As always, you can find all our previous posts in this series, going through the Gospels to find the real Jesus, here.
And the scriptures for today are here. (Note that you can change the translation version on this scripture page as suits you. I default to the NASB to get the more literal translation, but do use the one that works for you).
So last week we started to look at how Jesus sees religious rules, but to get there we first had to see even more clearly how He sees religious people – and how they see Him. Let's go on from there into the next stories!
Out with the old, in with the new
People asked Jesus about fasting. Lots of religious groups (Christian and not) fast even today for various reasons. People back then wanted to know why John the Baptist's followers fasted, and the Good Religious People's followers fasted, but Jesus' followers didn't. Jesus gave them two pieces of information, in response.
For one thing, while He didn't say fasting was wrong, He did point out that the timing of their fasting was off. John the Baptist's followers and the Good Religious People's followers acted like it was time to mourn – but God Himself was standing right there with them, walking among them, talking face to face with them, and actively at work to save them at that moment! How in the world could anyone believe it was time to do anything but celebrate!
But He also gave them what we think of as one of the more famous parables – the one about old and new wineskins, and old and new cloth. In a nutshell, He said:
- If you try to attach something new to something old, it's not only not going to work, it's also going to destroy your efforts at both.
- Instead, keep the new with new, and you'll get the results you're after.
What's all this about? Well, when folks questioned Jesus about fasting, they were really asking Him why His people didn't follow the local religious rules their religious culture said would please God (and their own religious natures). Their heads were still stuck in the old way of religion (which in the case of fasting means religiously denying oneself pleasures and even basic sustenance to prove to God you or your people were worthy enough to be forgiven your sins and be thought more highly of).
But God was at that moment declaring a new way – a new way that can't be used or combined with the old religious way any more than oil can naturally be combined with water. And Jesus was telling them "Hey, it's time to let go that old religious stuff. Just toss is all away, because you can't have that old religious stuff and My new way, at the same time."
But Jesus also told them something else, didn't He? Yep. He also pointed out that most people, once they've tasted the old religious way, won't let go of it. They won't ever decide that the new is better than the old. It was a signpost warning to those willing to see it: "If you're still thinking the old religious way is better – look out!"
Jesus said that while He was on earth, His followers wouldn't fast – but that after He left and it was appropriate, they would. Since forgiveness through Jesus Christ requires nothing more than asking for it and trusting His ways, do you imagine a time or circumstances in your life when fasting might be appropriate? Why would it be then? What would you hope to accomplish? Would that accomplishment be part of the old religious way of getting yourself right with God (and therefore destructive to your spiritual nature), or part of Jesus' new way (and therefore healing and glorifying to God)?
Nearly all the "churches" of today (and the last nineteen centuries), and all the "Christian" religious organizations (denominations, etc) have been nothing more than trying to combine Jesus' new way with the old religious way Jesus cancelled and forbids. How has your own journey with Jesus been blocked or even abandoned because of these religious roadblocks? What can you start doing today that will get you back on track with Jesus' way?
The old religious ways are so tempting! And once we get caught in them, they are like meth to an addict. We never run out of excuses for why we "need" them, and B.S. about how "good" they are for us, and so on – even when we realize it's killing us and/or we hate it. In fact, most people today who want to find and follow the real Jesus have to spend more of their efforts ridding themselves of religious addiction than anything else. What are the ways you are still addicted to religious old ways – still thinking "The old is better" than Jesus' new way?
Only God gets to decide God's rules
Next we see the Good Religious People condemning Jesus' followers because they were breaking God's Sabbath rules against doing work – hungry, they were picking grain heads as they walked and eating them.
Did Jesus agree with the Good Religious People? He should have, right? Since He was sinless, and since He knew the religious laws of God better than anyone else, He should have zapped His followers right them and there, right?
Nope. Jesus answered the Good Religious People by pointing out a time even within their own religious history when people broke God's rules but were declared innocent because of the circumstances and their hearts. And that's something even their Good Religious People ancestors had missed, even though God said it outright to them again and again in the Old Testament: hearts count more than rules; people's needs come before rules.
In other words, God demands not only that His people's hearts be about mercy and not about religion, but also that they use their brains in figuring out when its ok to "break" God's rules in order to KEEP God's rules.
The Good Religious People had also missed something else Jesus pointed out:
GOD decides how and even when His rules will apply or be enforced – NOT Good Religious People.
