Jesus followed no man-made traditions, but only the will of the Father
By Donald Whitchard
Mark 7:1-23,Hebrews 12:14-15,James 3:6
Summary: It is not the food you eat or religious observation you practice that enables you to claim that you are right with God. Your attitude, behavior, and response to His commands show whether or not your life is defiled before Him.
Worship is supposed to come from a grateful heart and mind, focused on how God’s mercy and grace has taken us off of the road to hell and by the redemptive work of Jesus Christ on our behalf, placed us on the narrow road leading to eternal life. Our submission to Him as Lord and Savior, along with the desire to obey and follow Him is the hallmark of a life founded on the thanks we owe our gracious LORD for an act of love that He did not have to grant (Romans 5:6-11, 8:31-39). Music, prayer, and the preaching of the Word in Spirit and truth is all considered acceptable worship before Him, but all too often worship becomes in far too many congregations an excuse for rampant unchecked emotional fanaticism, disarray, and a lack of reverence that turns off a lot of people and gives the body of Christ a black eye. On the other side, there is a lack of any kind of reverence and love for God in those churches where the spiritual fire went out a long time ago and the members are going through the motions with no sense of personal interaction with their Lord and Redeemer. Traditions and programs that served a purpose many years ago are still being used lest there be a commotion and outrage over changing or ending it due to the fact that “it’s always been this way.” Churches have split and even closed because situations like this are not addressed, evaluated, and brought before the LORD to seek His guidance through prayer and the Word and heed His counsel.
Two major sources of conflict when it comes to worship, outreach, or just because it’s part of the tradition of the church in question are that of celebrating Christmas and Easter. When I was a boy and up to my young adult years, this was not even on the radar, much less a point of contention. There are godly church members and their respective ministers who see the Christmas season as a celebration of the arrival of Jesus Christ to the earth as a baby in a manger in Bethlehem, the promised Messiah of His people, where we celebrate and honor Him with the songs and specials centered on His Majesty. A lot of brethren believe just as strongly that Christmas is nothing more than a pagan recognition of a fictional character who gives gifts and is nothing more than a symbol of the commercialism that has engulfed the season, and see no reason to give it any due. There is also a sense from most of these folks to all but cast the celebrants into hell for even recognizing the holiday. I handled the issue in my home by telling my children about Saint Nicholas and his Christ-like kindness towards the poor and needy of his time. I have always like the ornament where the Santa figure kneels before the manger, and I believe that it is the best way to balance everything out.
A lot of people get bent out of shape when it comes to the Resurrection season, or Easter. Again, this was not even an issue when I was a child, and I knew that the rabbit was a character of fiction, and we never sang songs about the critter. I quit eating Easter candy when I got horribly sick from chowing down on a hollow chocolate bunny, and that was decades ago. I knew even before I was a Christian that Easter was the time of year where we celebrated the Resurrection of Jesus from the dead. There are people who, again, turn on you like a rabid dog if you even mention the word “Easter” around them and then corner you as they rattle off a history of Babylonian pagan fertility traditions that make the season one of horrendous secular infiltration, or something like that. I have always wanted to ask these zealots if they put that much time and effort into memorizing Scripture or to go out and tell someone about the love of Christ that will not let anyone go if they will but bow to Him and surrender their lives to Him. If this describes you, please calm down, smile, relax, and live the kind of life that makes people eager to hear about the Savior. Oh, and for those of you who sit and debate deep theological issues and make it a point to pore over the different views of salvation, predestination, election, Puritan teachings, ideas of holiness, and admire the design and structure of the fire engine while the building full of people is burning out of control, get your priorities straight and go rescue the perishing like Jesus commanded. You can teach them these things later. I speak from many years of experience and some regret, but that has been confessed and thrown away by the LORD as far as the east is from the west (Psalm 103). I do not dig up the dead.
Churches over the years have unfortunately split and then either died or ended up as totally ineffective and an embarrassment to the cause of Christ. No doubt many of you reading this message have either heard of or know of church members getting all bent out of shape about the type of music the church used, or the color of the carpet, pews, age of the preacher, paying the preacher, the preacher’s family, where the piano should be located, or other urgent, dire spiritual issues that could send people to hell for not obeying, or so they thought. When I first started preaching in small churches throughout rural Louisiana, I heard about two little congregations that met within ten miles of each other that had split over something they could not even remember. Each had a handful of members that could have swallowed their pride, prayed for forgiveness, come together as one in Christ, and be a representation of what being a follower of the LORD is all about. I do not think they are even in existence anymore, all because of some unknown breach of tradition or argument that did not serve any purpose except to give the devil a reason to smile.
I have presented all of these examples in order to get your mind wrapped around the absurd things people have both practiced and proclaimed in order to justify themselves before God. The Pharisees of Jesus’ day were the experts in the trivial and tedious when it came to their conception of what it meant to be right before God. They had been originally formed to practice genuine devotion to the LORD through the teaching of the Scriptures and the doctrines set forth in the Law of Moses. They took it upon themselves to be models of holy living before the people and to be examples to follow, especially after the period of exile in Babylon where they had been sent by God as a national punishment for their idolatrous practices and disobedience to God, which is told of in the books of 2 Kings, 2 Chronicles, and by the prophets Jeremiah and Ezekiel. The period of exile had forever purged them of ever wanting to worship idols again. Like any good intention, the ministry of the Pharisees had become a living symbol of religious ritual, fastidious obedience to the Law and rigid observance of rabbinic interpretations that were on a par with the Scriptures themselves, in particular when it came to Sabbath observations that verged on the ridiculous and absurd.
