this audition because I knew I was supposed to teach music and I had a great voice.
They called my name and had me wait just outside the vocal chambers as a professor gave me the run down on the judging. I was informed that we would be graded on a scale of 1 – 4, (1 meaning top of the class and 4 meaning, try another profession) and I knew at that moment that I would obtain a 1, knowing all of the experience that I was carrying with me into my audition.
The doors opened and I took a deep breath and strode into the massive vocal chambers to face professors that I would soon know and loathe all too well. I introduced myself and began my solo and when I finished, my chest swelled with pride as I exited the room, knowing I had given my all.
I waited down the hall with the other students and when our professors walked in, they handed each of us our folded up results and told us that they would be available in their offices to discuss our options with us. I unfolded my papers and my jaw hit the ground as I saw a 3 on the top of each one.
My heart sank as I began to read the comments of each professor and how I needed to improve and I almost gave up right then and there. My pride had been shattered. I had been humbled. And I’m sure if I were to ask you about your life experiences, you could come up with a similar story to mine.
I thought I was awesome and when I was faced with reality, I was shown that I was not. A lot of times, we see that in the Church as well. People set themselves up to be greater than others and in essence they, themselves take the place of God. And that is the crux of what we’re going to be talking about this morning.
We’re going to be in the book of Matthew today and I want us to read through our text and then we’ll jump back and break it all down. Then Jesus said to the crowds and to his disciples: 2 “The teachers of the law and the Pharisees sit in Moses’ seat. 3 So you must be careful to do everything they tell you. But do not do what they do, for they do not practice what they preach. 4 They tie up heavy, cumbersome loads and put them on other people’s shoulders, but they themselves are not willing to lift a finger to move them.
5 “Everything they do is done for people to see: They make their phylacteries wide and the tassels on their garments long; 6 they love the place of honor at banquets and the most important seats in the synagogues; 7 they love to be greeted with respect in the marketplaces and to be called ‘Rabbi’ by others.
8 “But you are not to be called ‘Rabbi,’ for you have one Teacher, and you are all brothers. 9 And do not call anyone on earth ‘father,’ for you have one Father, and he is in heaven. 10 Nor are you to be called instructors, for you have one Instructor, the Messiah. 11 The greatest among you will be your servant. 12 For those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted. (Matthew 23:1-12, NIV)
That’s a fairly long portion of Scripture and Jesus has a whole lot to say in it for the prideful religious establishment, but he’s also got some encouragement and practical tips for people who genuinely want to follow him and we’re going to spend the rest of our time breaking it down this morning.
When I was in middle school, skateboarding was the thing you did. If my friends were outside, they were either skateboarding or playing football. Now, I never got into the skateboarding era, but a couple of my friends named Donny and Jon did.
And I have to stop here for a moment so that I can enlighten those of you under the age of 30 on a specific word. If you’re older than thirty, you understand this word, but if you’re under that benchmark, then this word might be a little foreign to you. In the skateboarding world, we had a word for people who liked to pretend that they knew exactly what they were doing; people who tried to look all big and bad when they skated; people who thought they could pull off any trick under the sun until you watched them try.
We called those people Posers. If you got called a poser, it was like the ultimate badge of shame. Posers were laughed at. Posers were shunned. Posers were ridiculed. And we had one in our neighborhood growing up.
Donny was a skater. Donny had all of the pro gear. Donny had built his own ramp with the help of his step dad. Donny could do a flip kick, an ollie, a boardslide, and half a dozen or so other tricks that most of us dropped our jaws at. And then there was Jon. Jon had the gear and the board and the attitude to match, but Jon couldn’t do any of the tricks Donny did – he just thought he could. And Jon got labeled a poser.
Jesus labeled the scribes and Pharisees of his day as religious posers. Look at some of the things from our Scripture passage this morning that he said:
But do not do what they do, for they do not practice what they preach. 4 They tie up heavy, cumbersome loads and put them on other people’s shoulders, but they themselves are not willing to lift a finger to move them.”
