Saturday, November 29, 2008

Saturday Morning Cartoons

"Pearls Before Swine" is my favorite comic strip, and this is a "Pearls" only edition of Saturday Morning Cartoons. Enjoy!










Tuesday, November 25, 2008

A Picture of Things to Come



This is the face of a man who has been suddenly smacked with reality. The reality is that the Indiana Hoosiers are going to endure a long season. Coach Crean's face will regularly look like the above picture, and IU's opponents will regularly be dancing on the sidelines as the Irish players are in the picture below. (The players celebrating on the bench happen to be Notre Dame's starters, who were pulled early to jump, yell, and cheer for their backups; backups who will probably not see as much floor time again this season.)



The first two sentences of Terry Hutchens' column in this morning's Star perfectly sum up last night's game:
Low on experience, lacking size and athleticism, and facing the nation's No. 8 team, Indiana basketball coach Tom Crean knew his team had to do the little things well Monday if it had any chance against Notre Dame. As it turned out, IU wasn't real good at anything, big or small.
That says it all.

This season will be full of tail whuppin's like last night. Kelvin Sampson's two year reign of ineptitude and cheating has not only marred a once pristine program, but it has debilitated the current staff. Thankfully, Tom Crean agreed to pick up a broom and dust pan and work at cleaning up the mess that is IU basketball. I think he will put the program back where it hasn't been since the early '90s. Until then this young, small, and overmatched team will learn to play tough and together.

Of course, that still doesn't make games like last night any easier to watch!

Sunday, November 23, 2008

It's An Inside Job - pt. 1

Jesus Christ taught with great authority. As the Pharisees own officers would attest, after failing in their mission to arrest Him, “No one ever spoke like this man!” (John 7:32-53). The preaching of Christ was radical because it stood in stark contrast to that of the scribes and Pharisees. The radical nature of Christ’s preaching was not rooted in His speaking style. It’s not that Christ was the innovative, creative, cutting edge communicator compared to the stale, staid, and boring Pharisees. Christ’s message was revolutionary because it stood in direct opposition to the graceless, moralistic, legalistic teaching that was common in the Judaism of His day. Jesus taught that God saves sinners by grace, whereas the Jews were taught that by definition sinners would not be saved. Jesus taught that uncleanness comes not from without the body but from within the heart. One commits sin, not as a result of his environment, but because of the evil within his own heart.

Mark 7:14-23 may be considered one of the most revolutionary passages in all the New Testament. This was a fundamental departure from the typical teaching the Jews received, but this was not a new message. The prophet Jeremiah had written long ago that “The heart [is] deceitful above all [things], and desperately wicked: who can know it?” (17:9)

A major error in the Pharisees’ doctrine was their purely external view of sin. They believed that in their lives sin had essentially been regulated out of existence, but as Sinclair Ferguson writes: “Their regulations were simply shutters which blinded them to the heart-searching nature of the law of God.” Christ’s message was certainly revolutionary, as well as offensive, to them, because they had willfully misinterpreted God’s Word, and replaced the truth of God with the tradition of man.

Based on the context of Mark 7 it would appear that the Jerusalem “fault-finding” delegation had cordoned off Jesus from the rest of the crowd. The people may have been listening in to the conversation between the religious elites and Jesus, but they were not invited to participate in the discussion until verse 14 when Jesus called all the people to gather around and to listen up. Jesus was concerned for these people who were being led astray by false shepherds. Christ wanted everyone to hear what He had to say – “Hearken unto me every one of you” – this teaching was important for everyone, and Christ wanted them to think through the implications of what he was about to say – “and understand.” What is Christ so concerned that the people hear and understand? Take another look at verses 15-23 and you’ll notice that one word is repeated five times. That word is the verb “defile” – koinoĊ in the Greek – it’s used twice in verse 15 and once each in verses 18, 20, and 23. It means “to make common; to make (Levitically) unclean, render unhallowed, profane” and it’s also translated as “call common” (Acts 10:15; 11:19); “pollute” (Acts 21:28), and “unclean” (Hebrews 9:13) The adjective form of the word – koinos – was used in the second verse of the chapter when Mark told us that the scribes and Pharisees espied some of Jesus’ followers eating with “defiled” hands. The fault finders considered their hands defiled because they had not been ceremonially cleansed.