In Mark 7, we find Jesus and His disciples preparing to sit down and enjoy a meal together, and we can assume that they took time to wash their hands and face before coming to the table after a day of walking, teaching, and preaching. That is common sense and is in line with the hygienic practices set forth in the Law (Exodus 30:19; Leviticus 13:6, 14, 58; 14:9; Numbers 8:7). The Pharisees noticed this and began asking the LORD why He had washed according to the traditions of the elders (7:3-4), which was not for the purpose of sanitation but was to be seen as an outward show of piety. The Pharisees would meticulously undergo a washing ritual for reasons such as accidentally touching a Gentile, or a woman who was in her menstrual period, or someone who had come into contact with a dead body or had touched some kind of reptile. The Mishnah, a collection of Jewish interpretations of the Law and tradition had thirty chapters alone on the proper procedure for washing hands. That is nothing more than religious overkill, yet these officials wondered why the Lord Jesus was not following their lead.
Jesus followed no man-made traditions, but only the will of the Father. Man-made rules, rituals, and traditions have no bearing on Him, nor have any place in His work or His Word. He quoted to them the words of the prophet concerning the false worship performed by hypocrites and all who follow their lead (Isaiah 29:13). Both King David and Isaiah after him declare that God is never interested in any kind of mock worship where sacrifices are burned, but the hearts of sinners are not broken by the weight of their wickedness and the need for redemption (Isaiah 1:10-18; Psalm 40:6, 51:16-17). The same pronouncement against meaningless rituals was made by the prophet Amos during his days (Amos 5:21-28). These religious phonies who stood before the King of Kings, who is worthy of worship and praise, could not see that everything they were doing and saying was meaningless.
This scene prompted rebuke from the LORD, Who put their traditions on trial using the Word of God as evidence against them. He quotes from Exodus 20:12 and Deuteronomy 5:16 where God commands that we honor our father and mother, with the punishment for disobedience of this command is to be put to death, as it was seen as abuse and neglect on the part of the children towards their parents who should be cared for in their old age. The tradition of what was known as “Corban” was used by the Pharisees to get around that command by informing Mom and Dad that anything they would have received from the son financially was instead given to God as a gift. It could be written as follows:
“Here’s Mom and Dad in old age, a woman of God and a grand old sage,
The son, who thought he was righteous, in reality was quite obnoxious,
“Money and help? Gee, Mom and Dad, that’s rather odd,
The money I could have used to care for you was given to God.
Sorry I can’t help, I’ve got to go pray, but it was nice to talk to you today.”
He went to offer his pompous words, but God in Heaven of them never heard.
The son said quietly, “Why, can’t they see? There is none holier than me.”
He thought that God he could fool, but all his words were spiritually cool.
The time would come as it always does, when it would be to face God alone.
All his show, all his pomp and words, were selfish prayers never heard.
This pompous Pharisee was shocked to hear, that his actions and words caused many tears.
God heard his parents cry and all of the hypocritical lies. He now heard words that caused him fear.
To be in heaven? Sorry, but you are not welcome here. The parents God welcomed with open arms.
They had eternal life and were forever safe from harm.
The treasures of heaven were theirs to possess.
The moral here is not hard to confess: never put your parents in distress.
Jesus concluded His teachings on defilement and traditions, telling everyone that defilement is produced from the heart of a wicked person, not a particular diet, nor a religious practice (7:18-23). If you want to be cleansed once and for all from the defilement sin has placed on you, give your life to Jesus Christ today. He will turn no one away who comes to Him for cleansing, forgiveness, and redemption. That’s always Good News.
Donald was born and reared in the authentic Cajun country of south Louisiana. He is a 1978 graduate of LaGrange High School in Lake Charles. He is also a graduate of Louisiana College (B.A. in History Education, 1984), New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary (M.Div., 1994) and Andersonville Theological Seminary (Doctor of Ministry, 2000). He is an ACPE Certified Chaplain with training in Trauma/ER, NICU, and Psychiatric Pastoral Care from the McFarland Institute in New Orleans (2003). He has over thirty years of ministry service, which concluded when he was called to serve as pastor of Meadowbrook Baptist Church in Muskogee, Oklahoma from 2017-2018. Due to health concerns, he retired from public ministry in 2020 and now devotes his time to internet evangelism through the writing of Bible studies, sermons, and articles on current issues for varied Christian webpages and ministries. He is a regular contributor to sites such as Rapture Ready and Sermon Central as well as Inspirational Christian Blogs. He and his wife Cathy are both active members of Eastern Heights Baptist Church in Muskogee. Don will often serve as a panel member of the Gospel Rescue Mission Pastor’s Round Table Broadcast, shown monthly on the mission’s Facebook page as his health allows. He has a personal evangelistic blog as well and can be contacted at his Email address.