Ephesians 2:8 [Amplified Bible]
“For it is by free grace [God’s unmerited favour] that you are saved [delivered from judgement and made partakers of Christ’s salvation] through [your] faith. And this [salvation] is not of yourselves [of your own doing, it came not through your own striving], but it is the gift of God”.
Living Under Roman Oppression
As we celebrate and reflect on the death and resurrection of Jesus during Easter, I want to invite you to reflect with me on the life of Jesus and His views on religion.
We have to remember that for many Jews the Gospel Jesus taught was hugely disappointing. The Jews expected a Messiah who would free them from the oppressive rule of the Roman Empire, a regime at the time which harshly oppressed the Jews. The Jews wanted a Messiah who would literally overthrow their Roman oppressors. Some Jews wanted Jesus to liberate them through force and military action. Who could blame the Jews for wanting to be free from the cruel oppression of the Romans? Humanly speaking Jesus was a logical solution for an oppressed nation like the Jews.
Their Messiah was finally here, and Jesus certainly demonstrated His power to the Jews [and Gentiles] through healing the sick, casting out demons, raising the dead and many other miracles. Surely, He can also liberate them from the oppression of the Roman Empire! The wisdom with which Jesus taught the crowds made them realise that Jesus was a leader who spoke with authority and wisdom. We cannot blame the Jews for thinking that Jesus was the Man who could and would liberate them from the oppression of the Romans!
So, imagine people’s disappointment when Jesus said to the Jews that they must continue to pay taxes to their Roman oppressors!
Mark 12:14-17 [Amplified Bible]
“Is it lawful [permissible and right] to give tribute [poll taxes] to Caesar or not? Should we pay [them]? But knowing their hypocrisy, He asked them, Why do you put Me to the test? Bring Me a coin [a denarius], so I may see it? And they brought [Him one]. Then He asked them, Whose image is this? And whose superscription [title]? They said to Him, Caesar’s. Jesus said to them, Pay to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s and to God the things that are God’s. And they stood marvelling and greatly amazed at Him.”
Jesus demonstrated through his teachings that a person must honour their governments even if those governments are oppressive and corrupt but not to the point of disobeying God. The Apostle Paul is a good example of someone who spread the Gospel of Jesus Christ without shame, even when the Jewish leaders flogged and imprisoned him. Paul did not break the laws of government; he simply preached the Gospel and willingly suffered the consequences.
Living Under Religious Oppression
The Jews at the time were not only oppressed by the Romans, but they were also oppressed by the religious doctrines of the Pharisees and Sadducees. However, many Jews did not even realise that they were oppressed by their religious leaders. However, Jesus knew that the Jews were oppressed by their religious leaders hence Him saying:
Matthew 23:27 [New Living Translation]
“What sorrow awaits you teachers of religious law and you Pharisees. Hypocrites! For you are like whitewashed tombs – beautiful on the outside but filled on the inside with dead people’s bones and all sorts of impurity.
Matthew 15:1-9 [Amplified Bible]
“Then from Jerusalem came scribes and Pharisees and said, Why do Your disciples transgress and violate the rules handed down by the elders of the past? For they do not practise [ceremonially] washing their hands before they eat. He replied to them, And why also do you transgress and violate the commandment of God for the sake of the rules handed down to you by your forefathers [the elders]? For God commanded, Honour your father and your mother, and He who curses or reviles or speaks evil of or abuses or treats improperly his father or mother, let him surely come to his end by death. But you say, If anyone tells his father or mother, What you would have gained from me [that is, the money and whatever I have that might be used for helping you] is already dedicated as a gift to God, then he is exempt and no longer under obligation to honour and help his father or his mother, So for the sake of your tradition [the rules handed down by your forefathers], you have set aside the Word of God [depriving it of force and authority and making it of no effect]. You pretenders [hypocrites]! Admirably and truly did Isaiah prophesy of you when he said: These people draw near with Me with their mouths and honour Me with their lips, but their hearts hold off and are far away from Me. Uselessly do they worship Me, for they teach as doctrines the commands of men.”
When you read through the book of Matthew, you will see and realise that Jesus regularly addressed the religious Jewish leaders. Jesus specifically addressed their hypocrisy and the fact that their doctrines were not life-giving in any way, shape, or form. Instead of liberating people, their teachings brought further oppression to the Jews. Most devout Jews sincerely thought that by obeying the traditions and rules of their forefathers, they were pleasing God.
In fact, more to the point, they believed that by strictly obeying the laws and keeping the rituals of the Jewish religion, they would earn favour with God and God in turn would bless them. The opposite was also true. The devout Jews also believed that by not following the Jewish laws and rituals, the wrath of God would be released, and they would suffer the consequences for their disobedience.
However, Jesus exposed the doctrines and fraudulent motives of the Pharisees and Sadducees, and His disciples soon realised that the teachings of Jesus were Truth and brought real freedom! Jesus’s disciples also realised that Jesus’s authority was far greater than the authority of their own religious leaders.
Whilst the Jews were far more concerned about their external oppressors i.e., the Roman Empire, Jesus was more concerned about their internal oppression I.e., the religion taught by the Pharisees and Sadducees. Jesus was more concerned with the subtle oppression of the Jews [religion] than the obvious oppression [I.e., the Roman Empire].
Today, we often neglect to reflect on the fact that as followers of Christ, we continue to be afflicted by religion as the Jews were in Jesus’s time. Religion may have a different face today, but it is still the same thing: RELIGION! So, what is religion? Why was Jesus so adamant to address the hypocrisy of the Jewish leaders?
Religion is when we try to connect with the Lord through our good works. Religion is when we follow man’s agenda instead of listening to the voice of the Holy Spirit and obeying Him. We cannot win favour with the Lord through good works. Our good works do not earn us blessings from God.
Salvation is a free gift that needs to be received from the Lord. It is as simple as that. God, our Father is not a mad God who is going to beat you with a stick every time you do something wrong. Yet, many followers of Christ experience God as being angry at them. And because they believe God is punitive by nature, these believers work harder and harder to please God [and sometimes their leaders]. Often it is because somewhere along in their journey, they have partnered [knowingly or unknowingly] with a religious spirit or a religious mindset. Or somewhere along in their journey of faith, they were part of a community of believers who taught and practised religion and not GRACE.
Even today our greatest enemy is not the corrupt governments, even though a lot of followers of Christ are convinced that this is the case. In my view, our greatest enemy as followers of Christ is RELIGION!
Many followers of Christ today are more invested in following the agenda of their spiritual leaders as opposed to seeking the Lord for themselves to find out what the Lord truly wants for their lives. Do I feel all spiritual leaders today are operating from a religious mindset? No, I don’t. There are wonderful Pastors and Leaders out there that are true to the message of Ephesians 2:8 but there are also Leaders who, like the Jewish leaders of old, are leading their flocks from a spirit of religion and not grace.
As we celebrate the death and resurrection of Jesus this Easter, let us remind ourselves again and again of this liberating truth:
Ephesians 2:8: [Amplified Bible]
“For it is by free grace [God’s unmerited favour] that you are saved [delivered from judgement and made partakers of Christ’s salvation] through [your] faith. And this [salvation] is not of yourselves [of your own doing, it came not through your own striving], but it is the gift of God.”
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Here’s our blog about The Rich Man of Mark 10!
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