Summary: Which would you rather be - a Christian who puts on Christ’s character like a costume, or an instrument playing beautiful music in God’s hands?
I admit it – I played with paper dolls as a young boy. I guess I got them from my sisters – we may have even played them together. But I remember thinking it was pretty cool that you could take this people, cut out different clothes and hair and stuff for them and make them into anything you wanted them to be.
I wish life was that easy. I wish you could change who you were just by reaching into the closet, cutting out a new personality and attach it to your life. In fact, many of us do that very thing. The problem with paper dolls is those little tabs that you fold over to put on the outfit don’t hold very well.
With us, the external things we attach to ourselves – attitudes, words, rules, and affectations – are just that: attachments. They are not us – and they are not what God really wants us to be.
The Pharisees were just such people – to the extreme. They thought that they could create an external and very arbitrary environment in which they appeared to have it all together – and that somehow that outside attachment would mean they were righteous inside too. Not so.
They come to Jesus – using a false logic to think that their traditions – the paper doll clothes – were more important than the character of God. Jesus has something else in store for them – and for us.
15:1 Then some Pharisees and teachers of the law came to Jesus from Jerusalem
This is not the first delegation of official religious leaders to come investigate Jesus. It’s a little different this time in that the group comes from Jerusalem – the seat of religious power.
The group is made up of Pharisees – who were the most powerful political party and who strongly advocated for strict adherence to God’s law as revealed to them. And the “teachers of the law” who were professionals at looking at God’s law and interpreting its application for the people.
and asked, 2 "Why do your disciples break the tradition of the elders? They don’t wash their hands before they eat!"
Now I want to put all mothers out there at ease – what we’re not talking about here is whether or not you wash your hands before dinner. This is much much more than that – what we’re talking about here is religious tradition versus godly holiness – and its at the heart of what Matthew’s trying to get across to us in this first part of chapter 15.
First – what is this thing about washing hands? It wasn’t to make your hands clean of germs or dirt – it was instead a type of ceremonial cleanness. This tradition said that you had to wash your hands and arms in just such a way in order to cleanse you from defilements you may have come in contact with.
The Pharisees were big on tradition. In fact, it was their assertion that oral traditions had been handed down all the way from Moses. In a sense, these traditions were like sermons on the Word of God that they had at that point. The ideas were finally written down in the years before Christ and called The Talmud. You may have heard about it before.
Now I’m all for interpreting the Word – we do it every week here at Living Waters. The difference is – I’m only giving you some guidance on how to apply the Word to your life. The Pharisees felt that the traditions they had were equal to the Word. It’s always dangerous when you mix up your interpretation of the Word with the Word itself.
3 Jesus replied, "And why do you break the command of God for the sake of your tradition? 4 For God said, ’Honor your father and mother’ and ’Anyone who curses his father or mother must be put to death.’ 5 But you say that if a man says to his father or mother, ’Whatever help you might otherwise have received from me is a gift devoted to God,’ 6 he is not to ’honor his father’ with it. Thus you nullify the word of God for the sake of your tradition.
What was happening was that the Pharisees found some amazing loopholes in the law – one of which was contributing support to their religion and then withholding from their own parents. It is using one aspect of God’s law to nullify another – and worse yet, it allows them to look like they are following God’s character when in fact they are not. Jesus uses a very strong word for them:
7 You hypocrites! Isaiah was right when he prophesied about you:
8 "’These people honor me with their lips,