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Truth or Tradition?

Matthew 15:1-20



Guess who popped in for a visit?  It’s the scribes and Pharisees … the big whigs from denominational headquarters in Jerusalem.  They are likely part of the Sanhedrin, the heavy hitters if you will.  They have come to Jesus on a fact finding mission, to try to validate whether they should put their approval on Him or not.


Isn’t it interesting that Jesus had more problems w/ the religious people than the lost?  They were a bur under His saddle his entire ministry, and then they were the ones who crucified Him.  They made religion an outward matter and not an inward experience, and truth was trumped by tradition.


I don’t want to be a Pastor that honors tradition more than truth.  And may our church never place truth in the back seat, giving tradition a hold of the wheel.  “Because we’ve always done it that way” doesn’t cut it with the next generations who want to know why we do what we do.


Many churches today are dying on the vine…bound and gagged by tradition, and no longer having the relevant impact Jesus charged us to have.


Now, not all tradition is bad.  It’s when you are all tradition and exclude truth that I have a problem. 

2 Thessalonians 2:15
Therefore, brethren, stand fast, and hold the traditions which ye have been taught, whether by word, or our epistle.

But tradition becomes a bad thing when it surpasses truth, and when it contradicts truth.  We are not called to carry on traditions, but to proclaim the truth!


Our message should never change, but our methods MUST change, doing all we can to reach our world.


1.     The Accusation of the Jews

v. 1-2       “Did you really come all this way to talk about washing your hands before you eat?”  You have to understand some background to get it here:

From the days of Ezra until the time of Christ, the Jewish people had added to the Word of God much human interpretation and many man made laws.  These became known as the traditions, and they were passed down from generation to generation, and more and more was added thru the years.  These traditions were compiled into a book called the Mishna which got thicker and thicker and became very burdensome to the Jews to fulfill. 


There were some outrageous traditions—

The Bible says to remember the Sabbath Day and keep it holy.  But the Mishna said on the Sabbath you could not wear your false teeth!  If you wear false teeth tonite would you raise them in your hand…all across the room?!  Maybe not!  They also said you couldn’t look into a mirror on the Sabbath, because you might see a gray hair and be tempted to pluck it out, and that would be work.  You also could not spit into the dirt on that day, because it would make mud, and then you had done work.


One of the biggest concerns of the Mishna was ceremonial cleanness…whether or not something was kosher.  They had intricate rituals for handwashing…things which are proven to have nothing to do w/ hygiene, and everything to do w/ tradition.  It was religious hocus pocus.  The mindset of the day said that when you slept demons rested on your hands, and if you ate your food w/out doing a certain ceremonially ritual you would get a demon inside of you.  Here’s the system—you had to take a half eggshell of water and wash your left hand, palm up, letting the water run down your arm and drip off your elbow.  If it didn’t drip off the elbow, your hand was not clean.  Then, rinse and repeat on the other side!  How was this good hygiene?  It was not.  Truth was trumped by tradition.


So, these religious leaders drop by for a visit, not interested in truth, but in whether their silly traditions were being followed.  And in their minds, if Jesus didn’t follow their tradition, He was a heretic.  And sadly today, many religious people are of the same brand, bound by traditions that are nowhere in the Bible, the one and only final authority for mankind!


This can range from something as categorically blasphemous as the Catholic Church with all of its man made doctrine and traditions to something that happens often in churches like ours.  For instance, I know of a Pastor who was run off from his church.  Why?  I wondered.  Was it adultery, or did he steal money?  Was he teaching false doctrine?  No, he moved the pulpit off the platform before a Christmas play without consulting with the stage committee.    Aaaarrrggh!


I heard of another church like ours where the Pastor said he’s having a hard time right now.  He said they are having large crowds coming out, and he needed to make more room.  He noticed that several people that winter would lay their coats beside them in the pew.  He suggested that if they would hang them on the racks in the lobby it would make more room.  Big mistake!  At the next business meeting an elderly lady rose and said, “Preacher, I’ve been going to church here a long time, and we’ve been sitting by our coats for a long time, and my father before me sat by his coat, and preacher, I’m again’ this thing about hanging up our coats…I say if it was good enough for our fathers then it’s good enough for us!”

