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Jesus -- the Guru #26

Jesus against a Religion of Rules

As people heard Jesus’ teaching, they found new authority in Him (remember Mt. 7:28-29). This drew the attention of the religious leaders. Matthew records how they began to confront and to test Jesus:

Then some Pharisees and teachers of the law came to Jesus from Jerusalem and asked, “Why do your disciples break the tradition of the elders? They don’t wash their hands before they eat!” (Mt. 15:1-2)

We will see that Jesus’ fiercest enemies were the religious leaders of His day. Jesus was a religious teacher, so the religious leaders felt threatened when the crowds started to follow Jesus. Actually, what Jesus taught was nothing new. It had been taught by the Old Testament prophets before Him. The religious leaders had resented and persecuted the prophets also (Mt. 5:12).

A. The Religion of the Pharisees

Jesus faced particular opposition from the religious leaders called “Pharisees.” The Pharisees were a group of sincere believers in God. They wanted to do God’s will. They believed God’s will was given in the Old Testament laws. God would be happy and bless us if we obeyed these laws.

The Pharisees drew up hundreds of rules based upon these Old Testament laws. They made up the rules, but they insisted that they be observed as divine laws. They had rules on:

  • what we should eat and what not eat

  • whom we may eat with and whom we may not eat with

  • what people were clean and what people were not clean

  • what was work on the Sabbath Day of rest

  • what we should wear

  • whom we should honor

  • and on and on and on.

If a person observed all these rules, they said, then he was a good Jew. Then he was a spiritual, God-pleasing person. Then God would bless him and the land. The Pharisees’ religion became outward show, status, and ritual.

Have you seen that kind of religion? How did you feel about it?

How did Jesus feel? Read Matthew 15:1-20.

1Then some Pharisees and teachers of the law came to Jesus from Jerusalem and asked,2“Why do your disciples break the tradition of the elders? They don’t wash their hands before they eat!”

3Jesus replied, “And why do you break the command of God for the sake of your tradition?4For God said, ‘Honor your father and mother’ and ‘Anyone who curses his father or mother must be put to death.’5But 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,’6he is not to ‘honor his father’’ with it. Thus you nullify the word of God for the sake of your tradition.7You hypocrites! Isaiah was right when he prophesied about you:

8“ ‘These people honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me.

9They worship me in vain; their teachings are but rules taught by men.’”

10Jesus called the crowd to him and said, “Listen and understand.11What goes into a man’s mouth does not make him ‘unclean,’ but what comes out of his mouth, that is what makes him ‘unclean.’ ”

12Then the disciples came to him and asked, “Do you know that the Pharisees were offended when they heard this?”

13He replied, “Every plant that my heavenly Father has not planted will be pulled up by the roots.14Leave them; they are blind guides. If a blind man leads a blind man, both will fall into a pit.”

15Peter said, “Explain the parable to us.”

16“Are you still so dull?” Jesus asked them.17“Don’t you see that whatever enters the mouth goes into the stomach and then out of the body?18But the things that come out of the mouth come from the heart, and these make a man ‘unclean.’19For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false testimony, slander.20These are what make a man ‘unclean’; but eating with unwashed hands does not make him ‘unclean.’ ”

Jesus gives an example of how the Pharisees would make up rules that were unjust and then call them God’s laws. You can imagine how God felt about that being done in His Name! God’s law was to “honor one’s father and mother.” One would assume that would include taking care of them in their old age. Instead, selfish people could use a rule to avoid this law. They could say all their possessions are gifted to God so weren’t available to help their parents!

What was Jesus’ reaction to this kind of religion of rules?: vv. 6-9.

What does Jesus mean by saying that people can say religious things and follow religious rules but “their heart is far from” God?

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