So many people saying prayers, creeds, “praise Hims” and “Hallelujahs” without any (or at least maybe a strained) actual heart connection with the Person they’re proclaiming those things about. Their relationship with God either doesn’t exist, or it exists, but it’s stuck, because it’s based on intellectualisation, ritualistic behaviour, cultural normativity, or the traditions of man. These things don’t make people bad, inferior, or stupid; but they can impede, interrupt, and bind people to ideologies and practices that are far-removed from the personhood, presence, and power of Jesus.
Matthew 23:13-35, is a pretty heavy message from Jesus to those who intellectually know about the Bible and about doing good and evil and about looking Holy, but who do not actually know the One who is Holy. To those who burden others with legalism, law, judgment, and the knowledge of good and evil, and who refuse to enter into the Kingdom realm of Jesus and then prevent others from doing so too, Jesus had the following to say:
“Great sorrow awaits you religious scholars and you Pharisees—such frauds and pretenders! You do all you can to keep people from experiencing the reality of heaven’s kingdom realm. Not only do you refuse to enter in, you also forbid anyone else from entering in… Great sorrow awaits you religious scholars and you Pharisees—such frauds and pretenders! For you will travel over lake and land to find one disciple, only to make him twice the child of hell as yourselves. You blind guides! Great sorrow awaits you, for you teach that there’s nothing binding when you swear by God’s temple, but if you swear by the gold of the temple, you are bound by your oath. You are deceived in your blindness… Great sorrow awaits you religious scholars and Pharisees—frauds and pretenders! For you are obsessed with peripheral issues, like insisting on paying meticulous tithes on the smallest herbs that grow in your gardens. These matters are fine, yet you ignore the most important duty of all: to walk in the love of God, to display mercy to others, and to live with integrity. Readjust your values and place first things first.
What blind guides! Nitpickers! You will spoon out a gnat from your drink, yet at the same time you’ve gulped down a camel without realizing it! Great sorrow awaits you religious scholars and Pharisees—frauds and imposters! You are like one who will only wipe clean the outside of a cup or bowl, leaving the inside filthy. You are foolish to ignore the greed and self-indulgence that live like germs within you. You are blind and deaf to your evil. Shouldn’t the one who cleans the outside also be concerned with cleaning the inside? You need to have more than clean dishes; you need clean hearts!
Great sorrow awaits you religious scholars and Pharisees—frauds and imposters! You are nothing more than tombs painted with fresh coats of white paint—tombs that look shining and beautiful on the outside, but within are found decaying corpses full of nothing but corruption. Outwardly you masquerade as righteous people, but inside your hearts you are full of hypocrisy and lawlessness.
Great sorrow awaits you religious scholars and Pharisees—frauds and imposters! You build memorials for the prophets your ancestors killed and decorate the monuments of the godly people your ancestors murdered. Then you boast, ‘If we had lived back then, we would never have permitted them to kill the prophets.’ But your words and deeds testify that you are just like them and prove that you are indeed the descendants of those who murdered the prophets. Go ahead and finish what your ancestors started! You are nothing but snakes in the grass, the offspring of poisonous vipers! How will you escape the judgment of hell if you refuse to turn in repentance? For this reason I will send you more prophets and wise men and teachers of truth. Some you will crucify, and some you will beat mercilessly with whips in your meeting houses, abusing and persecuting them from city to city. As your penalty, you will be held responsible for the righteous blood spilled and the murders of every godly person throughout your history—from the blood of righteous Abel to the blood of Zechariah, son of Jehoiada, whom you killed as he stood in the temple between the brazen altar and the Holy Place…”
Wow! Those are not light words, but they are apt words.
To all leaders—whether in church or not—who have gathered Jesus’ sheep to themselves; to all leaders—whether in church or not—who have gathered people to their own culture, intellectualism, humanism, mysticism, traditionalism, or any other empty, self-atoning, self-aggrandising ‘ism’ that is outside of the person of Jesus and His free gift of life, I implore you: please, please, please release your grip over Jesus’ sheep. Break the yokes you have placed on the backs of His people and yourselves—those yokes that bind, malign, and introduce ladder climbing, servitude, or stardom. The Gospel was never about these things. The church made it about these things. Please, open your eyes and see how much Father God desires connection and relationship with you. Repentance is not about saying sorry… it is about turning from your old behaviour and pursuing the heart of Jesus.
The Gospel of Jesus is not about a prayer, a movement, a life of supernatural applause (although those things enter into it) but, rather, it is about the person of Jesus restoring us into direct connection and communication with His Father. It is about us walking in relationship as sons and daughters with Him. It is about us being sensitive to the promptings of Holy Spirit—understanding when conviction is falling or when love is calling. It is not about how well we present behind a pulpit, how eloquent in speech we are, what title we carry (prophet, pastor, teacher, etc), the people we hang around, or the giftedness of our expository teaching. It is about knowing Jesus, our Heavenly dad, and Holy Spirit, and walking in the boundless love they have gifted to us. It is about connecting into God and allowing Him to teach us. It is about allowing Him the most important place in our lives.
