The sect of the Pharisees was embedded into the Jewish culture when Jesus began His ministry. They held power and prestige among the people and were granted certain privileges by the Romans (John 11:48). When John the Baptist and Jesus began to challenge their position it became evident a conflict would take place. It was not the design of the Lord to target the Pharisees because Jesus came to “seek and save that which was lost” (Luke 19:10). However, the work of redeeming man would challenge the hypocrisy of the Jewish leaders who had used the Law of Moses as a foundation of tradition that had become a law to itself.
In Mark 7 the traditions of the Pharisees was put in the spotlight when they complained to Jesus about His disciples not washing their hands when eating bread. Jesus replied, “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’” (Mark 7:2-9). The Lord goes on to say their traditions have made “the word of God of no effect through your tradition which you have handed down” (Mark 7:15). The anger of the Pharisees would come from their unwillingness to see the truth of the word of God. Instead they felt secure in their traditions practiced over the generations.
The heart of the Pharisees was bound to a law of tradition based upon commandments of men. It was a good practice to wash the pitchers and cups and to wash hands before eating. But when the normal things of life have been elevated to “this is the only way to do something” then a common matter has become a spiritual matter. Jesus was not against cleanness but He was against making the opinions of man to be commands of God. The Pharisees would be unwilling to change their traditions and led to the death of Jesus for envy (Mark 15:10).
Jesus had told them the problem with their hearts was the failure to see what the word of God taught. Holding to tradition can lay aside the commandments of God. The way something has been done will take precedence over what the Bible really says. Often people find themselves doing something not because the Bible says anything about it but this is the way things have been and we are unwilling to change. Why did they reject Jesus? He was not what they expected because their traditions had created a false view of God’s word and they were blinded by their own religion instead of seeing clearly the Law of Moses (Luke 4:16-30). When the Jews sought to kill Jesus He reminded them, “You search the Scriptures, for in them you think you have eternal life; and these are they which testify of Me. But you are not willing to come to Me that you may have life” (John 5:39-40).
The covers of our Bible’s may be worn with use but the pages of God’s word should always be new. Each time we open the scriptures it should a new discovery, a new challenge and a new hope. It becomes very easy to be so comfortable with the Word that we become lazy in our approach and studies to the point that we find ourselves following more tradition than scripture. Often we may hear the plea to “speak where the Bible speaks and be silent where the Bible is silent” and yet find ourselves confident of our own traditions and unwilling to change. Is there any generation that has “the market cornered” on the whole message of God? We have been given all truth (Jude 3) but the examination of that truth will take every generation of man until the coming of the Lord. If we are not careful we will find ourselves in the same sandals of the early Pharisees who follow more after cultural tradition than what is found in scripture.
Each day with the word of God should be the beginning of a new discovery and a fresh approach to the oldest message known to man. This does not suggest that changes are necessary in what we may believe yesterday but rather the affirmation that what I believe today is from God not man. I believe that baptism is a part of man’s obedience to salvation today as much as I believed it twenty years ago. But I do not believe it today because it is a part of the culture of tradition handed down from my parents. It must be new in my mind each time I open Holy Writ and offers a new view of how wonderful the grace and mercy of God has afforded me the blessing of being resurrected with Christ. This affirms my faith. But what of traditions I have held because of the cultural views of the church in the past fifty years? Can I be unwilling to change those cultural traditions because I have accepted them as truth above the word of God? Often we find ourselves bound by tradition and not command and unwilling to change.
Nicodemus was a Pharisee and a ruler of the Jews. He realized the importance of going beyond tradition and when he came to Jesus in John 3 he shows a pattern of truth that we must follow: Nicodemus asked Jesus! He did not consult his fellow Pharisees or friends but went to the living word of God. Saul of Tarsus came to the same conclusion when he gave his life in devotion to Jesus Christ (Philippians 3:4-11). The people of God must be people of the book. Our lives, our worship, our service and our faith must come from only one source. It is time for the American culture of God’s people to realize that Jesus was not an American but the Son of God for all men. His truth has not changed. His word has not changed. Our love of God must be rooted in the word of God alone. The church of God must stand for the foundation described in 1 Corinthians 3:10-11. “According to the grace of God which was given to me, as a wise master builder I have laid the foundation, and another builds on it. But let each one take heed how he builds on it. For no other foundation can anyone lay than that which is laid, which is Jesus Christ.”