TRADITION!!!

In Which Mike & Dave preach together.

Written by David Steltz on .

Notes

Gooooooooooooood morning!

Welcome to Bible Time with Mike & Dave!

Glad you could join us for this exciting episode, in which we dive into MATTHEW CHAPTER 15!

Are you ready?

LET’S GOOOOOO!!!!!!!

Passage

Matthew 15:1–9 CSB
1 Then Jesus was approached by Pharisees and scribes from Jerusalem, who asked, 2 “Why do your disciples break the tradition of the elders? For they don’t wash their hands when they eat.” 3 He answered them, “Why do you break God’s commandment because of your tradition? 4 For God said: Honor your father and your mother; and, Whoever speaks evil of father or mother must be put to death. 5 But you say, ‘Whoever tells his father or mother, “Whatever benefit you might have received from me is a gift committed to the temple,” 6 he does not have to honor his father.’ In this way, you have nullified the word of God because of your tradition. 7 Hypocrites! Isaiah prophesied correctly about you when he said: 8 This people honors me with their lips, but their heart is far from me. 9 They worship me in vain, teaching as doctrines human commands.”

TRADITION!

Is anyone familiar with the play and/or film Fiddler on the Roof?

It’s a classic love story, set within and around a Jewish community living in early 20th century Ukraine, then part of Imperialist Russia. I can’t help but think of the opening scene, and the iconic song they sing about their tradition and how important it is to them.

Much like the central character Tevye, the scribes and Pharisees in Matthew are terribly concerned with TRADITION! They ask Jesus why his disciples break the tradition of the elders. Specifically, they are referring to a tradition of hand washing.

Note: the detail that these leaders were specifically from Jerusalem meant that they likely carried the highest level of influence and authority. Jerusalem was the location of the Temple and seat of authority in Jewish culture. In the US, it would be like saying “Some authorities from Washington...”

So, what exactly is this hand washing tradition they’re referring to?

The Mishnah devotes an entire tractate [chapter] of Jewish law to a discussion on how the hands should be washed. Good Jews were expected to perform ritual hand washing before, during, and after each meal. A person would first pour water over his hands with the fingers pointing up and with the water reaching the wrist, then he would point the fingers down and pour the water again, this time allowing the water to drip off the fingers. If one mixed up this order or poured the water both times with the hands pointed down or up, the hands were still ritually unclean. Each hand had to be rubbed with the other, but this could not be done until the other hand was clean. To neglect the first or third washing was considered a serious sin, possibly a deadly one. Such washing was not prescribed by OT law, but was a tradition passed down to first-century Jews by their elders. Many teachers gave these human traditions an authority equal to that of OT commandments.

Stein, R. H. (2017). Differences in the Gospels. In E. A. Blum & T. Wax (Eds.), CSB Study Bible: Notes (p. 1526). Holman Bible Publishers.

To give you an idea of how long this “tractate” or “chapter” of the mishnah is, I pulled up my English translation of it, and put just this tractate into my sermon software to see how long it would take to read through it.

Exactly 30 minutes!

30 straight minutes of reading JUST rules for hand washing. Man-made rules.

Here’s just a small sample: 

The Mishnah Yadayim
The water in which the baker dips loaves of fine bread is unfit.
B      And when he rinses his hands in it, it is fit.
C      All are fit to pour water on hands, even a deaf-mute, an imbecile, or a minor.
D      One places the jar between his knees and pours [out water on his hands].
E      One sets the jar on its side and pours [out water].
F      And the ape pours water for hands.
G      R. Yose declares unfit in these two cases.
2:1
A      [If] one poured water for one hand with a single rinsing, his hand is clean.
B      [If he poured water] for two hands with a single rinsing—
C      R. Meir declares unclean unless he will pour a quarter-log [of water].
D      [If] a loaf of heave offering fell [on the water a quarter-log in quantity which has been poured on the hands in a single rinsing], it is clean.
E      R. Yose declares unclean.

[MIKE: wow, most of that makes no sense me!]

Right!?!? And that’s kind of the point. A big part of that is just the language and cultural difference, but still…listening to thirty minutes of rules just about hand-washing that are this tedious just seems absurd!

