in our local congregation, has a bad reputation. Preaching against tradition
is a rather safe thing to do; it attacks nothing in particular and makes people
feel that they are modern, cool and with it. Fossils are never trendy, we
I submit that tradition has its advocates, and is not to be lightly ignored:
orthodox Jew begins his prayers with, “Our God, and the God of our
Fathers.” His prayer is grounded in tradition, and thus not easily moved
– but also grounded in him personally, and therefore is as alive as he is.
is the vote of those not walking the planet at the moment. We often
choose to forget that the church is composed of all God’s children. So
unless you’d like to eject St. Peter and St. Paul from the church on the
pedantic grounds that they are dead, their words must be considered. So
it is with many other saints awaiting the resurrection.
such, tradition is often the solution to a problem – which means that if
you throw out the tradition, you will have to find a new way to solve the
problem. If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.
therefore, has its value. It is given to us to keep us on track. Therefore
when it is misused the sin is all the greater. But often enough in our time
when tradition is attacked as being legalism (think of the old hymns) we should
make an effort to discern between traditions favorable and unfavorable. That
distinction, we shall see, is not always seen by every eye.
Mat 15:1-20 NIV
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!" (3) Jesus replied, "And why do you break the
command of God for the sake of your tradition? (4)
For God said, 'Honor your father and mother'
and 'Anyone who curses his father or mother must be put to death.' (5) But
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,' (6) he is not to 'honor his father' with it. Thus you nullify the word of God
for the sake of your tradition. (7) You hypocrites!
Isaiah was right when he prophesied about you: (8)
" 'These people honor me with their lips,
but their hearts are far from me. (9) They
worship me in vain;
their teachings are but rules taught by men.'"
(10) Jesus called the crowd to him and said,
"Listen and understand. (11) What goes
into a man's mouth does not make him 'unclean,' but what comes out of his
mouth, that is what makes him 'unclean.' " (12)
Then the disciples came to him and asked, "Do you know that the Pharisees
were offended when they heard this?" (13)
He replied, "Every plant that my heavenly Father has not planted will be
pulled up by the roots. (14) Leave them; they
are blind guides. If a blind man
leads a blind man, both will fall into a pit." (15)
Peter 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? (18) But the things
that come out of the mouth come from the heart, and these make a man
'unclean.' (19) For out of the heart come
evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false testimony,
slander. (20) These are what make a man
'unclean'; but eating with unwashed hands does not make him 'unclean.' "
here at Eastside
you were to ask the staff or eldership of Eastside what our traditions might
be, they would proudly tell you that we have no traditions. They subscribe to
the view that tradition equals legalism. Indeed, our senior minister has often
told us that his father (also a preacher) was very legalistic. Breaking away
from his father’s way of doing things (his family tradition, if you will) is,
in his view, a rejection of legalism.
But is it really true that we have no traditions?
evangelical churches, we do not use wine in communion. We use grape juice.
This is a tradition which dates back to the late 19th century;
before then, no church would have used anything but wine. (Which, to be fair,
traveled better and stored longer in the days before bacteria were understood.)
We also have
“Adult Bible Fellowships” – which bear a strong resemblance to what used to be
called Sunday School classes. For the last fifteen years I have been told that
these will disappear soon, as “life groups” (meeting in individual homes) will
supplant them. Life groups have the advantage that they are so small that they
depend upon lessons prepared by others; thus control of doctrine and practice
becomes easier. But, alas, the ABF shows no signs of dying out; we keep
forming new ones, in fact.
perhaps our commitment to anti-tradition is not as strong as we thought! So
then, how do we distinguish the good, the bad and the ugly?
may take note of the fact that these particular Pharisees came from Jerusalem.
