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This is a sermon by Peter Birnie from the Riverside Church service on 7th November 2021.

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Mark 2 v 13-17 “Religion is hopeless, Jesus is hope”


(Slide 1) There is a very old movie called “The Third Man” and the story centres around a criminal called Harry Lime who makes his money by stealing Penicillin from military hospitals, diluting it and then selling it on the black market. In a particularly hard scene in the film, people who are close to Harry Lime go to a hospital ward where they see children who are crippled or dying of meningitis as a result of being treated with Harry Lime’s diluted Penicillin. What was supposed to make these kids better instead damaged them – it looked like the right medicine but it led to disaster.


(Slide 2) In Mark chapter 2, Jesus is walking the shore of the sea of Galilee – if you had been in that place around 2000 years ago, you could have been one of the people following him. As he is walking it is almost as if he has a set of hospital scrubs on and a stethoscope around his neck. Dr Jesus is at work; he is telling people that he has brilliant news full of hope for them, he is healing people’s diseases and he is even forgiving people’s sins. The crowds of people who were taking notice of Jesus fell into 2 main groups.


(Slide 3) A lot of people realised they needed what Jesus was offering, they realised they were sick in God’s eyes and so they were delighted to hear what he had to say.

But there was also a group of very religious people who were growing more and more suspicious of Jesus as they listened to and watched him. As far as they were concerned, they already had everything they need, they certainly weren’t like the rabble all around them and so they definitely didn’t need what Jesus was offering. 

But what is so sad about this is that these religious people, these ‘good people’ in the eyes of the world were just as sick as everyone else, they just didn’t realise it. And the reason they didn’t realise it is because the medicine they were taking, called religion (Slide 4), looks quite like the real stuff, called salvation, but religion doesn’t work. Taking religion as your medicine and hoping it will cure the problem of sin is hopeless, it is even worse than taking diluted penicillin and hoping to get better. Giving religion to your loved ones as medicine would be a terrible thing to do. All people need the medicine of salvation that only Jesus offers.


  • Religion is a rotten medicine that seperates people from Jesus

(Slide 5) Mark chapter 2 allows us to compare the hopeless medicine of religion with the certain hope of Salvation that Jesus brings (get 2 kids up to hold). The religious people (called teachers of the law and Pharisees in this bit of the bible) grow to hate Jesus more and more through the gospel accounts. They are the people who will eventually arrange for Jesus to be arrested, who will ensure he gets condemned, and who will see this innocent man die a terrible death. 

But even already, here in Mark 2, really near the start of Jesus’ public ministry, we get to see their disgust and judgementalism as Jesus first of all calls a tax collector to follow him and then far worse, as Jesus goes to this guy’s house and eats with lots of his dubious friends. “Why does he eat with tax collectors and sinners?” What is their problem here? This is what religion does to people. It does it all round the world even today. It sets up some rules and practices that if you follow, make you better than other people. The Pharisees hated tax collectors (because they worked alongside the occupying Romans in the land) and so were filled with judgement on them – why would a teacher spend time with such terrible people?


The medicine of religion feeds people’s pride because religion is essentially one big competition. I am sure you have heard that saying before that if you are with a group of people in the woods and a bear attacks you, you don’t have to run faster than the bear, you just have to run faster than the slowest person in your group. That is the essence of religion – you don’t actually have to perfect, you just have to look better than a significant group of other people and then surely God will favour you. This type of religion isn’t limited to church-goers or mosque-goers, or temple-goers. You might not be involved in an organised religion, but everyone worships things, everyone holds certain things up in their lives as more important than anything else, as worth more attention and devotion than anything else.

People are very good at inventing their own brand of religion, whether that is your own little family, your achievements at work, your devotion to environmentalism or health and fitness and so on. We set up our own rules, we follow them (most of the time anyway, except when they don’t suit us) and then we can look down at other people and we can comfort ourselves with the thought that ‘if there was a god, then I definitely would be in the good half of people’ so whatever happens I am fine! We deal with the guilt that we all feel from time to time with the idea that ‘at least I am not as bad as them’. We are all prone to being like the Pharisees.     

