God Hates Heartless Religion – Part One
May 26, 2019 | Randy Smith
God Hates Heartless Religion – Part One
Sunday, May 26, 2019
Pastor Randy Smith
Grace Bible church has done a lot of things well and some of our greatest success has been on the softball field! Our women’s and men’s teams have won repeated championships. Of course the primary reason we have softball here at the church is to develop Christian friendships, encourage one another, meet believers from other churches and reach the lost. All that is true, but we also like to win as well!
I know sometimes back in the day we could get a little carried away. I understand the league is for fun. We are not being paid to play. Beyond ourselves, and maybe a few competitive family members, not many people in Central Jersey really care about our win-loss record. But with that said, in order to ensure an enjoyable time for others and avoid being a complete embarrassment, there are some basic expectations for those who sign-up to play softball. Regardless of your knowledge of the sport, I think we’d all agree they are common sense. But let’s find out just to make sure. Here’s a little quiz. See if you can determine which statement is true?
A. You must play the game according to the rules.
B. You can invent your own rules and do as you please.
A. Your accessories do your talking (batting gloves, working the sunflower seeds, sunglasses and shoes).
B. Your play on the field does your talking (hitting, throwing, running and catching).
A. You can ignore your coach’s directions.
B. You should listen to and respect your coach.
A. Success is measured by your effort and Christian testimony.
B. Success is measured by wins and highest batting average.
C. All the above (just kidding!)
A. You need to be reliable and faithful to your commitment.
B. You can show up whenever it’s convenient.
I think you get the idea. Now I can take just about any situation in life and regardless of one’s age or background, there are general principles we can all agree up, expectations to follow in any community. Yet for some odd reason, when it comes to the spiritual things (specifically here Christianity) we somehow think we can play by our own rules, we can go directly against the teachings of Jesus our Lord. We reject Christ and still call ourselves Christians. We add things to the Bible – Eating fish on Friday, salvation through baptism, belief in purgatory. We take away things from the Bible – God’s definition of marriage, love for all life, holy living. We can even shift the whole paradigm. Some say the essence of following Christ is getting wealthy or being rich or speaking in tongues or increased self-esteem or having your felt needs met.
This is basically the essence of all religion. Religion is a desire to meet God through man-made rules. It focuses on the external. And the more corrupt the religious system becomes the more superficial, worthless, hypocritical and revulsive it is in the eyes of God. The Lord wants not our religion, but our hearts. He wants a genuine relationship that comes from playing according to His rules. Our Lord, quoting Isaiah 29 said, “This people honors me with their lips, but their heart is far away from me. But in vain do they worship me, teaching as doctrines the precepts of men” (Mt. 15:8-9).
Perfect test case. In Jesus’ time no one was more religious, devout, ceremonial and moral than the Pharisees. You would think they would be best friends. And while our Lord was so patient with the prostitutes and tax collectors, He reserved His fiercest condemnation for these religious leaders.
Why? What were they doing that was so wrong? What warnings are in this passage for us? How can we honor God whereby He finds our lives pleasing? False religion – One of Satan’s greatest deceptions and the worst inequity to God. All that is where we are going this morning with this lesson.
A Dining Invitation (verses 37–38)
So let’s begin in verse 37. As you can see Jesus is asked by a Pharisee to join him for lunch. Some say it was to trap Jesus, but based on his “surprise” in verse 38, I will grant him genuine intentions.
Look there. Verse 38, “When the Pharisee saw it, he was surprised that He had not first ceremonially washed before the meal.”
So what’s going on here? Welcome to the world of man-made religion – Legalism as we would call it today. This is adding your rules to the Word of God. And when your rules are added to the Word of God, these traditions almost always become more important than the Word of God itself. God is ignored. Self-righteousness is nurtured. Unity in Christ is shot. Our gaze is upon those who follow them the best or preach them the loudest. How many churches out there are identified and make it their priority to monitor what Bible version you use or whether or not your consume alcohol or what women wear or how you school your children or what instruments are in the praise team?
Back then it was washing hands before a meal, elevating their man-made tradition. It was all about being spiritually clean. Say there was an unclean object – let’s take a prostitute. And then she touched a person. And then that person touched a wall. And then you touched that wall. And then you touched your food. And then you consumed food. Belief was that her spiritual uncleanliness was transmitted to your inner body.
The solution? Ritual washing of your hands before you eat!
Let me read directly from their codified law called the Mishnah.
“The hands are susceptible to uncleanness, and they are rendered clean [by the pouring over them of water] up to the wrist. Thus if a man had poured the first water up to the wrist and the second water beyond the wrist, and the water flowed back to the hand, the hand becomes clean; but if he poured both the first water and the second water beyond the wrist, and the water flowed back to the hand, the hand remains unclean. If he poured the first water over the one hand alone and then bethought himself and poured the second water over the one hand, his one hand [alone] is clean. If he had poured the water over the one hand and rubbed it on the other, it becomes unclean; but if he rubbed it on his head or on the wall [to dry it] it remains clean” (Yadaim 2.3).
You get the point? There is nothing in the Bible about this. Actually it’s the abuse of a biblical principle.
