The Religion that Devours, The Gospel that Saves
Translated by Allan Liang
Augustine wrote in his autobiography: “God, you have created us for yourself; unless we are in you, our souls will never find rest.” Our hearts will indeed endure many anxieties, sorrows and unsatisfied longings from the day of birth to the day of death. This is made more apparent by the pandemic. Though many people are forced to remain at home, and do indeed receive some physical rest, their souls are far from a state of rest. Many worry about unemployment, unstable income, ill family members and loved ones serving on the medical forefront. They find no rest; how can this be resolved? Are we to turn to religion? Religion can only consume and devour. God established the Sabbath Day, originally intending to set apart one day from the week that would provide rest from labor and allow his people to worship God wholeheartedly. Yet we see in this passage of scripture that the people of God did not receive rest but rather were more heavily laden, fearing to break the numerous regulations of the Sabbath to the point of becoming cruel and merciless, condemning the acts of kindness done by Jesus, to which he responded with anger and grief (verse 5). How did the Jews become this way, turning the Sabbath originally intended to provide blessings, into a Sabbath where blessings were prohibited, into a “non-sabbath”? They wanted to redeem themselves using their good deeds and observance of the law. By wanting to observe the Sabbath, they constructed numerous human regulations. They prohibited people from plucking the heads of grains, for that constituted agricultural work. Treating sickness was also prohibited, unless it was a case of an “emergency”. It was prohibited to light fires on the Sabbath. It is said that Jews of the modern day living in New York still ask neighbors to help light the stove on the Sabbath day. The Jews thought that having an uncountable number of regulations would provide a protective fence that would surround the fourth commandment, making it impossible to break the commandment unless the fence was crossed. However, because of their religious thinking, (the essence of religion is to have man seek for his own salvation through good works; Christianity speaks of sinners being saved through good works but only through the good works of Jesus are we saved) rather than keeping the fourth commandment, they emptied it of its blessings, causing none to receive rest. They were themselves bound by the numerous regulations they had set in place, living constantly in fear and anxiety, careful of any slight mistake; they also used the regulations to put others in bondage, fiercely condemning all who erred against the regulations. They even sought to prevent the man with the shriveled hand to receive blessings on the Sabbath, for his blessings would violate the regulations in place. Religion, the seeking of salvation through one’s own good, can only devour and swallow one’s soul, causing great coldness of the heart; it cannot save nor can it bring blessings. Concerning this point, religion can also be considered philosophy, and philosophy as religion, for philosophy seeks to use one’s own faculties, rationality and knowledge to complete self redemption. Religion and philosophy cannot cause anyone to be saved nor can they bring any genuine peace. Who can give us true peace? Jesus. The Sabbath itself is unable to give blessings to the man with the shriveled hand, likewise with the religious figures, only Jesus can heal him and give him true peace. Why is Jesus able to bring peace to people? At the end of this passage, we see two opposing groups of people come together, the religious officials (Pharisees) and the political officials (the men of Herod). They united because of their common hatred of Jesus and together sought for a way to kill him. (Those who truly belong to God will experience opposition from both within and outside of the church, Paul as an example) Because of their alliance, Jesus ultimately died in accordance to the will of God on the cross, experiencing in place of sinners the absolute opposite of peace, the curse of God on sinners, so that all who believe in Jesus today, who truly repent of of their sins may receive peace and blessings. Today, do you hate the Lord or do you love the Lord, are you united with mankind in opposition to God or are you united with brothers and sisters who share the same love for God? By faith, may you acknowledge Jesus as your Lord, and call on him so that you may receive true peace. And may the virus pass away quickly, so that we may once again gather with our brothers and sisters, delighting in the fellowship we have together in Christ. Please pray and meditate about: Are you able to find peace by yourself? How can one receive true peace? What is your attitude toward Jesus?