Friday

Heavy Burdens
A discussion in small group this past Tuesday night led me to a sobering reminder of exactly the type of culture we live in here in the south.  As we were discussing the difficulty of finding other people who really want to go deep with one another spiritually and really share their lives with you this comment was made, "It seems that in the south Christianity is spread everywhere but only about an inch thick."  It got me to thinking about another culture that was steeped in religion but missed the point completely.


You search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; and it is they that bear witness about me, yet you refuse to come to me that you may have life. -- John 5:39-40 

These are Jesus' words to the Pharisees, who were the leading religious leaders in His day.  These guys knew the scriptures backwards and forwards.  Most of their children knew the scriptures better than we know them today as adults.  And yet, Jesus tells them they have missed the point entirely because the point of the scriptures is to point people to Christ.  Instead, the Pharisees had a created a culture of rule keeping around the laws of the scriptures and made keeping those rules the measure of righteousness.  They then made themselves judges over people and condemned those who did not and could not keep the rules as well as they could.

Now, take a look at the Bible belt here in the south.  We have created a set of rules that we hold people to and condemn them if they don't toe the line.  Don't drink, don't have sex before marriage, don't use bad language, don't smoke, don't miss church, etc.  There is nothing wrong with abstaining from these things (and we are commanded to abstain from some of them), but we have far too often made them the roots of  righteousness instead of the fruit and have judged those who fail in these things.

Here is what Jesus said to the Pharisees about this:

They tie up heavy burdens, hard to bear, and lay them on people’s shoulders, but they themselves are not willing to move them with their finger. -- Matthew 23:4

But woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you shut the kingdom of heaven in people’s faces. For you  neither enter yourselves nor allow those who would enter to go in. -- Matthew 23:13

Because they have missed Jesus in the scriptures all their religious posturing and insistence on rule following has laid heavy burdens on people.  Jesus said he came to give them rest, not add weight to their load (Matthew 11:28-30).  The Pharisees have actually shut the kingdom of heaven in the face's of members of God's own chosen nation.

Do we think Jesus would say anything different to us today?  He has called us out to be ministers of reconciliation (2 Corinthians 5:18-20) and we have, in our own ways, laid heavy burdens on people.  We have fallen into the trap of the Pharisees.  We teach the bible, expect people to be obedient to the bible, and often times judge them when they fail.  But we have failed to show them that the bible points to Jesus, that the commands are impossible to obey apart from Him, and that their righteousness will never be found outside the  cross.

Read your bible, learn your bible, love your bible.  But never, ever forget that your bible is meant to lead you to Jesus and a more intimate knowledge of Him.  Without Christ, religion is nothing but heavy burdens tied to your back and a closed door to heaven.

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