Summary: The scribes and Pharisees quibbled with Jesus over the issue of His disciples eating with unwashed hands. They were great men in the Jewish church, but they were enemies of the Gospel of Christ. They were very enthusiastic about the Law of Moses, ...

-AD 29


Lesson: Traditions Attacked

(Exodus 21:17) Matthew 15:1-20, Mark 7:1-23


1 Then the scribes and Pharisees who were from Jerusalem came to Jesus, saying,

2 “Why do Your disciples transgress the tradition of the elders? For they do not wash their hands when they eat bread.”

3 He answered and said to them, “Why do you also transgress the commandment of God because of your tradition?

4 For God commanded, saying, ‘Honor your father and your mother’; and, ‘He who curses father or mother, let him be put to death.’

5 But you say, ‘Whoever says to his father or mother, “Whatever profit you might have received from me is a gift to God”—

6 then he need not honor his father or mother.’ Thus you have made the commandment of God of no effect by your tradition.

7 Hypocrites! Well did Isaiah prophesy about you, saying:

8 ‘These people draw near to Me with their mouth, And honor Me with their lips, But their heart is far from Me.

9 And in vain they worship Me, Teaching as doctrines the commandments of men.’ ”

The scribes and Pharisees quibbled with Jesus over the issue of His disciples eating with unwashed hands. They were great men in the Jewish church, but they were enemies of the Gospel of Christ. They were very enthusiastic about the Law of Moses, and they used that to hide their oppression of the Jewish people. They were, for the most part, well educated business men. These particular scribes and Pharisees were from Jerusalem, and therefore were more important and intimidating to the people and local religious leaders.

These great men charge the disciples with transgressing the traditions of the elders. They point out that they don’t wash their hands before they ate bread. This was only a misdemeanor, but it was the worst thing that they could charge them with. It shows how innocently the disciples conducted themselves.

So, what was the tradition of the elders? It was that people should wash their hands often, and always before they eat. They believed that any food that was touched with unwashed hands caused them to be dishonored. The Pharisees made this washing a part of their religion, and they practiced it; they forced it on others, making it a sin to not do so. The offense of the disciples was that they didn’t wash their hands before eating bread. They knew the Pharisees were watching them, but they chose not to wash, because they had already learned the lesson that Paul taught later, “All things are lawful for me, but all things are not helpful. All things are lawful for me, but I will not be brought under the power of any.” (1 Corinthians 6:12). The Pharisees believed that Christ led them to break the law by His own example, so they asked why He allowed them to do it.

Jesus answered their question, and defended His disciples in the process. His answer was an accusation against them for doing what they accused the disciples of doing. He told them that they had disobeyed the traditions of the elders, and the commandments of God. They had transgressed the fifth commandment, which has as its principle to honor thy father and mother. Children are to respect their parents, and take care of them. In the Old Testament God said, “And he who curses his father or his mother shall surely be put to death. (Exodus 21:17) Children could be put to death for cursing their parents. This was such a great irritation to God that He would punish those that did it, if men did not.

But now these men got around the commandment of God by their tradition. Tradition taught that it was good to give to the priests. When their parents came to the point in their lives that they needed help from their children, these men claimed that they had given all they could spare to the priests. Therefore, the law released them from any obligation to their parents. The problem with that way of thinking was that it went against the commandments of God, which should always have priority over the laws of man. This was their sin, which Christ reminded them of, and which led Him to call them hypocrites. Jesus said that their type of religious worship was hypocritical in two ways:

1. When they perform their worship, they draw nigh to God with their mouths, and honor Him with their lips, but their hearts are far from him. The Pharisees go to the temple to pray, and when they do so they make a show of it to get the attention of others. They appear pious, but it is for outward appearance only and not because they love God. These men say one thing, but they mean another. However, they can’t hide their true thoughts and intentions from God, because the thing that He looks at is the heart. If the heart is far from him, they cannot perform an acceptable service, and theirs is a sacrifice of fools.

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