Lesson 62: The Traditions of the Elders
Matthew 15:1-20, Mark 7:1-23, John 7:1-2
A Blending of The Four Gospel Records. This is lesson # 62. Jesus was baptized by John the Baptist in the fall of AD 29, i.e. if we count Jesus' birth as AD 0. After the temptation in the wilderness he went back into Galilee. John 2:13 told us about Jesus going to the Jews' passover, i.e. I assume the passover of AD 30. After some time in Judea he went back into Galilee late that fall about the time Herod put John the Baptist in prison. (Matt. 4:12). V.17 said "Jesus began to preach", and his ministry began to blossom. "His fame went throughout all Syria" (Matt. 4:24). About passover time (AD 31) a year later, Jesus appointed the twelve apostles. Then Jesus and his apostles came back into Galilee and went from village to village for several months. Jesus was teaching the Jews while he was also teaching the twelve. Jesus was doing demonstration teaching for the apostles and THAT was when Jesus began to teach mostly by parables. Then Jesus endowed the apostles with certain spiritual powers and sent them out two by two over Galilee. We don't know the length of time they traveled two by two. After a while, they came back for a private get-to-gather with Jesus shortly AFTER John the Baptist was beheaded and shortly BEFORE the passover of AD 32, "the passover...was nigh" (John 6:4). Thus, the feeding of the 5000 and the dialogue in a Capernaum synagogue, must have been just before the passover of AD 32. Then, I trust you know that was one year before Jesus was crucified during the passover of AD 33. But, during that last year of Jesus' life, it was very difficult for Jesus to teach openly and to move in and out of the crowds as he had done the two years before. John 7:1 tells us why. We're going to read John 7:1-2. Please read with me! "After these things Jesus walked in Galilee: for he would not walk in Jewry, because the Jews sought to kill him. Now the Jews' feast of tabernacles was at hand." The word "Jewry" has reference to Judea, where the scribes, Pharisees and priestly element considered themselves very devout. The Jews in those synagogues over Galilee were more tolerant of Jesus than the high brow, conceited, theological circles in and around central Judea where the more zealous and more militant Jews were found. Thus, Jesus recognized "that the Jews sought to kill him," and Jesus was not ready; in that the apostles needed more training and there was much teaching still needed. Some think that Jesus did not go up to the passover of AD 32 for that reason. We have no direct statement either way.
The words, "After these things" (John 7:1) pass over several months. The feast of tabernacles; (v.2) was in the fall. So, John skips from the passover in early spring, March or April, AD 32, until about September or October, AD 32. But, some of the other writers give us a few happenings during that summer. Let's start with Matt. 15:1-20. Jesus had another clash with the scribes and Pharisees. Did you find that? Let's read, beginning in Matt. 15:1. "Then came to Jesus scribes and Pharisees, which were of Jerusalem, saying, Why do thy disciples transgress the traditions of the elders? for they wash not their hands when they eat bread. But he answered and said unto them, Why do ye also transgress the commandments of God by your tradition? For God commanded, saying, Honor thy father and mother: and, He that curseth father or mother, let him die the death. But ye say, Whosoever shall say to his father or his mother, It is a gift, by whatsoever .thou mightest be profited by me; and honor not his father or his mother, and he shall be free. Thus have ye made the commandments of God of none effect by your traditions. Ye hypocrites, well did Isaiah prophesy of you, saying, This people draweth nigh unto me with their mouth, and honoreth me with their lips; but their heart is far from me. But in vain they do worship me, teaching for doctrines the commandments of men. And he called the multitude, and said unto them, Hear, and understand: Not that which goeth into the mouth defileth a man; but that which cometh out of the mouth,
this defileth a man. Then came his disciples, and said unto him, Knowest thou that the Pharisees were offended, after they heard this saying? But he answered and said, Every plant, which my heavenly Father hath not planted, shall be rooted up. Let them alone: they be blind leaders of the blind. And if the blind lead the blind, both shall fall into the ditch. Then answered Peter and said unto him, Declare unto us this parable. And Jesus said, Are ye also yet without understanding? Do not ye yet understand, that whatsoever entereth in at the mouth goeth into the belly, and is cast out into the draught? But those things which proceed out of the mouth come forth from the heart; and they defile the man. For out of the heart proceed evil thoughts, murders, adulteries, fornications, thefts, false witness, blasphemies: These are the things which defile a man: but to eat with unwashen hands defileth not a man."
