Focus – John 5:1-18
Religion is a very dangerous thing! First of all, let me explain what I mean when I say religion. True Christianity is not a religion, it is a relationship with God through Jesus Christ. If you are a follower of Jesus, you have been saved by Him and enjoy a friendship with Him. But often, people will go to church and be involved in “Christianity”, but they will miss Jesus. They will be involved in a religion, and not be growing in the relationship with God.
The Pharisees were very religious people. They could be key leaders in most of our churches. They prayed for hours each day, and worked very hard to know God’s Word and laws. In fact, Pharisees had memorized the first five books of the Bible (have you memorized Genesis through Numbers?) They were in church every week, and were passionate about telling others how to follow God’s law. But somewhere down the road, the Pharisees had forgotten that their “religion” was supposed to be about a relationship with God. They had reduced knowing God down to a long set of rules a person must keep.
Then Jesus showed up and messed up all their rules. He healed a man on the Sabbath, which was Saturday, the holy day for Hebrew people. God had said to “remember the Sabbath to keep it holy,” and in their interpretation, healing on the Sabbath was a violation of the rules of religion. But the crazy thing is that they missed the forest for the trees. The Pharisees were so caught up in their rules and religion, that they completely missed the fact that a man who had been crippled for years was up and walking around, completely healed! They had passed this man countless times sitting at the side of this pool, probably ignoring him most of the time. The man was hoping to be healed. But none of them could heal him. They were utterly powerless to do anything about the man’s condition. Now this man who had been an invalid for 38 years was walking around in the Temple. They should have been rejoicing! They should have been praising God that one of their fellow Jews was healed miraculously. They should have been looking for Jesus to find out what kind of man could do things only God is capable of doing. But somehow, their religious rules clouded their vision so that when God in the flesh did a miracle among them, they couldn’t even see it.
We can sit here and say we are a lot different, but many people in the church today deal with the same problem. Mike Yaconnelli is the founder of a group called Youth Specialties. He tells a story of a young man’s first youth ministry in a small church, that had an ornate room with carpet donated by the Jones family. They did an event for teenagers where a large group of students showed up, and during the evening, some of those kids hung out in the room with the “Jones Memorial Carpet.” Some of the students became followers of Jesus that night, their lives changed by God. But the youth minister was fired from the church because kids spilled Kool-Aid on the Jones Memorial Carpet. The church building had become more important than people and God’s work.
Religion is so easy to spot in other people, and so hard to see in ourselves. May we never come to the point where our Christianity ceases to be an active relationship with Jesus Christ and starts to be a dark dreary religion based on rules!