“Everything they do is done for people to see: They make their phylacteries wide and the tassels on their garments long; “6 they love the place of honor at banquets and the most important seats in the synagogues; 7 they love to be greeted with respect in the marketplaces and to be called ‘Rabbi’ by others.” (Matthew 23:3-7, NIV)
Jesus explains the deep mindset of poser-pride that the religious establishment had in his time and it’s the same thing in our time today. Religious posers have a problem with their pride. It’s what keeps them entrenched behind their walls of religion and keeps them from truly being able to abandon themselves to worship Jesus with their whole heart.
There’s four keys about pride that I want us to pull out from what Jesus said here in Matthew 23 and if you recognize these, then you can begin to see why Jesus hates religion because we worship our pride instead of worshiping Him.
Here we go Number one – A religious poser says one thing and does another. In our passage, Jesus acknowledges that the scribes and Pharisees are in authority. He tells us that they sat in Moses’ seat which is a way of saying that as Moses brought the law down from God to the people, so the Pharisees are to bring God’s Word to the people. The people were to do what they told them because when they taught, they were speaking from God’s Word.
Now, here’s where the poser part comes in. Their prideful hearts are revealed when Jesus says that they tell the people to obey, but they don’t obey themselves. That would be like me standing up here and telling you that God wants you to love him and love others and then I go home and completely live contrary to what I just told you.
You’ve met these posers. There’s the boss who tells everyone to stay late, and then leaves promptly at 5:00pm to go golfing. There’s the supervisor who criticizes everyone for spending time on the Internet, but is discovered buying groceries online in the middle of the afternoon; and the Politician who recommends layoffs to stop “unnecessary spending,” but then buys herself brand-new luxury office furniture.
It’s a “do as I say, not as I do” mentality. In essence, the scribes and Pharisees wanted other people to think that they obeyed all of the rules meticulously but when it came down to it, Jesus stripped away their façade and exposed their true motives.
And there are religious people that still do those things today. They tell you that you should tithe and then they go home and don’t make God the Lord of their heart by putting Him first in their finances. They tell you that you should reach lost people, but when people start coming to the church with real life problems, they write those people off as too messy to get involved with. Jesus didn’t do that and he hates it when people do that.
To know that, all you have to do is look at the list of people Jesus hung out with: the poor, the cripples, the tax collectors, the prostitutes, the lepers, the sick. All people who had problems and issues and Jesus got involved with each and every one of them to offer them hope.
Secondly, a religious poser puts rules and regulations on others, but not on themselves.
Have you ever been to a Church service where you thought something that they did was weird? Maybe you’re here this morning and you think something we did was weird. Everything we do at Connect has a scriptural basis which means that we do it because Jesus said it. But some religious posers tell you to do things that are above and beyond what Jesus said and that’s where things get weird. Now, upfront, this is a tricky one to navigate and I may make some people uncomfortable in the next couple of minutes, but we’re exploring the truth of what Jesus has to say, so let’s dive in.
Let me give you a few things that are in churches across America today that Scripture and more specifically, Jesus never mention once:
- Church board meetings
- Fundraisers, raffles, or bake sales
- Clergy robes, vestments or formal attire of any kind
- Prayer or homage to Mary, any saint, rosary or statue
- Prayers for the dead, or purgatory
- Voting for anyone or anything in the Church
Don’t get me wrong, some of these things are not intrinsically bad until they are called rules that you are required to follow in order to be a Christ follower.
Earlier in the book of Matthew, Jesus was accosted by the Pharisees over his disciples breaking one of their traditions and this is what happened: 1 Then some Pharisees and teachers of the law came to Jesus…and asked, 2 “Why do your disciples break the tradition of the elders? They don’t wash their hands before they eat!”
