February 15, 2021
Then the scribes and Pharisees who were from Jerusalem came to Jesus, saying, "Why do Your disciples transgress the tradition of the elders? For they do not wash their hands when they eat bread." He answered and said to them, "Why do you also transgress the commandment of God because of your tradition?” (Matthew 15:1-3).
We spoke of traditions yesterday. But what we must understand is how tenacious the elders of Israel were in defending their traditions, even above Mosaic Law. The fact that the scribes and Pharisees came from Jerusalem meant their meeting with Jesus and the disciples was serious business. The fact they addressed the issue of washing one’s hands seems to us a trivial matter, but to come all the way from Jerusalem to Galilee to confront Jesus on this matter shows just how determined they were in the face of a very popular preacher/teacher.
What exactly were they defending and what were they really accusing Jesus of? The tradition of the elders in this situation had nothing to do with personal hygiene or the moral law of God; it was in defense of ceremonial regulations, but not in the manner stipulated by God. Ceremonial cleansing was practiced to remove personal defilement from touching something or someone unclean. This was required by God. The traditions of the elders were not.
One Rabbi taught that a Jew living in the land of Israel and ate his kosher food with washed hands would insure his place in heaven. Another Rabbi taught that paying a merchant for his wares with one hand and receiving back change with the same hand was a sign of greed. A Rabbi was imprisoned, given a small ration of water, and used it to wash his hands before eating rather than to drink it to stave off starvation from thirst. He said he would rather die from thirst than to violate the Jewish tradition of washing his hands (John MacArthur).
The details for ritual washing of hands are so complex and involved they can’t be repeated here, but the point is that the history of religion reveals the lengths people will go to create rituals and ceremonies to prove one’s worthiness before God. (Mic 6:6-8) With what shall I come before the LORD, and bow myself before the High God? Shall I come before Him with burnt offerings, with calves a year old? Will the LORD be pleased with thousands of rams, ten thousand rivers of oil? Shall I give my firstborn for my transgression, the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul? He has shown you, O man, what is good; and what does the LORD require of you but to do justly, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God?
All that God intended for the Jews through the moral, civil, and ceremonial laws points to Jesus Christ. All that God requires of us was fulfilled by Jesus on the cross.
“Thank You, Lord Jesus, for opening the door to salvation for me. Remind me daily that I am not saved by what I do, by my religious traditions or rules or dos and don’ts, but by Your sacrifice on the cross. To Your honor and glory I pray, Amen.”