If you are someone who has been hurt by the church, harmed by burdens that you were never designed to carry, or punished by people who made themselves superior to you, I am sorry. I am so deeply sorry. That was never God’s intention for your life, and it is certainly not the heart of Jesus. Whenever we walk alongside people who don’t know their identity in Jesus, they are bound to inflict pain upon us, oftentimes without realising they have done, or are still doing so. But the good news is that Jesus wants that disconnected feeling you feel, gone. He wants the pain of that disconnection gone. He wants to be fully connected with you and He wants to share the reality of His world—His Kingdom—with you. How? Through walking in Him. Because, self-atonement is not where it’s at… self-atonement was never where it was at.
The truth is, Jesus loved you from before the moment you were first conceived and all the way to beyond eternity. Not height or depth, not angels or demons, not even your worst behaviour can or could change His love for you (Romans 8:39). His love remains no matter what, because Father “God so loved the world that He gave His only Son” to us as a gift (John 3:16). Jesus loved the world so much that He surrendered Himself as slain from before the foundations of the world were even laid (Revelation 13:8). So why wouldn’t you feel the love of Jesus? Why would you feel like you are never enough?
The most likely answer is because someone or something has come along and weighed you down with an anti-Jesus action or message, which is based upon human perception or understanding. I myself encountered something similar to this as a younger Jesus-follower who had not yet found her identity completely in Him. In fact, from that encounter, I thought I was going to hell because a pastor forced me to choose between family and church commitments. In fact, the pastor nigh-on told me that if I chose one road, I would go to heaven. It was phrased it in a way that said that if I chose the other path, I would be in danger of hell, because God had called me to be a leader in the church, and that if I chose the road that cut back my hours of church commitments to simply just attending on Sundays, I would be making a decision not to fulfil my “destiny” and therefore that meant that I was in danger of the fires of hell.
I wrestled with the guilt and condemnation of the decision I had made, until one day, I asked Jesus a question and actually made a choice to listen for His response above the untruths I had already allowed to take up residence in my mind. My question to Him was, “Jesus, have I failed you? Am I going to hell because of the decisions I have made concerning this issue? Have I spat on your destiny for my life?”
Jesus’ response to me was along the lines of the following: “You can never fail Me. Your heart is sweet towards Me, and it is only in Me that you find your life in the first place. There is no condemnation in Me; there is only conviction. You can chose to follow my conviction, or not. You are My little One. I see your heart and it is sweet. Do not absorb the doctrines, and do not carry the weights, of the pastor who attempted to burden you. Hold your heart towards that pastor in love, but understand that he was not speaking my will when he burdened you like he did. He was not doing my will when he attempted to force you to bow your knee to the godhead of the church. He was not doing my will when he said you no longer counted because you chose to spend time with your family over the church. Church services have not saved you—only I have done that. Daughter, keep your heart sweet. The church has become a system, but it is supposed to be a body with Me as the functioning head. I am sad because the system has become the functioning head of the body. Little One, keep your heart sweet. My burden is easy and My yoke is light.. learn from Me, for I am gentle and humble of heart. I love you. Please don’t get it confused: Salvation only comes through Me. Salvation does not come through the church…. You are not going to hell; I hold you in the palm of My hand.”
It was upon hearing Jesus’ answer that I realised that I had taken on church and leadership doctrines that were actually anti-biblical and that didn’t even factor in the heart of Jesus. And because I had taken them on-board, I had confused Jesus with those doctrines. But the two couldn’t have been more opposite. Jesus saved me. The church said I was only saved if I performed. Jesus said my life was only found in Him. The church said my life was only found in it. Jesus said that I was to learn from Him. The church said I was to learn from it. The messy, tangled, web I had allowed myself to become subservient to was confusing, blinding and deafening, but in the very moment that I sat myself down before Jesus and opened my eyes and ears to Him, everything became crystal clear. A line was drawn in the sand. I knew that Jesus was supposed to be my world; not religion.
Please don’t get me wrong. I am not anti-gatherings of bodies of believers—gatherings are important—but placing oneself at the feet of religion instead of at the feet of Jesus, is where we often come undone. At the feet of religion, we hear the the whispers and laws of what religion is all about. At the feet of Jesus, we hear the whispers and longings and the songs of deliverance of His heart towards us. Where are you currently positioned? At the feet of religion, or at the feet of Jesus?
Your line of sight and your perception will depend upon where you have positioned yourself, and what or who you have aligned yourself with. Please, I implore you (if you haven’t already done so), please reposition yourself so that you are sitting in the presence of Jesus, because He is The Way, The Truth, and The Life. Because His yoke is easy. Because His burden is light. Because He wrote the Word, so what better teacher could you have than the very person who authored it in the first place?
Much love to you all.
Photo by Zulmaury Saavedra