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.