3 Jesus replied, “And why do you break the command of God for the sake of your tradition? 4 For God said, ‘Honor your father and mother’ and ‘Anyone who curses their father or mother is to be put to death.’ 5 But you say that if anyone declares that what might have been used to help their father or mother is ‘devoted to God,’ 6 they are not to ‘honor their father or mother’ with it. Thus you nullify the word of God for the sake of your tradition. (Matthew 15:1-6, NIV)
Religious traditions are tough to define because the second time you do anything, you can classify it as tradition but certain traditions of religion can “nullify” the word of God and that’s where the religious posers come in.
If you’re trying to keep your appearance of religion up by hanging on to your religious traditions that are not in Scripture, you can hinder others from coming to hear the truth of the Word of God. That’s why posers are dangerous.
Thirdly, a religious poser is all show and no substance. Jesus used a really funny word in our passage of Scripture that I want us to come back to for a moment. In verse 5, he said, “Everything they do is done for people to see: They make their phylacteries wide and the tassels on their garments long” (Matthew 23:5, NIV)
Let’s pause for a moment and explain what a phylactery is because most of you just read that and went, huh? What? Let me explain and you’ll get it immediately. A phylactery was a small metal or leather bound box that Pharisees would wear on the forearms or foreheads that contained small portions of scripture.
And let me give you the scriptural reason why they did this. In the book of Exodus, God told Moses to tell the people this: 14 “In days to come, when your son asks you, ‘What does this mean?’ say to him, ‘With a mighty hand the Lord brought us out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery. 16 And it will be like a sign on your hand and a symbol on your forehead that the Lord brought us out of Egypt with his mighty hand.” (Exodus 13:14,16, NIV)
The Pharisees wanted to be so religious that they took this command literally. God was trying to tell his people to remember what He had done for them and the Pharisees thought they would earn some religious bonus points and they literally put this command inside of boxes and wore them on their forearms and sometimes even foreheads as a way of showcasing their religious pride.
Can you imagine walking through the grocery store and seeing someone with a religious box wrapped around their forehead? Well, we have that today, but not as blatant as a box on your forehead. We’ve got Jesus fish on cars. We’ve got the Christian t-shirts and bumper stickers. And again, they’re not bad things, unless they’re just for show and not for substance.
When you try to keep your religious appearance up with show, you end up with nothing but a hollow shell. Religion without Jesus is nothing more than a hollow shell. Period.
The fourth thing Jesus tells us about these religious posers is this: A religious poser prides themselves in being better than others.
When it comes to pride, religious people take the cake. Even over college graduates and their school. Even over fans and their sports teams. They like to put themselves first. I visited St Peter’s Basilica in Rome during a choir tour through Europe and walking in through the front doors, I was very impressed. Ornate decorations, statues and paintings and many other artifacts were everywhere. The problem was, it was more like a museum than a Church.
I grew up in the Church and I thought it was weird. Then it got stranger. We went down underneath the Church and there, behind iron bars, plexiglass and armed guards was a golden coffin where the remains of Peter are supposedly kept. Now, I’ve read scripture and the last thing on earth Peter would have wanted was a golden coffin. Tradition tells us that Peter wanted to be crucified upside down because he felt unworthy to die in the same way Jesus did. You think Peter would have wanted a gold coffin?
I’m sorry, but Peter himself would tell you that a gold coffin doesn’t tell us anything about who Jesus is or what He did or what He wants for my life.
Religion becomes ineffective when it takes the focus off of Jesus and places it on anything else. And that’s exactly what pride does.
Thankfully, Jesus is full of hope and after he pulls back the curtain on who the religious people really are, he offers some instruction on how not to be like them and I want us to really pull some practical ideas out of the next few minutes as we unpack the hope that Jesus offers to us in the last half of this passage.
