The Most Important Question: What is the Jesus Religion?

BIG IDEA: How does Jesus turn any “religion” of the day upside down?

SERIES: The Most Important Question Ever Asked – A Study in the Gospel According to Mark: John Mark, a traveling companion of the Apostle Peter, wrote this gospel. We trust his writing because of that tie to Peter, an Apostle of Christ. He writes this gospel by taking down Peter’s account of Christ. It’s written likely because the Apostles were aging and their stories needed to be told for the coming generations. These are essentially the memoirs of Peter written to a group of Christians in Rome, and it’s written with a sense of urgency. Jesus came to accomplish a mission and to do so with a remarkable sense of urgency. Throughout the entirety of the gospel, there is the most important question ever asked: Who do you say Jesus is? Fist gospel written.

SCRIPTURE: Mark 2:18-3:6
 Now John’s disciples and the Pharisees were fasting. And people came and said to him, “Why do John’s disciples and the disciples of the Pharisees fast, but your disciples do not fast?” 19 And Jesus said to them, “Can the wedding guests fast while the bridegroom is with them? As long as they have the bridegroom with them, they cannot fast. 20 The days will come when the bridegroom is taken away from them, and then they will fast in that day. 21 No one sews a piece of unshrunk cloth on an old garment. If he does, the patch tears away from it, the new from the old, and a worse tear is made. 22 And no one puts new wine into old wineskins. If he does, the wine will burst the skins—and the wine is destroyed, and so are the skins. But new wine is for fresh wineskins.”

23 One Sabbath he was going through the grainfields, and as they made their way, his disciples began to pluck heads of grain. 24 And the Pharisees were saying to him, “Look, why are they doing what is not lawful on the Sabbath?” 25 And he said to them, “Have you never read what David did, when he was in need and was hungry, he and those who were with him: 26 how he entered the house of God, in the time of Abiathar the high priest, and ate the bread of the Presence, which it is not lawful for any but the priests to eat, and also gave it to those who were with him?” 27 And he said to them, “The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath. 28 So the Son of Man is lord even of the Sabbath.”

3:1 Again he entered the synagogue, and a man was there with a withered hand. 2 And they watched Jesus, to see whether he would heal him on the Sabbath, so that they might accuse him. 3 And he said to the man with the withered hand, “Come here.” 4 And he said to them, “Is it lawful on the Sabbath to do good or to do harm, to save life or to kill?” But they were silent. 5 And he looked around at them with anger, grieved at their hardness of heart, and said to the man, “Stretch out your hand.” He stretched it out, and his hand was restored. The Pharisees went out and immediately held counsel with the Herodians against him, how to destroy him.


