Tradition or God Work ?
Matthew 15:1-11,17-20 March 3 2013
In the centuries before Christ, Jewish sages (rabbis, teachers of the Law) had concentrated on applying O.T. Law to every aspect of Jewish life. Their goal was to “build a hedge” around the Law, explaining each command’s implications so thoroughly that no one would break it being unaware. This intent, motivated by deep respect for the Scriptures, seems commendable. But in fact it represented a dangerous approach to Scripture and created a legalistic attitude which in fact distorted the Law’s intent.JA”>Jesus draws attention to two flaws in the approach, which had been enthusiastically endorsed by the Pharisee party. First, tradition had taken on the authority of Scripture itself, so that in fact the “commandments of men” were often substituted for—and even contradicted—God’s commands. Second, in focusing on what man must do to keep the Law rather than on what God graciously does for man, the hearts of the legalists became cold. Religion became a matter of externals rather than of personal relationship. Jesus’ focus on people and on servanthood threatened the structure that tradition erected and so aroused the active hostility of the religious elite.
Possessions might be “devoted to God” but used by the owner as long as he or she lived. The “gift” was thus a legal fiction, that gave a person an excuse not to use his possessions to help a parent or other relative in need. In effect this interpretation of the O.T.’s teaching on vows allowed a person to “legally” subvert God’s intent when he called for His people to honor (respect, support, care for) parents.
The O.T. calls for believers to be ritually clean in order to approach God. Later the prophets applied the imagery to one’s moral as well as ritual condition. Here Jesus focuses on the moral, but shifts emphasis. It is not immoral acts that make a person unclean. It is an unclean heart that expresses itself in wicked and immoral acts. We don’t need to clean up our lives. We need to let God cleanse our heart. Then our lives will be clean.JA”>1.Jesus discourses about human traditions. (Matt. 15:1-11) JA”>Matt.15:1 Then the scribes and Pharisees who were from Jerusalem came to Jesus, saying, 2 “Why do Your disciples transgress the tradition of the elders? For they do not wash their hands when they eat bread.” JA”>3 He answered and said to them, “Why do you also transgress the commandment of God because of your tradition? 4 For God commanded, saying, ‘Honor your father and your mother’ mso-fareast-language:JA”>‘He who curses father or mother, let him be put to death.’ 5 But you say, ‘Whoever says to his father or mother, “Whatever profit you might have received from me or mother.’ Thus you have made the commandment of God of no effect by your tradition. 7 Hypocrites! Well did Isaiah prophesy about you, saying: mso-fareast-language:JA”>8 draw near to Me with their mouth, And honor Me with their mso-fareast-language:JA”> mso-bidi-font-family:Arial;mso-fareast-language:JA”> And in vain they worship Me, mso-fareast-language:JA”>Teaching Arial;mso-fareast-language:JA”>doctrines the commandments of men.’” JA”> Additions to God’s laws reflect upon his wisdom, as if he had left out something which was needed, and which man could supply; in one way or other they always lead men to disobey God. How thankful ought we to be for the written word of God! Never let us think that the religion of the Bible can be improved by any human addition, either in doctrine or practice. Our blessed Lord spoke of their traditions as inventions of their own, and pointed out one instance in which this was very clear, that of their transgressing the fifth commandment. When a parent’s wants called for assistance, they pleaded, that they had devoted to the temple all they could spare, even though they did not part with it, and therefore their parents must expect nothing from them. This was making the command of God of no effect. The doom of hypocrites is put in a little compass; “In vain do they worship me.” It will neither please God, nor profit themselves; they trust in vanity, and vanity will be their recompence.
(Matt.15:17-20)font-family:Times;mso-bidi-font-family:Times;mso-fareast-language:JA”> Matt. 15:17 Do you not yet understand that whatever enters the mouth goes into the stomach and is eliminated? 18 But those things which proceed out of the mouth come from the heart, and they defile a man. 19 For out of the heart proceed evil thoughts, murders, adulteries, fornications, thefts, false witness, blasphemies. 20 These are the things which defile a man, but to eat with unwashed hands does not defile a man.”
JA”>Christ shows that the defilement they ought to fear, was not from what entered their mouths as food, but from what came out of their mouths, which showed the wickedness of their hearts. Nothing will last in the soul but the regenerating graces of the Holy Spirit; and nothing should be admitted into the church but what is from above; therefore, whoever is offended by a plain, seasonable declaration of the truth, we should not be troubled at it. The disciples ask to be better taught as to this matter. Where a weak head doubts concerning any word of Christ, an upright heart and a willing mind seek for instruction. It is the heart that is desperately wicked, color:windowtext;mso-fareast-language:JA”> , for there is no sin in word or deed, which was not first in the heart. They all come out of the man, and are fruits of that wickedness which is in the heart, and is wrought there. When Christ teaches, he will show men the deceitfulness and wickedness of their own hearts; he will teach them to humble themselves, and to seek to be cleansed in the Fountain opened for sin and uncleanness.
SummaryJA”>Jesus’ miracles stimulate worship from His disciples . But they generate only hostile antagonism from His people’s religious leaders, who again challenge Christ on the basis of traditional interpretations of Old Testament Law . JA”>Jesus in turn challenges tradition, showing that the rabbis’ approach to Scripture has actually distorted and nullified God’s Word . “Cleanness” is no matter of ritual observance, but a matter of one’s heart . Again Matthew uses contrast. He tells the story of a pagan woman whose faith is rewarded and thus reveals the futility of the Pharisees’ legalistic approach to religion . The chapter ends with another story of contrast. While the Pharisees argue about the Law’s minutia, Jesus expresses God’s concern for human need by feeding thousands .