Devotional 131: The Commandments of Men

Mark 7:1-13

Defilement Comes from Within

Then the Pharisees and some of the scribes came together to Him, having come from Jerusalem. Now when they saw some of His disciples eat bread with defiled, that is, with unwashed hands, they found fault. For the Pharisees and all the Jews do not eat unless they wash their hands in a special way, holding the tradition of the elders. When they come from the marketplace, they do not eat unless they wash. And there are many other things which they have received and hold, like the washing of cups, pitchers, copper vessels, and couches.

Then the Pharisees and scribes asked Him, “Why do Your disciples not walk according to the tradition of the elders, but eat bread with unwashed hands?”

He answered and said to them, “Well did Isaiah prophesy of you hypocrites, as it is written:

‘This people honors Me with their lips,
But their heart is far from Me.
And in vain they worship Me,
Teaching as doctrines the commandments of men.’

For laying aside the commandment of God, you hold the tradition of men—the washing of pitchers and cups, and many other such things you do.”

He said to them, “All too well you reject the commandment of God, that you may keep your tradition. 10 For Moses said, ‘Honor your father and your mother’; and, ‘He who curses father or mother, let him be put to death.’ 11 But you say, ‘If a man says to his father or mother,“Whatever profit you might have received from me is Corban”—’ (that is, a gift to God), 12 then you no longer let him do anything for his father or his mother, 13 making the word of God of no effect through your tradition which you have handed down. And many such things you do.”

Rituals can provide a sense of comfort. We speak of the ‘morning routine’ as we prepare our households for the new day, whatever that might entail.

The weekends have theirs also, as we seek out the activities that time does not allow us to participate in during the week.

In this 24/7/365 economy we live in, especially here in America, people are sleep deprived, stressed, and getting into debt trying to ‘do’ things, and there are those who know that such a reliance on the desire for doing those things allows them to exploit workers, for we have stopped honoring the concept of the Sabbath a long time ago, and G-d Himself came shortly after.

The appeal of eastern religions is in large part their ritualistic nature: ‘Do this to achieve this state of higher being.’

Portals to false worship are open when this happens, because to the mind of humanity repentance is not appealing, and grace must be earned by ‘doing good,’ by ‘just being a good person.’ Yet the Bible tells us that our own righteousness, on our best, most pious day, is as filthy rags in the Father’s sight (Isaiah 64:6)

Some churches no longer use Bibles, teach of sin, repentance, and grace, have replaced the teachings of Christ with the words of Paul (who, by the way, always cautioned pastors and church leaders against making that grave mistake). It’s become about the music, celebrity speakers, worship bands that sell tickets, and the world’s comforts at supposedly spiritual conferences.

Contrast that to the atmosphere of the church meeting in Nehemiah 8:

Ezra Reads and Explains the Law

Now all the people gathered together as one man in the open square that was in front of the Water Gate; and they told Ezra the scribe to bring the Book of the Law of Moses, which the Lord had commanded Israel. So Ezra the priest brought the Law before the assembly of men and women and all who could hear with understanding on the first day of the seventh month. Then he read from it in the open square that was in front of the Water Gate from morning until midday, before the men and women and those who could understand; and the ears of all the people were attentive to the Book of the Law.

So Ezra the scribe stood on a platform of wood which they had made for the purpose; and beside him, at his right hand, stood Mattithiah, Shema, Anaiah, Urijah, Hilkiah, and Maaseiah; and at his left hand Pedaiah, Mishael, Malchijah, Hashum, Hashbadana, Zechariah, and Meshullam. And Ezra opened the book in the sight of all the people, for he was standing above all the people; and when he opened it, all the people stood up. And Ezra blessed the Lord, the great God.

Then all the people answered, “Amen, Amen!” while lifting up their hands. And they bowed their heads and worshiped the Lord with their faces to the ground.

Also Jeshua, Bani, Sherebiah, Jamin, Akkub, Shabbethai, Hodijah, Maaseiah, Kelita, Azariah, Jozabad, Hanan, Pelaiah, and the Levites, helped the people to understand the Law; and the people stood in their place. So they read distinctly from the book, in the Law of God; and they gave the sense, and helped them to understand the reading.

And Nehemiah, who was the governor, Ezra the priest and scribe, and the Levites who taught the people said to all the people, “This day is holy to the Lord your God; do not mourn nor weep.” For all the people wept, when they heard the words of the Law.

