DashHouse.com

The Blog of Darryl Dash

This blog is about how Jesus changes everything. He changes:

Our relationship with God

Our relationship with others

Our vocations - how we live and work in this world

Our ministries

This blog exists to explore some of the ways that Jesus changes everything. It provides resources and articles that will help you think about the ways that Jesus can change every part of your life.

The Lord himself invites you to a conference concerning your immediate and endless happiness, and He would not have done this if He did not mean well toward you. Do not refuse the Lord Jesus who knocks at your door; for He knocks with a hand which was nailed to the tree for such as you are. Since His only and sole object is your good, incline your ear and come to Him. Hearken diligently, and let the good word sink into your soul. (C.H. Spurgeon, All of Grace)

Alone in the Hour of Darkness (Luke 22:39-62)

A couple of years ago when my Dad was still alive, I spent a week with him in England. He wasn't doing well - he was suffering with dementia - and while I was there I came down with a case of shingles. It was one of the hardest weeks of my life. Looking back, I wonder why it was so hard. I've had worse things happen and it's been fine. In fact, it wasn't even as hard when my Dad passed away. The reason is because that week I was going through difficulty, and I was going through it alone. It's bad to go through trials; it's almost intolerable to go through trials completely alone.

As we come to the last night of Jesus' life, just hours away from when he would be tortured and killed, that's exactly how we find Jesus. He's going through excruciating anguish, and yet he's completely alone. And yet we're going to see that there's a reason why he's alone. As we look at Luke 22, I'd like two ways that he was abandoned. First, he was abandoned by his friends. But he also faced an abandonment far worse than that.

First, Jesus was abandoned by his friends.

At the beginning of chapter 22 we read:

Then Satan entered Judas, called Iscariot, one of the Twelve. And Judas went to the chief priests and the officers of the temple guard and discussed with them how he might betray Jesus. They were delighted and agreed to give him money. He consented, and watched for an opportunity to hand Jesus over to them when no crowd was present. (Luke 22:3-6)

And then we read what happened when Judas carried out this plan:

While he was still speaking a crowd came up, and the man who was called Judas, one of the Twelve, was leading them. He approached Jesus to kiss him, but Jesus asked him, "Judas, are you betraying the Son of Man with a kiss?" (Luke 22:47-48)

Someone has pointed out that there are two popular views of Judas: traditional and modern. The traditional view says that Judas is one of the most diabolical people who ever lived, more sinister and evil than almost anyone in history. In Dante's Inferno, Dante pictured the lowest level of hell, under a sheet of ice, in which the worst sinners were being eaten alive by Satan, and one of them was Judas. Dante portrays Judas as one of the three worst sinners who ever lived. Traditional views see Judas as the ultimate betrayer.

In the past hundred years, some have taken a more sympathetic, modern view of Judas. The most well-known recent example of this is National Geographic's translation of the so-called Gospel of Judas. This translation portrays Jesus and Judas as enlightened beings, with Jesus asking Judas to turn him in to the Romans to help Jesus finish his appointed task from God. Judas comes across as the only disciple who gets it. The movie The Last Temptation of Christ shows Judas as obeying Jesus' covert request to help him fulfill his destiny to die on the cross, making Judas the catalyst for Jesus' saving work on the cross.

You couldn't come up with two more opposite views. Is Judas one of the most evil people who ever lived, or is he actually a hero? The answer, according to this passage, is neither. The answer is that Judas is just like us, or maybe more accurately, we are just like Judas.

Let me explain. When Jesus had entered Jerusalem on Palm Sunday, everybody knew that things were coming to a head. Finally Jesus was going to take action and, well, do something. But all week, Jesus didn't do anything out of the ordinary. He taught and prayed and taught some more. Now it was Thursday night, and Jesus still hadn't done anything. If anything, Jesus did nothing while the opposition around him intensified. Every disciple knew that if Jesus went down, they were going down with him.

If you know the disciples, you know that they weren't prone toward humility. We're going to see in a minute how they normally reacted. They weren't exactly open to humility and self-correction. Yet when Jesus says that one of them is going to betray him, we read in verse 23, "They began to question among themselves which of them it might be who would do this." Why this time were they uncharacteristically open to examining themselves? Because the thought had occurred to all of them. Every one of the disciples had wondered whether it was time to bail, and the longer that Jesus did nothing the more it had occurred to them. Every disciple was capable of doing exactly what Judas did, and so are we. We are not so different from Judas.

