I love religion. Religion fascinates me. Christianity, Islam, Judaism, Buddhism, Hinduism, Jainism, Sikhism, and a bunch of other -isms… they’re all intriguing to me. In fact, you would be hard pressed to find a culture throughout history that was not at least somewhat religious. Mankind has set out to find God from the very beginning. In fact, archaeologists have recently discovered a 12,000 year old temple! This means that religion – not agriculture – could be the reason for the beginning of civilizations. People came together for religious rituals long before they came together to farm, buy, sell, or trade.
And we like religion. We like religion because it means we are in control. If we say the right prayers, offer the right sacrifices, and observe the right rituals, then the gods owe us their good favor. If we choose not to do these certain things, or if we break certain laws, then we are sure to receive the wrath and punishment from whatever god we angered.
It’s a very simple, straightforward system. If you do (X) and avoid (Y), you will be blessed. If you do not do (X) or if you do (Y), then you will be cursed. All the power is in our hands. Can you imagine having that much control over your eternal destiny?
But in this system, there is no room for grace (getting the blessings you don’t deserve) or mercy (not getting the punishments you do deserve). It’s all up to you, but if you mess up, you are still on your own.
This is seen clearly in two back-to-back encounters that Jesus has with the Pharisees in the book of Mark. At the end of chapter 2 and the beginning of chapter 3, we see Jesus and the Pharisees at odds over the observance of the Sabbath day.
Observing the Sabbath day and keeping it holy is one of the Ten Commandments… so it’s kind of a big deal. God wanted his people to rest on the 7th day of the week – just like he did in Genesis 2. God worked on 6 days, rested on the 7th. Six days on, one day off. It gave life a rhythm of sorts. 6 and 1, 6 and 1, 6 and 1. It was a day to rest, to take a break, to re-energize, to reconnect with God and creation. It was a GIFT of REST! A rest that I and any new parent out there desperately needs.
But the Pharisees, because of their religion, had taken a gift and turned it into a burden. They created a list of do’s and don’ts concerning the Sabbath day…and it was a ridiculous list.
Then Jesus comes along and refuses to buy into their interpretation, their understanding of what the Sabbath was about. He and his disciples had no food – so they picked grain on the Sabbath. There was a man with a withered hand – so Jesus healed him on the Sabbath. The Pharisees had completely lost sight of the original intent of the Sabbath – to restore, to heal, to refresh – that they even prohibited to act of doing good on God’s holy day!
Religion had become more important than people. Rules were more important than healing. But Jesus said, “The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath.”
Think about all the things we get so legalistic about – church attendance, worship, doctrines, etc. And then fill in the blank: “____(X)___ was made for man, not man for ____(X)____.”
Not that those things aren’t important. But if we place the emphasis on anything but the gospel – the good news – that Jesus has come to bring something completely different, then we have missed the point completely.
This is a pretty popular video, but give it a look again. I think he’s speaking the same message that Jesus was speaking to the Pharisees.