They therefore had a great deal of prestige and authority – and with that
greater responsibility. They come in judgment; those who come in judgment had
best have clean hands. They don’t.
not hard to see why. Christ gives them one particular example. Suppose you
were a young, wealthy Pharisee who had elderly parents. In those days, parents
were supposed to be a burden on their children; but often enough the
child would decide that this was financially inconvenient. The trick used was
to formally dedicate (to God) whatever resources which should be used to help
mom and dad. The actual transfer, of course, would happen when the young man
grew old and died. By then, matters could be reversed. It must have set a
see in the Old Testament that the commandment is so strong that the one who
dishonors his father and mother is to be put to death!
So this is not trivial. But it was traditional.
submit two characteristics for tradition gone bad:
sounds very pious and godly. (The old hymns, the old ways.)
it subverts the commandment of God.
you may note, doesn’t seem to mind offending the Pharisees. Indeed, worse than
that, He begins by answering their thoughts and intentions, not the question
doesn’t just answer them; he warns the crowd against them. It is a very public
stand. But consider: doesn’t a leader have the obligation to those who follow
– an obligation to warn them of danger, especially danger so grave?
away from this with two lessons which might not be obvious.
understand depends on how you listen. The Pharisees heard the same words that
the crowd and the disciples did. They were listening for a chance to trap
Jesus; they wanted to best him at argument. If you listen for loopholes, you
will surely hear them – and miss the main point.
Tradition is, in
most instances, good. But it is not necessarily the best thing to do. Examine
the tradition; do not blindly oppose it.
Mat 15:21-28 NIV
Leaving that place, Jesus withdrew to the region of Tyre and Sidon. (22) A Canaanite woman from that vicinity came to
him, crying out, "Lord, Son of David, have mercy on me! My daughter is
suffering terribly from demon-possession." (23)
Jesus did not answer a word. So his disciples came to him and urged him,
"Send her away, for she keeps crying out after us." (24) He answered, "I was sent only to the lost
sheep of Israel." (25) The woman came
and knelt before him. "Lord, help me!" she said. (26) He replied, "It is not right to take the
children's bread and toss it to their dogs." (27)
"Yes, Lord," she said, "but even the dogs eat the crumbs that
fall from their masters' table." (28)
Then Jesus answered, "Woman, you have great faith! Your request is
granted." And her daughter was healed from that very hour.
It should be noted that Christ has
withdrawn to this region to seek time alone with his disciples. The region is
part of the ancient land of Israel, as allocated by Moses, but at this time is
in the hands of the Gentiles. Christ in his ministry never left the bounds of
the ancient land as defined by Moses. This woman would be considered a
Gentile, and therefore no conversation should take place.
If she is to break down the tradition
of the Jews not even speaking to the Gentiles, it will take a heavy hammer.
Note how she swings it:
First, she calls
him “Lord.” She acknowledges his right of rule; in effect, she acknowledges
him as God. But she also calls him Son of David – proclaiming him to be man as
well, and by right descent king of Israel, and therefore by right ruler of the
land on which she lives.
She asks for mercy
– for herself. She does not plead her daughter’s pitiful condition as if it deserved
the mercy of God. She begs mercy for herself solely on the ground that God is
There’s a lesson in here: great faith
springs from great humility.
Jesus’ behavior here may seem rather
strange. But remember that the Old Testament prophesied that the Messiah would
come to Israel first. If God is to keep his promises, the Messiah must
minister to the house of Israel alone. A child of Abraham has standing before
the Messiah; others do not.
So it is a new thing that our Lord
would minister to a Gentile. Indeed, Christ so proclaims it. Look at it in
the literal translation:
Mat 15:28 LITV
Then answering, Jesus said to her, O woman, great is your faith; let it be to
you as you desire. And her daughter was healed from that hour.
phrasing, “let it be” is an echo of Genesis (“let there be light.”) It is the
opening of a new creation: the church of both Jews and Gentiles.
are we to learn of this? There is the obvious lesson: some of our traditions
prevent certain people from approaching Christ. (You have to wear a suit and
tie, right?) The disciples here might have sympathized with the woman at
first, but they wound up being definitely annoyed by the woman. Their solution
was simple and direct: get rid of her.