Does that offend you? It offends me, yet it's true. It's much easier to think of Judas as being a horrible monster, one of the three worst sinners to ever have lived, who is right now in the lowest levels of hell, rather than someone just like us. We all have a little of Judas in us. If we had been there, the thought would have occurred to us as well. I'd much rather see Judas as a monster, rather than see myself as a potential Judas myself. Judas was willing to follow Jesus when it benefited him, but when following Jesus cost him, Judas was willing to sell Jesus out. But the same thought had occurred to every one of the disciples as well.

Becky Pippert puts it this way:

The biggest surprise of all has been about myself. I have had to face up to what I am sure has been clear to everyone else all along: I am deeply flawed. Mind you, I always knew theoretically that to be human was to be flawed - as in, "Hey, nobody's perfect." But as the years have gone by, I have had to face up to more dramatic, specific, and undeniable evidence that I was my own worst case...

We want to believe that the essential "us" is who we are in our best moments, when everything is going our way, when nothing is thwarting or threatening us. We want to believe that we are what we project to the world: nice, respectable, competent people who have it all together. Fortunately or unfortunately, life doesn't let us get away with our charade. Sooner or later, whether through a difficult relationship with a berating boss, a demanding spouse, a difficult child, or simply through overwhelming or infuriating circumstances, we are confronted with our darker side. (Hope Has Its Reasons)

But Judas wasn't the only one. There was also Peter.

"Simon, Simon, Satan has asked to sift all of you as wheat. But I have prayed for you, Simon, that your faith may not fail. And when you have turned back, strengthen your brothers."

But he replied, "Lord, I am ready to go with you to prison and to death."

Jesus answered, "I tell you, Peter, before the rooster crows today, you will deny three times that you know me." (Luke 22:31-34)

What's fascinating here is that Jesus already knew that Peter was going to fail, and yet he still prayed for him. Jesus prayed that after he had fallen, he would repent, be restored, and that after he had turned back he would be able to strengthen his brothers. This is incredible. Jesus knew that Peter was going to fall, and yet Jesus already saw a bigger purpose behind the fall. He saw that what Peter went through would make him more humble, more dependent on God's grace, and more able to strengthen others and help them understand that our status isn't based on our abilities or our devotion, but on God's grace alone.

One Saturday morning, a crisply dressed man attended an AA meeting in New York City. He complained about his problems: the injustice and betrayals of others. He promised to get revenge on all who had wronged him. He blamed everyone but himself. He was trapped in this cycle of trying to justify himself. While he was speaking, a black man in his forties leaned over and said to his neighbor, "I used to feel that way too, before I achieved low self-esteem."

What's the point of this? It's not that we should go around hating ourselves. It's that we should realize that we're all like Judas and Peter. We have all abandoned Jesus.

There's a new book out called unChristian. It reports what a new generation thinks of Christians, and one of the findings is that people think Christians are judgmental. The perception is that Christians are prideful and quick to find fault in others. The reality is that if we understand who we are, that we are all like Peter and Judas, when we all achieve low self-esteem, there will be absolutely no room for pride and no room to look down on others, because we can't take any credit. Rick McKinley says, "I'm perplexed at how anyone can hear the story of Jesus dying in our place and rescuing us out of our helplessness and have it produce arrogance in their life." We should be the most humble people around when we really understand we're just like Judas, and just like Peter.

As bad as it was to be abandoned by his friends, Jesus faced a far more serious abandonment that night.

Second, Jesus was abandoned by God.

When Jesus prays on the Mount of Olives, we see a Jesus who has never appeared before in any of the gospels. Up until now he's been fearless. All of a sudden we see Jesus deeply distressed and in anguish.

There have been many people who have faced death with more courage than what we see in Jesus in this passage. The Maccabean martyrs were famous for their spiritual courage, even when facing death. They spoke confidently of their trust in God even as their limbs where cut off. When Socrates was found guilty of corrupting the minds of youth, he was sentenced to death by drinking a mixture of poison hemlock. He had the option to flee, but he wanted to face death the same way that he lived life. Believing that the time had come for him to die, he faced his death with courage. Christian martyrs have also done the same. When Polycarp, an early Christian martyr, faced death, they were going to nail him to the stake, but he said, "Leave me as I am; for He that has granted me to endure the fire will grant me also to remain at the pile unmoved, even without the security which you seek from the nails." And as he was burned, he prayed a prayer of thanks to God for being allowed to die a martyr.