Jesus and the Jerusalem delegation had just held a summit on pollution. No, they were not discussing varying methods of “going green”; this was not a confrontation over environmental pollution. Their disagreement was over something much more important: whether or not the heart was polluted from without (the Pharisees position) or from within (Jesus’ position).

Mark 7 is not the only place where defilement/pollution is mentioned in the Scriptures. In both Testaments this topic is widely discussed. The Bible has much to say on the matter of pollution; again, not environmental pollution, but personal, spiritual pollution and defilement.

Psalm 119:1 calls the undefiled “blessed”. 1 Corinthians 3:16-17 reminds the believer that his body is the Spirit's temple, and as such it should not be defiled. 1 Corinthians 8:7 calls us to avoid a weak and defiled conscience. In Hebrews 12:15 believers are commanded to not be defiled by bitterness which will spring up and cause trouble and defilement. James 1:27 calls for pure and undefiled religion.

Plainly we see that God has called His people to lead a clean, pure, spotless, holy, undefiled, and unpolluted life. Since that is the case, believers must understand what pollutes, how they are polluted, and how to deal with pollution. This was and is an important issue, and this is why Jesus called the multitude to gather around, listen up, and understand God’s truth and disregard man’s tradition concerning defilement.

The Truth Stated - Mark 7:15

Nothing from outside a person that goes into him can defile him, but the things that come out of a person are what defile him. Being undefiled before God does not depend on washing or not washing, touching or not touching, eating or not eating. That skin-deep religion is what the scribes and Pharisees taught and practiced, but it was (and still is) repudiated and rejected by Christ.

The truth which Jesus taught concerning defilement was radical yet nothing new; it was simple to understand but hard to accept. What goes into you is not what pollutes you, but that which comes out of you is the pollutant. In other words, sin, which is the defilement we’re talking about, is an inside job. Sin is always an inside job.

The Pharisees were completely committed to an external, outward religion. They considered one defiled for not observing the ceremonial rinsing traditions before each course in the meal. They viewed defilement strictly from the physical perspective, and gave no thought to the spiritual aspect. Jesus literally turned their theology inside out, and this dumbfounded the Jews.

It should not have.

Over and over again the OT declared that God looks on the heart. You can read it for yourself in Proverbs 4:23, 1 Samuel 16:7, Psalm 51:16-17, Deuteronomy 10:16, Jeremiah 9:25-26.

Jesus was teaching what the OT taught when He said it’s not what goes in but what comes out that pollutes you. The evil that is in us is demonstrated by what we say and by what we do. Jesus said in Matthew 15:18: “those things which proceed out of the mouth come forth from the heart; and they defile the man.” The mouth is an accurate symbol of the whole man as well as the utter sinfulness of man, because sinfulness is nowhere more evident than in what comes out of your mouth. Your mouth is a tattle-tale on your heart. If it’s in there (your heart) then it’s coming out here (your mouth).

Why were the Jews so hung up on ceremonies and rituals? In fairness to them I have to say “Leviticus”. The third book of the Bible is loaded with long lists of ceremonial observances the Jews were required to follow. It lists…

  • Animals and birds they could and couldn't eat
  • Things they could and couldn't touch
  • Ways they could and couldn't cook
  • Things they could and couldn’t drink

The Old Testament is replete with ceremonial observances, with do’s and don’ts that make one clean or unclean. For example, they were considered defiled if they had contact with the carcass of an unclean animal (Leviticus 11) or with any carcass (Leviticus 17). Bodily discharges, whether they were normal or abnormal, caused one to be defiled, as did contact with someone who was discharging (Leviticus 15). Therefore, women were considered unclean during their menstrual cycle and after childbirth. Anyone who touched a leper, a dead body or had contact with someone who touched the dead, and he was defiled. I could go on and on, but they had all of these things that made them ceremonially unfit.

Now understand that nowhere in the Old Testament will you read that these things were sinful. From what I’ve witnessed, giving birth is painful, but it isn’t sinful. Bodily discharges are never pretty, but they aren’t sinful. The Bible never classifies these things as sinful, but all the above did constitute ceremonial uncleanness. If any external defilement existed, as described by the Law, one could not worship God until he had followed the necessary cleansing ritual, as prescribed by the Law, which physically prepared him to worship God.

