True Religion

November 20, 2022 | Jess Rainer

Passage: Matthew 23:1-13

We get to a passage today where Jesus looks at the crowds around Him and tells them they are being crushed spiritually.  And he looks at the religious officials and tells them that they are ones crushing people.  How are they doing this?  Through religion. Through the laws and traditions that were absolutely unbearable.  Jesus is done with these religious officials and He’s about to let them know.  We get to passage that I know will get you right into the Thanksgiving spirit… One author described it like this:  “Jesus’ words in this passage fly from His lips like claps of thunder and spears of lightning. Out of His mouth on this occasion came the most fearful and dreadful statements that Jesus uttered on earth.” – MacArthur.  Happy Thanksgiving!!  As crushing as religion can be, Jesus tells us it doesn’t have to be that.  Here’s what I want you to see today from God’s Word:  False religion crushes. True religion radiates.  We have just a few weeks left and we will have gone through the entire book this year!

1) False religion is crushing. (vs. 1-4)  Jesus is about to leave the temple, but He has one more thing to say and it isn’t pretty.  Jesus starts off by addressing the crowds and His disciples 1 Then Jesus said to the crowds and to his disciples, The religious leaders are standing right there too and Jesus doesn’t hold back.  2 “The teachers of religious law and the Pharisees are the official interpreters of the law of Moses.  3 So practice and obey whatever they tell you, but don’t follow their example. For they don’t practice what they teach.  4 They crush people with unbearable religious demands and never lift a finger to ease the burden.  There are three things we can gather from Jesus’ opening words about these religious elite: 

1) The religious leaders were good, and maybe, boring preachers.  This group were very conversative and orthodox.  They stayed true to the teaching of the Scriptures.  They knew the Bible and taught the Bible well Jesus tells the crowds to listen them.  As far as the boring part, remember what the crowds said about Jesus’ preaching?  “That’s good stuff! I can understand what’s He saying and He says it with authority.”  Now, the religious leaders probably paused for a moment.  “Hey, this Jesus guy is saying nice things about us. Maybe he’s not so bad after all.”  What does Jesus say in the second half of verse 3?

2) The religious leaders talk the talk, but they don’t walk the walk.  They are hypocrites!  We’ll get to verse 5 in minute, but look at what it says: “it’s all for show”.  “Okay, never mind, let’s get rid of this guy…”  One of my greatest fears when I preach is that I will say something up here that I won’t do down there.  I don’t ever want to call you all to action when I know I won’t act.  Now, there are times when I call myself to action on stage and you all get to be a part of it.  I don’t have it all together.  I don’t have every spiritual discipline down.  There are areas that I need to grow spiritually.  Since we preach through the Bible, there are times when we come to a passage that I know I need to grow in.  I want you to know my heart is to always live out the things that are said on Sundays.  And then look at verse 4.

3) The religious leaders make religion crushing.  How did they make religion crushing?  They made all the rules, laws, and customs the standard for salvation.  We’ve talked this year about the how the Pharisees just made being religious unbearable with rules upon rules.  Maybe that’s been your experience with church.  You felt like you had to perform to belong.  You felt like you had to act the part in order to be accepted.  You felt like you would never amount up to the expectations of others.  You felt like you had to get your life in order so that you can get your life right before Christ.  False religion promotes adherence over repentance.  And that’s crushing.  And that’s not the gospel.  So what is the gospel?  I want you to get the gospel right.  Unfortunately, religious activity can get in the way of that.  In your worship guides, you have a chart from Tim Keller.  I want you to go through this chart this week.  But look at the first 3 – it really gets to the core of the issue.  “I obey God to get God.”

False religion is oppressive.  But a lot of times we don’t even realize the oppression we’re under.  That’s because false religion is sneaky.