But Jesus in the garden has none of that courage. We read in verse 43 that he's in anguish. He's in agony. Luke, who is a doctor, describes what seems to be a medical condition called hematidrosis, a very rare condition in which a human being sweats blood, sometimes when a person is suffering extreme levels of stress. Jesus is in agony, and asks his Father if there isn't a way out of death.

Why is this? Why is Jesus more overwhelmed with his death than others have been - even more than his own followers?

The reason is that Jesus was facing something that nobody else in history has ever faced. From eternity he had enjoyed perfect communion with the Father, a relationship of absolute intimacy and love. But at the cross Jesus was for the first time cut off from his Father. At the cross Jesus would take on our sin and bear the wrath of God. In the Garden of Gethsemane, he experienced a bit of that and it put him into shock.

New Testament scholar Bill Lane writes, "Jesus came to be with the Father for an interlude before his betrayal, but found hell rather than heaven opened before him, and he staggered."

Centuries ago Jonathan Edwards said:

The thing that Christ's mind was so full of at that time was...the dread which his feeble human nature had of that dreadful cup, which was vastly more terrible than Nebuchadnezzar's fiery furnace. He had then a near view of that furnace of wrath, into which he was to be cast; he was brought to the mouth of the furnace that he might look into it, and stand and view its raging flames, and see the glowings of its heat, that he might know where he was going and what he was about to suffer. This was the thing that filled his soul with sorrow and darkness, this terrible sight as it were overwhelmed him...None of God's children ever had such a cup set before them, as this first being of every creature had.

In the Garden, Jesus had a foretaste of what it would be like to be abandoned by God, the relationship that was infinitely more intimate and valuable than any relationship we could lose. If Jesus hadn't have been abandoned by God like this, we would have to be. It was either him or us.

In the dark, when nobody else was looking, when he had experienced not only the cup of our abandonment of him, and had begun also to experience the cup of God's abandonment of him, he went ahead anyway.

But here's the most important thing you need to hear this morning. Jesus was also abandoned so that your life could be saved. He was abandoned so that you wouldn't have to be.

When we see all of this, we will be the most humble people, because we know we didn't deserve what he has done for us. We will be the most loving and respectful of other people, because we understand what it is to be loved by him. We will be the most forgiving, because we understand how much we've been forgiven. We will be able to endure suffering, because we know how much Jesus suffered for us. And we will know what it is to be truly loved, loved so much that Jesus would go through all of that when we were at our worst. When we see what Jesus suffered for us, we'll really be able to sing:

Were the whole realm of nature mine,
That were a present far too small;
Love so amazing, so divine,
Demands my soul, my life, my all.

Our True Condition (Luke 22:1-34)

We're currently in a series to help us prepare for Easter. We're looking at the events of Jesus' life in the week before he went to the cross. Today we're in the last hours before his arrest on the night before he his death. Today's passage gives us some insight into who we really are, and what Jesus has done about it.

Have you ever struggled with seeing yourself as you really are? We've all probably seen pictures that shock us because we had no idea that we looked like that. I have good news for you. You don't have to face reality. Through technology it's possible to live in denial. Selected models of Hewlett-Packard cameras now come with a slimming feature. HP's website says:

With the slimming feature, anyone can appear more slender - instantly! They say cameras add ten pounds, but HP digital cameras can help reverse that effect. The slimming feature, available on select HP digital camera models, is a subtle effect that can instantly trim off pounds from the subjects in your photos!

Here's my favorite part: the slimming effect "can be adjusted for a more dramatic effect."

We laugh about that, but all of us like to see ourselves better than we really are. It's painful for us to look at ourselves and see things that are not flattering. It's much easier to have a mental image of ourselves that is more flattering than reality. But it's very important for us to see ourselves for who we really are.

In his famous Institutes of Christian Religion, John Calvin wrote:

It was not without reason that the ancient proverb so strongly recommended to man the knowledge of himself. For if it is deemed disgraceful to be ignorant of things pertaining to the business of life, much more disgraceful is self-ignorance, in consequence of which we miserably deceive ourselves in matters of the highest moment, and so walk blindfold.

There are two things that we need to know about ourselves, Calvin says. First, how excellent our nature would have been had we not fallen into sin. Secondly, how miserable our condition truly is since Adam's fall. When we see this, Calvin writes, "we blush for shame, and feel truly humble."