Why? Here's why. God was unfolding His redemptive plan; not making it up as He went but unfolding it according to His eternal purposes. Have you ever noticed how children’s books have just a few words but a lot of pictures? As the reading level increases so do the amount of words, and at the same time the pictures become scarcer. The Old Testament, the entire ceremonial system is full of pictures. Just as physical, ceremonial uncleanness prevented worship, an impure heart prevented spiritual worship. The whole ceremonial system is a picture of what God wants on the inside. Remember what David wrote in Psalm 24:3-4: “Who shall ascend into the hill of the LORD? or who shall stand in his holy place? He that hath clean hands, and a pure heart.” The whole point of the clean hands was to demonstrate the need for the pure heart. As we read in Hebrews 10:1, “For the law having a shadow of good things to come, [and] not the very image of the things, can never with those sacrifices which they offered year by year continually make the comers thereunto perfect.” Ultimately, Christ is the substance of which all of those OT ordinances, sacrifices, festivals, and rituals foreshadowed.

Unfortunately, the substance was abandoned for the shadows. The reality had been rejected in favor of the ritual, and in so doing the ritual was stripped of any significance. Even worse, by Christ’s time, more and more lists, rituals, and observances had been added to the ones which were given in the Bible. This only placed heavy burdens on the back of the people; burdens they were unable to bear, and never meant to bear. Which is why Jesus invites people: “Come unto me, all [ye] that labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart: and ye shall find rest unto your souls. For my yoke [is] easy, and my burden light.” (Matthew 11:28-30)

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Grow-Up

Carl Trueman is a sharp writer who has written an excellent cultural piece on the alarming contemporary trend of perpetual adolescence. Here is a slice that will hopefully whet your appetite for more:
Today is so different. If the poverty and hard work of my grandfather's era left men middle-aged at thirty, the ease and trivia of today's society seems to leave us trapped in a permanent Neverland where we all, like so many Peter (and Patty) Pans, live lives of eternal youth. Where my grandfather spent his day hard at work, trying - sometimes desperately - to make enough money to put bread on the table and shoes on his children's feet, today many have time to play X-Box and video games, or warble on and on incessantly in that narcissistic echo-chamber that is the blogosphere. The world of my grandfather was evil because it made him grow up too fast; the world of today is evil because it prevents many from ever growing up at all.
You may read the entire commentary - "Trapped in Neverland" - by clicking
here, and I sincerely hope you do.

Sunday, November 9, 2008

Submitting to Authority

Authority is often rejected. There is seemingly no area of living that is safe from attack against the traditional authorities of the family, church, and government. By some it is viewed a virtue to question authority, and, if not a vice, then a character weakness to submit to authority. This attitude is not only displayed in the society, but is evident of many Christians as well. The new cool in many congregations, and a driving force in many Christian fads is to appear irreverent and borderline defiant.

Nevertheless, submission is a recurring theme of the Bible. Christians are called to submit to various types of authority, therefore we must be careful to not become enraptured in this day’s spirit of rebellion and thereby guilty of defying God! Defiance to the Word of God; whether that defiance be open or hidden is a dangerous road to travel.

The Apostle Peter speaks about submitting to authorities in 1 Peter 2:13-17. This comprises Peter’s teaching on submission. Following this passage he included injunctions for employees to be submissive to their employers; wives tp be submissive to their own husbands and husbands are likewise educated in submission. In 5:1-11 pastors are called to exercise leadership in the church willingly rather than reluctantly. They are to lead as God would have them, not greedy for money, but eager to serve; not domineering over the congregation but as examples of servant-leaders.

As I mentioned, the Bible says quite a lot about submission and it must be noted that the command in 2:13 to be submissive to all legitimate human authorities does not appear in a vacuum. Context is always critical to interpreting Biblical passages. In verses 11-12 Peter is begging and urging the people of God to be good, orderly, respectable citizens. He is begging them to mortify natural, fleshly desires towards sin and vice so that by their good works their Father in Heaven might be glorified. Now remember, this letter was originally written to men and women who were routinely subjected to brutal persecution and who lived in the midst of immoral decadence and pagan idolatry. Nothing about their government or society would have been described as “God-honoring” or “God-pleasing.” Instead, they daily witnessed and regularly received the type of activity that could easily incite the worst possible responses: fear, anger, bitterness, resentment, etc. Still, Peter urges these folks, who are the objects of their society’s derision if not hatred, to behave in an honorable way before the watching eyes of that world. Paul encourages the same kind of behavior in Romans 12:17-18.

