Relationship, Not Ritual

Zechariah 7 (NIV)

In the fourth year of King Darius, the word of the Lord came to Zechariah on the fourth day of the ninth month, the month of Kislev.The people of Bethel had sent Sharezer and Regem-Melek, together with their men, to entreat the Lord by asking the priests of the house of the Lord Almighty and the prophets, “Should I mourn and fast in the fifth month, as I have done for so many years?”
Then the word of the Lord Almighty came to me: “Ask all the people of the land and the priests, ‘When you fasted and mourned in the fifth and seventh months for the past seventy years, was it really for me that you fasted? And when you were eating and drinking, were you not just feasting for yourselves? Are these not the words the Lord proclaimed through the earlier prophets when Jerusalem and its surrounding towns were at rest and prosperous, and the Negev and the western foothills were settled?’”
And the word of the Lord came again to Zechariah: “This is what the Lord Almighty said: ‘Administer true justice; show mercy and compassion to one another. 10 Do not oppress the widow or the fatherless, the foreigner or the poor. Do not plot evil against each other.’
11 “But they refused to pay attention; stubbornly they turned their back sand covered their ears. 12 They made their hearts as hard as flint and would not listen to the law or to the words that the Lord Almighty had sent by his Spirit through the earlier prophets. So the Lord Almighty was very angry.
13 “‘When I called, they did not listen; so when they called, I would not listen,’ says the Lord Almighty. 14 ‘I scattered them with a whirlwind among all the nations, where they were strangers. The land they left behind them was so desolate that no one traveled through it. This is how they made the pleasant land desolate.’”

Empty religious rituals do not please the Lord Almighty. The people of Zechariah’s day were trying to figure out whether or not they should continue to observe a ritual fast. King Nebuchadnezzar of the Babylonians had burned the city of Bethel to the ground and the people there had observed a fast to commemorate it. They also observed a fast in the seventh month of the year to remember the murder of the regional governor. These fasts were not ones required by God, but were self-imposed instead.

But what does God really want from His people? False shows of piety and religion? Or does He desire something better? God wants our hearts to be near to Him, not our shows of religion. He wants a relationship with people. This cannot be manufactured by religiously following ritualistic rules. 

When we make our “religion” all about ourselves, we are really far away from what God really wants. James wrote in the New Testament that true religion is what Zechariah talks about here in chapter 7. James 1:26-27 (NIV) says:

Those who consider themselves religious and yet do not keep a tight rein on their tongues deceive themselves, and their religion is worthless. Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.

Faith is more about loving God by loving people than it is about keeping a set of human-imposed rules. You can avoid all of the “R”-rated movies and rock-n’-roll music and craft beers all you want, but if you don’t love God by loving people, your religious piety is really self-seeking. Do what you do in the name of the Lord Jesus because you love Jesus, not because you love your self-righteous piety.

PRAYER: Father in Heaven, I repent of my self-righteousness. I am unworthy of the sacrifice of Your Son, Jesus. I thank You that You loved the world so much that He came to die for us. May my trust be in You and may Your love fill me and motivate me to love others as You have loved me. In Jesus’ name, amen.


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