Let’s read it one more time, picking it up in Verse 8. 8 “But you are not to be called ‘Rabbi,’ for you have one Teacher, and you are all brothers. 9 And do not call anyone on earth ‘father,’ for you have one Father, and he is in heaven. 10 Nor are you to be called instructors, for you have one Instructor, the Messiah. 11 The greatest among you will be your servant. 12 For those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted. (Matthew 23:8-12, NIV)
Pride is all about putting yourself above Jesus and above others, but Jesus gives us a new word to hang on in Verse 12 and that word is humility. Humility is all about putting Jesus and others first and that’s exactly what Jesus wants us to do.
Jesus cracked down on the religious posers for four things: He said they said one thing and did another, they put rules and regulations on others that they don’t abide by themselves, they are full of show and no substance and they pride themselves on being better than others. Then Jesus turns around and gives us four areas where we can learn how to be humble.
The first key Jesus gives us is this: You are not your own boss. When you give your life to Jesus, He becomes everything to you. He is Savior and He is Lord. Not only does He save you from death, but he gets to be the boss over your life and call the shots.
I’ve heard a lot of people say that this is their number one hang up to following Jesus – the fact that you have to obey a bunch of rules. My job is to set people free from this mentality, so for the next moment, listen hard. Christianity is not about following a bunch of rules. It’s about following Jesus because Jesus died to set you free.
Now, immediately, religious people will push back and say, no way! The Bible is full of commands we have to follow. Jesus himself commanded us to do things. And my answer would be Yes. Absolutely. Well, then how is Christianity not about following a bunch of rules if we’re supposed to follow rules?
Here’s the difference and where you may have missed the boat. I’m going to wheel it back around to the dock and here’s your chance to jump on it. Christianity is not about following a bunch of rules – it’s all about following Jesus because you love Him. When you love someone, you will do whatever they ask you to do, simply out of love. When you read Scripture and you begin to understand that Jesus has a purpose for your life and a better way for you to live and that His commands are designed for you to have a better quality of life, then obeying those commands actually becomes a joy not a chore. It is a response to Jesus’ love through our love for Him.
That’s why Jesus is Savior and Lord. You’re not the boss of your life, He is because He knows what is best for you infinitely more than you ever could. Following Jesus means lovingly listening and following where He leads.
The second thing Jesus tells us about humility is that you don’t sit on the throne. Jesus is Creator. The Gospel of John says that through Him all things were made. Everything else is simply creation. Our number one goal is to worship our Creator with everything we have and everything we are. When you worship creation, you take your worship away from Jesus and place it on something else that can’t save you or help you or enrich your life in any way shape or form.
I love baseball, I love watching movies and I love to play games, but none of those things can save me from Hell. None of those things died in my place to set me free from my sin. None of those things are worth my worship. They’re not intrinsically bad things, but they do not deserve my full attention because at the end of time, they go away just like everything else and only Jesus remains. What you worship is what’s on your throne.
Think about how you spend your free time. What are your activities? your hobbies? What gets the lion’s share of the free hours in your day? Now ask yourself, do those activities matter? Is it time spent loving Jesus and/or loving others? If it’s not, maybe it’s time to rearrange your priorities so that you can get Jesus back on the throne where he belongs.
Humility is all about the fact that you’re not your own boss, you don’t sit on the throne, and you were made to serve others. Our Connectors get this one. If you call Connect your home church, you know that we recently launched a massive serving campaign to plug all of our Connectors into a team where they could each play a vital role in our Church.
For some of them, that role is volunteering to change dirty diapers in our nursery each week. For others, it’s standing silently watching over all of us so that we can conduct church in a safe and freeing manner. For others, it’s rolling in here at 6:45am with coffee in hand, ready to push around some cases and every single bit of those serving roles are designed with one thing in mind – help people see Jesus.
Serving is not about glory. It’s about getting down in the mud with someone else and showing them that the only difference between you and them is a life changed by following Jesus. That’s it. You want to be humble? Serve someone. Find a neighbor this week who needs help with something and offer to help them. You might kindle an amazing friendship you were missing out on. Jump in and volunteer at our free SOLD OUT Sports Camp. Love on some kids for a week and see what Jesus does through you for their lives.
