On close inspection of the New Testament we see that Jesus had numerous encounters with the religious leaders of the day. This is surprising in view of the fact that the religious leaders (Pharissees and Saduccees) professed to be the spiritual leaders of Israel. But despite their claims of spiritual superiority, and teachers of Jewish Law, Jesus directed severe accusations against them. But why?
- They were judgemental towards those who did not follow their man made religious traditions.
- Jesus accused them of being hypocritical because they focused on external rituals to hide their impure hearts.
- They prided themselves in tithing, while neglecting far more important aspects such as justice and mercy. Note: they tithed produce – not money. Money was never tithed in the Bible.
- They were more pre-occupied with the trappings of religion rather than the commandments of God.
- They claimed to be the spiritual leaders of Israel but Jesus accused them of being spiritually blind, because they relied on their own wisdom, traditions and rules.
- They relied on their status and power as religious leaders in society, rather than on the power of the Holy Spirit.
- Because of their spiritual blindness and lack of real spiritual power and authority, they themselves could not enter the Kingdom of God.
- As a consequence, they could not lead others into the Kingdom of God either, and actually prevented their “converts” from entering in. Because they had a form of godliness but denied the power of the Holy Spirit, they could only resort to human religious traditions and powerless religious activity.
- They relied on earthly affirmation, acclaim, traditions and power, rather than on the power of God. In short, they were not “connected to the vine” – Jesus – the source of all spiritual life and power.
- They looked impressive on the outside but inside they were corrupt, powerless and self-serving.
Nothing much has changed since Jesus walked the earth. When reading the Bible, we can easily be fooled into thinking that each story contained therein is a specific story that only has to do with the specific issues of that period in time. However, we soon realise that, not only does the Bible relay stories in it’s historical and cultural context, but each story contains greater truths that still apply to Christians today.
In essence, the accounts of Jesus’ conflict with the religious leaders of his day has to do with the fact that religion is powerless to save anyone. On the contrary, it is dangerous and damaging because it is based on deception. It causes degenerate men and women who need a Saviour to believe that they have entered the Kingdom of God, when in fact they may only have entered a religious social club.
The antidote to the destructive power of religion is that every Christian must be born again of the Spirit of God, and be filled with the Holy Spirit. Religion does not empower or authorise any Christian to engage with the forces of darkness. According to Ephesians 6:12, our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. God has given every Christian spiritual weapons to engage the enemy of our souls. We need spiritual weapons to fight spiritual battles. According to the book of Ephesians, any other strategy is ineffective and pointless and like a child who is engaged in an imaginary battle while wielding a plastic sword.
1. We must be born again so that we can enter into the Kingdom of God and gain access to the power of the Holy Spirit. Only then are we as the “living stones” able to do the work of the ministry and engage in spiritual warfare.
Now there was a man of the Pharisees named Nicodemus, a ruler of the Jews. 2 This man came to Jesus by night and said to him, “Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher come from God, for no one can do these signs that you do unless God is with him.” 3 Jesus answered him, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God.” 4 Nicodemus said to him, “How can a man be born when he is old? Can he enter a second time into his mother’s womb and be born?” 5 Jesus answered, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God. 6 That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. 7 Do not marvel that I said to you, ‘You must be born again.’ 8 The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear its sound, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.” 9 Nicodemus said to him, “How can these things be?” 10 Jesus answered him,“Are you the teacher of Israel and yet you do not understand these things?11 Truly, truly, I say to you, we speak of what we know, and bear witness to what we have seen, but you do not receive our testimony. 12 If I have told you earthly things and you do not believe, how can you believe if I tell you heavenly things? 13 No one has ascended into heaven except he who descended from heaven, the Son of Man. 14 And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, 15 that whoever believes in him may have eternal life. (John 3:1-21)
2. All Christians must be filled with and empowered by the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit leads us into all truth, empowers us spiritually, and authorises us to fulfil the Great Commission.
“When the day of Pentecost came, they were all together in one place.2 Suddenly a sound like the blowing of a violent wind came from heaven and filled the whole house where they were sitting. 3 They saw what seemed to be tongues of fire that separated and came to rest on each of them. 4 All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit enabled them.” (Acts 2:1-4)
3. In order to bear spiritual fruit, we must remain connected to the source of spiritual power and authority – Jesus.
“I am the true vine, and my Father is the gardener. 2 He cuts off every branch in me that bears no fruit, while every branch that does bear fruit he prunes so that it will be even more fruitful. 3 You are already clean because of the word I have spoken to you. 4 Remain in me, as I also remain in you. No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me. 5 I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing. 6 If you do not remain in me, you are like a branch that is thrown away and withers; such branches are picked up, thrown into the fire and burned. 7 If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. 8 This is to my Father’s glory, that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples.” (John 15:1-8)
No wonder Jesus said “I will build my church and the gates of hell will not prevail against it.” Only Jesus can build the church and no amount of hype, entertainment, or religion can do so.