10 Then he said to them, “Go your way, eat the fat, drink the sweet, and send portions to those for whom nothing is prepared; for this day is holy to our Lord. Do not sorrow, for the joy of the Lord is your strength.”

11 So the Levites quieted all the people, saying, “Be still, for the day is holy; do not be grieved.” 12 And all the people went their way to eat and drink, to send portions and rejoice greatly, because they understood the words that were declared to them.

The Word of the Lord was at the center, revered by the people, and it struck their hearts with conviction. The ministers took on the work of explaining and comforting those who were not learned, so their ears were opened, and day of sorrowful conviction turned into a day of great joy, for in spite of everything they’d been and were going through, they felt the presence of G-d with them.

Yes, we can enjoy such comforts as we have, for the Lord has blessed us with the ability to have them. What we must not do is place them on the altar as the center of what we’re about.

Celebrity preachers, politicians, the rich and powerful,  the highly skilled musicians, the venues in which we gather and their trappings are never to replace our Christ as the center of all things, for His obedience was such that the Father gave Him all authority  to judge all the nations.

The Father tells us that to honor Him with only our lips is not to honor Him at all. It is vain worship, and He will close Himself off from it.

Be sure that today, the place where you gather to pray is not placing ritual at the center, and calling it worshiping G-d. There is only one way to worship the Father, and that is to believe in and worship the Son, who is the only Name under heaven by which men must be saved. (Acts 4:12)

Therefore I pray:

Lord Jesus,

Even as we watch that which You prophesied unfold, as witnesses to the Truth of Your glory and power made manifest in our lives, it is tough to watch the falling away of so many of Your messengers, turning away from Truth to replace it with ritual, marketing themselves as they gather the grain of mammon into their barns, forgetting that one day their lives will be required of them, and there will be an accounting.

Let us ever be mindful that even as the rituals of our gatherings provide us a framework of order, that it is the power of the Holy Spirit that brings the presence of Your shekinah glory to all the people, not the building. 

Let the Spirit, then, bring us discernment, separating the Gospel of G-d from ritualistic traditions of men. 

Let there once again be a reverence in placing Your Word above ourselves, not the messenger who brings it.

Let our churches return once more to the Gospel of repenting of sin, believing in You, loving each other, and doing good in the world to everyone in it. 

Revive our hearts, that our lips do not offer vain and unpleasing praise, fruitless and unheard by You.

Let our songs once again give due honor to Your longsuffering, mercy, and goodness, rather than the stories of our own struggles, for it is written that in You we live, and move, and have our being. (Acts 17:28)

Let the works we do through faith in Your Name bring the glory of G-d to the unfaithful, and may they stand the fire of Your testing, and point to the Father, so that the new believer may declare His mercy to all they encounter.

Grant that we make no one twice as much a son of hell by telling them in error that rituals and pastors, books and music, missions and growth of our would-be ventures that we say are for your glory, are in fact the way to redemption. These things not only glorify ourselves, but can make us idols that block the view of You.

Help us to keep our focus on the commandments of the Father, for it is only by doing His will, or not, that we are brought to judgement.

(Matthew 7:21-28) (John 2:17)

May it be done to us as You have said.

Amen.

Devotional 62: This is Man’s All

Ecclesiastes 12:13-14
13  Let us hear the conclusion of the whole matter:
Fear God and keep His commandments,
For this is man’s all.
14 
For God will bring every work into judgment,
Including every secret thing,
Whether good or evil.

I have come to accept that our society in America has decided to serve mammon rather than G-d, yet Jesus tells us this as a sign of the end times, that the evil men will do to each other will increase not just between nations, but within households.

We can pray, and do well, and keep faith and obedience, but as much as we don’t like to think about it, there’s going to be an end to this, just as in the days of Noah. All that we’ve come to know and love in this life will be destroyed, but rebuilt without the evil that pervades it.

It’s been explained like this in a sermon I once heard the late Myles Munroe preach:

G-d gave man dominion over the earth, but by listening to the serpent, and being disobedient, Adam, in not rebuking Eve and blaming G-d,  gave dominion to Satan. Since G-d doesn’t take back that which He gives, prayer is seeking G-d for divine intervention in earthly affairs.