Religion, goodness, morality is a medicine that the Pharisees were convinced worked and it is the medicine that most human beings still take every day. But this is so sad and so catastrophic – the consequences of it are like the hospital ward we heard of in that movie at the start or more starkly, they are like an ITU ward full of young men who wouldn’t take the jab because they thought their own healthy habits would be enough.

Religion is hopeless because there is something wrong with every human heart that we cannot fix ourselves. The bible calls it sin – we have turned away from God and we are going our own way, every one of us. We are all sick. And religion, rather than actually treating this problem of sin, instead forces you to try to achieve more and more and more. It makes you competitive with other people, it makes you proud or yourself, it makes you judgemental of other people and it leads to hatred.

Rather than changing your heart, religion makes your heart sicker. And it is a sickness that ends with death. These moralistic, religious Pharisees who would have been really looked up to in their day, who probably would have lived in Welwyn and Compass Road, and the ghost estate and Greenacres, these were the men who got Jesus murdered. Religion led to the cross of Jesus Christ. Religion always leads to death and the bible warns us that if we rely on our own medicine in this life we will miss out on the eternal life that he offers.   


           2. Jesus is a wonderful medicine that brings people close to God

This is why our memory verse is such good news for all of us sitting here. Jesus says he came to call sinners. He came for the people who realise they are sick and realise that he is the medicine! Religion is completely hopeless but Jesus is HOPE. And he is a particular kind of hope – CERTAIN HOPE.

(Slide 6) While religion produces hatred, Jesus is utterly compassionate – look who he talks with and eats with – people who need him so much. Religion leads to people judging one another, Jesus offers the worst of sinners forgiveness. Religion allows people to (wrongly) feel very proud of themselves but Jesus is utterly humble and those who come to him are people who admit their own sin and failure. Religion gets people competing with one another but Jesus cares for people who don’t deserve his attention and love.

(Slide 7) But here is one thing both of these bottles have in common – they both led to the cross of Jesus Christ. The medicine of religion led to the cross of Jesus Christ because that’s what happens when we turn against God, the outcome is death. That bottle is full of hate and led people to killing the God who came to save them. But the medicine of salvation is full of the love of God and so it also leads straight to the cross of Jesus Christ. Except there, because Jesus paid for sin and took our punishment upon him, the outcome is life for any sick people who would listen to Jesus’ call. And lots of people over thousands of years have done just that. You are offered Jesus’ call today.


Do you want to change? You can’t. But you can be changed. Come to Jesus today and ask him for the medicine he offers you. Jesus is in the business of changing people. But not so they can have a slightly better life, or feel a bit less stressed, or be a bit spiritual, or so that their children can meet some nice people etc Jesus changes people so that the whole direction of their life is turned around. They used to live for themselves and now they live for God. They used to follow their own feelings and decisions and now they follow Jesus. They used to be very ill because of sin but now they have the medicine they need and they are being changed by the God who has saved them.




(Slide 8) This is why we in Christ Church Riverside love being part of the church family. God’s word has told us an amazing truth; that if we come to Jesus and admit our sickness and sin then, “we don’t need to try to make salvation happen by moral effort or liturgical performance or even having wretched thoughts about our sins. That God loves us and has saved us is as sure as the sky is blue. Who does Jesus offer this hope to? Lets have the J Club kids up again and finish with our memory verse;


On hearing this, Jesus said to them, “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.””

Home Group Questions on Mark 2 v 13-17


1) Where in these verses are the fruits of dead religion seen in the Pharisees lives? Where do we see these sort of consequences in us and in the world?



2) How does Jesus’ actions and words contrast with the Pharisees? Why should this make us eager to share the gospel with our loved ones?



3) Can you see evidence of compassion, forgiveness, humility and care in your life and in the life of the church family? How can we live differently as a result of this passage of scripture?

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