There are few passages that help us take a realistic look at ourselves better than this one. Today's passage gives us a very realistic view of ourselves. It's hard to accept at first, but it's very important. But this passage doesn't leave us in despair, because it also gives us a picture of hope about what Christ has done about our condition. So let's look first at what we think our condition is, then what it really is, and lastly what Jesus has done about it.

First, what we think our condition is.

The passage before us recounts events that took place at one of the most critical times of Jesus' life. It was Passover, and the religious leaders were determined to find a way to kill Jesus. Things were so precarious that Jesus had to use subterfuge to find a place to celebrate Passover without being arrested. There's a bit of cloak and dagger in this story because Jesus knows that he'll be arrested the first chance that his enemies get.

Jesus knows what is happening. As he eats the Passover meal with his disciples, he says in verse 15: "I have eagerly desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer." There's a bit of emotion in this statement. This has been something that Jesus has anticipated. He knows he is about to suffer, and he wants this last meal with his disciples to prepare them for what is about to happen.

So what is the condition of the disciples at this critical time? We read in verse 24, "A dispute also arose among them as to which of them was considered to be greatest." If you've watched American Idol, you've probably seen people audition who are truly awful. You almost feel sorry for them as you watch them make fools of themselves before millions of people. Then the judges tell them how truly awful they are. You know that they're really bad when even Paula Abdul has nothing good to say. But what is amazing is when they argue. They say, 'You don't know what you're talking about. I'm really a good singer. All my friends tell me that I'm a good singer. They're always begging me to sing." It's hard to believe that people can be so self-deceived. Nobody has ever told them the truth about their abilities.

The disciples in today's passage are like that. They are arguing about which one of them is the greatest when in fact their true condition is a mess. You really should only get into a debate about who is the greatest if you in fact believe that you are great. But that's exactly what all the disciples think they are. They evidently believe in their greatness, when as we'll see in a minute they are huge messes. They shouldn't be arguing at all about who is greatest; they ought to be, as Calvin said, blushing for shame and feeling truly humble. They are completely self-deceived about their true condition.

Gordon MacDonald is a pastor and author who once failed to see his real condition. Through a very painful experience, he confronted some things about himself that he didn't know were true. He says that most of us have very optimistic view of ourselves, which causes great problems. He writes: "Almost every personal defeat begins with a failure to know ourselves, to have a clear view of our capabilities (negative and positive), our propensities, our weak sides." In other words, we tend to think we are better than we really are, which causes all kinds of problems.

John Calvin says it's incredibly important to have an accurate view of ourselves. This passage shows us that we have a tendency to have a mistaken view of ourselves. The Bible says, "The heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure. Who can understand it?" We have a tendency to not understand our true condition and think we're better than we really are. So what is our true condition?

Second, what our condition really is.

This passage shows us our true condition with no slimming feature. It shows us as we really are.

We've already seen that the disciples were unrealistic about what they were really like. They were the spiritual equivalents of the untalented people who bomb the audition of American Idol - they thought they were a lot better off than we really were. They were self-absorbed, concerned about who was the greatest, when really they should have been humble and aware of their weaknesses. The truth is that we are not too dissimilar from the disciples. We tend to be blind to our real condition ourselves.

There's more in this passage. In verses 3 to 6, Judas conspires with the chief priests and officers against Jesus. Judas is one of the disciples. It's stunning that one of his own disciples betrayed him. We read in verse 3, "Then Satan entered Judas." You and I read this and honestly we don't think we have anything in common with Judas.

I know what you're thinking. There's no way that any of us are like Judas. Actually, there's a lot more of Judas in all of us than we'd like to admit. In any case, if we're not like Judas, we may be like Peter. Jesus warned Peter of his real condition in verse 31. Now Judas was not the main disciple, but Peter was. But the same Satan who entered Judas also had designs on Peter. Jesus said:

Simon, Simon, Satan has asked to sift all of you as wheat. But I have prayed for you, Simon, that your faith may not fail. And when you have turned back, strengthen your brothers. (Luke 22:31-32)

And when Peter responded with confidence in his spiritual condition, Jesus broke the news about his real condition. In verse 34 he said, "I tell you, Peter, before the rooster crows today, you will deny three times that you know me." We may not be like Judas, but if we aren't maybe we're like Peter. Within hours, the bravest disciple abandoned Jesus at the word of a servant girl. Gordon MacDonald calls this the myth of "It can't happen to me," and he says, "When we utter this myth silently or aloud, we become guilty of a subtle lie." Oswald Chambers said, "Always beware of...a religion, or of a personal estimate of things that does not reconcile itself to the fact of sin." The minute we think that we're not in danger, that it couldn't happen to us, we are in more danger than we could imagine.