How then are we to live if we are to abstain from worldly lusts and keep our conduct among the Gentiles honorable? That is where 1 Peter 2:13 comes into play. We are called to submit ourselves to the “every ordinance of man” namely for this reason: “for the Lord’s sake”. Not for your sake. Not for the sake of our rulers. Not for the sake of human institutions, tradition, or historical documents. We are to submit to every ordinance of man for the Lord’s sake!

How is obedience to human ordinances, institutions, and authorities done for the Lord’s sake? He didn’t say be obedient to all of God’s commands for the Lord’s sake. That would see more natural. Obviously we honor God by obeying His commands (see here), but Peter calls us to be obedient to man’s ordinances for the Lord’s sake.

To what degree are Christians called to be submissive to earthly leaders who may be completely ungodly? Is there any point when a Christian may or must respond in a non-submissive, disobedient manner? Is there ever a time when we may disobey our earthly authorities?

Both Testaments provide clear answers to those questions. There are instances when civil disobedience is displayed by believers and is not only sanctioned but commanded by God. Elijah is one OT example. Not only did he defy wicked King Ahab, but God led him to do so. The same is true with Daniel, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego during their captivity under first the Babylonians and then the Medes and Persians. The same is true in the NT with the apostles as well as the Deacon/Evangelist Stephen.

If the authorities call us to do evil, as in the case of the Hebrew midwives who were commanded by Pharaoh to kill all the male Jewish babies (Exodus 1:15-17) or in the case of the apostles who were commanded by the Sanhedrin to stop preaching the Gospel (Acts 4:18-19), then disobedience is the righteous course of action. Peter well recognized that conflictions between the government and God leave the believer with only one option. Obedience and fidelity to God comes before and above all other authorities and ordinances. Do not forget, however, that God has commanded us to “submit” to these human institutions.

We negotiate the tension of submitting ourselves to every ordinance of man for the Lord’s sake while at the same time obeying God rather than man with a theological principle that is easily articulated, readily understood, but applied with some difficulty. The principle is this: We are always to obey every authority that is placed over us in this world except when that authority commands us to do what God forbids or forbids us to do what God commands.

Allow me to say again, the understanding of this principle is not complex, but the application of it may be excruciatingly difficult. Here is what I mean, the principle does not legitimatize civil disobedience if I disagree with the law or am inconvenienced by the authorities. Even if my obedience leads to my suffering, that does not countermand God’s command for submission.

Think of Christ’s own birth as an example. Jesus was born in Bethlehem instead of Nazareth because Caesar Augustus decreed that the whole world should be taxed – “and all went to be taxed, everyone to his own city” Luke 2:1-3. Joseph had to journey many miles over difficult terrain taking along his young, 9-months pregnant wife with only one little donkey to share the burden. This couple was poor, like many, many others who were inconvenienced by this command. That did not, however, give them grounds to disobey Caesar. In fact, Caesar Augustus had given this decree because the prophets had declared, hundreds of years before there was an Augustus or even a Rome for that matter, that the Messiah would be born in Bethlehem.

Secular authority may persecute believers or grieve believers with their laws and policies, but there is no type of persecution that should cause us to revolt against the government. It should only cause us to patiently endure the trial and persevere in righteousness. Jesus and all the NT characters display this “bend-over backward” principle of submission to legitimate authority. (By legitimate I do not mean righteous or Godly; I mean the proper authority.) This attitude was displayed by those Christians who immediately followed the apostles as well.

In his book Why Government Can’t Save You John MacArthur quotes the second century pastor Justin Martyr who wrote to the Roman Emperor Antonius Pius:
Everywhere we [Christians], more readily than all men, endeavor to pay to those appointed by you the taxes both ordinary and extraordinary, as we have been taught by [Jesus]…whence to God alone we render worship, but in other things we gladly serve you, acknowledging you as kings and rulers of men, and praying that with your kingly power you be found to possess also sound judgment.
Rome was persecuting these Christians and churches, and the persecution was partly to blame on the believers’ refusal to worship the Caesar; they were thereby labeled as insurrectionists worthy of extreme persecution because they would not give the loyalty oath that declared Caesar as Lord.

Justin Martyr wrote to the Emperor explaining the Biblical position of the believers; not only in regards to worship but as to citizenship also. He asked Pius to examine the Christian community’s behavior. His contention was that the Christians were far and away the most scrupulously obedient subjects of Rome. They paid their taxes. They drove their chariots within the speed limit. They did everything they were asked except give worship to the Emperor. This they could not do, but as much as they could they were model citizens and they were because the Lord commanded that behavior.