To temper that sentiment, we’ve mentioned this many times before, but it’s good to remember that although we can recognize this as unnecessarily legalistic, the mishnah, human law, was born out of genuine intentions to systematically teach and follow torah, God’s law. The mishnah was an oral tradition for practicing torah obedience. So, do disobey mishnah, in their minds, was essentially the same as disobeying torah! And disobeying torah was disobeying God.

Note: it would not have yet been known as mishnah in Jesus’s time. They simply refer to it as “the tradition of the elders,” because their oral tradition was not compiled into the official, written mishnah until the second century!

The torah DOES have some laws regarding ritual washing, but they are specifically for priests performing rituals in the temple, or after coming in contact with something unclean (Ex 30:18-21, Lev 22:4-7) Never does it demand hand washing even before every meal, let alone during and after!

**

ASK: have you ever wondered how a teaching like that could get so out of hand?

**

IF you consider that the entire nation was to be a “kingdom of priests” it is possible to see how the hand washing got carried over to the people:

Exodus 19:6 CSB
6 and you will be my kingdom of priests and my holy nation.’ These are the words that you are to say to the Israelites.”

If all the people are to be priests then all should be concerned with purity, which then leads from one law to another to another. 

This is the way that MOST legalism and church traditions begin. They have a good core, but can spiral out of control until they overshadow the meaning of the law. 

Jesus confronted this previously with his “you have heard it said” statements in Matthew 5 - the sermon on the hill. 

**

That’s a great point, Mike!

If you read this account in Mark’s gospel, you get a little more insight into their devotion to their traditions:

Mark 7:3–4 CSB
3 (For the Pharisees and all the Jews do not eat unless they give their hands a ceremonial washing, keeping the tradition of the elders. 4 When they come from the marketplace, they do not eat unless they have washed. And there are many other customs they have received and keep, like the washing of cups, pitchers, kettles, and dining couches.)

I guess you could say they were “religious” about washing their hands, and expected others to be the same way. 

Jesus’s Response

Jesus, in typical Jesus fashion, does not quite answer their question directly, does he? He answers, initially, with a counter-question. Later on he will circle back to answering the question more directly, but for now he focuses on turning the spotlight around, shifting the focus of condemnation back to his accusers.

Matthew 15:3 CSB
3 He answered them, “Why do you break God’s commandment because of your tradition?

Honor Your Parents

He turns around and accuses them of breaking something worse than just the tradition of the elders, he accuses them of breaking commandments from God himself! Then he quotes and references passages from Exodus, Deuteronomy, and Leviticus. First referencing the positive command to honor one’s parents [Deuteronomy 5:16], then the negative warning that anyone who does the opposite, who curses their parents, is deserving of death! [Exodus 21:17]

Jesus goes on to reveal how the corruption of the Pharisees has led to a gross negligence of this command.

Jewish children, sons in particular, were expected to care for their parents as they got older. In fact, this was not just expected, but commanded by God in torah. 

Deuteronomy 5:16 CSB
16 Honor your father and your mother, as the Lord your God has commanded you, so that you may live long and so that you may prosper in the land the Lord your God is giving you.

What these corrupt leaders were allowing was, in essence, a way for people to dodge their financial responsibility to their parents simply by promising to give that money to the temple instead.

The result of this is not only the neglect of the elderly in the community, but of the priests lining their pockets with ill-gotten gain!

CORBAN is the Aramaic word that Mark uses to describe these temple gifts. Something else you should know about it is that the person who dedicates the $$ can use it! They are not obligated to give it until they die - so the family is obligated which is even more of a potential crime.

IMAGINE if one of us elders said to you, “Let the government take care of your parents. You should donate everything you have to the church early so that you can avoid the estate tax and honor God. It is a better use of resources than having all that money go right to the nursing home”.  That might sound logical and even spiritual on the surface, and it might even be true, but if it allows me to neglect caring for my parents it has violated God’s law as I have not honored them. 

Of course, they claimed that their actions were righteous because, after all, isn’t it good to give “to God?”

In reality, in practice, it was the epitome of hypocrisy. In God’s economy. To obey is worth more than the greatest financial gift. 

