Summary: It’s much easier for us to follow rules than to allow the character of God to rule our behavior. Jesus challenges us to let go of law and let the Spirit guide.
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When it comes to some things in life we like rules and laws – like the law of gravity:
“In the ongoing battle between objects made of aluminum going hundreds of miles per hour and the ground going zero miles per hour, the ground has yet to lose.”
Then there is dieting. The Atkins diet is all the craze now – but I have an even better dieting rule book: The No Calorie Diet
1. If you eat something, but no one else sees you eat it, it has no calories.
2. When drinking a diet soda while eating a candy bar, the calories in the candy bar are canceled by the diet soda.
3. When you eat with someone else, calories don’t count as long as you don’t eat more than they do.
4. Foods used for medicinal purposes never count. Example: hot chocolate, toast, Sara Lee cheesecake
5. If you fatten up everyone else around you, then you look thinner.
6. Movie-related foods do not have calories because they are part of the entertainment package and not part of one’s personal fuel. Example: milk duds, buttered popcorn, junior mints and Tootsie Rolls
7. Cookie pieces contain no calories. The process of breaking the cookie causes calorie leakage.
8. Late-night snacks have no calories. The refrigerator light is not strong enough for the calories to see their way into the calorie counter.
9. If you are in the process of preparing something, food licked off knives and spoons have no calories. Examples: peanut butter on a knife, ice cream on a spoon
10. Food of the same color have the same number of calories. Examples are: spinach and pistachio ice cream, mushrooms and white chocolate. Chocolate is a universal color and may be substituted for any other.
The problem with rules is that are a substitute for thought – and a way to bypass the character or lack thereof. That was the problem with the Pharisees and that is sometimes our problem too. We create rules that govern behavior, but then create ways to leak around the edges of those rules to enable the flesh. Today, Jesus turns the tables on external rules:
1 The Pharisees and some of the teachers of the law who had come from Jerusalem gathered around Jesus and 2 saw some of his disciples eating food with hands that were "unclean," that is, unwashed. 3(The Pharisees and all the Jews do not eat unless they give their hands a ceremonial washing, holding to the tradition of the elders. 4 When they come from the marketplace they do not eat unless they wash. And they observe many other traditions, such as the washing of cups, pitchers and kettles.)
Apparently the Pharisees in the marketplace would immerse their hands in water, then have pure water poured over them from a purified vessel. They were known for their elaborate rituals of hand-washing – anything to be ceremonially clean.
As we will see – their insistence on ceremonial cleanness overlooked the spiritual uncleanness within.
5 So the Pharisees and teachers of the law asked Jesus, "Why don’t your disciples live according to the tradition of the elders instead of eating their food with ’unclean’ hands?"
We think it laughable that the Pharisees would pick at Jesus for not following exactly the way they prescribed? But do we not do the same sometimes? What about those who are incensed if you read any other version of the Bible than the one they like? How about dunking vs. full immersion baptism - speaking in Tongues as the only evidence that you’ve been filled with the Spirit – or how about always ending prayers with “in Jesus name” or they won’t be answered?
These sound silly too – and they are. They are also dangerous because anything that we hide behind in order not to make ourselves vulnerable to God will keep us from Him. We are fooled into thinking that by following the tradition we earn points with God – but God is interested in what goes on inside our hearts – not with our hands being cleansed in a certain way.
6 He replied, "Isaiah was right when he prophesied about you hypocrites; as it is written:
"’These people honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me. 7 They worship me in vain; their teachings are but rules taught by men.’
8 You have let go of the commands of God and are holding on to the traditions of men."
How do we know the difference? There are plenty of doctrines floating out there that are invented by men. The best and easiest way is to make sure that what is taught agrees with the Scriptures.