Mark told us about the healing in Gennesaret that day after Jesus came to the apostles waking on the water. However, Mark skipped over the dialogue in Capernaum. But, Mark recorded Jesus' clash with the scribes and Pharisees. So, let's read Mark's account, Mark ch. 7:1 (23 verses). Are you ready? Beginning in Mark 7:1. "Then came together unto him the Pharisees, and certain of the scribes, which came from Jerusalem. And when they saw some of his disciples eat bread with defiled, that is to say, with unwashen hands, they found fault. For the Pharisees, and all the Jews, except they wash their hands oft, eat not, holding the tradition of the elders. And when they come from the market, except they wash, they eat not. And many other things there be, which they have received to hold, as the washing of cups, and pots, brazen vessels, and of tables. Then the Pharisees and scribes asked him, Why walk not thy disciples according to the traditions of the elders, but eat bread with unwashen hands? He answered and said unto them, Well hath Isaiah prophesied of you hypocrites, as it is written, This people honoreth me with their lips, but their heart is far from me. Howbeit in vain do they worship me, teaching for doctrines the commandments of men. For laying aside the commandment of God, ye hold the tradition of men, as the washing of pots and cups: and many other such like things ye do. And he said unto them, Full well ye reject the commandment of God, that ye may keep your own tradition. For Moses said, Honor thy father and thy mother; and, Whoso curseth father or mother, let him die the death: but ye say, If a man shall say to his father or mother, It is Corban, that is to say, a gift, by whatsoever thou mightest be profited by me; he shall be free. And ye suffer him no more to do aught for his father or his mother; making the word of God of none effect through your tradition, which ye have delivered: and many such like things do ye. And when he had called all the people unto him, he said unto them, Hearken unto me every one of you, and understand: there is nothing from without a man, that entering into him can defile him: but the things which come out of him, those are they that defile the man. If any man have ears to hear, let him hear. And when he was entered into the house from the people, his disciples asked him concerning the parable. And he saith unto them, Are ye so without understanding also? Do ye not perceive, that whatsoever thing from without entereth into the man, it cannot defile him; because it entereth not into his heart, but into the belly, and goeth out into the draught, purging all meats? And he said, That which cometh out of the man, that defileth the man. For from within, out of the heart of men, proceed evil thoughts, adulteries, fornications, murders, thefts, covetousness, wickedness, deceit, lasciviousness/ an evil eye, blasphemy, pride, foolishness: all these evil things come from within, and defile the man."
O.K. It was probably after the crowds returned from the passover when the Phariseiac element from the big capital city of Jerusalem caught some of Jesus' disciples eating with dirty hands. Actually, this does not mean Jesus' disciples were necessarily unsanitary. The whole thing came down to a little pride and self-righteousness on the part of the Pharisees. This is not the first time we have discussed the traditions of the Pharisees. Long after the time of Moses, some Jews developed what is referred to here as the traditions of the elders. This was mere ancient customs of their forefathers. But, the difficulty arose in that the Phariseeiac element of the Jews at the time of Jesus considered these traditions as binding and as authoritative as scripture. These customs or traditions were supposedly passed on from generation to generation orally. Thus, there was no law in the O.T. that said thou shalt wash thy hand before eating. AND, you need to realize that Jesus had no objection to washing, bathing, or any other sanitary standards that were observed by his brethren. I'm sure he would have encouraged cleanliness. The only objection Jesus had was that the Pharisees tried to make their traditions binding and on a plain of equal authority with scripture, i.e. as if God required it. This is where the clash came. It really came down to adding to or subtracting form the scriptures, i.e. amending or repealing what God HAD commanded. This tradition stuff was picky-picky, really. The Pharisees THAT had come down from Jerusalem could NOT find where Jesus or the disciples ever transgressed the Law of Moses, i.e. the 10 commandment law AND that's equivalent to saying the O.T. Thus, you see, they charged Jesus and his disciples transgressed the traditions. They did not accuse them of violating Moses' law. Jesus didn't deny the charge. Instead, Jesus attacked the whole Phariseeiac system of tradition. There's a great lesson in this for us today. It's so important to observe God's will in a spirit of obedience. You see, we can't pick and choose which of Jesus' laws we'll obey and which we'll neglect and disregard. When we do that, we in effect start making rules for Jesus. Rules that Jesus didn't make, and we're in effect amending Christ's law. And