Saul, the first king of Israel learned this the hard way, when he tried to excuse his actions by saying he was saving some of his plunder of war to sacrifice to God, even though God had told him to destroy it all. His people convinced him to go against God, and the prophet Samuel subsequently confronted him:

1 Samuel 15:22–24 NLT
22 But Samuel replied, “What is more pleasing to the Lord: your burnt offerings and sacrifices or your obedience to his voice? Listen! Obedience is better than sacrifice, and submission is better than offering the fat of rams. 23 Rebellion is as sinful as witchcraft, and stubbornness as bad as worshiping idols. So because you have rejected the command of the Lord, he has rejected you as king.” 24 Then Saul admitted to Samuel, “Yes, I have sinned. I have disobeyed your instructions and the Lord’s command, for I was afraid of the people and did what they demanded.

The greatest gift we can give to God is obedience. Nothing we possess can equal its value. The reason we are commanded to love our parents and care for them is to demonstrate the heart of our Father. He is a gracious and compassionate God who takes care of his family. If we are to reflect Him to the world around us it needs to show up in how we treat others - especially those that cannot care for themselves.  

To punctuate this hypocrisy, Jesus quotes from Isaiah:

Isaiah

Isaiah 29:13 CSB
13 The Lord said: These people approach me with their speeches to honor me with lip-service, yet their hearts are far from me, and human rules direct their worship of me.

That term “Lip Service” has gained popular use in the English language to refer to any situation in which someone says something, in particular vows to do something or loyalty to someone, but then fail to follow through with their deeds, their actions.

One area I have been convicted of this in my life is when I tell someone, “I’ll pray for you” or “I’m praying for you”. I stop immediately and do it lest I be providing lip service to make myself sound spiritual and be far from it. 

Ezekiel, another of the “great prophets” had something very similar to say about the discrepancy between the hearts and the mouths of the people:

Ezekiel 33:31 CSB
31 So my people come to you in crowds, sit in front of you, and hear your words, but they don’t obey them. Their mouths go on passionately, but their hearts pursue dishonest profit.

Other Relevant Passages

There are actually a LOT of verses in the Bible that talk about obeying things other than God. Apparently, this is a struggle for all mankind - not just the religious elite of Jesus’ day.  

In his letter to the Colossians, Paul warns the church that there are many physical restrictions that people place on themselves that sound spiritual, but are not really. 

Colossians 2:20–23 CSB
20 If you died with Christ to the elements of this world, why do you live as if you still belonged to the world? Why do you submit to regulations: 21 “Don’t handle, don’t taste, don’t touch”? 22 All these regulations refer to what is destined to perish by being used up; they are human commands and doctrines. 23 Although these have a reputation for wisdom by promoting self-made religion, false humility, and severe treatment of the body, they are not of any value in curbing self-indulgence.

As you can see from that passage in Colossians, those made-made rules were built upon pride and not on the spirit of God. There is a heart issue. 

NOTE: we are going to look at that in more detail next week. However, Jesus addresses this idea of washing later in Matthew’s gospel and gives us some more insight:

Matthew 23:25–26 CSB
25 “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! You clean the outside of the cup and dish, but inside they are full of greed and self-indulgence. 26 Blind Pharisee! First clean the inside of the cup, so that the outside of it may also become clean.

This same principle applies to baptism! The outward “washing” of going underwater is just a symbol of the internal, spiritual cleansing that God has accomplished in us.

Application/Conclusion

God’s word always supersedes human traditions. Of course, some of our traditions can be perfectly harmless, or even beneficial and glorifying to God! There is nothing wrong with tradition in and of itself.

What’s important is that our traditions facilitate worship, rather than impede worship, that they are tools and catalysts for worship, rather than the object of our worship. If our traditions help us to love God and others, that’s wonderful! If any tradition comes at the expense of loving God and others, we have a problem. 

Christian Examples

What are some traditions we have in Christianity today?

Praying Before Meals

While it is a great idea to bless God for the food, as Mike mentioned in the sermon with the feeding of the 5k, does it mean you have sinned if you fail to do that?

