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.

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