Mark 12 : Sham Religion Exposed

It happened at a traffic light near the edge of town. A man cut the engine of his huge Harley Davidson motorcycle as he waited for the light to change. You might have been tempted to stare at this guy, and he would have enjoyed it. A filthy rag was fastened around his head; from beneath it a matted tangle of grey hair spilled down the back of his leather jacket. Images of skulls and bones leered from his clothing and his bare forearms. And his bike bore the emblem of a menacing black widow spider. As he waited at the light, an elderly man on a lime green moped pulled up beside him. The ringy ding ding of the moped was drowned out by the roaring thunder of the Harley. 'Boy, that's some motorcycle you've got there,' the old man choked. 'Mind if I take a closer look?' Scowling from behind his oily beard, the biker gave him the once-over. 'If it turns your crank, old-timer,' he snarled, 'go ahead.'

The old man was a little far-sighted, but he wanted to take in all the scenery, so he leaned his face right over the bike and examined every inch. Looking up after a while, the old man grinned and said to the biker, 'I bet that motorcycle goes fast.' But no sooner were the words out of his mouth, the light changed, and the biker thought he'd show this old geezer what a real chopper could do. He gave it full throttle, and within 30 seconds the speedometer read 199 miles an hour. He chucked with satisfaction.

Suddenly he noticed a dot in his rear view mirror, a dot that was growing larger. Something was gaining on him. What could it be? He slowed down to get a better look, and whatever the thing was it flashed past him so fast he couldn't identify it.

The thing disappeared over the horizon, whipped around, and came right back at him. As it zipped past he recognized the rider. It was the old man on the lime green moped.

How could this be? The biker took another look into his rearview mirror. There was that speck again coming back his way and growing larger. The biker tried to outrun it, but it couldn't be done. It was a moot point in seconds for the moped slammed into the rear of the Harley Davidson. The collision destroyed both bikes. You could hear the impact for miles.

The biker extricated himself from the mangled steel pretzel that had once been his beloved Harley Davidson. But the old man had fared even worse. He lay groaning beneath the black and smoking remnants of his moped. Even the hardened biker was moved with compassion. He knelt beside the old man's face and softly asked, 'Is there anything I can do for you?'

The old man choked, coughed and replied, 'Yes. Could you please unhook my suspenders from your handlebars?'" You and I would never purposely hook our suspenders to anything dangerous. And yet many of us might be willing to lean over for a closer look. The world around us is littered with the mangled lives of men and women.

People who never intended to get hooked yet their religion is a sham, they are playing with Christianity as if it were a menu in a fast food store. Their real attention is else where. They only wanted to get a closer look at the shiny colours of some forbidden sin. The husband who never intended to lose his family, but decided it was okay to flirt around the boundaries of adultery, and now he pulls himself from the wreckage of a smoking marriage. The business person who decides that cutting an ethical corner here and there will make a ride to the top quicker. Now she's a collision waiting to happen.

So many people never intended to sabotage a marriage or a friendship. They just drift into resentment or bitterness or revenge, and they suffer a relational train wreck that's destroying their heart. Sometimes we get tangled up in more subtle enemies: hurry or success or a relationship. Some of you are here tonight, and you are seeing yourselves as helpless victims, pawns of circumstances beyond your control, decisions other people made. Lets examine what Jesus makes of sham religion in Mark 12. Please turn to it with me.

As we saw in the video reading, Jesus takes the initiative with the parable of the Tenants. He knew the religion of his day was a sham, a charade. Pretending to be holy, they were worshipping themselves instead of God, and Jesus was a threat, they wanted to kill him. Read 12:12. So the religious leaders try and trap Jesus with three loaded questions:

A political question about paying taxes. Labour - Conservative?
A theological question about marriage. Strict or Lax?
A moral question about the Law. Situation ethics or legalist?

Why were they asking these questions? Because Jesus was a threat to their security. They were playing at religion. Christianity was just a game. A game of pick and choose. I'll choose what I want to believe and I will reject what I don't.
Jesus cuts through all their sham with two questions of his own.

Read 12:24 and 12:35-37. The Scriptures and the Power of God revealed in Jesus Christ. God and man in the same person. Not someone who lived 2000 years ago but someone who is here tonight, asking the same questions of you and I. Waiting to see if you will come up with excuses or fall on your face in worship and adoration.

