Past Issues

Jesus -- the Messiah #14

Jesus Calls for Commitment

Many people at Jesus’ time expected that the Messiah would be a law-giver.  He would enforce obedience to the laws and rituals He taught.  However, we have seen that law-giving was not the teaching that Jesus did.  What was His approach to enforcing and obeying religious rules?

Religious rules and rituals are good, as long as they accomplish their spiritual purpose. They are intended to serve as a continual reminder of God’s loving Presence in our life. As we saw at the end of Lesson Three, God is concerned about our daily needs. He wants to be available to help and guide us. The ceremonial washings that the Jews practiced were supposed to lead to an on-going relationship with God. They were to remind us of Jesus’ words from Mark 6:50: “Take courage! It is I. Don’t be afraid.”
Instead, Jesus uses the words of the prophet Isaiah once again to point out how all through their history the Jewish people had focused only on the externals of their ceremonial practices. These customs and rituals were not accomplishing their purpose of bringing people close to God. Instead, these ceremonies were separating them from God. Their religion had become the observance of rules rather than a loving relationship with God: “Their hearts are far from Me.” (v. 7)

Have religious rules and rituals brought you closer to a loving God or distracted you from Him?


Read Mark 7:1-8.

Clean and Unclean

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. )

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?”

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.”

Secondly, Jesus boldly points out that the Jewish people were forgetting “the commands of God.” (v 8). Instead, they were focusing on religious traditions. These human traditions had become their religion. Instead of their religion bringing them into God’s loving battle against the forces of evil, their religion was distracting them and replacing the call of God. They thought they were fulfilling God’s will by simply carrying out religious traditions.

Jesus was pointing them back to what the prophets before Him had been saying all along:  “Get into God’s struggle of love for the cause of righteousness.”  Hear these examples from previous prophets:

What does the Lord require of you?: To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.” (Micah 6:8)

“I hate, I despise your religious feasts…. Even though you bring me burnt offerings and grain offerings, I will not accept them…. Away with the noise of your songs… But let justice roll on like a river and righteousness like a never-failing stream.” (Amos 5:21-24)

“I have no pleasure in the blood of bulls and lambs and goats…. Stop bringing meaningless offerings…. Your New Moon festivals and your appointed feasts my soul hates…. Your hands are full of blood. Wash and make yourselves clean…. Seek justice. Encourage the oppressed. Defend the cause of the fatherless. Plead the case of the widow.” (Isaiah 1:11-17)

“Does it make you [bad King Shallum] a king to have more and more cedar?  Did not your father [good King Josiah] have food and drink?  He did what was right and just, so all went well with him.  He defended the cause of the poor and needy….  Is that not what it means to know Me, declares the Lord?” (Jeremiah 22:15-16)

Certainly it is easier to have a religion of rules and rituals than a religion of struggle for real righteousness and love.  Jesus joined the prophets of old in calling us to God’s religion instead of man’s religion.  Have you been resting in the comfort and uselessness of observing religious customs instead of accepting God’s ongoing call to the hard but meaningful life of struggling together with Jesus for real love and righteousness?  

I'd love to hear your questions and comments,


Back to rest of emails