RELIGION OR RELATION: Which was it?
“But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was upon him and by his wounds we are healed.”
After he was stripped, beaten, struck in the head and mocked, the Roman soldiers led Jesus towards Golgotha (the place of the Skull) to be crucified. Though faint from physical torture, Jesus gathered every ounce of strength left in his body and carried the heavy wood-beam on his shoulders as he made his way through the narrow and rugged paths to the place of execution. Crucifixion was the worst form of punishment that could be meted out to a person during his time. It is described as the “most cruel and barbarous form of death known to man…” Paul S. Taylor of Films for Christ described the ordeal:
“Jesus was physically exhausted and in danger of going into shock unless he received fluids (which he apparently did not). This is the man that the Roman soldiers tortured. Having previously been beaten by the Jews, it was now the Romans’ turn. The beatings administered by Roman soldiers are well known to be very bloody, leaving lacerations all over the body. Romans designed their whips to cut the flesh from their victim’s bodies. These beatings were designed to be painful to the extreme. It would also cause a fluid build-up around his lungs. In addition, a crown of thorns was forced into his scalp which was capable of severely irritating major nerves in his head, causing increasing and excruciating pain, as the hours wore on.”
Jesus was sentenced to die by crucifixion. The charge: blasphemy. The Jewish leaders – the Sadducees and Pharisees- connived and charged him with blasphemy for claiming to be “the Son of God.” For long hours Jesus hung on the cross, with only the nails on his hands and feet to support his weight. His blood gushed out of his body until only water was left. Jesus literally poured out his blood and life for his friends and even for his executioners. He was led out to dry, so to speak. Exhausted and weakened by the extreme physical pain and loss of blood, Jesus cried out the second time, “It is finished!” then bowed his head and gave up his spirit.
The birth and death of Jesus was never hidden from humanity. His birth was first told in Genesis 3:15, after Adam and Eve succumbed to the serpent’s deceit. The prophets in the Old Testament likewise repeatedly told the Israelites of the coming Messiah in Isaiah 7, 9 & 11, Daniel 2, Micah 5, Zechariah 9 & 13. What was obviously unexpected was how the promised savior would come. He neither chose to be born in a palace nor to have a queen for a mother. Instead Jesus opted to be raised by a simple Jewish girl married to a poor carpenter from Bethlehem and grew up in the infamous town of Nazareth in Galilee. But just as he said he would, Jesus rose from the dead three days later. He appeared to His disciples, to the women then to the men, and commissioned them to go to the ends of the earth to preach the gospel, the good news of salvation. The death of Jesus was not the end of his work, much less so, of God’s salvation plan. Jesus’ resurrection emboldened his disciples. They began to preach the message of salvation to both Jews and Gentiles. Their fervor later led to the birth of Christianity, and those who believed and lived the teachings of Christ later came to be known as Christians.
Christianity was never intended to be another religion. In fact, Jesus was born a Jew, raised as a Jew and observed Jewish religion. Never, during the time of his ministry, did he make any attempt to establish another one. However, Jesus often openly rebuked the Jewish religious leaders and the teachers of the Jewish laws for their hypocrisy. In Matthew 16:6 Jesus even warned his disciples to “Be on your guard against the yeast of the Pharisees and the Sadducees.” Several times he called the Pharisees and the teachers of the law hypocrites and pronounced “seven woes” on them in the gospel of Matthew. Such was the spiritual condition of the Jewish people during that time, made worse by their subjection to Rome. Hence, before Jesus ascended to heaven, he ordered his disciples to stay in Jerusalem until they had been baptized with the Holy Spirit. He knew before hand that what would ensue required more than human courage and wisdom. As Jesus’ followers spread out to the different cities and countries to preach the gospel, the Romans became less and less tolerant of the Christians. Soon the Romans were at their heels persecuting and killing believers. One of the main reasons first century Christians earned the wrath of Rome was their refusal to worship the Roman emperor.  Believers were either fed to the beasts, crucified or burned and made into human torches. It was not until Constantine the Great won over his rival Maxentius that persecutions were abolished and Christianity was accepted into Roman society. Constantine considered his victory providential and attributed it to the God of the Christians. History shows that he later converted to Christianity and made it Rome’s official religion. Thus, Christianity did not only gain wide acceptance but gradually became a formidable power and held influence over the affairs of the Roman Empire. Its increasing influence and popularity enticed many unbelievers (pagans) to jump on the bandwagon, their pagan practices subtly made their way into the Christian faith.
