Matthew 15:6, Empty Religious Rituals

Matthew 15:6b, “…‘Thus you nullify the word of God for the sake of your tradition.’” (NIV)

Traditions – they are an active part of personal and corporate life. Wedding ceremonies, holiday festivities, and religious practices all speak to the importance humanity places upon local, social, and sacred customs. Traditions are not just significant to mankind; they are meaningful to God as well. God emphasized the value of preserving traditions many times in Scripture.

It was God Who told the Israelites to observe Passover, so that they would humbly memorialize the final plague God inflicted upon the Egyptians – the people who had mistreated and enslaved the Israelites. It was Jesus Who told the disciples to observe their last meal together, in honor of what He was about to do at Calvary. Bear in mind, however, that not all traditions observed are God-initiated. Some traditions are man-made and, regrettably, generate conflict and dissension.

Jesus was confronted with man-made traditions throughout His ministry. Matthew 15:1-6 provides one such example. A group of Pharisees cornered Jesus because His disciples did not wash their hands before eating. This was a violation of a ritual developed by the Hebrew religious elders. And while this custom certainly had sanitary benefits, it did not possess spiritual benefits, at least in the way the Pharisees treated it.

Portraying a holy life through actions, rather than attitude, is a mentality Jesus sought to reverse. Cleans hands do not symbolize a clean life. Holiness does not begin on the outside and work its way in. It begins on the inside and works its way out. The Pharisees had many spiritual rules and regulations, but they were not established with godly objectives, or motives. The religious leaders, more than anyone, were guilty of using the promise, and covenant, of God as symbols of superiority, not areas of responsibility.

The Pharisees allowed their self-imposed traditions to become a spiritual stumbling block. They focused more on what they were doing rather than why they were doing it. They made allegiance to traditions the focal point, not God, or worship. The Pharisees washed their hands, but they did not wash their hearts. In the end, they missed out on the opportunity of a lifetime: to glorify Jesus.

Jesus’ rebuke of the Pharisees in Matthew 15 has much to teach us. External, shallow conformance to laws, festivals, and man-made traditions is not what pleases God. After all, how could heartless repetition move the spirit of an all-knowing God? What truly pleases God is internal contrition. True submission. Faith. When we surrender ourselves to God, we focus less on the manner in which traditions are observed, and more on the motivation for observing them.*

Kevin Orr (10/10/2018)

*Portions of this blog post is extracted from portions of my self-published, now discontinued, book titled “Love Has Come: A Twenty-Eight Day Journey Through The Gospel Of Matthew”, which was originally published in 2010 (Pleasant Word, a division of WinePress Group)

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