Then look at the disciples in verses 35-38. Jesus essentially tells the disciples that conditions had changed. Before, they could rely on the generosity of supporters. They didn't have to worry about their needs because they could rely on others to provide for them. Jesus paints a word picture for them in verse 36: "But now if you have a purse, take it, and also a bag; and if you don't have a sword, sell your cloak and buy one." He's painting a picture, but the disciples take him much too literally. They say, "See, Lord, here are two swords," and Jesus says, "That's enough." Many of the commentators state that Jesus wasn't saying two swords is enough. Instead he was throwing up his hands at the inability of the disciples to understand what he was saying.

That's not even to mention what happens when they leave the upper room. Jesus urged them to stay alert and pray. Just before his arrest he was in spiritual and emotional agony. Then we read in verse 45, "When he rose from prayer and went back to the disciples, he found them asleep, exhausted from sorrow."

If you read this chapter you do not get an encouraging picture of the disciples. You encounter betrayal, dissension, failure, dullness. Jesus longed to spend this time with them, and they just didn't get it. They did and said all the wrong things at this critical moment.

This is the truth about ourselves as well. There's a prayer we have in the bulletins this morning that starts with this confession: "Lord Jesus Christ, I admit that I am weaker and more sinful than I ever before believed." When we really see ourselves accurately, we realize the extent of our sinfulness and the desperateness of our situation. But we don't stop here and give up all hope, because if we did we would miss the heart of this passage:

Third, what Jesus has done about it.

The Passover meal was a time for Israel to remember that they had been set free from being slaves in Egypt. In this passage, Jesus presents himself as the ultimate Passover Lamb. He foreshadows the ultimate freedom - not just freedom from slavery in Egypt, but freedom from sin, real freedom. The original Passover patterns the ultimate redemption which is still to come, and which is represented in what Jesus is about to do.

In the middle of broken people, Jesus took bread, gave thanks, and said, "This is my body given for you; do this in remembrance of me" (Luke 22:19). In the Passover meal, people ate lamb along with bitter herbs and unleavened bread. In offering his body to be eaten at Passover, he announced that he is the ultimate Passover Lamb. The Apostle Paul wrote, "For Christ, our Passover lamb, has been sacrificed" (1 Corinthians 5:7).

Then we read, "In the same way, after the supper he took the cup, saying, 'This cup is the new covenant in my blood, which is poured out for you'" (Luke 22:20). Years earlier the prophet Jeremiah had predicted a new covenant, a new agreement with God. Jeremiah wrote of this covenant:

"This is the covenant I will make with the house of Israel
after that time," declares the LORD.
"I will put my law in their minds
and write it on their hearts.
I will be their God,
and they will be my people.

No longer will they teach their neighbors,
or say to one another, 'Know the LORD,'
because they will all know me,
from the least of them to the greatest,"
declares the LORD.
"For I will forgive their wickedness
and will remember their sins no more."
(Jeremiah 31:33-34)

Now, Jesus says, it's happening. Exodus 24:8 says, "Moses then took the blood, sprinkled it on the people and said, 'This is the blood of the covenant that the LORD has made with you in accordance with all these words.'" The covenant of law was ratified with blood. Now Jesus raises the Passover cup and ratifies the new covenant, this time with his own blood. Jesus offers complete freedom through his death so that we could be free, really free.

Never forget that it was when the disciples were cocky, self-absorbed, and deluded that Jesus did this. It wasn't when we were at our best. The Apostle Paul wrote, "But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us."

That's why the prayer I mentioned earlier about our sinfulness goes on: "Lord Jesus Christ, I admit that I am weaker and more sinful than I ever before believed, but, through you, I am more loved and accepted than I ever dared hope. I thank you for paying my debt, bearing my punishment and offering forgiveness."

You even get a glimpse of hope as you read Luke 22. As the disciples are fighting, Jesus says:

You are those who have stood by me in my trials. And I confer on you a kingdom, just as my Father conferred one on me, so that you may eat and drink at my table in my kingdom and sit on thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel. (Luke 22:28-30)

Even when we're at our worst, Jesus sees a future for us because of the work that he accomplished on the cross.