H. Wayne House, in his survey of world religions, was able to list down 14 major religions including Christianity. The earliest of which is Judaism dating back to 2100 BC when Abraham, by faith, obeyed God and moved from Haran to Canaan. Religion has been defined in so many ways by both the religious and even by self-confessed atheists like Karl Marx. For the purpose of this work, allow me to use Roland Robertson’s definition of religion as “… a distinction between an empirical and a super empirical, transcendent reality: the affairs of the empirical being subordinated in existence to the non-empirical.” This definition brings to the fore basic elements of a religion, that is, 1) the empirical or the natural beings – humans, 2) the existence of the divine- a being purported to be more superior than us 3) the existence of a “transcendent reality” or a world other than that which we now experience, or what we call spiritual world and, 4) that this divine being and spiritual realm is not only in existence but is also far greater than us and the world that is perceived by our senses. Put simply, religion is our attempt to understand the connection of the physical to the spiritual. Different religions have shown different ways of attaining spirituality and of knowing the divine being. But God is a sovereign God and unless this immortal God chooses to reveal Himself to us mortals we will never fully comprehend how the natural relates to the supernatural and vice versa. Religion that is centered on human traditions and hinges on human capacity can muddle and blur our vision of the truth. Likewise, religion that causes oppression and instills fear in people’s minds, other than the fear of God, is a counterfeit. Many religions and ideologies have been promoting complex systems of ideas, beliefs and practices depicting God in a variety of ways other than that which He has made Himself known.
Christianity has gone a long way since the time Jesus walked the earth and lived among us. Many times Christians have deviated from the path that Jesus Christ had drawn. But the Lord, in His mercy and love for humanity, has not allowed us to stray so far off the course. True to the words He said in John 10:11 “I am the good shepherd” Every now and then God raises people, men and women, who would bring His flock back to their original course, to where they are supposed to be. Christianity is more than a religion or a system of belief. It is about having a relationship with the living God through faith in His son, Jesus Christ. A person’s religious affiliation does not matter to God. Jesus made this clear during His ministry. He did not care whether a person was a Jew or a gentile. Moreover, He looked beyond people’s ages, genders, economic statuses, professions, political affiliations, etc. Jesus came for a more important and far better reason, that is, to set us free from the bondage of sin and to reconcile us to His Father. No religion, ritual or tradition is able to do this to any man or woman, young or old. God said every single one of us sinned (Romans 3:23). And it is only by grace that we can be saved “through faith – and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God – not by works so no one can boast.”Christianity is about hope for humankind. It is about drawing every man and woman, old or young, poor or rich, to an intimate relationship with the living God. The Bible says God wants us to seek Him, know Him and call upon Him and He will be found as He promised in Matthew 7:7. All we need to present before God is a contrite heart, our sincere repentance and acceptance of what His son Jesus Christ did for us on Calvary. For what will ultimately matter is whether or not we are in the right position with God, whether or not we are in a right relationship with Him. Religiosity does not lead to a relation with God. It is through the Lord Jesus Christ alone can we gain the RIGHT to call the Sovereign, Almighty God our “Abba” and to have Him call us “My Children.”
 J.D.Douglas and Merrill C. Tenney. NIV Compact Dictionary of the Bible. (Michigan: The Zondervan Corporation, 1989), 137.
 Paul S. Taylor. How did Jesus Christ Die? Films for Christ (2003), http://www.christiananswers.net/q-eden/jesusdeath.html.
 Matthew 26:64, NIV.
 John 19:30, NIV.
 Acts 1:4-5/NIV.
 Bruce L. Shelley. Church History in Plain Language, 2nd Ed.( Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers, ____), p.43.
 Ibid, 94.
 H. Wayne House. Charts of World Religions. (Michigan: Zondervan, 2006),p. 8.
 Ibid, 15.
 Ephesians 2:8-9