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. For Moses said, ‘Honor your father and your mother’; and, ‘He who curses father or mother, let him be put to death.’ 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), then you no longer let him do anything for his father or his mother, making the word of God of no effect through your tradition which you have handed down. And many such things you do.” (Mark 7:1-13)
Making God’s Word Useless
Mom always made us wash our hands before coming to the dinner table. Our faces had to be clean also. It was not an option but a requirement and with six children she would not let anyone slide by with unwashed hands at her table. We recognized the value of this later in life and it still remains a part of our family tradition. Washing hands is a national consciousness. Hand sanitizers are everywhere, signs requiring all employees to wash their hands are found in every establishment and programs emphasize the importance of keeping germs to a minimum. Science has shown the value in washing utensils, instruments, cups, pitchers and trying to keep harmful diseases down by sanitation. Nothing compares to the meticulous and strict laws imposed by the Pharisees of Jesus day that demanded an extraordinary level of washing that had become a national religion by itself. When they saw the disciples of Jesus eating bread without the ceremonial washing it offended them and they challenged Jesus. Their challenge was self-explanatory when they asked Jesus why His disciples did not follow the tradition of the elders. There were many regulations in the Law of Moses concerning washing but none were imposed as severely as the Pharisees had interpreted the law. They had made the traditions of the elders a binding law of holiness and sanctification. God had never placed that burden upon the people. The religious zealots of the Law had imposed their own interpretation of requirements that bound the traditions of men upon the people. As a result they failed to exercise the proper use of the law for God’s glory instead exalting themselves above the commandments of the Lord.
There is nothing wrong with washing hands, pitchers and cups but when it becomes a law of tradition binding the people to follow certain rituals to be righteous it goes beyond the pattern of the Lord. The real problem with these kinds of traditions is the elevation of man over God. Certain things are prescribed by God for men to do but everything points to the heart of man to worship the Lord. When men place traditions over the will of God it is man that is being worshiped. Pomp and ceremony declare the importance of man instead of giving glory to God. Wearing of robes and ornate worship garments show the people a distinction between classes of worshipers. The more lavish the garment the more important the person. Pride enters into the wearing of clothing as one is exalted above another. Titles are given separating the clergy from the common person. Exalted names fill the rosters of churches as men try to show the world their self-worth. Traditions are held in high honor in the religious world to the exclusion of what the word of God says. The body of Christ is not immune to these failed attempts at establishing as doctrines the commandments of men. Often things are done in the American church that is nothing more than traditions handed down from previous generations. Jesus did not condemn traditions but He did condemn the making of certain matters as binding requirements. Pharisees of the modern religious movements impose their interpretations of the law of Christ upon the church believing there is scriptural authority for the misguided patterns of what has been done in the past.
Jesus explained the problem of worship that man has struggled with from time beginning. The people honor God with their lips but their hearts are far removed from understanding the importance of spiritual worship and devotion to the Lord. Doing the right things in the right way is more important than knowing the power of the moment and the message. Church services become a rote ceremony of exact details outlined over the last several centuries established in the doctrines of men to replicate each week in a perfect order the long held traditions of men. These patterns are not harmful as long as they do not lay aside the commandment of God or reject the will of the Lord. Participates evolve into doing the same thing week after week like robots performing a task with no regard to the deeply moving message of the cross burning in their hearts. It is easy to become complacent and stale in worship. Traditions can dull the senses. Worship must not take the heart away from God but lead it to the throne of the Father. Keeping the traditions of men make followers traditionalist instead of worshipers. The warnings of Jesus two thousand years ago still resonate in the worship of the churches of the Lord and great care must be taken not to fall into the same snare as the Pharisees. Never allow the tradition of man to make the word of God of no effect or vain.