Temples to Go and Organized Religion
If someone says, “I’m not really into organized religion”—what do they mean? If they say, “I’m not a very religious person.” People think religion is a crutch. They say it’s the opium of the masses—that it’s responsible for wars and hatred and crimes against humanity. They also say all religions are the same. What do you think about all that?
I think people usually just mean that they think religious people are judgy McJudgeface. And a lot of time they are.
Sometimes well-meaning Christians will say, “Christianity isn’t a religion, it’s a relationship.”
If people don’t like organized religion, does that mean they prefer unorganized religion? That doesn’t sound better to me. There’s plenty of that going around. Random disorganized religion sounds like a bad idea.
Marx, Freud and Nietzsche tried to convince the world that we’d all be better off without religion. But the worst atrocities the world has ever seen were committed by national leaders who believed them: Stalin, Hitler, Mao, Pol Pot. I’m not gonna pretend that religious leaders haven’t also done their share of evil in the world—but getting rid of religion didn’t seem to make things better.
I’m gonna argue that society without religion not only isn’t better, it isn’t possible. There’s gonna be religion, even if it’s a terrible and demanding bully religion made up just to scare people into staying in line. A human being is a spiritual creature—it is going to worship something, there’s no getting around it. We either worship God, as He has revealed Himself through His Word and ultimately in Jesus Christ, and things are gonna go well for us. Or we’re gonna worship something else, anything else—and things are gonna go really wrong.
Today we’re looking at Pentecost, the birth of the church, I thought it was fitting that on our first day at this new location—a new beginning for us—that we’d take a look at what this church thing is all about. Showing up for worship, singing, praying, reading Scripture, preaching—it sure looks like religion. How about if instead of pretending that what we’re doing isn’t a religious thing, how about if we make sure it’s a good religious thing.
Prayer: Father in heaven, thank You for leading us to this place, thank You for bringing us together to worship You and learn more about what it means to be Your people. Fill us with Your the power of Your Spirit today, and send us out to do the mission of Jesus. AMEN
Everyone was born with a serious problem— We are separated from God there’s a separation between them and God—between everyone who was ever born and the God who created the universe. We can’t climb up a sunbeam and sit in His lap. This separation was caused by sin. Adam’s sin, Eve’s sin, all of their descendant’s sin. Your sin. We’re all born under the curse of sin, and we all spend our entire lives making it worse by sinning more. We hurt people, we mess up our lives, and we live as though there’s not a God. We act like we’re God. It’s our fundamental problem, at the root of everything else that’s wrong. Left to ourselves we would die and remain separate from God—and to be separate from God is to be in outer darkness, a miserable place of our own making.
Some people think the Bible is long boring book filled with rules—they couldn’t be more wrong. It’s more strange and interesting than Game of Thrones and Lord of Rings and the Marvel universe all together. It also happens to be completely true. Here’s a brief history of the world as seen through the pages of Scripture: Adam and Eve sinned, they were kicked out of Eden—which was a garden paradise connecting heaven and earth, where God walked with them. After the fall, earth was disconnected from heaven and man was disconnected from God. Demonic creatures took advantage of this separation and tricked people into worshiping them, these demonic religions always had a few things in common: sex, prosperity, slavery and death—especially of the first born children. Remember the flood, with Noah and the Ark? One of the main things some people think God was doing in the flood was drowning all the half human half demonic creatures called the Nephilim—probably the origin of all the Greek and Roman and Norse gods. After the flood, when the world’s population grew large again, the people got together and built the Tower of Babel—it says they were trying to build a tower to reach the heavens. You know what they were trying to do? They weren’t trying to go to heaven, they were trying to get all those old gods to come back—they wanted their old time religion, even if it was a terrible one.
But God had other plans. At the Tower of Babel He confused the languages and scattered the people all over the world—probably to put the brakes on their big idea of bringing back the old gods. Then He made a promise to a man named Abraham that He was gonna gather them all together again and bless them through Abraham’s children. His children became the kingdom of Israel. It was gonna be through these people that mankind would be reconnected to God.
