He answered them, “And why do you break the commandment of God for the sake of your tradition?
Traditions Over Commandments
We are all creatures of habit, and we love our routines. But when our traditions become more important than God’s commandments, we’ve unwittingly put our own personal traditions over God’s commands, and that’s going no place good. The Pharisees and the Scribes rebuked Jesus’ disciples for not following their own traditions about washing before eating, but that doesn’t mean the disciples didn’t wash their hands before a meal. The Pharisees and the Scribes had a tradition where they washed all the way up to their elbows before they dined, and then they wouldn’t even dry their hands with a towel. They let their hands and arms drip dry before they ate anything. They did what was not even commanded and went above and beyond what is written. By doing so, they not only judged those who didn’t do as they did, but they also expected others to do as they did. They placed their own traditions over and above what God requires, and that is never a good thing to do because it creates a self-righteous attitude. No one is righteous or declared righteous in their own sight or by their own works (Rom. 2:12-13; Gal. 3:11).
Doctrines of Men Over Commandments of God
After the Pharisees and Scribes rebuked Jesus’ disciples, He rebuked them for teaching the doctrines or traditions of man and elevating them over the commandments of God (Matt. 15:3). They made void the commandments of God in order to make their own fleshly traditions more important (Matt. 15:6). This was an affront to God. When the disciples later came to Jesus, they said, “Master didn’t you realize that you just offended the Pharisees by what you just said” (Matt. 15:12)? Jesus was never concerned with winning friends and influencing people, and He never desired popularity with the people, including the religious leaders of the day. He reminded the disciples that whatever is not planted by God will be plucked up and thrown into the fire someday (Matt. 15:13). Therefore, He said to just let them be because they are only like a blind person leading another blind person, and both are headed for the pit (Matt. 15:14). Was this a reference to the fiery pit of hell or the lake of fire (Rev. 20:12-15)? It could have been.
What’s Inside Defiles, Not What’s Outside
The religious leaders were so concerned with the exterior or outside because it gave the appearance of righteousness to those who saw them, but Jesus said that what truly defiles men and women is what comes out of the mouth because it reveals what’s in the heart (Matt. 15:17-20). Jesus is saying that it’s not what we do but our interior motives and the intents of the heart. We can look good on the outside, but if our intents are evil, then we are altogether defiled, and that’s the way God sees us because He can see our thoughts and intents.
A Closing Prayer
Great God, please help me see what my true intents and motives are, and help me by Your Spirit to not try to live for the outward appearance of righteousness but to elevate Your commandments over any traditions that I might think give a show of holiness, when in actuality, they are just filthy rags (Isaiah 64:6). In Jesus’ name I pray.
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