Tradition for Tradition’s Sake (Matthew 15:8-9)

Photo by Dietmar Becker on Unsplash

When Jesus called the religious leadership “hypocrites”, He was rightly  pointing to the  fact that they accused Him of breaking with human tradition, while at the same time committing and teaching treason against God on account of tradition. “Whereas the priestly Sadducees taught that the written Torah was the only source of revelation, the Pharisees admitted the principle of evolution in the Law: men must use their reason in interpreting the Torah and applying it to contemporary problems.” To this end the Pharisees were closely tied to their traditional interpretation and application. Ironically, that tradition itself was a fairly recent development, because the Pharisees only emerged as a group some 160 years prior in Jewish history. Their “tradition” wasn’t that old. But the Jewish leadership had long been misapplying God’s law by means of cultural misinterpretation. In fact, Jesus’ accusations against them tie their behavior back to seven hundred years prior. Jesus quotes Isaiah 29:13, “The Lord says: “These people come near to me with their mouth and honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me. Their worship of me is made up only of rules taught by men.”” 

God’s charge through Isaiah hundreds of years earlier was that of sedition. Obviously sedition is far more serious than mere hypocrisy, but the two are closely linked. For to come into the King’s presence and say the right things but not believe your own words is  – at best – wickedly deceitful. Will God not truly know your heart? Then how could anyone approach him with words that claim to seek His face only to lie to His face? It is tantamount to treason, for all crimes begin in the heart long before they get acted upon, and treason begins when one no longer acts as one believes. From Christ’s viewpoint, such behaviour was a real tradition of Jewish religious leadership, and it couldn’t be interpreted as right any more than tradition can make sedition right. 

Without a heart set on glorifying God, our worship is in vain. 

You cannot worship what you do not love. You can love partially and worship partially, but you cannot worship wholeheartedly through acting out what you do not hold in your heart as true. The rest of the congregation might believe you are sincere, but you and God will know it is only a play. Like a spy pretending to be in the King’s service, your voice and actions say one thing, but your heart says another. 

Such a heart condition is not cause for worship. It is cause for humility. It is cause for repentance. It is cause for heartfelt prayer and much soul-seraching. But it is not cause for worship until the Holy Spirit finishes His work of rooting out the lies you have come to believe about who God is and who you are. 

Yet the disciple in such a position has hope, because they know there will be cause for worship once they’ve made a fresh commitment to honour God for who His Word says He is. 

I know that my Redeemer lives, and that in the end he will stand upon the earth. And after my skin has been destroyed, yet in my flesh I will see God.

Job (from Job 19:25-26)

APPLICATION: Thankfulness

As long as we breath, there is a path back to the true worship we were created for. PTL, He forgives, redeems and restores!