2) False religion is sneaky. (vs. 5-13)  Now, these Pharisees believed they were genuinely doing God’s work.  They believed they were accomplishing God’s will, but they missed it.  Look at what Jesus says in verse 13:  13 “What sorrow awaits you teachers of religious law and you Pharisees. Hypocrites! For you shut the door of the Kingdom of Heaven in people’s faces. You won’t go in yourselves, and you don’t let others enter either.  That’s quite the condemnation.  What was the problem?  They let religion sneak into their hearts.  Religion loves to sneak into Jesus’ place in your heart.  From verse 5 until verse 36, Jesus just lets these religious officials have it.  Just look at how it starts in verse 5.  5 “Everything they do is for show. On their arms they wear extra wide prayer boxes with Scripture verses inside, and they wear robes with extra long tassels.  These are called phylacteries.  It was a reminder to keep the law.  6 And they love to sit at the head table at banquets and in the seats of honor in the synagogues. 7 They love to receive respectful greetings as they walk in the marketplaces, and to be called ‘Rabbi.’  What that means for us is that we must be on guard against putting our religious practices over our relationship with Jesus.  You may be thinking, why would I want religion to sneak into my life?  What would be the point of that?  We “do” religion not to get God, but to avoid God.  Here at TCSH we encourage you to do things like come to worship, serve as a volunteers, give financially, and be in a community group.  Those are good things and you should be doing them.  But why are you doing them?  So often, we will go through our lives and just check the Christian boxes off.  “Hey God, I served in the nursery this week and I dropped some money in the offering boxes, so can you leave me alone for a little bit?”  “God, you don’t know how bad that diaper smelled. Can we just call it even this week? Can I just do the things I want to do? We can check back in next Sunday.”  We want to do the things of God so we cannot encounter God.  Christianity is more than figuring out what you need to do today in order to stay out of hell tomorrow.   That’s when religion becomes sneaky!  So, what’s the remedy? How do we know what true religion is?  I’ll put it this way and then explain it: True religion radiates.

3) True religion radiates. (vs. Mark 12:41-44)  I want us to skip over to Mark 12.  In Mark’s gospel account, he provides this short story that happened after Jesus tore apart the Pharisees’ religion.  Jesus is in the temple and He decides to rest His feet.  41 Jesus sat down near the collection box in the Temple and watched as the crowds dropped in their money. Many rich people put in large amounts.   Jesus is doing a little people watching and notices the people that are putting money in the collection boxes.  Historically, there were 13 different collection boxes and each one was for a different purpose.  Each box had this metal funnel of sorts where the money would be put in.  It kind of reminds of those big plastic tubs at the mall where you could put a quarter in and it would spin around.  Every time money was placed into the metal funnel it would make sounds.  And there wasn’t paper money, it was all coins.  So, the more money you gave, the louder and longer the sounds.  The rich would come in with both hands and hold those coins up and let it rain!  And then look who follows the rich in verse 42:  42 Then a poor widow came and dropped in two small coins.  Jesus never wastes a teaching moment:  43 Jesus called his disciples to him and said, “I tell you the truth, this poor widow has given more than all the others who are making contributions.  44 For they gave a tiny part of their surplus, but she, poor as she is, has given everything she had to live on.”  What’s the lesson Jesus just taught: God cares more about the sacrifice more than the surplus.  Why? Because the sacrifice is from the heart.  True religion radiates from the heart.  Jesus wants us to be wrapped up in Him and His glory.  Quote: “Lord, I thank Thee that this, which is a necessity of my new life, is also its greatest delight. So, I do at this hour feed on Thee.” – Charles Spurgeon.  Quote: “Oh to behold the Glory of Christ! Here in would I live, Here in would I die, here on would I dwell in my thoughts and my affections until all things here below become as dead and deformed things, and in no longer, any way, calling out for my affections” ~ John Owen.  

True religion is letting your heart dwell on God’s glory and letting it radiate out from you.  If heaven had all the things you wanted and expected, but no Jesus, would it still feel like heaven?  Christianity is not meant to be only a get out of hell card.  Christianity is not meant to be only the rewards coming in heaven.  Those are good things to be desired!  Christianity is about getting God forever.  

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Series Information

This sermon series will a year long journey through the book of Matthew in 2022.  These messages will examine the broader themes in Matthew like God’s character, Jesus as the fulfillment of the Old Testament’s promises for a Messiah,  and the importance of internal integrity over external behavior. It lays out practical application points like the need for salvation, baptism, and repentance.  It also provides answers to the question “Who is Jesus?”.  It invites you to recognize Jesus as God’s Son and to receive him as Lord of your lives.  

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