10. Beware of religious activities

The Jews rebuilt the Temple of God and dedicated it to Him as we've seen last week. They rejoiced and were glad that they had a Temple again to worship God in. Unfortunately the backsliding of the Jews continued. They never truly worshiped God as they were supposed to. They never truly loved Him and Him alone with all of their hearts. God became 'quiet' and didn't speak to them for 400 years. The gap between the last prophet in the Bible, 'Malachi' and when Jesus came was about 400 years. No recording of any interaction between God and the Jews were accounted for in the Bible.

Now as far as the Temple is concerned, the Jews continued with their sacrifices. The Pharisees made sure of that. But it was empty and hollow, it was simply rituals. Their hearts were far away from God. The sacrifices were more a display of power by the Pharisees as well as a way to make money. The whole Temple area and everything it entailed was more about the pride and the political status of the religious leaders of the day, than about God.

That is why Jesus became so angry at the Temple:

"When He had made a whip of cords, He drove them all out of the Temple, with the sheep and the oxen, and poured out the changers' money and overturned the tables. And He said to those who sold doves, "Take these things away! Do not make My Father's house a house of merchandise!" John 2:15, 16

Jesus knew what they were doing, He knew their hearts were hardened and that made Him very angry. Instead of the sacrifices at the Temple drawing them closer to God, it drove them further away.

"You do not delight in burnt offerings. The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit, a broken and contrite heart." Psalm 51:16, 17

God wanted them to have a change of heart. He wanted them to reach out to Him, repent of their sin and draw near to Him. But at this moment, it was just a ritual to them, just a way to display power and to make money. It was so sad and it made Jesus very angry.

Today we must also beware of rituals. Religious rituals without the substance of drawing us closer to God are empty and worthless. Beware of getting trapped into rituals without really focusing on what you are doing. For example it has happened in churches that I attended that they call out a fast for example. And they play on your emotions to join them, but for most it will only be a ritual. They will merely go through the motions without truly focusing on God. Or how many times have you prayed a rhyme before you eat without even truly thinking of what you are saying? It is merely a ritual, something you have been doing from childhood.

God doesn't want us to become trapped in religious activities. Of course it is great to pray before you eat and it is wonderful to fast, but if you are simply going through the motions, you are lukewarm and God doesn't want lukewarm Christians. I have fallen into this trap a number of times, only to feel empty inside and hating every minute of the fast. I have also prayed before I eat without even thinking about it, numerous times! And at the end, I feel sad and far away from God.

God wants US. Our actions will flow once we live in His presence. But first and foremost, He wants us close to Him. Only then will we start to do the things He wants us to do. He wants us to do good and to reach out to others, but make sure that He leads you and helps you on your way. In your own strength you might just burn out and hate all the 'good work' that you are doing for Him. Or even worse, expect from Him to bless you because of all the 'good work' that you have done….. It is not about you, but about Him and glorifying Him at all times! It is about drawing close to Him and walking in His love.

Father, we are sorry that we get trapped in religious activities. You only want our hearts. Lead us into all Your ways and show us the way to walk. Teach us how to walk in Your footsteps. We desire to make You proud of us. Amen

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