Ceremonies and Rituals
February 23, 2021
When He had called the multitude to Himself, He said to them, "Hear and understand: Not what goes into the mouth defiles a man; but what comes out of the mouth, this defiles a man" (Matthew 15:10-11).
The words of Jesus are just as important today as they were in His day. It is true that God prescribed certain rules and regulations, ceremonies and rituals, for a reason. The Jews had been delivered from Egypt where they had lived for 430 years. There they lived under pagan Pharaohs, were subject to pagan laws, and exposed to a pagan religion with ceremonies and rituals that were involved in the worship of idols.
God’s people were to be a distinct people, a holy people separated from all they experienced in Egypt. Joshua was very clear on this issue. (Joshua 24:14-15) Now therefore, fear the LORD, serve Him in sincerity and in truth, and put away the gods which your fathers served on the other side of the River and in Egypt. Serve the LORD! And if it seems evil to you to serve the LORD, choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve, whether the gods which your fathers served that were on the other side of the River, or the gods of the Amorites, in whose land you dwell. But as for me and my house, we will serve the LORD.
The problem, as Jesus defined it, is that the Jews made their religious ceremonies and rituals the main point of worship. Jesus said the problem with the Scribes and Pharisees was a heart issue. The Lord said so much through Isaiah the prophet (29:13) These people draw near to Me with their mouth, and honor Me with their lips, but their heart is far from Me. And in vain they worship Me, teaching as doctrines the commandments of men.
The same issue exists today in practically all religions of the world, even in some so-called ‘Christian’ religions. For millions of people their ‘faith’ is bound up in venerating saints, ancestors, religious relics, and ‘holy’ places; lighting candles, making large donations, doing mission trips, practicing proxy baptism, celebrating holidays particular to their religion, or practicing extreme and harmful acts of ‘penance’.
The point is that in observing such rituals and ceremonies God is honored in name only. The person honors the religion or the activity, not God. They honor Me with their lips, but their heart is far from Me. It’s easy to do when the heart is not right with God. Religion is Satan’s most effective tool to keep people in spiritual darkness. Scripture emphasizes a personal relationship to God through Jesus Christ. It’s a heart thing.
“Father, I know how easy it is to substitute ritual for relationship. Even when the heart is not right with You it can be easy to just go through the motions in a worship service. We say it doesn’t cost us anything, but in truth it costs us everything. My heart’s desire is to worship You out of genuine love for You and faith in You, not just on Sunday, but every day. I ask Your Holy Spirit to inspire and enable me to do exactly that. To Your honor and glory I ask, Amen”