You are in far worse shape than you could have imagined. But you have much more hope than you could have ever dreamed.

Becky Pippert says:

Here is where we part company decisively with our modern culture. It tells us to ignore our self-doubts and to feel only positive thoughts about ourselves. But I am saying the opposite. Pay attention to those lurking doubts. Listen closely to that nagging discontent. Yes, it is important to have a healthy self-esteem. But the irony is that the best road to health lies in the direction of realism about the sickness. Those who want the last in their lives to be the best must face the worst first. It is only in giving up on ourselves that we can go beyond ourselves and find ourselves. (Hope Has Its Reasons)

It is only in giving up in ourselves and turning to the cross that we can find the salvation that we need most.

Father, this morning we're giving up on ourselves. We really are. The fact that we're coming to the cross this morning is our admission that we couldn't save ourselves. We are like the disciples. We are self-absorbed and over-confident and we completely miss the point.

But we believe that what we're about to celebrate is a reminder of what Jesus has done for us. When we were at our worst, Christ died for us so that we could be changed, so that we could be free.

I pray that you would remind us that we are weaker and more sinful than we ever before believed, but, through Christ, more loved and accepted than we ever dared hope. In Jesus' name, Amen.

Repenting of Religion (Luke 19:28-21:38)

This morning we're beginning a series that looks at the climatic week of Jesus' life, the events that took place in the week before his death and resurrection. We're doing this so that we can begin to prepare ourselves for Easter, which according to the Bible is not only the central event of Jesus' life but of all of history.

I'd like you to think of a way of life that's opposed to Jesus Christ. What lifestyle do you think is completely against who he is, what he did, and what he taught?

Jesus once said:

Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it. (Matthew 7:13-14)

We all know that the small gate and narrow road is Jesus. What is the broad gate and road that leads to destruction?

If you're like me, you've always thought that the broad way is the irreligious way of open rebellion against Jesus. It's what we normally picture: there are two ways to live. One is the Christian life. The other is a life of sin and rebellion and immorality. The path of sin and rebellion and immorality is a path that leads to destruction.

If you think that, you're not alone. That's what I've thought most of my life. But I want to step back for a minute. It's true that irreligion and immorality is a way of life that is opposed to Jesus Christ and leads to destruction, but I don't think it's what Jesus had in mind when he talked about the broad gate and road. In fact, if you read through the Gospels, Jesus is repeatedly called a friend of these kinds of people.

I'd like to suggest that Jesus had a completely different group of people in mind when he spoke about a broad gate and road that leads to destruction. You see that he's talking to this group of people throughout the whole Sermon on the Mount. It's the same group of people he talks about when he says, "Watch out for false prophets. They come to you in sheep's clothing, but inwardly they are ferocious wolves" (Matthew 6:15). And also when he says that "not everyone who says to me, 'Lord, Lord,' will enter the kingdom of heaven," and again when he says that those who build their house on the sand will one day see it come crashing down (Matthew 6:21-27)?

Who is he talking about? Religious people. You see, traditionally we've got it all wrong. Traditionally, we've focused on two ways to live: God's way and man's way. We can choose to live our lives according to our own rules and desires or we can submit and live for God and in his way. On the surface that's true, but there's actually a third way of living that is just as evil and destructive - maybe even so - than open rebellion: living according to the external religious regulations. In fact, Jesus said harsher things and had far more problems with religious people than he did with people we think of as sinners.

There are actually three ways to live: religion, irreligion, and gospel. Both religion and irreligion are destructive and deadly, but out of the two religion may be more dangerous.

There are few places that you see this more clearly than today's passage. Today's passage is about a moment that should have been really good, but was completely wrecked by religion.

It was the last week of Jesus' life, and Jesus was arriving in Jerusalem as King. The psalmist had anticipated this event hundreds of years earlier when he wrote:

Lift up your heads, you gates;
be lifted up, you ancient doors,
that the King of glory may come in.
Who is this King of glory?
The LORD strong and mighty,
the LORD mighty in battle.
Lift up your heads, you gates;
lift them up, you ancient doors,
that the King of glory may come in.
Who is he, this King of glory?
The LORD Almighty—
he is the King of glory.
(Psalm 24:7-10)

As Jesus enters Jerusalem in Luke 20:37-38, he enters as God himself, the King of glory, arriving as a victor - the "LORD strong and mighty, the LORD mighty in battle." It is one of those moments that should have been pure joy.

