How different the kingdom of God is to religion

In Luke 15:3-10 Jesus tells the stories of the lost sheep and the lost coin. In context it’s his answer to the Pharisees criticizing him for happily mixing with tax collectors and “sinners,” verse 2. “But so what if I’m mixing with these people,” is Jesus’ basic reply, “when we’re talking about the lost being found,” verse 31, and sinners repenting (verse 10).

What’s interesting here is that people who were viewed as rejects by the religious leaders were very happy listening to what Jesus had to say (verse 1). Which isn’t surprising, because he willingly welcomed them to chat with him and eat together (verse 2). He valued their company, no matter what their profession, or their weaknesses, or their odd ideas.

And it was that approach he took with people that made them like him, trust him, and figure that such a nice man must have a nice brain with good things to say too. So they willingly sat with him to hear him out. 

That obviously wasn’t the approach the Pharisees and teachers had taken, though, because people were sitting and eating with Jesus, and not with them. Which is probably for the good, because the Pharisees’ reason for living and the reason for their religion was a real turn off, because they weren’t concerned for people at all. And this is what Jesus is exposing here. Jesus uses the deep desire of a shepherd to recover a lost sheep – and the frantic search by a woman for a lost coin and wanting friends and family to share their joy at finding what they’d lost – to show what the Pharisees were totally lacking in their lives. They simply wanted people converted to their religious ideals, and gaining power and money in the process.

And when people didn’t fit in with their ideals they either tried to force them to comply, or they isolated and marginalized them. They weren’t the least bit interested in trying to help people feel valued or worth even talking to. It was a horribly arrogant approach to people, and it was unsettling too, because if you wandered off like a wayward sheep and got into trouble the Pharisees wouldn’t come looking for you, because they didn’t care.   

So I have to wonder what my version of Christianity has done to me. Has it made me so disdainful of certain people that it won’t let me value them, or want to help them? If it has then what hope have I got of helping them repent of some obvious sin or weakness they have, or want to look into Christianity, or want to gather round to listen to what I have to say? But the Pharisees were so wrapped up in their religious ideals and how superior their religion made them feel, that they couldn’t see that. 

So now we look at the state of the nation because of their attitude. It made hundreds of people follow Jesus wherever he went, and for a whole section of the nation to seek him out. Which meant that these people were turning to God, not through religion, take note, but through a man with God’s heart. And what a lovely picture of God’s heart it was, illustrated in Jesus’ stories of a shepherd dropping everything to go find a silly sheep that thought it knew better, and then happily carrying its exhausted body on his shoulders back to the comfort and protection of the flock. Or like the woman looking everywhere for that lost coin and wanting to share her utter joy with friends when she found it. This was so different to what religious people were like. 

But it was supposed to be different because this was the kingdom of God in operation, the driving force of which is a Father who loves his children so much he sent his Son to go search us out, get us out of our tangles, and help our exhausted, battered minds and bodies recover in the company of his church, where we find a huge welcome and rejoicing that we’re there with them. The lost has been found, and now we can be bandaged up and made to feel we totally belong as an equal too.     

Three things came to mind from Luke 15, then: first, that the kingdom of God Jesus came to announce is very different to religion in its attitude toward people. Second, that it’s the meek who inherit the earth, or the meek who’ll be the ones ruling in the kingdom of God in the future, because they care for people and that’s God’s heart. And thirdly, a question, as to how this picture of God stopping everything to go save the lost ties in with the Christian idea that God will throw sinners and rejects into hell to burn forever.

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