So the people are assembled. The meal is ready. The hand washing among the lunch participants commences. All are doing their duty, except Jesus. He’s not going to play their silly games. Following their tradition would mean He agrees with them. Their traditions are a distraction from what God expects. Jesus does not want others to watch Him and be led astray.
He sure did know how to get their attention! He refused one of their most coveted traditions. They were, verse 38, “surprised” that He didn’t comply. This sets the stage for our Lord’s lesson and the heart of this sermon.
A Divine Principle (verses 39–41)
As we move to the second point, our Lord uses this opportunity to teach a lesson. In verses 39-41 He lays forth a general divine principle that is applicable to all of us today.
“But the Lord said to him, ‘Now you Pharisees clean the outside of the cup and of the platter; but inside of you, you are full of robbery and wickedness. You foolish ones, did not He who made the outside make the inside also? But give that which is within as charity, and then all things are clean for you.’”
So much for the polite lunch conversation. Jesus pulled no punches!
So the Pharisees were concerned about washing their hands. The goal was to clean themselves externally. Jesus applies this to washing dishes. Which side is easier to clean? Which side is more important to clean?
No one likes to eat with dishes that are noticeably dirty on the outside, but for the most part we are primarily concerned with the inside of a dish. If we are getting a plate at a buffet, how often do we turn it over and examine the bottom? Or a soda from a machine. Do we ever consider the many hands that touched that can? Probably not. We pop the tab and consume the soft drink. Maybe we’ll wipe off this little part where our lip touches the can.
Likewise, God could care less about the externals. For example – The fish on the back of our car, fancy clothes for church, crosses around our necks, dietary restrictions, fasting for the sake of fasting, attending church out of duty, spiritual pilgrimages, big Christian words, religious traditions, theological debates. Not that all of this is bad. It’s only bad when these externals become the basis of our faith. Even morality can be deadly when it provides an external veneer to cover a defective heart.
The Pharisees in a sense were doing all of these. On the outside no one appeared more religious and dedicated to God. The outside of the cup was clean, but who cares if the cup is filthy on the inside? Verse 39, Jesus knowing their hearts said their hearts were “full of robbery and wickedness” or in Matthew 23, “robbery and self-indulgence” (Mt. 23:25).
Were they literally robbing the people? Yes, just like most false religions, they were using religion to plunder the pocketbooks of their followers. But in an even more evil way, they were plundering their souls presenting a way of spirituality that led people away from God. In Matthew 23 Jesus called them “blind guides” making people “twice as much a son of hell as [themselves]” (Mt. 23:16, 15).
Listen, what matters to God is the inside! It’s all about the heart! Get that right (regarding the internals) and everything else follows (regarding the externals) – verse 41!
This is a great principle in parenting. Why is it that many children that grow up in a devout Christian home tend to hate the faith more than children that are raised by unbelievers? It’s often because the environment that cultured them was fake religion. It’s the very Pharisaical attitudes that Jesus condemns here. It was highly religious people that Jesus attacked the hardest. It was highly religious people that hated Jesus the most. The most spiritually dangerous place for a child to exist is in some religious homes.
If you want to raise a Pharisee, just follow these simple steps (sarcasm!).
- Make the Christian home all about rule-keeping (do’s and don’t’s), but never explain to them why we should follow God’s Word.
- Add your own rules to God’s Word and make them more important than God’s Word.
- Strictly enforce the rules on your children, but give yourself a pass.
- Show your children nothing about grace, forgiveness, mercy and love.
- Preach at them until they are blue in the face (bore them with the Bible) and never listen to what they have to say about God’s Word.
- Make Jesus a burden rather than a blessing – make God’s Word a bondage rather than a liberation.
- Give them no opportunity to think spiritually for themselves.
- Fail to guide them in a spiritual worldview – teaching them how to process life with the Bible.
- Praise their externals regardless of their motives.
- Teach them to obey only because they have to and not because they should also want to as God’s commands come from a loving and trustworthy Father.
- Make your disciple punishment rather than correction.
- Demand self-reformation, rather than pointing them to Christ-transformation by grace.
- Teach them to obey you as God rather than to obey God by obeying you.
- Use Scripture and church as punishment.
- Never pray for them.
- Correct them more than you encourage them.
- Beat your kids into external conformity, often to simply make yourself look good and do nothing to shepherd their hearts.
As Jesus said in verse 40, such folly! Most parents have good intentions. The Pharisees had good intentions too!
Recently I listened to a great sermon by Paul Tripp as he spoke about the need to shepherd our children’s hearts. When the heart is ignored and we concentrate only on the externals, he compared it to a child that has everything he needs and wants in his backyard, but has his face pressed up against the fence desiring the junk in the neighbor’s yard. Legalistic parents just try to build higher fences. Christian parents shepherd the orientation of the heart.
We are out of time for today, Lord willing we’ll finish this sermon and the rest of this section next week.
Yet as we close, remember this: Pharisaical religion is unfulfilling, leads to self-righteousness, is man-centered, uses people, is divisive and is offensive to God. True spirituality is liberating, Christ-centered, grace-driven, satisfying, loving and God honoring. Pharisaical religion focuses on personally cleaning up the outside. True spirituality focuses on Jesus cleaning up the inside.