some of the strongest condemnation in the entire scriptures is pronounced upon ANY who would do this. Yet, it's probably the most FLAGRANT violation of scripture in our day. It seems so innocent at first. If we don't like what the Bible says on a subject; and we simply bend the rules a little to accommodate us; it all seems very innocent. But, take for instance, instrumental music in worship. In every instance, the N.T. says "sing." It never, and I repeat NEVER, says play, use an instrument or anything of the kind. And I challenge you to find an exception. It may seem very innocent to add instrumental music simply because you like it and because you think it's good; but when you use the instrument in worship, you add to what was prescribed for worship, i.e. SINGING. Obviously, who ever made that tradition-law back there, that one must wash their hands before eating; was trying, in a very innocent way, to help God out and improve mankind. Just like some today THINK they are improving worship by playing a musical instrument. Jesus had no objection if the Jews washed their hands a thousand times a day. But, when they taught that God required it AND God approved it AND God was pleased with a hand washing ceremony; they just went one step too far. You can play a musical instrument all day long, become an expert, and make a million with it if that pleases you; AND you have broken NO scriptural laws. But, when you use it to worship God; you've just gone one step too far. Why? Because, you ADDED TO what God said. And it's just that simple. Please take the time to put your eyes on Mark 7:9. Jesus told .the Pharisees: "Full well ye reject the commandment of God, that ye may keep your own tradition." You see, when one amends God's law; he rejects God's law. It's just that simple! Look at Matt. 15:9, "in vane they do worship me, teaching for doctrines the commandments of men." You see, their traditions were man made commandments. Do you remember what Jesus told the Jews in Matthew's house? "I will have mercy [or obedience] and NOT sacrifice..." (Matt. 9:13). Just simply do what God said and that's enough. You'll be lucky to get that done! There's no sacrifice I can invent, or you can invent, that will help God out. The apostle Paul said in I Cor. 13:3 that we can sell all of our goods to feed the poor and have our body burned as a sacrifice and it profits nothing, i.e. if you lay aside the obedience principle, we've just discussed. So, you can't sacrifice enough to get to heaven. It won't work! God didn't ask for it! And it's just that simple. Now, their traditions involved more than just washing hand. Jesus gave several other examples in this sermon. In Mark 7:4, it mentions washing of cups, pots, brass vessels, and tables. Take a look down in Mark 7:10-11 how they were getting around the 5th commandment, Honor thy father and thy mother. Their tradition said that it was all right to mistreat and not care for their parents if it was helping out God, i.e. that "thou mightest be profited by me." (v.11). Jesus said in v.13, they were "making the word of God of none effect through your tradition."
Do you remember the inner man principle in the sermon on the mount? The O.T. law was stated in overt terms; but the N.T. is stated in terms of the inner man. That's the point Jesus made HERE with the parable (v.15) when he said, "nothing from without a man, that entering into him can defile him: but the things which come out of him, those are they that defile the man." O.K. Why? It's not what we eat and put in our stomach that God is concerned about. Of course, YOU better be concerned about it, some things will make you sick. But, God gave you intelligence to deal with THAT problem. It's what WE THINK in our heart, i.e. the contents of the inner-man that defiles us in God's sight. Where does the act of stealing start? Look at v.21, "out of the heart of men [i.e. the brain, or our inner-mental-process] proceed evil thoughts, adulteries, fornications, murders, thefts, covetousness, wickedness, deceit, lasciviousness, and evil eye, blasphemy, pride, foolishness" And, YOU KNOW that Jesus is right. Our overt action is an extension of our inner thinking process. So, you see, if we get our thinking right; our conduct will come out right. Some times we have been taught to be courteous, smile and say please, thank you, yes sir! and no sir! and we confuse that with obedience to God and at the same time gloss over God's laws in the process. Jesus' disciples had a little trouble with that. Look at Matt, v.12 a minute. They said to Jesus, "Knowest thou that the Pharisees were offended...?" They had been taught to be courteous to those big "honcho" scribes from Jerusalem. They were disappointed that Jesus was so blunt and straight forward as to OFFEND the Pharisees. But, observe some of that inner-man thinking. Listen to Jesus: "if the blind lead the blind, both shall fall into the ditch." (v.14). Jesus said the Phariseeiac leaders were blind. They had to get their facts straight, exalt God's law and lay aside their traditions, i.e. live in the light. What if they didn't? Jesus' answer is in v.13, "Every plant which my heavenly Father hath not planted, shall be rooted up." So, Have a good day!