It seems that these days disciples of Jesus bear the responsibility of not only being apologists for anything and everything claiming to be Christian, but in the eyes of an increasing amount of people, they should be defenders of all religions and faiths—especially the radicalized ones. Read the vitriol of people like Sam Harris and their complaint isn’t against Christians, Muslims, or Hindus—it’s against religion. As far as they’re concerned, they are all mutations of the same virus and need to be eradicated. It doesn’t matter that this is the equivalent of holding one doctor responsible for all doctors; it simply shows how unreasonably high the bar has been raised.
This is why it’s always a good idea to bring Jesus into the conversation as soon as possible. His scorching words of Matthew 23 show that He is sensitive to the harm that religious abuses can bring into people’s lives, yet at the same time He affirms the importance of the community of faith. In the previous post, we talked about how Jesus was for respect, authority, obedience to the Scripture, and opposed to hypocrisy (23:2-4). We can add to this that:
#2 – Jesus was for religion that liberated, and against anything that enslaved.
The Pharisees and teachers of the law were experts at coming up with rules and regulations (in many ways, that became their religion). To be fair, they started out with good intentions, wanting to build a hedge around the Law so that people wouldn’t even come close to violating the Torah. In this, they weren’t unlike over-zealous parents who put all of their time and energy into protecting their children from everything and as a consequence, prepare them for nothing.
The Pharisees established oral laws and traditions to safeguard the observance of God’s law. By the time of Jesus they had become a religious bureaucracy, imposing rules and regulations that were tedious, tiresome, and obscured the law of God (v. 4). Christ came to set people free from exactly these things (Matthew 11:28-30).
As opposed to the rules and traditions of men, our Father’s commands are not burdensome because He knows exactly what we need (1 John 5:13). It’s a real mistake to think that freedom means we get to do exactly what we want—doing exactly what we want is what caused us to need a Savior in the first place. The truth is, we’re never freer than when we’ve surrendered our lives to God. This isn’t just what Jesus taught, it’s how He lived (John 8:28-29; 12:24).