3. Jesus hates religion because religion seeks the wrong goal
God is not the goal of religion, but rather a means to an end. When you’re in religion, you use God to get what you’re really after.
I recently heard someone talk about idolatry and distinguish between “near idols” and “far idols”. Far idols are the things we’re really after, things we consider ultimate. Near idols are the things we consume and worship to get us to our far idol (what we’re really after). So an example might be that our far idol is comfort and the near idol we use to get us there is food. So a person might abuse food and eat in unhealthy ways to get comfort. Or our far idol might be pleasure or acceptance, and the near idol to get us there might be sex.
Here’s the twisted, perverted, disgusting thing about religion. Religion will actually take God and make Him a near idol to get what we’re really after. In Matthew 23, Jesus rails on the Pharisees because they’re using God to get human applause and human approval. Their goal is celebrity status, fame, and human recognition. God is just a means to get them there. It’s not too different for us either. Maybe it’s health or wealth or success or a relationship. But whatever our far idols are, religion uses God to get us there. And here’s the kicker. When life doesn’t work that way, when you don’t get your idol; when you get sickness instead of health or lose your job instead of wealth or failure instead of success or loneliness instead of a relationship, you bail on God because you were never in this for Him anyway. Suffering and sadness always kicks the feet out from under religion and leaves you disappointed and disillusioned.
The Gospel is altogether different. The Gospel says, God is your goal. Jesus is your treasure, your great reward, and your portion forever. The Gospel gives you Jesus. That’s it. And you’re as happy as can be cause He’s exactly what you want!