How does such obedience benefit Christ? To answer that question we must dig deeper, and what we find buried there is the problem which is ultimately addressed. That problem is sin. Man’s biggest problem is sin, which fundamentally is an act of rebellion and defiance of law. We are essentially a society of lawbreakers. Lawlessness is the underlying reason for all of the pain, torment, and suffering of this world.

We disobey. That is what sin is, a transgression of God’s law; stepping outside the boundaries He has established. In 2 Thessalonians 2:3, referring to the Anti-Christ, Paul describes him as “that man of sin” or literally stated “the man of lawlessness.” Disobedience to the law is the fundamental problem of humanity, defiance against authority, and the ultimate authority in the universe is God.
Currently, however, the Almighty does not rule and reign directly but by delegation. According to the NT, particularly Romans 13:1-7 every institution in this world has its authority derived from God.

This is why Christians are called to honor the King, pray for the King, pay their taxes, and be in all things, as much as possible, submissive to all authorities. No ruler past, present, or future has their office and title but by the will of God. All powers and potentates are answerable and accountable to Christ, as are the subjects and citizens who live and breathe under their authority. I don’t know how many rulers have taken that realization seriously.

On the other hand, you should ask yourself this: “How seriously do I consider the fact that I am accountable to Christ, not only for my citizenship, but for the leadership with which I have been entrusted in the home, at church, at work, in the community, etc.?

Just because the rest of the world may act defiantly is no excuse for the believer to do likewise. We are to bend-over-backwards in order to be models of submissiveness, whether we’re talking about employees to employers, wives to husbands, children to parents, students to teachers, church members to pastors, citizens to the President, wherever we find ourselves we are called to submit, and there is no one in this world who is completely autonomous. We are all accountable to many people and authority structures.

God-less rulers, God-less bosses, God-less parents, and the like do not exempt us from this command. Funnily enough the command to wives in 1 Peter 3:1 to “be in subject to your own husbands” has an interesting Greek word which is translated “to your own.” The word is
idios, maybe you could translate it “your idiot husband.”I do behave like an idiot from time to time, but my idiocy does not exempt my sweet wife from this command. That is because submissive obedience to the authorities in our lives bears witness to the foundation of all authority – God Almighty.

So we submit, even when doing so may cause suffering, humiliation, or loss of wealth. We submit so that God may be glorified. We submit to every ordinance of man for the Lord’s sake, for so is the will of God, that with doing good we will silence the ignorance of foolish men. Living as free men, but not using our freedom as a cover-up for evil, but as bondservants of God. This is why we honor all people, love our fellow church members, fear God, and honor the President.

Ask yourself: “Where do I find trouble submitting?” We all have places of restlessness where we are angry and reluctant to submit. Where and/or who are they? When I am struggling with the call to submit to authorities, I must look past them, look over them, and see Jesus Christ, the One into whose hands all things have been given. I must decide to offer my submission to Christ through that earthly authority. I don’t mind submitting and serving Christ, and all my work, submission, and obedience is ultimately given to Christ.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Now That the Election is Over

The election is over and the people of the United States of America have overwhelmingly elected Senator Barack Obama of Chicago, IL as their 44th President. This is a landmark moment for our nation. Without question this is the land of opportunity. Only two generations after Jim Crow laws were abolished a black man has been elected to this nation's highest office. When you also consider that the state which was the seat of the Confederacy, and which produced the South's greatest generals and Army, voted to elect a black man as President. This is truly a momentous occasion for this nation.

The moment is tempered, however, because the President-elect is the most liberal man ever to be given the keys to the Republic. His public office record is slim. He hasn't even finished his freshmen term in the Senate! But what is known of his voting record is not encouraging; as least if one values life and the sanctity of marriage. President-elect Obama is the most staunch abortion rights proponent to be elected as the Chief-Executive. He has promised his base to sign into law the Freedom of Choice Act. (If you're unfamiliar with FOCA click here or here.) Essentially this law would abolish all restrictions and limitations on abortion. He has also promised his support to repeal the Defense of Marriage Act. Nothing about those two campaign promises says "center"; instead, they both scream "far left".