Of course not! We should try to remember to thank God for our food, and for everything else in life! Mealtimes are a great opportunities to make this a habit, but if you happen to forget to say a prayer before taking a bite, your food isn’t going to be cursed! And if you’re in a group setting where it would make a scene to try to pray before eating, you really don’t need to sweat it! You can always “secretly” thank God in your head without making a show of it. (Jesus did say to pray in secret!)

Going to Church

Is perfect attendance the ultimate goal? What if my work, or my commander, says I need to show up on Sunday?

While it is ideal to have a regular habit of meeting together to worship and fellowship, some people experience seasons of life when this is just not possible. However, even if we cannot regularly get together with our church family on Sunday morning, we should still make it a priority to stay connected in different ways and/or on different days.

NOTE: The importance of fellowship and “corporate” (group) worship is core to Christianity. In our culture, this most often happens on Sundays, so a legalistic approach can easily be compared to the legalism with which the Pharisees approached Sabbath/7th day rest. Jesus has already addressed the Sabbath, and you can refer to our past sermons for more on that. However, the concepts of Sabbath rest and Fellowship are NOT the same, and we need both to be incorporated into our rhythms of life, regardless of what days of the week they fall on.

Sunday School?

What if the church did NOT have a kids program? Would it be in sin? Would you consider it to have failed?

Well what if there are no kids in the church?

What if there are kids, and there is no program, but the families are all engaged with each other throughout the week and ministering to each other organically? What if kids are learning by example and participation in what the adults are doing?

Closed Communion?

"Closed communion is the practice of restricting the serving of the elements of Holy Communion (also called Eucharist, The Lord's Supper) to those who are members in good standing of a particular church, denomination, sect, or congregation.”

While I understand the goal of this practice is to ensure that this holy sacrament is for those that know Jesus and are living in a godly way, I cannot help but struggle with several of the man-made traditions of it. 

First, Jesus passed this on to all his disciples. While I believe being connected to a local church is VERY important, the way most churches practice membership is not Biblical, which then becomes the standard for participating in the sacrament. So the man-made supersedes the divine. 

Jesus provided a way for all who believe to be forgiven and enter a new covenant. I do not see a command where the elders are told to discern who is worthy to share in that celebration. There is certainly an individual mandate to examine oneself, but not a command for the elders to adjudicate. 

To further counter the practice, when Jesus shared this meal with his followers, one of them, whom he ate with, was Judas whom Jesus knew would betray him. Obviously, Jesus did NOT practice closed communion.

So, while this practice may appear spiritual, I think it falls into the category of tradition that supersedes God’s command and needs to be drastically altered or removed. 

Final Thoughts

Traditions are not inherently bad. As a matter of fact, many of them are good and beautiful! However, when a tradition or doctrine contradicts or supersedes what God says, we need to end it. 

So, let’s appreciate and enjoy our traditions, but be mindful of the priorities we place on them, and be careful not to let man-made rules be of more value to us than what God has asked of us, which Moses summarizes thusly:

Deuteronomy 10:12 CSB
12 “And now, Israel, what does the Lord your God ask of you except to fear the Lord your God by walking in all his ways, to love him, and to worship the Lord your God with all your heart and all your soul?

The prophet Micah summarizes thusly:

Micah 6:8 LEB
8 He has told you, O mortal, what is good, and what does Yahweh ask from you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?

James, brother of Jesus summarizes thusly:

James 1:27 CSB
27 Pure and undefiled religion before God the Father is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself unstained from the world.

And Jesus, God himself, summarizes thusly:

Matthew 22:37–39 CSB
37 He said to him, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind. 38 This is the greatest and most important command. 39 The second is like it: Love your neighbor as yourself.

Each of those statements has slightly different nuance, but all sound extremely similar. 

In their zeal to follow God’s law, the pharisees had lost sight of this core thread of love which should permeate our every thought and decision, and instead created a very unloving system of man-made and self-serving rules. Let’s be careful not to fall into the same trap!

GO BILLS! 🏈


TRADITION!!!

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NCF was started in 1987 to minister to the growing population of Fort Drum and Jefferson County. Located in Carthage, just minutes away from Ft Drum, Lowville and Watertown, it is a blended congregation of local and military folks, single soldiers, young families and grandparents.