But instead this moment became one of sorrow for Jesus. It's one of the few times in Scripture that we read of Jesus weeping. Instead of enjoying the moment, Jesus was led to weep over it. Luke 20:41-44 says:

As he approached Jerusalem and saw the city, he wept over it and said, "If you, even you, had only known on this day what would bring you peace—but now it is hidden from your eyes. The days will come on you when your enemies will build an embankment against you and encircle you and hem you in on every side. They will dash you to the ground, you and the children within your walls. They will not leave one stone on another, because you did not recognize the time of God's coming to you." (Luke 19:41-44)

Instead of enjoying the moment, it caused Jesus to weep. It was a moment that was ruined by religion and its destructive consequences.

In fact, this is the theme of not just this passage, but the next couple of chapters as well. Beginning in chapter 19:47 to the end of chapter 20, Jesus has a number of confrontations with religious people. In this section we get to see three of the problems with religion. It's possible that some of us may not realize how dangerous religion is. There are three problems with religion that we need to see from this passage.

1. Religion is selfish

Luke 19:45-46 says:

When Jesus entered the temple courts, he began to drive out those who were selling. "It is written," he said to them, " 'My house will be a house of prayer'; but you have made it 'a den of robbers.'"

The temple was the meeting place between God and man, the place where God's presence dwelt among his people. But to the religious leaders of the day, the temple was a profit center. They had transformed the court of the Gentiles from a place of prayer into a supermarket, charging exorbitant prices. The religious leaders twisted the temple, using God as a means to an end. They were selfish.

Religion is incredibly selfish.

When we think of religious people who are selfish today, we're tempted to think of famous televangelists who are using God so they can life opulent lifestyles. But we need to think a lot closer to home.

There was a father who never saw his sons. No matter how often he invited them, they never came to visit. They were always too busy. They told Dad that he wasn't important enough; that he was yesterday's news. One day the father took a chest and filled it with pieces of broken glass, and then he locked it. If you picked it up and shook it, it sounded like it was full of money. The boys started visiting, and in the last years of that man's life they had great times together. Eventually he died, and the boys opened up that chest and found nothing but broken glass. They had been fooled by their father.

The point of the story is not to say that God is like this father. God does not fool us. The point of the story is to ask why we are drawn to God. Is it for the stuff we think we'll get from him, or is it for the pleasure of God himself? John Piper asks: If you were to go to Heaven and have all of the rewards laid out for you, the removal of penalty and the joys forevermore, but God was not there, could you rightly say that your joy was complete? How do you answer that question? Religion is selfish, and it wants what it can get for itself. Religion kills because religion turns the soul in on itself.

2. Religion misses the point

I wish I had the time to read through all of chapter 20 with you. If you read chapter 20, it's a series of exchanges between Jesus and the religious leaders of the day. But it's tragic. If you had Jesus Christ standing right in front of you, what would you talk about? The religious people got into discussions that completely missed the point. Religion talks about all kinds of semi-important things but never gets to the heart of the issue. So you see them debate. "'Tell us by what authority you are doing these things,' they said. "Who gave you this authority?'" (Luke 20:2). "Is it right for us to pay taxes to Caesar or not?" (Luke 20:22). If a woman has seven husbands, "at the resurrection whose wife will she be?" (Luke 20:33). Not one of these questions was an honest one. They had an agenda, and their agenda was to get the upper hand.

The saddest thing is that all of these questions focused on secondary issues but completely missed the decisive question that every person has to deal with. The real issue is, "Who is Jesus?" Jesus got at this by telling a parable that described exactly who he is in verses 9-17 - the very Son of God sent to Israel after all the prophets had been rejected. Jesus calls himself the cornerstone, a stone that crushes those who reject him. You can argue all day about taxes and multiple wives, but the real question is, "What are you going to do with Jesus?"

Jesus ends the discussion by quoting a psalm that points to the fact that the Messiah is also the divine Son of God in verses 41 to 44. Again, the issues Jesus presents is: what are you going to do with Jesus? You can debate every issue in the world, but all of them are secondary compared to this one. But religion isn't concerned about that question. It focuses on every issue but Jesus.

