To obey all He’s commanded
To do all that He said…
Could I be called a Christian
And believe not His holy word
To take Him as my savior
And then refuse Him as my Lord
If I could not love the outcast
And am not burdened for the lost
If I fail to deny myself
And each day take up my cross
- Steve Camp, “Could I Be Called a Christian?”, 1991
I saw a meme on Facebook not too long ago that said, “If you have a problem with organized religion, so did Jesus”. I loved it. While organized religion can do a lot of good in the world today, there’s also a lot of room for improvement. So it was in Jesus’ day. In fact, you can say that some of Jesus’ most combative clashes were not with sinners, but with the religious elite.
Here, in Matthew’s gospel, right after Jesus curses the fig tree, He enters Jerusalem and heads straight for the Temple to begin teaching. Some of the most powerful priests and pharisees in the city are there and they ask Jesus a question designed to trap Him: “By what authority are you doing all these things? Who gave you the right?” (v. 23b – NLT). In truth, they wanted to show He was either a blasphemer or a weird fanatic. You see, all the religious leaders of His day were interested in was power and position. They wanted to hang onto both and they saw Jesus as a threat. Not much has changed in 2,000 years.
How does Jesus respond? He does two things. 1) He asks them a question in return: “Did John’s authority to baptize come from heaven, or was it merely human?” (v. 25 – NLT). 2) He tells them a story instead. A parable.
Now the question Jesus asked in return was also a trap, and the religious leaders recognized it. They huddled up together and talked over their possible responses. “If we say it was from heaven, he will ask us why we didn’t believe John. But it we say it was merely human, we’ll be mobbed because our people believe John was a prophet” (v. 26). Here’s the rub: Both answers are true. John the Baptist’s authority was from Heaven AND he was a prophet. How can the religious leaders get the answer wrong? By not choosing either of them. Isn’t that typical of us? Jesus gives us a question and sometimes we go out of our way not to answer it. The leaders responded with an emphatic, “We don’t know” (v. 26), which may be the most truthful answer they could give considering their unbelief.
So Jesus basically say, since you won’t answer my question, I won’t answer your question. Then he immediately launches into a parable about two sons. The father asks one to do some work, and he says he won’t do it, but then later obeys. The father asks the other son to do some work and he initially says he will, but then doesn’t follow through. Jesus asks “Which one of the two obeyed his father?” They replied, “The first.”” (v. 31). And they are right.
“The son who said he would obey and then didn’t represented many of the people of Israel in Jesus’ day, particularly the religious leaders. They said they wanted to do God’s will, but they constantly disobeyed. They were phony, just going through the motions. It is dangerous to pretend to obey God when our heart is far from him because God knows our true intentions. Our actions must match our words” (Study Bible, p. 1587). Are we like that? Are the people we follow like that?
I admit, I have a problem with organized religion because far too often it is exclusive, demeaning, hypocritical, judgmental, and nothing like Jesus. What’s more, it teaches others to be that way too. They claim to worship Jesus but their actions don’t match their words. I look at religious leaders of today like Franklin Graham, Jerry Falwell Jr,, Paula White, Pat Robertson, and James Dobson and I don’t see Jesus in anything they do. To me, they remind me of the pharisees of Jesus’ day. They really worship money and power. And what’s worse, they encourage others to follow them in their actions of supporting corruption, lying, false prophecies, wishing harm on others, bullying, exclusion, and hatred. It’s disgusting.
Jesus summed up his little story of the two sons by saying, “I tell you the truth, corrupt tax collectors and prostitutes will get into the Kingdom of God before you do. For John the Baptist showed you the right way to live but you didn’t believe him, while tax collectors and prostitutes did. And even when you saw this happening, you refused to believe him and repent of your sins.” (v. 31b-32 – NLT).
God Himself walked the earth over 2,000 years ago. He lived and taught a way we need to emulate daily in our lives. The question we need to ask ourselves everyday is are we listening to and obeying Him? Are we following Him? Because if we’re not…we need to stop calling ourselves Christians.