So then we have the history of Abraham’s descendants, the people of God. When God did show up, his holiness would usually light up the world like a rocket re-entering from outer space. There’d be wind and fire—we usually call this the Glory of God. Glory is what happens when the holiness of God enters His creation.
Like when God showed up on Mt Sinai to talk to Moses and give the Ten Commandments — there was rushing wind and fire. Like when they built the Tabernacle and later the Temple—God’s presence showed up with thunderous wind and a pillar of fire that let everyone know His presence was there. Glory is what happens when God enters His creation.
We long for glory and transcendence. There’s something inside all of us that longs for that glory—that longs for transcendence. We’re gonna worship something. We’re spiritual creatures. We’re either gonna worship the One True God who created us, or we’re gonna worship sex, prosperity, or something to distract us from the emptiness and meaninglessness we’re left to on our own—which will lead us to slavery of one kind or another. Basically, we’ll either worship the true God, or a false god will be provided for us.
Our religion is whatever we believe will make us closer to God. What do you think makes you closer to God? Going to church? Doing certain things and not doing others? Your religion is whatever you think is gonna make you closer to God. Whether that’s typical Bible Belt fundamentalism—don’t drink, don’t chew, or go with girls who do. Or the new morality of reduce, reuse, recycle; totalitarian tolerance; and everything else the politically correct priesthood insists on. It’s all religion. Empty promises that are supposed to make us a better person. But any religion that promises we can get closer to God by acting a certain way is a false religion.
Most people think the Bible is filled with rules and Commandments that tell us what we have to do to make God happy. Like, if we just studied the Bible hard enough, we’d learn what He wants from us and everything would be great. We’d all go to heaven in a little row boat. But that’s not really what we find in the Bible. As we spend time in the Scriptures, we get story after story of men and women just messing everything up—a bunch of stubborn thick-headed scoundrels doing the worst things imaginable. But we also find hope, you can’t read the Bible without finding hope—we’re told over and over about a Messiah that would someday come to rescue His people. There’s definitely a light at the end but the story leading up to Jesus just keeps getting darker and darker. These people had the Word of God, they should have known better, but instead they just keep worshiping all the false religions and false gods—then at the darkest moment, the glory of God leaves the Temple, the Temple is destroyed and the people of God become slaves again. The righteous were gonna have to live by faith because things weren’t looking too good at the moment.
Eventually they rebuild the Temple but it’s nothing like the original—it’s a little dumpy and there’s definitely no pillar of fire showing the glory of God. The history of the world keeps turning—Babylon, Persia, The Greek Empire, The Roman Empire. When Jesus shows up in Bethlehem, Herod was just putting the finishing touches on the third Temple. It was massive and it was impressive, but there was still no glory, no wind and no fire.
They were pretty sure that if they built an amazing Temple He would come. They studied the Scriptures and tried to know everything about God. The religion of knowledge and intellectual pursuit. If we just know the right things then we’ll be right with God. But any religion that promises you can get right with God by studying all the right books and figuring it all out is a just another false religion.
God did finally show up at the Temple but it wasn’t the way anyone expected. A twelve-year-old boy named Jesus showed up one day and started schooling the religious leaders with His insights on the Word of God. He said the Temple was His Father’s house. When He was a grown man He let everyone know the Temple wasn’t really the Temple anymore—it wasn’t the location of the glory of God on earth anymore. He was. He was the Temple. And He said if they destroyed this Temple—His body—that He would rebuild it in three days. They didn’t get it, but He was talking about the cross and the resurrection. They understood later.
So don’t miss this: the Word of God became flesh and dwelt among us—the glory of God became a man. This is the most powerful religious moment in history. If religion is the way for man to be reconnected to God, if religion is the way that people get close to God—there’s never been a man that was closer to God than Jesus. The divine Son of God who took on flesh and became a human being. Jesus is the only true religion. When we’re connected to Him—by faith, by baptism, when we’re connected to Christ by believing in Him—which is what it means to be a Christian...
