Relief from Oppression
Christless religion, in its many forms, has a common central feature: if you obey the regulations, you will be accepted. Some religious philosophies also seem to offer a balance of good versus bad, in which acceptance is achieved by doing more of what is good than bad. Jesus lived among people who believed that the people who followed the religious rules perfectly were most loved by God. Many tried to do that.
Their leaders seemed to specialise in inventing new ways to please God; but their rules became impossible burdens laid down by people who were obsessed with controlling others. They pointed their fingers at the people, making them slaves to unnecessary rules, while not lifting a finger to help them. So, Jesus pointed His finger at them in rebuke. He was distressed that the leaders seemed indifferent to the burdens they were loading onto others, without in any way coming alongside them and helping to lift the load.
By contrast, Jesus was there to help. He knew that nobody could get right with God by themselves; they needed a Saviour: that was His job. As Jesus said, in Matthew 11:28-30: "Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light." In the same way, each Christian must help others (Galatians 6:2).
That is what distinguishes faith in Christ from all other ways to God. No wonder that Jesus, when He is properly advertised, is such Good News. Where else do you hear of God coming to help weak, ignorant, oppressed, guilty, trapped sinners by becoming the sacrifice to atone for their sins, giving them eternal life? Jesus announced His mission in Luke 4:18-19: "The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to set the oppressed free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour." That is the person who has set us free to worship and serve Him! Surely then, we must announce Him to others and stop being judgemental about their behaviour (James 2:1-13). Without His help their hearts cannot be different: but with Christ, all things are possible (Mark 10:27).
© Dr Paul Adams