I am saddened at his victory. Saddened by what this says about the American people. I understand the nation's "Republican fatigue." I feel it myself, but the election of Barack Obama signals a leftward shift of this nation. Bear in mind, he did not win this election because he is a black man, and I did not withhold my vote because of the color of his skin. He won, and I voted against him, because he is liberal. This nation is no longer center-right. Perhaps, after four years of liberal leadership in the White House and both houses of Congress the nation will veer right a little. Only time will tell.

I did not vote for Sen. Obama. While recognizing the significance and historical nature of his win, I cannot rejoice in it, but here is what I can and will do. I will praise God for He is sovereign over all things; changing times and seasons; removing kings/presidents and establishing kings/presidents, and He liberally gives wisdom to those who seek and ask for it. I have already and will continue to pray for President-elect Obama; just as Paul instructs us to in 1 Timothy 2:1-10. Whatever our philosophical differences, and they are vast, he will be my President. I will not pray for him to fail or be harmed. I pray that he will be the bridge-builder he claims to be. I pray that he will lead the United States, not just the liberal Democratic base. I pray that Christians will be brilliant examples of Biblical citizenship and not bitter, fearful, resentful, "the sky is falling" head-cases. I pray that God will be glorified, the Gospel clearly, consistently, and compassionately proclaimed.

That would also be my prayer had John McCain been elected.

Monday, November 3, 2008

God's Truth vs. Man's Tradition pt. 2

For striving to be holy one is commended. For striving only to appear holy one is condemned. In Mark 7:1-5 Christ is confronted by the empty ritualism of the scribes and Pharisees. In Mark 7:6-13 Jesus condemned their useless and fruitless worship when He said, quoting Isaiah 29:13: "This people honoureth 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."

Commenting on this section of Mark, JC Ryle wrote:
Let us remember this in the public congregation. It must not content us to take our bodies to church if we leave our hearts at home. The eye of man may detect no flaw in our service. Our neighbors may think us patterns of what a Christian ought to be. Our voice may be heard foremost in the praise and prayer. But it is all worse than nothing in God’s sight, if our hearts are far away. It is only wood, hay, and stubble before Him who discerns the thoughts and reads the secrets of the inward man.
Christ used a name for those people who paid Him lip service but had hearts that were far removed from Him. That name was (and still is) “hypocrite.” The word translated “hypocrite” means ‘an actor, stage player.’ In the ancient world actors wore masks that represented their character. Just as the real personality of the actor was hidden by his mask, so the Pharisees' heart were hidden by their traditions. Their lips said one thing; their hearts something else. Publicly they appeared devoted to God, privately their attitudes and actions revealed just the opposite, and in only a matter of time those private attitudes and actions became public.

It is always thus. You do not need to belong to the sect of the Pharisees to share their sin.

Religion that is solely based upon adherence to ritualistic ceremonies is external and superficial only, because it may be outwardly practiced with great zeal regardless of the heart’s condition. A religion that is more concerned with ritualistic purity than realistic purity is a dead, dangerous, and damnable religion. There is a substantial difference between appearing righteous and being righteous.

Christ condemned these men because they sought to be holy according to their standard rather than God’s standard. Three times after quoting Isaiah 29:12, Christ mentioned that their traditions had supplanted God’s truth in their lives.

V. 8“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.”
V. 9“Full well ye reject the commandment of God, that ye may keep your own tradition.”
V. 13“Making the word of God of none effect through your tradition, which ye have delivered: and many such like things do ye.”

Isaiah had accused the people of his time of elevating man-made traditions over the Word of God. Christ saw the identical behavior in the Judaism of His day. In effect God’s truth was made subservient to man’s tradition. Man-made external rules had replaced inward spiritual graces. Holiness was strictly judged only by what could be seen, whereas God measures holiness by what is in the heart. As God said to Samuel before he anointed David as Israel’s future king, “Look not on his countenance, or on the height of his stature; because I have refused him: for [the LORD seeth] not as man seeth; for man looketh on the outward appearance, but the LORD looketh on the heart.” (1 Samuel 16:7).

As Sinclair Ferguson writes:
It was not that they had replaced God’s love by God’s law. How could they, when love is the fulfillment of the law? No, they had replaced God’s love with self-love, and God’s law with man’s tradition. Having made themselves their own gods, they were insisting that others follow them or perish.
The scribes and Pharisees were critical of and resistant to Jesus’ message of salvation by grace alone because they well understood that such teaching would destroy their influence as well as their reputations. They rested their hope of acceptance with God based on what they were and what they had done. This group was infuriated with Jesus because He taught that God saves sinners by grace, whereas they taught that by definition sinners would not be saved. They did not see themselves as sinners.

