This may surprise you but Jesus was more critical of religious people than He was of known sinners. He once told some uppity religious folk that crooks and hookers were making it into the Kingdom of God ahead of them. Then there was the time Jesus was invited to join a hyper religious group for dinner. It was held at the home of one pious Pharisee named Simon. The noses of these hoity-toity “men of the cloth” were high in the air when a woman of ill repute wandered onto the scene. No doubt you recall the story. Tears flooded from her face like Niagara Falls, and with those precious tears she washed the feet of Jesus. That’s not all she did. She dried our Lord’s feet with her hair then kissed and anointed them with fragrant oil. Now, this gal was more of a locker room legend than a religious person but Jesus was more pleased with her than all the clerics in the house. Listen to what He had to say to these snoots: “Her sins, which are many, are forgiven; for she loved much.” You see, this woman understood something that the religious elite would not dare admit about themselves – her sins were many. These pious sin patrolmen had no difficulty judging that poor, weeping harlot. They were even quite shocked that Jesus didn’t judge her saying, He must not be a prophet or else He wouldn’t let this woman near him! Yes, they judged the harlot and they judged Jesus. They judged everyone in the room but themselves. And that is one of the great dangers of religion – it makes you feel a notch above everyone else. You can spot sin on others but fail to see your own – which are many.
Once we recognize that our sins are many, we can unload them at the feet of Jesus just as the harlot did. Friend, He will pardon every last one. We will never fully fathom how much we have been forgiven this side of heaven, but once it hits you that you’ve been forgiven a whole lot, you will love Jesus a whole lot. That is where the Lord longs to bring us but, sadly, religion oftentimes gets in the way. Worse yet, it can lead us in the totally opposite direction. At least that is what David learned. After coming clean with his own sin he wrote:
“For thou desirest not sacrifice; else would I give it: thou delightest not in burnt offering. The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit: a broken and a contrite heart, O God, thou wilt not despise.” (Psalms 51:16-17)
I may be bursting a bubble or two but, this tells us that religion is worthless if our hearts can’t be broken over sin. The Lord will never despise a contrite heart but He is known to despise our vain attempts at being religious. Wasn’t that the whole point of the parable of the Publican and the Pharisee? Both went into the temple to pray. The publican beat on his chest while the Pharisee patted himself on the back. The publican grieved over his sin while the Pharisee tooted his religious horn. The publican came for mercy while the Pharisee came to receive praise. And we all know which of the two left the temple justified – the one which humbled himself; that lowly publican. The lesson is clear - religion doesn’t score us any points with God. If you really want to impress Him, fall on your face and admit that your sins are many.