What we make of Jesus Christ is the most important question we will ever have to answer. So let me ask you. Who are you serving tonight? Who are you trying to kid? Are you playing at Christianity? Do you enjoy the intellectual games of debating religious issues while never acknowledging Jesus is Lord of your sex life, Lord of your bank balance, Lord of your career, Lord of your destiny. Do you enjoy slagging off the Church while never committing yourself to the Body of Christ here in Virginia Water? Jesus is Sovereign over your life. Over His Church. He takes this Church very seriously. He died so that we could become His body, His Church.

His light in this community. Jesus exposes their hypocrisy. Read 12:38-40. As a Christian leader I take that warning very very seriously, and I hope you do too. Sham religion exposed. If not now, then one day when all our lives will be exposed to the heat of God's holy fire.

So next time you see a Harvey Davidson or more likely a moped, ask yourself, what have I hooked my suspenders to today? Make a resolution in your heart to turn away from sham religion that plays at being a Christian while bending over to take a closer look at sin. You can do this. You must do this if you are going to survive and thrive as a Christian in a tempting, mesmerising but a hostile anti-Christian godless world. I'll tell you a secret, friends. All of us live under this tension.

So many people say, "I would love to get to know God better," or "I would like to get more involved in Church," "If only I weren't so busy." "If only I had a better small group leader." "If only the Church services were more to my liking." We all live in close proximity to sin and temptation.

We all live in a world that will try to tempt us or intimidate us into settling for less than God's best. We all live in a world that tells us to assert ourselves and think about number one first.

Listen, friends, this is your one and only life. This is your day. This is your Church. So what do you need to resolve in your heart? Do you need to end a relationship that's dishonouring God? End it! Make the call. Do it tonight. Do you need to repent of unethical practices in your business? Repent and set things right. Do it now. Do you need to reorder your time? Reorder your time. Do you need to repent of sinful attitudes or negative gossip about your brothers and sisters in Christ? Then repent. Now. Before you leave. Is there some area in your life or a relationship where you need to pursue forgiveness or reconciliation and you haven't been doing it because you've been seeing yourself as the victim? Then stop and take responsibility before God for what has happened. Be reconciled. This is your day. This is your life. Read 12:30-31.

Do this and you will live. Play at sham religion and you will die. You must resolve in your own heart. You must do this. No one else will. I'll tell you why so much is at stake here, friends. Some of you have hooked your suspenders up to the wrong thing, and you're feeling the pain right now, and your religion is a sham. On the surface you may appear spiritual but underneath you are feeling only shame, guilt and condemnation. You resolve this night, "I will honour God with all my heart, with all my mind, with all my soul, with all my strength. You resolve tonight that you will not hand over this one and only life that God has given you to any power -not to any person, not to any relationship, not to any job, not to any boss, not to any habit, not to any force, not to any schedule. Resolve with all your heart, your soul, your mind and strength and God will honour you.

Let me close with another story about how God used someone who was totally dedicated in heart, soul, mind and strength - this one is true and its about today, Mothers Day, told by a friend of John Ortberg. It concerns a convalescent home that is not a particularly pleasant place. It is large, understaffed, and overfilled with senile, helpless and lonely people waiting to die. On the brightest of days it seems dark inside and smells of sickness and stale urine. I went there once or twice a week for four years, but I never wanted to go there. And I always left with a sense of relief. It's not the kind of place one gets used to. "On this particular day I was walking in a hallway that I had not visited before, looking in vain for a few who were alive enough to receive a flower and a few words of encouragement. This hallway seemed to contain some of the worst cases strapped onto carts or into wheelchairs and looking completely helpless. "As I neared the end of this hallway, I saw an old woman strapped in a wheelchair. Her face was an absolute horror.

The empty stare and white pupils of her eyes told me that she was blind. The large hearing aid over one ear told me she was almost deaf. One side of her face was being eaten by cancer. "There was a discoloured and running sore covering part of one cheek, and it had pushed her nose to one side, dropped one eye, and distorted her jaw so that what should have been the corner of her mouth was the bottom of her mouth. As a consequence, she drooled constantly.

I was told later that when new nurses arrived, the supervisors would send them to feed this woman, thinking if they could stand this sight they could stand anything in the building.