What is at stake here is the Gospel, and, behind that, the very nature of God. The Pharisees saw God as one who was pleased with their fastidious observance of arcane traditions. Jesus, on the other hand, taught that God was a gracious Father willing to forgive sinners. This was a major stumbling block to the Jews. For them to follow Jesus would have required not only a new view of God, but a completely new view of themselves.

This is still true today. Whether one is a Pharisee, pagan, cultural Christian, or adherent to any other religion or creed, to follow Jesus – to be saved – requires a right view of God and a right view of self.

The Pharisees were also critical of justification by faith alone because it seemed as if men would then live as they pleased. That men would flout God’s Law while enjoying God’s salvation. Paul addressed this subject in Romans 6:15 when he said: “What then? shall we sin, because we are not under the law, but under grace? God forbid.” The one who has been accepted by God’s grace is the one who will be consistently devoted to pleasing God. To quote Paul once again: “Being then made free from sin, ye became the servants of righteousness.” (Romans 6:18)

Make no mistake, righteousness, holiness, and purity are worthy goals, and they are traits for which all believers should continue to strive. It is God’s will for every believer to be sanctified (1 Thessalonians 4:3-8). “God has not called us to uncleanness, but unto holiness” is what Paul wrote to the Thessalonian church, and that is just as true for churches today. Since He who has saved us is holy, we also should be holy in all of our conduct. We are to be holy, because God is holy. This pursuit of holiness, however, is driven by the Holy Spirit who resides within a humbled, converted, and redeemed heart. It is motivated from the inside and cannot be manipulated from the outside.

If the inside is not made new by Christ, then all of the “good” religious works and posturing on the outside is meaningless. Christ used Corban as an illustration of this truth (vv. 9-13). Corban simply means an offering to God. That is a good thing. Scripture clearly teaches that God’s people should joyfully, abundantly, and consistently give of their financial resources in support of the work of the Lord; however, it is also clearly taught that we should love and honor our parents, which includes financially taking care of them as they age. Nevertheless, man’s tradition had created a seemingly pious Fifth Commandment loophole. One had only to declare all his material goods as “Corban”, as a gift dedicated to God for “spiritual purposes,” and one was exempt from materially meeting his parent’s needs.

This ostensibly exempted them from keeping the Fifth Commandment. Of course, they would say that their tradition was based in the scriptures, because Numbers 30:2 says: “If a man vow a vow unto the LORD, or swear an oath to bind his soul with a bond; he shall not break his word, he shall do according to all that proceedeth out of his mouth.” But Numbers 30:2 cannot be used to countermand Exodus 20:12. You cannot have a scripturally based tradition if the tradition violates another part of God’s Word. The Bible cannot contradict itself. This was a direct violation of God’s truth by one of man’s traditions. It was nothing more than self-righteous. It perverted the meaning and usage of scripture, and it proved that they loved themselves much more than they loved God or their parents.

Kent Hughes writes:
Those who try to justify themselves by the Law end up modifying it in order to escape its authority. In the same way, those who handle God’s Word without submitting to it are in the constant process of conforming it to their self-complacency.
Jesus is not interested in vain tradition, or people who honor Him only with their mouths but not with their hearts. That is empty and unacceptable worship.

May our worship be true, and what God wants it to be. Examine your own heart. Do you love Jesus Christ with all your heart, soul, mind and strength? Do you long to be with Him, in His presence, like Him, to obey Him from the heart? That is the stuff of true religion.

Sunday, November 2, 2008

God's Truth vs. Man's Tradition pt. 1

Jesus Christ had been harassed by the scribes and Pharisees before. From the beginning of Mark’s gospel account they have plainly demonstrated their escalating opposition to Jesus’ ministry.

2:1-11 – When Jesus healed the paralytic borne of four He said, “Son, thy sins be forgiven thee.” This statement annoyed the Pharisees and scribes, and within themselves they accused Jesus of blasphemy – “Why doth this man thus speak blasphemies? Who can forgive sins but God only?”

2:12-17 – Following that incident was the conversion of Levi the tax collector. Jesus had dinner at the new convert’s house, along with the unsaved and unsavory friends of the new Christian. The guest list was not up to Pharisaical standards, and they asked, not Jesus but His disciples, “How is it that he eateth and drinketh with publicans and sinners?”

