Thursday, December 13, 2012

The Traditions of Men

Then Pharisees and scribes came to Jesus from Jerusalem and said, "Why do your disciples break the tradition of the elders? For they do not wash their hands when they eat." He answered them, "And why do you break the commandment of God for the sake of your tradition? For God commanded, "Honor your father and your mother," and, "Whoever reviles father or mother must surely die." But you say, "If anyone tells his father or his mother, "What you would have gained from me is given to God," he need not honor his father." So for the sake of your tradition you have made void the word of God. You hypocrites! Well did Isaiah prophesy of you, when he said: ""This people honors me with their lips, but their heart is far from me; in vain do they worship me, teaching as doctrines the commandments of men."" (Matthew 15:1-9 ESV)

Jesus has no problem telling it like it is. 

"for the sake of your tradition you have made void the word of God."

What's a Tradition?

Traditions in this context is describing a set of beliefs and values that are passed down from generation to generation. Each generation has an obligation and privilege of passing on to the next what they esteem to be most important, most valuable. The passing down of traditions is a means of preserving values and beliefs with respect to many things, including culture, family, and faith.  They are like containers, that encapsulate what we think is most important for the next generation to believe and to do. 

So traditions in and of themselves are neither good or bad because they are just containers. It's the things we put inside the container, the things that a given tradition is comprised of that, when measured against an objective moral standard, are determined to be good or bad. 

It's What's On The Inside That Counts

In this interaction, Jesus is making it clear that the objective moral standard for determining if a tradition is good or not is the commandments of God- the Bible.  And this is the very basis for which he uses to judge the teachings of the religious teachers of his day. 

The scribes and pharasies were teaching a tradition with respect to children giving honor to their parents. It is a good thing to give a tradition that instructs how children should think of and interact with their parents. But if that tradition violates the teaching of the objective moral standard, then that teaching is determined to be a bad tradition. 

So seems simple enough right? Bad traditions are bad, and since no one wants to pass on something that is bad to others who we esteem, then why anyone ever pass on a bad tradition? It is for the same reason that Jesus came and gave his life: our sin. 

The Problem

As the saying goes, we are not sinners because we sin, rather we sin because we are sinners. We like to do what We like to do. We rely heavily on emotion, on what "feels" right to us, and because we are absolutely convinced that we know best, we close our minds to all other supposed authorities and do what we want to do, because we want to do it, because it makes sense to Us. 

It is because we are sinners that we look at the bible and say, "hey God thanks for the advice, but I don't really like what you have to say about "x". I think your teachings are a little dated; your ideas may have been good back then, but not in the 21st century. We really know better now, and are going to make sure that the next generation knows better like us too."

The Rebuke

And the rebuke of Jesus is to the heart of the issue: since your tradition is so good, and God's is so unuseful/irrelevant/whatever, then why do you continue to bother with all the worship and praise for God and his word? Jesus is rebuking them for two things: their blatant hypocrisy, and their blindness of heart, their ignorance, as they are the teachers of the Law and are unable to discern that they are teaching traditions that nullify the word of God. 

"for the sake of your tradition you have made void the word of God."

So what?

A couple of key takeaway applications:
  1. The scribes and pharasies were not perfect. They were sinners just like you and me. They needed a savior just like everyone else. So be careful to not judge them for their sin without also judging yourself for doing the same things. 
  2. Apart from the work of the Holy Spirit in our lives and illuminating His Word when we read it, we too are capable of inventing all sorts of ill advised traditions that would contradict the word of God. We need The Lord to illuminate his word in our lives daily, moment by moment, or we too will be like blind guides. 
  3. Pray. Pray that God would reveal our sin in this area so that we would confess it and repent from it. When God reveals the hypocrisy in our lives, adn the things that we have believed in ignorance, then acknowledge it, confess it as sin, and stop doing it. Otherwise we too will continue in the sin of the scribes and pharasies by passing on the commandments of men as doctrine, above the Word of God. 
What other points or takeaways do you have from this passage?

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