"I also later learned that this woman was 89 years old, and that she had been here bedridden, blind, nearly deaf and alone for 25 years. This was Mabel. I don't why I spoke to her. She looked less likely to respond than most people I saw in that hallway, but I put a flower in her hand and said, 'Here's a flower for you. Happy Mother's Day.' "She held up the flower to her face and tried to smell it. Then she spoke, and much to my surprise her words, although somewhat garbled because of her deformity, were obviously produced by a clear mind. She said, 'Thank you, it's lovely. But can I give it to someone else? I can't see it, you know. I'm blind.' "I said, 'Of course,' and I pushed her in her chair back down the hallway to a place where I thought I could find some alert patients. I found one and stopped the chair. Mabel held out the flower and said, 'Here, this is from Jesus.' That was when it began to dawn on me:

This is not an ordinary human being. Later I wheeled her back to her room and learned about her history. "She'd grown up on a small farm that she managed with only her mother until her mom died. Then she ran the farm alone until 1950 when her blindness and sickness sent her to the convalescent hospital. For 25 years she got weaker and sicker with headaches, backaches, stomach aches, and then the cancer came too. "Her three roommates were all human vegetables who screamed occasionally but never talked. They often soiled their bedclothes and because the hospital was understaffed, especially on Sundays when I usually visited, the stench was often overpowering. "Mabel and I became friends over the next few weeks, and I went to see her once or twice a week for the next three years. Her first words to me were usually an offer of hard candy from a tissue box near her bed. Some days I would read to her from the Bible, and often when I would pause, she would continue reciting the passage from memory word for word. Other days I would take a book of hymns and sing with her, and she'd know all the words of the old songs.

"For Mabel, these were not just exercises in memory. She would often stop in mid-hymn and make a brief comment about lyrics she considered particularly relevant to her situation. I never heard her speak of loneliness or pain except in the stress she placed on certain lines in certain hymns. "It was not many weeks before I turned from a sense that I was being helpful, to a sense of wonder. And I would go to her with a pen and paper to write down the things she would say. What follows is the story behind one scrap of paper. "During a hectic week of final exams, I was frustrated because my mind seemed pulled in ten directions at once with all the things I had to think about. The question occurred to me: What does Mabel have to think about? Hour after hour, day after day, week after week.

Not even able to know if it's day or night. So I went to her and asked, 'Mabel, what do you think about when you lie there?' And she said, 'I think about my Jesus.'

"I sat there and thought for a moment about the difficulty for me of thinking about Jesus for even five minutes. And I asked, 'What do you think about Jesus?' She replied slowly and deliberately as I wrote, and this is what she said: 'I think about how good he's been to me. He's been awfully good to me in my life, you know. I'm one of those kind who's mostly satisfied. Lots of folks wouldn't care much for what I think. Lots of folks would think I'm kind of old-fashioned, but I don't care. I'd rather have Jesus. He's all the world to me.' "And then Mabel began to sing an old hymn, 'Jesus is all the world to me, my life, my joy, my all. He's my strength from day to day, without him I would fall. When I am sad, to him I go. No other one can cheer me so. When I am sad he makes me glad. He is my friend.' Incredible as it may seem, a human being really lived like this. I know, I knew her. "How could she do it? Seconds ticked and minutes crawled and so did days and weeks and months and years of pain, without human company, and without an explanation of why it was all happening. And she lay there and sang hymns. How could she do it? The answer, I think, is that Mabel had something that you and I may not have much of. She had power. Lying there in that bed, unable to move, unable to see, unable to hear, unable to talk to anyone.

She had incredible power." Mabel's race has been run. Her story is done. Yours hasn't finished yet, neither has mine. Here's what you need to know: God was with Mabel, this 89-year-old woman. She died alone and unknown in an obscure hospital bed. But today thousands of people in this and other countries have heard or read her story. They have been given an amazing gift by this woman who thought she died alone and forgotten. God is with you, whoever you are, whatever shambles you find yourself in.

God is at work in your life, so you resolve to honour him with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind and with all your strength, quit sham religion tonight for good and forever. Let's stand for closing prayer.

Illustrations taken from a transcript of a sermon by John Ortberg, Willow Creek, Chicago. Used with grateful thanks.