Religion or Reality?

Notes on Sermon preached at PCF on 3 October 2010

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Reference: Luke 5 v 27 – 6 v 11

We are looking today at two groups of people. There is the Pharisees, proud, legalist, spiritual “achievers”, who represent religion. Secondly we look at those who are followers of Jesus, who have the reality of a relationship with the king of the universe. Which do you have – religion or reality?

Let’s look today at six different “realities”

1. The Reality about Sinners

We saw last time that Jesus calls and accepts the worst of sinners.  A tax collector, the most despised man in the neighbourhood, was the latest addition to the ranks of followers of Jesus. Having started to follow Jesus, his life is changed forever as Jesus starts to change him from the inside out. Levi – or Matthew as he is also known  –  went on to be one of the twelve initial Apostles of Jesus, and also wrote Matthew’s gospel, giving us, amongst other things, the Sermon on the Mount and the Great Commission. There is no one who God can not use!

The Pharisees on the other hand, believed that sinners were worthless in God’s eyes and that only those who had reached a certain level of holiness could be accepted by God.

The reality is that God will accept any sinner who comes to him in faith – no one is out of the reach of God’s mercy. The Pharisees are shocked by such an idea? Who do you identify with most?

2. The Reality about Religion

The Pharisees are not only concerned with the people that Jesus calls and mixes with: they want to know why Jesus and his followers are not fasting in the ways the they tell their people to.

Again there is a bold distinction between the Pharisees and the followers of Jesus. As far as the Pharisees are concerned, religious duties, like fasting, are joyless duties to enable you to claim a spiritual worthiness.  Not so with the followers of Jesus. Religious practices like fasting come out of a joyful relationship with Him that means that we do things like fasting because we love him – not to make ourselves acceptable. We looked last time at the three illustrations that Jesus uses, the bridegroom, the cloth and the wineskin.  Broadly, Jesus is telling us that the old way of thinking won’t do any longer. We can no longer see the rituals and the disciplines of the religious life as a way to become a part of God’s kingdom.  It now needs a complete new way of thinking – we serve God out of relationship and out of love – not out of a religious desire to make ourselves pleasing to God. And the likelihood of fasting when we are in the joyful  presence of Jesus, is the same as the likelihood of fasting at a wedding feast in the midst of joyful celebrations.

The reality of relationship with Jesus means that we cheerfully and willingly serve Him. Religion means that we do our duty in the hope that it may be acceptable. Which do you have?

3. The Reality about the Sabbath

There were certainly laws about God’s Sabbath in the Old Testament. Without going into the question of how and whether we observe the Sabbath today, the problem was that the Pharisees had added on a myriad of requirements and duties that, they said, interpreted God’s requirement of the Sabbath. The effect of this was that God’s gracious provision of food to those who were travelling, and God’s gracious provision of healing for those who were in pain, was no longer available on the Sabbath according to the Pharisees. What legalism religion can bring us into! Surely God’s provision, and God’s healing are available on the Sabbath as at any time? In their legalism and religion, the Pharisees had forgotten God’s intention in creating the Sabbath that it was a time for rest, for refreshment, for giving and receiving mercy. Religion bonds up – reality sets people free – “the Sabbath was made for man!”

4. The Reality about the Pharisees

The fact is that the Pharisees we meet here were not interested in grace or in showing mercy, they rejected God’s mercy in favour of their own positions of power, their own self- righteousness and their own rules and regulation.

We need to be on our guard here, The Pharisees were those with a completely evangelical, orthodox view of God’s word.  It is perfectly possible for those with a high view of God’s word to fall into Pharisaism. You have only to look at the two incidents here to see that. You would have thought that someone who loved god would rejoice in God’s provision for the hungry, and in God’s mercy to the afflicted. Yet we read that “they were furious”. Beware dead religion that is not based on a relationship with Jesus!

5. The Reality about Jesus

So far in His ministry, Jesus is being very cautious concerning what he reveals about his divinity, but when he refers to himself as the Son of Man, the Pharisees knew exactly what he was saying. He was saying that he identified himself with the figure in Daniel’s prophecy who was the divine Messiah. And He was therefore claiming that he had the authority to decide what was right and what was not, even in relation to the Sabbath! What a claim! No wonder the Pharisee were horrified! And we have to choose whether we relate to Jesus as a religious figure, or as the all powerful Son of God who demands our loyalty our love and our obedience.

6. The reality about the Cross

Finally, we see Jesus “setting up” the Pharisees to react to himself by plotting to take his life. The ultimate reality here is that Jesus went to the cross knowingly, willingly and deliberately, to enable us to experience the ultimate in reality for ourselves, a relationship with God.

Which do you have – religion or reality?

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