Here’s the first of our “The Difference 2016” articles -a guest post from Steve (this was the talk at our Monday Group Easter Special).
We thought about the triumphal entry into Jerusalem yesterday – so called Palm Sunday.
It is great when Jesus shows up. He is a source of joy and He brings peace to all sorts of situations. He heals and forgives people and looks after the little people and shows no favouritism. No wonder people were excited.
It is good, when we hear about Jesus, to be enthusiastic.
I wonder if anyone could have predicted what would happen next?
You might have known Jesus for many years or may just be hearing about Him for the first time, but what is certain is that He does make a difference when He gets involved with our lives. We can, however, sometimes lose that sense of freshness and immediacy of God’s action and moving in our lives so it’s good to remind ourselves that the difference is an ongoing thing.
Let’s look at what happened.
Matthew 21:9-17 12Jesus entered the Temple and began to drive out all the people buying and selling animals for sacrifice. He knocked over the tables of the money changers and the chairs of those selling doves. 13He said to them, “The Scriptures declare, ‘My Temple will be called a house of prayer,’ but you have turned it into a den of thieves!” 14The blind and the lame came to him in the Temple, and he healed them. 15The leading priests and the teachers of religious law saw these wonderful miracles and heard even the children in the Temple shouting, “Praise God for the Son of David.” But the leaders were indignant. 16They asked Jesus, “Do you hear what these children are saying?” “Yes,” Jesus replied. “Haven’t you ever read the Scriptures? For they say, ‘You have taught children and infants to give you praise.’” 17Then he returned to Bethany, where he stayed overnight.
Jesus makes change
Jesus does something that at first must have looked frightening and threatening – it was if you were a money changer or an animal trader in the temple courtyard.
It was also scary if you were a polite follower of Jesus.
He took decisive action – he didn’t just talk or give verbal warnings.
He was demonstrably emotionally committed and determined – there was passion – that would have been disquieting.
He was challenging – things that were accepted as the “norm” were overturned and not only called into question but attacked.
Change is challenging. For those of us who have long histories and memories change brings fear and loss, viv a vis someone I met recently who was moving house after 35 years. They were traumatised by the sense of loss as they emptied their 5 bedroom house and moved into a 2 bedroom flat. Furniture,keepsakes and mementoes all needed to be sifted and sorted and much of it off loaded and lost. Truly challenging stuff.
There will be grief as change occurs in our lives. There will be a sense of loss – things are not the same as they were.
The difference here is Jesus creates change for what is good, what is right and what glorifies God.
There are two aspects to the difference Jesus makes by changing things which we need to distinguish:
- Personal change – things that happen to us personally – our character, our behaviours and our feelings. These are largely positive: forgiveness, inner peace, the ability to love others, gifts of ministry, defeating sin in our lives. We will be hearing more of this as we go through this week.
- Organisational change: Jesus challenges the systems of religion and society – the trappings of the religious life and the sinful attitudes that it is driven by.
Let’s look at that challenge that Jesus brought that day, and still brings, to organised religion that is man-centred rather than God centred. This is important because many people find their faith is blighted because of what they experience in “religion” and their faith is weakened or withers because of past experience of false religion.
The Difference Jesus Makes to Religion
If we look at the passage and a few other sources from the gospels we can compare the religious system of the day against Jesus’ ministry, announcing the coming Kingdom.
What do we know about the religion at that time:
- It’s underlying philosophy was driven by power and control
- It was driven by guilt and condemnation
- It demanded submission through fear
- It was blatantly exploitative
- It was complex and required intense personal effort – physical and intellectual
- It was exclusive and hierarchical
- Spirituality was equated with task performance
Let’s compare that with Jesus’ Kingdom of God ministry:
- It’s primary philosophy was driven by love, “For God so loved the world, that….”
- It was characterised by healing, forgiveness and grace
- It was characterised by recognisable authority – people realised “He taught with authority..”
- The teaching was understandable
- The ministry of Jesus was inclusive – children, the vulnerable and others who brought them to Him
- Spirituality was defined by relationship with God
- Inner obedience was effected by right relationship with God in Christ and so was “easy”.
Now think for a minute, “What has your experience of religion been most like?”
If you are in leadership what is your church most like?
My guess is that you will probably conclude it is a bit of a mixture. That has been my experience so far. Some things we get right and some we get wrong. I have certainly been involved with religious societies/communities ( I won’t call them churches) that are very much more aligned to the “religious model” than the “Kingdom of God” description. And for the record, they were not stuffy, institutionalised, liberal organisations – they had the appearance of promoting cutting edge, frontline discipleship: how wrong can you be?
I want those of us who have been hurt or discouraged by false “religion” to understand the difference Jesus makes. He is not about command and control for selfish reasons. He is not about building institutions and driving them forward through fear and guilt. He is not about substituting ritual and complexity for simple childlike trust in a loving Father.
The Difference Jesus makes to religion is massive – it is quantum, exponential and seismic all at once. Perhaps the simplest way to put it is the difference between a book and a person.
Coping with the difference Jesus makes
But what was Jesus response to the false religion that had so misrepresented the good News of God’s love for the world?
It was change….. violent change.
I want to come back to this notion of how we cope with change.
At a personal level Jesus challenges us to change in a way that religion never will. Religion lets you do your bit, perform your rituals and drift along with the familiar and predictable without much reference if any to the inner being. I reckon you can go on for decades without so much as a wobble of dysequilibrium.
Jesus however, will be asking for inner change every day, to make us more like Him. He wants us more pure, more loving, more generous, more patient, more humble, more merciful, more kind, more empty of self and more full of Him. He is however very gracious with us and awaits our response. My appeal to all of us today is to let Him have His way in our inner being – to let Him change us by repentance, forgiveness and rebirth. It is much better to respond to His love in this way positively. Sometimes we are deaf and stubborn and at that point the tables may have to be turned over and the pigeons in our lives sent flying – but remember even then the motive is love. Let’s be ready to change to be more like him.
At an institutional level let’s evaluate where we are at – how well are we reflecting the ministry of the kingdom of God? Where must we change? What are the drivers for change in our church?
How many one parent families do we have here? How many vulnerable people with mental health problems? How many people with serious recent trauma in their lives have joined us in the last 18 months? How many single elderly are there who need support? How many people in our locality need to be reached with the gospel? What responsibility do we have for the wider world?
Or is our religion self-seeking and not reflecting the ministry of Christ.
Change is always challenging, painful even – let us as a church family embrace that change however, bearing the losses and grief, so that we become more like Christ. If Jesus needs to turn the tables over so be it but better we sort it out ahead of time.
So what difference does Jesus make to religion?
He exposes the truth about false religion and discredits it.
He reveals the truth about God’s plan to transform our lives and communities to make us reflect His perfect love.
He will transform our personal and communal lives so that they properly reflect Him and the kingdom of God and He asks us now to be ready to change through a process of repentance, forgiveness and new life.