So the Pharisees and teachers of the law asked Jesus, ‘Why don’t your disciples live according to the tradition of the elders instead of eating their food with defiled hands?’ He replied, ‘Isaiah was right when he prophesied about you hypocrites; as it is written: ‘”These people honour me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me. They worship me in vain; their teachings are merely human rules.” You have let go of the commands of God and are holding on to human traditions.’
It is easy to make others look silly when they don’t conform to an accepted social standard. But Jesus agreed with Isaiah’s prophecy that hypocrisy was endemic (people might say they obeyed God, but really had no intention of doing so). In demanding adherence to complex regulations about ceremonial washing (Mark 7:1-4) , they cherished what God did not want; and despised what He commanded. Rather than holding tight to what God said, they let it slip though their fingers. They loved to obey human principles rather than God’s Word (Colossians 2:20). They did not love what matters to God – a sure sign of the ‘heart trouble’ that would prove eternally fatal!
The religious people had put blinkers on their eyes – like horses controlled by another they could not see their own slavery (Psalm 32:9) . They did not understand why Jesus did not play their religious games. But that is because they were so preoccupied with doing what they thought was right, that they had no time or interest to understand what God wanted from them. So Jesus quoted the prophecy in Isaiah 29:13 to expose their hyposcrisy.
Jesus grasped the core of the problem: who should say what is acceptable? Clearly, God has the right to make the rules. But because we find His standard so high, we make ourselves feel better by inventing rules we can keep. Every Christless religion does this, and even Christians can be tempted to do the same. Terrible! Especially as Jesus takes the provocative step of declaring their worship to be unacceptable.
This should not only spur our own consciences, but also educate our evangelism and discipleship. The Gospel does not set out to make people behave nicely, but to change their hearts. Every Gospel bearer should make a high priority of living out what God says: that (according to Romans 12:1) is real worship. As most of us live unthinkingly on a moral-autopilot, it is always good to ask the key questions, “Why am I doing what I do?”, and, “Is this what God wants me to do?”
Almighty God. Thank You for giving me my personality through which to express my love for You. Forgive me when I use that personality to generate what You do not require while letting go of what You have commanded. Please help me to take the time to see truth in Your Word and reflect that in my prayers – as I ask for Your help, without which I cannot obey Your Word and so worship You. In Jesus’ Name. Amen.