You can talk to many religious people today and get into all kinds of issues, but never get to Jesus. You can go to churches and hear all kinds of messages that talk about all kinds of things but never deal with the main issue. Religion is selfish. Religion misses the point. We also see in this passage that:

3. Religion is a sham

At the end of these debates, with everyone listening, Jesus said:

Beware of the teachers of the law. They like to walk around in flowing robes and love to be greeted with respect in the marketplaces and have the most important seats in the synagogues and the places of honor at banquets. They devour widows' houses and for a show make lengthy prayers. These men will be punished most severely. (Luke 20:46-47)

Jesus was saying that it was all a sham. It looked good - the flowing robes, the decorum at synagogues and banquets, the showy prayers. But underneath it was corrupt and it would be punished.

But not everyone was putting on a show. In the middle of the hypocrisy, Jesus points to a poor woman who doesn't do anything impressive by the standards of the religious leaders. Except she wasn't acting. She was the real deal.

As Jesus looked up, he saw the rich putting their gifts into the temple treasury. He also saw a poor widow put in two very small copper coins. "Truly I tell you," he said, "this poor widow has put in more than all the others. All these people gave their gifts out of their wealth; but she out of her poverty put in all she had to live on." (Luke 21:1-4)

We don't usually think religion is bad. But religion ruined the moment for Jesus. There are three ways to live: the irreligious way, which is bad, but Jesus is a friend of these kinds of people, and many of them came to follow him. There's the religious way, which is catastrophic. And then there's the Gospel. Before we end this morning, though, I want to look at where religion leads us.

We've already read what Jesus said as he wept over Jerusalem, he said:

The days will come on you when your enemies will build an embankment against you and encircle you and hem you in on every side. They will dash you to the ground, you and the children within your walls. They will not leave one stone on another, because you did not recognize the time of God's coming to you. (Luke 19:43-44)

Jesus looked a few years ahead and saw that in just a few years, Jerusalem would be completely destroyed. He also knew that the reason would be because of religion. It would kill the city. Jerusalem would be destroyed because the people missed Jesus in all of their religion. Nobody would have believed it as they looked at the temple as Jesus cried over it because it was so impressive. But it's a theme that Jesus returned to.

In chapter 21, after these confrontations with religious people, Jesus expands on the judgment that would fall on Jerusalem because of its religion. The temple will be destroyed, Jesus says. But there's kind of a double fulfillment. One day it won't just be the temple that's destroyed:

There will be signs in the sun, moon and stars. On the earth, nations will be in anguish and perplexity at the roaring and tossing of the sea. People will faint from terror, apprehensive of what is coming on the world, for the heavenly bodies will be shaken. At that time they will see the Son of Man coming in a cloud with power and great glory. When these things begin to take place, stand up and lift up your heads, because your redemption is drawing near. (Luke 21:25-28)

Jerusalem indeed was destroyed. The historian Josephus tells us:

Caesar had already commanded the entire city and the temple to be razed to the ground, leaving only the towers which projected higher than the others to stand...All the rest of the wall which encompassed the city the demolition teams leveled so that no one who would come there in the future would ever believe that the spot had been inhabited.

The destruction was so bad that when the city was stormed and the temple burned, Josephus says that the victorious Roman general "Titus threw his arms heavenward, uttered a groan, and called God to witness that this was not his doing."

In the same way that religion destroyed Jerusalem, it will destroy us too if we let it. Jesus said that there are going to be a lot of people coming to him one day with religious credentials:

Many will say to me on that day, 'Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name and in your name drive out demons and in your name perform many miracles?' Then I will tell them plainly, 'I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!' (Matthew 7:22-23)

There are three ways to live: irreligion, religion, and Gospel. If you choose the way of religion it will kill you.

What's the solution? The early church apologist Tertullian said, "Just as Christ was crucified between two thieves, so this doctrine of justification is ever crucified between two opposite errors." There are two thieves of the gospel: religion and irreligion, moralism and hedonism. Both "steal" the power and the distinctiveness of the gospel.

Another day I'll invite you to turn away from hedonism, but today I'm going to ask you to turn away from religion and moralism and run instead to Jesus Christ. Follow the example of the apostle Paul who said:

But whatever were [religious] gains to me I now consider loss for the sake of Christ. What is more, I consider everything a loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them garbage, that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ—the righteousness that comes from God on the basis of faith. (Philippians 3:7-9)

Let's pray.

Father, this morning we repent of religion, which is selfish, which misses the point, which is a sham, and which will destroy us. Father, forgive us for falling for religion which is a counterfeit of the gospel. Help us instead to turn to Jesus Christ, so that we may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of our own.

Help us to avoid the broad road of religion that leads to destruction. Help us to enter the narrow gate of Jesus Christ. In his name we pray. Amen.