February 13: The SystemSeries: Devotional
February 13: The System
Exodus 30–32; John 5:31–47; Song of Solomon 4:4–8
Religion is a tough subject. Jesus staunchly opposed religion for religion’s sake, yet He was a Law-abiding Jew. He recognized the value of worship, community, and discipleship, but not the value of religious constraints: religion can bind someone in tradition and be used for oppression. This knowledge makes it hard to understand why God set up religious systems in the first place. Their purpose is confusing.
In Exodus 30–31, there are full descriptions of altars, taxes, basins, oils, incense, and the Sabbath. In the middle of this, we’re given a glimpse into what it’s all about in a scene where God places His Spirit upon two men so that they may honor Him with a creative craft. They will depict, in art, what it means to know God. Here we get a glimpse into the symbolic work at play. God is not building religion for religion’s sake—He is building systems to help people understand Him. They’re meant to be used for the purpose of knowing Him and nothing else.
Religion is exploited in the narrative in the next chapter, where an impatient Aaron (the man meant to lead God’s people to Him) promotes the worship of another god. (The golden calf was a symbol of Baal, the chief god of a neighboring people group.) Here we are given another glimpse into something deeper, but this situation is not God’s will. We see what happens when people become impatient: they build their own systems, reaching out to something that can’t actually help them.
And this is precisely what we do when we sin. We seek our own way, our own system when instead we should be seeking God’s way and worshiping Him the way in which He has called us.
Jesus confronts this problem with religion. “Do not think that I will accuse you before the Father! The one who accuses you is Moses, in whom you have put your hope! For if you had believed Moses, you would believe me, for that one wrote about me. But if you do not believe that one’s writings, how will you believe my words?” (John 5:45–47). These words would have cut to the core of a highly religious, first-century Jew. Imagine someone claiming that the very way they worshiped and their very book of teachings actually testifies against them. Imagine losing the court case because the authority you appeal to is actually revealing the errors of your ways.
Just a few lines earlier, Jesus provides His reasoning for this statement: “I do not accept glory from people, but I know you, that you do not have the love of God in yourselves. I have come in my Father’s name, and you do not accept me” (John 5:41–42).
Jesus does not seek glory from a religious system—a system that both He and Paul acknowledge was failing because of people’s sinfulness and desires to exploit it. Instead, He’s in the business of relationships. We all have our failing systems, and they’re revealed as we seek Jesus. And when they’re revealed, we must let God work within us and our communities to destroy those systems. A creative act that leads to better worship, discipleship, or church is desirable, but an act that inhibits it must be destroyed.
What systems have you and your spiritual family built that are keeping you from fully entering into a relationship with Jesus?