We know that the Bible says liars break God's rules – but what about people in WWII who lied to hide Jews from the Nazis? What about people today who smuggle Bibles into countries whose governments forbid them, so that Christians there can learn and take comfort in Jesus' Good News? Can you imagine that God condemns someone who's hungry and steals food to feed themselves or their family? Can you imagine ways you perhaps have broken God's rules (either in the Old Testament or the New Testament) in your life – and yet truly God declares you innocent?
Good Religious People today are just as bad as they were 2,000 years ago, when it comes to making religious rules a higher priority than mercy – and then trumpeting to the world how "extra pleasing" they are (they think) to God. How in your own life have you put what you imagined as "God's rules" on a higher level than acting out of God's mercy? How have others done that to you?
Is it really YOU who makes Jesus mad?
Next we read a story of Jesus Himself actually, technically breaking one of God's rules – this time by healing a man with a bad hand on the Sabbath.
By this time we also see that the Good Religious People have had it with Him. They're now actually monitoring Jesus to see if they can catch Him breaking a religious law so they can get Him in big trouble with the religious authorities (who could have Jesus punished severely). Jesus knows what they're doing – and He does what He's going to do anyway. In fact, Jesus called the man up before everyone, so nothing He did was "secret" or hidden in any way. He then asks some teaching-questions to those present, giving the Good Religious People a chance to figure out the God-answer to their own accusation.
And when the Good Religious People refused to budge from their religious hearts, Jesus got mad at them. And not even just p.o.'d, like we'd be. Jesus also felt heart-distress because they were so stubborn, refusing God's salvation and clinging instead to their sin of religion. It BOTHERED Jesus that they were refusing to save themselves by opening up to God's truth. But their B.S. didn't stop Jesus or His demonstration not only of God's power to heal, but also God's power to define how His rules would be interpreted and when they would be enforced. Since they wouldn't come along with everyone else, Jesus kept right on going without them.
The Good Religious People's response? They went out and joined forces with the local political forces so they could plan out a way to kill Jesus.
If Jesus Himself broke one of "God's" rules, is it even God's rule anymore? How does that work in your life?
Good Religious People have never changed. They plotted and connived 2,000 years ago to punish and even kill those who either didn't live by their interpretation of God's rules, or who actively demonstrated how wrong they are in how they interpret God's rules – and they do so even today. How many women, poor people, Gays, and so on are turned out of "church" or forced into self-loathing by "Christians" who are "just following God's rules" and "protecting" the Gospel from the "heresy" of believing that God's place for women is equal to men, the poor will get into heaven far ahead of anyone with money, Gays aren't condemned by God, etc? If you have been a Good Religious Person in your life, how many Gay suicides has God added to your list of anti-Christ acts in your life? How much lost potential will God keep on your list of sins because you blocked women from doing what the Holy Spirit led them to do? Think God will forgive you of these sins too? Only when you sincerely repent of them – will you actually DO that?
Another thing that's never changed: it's Good Religious People who earn Jesus' anger, and not the basic sinners of the world. Will sinners who aren't Good Religious People also earn hell? Sure, if they've earned it by refusing God's way and persistently choosing evil instead. But it's the Good Religious People who torqued God off in the Old Testament, who torqued God off in the New Testament, and who torque God off even today. Why? Because they aren't just sinners – they're active agents for the devil, disguised as angels of God's light. They trick people into believing lies about who God is and what He wants, and they stand in His light, getting people to associate them with God even though they actually reject Him by their behavior and evil hearts. How have Good Religious People tricked you into believing incorrect things about God? What ways do you still need to remove their influence from your life?
Good Religious People today often hide behind "love" and "gentleness", pretending to be about Jesus when actually they're about their own religious ways. They convince themselves and others that they are "better than" the Good Religious People who preach hate and force – and yet they still act out of their own religious combination of Jesus' way (new wineskin) with the age-old human religion way (old wineskin) – and in shows in their lives of devotion to their "church" or denomination, or to certain human leaders, or even to ways of living that are nice but have little in common with the God-first values of Jesus. Who are the "Good" Good Religious People in your life? How are they twisting your vision toward their version of religion, and still away from Jesus?
See you next week!
This article written by Lynne at No Junk. Just Jesus. You can always contact me (Lynne) at NoJunkJustJesus@gmail.com.