Religion used to be nice, it’s not been so bad after all. At least, religion has always offered hope, a hope for God but the very unhelpful way of reaching God. Religion tries all the possibilities of human effort to reach God but it is usually coated with human error. Defining religion, James wrote that religion shouldn’t be the search for God, it shouldn’t be about fasting and prayer or about going to Church every Sunday. Good religion should be about reaching out to others with love, about helping the poor and speaking up for the voiceless… No more, no less. Let’s read the exact words of James 1:26-27
“Do any of you think you are religious? If you do not control your tongue, your religion is worthless and you deceive yourselves. What God the Father considers to be pure and genuine religion is this: to take care of orphans and widows in their suffering and to keep oneself from being corrupted by the world.”
What God considers pure religion isn’t the search for him but taking care of the helpless and not conforming to the patterns of this world. We will be discussing religion from the human perspective and not God’s perspective. Unfortunately, what we know as religion today is a kind of conformity to the things of the world. Thinking we can win God’s favour by praying and fasting is worldly, thinking we can win God’s favour just because of Church attendance is worldly. Religion today is usually about self, we baptize it with what looks like spirituality but it still ends up being about self.
God never asked us to search for him, throughout history, God has always been the one coming down to look for the man. We didn’t create God, he created us. Religion today is like focusing on a container but not the content, it is like adoring a nice cup when thirsty. Nice cup don’t quench thirst, it is the content of the cup that would quench thirst. No matter how much you lick a cup full of water, it will never quench your thirst. You would rather lose more fluid licking the cup. It is like a hungry man who got an apple and continued to admire and lick the apple! He will stay hungry as long as he isn’t eating the apple. There is little or no satisfaction in the form in which something is contained but in the content itself.
This is what religion does to a lot of people, they are very thirsty and hungry, they are looking at what will quench their thirst and hunger but they are carried away by the form in which it came and sometimes what they have may seem to quench their thirst but only momentarily. As a kid, I always loved to prepare Garri. I would mould it into a baby and we would admire the artistry. As much as it appeared lovely, we would remain hungry if we decided to keep the mould in a glass, preserve it and watch it every day! We were meant to eat it if we truly wanted to satisfy our hunger and not to admire the form it came in. It’s like adorning a cake because it came in the form of a car, cakes are meant to be eaten and the fulfilment is in the eating and not in the decoration.
We see a clear example of this in the transfiguration (Matthew 17:1-8). Peter suggested that a shrine be made for Abraham, Moses and Elijah but that wasn’t why the transfiguration happened! It would have become another religion, it would have become another ritual but Jesus came to destroy the very forms that have been limiting us from enjoying fellowship with God, the forms that we had esteemed above the main stuff. Jesus wanted us to enjoy a direct relationship with God rather than watch him from a veil, he wanted us to enjoy God’s presence rather than assume what his presence feels like. If we have to seek him on the mountain, it is religion, if we have to seek him for days, it is religion and it is a limitation! Jesus is our direct access to all of God, he is the scandal of religion, the new thing written in the book of prophets that would happen. When old things were said to pass away, religion, as we know it today, was one of it.
While men have always lived as though they were made for Sabbath (Matthew 12:1-8), Jesus came with a very different notion, making it clear that Sabbath was made for the man. Jesus is the rest that the Sabbath represented, when that rest came walking among them, they couldn’t recognise him because they were busy adoring the form and not the content. They were adoring an icon but couldn’t recognise the real thing it represented.
When you break a glass full of water, what gets destroyed is the glass and not the water! The water will spill from the glass, it may get evaporated and come back again as rain. Jesus said to the Samaritan woman (John 4:4-42) “whatever you guys have been searching for, you are looking at him!” Jesus used the metaphoric water of life to communicate with her. He was saying to her “you guys have always adored the vessels and forms but the time has come when people will access the content without any kind of restriction”. The Church Christ envisioned was the Church without walls, not another organised religion. Jesus was saying “with the cup, you can only take as much as it can carry… But you’ve got more than enough to fill you from the inside out, more than enough that you can swim in it!”
Religion limits us from how much of God we can access, it limits us with rules and regulations, with tithes, first fruits, circumcision and all manner of things. Imagine being told that God’s blessings to you are dependent on how much you were able to give, imagine being told that God’s acceptance of you depends on how good you are. As beautiful as religion was, it was never meant to last, it served its purpose and then the water couldn’t be contained in the cup, it ran over and even swept the cup off its feet! We need no man to grant us access to God, we have him inside of us and he has us inside of him. John wrote in 1 John 4:13
“This is how we know that we live in him and he in us: He has given us of his Spirit.”
