O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it! How often would I have gathered your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you would not! (Matthew 23:37 ESV)
In an age of postmodernism and relativism, it seems almost passé to talk about ‘false’ religion. The postmodern way of thinking about religion is either 1) all religions are in some way valid for their adherents, or 2) all religions are hogwash (which itself is a ‘religious’ belief). It’s no longer valid to argue that one religion is true and the others are false; that is seen as being intolerant, which as we all know is the ‘unforgiveable’ sin of our day.
Yet, false religion is dangerous, very dangerous. False relgion leads people away from the true religion and damns them as much as rejecting all religion and living a life of unrepentant sin. Worse still are those false relgions which cloak themselves with enough truth to appear to be the true religion; a lie that is mostly true is more believable than blatant, bald faced lies.
In Matthew 23, Jesus pronounces seven woes (proclamations of judgment) on the scribes and Pharisees. The scribes and Pharisees were the religious leaders of the day in Jerusalem. They were the ones whom the people looked to for guidance and wisdom. Yet Jesus, in his Sermon on the Mount, tells his disciples that their righteousness must EXCEED that of the Pharisees if they wanted to enter the Kingdom of Heaven. For all their religious fastidiousness, they were on the broad road that leads to destruction. Worse still, they were leading the people along that road as well. They were the blind guides leading the blind.
In these woes, Jesus condemns the religious hypocrisy of the scribes and Pharisees. They exalted themselves to receive glory and honor from men. They sought to make converts to their perverted religion. They made oaths with loopholes. They obsessed over minor religious details, but neglected weightier issues of justice, mercy and faithfulness. They were consumed with their outward appearance of morality, but harbored all kinds of sin in their hearts. They were the religious descendants of those who killed the prophets of old, and they were repeating their sin with Jesus. They were self-righteous hypocrites who were leading the people into self-righteous hypocrisy.
After pronouncing his woes on the Pharisees, he laments over Jerusalem. This is a verse that is largely misunderstood. It’s usually understood as a proof text to show how Jesus (and God) lament over sinners who will not turn to Jesus for salvation. However, given the context, it is clear that when Jesus laments over Jerusalem, he is using the term ‘Jerusalem’ as representative of the religious leadership. It would be the same as lamenting over Washington as symbolic of political leadership of the United States.
Jesus came as the long awaited Messiah promised in the Sctiptures bringing the Kingdom of God to earth. Jesus came to liberate his people, but the yoke of the Pharisees binds them to a system of false religion. The power of the Pharisees lies in their religious subjugation of the people. Jesus comes to overthrow that system of false religion, but the Pharisees sought to hold onto their power by silencing Jesus.
The good news is that the death of Jesus, far from ending Christiantiy, gave birth to it and empowers it. It is in the death of Christ that we who believe have full atonement for our sins before a holy God. It is in the resurrection of Jesus that we have justification and the promise of life eternal. Judgment came on Jerusalem in 70 AD, when the Roman legions sacked the city and razed the temple to the ground. Jesus was the fulfillment of the old covenant, and to hold on to the old ways once the new has arrived is to follow a false religion. When Jesus returns at the end of this age, he will do away with all false religion and establish his eternal kingdom here on a renewed earth.
Soli Deo Gloria!