she teaches them a lesson: better a dog at the table of the Lord than proud of
Mat 15:29-39 LITV
And moving from there, Jesus came beside the Sea of Galilee. And going up into
the mountain, He sat there. (30) And great
crowds came to Him, having with them lame ones, blind, dumb, maimed, and many
others. And they flung them down at the feet of Jesus. And He healed them; (31) so that the crowds marveled, seeing dumb ones speaking, maimed ones
sound, lame ones walking, and blind ones seeing. And they glorified the God of
Israel. (32) But having called His disciples
near, Jesus said, I am filled with pity on the crowd, because they already have
remained with Me three days and have nothing they may eat. And I do not desire
to send them away fasting, that they may not faint in the way. (33) And His disciples said to Him, From where in a
deserted place will come to us so many
loaves as to satisfy so great a crowd? (34)
And Jesus said to them, How many loaves do you have? And they said, Seven, and
a few small fish. (35) And He ordered the
crowds to recline on the ground. (36) And
taking the seven loaves and the fish, giving thanks, He broke and gave to His
disciples, and the disciples to the crowd. (37)
And all ate and were satisfied. And they took up the left over pieces, seven
lunch baskets full. (38) And the ones eating
were four thousand men, apart from women and children. (39) And sending away the crowds He went into the boat and came
to the borders of Magdala.
Mat 16:5-12 LITV
And His disciples coming to the other side, they forgot to take loaves. (6) And Jesus said to them, Watch and take heed from
the leaven of the Pharisees and Sadducees. (7)
And they reasoned among themselves, saying, Because we did not take loaves. (8) And knowing, Jesus said to them, Why do you
reason among yourselves because you took no loaves, little-faiths? (9) Do you not perceive nor recall the five loaves
of the five thousand, and how many hand baskets you took up? (10) Nor the seven loaves of the four thousand, and
how many lunch baskets you took up? (11) How
do you not perceive that it was not
about loaves that I said to you to take heed from the leaven of the Pharisees
and Sadducees? (12) Then they knew that He
did not say to take heed from the leaven of bread, but from the doctrine of the
Pharisees and Sadducees.
tradition of thought
it ever occurred to you that we have a tradition of thought? I submit that we
Like the disciples
in this instance, we prefer to take the most literal view of the Scripture
possible. For example, our interpretation of Revelation, when compared with
the other main methods, is highly literal. It is a point of pride that we
reject allegory completely (except when Christ tells us specifically how to
interpret.) This is viewed as avoiding the errors of the past – of which, of
course, we are thoroughly ignorant.
We place our
limits on God when we refuse to conceive that he could have a better solution.
· We also permit
ourselves to be taught what can and cannot be touched from the pulpit. We tell
ourselves that there’s no sense in preaching against adultery; no one would
listen anyway. Only polite topics can find their way to the pulpit (or the
teacher’s podium, perhaps).
of little faith
reason for this? We are convinced that “nothing can be done.” But see this
example: first the healing, then the bread – the power of God is unabated by
our refusals. He is the Creator of new possibilities as well.
make this clear we must see the parallel account in Mark for a couple of
Mar 8:17-18 NIV
Aware of their discussion, Jesus asked them: "Why are you talking about
having no bread? Do you still not see or understand? Are your hearts hardened?
(18) Do you have eyes but fail to see, and
ears but fail to hear? And don't you remember?
would point out for questions for us today:
understand? Is the Scripture really so complicated that you cannot see what
He’s trying to tell you? Open the eyes of your hearts!
Are your hearts
hardened? Has the weariness of day to day living convinced you that nothing is
possible; all that can be done is to go to church to be uplifted – and then
return to the grind of daily impossibility?
Do you have eyes
to see? Not just eyes – eyes to see, He’s looking for those who will look at
Him with “forever eyes.” It is easy to see that nothing can be done; to see
the Creator’s own possibilities means to see with eyes open for what is not done
remember? Have you forgotten the power, wisdom and mercy shown by our Lord?
Consider his ways; consider his deeds; then commit yourself to his cause.