Whether you agree with it or not isn’t the issue, but it’s clear that in the hearts of men today someone else is holding sway, and people are doing and saying things they wouldn’t ordinarily.

Paul’s oft-quoted verse reminds us we aren’t battling flesh and blood, but waging war in heavenly places and demonic strongholds.

We have a fear inducing media, that plays both sides using different balls, and our representatives (not leaders) grow increasingly insulated and disconnected as they pack their granaries with more illicit grain.

The news is rife with conspiracy theories, the Illuminati, the Masons, and all the little subdivisions thereof taking place at night in basements and caves and isolated places.

People are speaking things that sound deep but aren’t, and talking heads with opposing viewpoints are so busy shouting down each other that nothing is heard.

So what do we do, dear Believer? We fear G-d, and keep His commandments.

The evil that men do in secret is known to Him. There are no secret societies hidden from Him. There are no sacred rituals that drive out His presence. There are no men whose names are on the letterheads of these societies that have the final say over Him. He sees them and their deeds as we see each other on the street at noon, vibrant and full of life and color, and His vengeance is stored up for their sins.

We are told that the wicked prospered even in the days of King David, yet David’s son tells us they will be cut off with no remedy. (Proverbs 29:1)

As we know the road to life is narrow, and the travelers few, we must hold fast, and tight, to the knowledge we possess of the reality of G-d, and His power. Jesus says not to fear those who can kill the body but destroy the body and soul (Matthew 10:28)

We are told over and over again, as we see mounting atrocities, idolatries, cold churches, colder people, disconnected wealthy people making ‘backroom deals’ (which, by the way, G-d also sees), that His vengeance and judgment are being stored up.

I emphasize we are in the year of the Lord’s favor, as Jesus quoted in Isaiah when He first declared what His ministry was to be, but let us be reminded Jesus did not continue that verse:

‘And the day of vengeance of our G-d.’

We are reminded in the parable of the vineyard workers that everyone received their due at the end of the day when the work was finished.

Again:  Ecclesiastes 8:11-12
11 Because the sentence against an evil work is not executed speedily, therefore the heart of the sons of men is fully set in them to do evil. 12 Though a sinner does evil a hundred times, and his days are prolonged, yet I surely know that it will be well with those who fear God, who fear before Him. 

Continue to pray for our representatives, do good to others, spread the Gospel in love, and keep faith and obedience as the scales that will balance your life before Him.

To quote ‘Julian of Norwich’:  It behooved that there should be sin; but all shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of thing shall be well.

Therefore I pray:

Father in Heaven,

      We are surrounded by Your enemies on every side, and therefore, Lord G-d, they are our enemies too. Yet Your will for them is that we love them, and pray for them, and do good to them as Your ambassadors, that their hearts might soften and turn to You. This is what Your Son commanded of us through You.

      It’s a difficult thing You ask of us, for our human inclination is to avoid them, indeed, to hide from them, if not ignore them. We are much like the Pharisee who stood next to the sinner, thanking You he was not like that man. But these sinners are unapologetic, unrepentant, and indeed glory in their wickedness, in their prosperity, in their ability to keep others from gaining what they themselves have, and cutting off their means to attempt it.

     We ask of You that which the Apostles asked Jesus:

     ‘Should we call down holy fire upon them?’ 

     Let us be reminded that there is a harvest, and that choices against You in the year of Your favor can still be reversed until the day of judgment. Until then, we are to keep Your commandments, and leave the rest to You, in spite of our inclinations to do otherwise.

     I myself have been forgiven much, but I have trouble forgiving others. I don’t want to leave it on the altar, though the weight is terrible. Yet I’m told if I don’t forgive, I won’t be forgiven by You. 

     Help me in this, Lord. I’m getting better, but I’m far from over a lot of things that should be dead and buried. I walk by the hole, and look in, and say, ‘I remember that,” but I don’t fill the hole.

     You’ll have to help me do that, Lord. I want to keep Your commandments, I don’t want to sin, and I can do far more than I have been, in Your strength, and by Your will.

     Help me to fight the temptation of disobedience over that which you’ve given me dominion, to keep my integrity, to labor as unto You, bearing fruit to Your glory, for this is my all, and the all of my brothers and sisters. 

     I ask it in the Name of Jesus, believing I’ve received. 

     Amen