I’m a patient person, but I’m not sure what I would have said or done in that situation! 

[VBS crowds]


These were powerful people who rode into town, and they were used to people cowering down under their intimidation.  But they found Jesus was not intimidated by them.  He was bold and truthful in the face of stale tradition.  I don’t think a preacher should be cocky or stubborn, hard headed or dictatorial, but I do believe he should be bold enough to stand for something, and not be ran and controlled by people and their traditions.  And I have little respect for a man who would go along w/ harmful traditions just to protect his salary.  If I am ever challenged to choose between man’s law and God’s law it’s my intent to choose God rather than man.


Jesus answered them right back with an accusation…


2.     The Answer of Jesus

v. 3          He shows them their hypocrisy, that they are walking outside the lines themselves, and these lines were drawn up by God Himself!


v. 4-6       This example Jesus gives them deals w/ the 5th commandment.  Jesus assumes that ‘honor your father and mother’ means many things, inc. to take care of them when they are older.  But these leaders had devised a clever way of getting around this commandment.  They called it ‘corban’…a gift dedicated to the Lord and thus not considered income they would have to share w/ their parents.  They would place most of their monies into ‘corban’, which, by the way, they were still allowed to draw out of for themselves, but it couldn’t be touched by their parents.  I think we need a reverse corban to keep our kids out of our money!

        Jesus said look what you’ve done; you’ve undermined the truth of God w/ a tradition.  And people are still doing that today.  When people don’t want to obey God in an area, it’s amazing how clever a scheme they can devise.  If you want to justify yourself in something, you can usually think of a way to do it.


v. 7-8       “Hypocrites” comes from a Greek word literally meaning ‘play actor.’  The actors in Greek theatre wore masks.  The good guys wore smiles and the bad guys frowns.  And Jesus pointed out that these guys were just religious play actors.  They acted like they really loved God, but God knew their hearts.


3.     The Application of Jesus

v. 10-11, 15-16       Peter didn’t get it.  Jesus said, what you eat is no big deal.  Sin doesn’t begin in the stomach, it begins in the heart.  But Peter had been raised a good Jew—that there was some things you simply are not to eat.  Peter won’t get it until Acts 10 when he has a great vision.


v. 17-20   Jesus says, what you eat may make you sick, but it won’t make you a sinner.  Unhealthy, but not unholy.  It’s not about the hands, but the heart.  Sin starts on the inside and works its way out, not the other way around.  Sin is always ‘potential’ before it becomes ‘actual.’


Love from the heart—Matt. 22:37

Obey from the heart—Rom. 6:17

Give from the heart—II Cor. 9:7


So tithing is not a money issue, it’s a heart issue.

Being worldly is not a behavior problem, it’s a heart problem.


Jesus has just blown these guys to shambles.  He has made null and void their traditions and this means war…and the disciples are shaking in their sandals.


v. 12-14   Jesus says, Big deal, don’t worry about it.  Make sure you aren’t offending God, not those who want to have a problem.


Tradition exalts people.  Truth humbles people.

Tradition creates pride.  Truth creates holiness and humility.

Tradition is impersonal.  Truth is intimate.

Tradition only affects the outside.  Truth penetrates the heart.

Tradition produces hypocrites.  Truth produces servants of God.

Tradition is something you keep.  Truth is something that keeps you!


Jesus never said He was the way, the tradition, and the life, but the truth!

John 4:24
God is a Spirit: and they that worship him must worship him in spirit and in truth.

Why did you come to church today?  Why did you sing songs?  Why did you serve?  Is it habit and tradition, or is it a heart filled with love. 


The saddest example of being bound by tradition is a lost person who thinks they have been saved by keeping some ritual or tradition, or even by saying some words, but their heart hasn’t been changed by the truth.


There’s a big difference between ritual and righteousness…between religion and a relationship w/ Jesus.  It’s not enough to just know about Jesus…you need to know Him in truth.

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