To be a Christian is to be connected to Jesus It means we’re connected to His life. We’re connected to His death—when He died on the cross, He became sin so that curse of sin could be lifted from us, He raised from the dead so we could have the promise of also raising from the dead when we die. He ascended back to heaven so we could be reconnected to God—so we can pray and worship. This is what I mean by “Jesus is the only true religion.”
And that brings us to Pentecost, the birth of the church. Remember the tongues of fire and the rushing wind? That was supposed to remind us of the glory of God—of Mt Sinai, of the presence of God in the Tabernacle and the Temple. Now every one of those believers with a small flame of fire over their head was a Temple of the Holy Spirit. A Temple with legs that could carry the presence of God anywhere in the world. A Temple with a mouth—each of those Christians were speaking in languages they didn’t know (that was supposed to remind us of the Tower of Babel being undone, reversed). Each of those Jesus followers were doing something amazingly and gloriously religious—they were connecting people to God by telling them about Jesus. This is the birth of the church—the people of God on the earth. We are the church. We’re a bunch of little Temples of the Holy Spirit. Temples to go. We’re supposed to connect people to God simply by sharing the Gospel with them. Religion to go.
The Gospel is the only true religion. The Gospel is how people are made right with God. The Gospel is how people can be closer to God. The Gospel of Jesus Christ is the only true religion in the world. This means two things: We have to know what the Gospel is and we have to know how to share it.
Sometimes people get hung up on the supernatural things in the Bible. Angels and demons and pillars of fire. The day of Pentecost in the 2nd Chapter of Acts had rushing wind and flames of fire and people speaking in tongues—a bunch of miraculous supernatural wonders. Miracles. Things that might be hard to believe for some people. I think the world is full of mysteries. I don’t doubt any of those things actually happened. Miracles happen. They’re rare, that’s why they’re called miracles, but they happen. But miracles are God’s job. We’re not supposed to go looking for signs and wonders—any religion that’s focused on seeing miracles happen, any religion that tries to force miracles in order to be closer to God, is a false religion. The church isn’t supposed to be in the business of faking miracles to drum up the faith of the gullible. Remember last week when we talked about how Jesus hates religious showoffs? If you think you got to have certain religious experiences: emotionally manipulative music and soul-stirring preaching or overly dramatic prayer services in order to be closer to God—you’re flirting dangerously with false religion. The only thing that makes us closer to God is the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Jesus is the only true religion.
So like I said, we all need to know the Gospel for ourselves—because we need to be made right with God. And every one of us oughta be able to explain the Gospel to other people. I think it’s the most important thing in the world. What good do you think these little Temples to go are if we can’t share the Gospel as we go? You are the presence of God in the world. You are the light of the world, the glory of God on the earth. You have the Spirit of God living inside you—every bit as much as those early Christians had tongues of fire floating over their heads. You are the presence of God in the world. You are the way people can be connected to God, and made right with God. You, my dear Christian friends, are the church. The hope for the world.
Pray this with me: Father in heaven, I confess that I need You. I have sinned against You by my thoughts, my words and the things I have done. I have not loved You. I have not loved others. For all these things I am deeply sorry. Forgive me for all this. Forgive me because of the promises offered in Jesus Christ. I believe His life, death, and resurrection are true—and that they are for me. I renounce the world, my old life, and all the lies of the devil, false gods and empty religion. I pledge myself to Jesus Christ who lives and reigns now and forever. AMEN.
This is our mission: Helping connect people to God through the mission of sharing the Gospel of Jesus Christ. So that’s what this church thing is all about. That’s why It’s very important that all followers of Jesus are part of a local church. To follow Jesus is to be a disciple—someone who’s learning from Jesus. Hearing God’s promises and believing them is only the beginning. We have a mission to do and we’re not supposed to do it alone. We’re supposed to be part of a local church—if you’re not baptized, ask about baptism, start every week with worship, study and meditate on the Word of God every day, pray throughout the day. Be ready to share all this with people who probably think they’re not into “organized religion.” That’s what NewChurch is all about—helping connect people to God through the mission of sharing the Gospel of Jesus Christ. That’s why we’re here, to look for opportunities to share this great promise with anyone who needs to hear it—at any time and in any place. Jesus is our only mission, and He is the only true religion. AMEN