This is bigger than what religion can offer! God has given us his Spirit as a seal of his presence in us and our presence in him… It is a relationship! Since we now have more than the content of the cup inside of us, we don’t need the cup again. If the water Jesus offers is that which quenches thirst forever, then there isn’t need for the cup! He said to the woman in John 4:13-14
“Everyone who drinks this water will be thirsty again, but whoever drinks the water I give them will never thirst. Indeed, the water I give them will become in them a spring of water welling up to eternal life.”
All the years of religion, people have remained hungry and thirsty! Here comes Jesus, offering permanent satisfaction!
In those days, Jews and the Samaritans argued where God’s presence was; whether it was the temple or the mountain but Jesus said to the woman of Samaria, “no need for that argument again, the worship of God has left the forms and God can only be worshipped in the Spirit and in the truth!” God’s presence had left those limitations to establish a relationship with people on a very personal level, in a way that all of God can dwell inside of us! When you drink of the living water, the cup becomes useless. This is how religion becomes useless to anyone who receives Jesus. Religion was a means people used to know if they could find God or please him but God came to us himself… Why still searching?
Jesus said, “I am the bread of life, anyone who eats me will hunger no more.” Jesus was simply saying “that bread label you’ve always admired, I am the bread! That cup you’ve always celebrated, I am the content! No need for the cup anymore since the content has been poured out to you!”
Religion celebrates the fancy cup, the material of the cup and it’s uniqueness but this cup cannot quench anyone’s thirst.
What Jesus offered us was way beyond mere water, the analogy of water and cup will not make so much sense if we forget to put the words of Jesus into consideration. He said “drink of me and you will never thirst again.” The cup becomes useful as long as we get thirsty but Jesus said he is the satisfaction we seek, when we drink of him we will never thirst again and there isn’t any need for the cup! We don’t need to preserve the cup, we don’t need to maintain the cup, all we have to do is stay grateful for the supply! The living water isn’t bound in cups, it’s a fountain that doesn’t run dry, you no longer need cup anytime you want more, you just let yourself be a bath in the fountain. God said in Jeremiah 2:13 NIV
“My people have committed two sins: They have forsaken me, the spring of living water, and have dug their own cisterns, broken cisterns that cannot hold water.”
Do you see that? Men are digging their own cistern in search for satisfaction and the quenching of thirst but God has always been available! Religion is like ignoring the spring waters beside you to dig the dry grounds for water!
God describes himself as the spring of living water, there is more to what the cup can hold. Jesus is the manifestation of this living water! Jesus is God’s way of saying “whatever the cup introduced to you, there is more to where it came from, come and quench your thirst forever!” Fishes don’t get thirsty because they live in the water! When we are found in Christ, we don’t get thirsty anymore! Concerning the overflow of this living water which marks the end of religion, the Bible says in Zechariah 14:8-9
“On that day living water will flow out from Jerusalem, half of it east to the Dead Sea and half of it west to the Mediterranean Sea, in summer and in winter. The Lord will be king over the whole earth. On that day there will be one Lord, and his name the only name.”
That day isn’t yet to come, it is here already! There is one Lord, the only way, truth and life. Jesus said, “no man comes to the Father except by me”. There isn’t any religion that can lead to God, Jesus is the way to God and aside from him, we will miss it!
It is the end of religion, a science beyond the science of men, a truth that cannot be contained in a container, truth that cannot be bound within the four walls of our denominations. The living water has flown out from Jerusalem, no more to be found in the temple but throughout the ends of the earth. The Bible tells us somewhere else of what this living water will do when it starts overflowing. Ezekiel wrote in Ezekiel 47:8,12
“This water flows toward the eastern region and goes down into the Arabah, where it enters the Dead Sea. When it empties into the sea, the salty water there becomes fresh. Fruit trees of all kinds will grow on both banks of the river. Their leaves will not wither, nor will their fruit fail. Every month they will bear a fruit because the water from the sanctuary flows to them. Their fruit will serve for food and their leaves for healing.”
This water is flowing today, we aren’t heading to the temple in Jerusalem, the water rather flowed from the temple to all parts of the world! Jesus is still calling us out of religion, he is saying “come unto me all who have been burdened with the stress of religion, the stress of wanting to find God; this is what you have been searching for, this is the rest you have always hoped for in religion. Come to me and you will have rest. It is no longer between you, Moses and the Prophets, it is only between you and God! Come and rest from fruitless works.”
The day Jesus died on the cross, religion died!