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Repurposing Religion

I have been reading John’s account of the death of Jesus. We rightly understand from scripture that the death of Jesus secured the eternal life of every person on the planet, past, present, and future; all we must do is believe in Jesus. This personal interpretation is correct, but it is not the only thing that the death and resurrection of Jesus was intended to accomplish.

John chapter 19:31-34 records (with a few sections emphasized):

Because the Jewish leaders did not want the bodies left on the crosses during the Sabbath, they asked Pilate to have the legs broken and the bodies taken down. 32 The soldiers therefore came and broke the legs of the first man who had been crucified with Jesus, and then those of the other. 33 But when they came to Jesus and found that he was already dead, they did not break his legs. 34 Instead, one of the soldiers pierced Jesus’ side with a spear, bringing a sudden flow of blood and water

Much of what happened in the death and resurrection of Jesus was to fulfill prophecies dating back centuries. John, who was there witnessing these events, went on to say:

36 These things happened so that the scripture would be fulfilled: "Not one of his bones will be broken," 37 and, as another scripture says, "They will look on the one they have pierced."

The prophet Zechariah was active from 520 to 518 BC. In chapter 12:10 of his book he makes this statement:

10 "And I will pour out on the house of David and the inhabitants of Jerusalem a spirit of grace and supplication. They will look on me, the one they have pierced, and they will mourn for him as one mourns for an only child, and grieve bitterly for him as one grieves for a firstborn son."

There is general agreement this is looking forward to the incident we just read about on the cross where the soldiers pierced the side of Jesus. Sticking with this theme, Zechariah indicates this piercing will lead to "a fountain" as he unpacks what will happen in the future in Zechariah chapter 13.

"On that day a fountain will be opened to the house of David and the inhabitants of Jerusalem, to cleanse them from sin and impurity. On that day, I will banish the names of the idols from the land, and they will be remembered no more," declares the Lord Almighty. "I will remove both the prophets and the spirit of impurity from the land."

Why would there be a biblical forecast about removing prophets? Clearly it was not an indictment of the role of prophets since Ephesians states that Christ gave some to be apostles, prophets, evangelists, teachers and pastors as gifts to his Body, the Church.

Jesus did not abolish "religion" but he did repurpose it--getting it back to its original intent. Zechariah points to a time when God will have had enough of religion. Perhaps the passage indicates a time when the Kingdom of God will break out of the box of Religion and encompass the Marketplace and business/work.

4 "On that day every prophet will be ashamed of their prophetic vision. They will not put on a prophet’s garment of hair in order to deceive. 5 Each will say, 'I am not a prophet. I am a farmer; the land has been my livelihood since my youth.'"

Zechariah could be warning us that anything can become merely a religion and lose its power. So, as I see it, a consequence of the death and resurrection of Jesus (and the specific reference here is the separated blood and water that flowed from his side) is the cleansing of Religion and a reinforcement of the extraordinary value of ordinary work. Instead of people saying, "I am a prophet… a religious big shot," they will say, "I am just a farmer, and I always have been." The pretension and fakeness of the religious world would be broken by Jesus and replaced with a simpler, more humble service. But beware: the danger of things becoming institutionalized is as true for "marketplace ministry" as it is for Christianity in general. Many years ago Dennis Peacocke said of the marketplace, "We are doing just enough to inoculate people, but not enough to transform them."

We live in an era when the numerical success of the mega-church, ministry, business or investment fund makes headlines. Have we forgotten that Jesus came to repurpose religious systems and redefine our definition of success? Have too many of us ended up in the wrong pond? Have we stuck with old religion and not embraced the essence of the cross to forsake old religion, to flow into the blood-purchased life of the Spirit? In today’s terms, are we stuck within the walls of the institutional church or our favorite marketplace organization and failing to make the shift to true kingdom living?

I have been on this work-life integration quest for over 40 years and, while there has been progress, many still view the world through the lens of religious tradition which tethers them to an old wineskin totally inappropriate for our generation. Institutions tenaciously clings to what gives them power and position. So I wonder, "If Jesus came to earth today would he find me clustered with the pharisees in the world of Religion, or living free and faithful among kingdom advancers?" 

"On that day … Each will say, 'I am not a prophet. I am a farmer; the land has been my livelihood since my youth.'"

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