  • Seattle is a religious city: we may not have much formal religion, but we have an abundance of lists of acceptable behavioral actions, things you can and cannot do. Just like there are actual rules of the road versus the unwritten rules of the road. We are steeped in a religious culture.
  • Jesus bumped up against the religious culture of his day with his religion, with Christianity, whose focus is human flourishing.
  • Are our religious codes bringing about human flourishing? Our population may be deeply seeking meaning and purpose, but who is also deeply disconnected and discontented with their jobs, their social lives, their families. There’s an epidemic of loneliness, homelessness, sexual harassment, etc. We are not flourishing humans within our religious codes of the day. We need something new.
  • Pitfalls of Religion, resulting in two different versions of Christianity:
    • Christianity that claims to be different from the religion of the day, but isn’t.
    • Christianity that misunderstands the point of religion altogether.
  • Christianity that claims to be different:
    • Three metaphors
      • Can the wedding guests fast while the bridegroom is with them?
        • Jesus likens his entourage with a wedding where he’s the bridegroom, implying that his disciples aren’t fasting because he is to be celebrated while he’s here.
        • Jesus ties his disciples actions directly to their relationship with him.
        • Do you view your personal acts of devotion as attached to relationship?
      • Sewing unshrunk cloth: You can’t add Jesus to the religion of the day. We can feel this tension when we see the people we love not experiencing Jesus, and we ask them to add Jesus to their religion instead of taking off the old garment and putting on the new.
      • New wine in old wineskins: This is the same metaphor.
        • Habits of the Heart: social science work from the 1980s that says that our public responsibility (religion) is rooted in an adaptation of the Golden Rule (do unto others).
        • The New Golden Rule: Don’t do unto others what you don’t want them to do to you. This is the greater religion of the day: do no harm. Just don’t injure each other. This is inconsistent with the religion of Jesus, which is to love God and to love your neighbor. Our religion produces lists of how not to offend women in the workplace where Jesus’ religion says how about we try loving and respecting the women in the workplace. Which is more fruitful?
      • Are you stamping Jesus onto the religion of the day? Ask yourself these questions:
        • Do your friends and coworkers know that you’re a church-going Christian?
        • Is there a friction between Christianity and your partisan politics or, if you tend to vote democrat/republican is it still hard to do so? Is it hard for you to vote?
        • Do you feel challenged in your Christian walk?
        • Do you mourn the brokenness of this city?
        • Do you have relationships with poorer people?
      • Hard Work: a lot of these questions lead to discomfort and hard work. They result in sacrifice, and so we often recoil from them. Our society doesn’t teach these things? Our society teaches us to protect our time, protect our money, protect our relationships, and make sure you don’t offend anyone in the process. That doesn’t lead to human flourishing. Jesus’ religion got him nailed to the cross. And it’s through this sacrifice that you will experience the most joy.
      • Not Alone: This is not a road intended to be walked alone. Do this in community, with your community of Believers.
    • Christianity that misunderstands the point of religion:
      • Sabbath Observance: the commandment to observe the Sabbath is the longest of the Ten Commandments.
      • Pharisees and Legal Work: The Pharisees worked out what it actually might look like to observe the Sabbath as a religious law by defining 39 different areas of work and the kinds of work that they could do and couldn’t do on the Sabbath.
      • Jesus’ Response: He likens himself to David, which would have enraged the Pharisees because God had anointed David. He says that the Son of Man is lord of the Sabbath and therefore lord over the religion of the day. He also corrects that religion.
        • The sabbath was made for man, not man for the sabbath: Humans are hard-wired to experience the sabbath as a means to human flourishing not to appease a god. It’s meant for our benefit, so that we can experience the life God has for us.
        • Redemption Loop: The Pharisees found what we could call a “Redemption Loop” in the Old Testament. God gave Israel the Promised Land and asked them to drive out the people who lived there so that the Israelites wouldn’t adopt the religion of the day. They didn’t and before long the Israelites had adopted other religions, disobeying God, but when they cried out to God in their suffering, God always remembers his side of the covenant. So the Pharisees concluded that if they just upheld the Law really well, then God would deliver them and give them the land of Israel again. They held acts of religion as crucial to maintain God’s favor. Many churches do the same today, alienating the people who don’t uphold God’s laws.
      • Change the Lens: When we look at religion through the lens of human flourishing it’s colorful and beautiful. All the black and white rules become so colorful and meaningful. This leads to living life abundantly.
      • We Fail: the Church has failed to do this well often and has hurt many. It’s a misuse of religion.
      • Hardness of Heart does the most damage to human flourishing.
      • Contradiction: The religion of the day contradicts itself every time. In this story, it happens when the Pharisees, who were angry because Jesus worked by healing a man on the sabbath, go and meet with each other to work out a way to kill Jesus. On the sabbath.

Our Response

  • An Invitation: Jesus asks us, the people of Seattle, to reach out our hands and accept his religion over the religion of the day. If we don’t, we’ll just sit miserable, buried in our lists of what not to do and how not to harm each other. We will be ineffectual.
  • Who do you say Jesus is?

Want to study this topic more?
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