Lastly, Jesus tells us that our attitudes should be all about humility.
“Whoever exalts himself will be humbled and whoever humbles himself will be exalted.” (Matthew 23:12, NIV)
I have been in the Church all my life. I was born into a Christian household, raised in the Church, went to Sunday School and VBS as a child, did some hard time in Youth Group as a Student, went to college and rebelled for a little while before I got plugged back in and played on a Worship band and became a Jr/Sr High sponsor and now I’ve been a pastor for over eleven years.
And I have questions about God. Questions are good. Questions are okay. As a matter of fact, two weeks from today, we are going to give you a chance to ask your questions because on June 9th and 16th – both Sundays, we are going to host a live Q & A session where you will have a chance to text in any question you’ve ever had about God, Jesus, why Scripture says something, Why we’re called to act a certain way, anything, and our Senior Pastor Mike Edmisten and myself will field those live on stage. It’s going to be a blast and I’m excited about it, but I want you to understand that I myself have questions that may never be answered this side of heaven.
One of those questions is this: I have always wondered why the Son of God would give up his throne (he was a King) and come to this earth, putting on a physical body like mine that is so full of sinful desires and live without sin, teaching us all how to live and ultimately enduring the most horrible excruciating torturous death imaginable, all for me?
Why? Why would a King trade his throne for my life? What kind of love could prompt such an exchange? The answer is found in humility. The apostle Paul wrote these words in his letter to the Philippians in answer to this question of why:
5 Think the same way that Christ Jesus thought: 6 Christ was truly God. But he did not try to remain equal with God. 7 Instead he gave up everything and became a slave, when he became like one of us. 8 Christ was humble. He obeyed God and even died on a cross. 9 Then God gave Christ the highest place and honored his name above all others. 10 So at the name of Jesus everyone will bow down, those in heaven, on earth, and under the earth. 11 And to the glory of God the Father everyone will openly agree, “Jesus Christ is Lord!” (Philippians 2:5-11, CEV) Whoever humbles himself will be exalted.
Jesus traded his life for yours and mine not only for love, but to teach us humility because only through humility could God be glorified and Jesus be revealed as Lord. Let me pray for us.
Maybe you’ve been living the religious poser lifestyle. Maybe you’ve been pretending for a long time to be something that you’re not. Maybe pride has kept you running away from God for a long time. Don’t check out on me yet because I want you to hear me out on this.
Jesus stands ready with open arms to welcome you back. There is nothing, hear me on this, nothing you could ever have done that was too bad for Him to stop loving you or for Him to forgive you. Jesus gives second, third, millionth, and infinity chances to those who are willing to be humble and ask him for forgiveness.
Today’s your chance. Today is the day, the moment, your opportunity to receive forgiveness for everything and begin a new life where you’re not your own boss and you don’t sit on the throne of your life. Where you’re ready to serve others because your attitude is straight up humility.
A life where Jesus is your Savior, but He is also your Lord. A brand new life.
Maybe you’ve never heard of Jesus and all of this sounds way too good to be true. That’s cool. Like I said, I understand questions and I welcome them because I have them as well. Here at Connect, we don’t pretend to have everything figured out because we don’t have all of the answers.
But what we do know is what we’re passionate about and that’s Jesus. I hope you’ve seen that today. If you want to know more about us and Jesus and what kind of a difference following Him can make in your life, we want to talk with you.
Let’s all stand. The band is going to lead us in a song that is all about the Greatness of our God and as they sing, if you’re ready to stop trying to keep up your appearance by acting like a poser, or if you’re ready to make Jesus your Lord and Savior, or if you’ve just got questions, some of our leaders and myself will be out those doors at the back of the room. As the band plays and sings this song, you get out of your seat. Don’t worry about what the person next to you or behind you thinks. This is not about them. This is about you humbling yourself and coming to Jesus. This is your moment. This is your time. Make it now.