Like the Seven Churches in the Book of Revelation, Chapters 2 and 3, Jesus helped us understand that religion wasn’t what He was after when He picked Israel to be His representation on earth back in the Old Testament. Yet, religion is what He got throughout the ages, religion that gave God some form and function, but wasn’t what God wanted. We see that specifically when we look at Matthew 23. Jesus went after the religion of the Scribes and the Pharisees, and they came up wanting.
Let me illustrate the 16 citations Jesus brought into the light when He addressed this religious group in the 1st Century. (Let it be said, that these 16 citations are common among religious people, and I believe that is why Jesus lets us in on His rebuke of the Scribes and Pharisees.)
They do not practice what they preach. How often has this charge been leveled at the church and religious institutions in our day?
They create laws and commandments no one can keep. Legalistic religion is never popular because no one wants to simply follow rules.
They do everything to be seen by others. Religion must have publicity to get known and further their cause.
They love the places of honor. Religion is narcissistic in nature. It wants to be known and popularized by their followers.
They love the recognition to be called Rabbi. This significant title gives them credibility in the culture and makes them a much sought-after person of influence.
They keep people from entering the Kingdom. The system of religion is important, not the reality of truth such as the teaching of the Messiah.
They make converts that are more devious than themselves. Students will take on the characteristics of their teachers and become similar in their deception.
They are blind guides with the wrong emphasis in their teachings. Too often, people who are in the influence of teaching do not see the truth, and they teach the regulations of religion, rather than the truth.
They are hypocrites that hold to ritual and tradition, and fail to show justice, mercy, or faithfulness.
They accent on the minors in religious teaching and fail at the majors. Religion will not focus on what is important and true, but will look at how the practice of their religion is upheld.
They worry about appearances among the people, but inwardly are full of greed and indulgence. Too many clergy have failed because they need the praise of people but were held prisoner by their inner desires.
They appear righteous, but inside are full of dead man’s bones with all kinds of impurity. Again, position and a righteous appearance will go far when you allow religion to be your standard of conduct.
They appear righteous before the people, but the truth is they are inwardly full of hypocrisy and lawlessness. In our day, many clergy have fallen after a long career of fooling everyone with a righteous veneer.
They are against the prophet who tells the truth and prepare his grave.
The system of religion will be defended and all who question it will be considered an enemy.
They are called snakes or vipers, and their deception deserves hell. Religious leadership can fool a lot of people to think they have the right direction. Yet, like a snake or viper they are full of poisonous venom.
So, there it is … the assessment of religious people by Jesus. As I said in my opening remarks, these characteristics are not just for the religious leaders in Jesus’ day, but can define anything religious in any age. Religion is not your friend. If your religion is without Jesus, or even if it gives homage to Jesus, but the practices are based upon the best practices in religion, they are not of God. Most religions enjoy their practices and enjoy their doctrinal differences from other religions, which means nothing in the final analysis. Differences in error are simply the same in any religion. It doesn’t mean anything if you are a Catholic or a Protestant, religion in any form that does not honor Jesus as Lord and Savior is in deep trouble with God.
God’s truth is not in any religion … His truth is in His Son Jesus and in His Word. Religion may be familiar with Jesus, but He is not first as that religion’s Lord and Savior. What is first is the religion itself. The results of this lack of making Jesus the priority is the nature of which He spoke to the Pharisees and Scribes.
I grew up in a religious system that practiced their religion associated with Jesus, but I never knew Jesus as Lord and Savior. It always appeared to my young mind that the church was the Lord and Savior of the people. I was 20 years old before I heard a message about being ‘born again’ by coming to Jesus in faith as my Lord and Savior. Before that, I learned the system, the rules, the doctrine, and the practices of the church. Jesus was not the focus of that religious system. So many people are trapped by religion … giving heed to an appearance of being right, but still lost in not knowing Jesus Christ through a personal relationship of their Lord and Savior.
I would like you to reacquaint yourself with those 15 citations above that Jesus spoke to the religion of His day and realize that religion hasn’t evolved much since His day.
Jesus is our way, our truth, and our life … everything short of it, is a counterfeit attempt to be right before God. That is what religion is … a counterfeit attempt to be right before God.
Challenging the Culture with Truth … Larry Kutzler