2:18-22 – This accusation masquerading as a question was immediately followed with another, but this was the first time they directly addressed the Lord. They said “Why do the disciples of John and of the Pharisees fast, but thy disciples fast not?” At first it may appear that the Pharisees were simply concerned about the lack of fasting from the disciples, but their question was barbed; as were all their questions for Jesus. He was the object of their attack – “thy disciples fast not.” In other words, “What kind of teacher are you? Your disciples don’t fast twice a week like the rest of us.”

2:23-28 – This is the first recording in Mark of their being offended at how Jesus observed the Sabbath, for when some of His disciples plucked some plucked some ears of corn and ate as they walked on the Sabbath the Pharisees yet again took issue – “Behold, why do they on the sabbath day that which is not lawful?” This is the first reference, albeit an implied one, to the rabbinical traditions to which the scribes and Pharisees fastidiously adhered. God’s Law did not forbid the disciples’ behavior; otherwise Jesus would not have allowed it.

3:1-6 – When Jesus healed a man on the Sabbath the Pharisees “took counsel with the Herodians against him, how they might destroy him.” Unholy hatred makes for strange alliances. The Herodians were no friends of the Pharisees, but they both desired the demise of Christ. From this point forward their behavior toward Jesus was openly hostile, as evidenced in…

3:22-30 – when they ascribed His power as demonic – “He hath Beelzebub, and by the prince of the devils casteth he out devils.” We read in that passage that this particular group of scribes “came down from Jerusalem.” This was an official delegation sent from the Home Office, and they were fed up with this Galilean teacher who spoke with authority, displayed power over disease, demons, and even death, and who, while never violating the Law of God, held no respect to the tradition of the elders.

Therefore it is no surprise to read 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."

The Confrontation
vv. 1-5

Once again the scribes and Pharisees Home Office had sent a “fault-finding” delegation to where Jesus was ministering. The sad fact is that this religious group of men, well-versed in the Old Testament scriptures, never gathered around Jesus to learn. They only gathered around Him in an attempt to find fault. Never could they accuse Him of breaking God’s Word, because He perfectly fulfilled the Law. He and some of His disciples were, however, guilty of breaking “the tradition of the elders,” and this was the real rub. The scribes and Pharisees hated that Jesus would not conform to their religion. Never mind that He perfectly fulfilled the Law of God. In their minds, one could not perfectly follow God’s Law if they did not also hold fast to the traditional, rabbinical addenda to the Law.

They thought wrong.

The Talmud is the collection of ancient rabbinic writings consisting of the Mishnah, which is a massive commentary on the Law, and the Gemara, which is a massive commentary on the commentary. Thus the Talmud is this mammoth accumulated tradition and the equally substantial commentary on the tradition combined; it is the codification of Jewish law and tradition.

Even though the confrontation recorded in Mark 7 is a couple of hundred years before the Mishnah was even codified and written, they still have all this tradition, which they believe is a “fence around the law”; a fence used to protect God’s Word and to assist the people in keeping it. There are, at least, three problems with that idea.

1. God’s Word doesn’t need protection. The classic Spurgeon quote still applies: “The Bible is like a lion. Who ever heard of defending a lion? Just turn it loose, it will defend itself.” The Bible must be learned and lived, but it doesn’t need a fence.

2. Only Christ could keep the Law. Nothing is able to assist someone in keeping the Law because the Law’s purpose was to reveal our utter sinfulness and God’s sinlessness. The Law proves that we are sinners in dire need of the Savior. Only by the empowering of the Holy Spirit are we able to do that which is pleasing to God, and even then we cannot perfectly keep the Law.

3. The “fencing” undermined and contradicted the Scriptures. Man’s traditions became just as authoritative, if not more, than what it was intended to protect. This is an identical error of Catholicism which states that church tradition is equal in authority with the Bible in the sense that church dogma defines what Scripture really means.

The scribes and Pharisees always “found fault” with Jesus and conspired with even their enemies to destroy Him because He severely threatened their legalistic system of religion. They foolishly equated the meticulous observance of ceremonies and rituals with godliness; as if holiness was strictly based on external performances, apart from any internal and sincere motivations. The Sermon on the Mount (which Mark does not include in his account) blew a gaping hole in that ship, but the scribes and Pharisees were undeterred. This is why they confronted Jesus, because He would not follow their traditions; which they considered to be as conclusively authoritative as God’s truth.

This led to their condemnation, and we'll take a look at that next time.