Summary: This message looks at the burdensome approach to religion that the Pharisees had and what Jesus offers instead.
PHARISEE RELIGION: “Got-to’s” and guilt lead to a heavy burden.
- Matthew 23:4.
- Cf. v. 3 – The Pharisees don’t practice what they preach, so they’re putting out a standard, but the “unwashed masses” don’t know how to avoid the guilt. In the end, they just feel bad for not being able to maintain the standard that they think (wrongly) that the Pharisees are upholding.
- We know we don’t do them and we find ways to justify it, but others (newbies/outsiders) don’t know that and end up just feeling lousy because they know they can’t live the life.
- There is a way of doing religion that makes your life heavier, not more joyful.
- Guilt has its place, but not as an ongoing core value.
- There are certainly situations where people should be feeling more guilt, not less. But the idea that our faith journey is to be characterized by an ongoing, vague, gnawing guilt that makes us feel heavy is to misunderstand what Jesus is offering.
- As preachers, one of the easiest accomplishments is to make people feel guilty. It’s also easy to make people feel like they should be doing more.
- When we’ve done that, oftentimes we’ve done something that, rather than leading to a vibrant faith, just leads to a heavier burden.
- So much of our preaching boils down to “Try harder,” which leads to more guilt without leading to much more obedience.
- They can’t tell you how to live out the life that they’re preaching in a way that’s do-able and makes sense. (I.e. they “don’t lift a finger to help them.”)
- They solve the dilemma for themselves via hypocrisy.
- There is a reciprocal danger: asking for no obedience at all.
- This is a huge problem for the church in American today. In “casual Christianity,” we tell people that no obedience to God is required. In “serious Christianity,” we tell people that they need to look like us.
- Although the former is the more widespread problem, this passage and therefore this sermon concentrate on the latter problem.
SOME EXAMPLES IN THE AMERICAN CHURCH TODAY:
1. We don’t give the impression that we’re a fellow struggler.
- Reiterate point made earlier about v. 3.
- We like to give the impression that we have it all together. We tend to wear masks in church. In fact, in many churches, you can really get people looking sideways at you if you share real struggles.
2. There are a lot of “mature Christians” who focus on debating continually more obscure issues.
3. We’ve made Christianity more than a belief – we’ve made it a particular lifestyle.
- Have to be a Republican; no drinking; lots of church activities; three services a week (plus Sunday School); respectable member of the community.
4. Once someone adds something, it’s very difficult to back down from it.
- Example: Conversation with Carol B. at the start of NP about her thoughts on Halloween. The easy path would have been to ok that but then we’d have added another layer. Talked her down instead (but it might be part of why they left).
5. There is a lack of application preaching.
WHAT JESUS OFFERED: Jesus said that His yoke was easy and His burden was light.
- Cf. to Matthew 5:30 – This is not something that involves a lack of changed lives, righteousness, and holiness.
- Is the result of our way of “doing religion” grace or guilt? Are we discouraged or dependent?
- A corollary thought to preachers adding to our burden: Sometimes we pick up things that we shouldn’t be carrying and that can lead to a heavier burden.
- One example: Financial worries v. Matthew 6:33.
WHAT THAT LOOKS LIKE: It’s not “follow the list” but “walk with Me.”
- John 15:1-5.
- Jesus’ statements about Father/giving the Spirit.
- “Try harder” v. “Get closer.”