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Unimpressive Tradition

What is your favorite church tradition? Lighting a candle during the service to signify the presence of the Holy Spirit? Or maybe the meal your congregation shares every time they have communion. Some traditions, like the Lord’s Supper or baptism, were instituted by Christ Himself. Others have been created by our local body of believers.

Today’s text recounts a confrontation between Jesus and the religious leaders over a matter of tradition. The Pharisees and teachers of the law practiced ceremonial hand washing before eating. The Old Testament law required ceremonial bathing in certain instances, and the priest had to wash his feet and hands before approaching the altar (Ex. 30:17–20). But there is only one instance where handwashing was required of ordinary worshipers (Lev. 15:11). The rabbis had added laws and more laws. Jesus rejected their authority and accused the religious leaders of using their traditions to evade scriptural obligations. The example in verses 4–5 involved the custom known as corban, by which the worshiper dedicated some possession to God, thus removing the item from common use. The tradition allowed some to practice a kind of deferred giving, continuing to use the item until they handed it over to the temple. This vow was being used to evade one’s financial responsibility to care for parents.

Many religious traditions attempt to earn righteous standing by human effort rather than as a gift of grace through Jesus Christ. These laws could not provide righteousness for the worshiper. True righteousness comes only through faith in Jesus Christ.

>> Some worship traditions can become so rote that our heart is no longer engaged. As a result, we seem to honor God outwardly, while our heart is far from Him. We must be careful not to let human rules substitute our genuine obedience (vv. 8–9).

BY Dr. John Koessler

Dr. John Koessler, who retired as professor emeritus from Moody Bible Institute, formerly served in the division of applied theology and church ministry. John and his wife Jane enjoy living in a lakeside town in Michigan. A prolific writer, John’s books include The Radical Pursuit of Rest (InterVarsity), The Surprising Grace of Disappointment (Moody), and True Discipleship (Moody). John is a contributing editor and columnist for Today in the Word.

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