Worship Helps for Pentecost 15
Title: The Pharisees Question Jesus
Artist: James Tissot
Worship Theme: Faithfulness and obedience to the Word of the Lord are not only logical consequences of faith but necessary fruits that grow in and from hearts redeemed and renewed by the gospel. The readings for this Sunday emphasize with equal force that the basis of all faithfulness must be the Word of God and that all God-pleasing obedience must begin in the heart.
Old Testament: Deuteronomy 4:1 Hear now, O Israel, the decrees and laws I am about to teach you. Follow them so that you may live and may go in and take possession of the land that the LORD, the God of your fathers, is giving you. 2 Do not add to what I command you and do not subtract from it, but keep the commands of the LORD your God that I give you. … 6 Observe them carefully, for this will show your wisdom and understanding to the nations, who will hear about all these decrees and say, "Surely this great nation is a wise and understanding people." 7 What other nation is so great as to have their gods near them the way the LORD our God is near us whenever we pray to him? 8 And what other nation is so great as to have such righteous decrees and laws as this body of laws I am setting before you today? 9 Only be careful, and watch yourselves closely so that you do not forget the things your eyes have seen or let them slip from your heart as long as you live. Teach them to your children and to their children after them.
1. Why did God command the Israelites not to “add or subtract” to what he commands?
2. How were God’s laws and decrees so much more righteous than the other nation’s?
Epistle: James 1:17 Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows. 18 He chose to give us birth through the word of truth, that we might be a kind of firstfruits of all he created. 19 My dear brothers, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry, 20 for man's anger does not bring about the righteous life that God desires. 21 Therefore, get rid of all moral filth and the evil that is so prevalent and humbly accept the word planted in you, which can save you. 22 Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says. 23 Anyone who listens to the word but does not do what it says is like a man who looks at his face in a mirror 24 and, after looking at himself, goes away and immediately forgets what he looks like. 25 But the man who looks intently into the perfect law that gives freedom, and continues to do this, not forgetting what he has heard, but doing it-- he will be blessed in what he does. 26 If anyone considers himself religious and yet does not keep a tight rein on his tongue, he deceives himself and his religion is worthless. 27 Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.
3. What tool that God uses to save and sanctify us does James keep highlighting here?
4. Obeying God’s law cannot save us because we cannot obey it perfectly – just the opposite. Still, what does God’s perfect law give believers when we obey God out of thanks and love?
Gospel: Mark 7:1 The Pharisees and some of the teachers of the law who had come from Jerusalem gathered around Jesus and 2 saw some of his disciples eating food with hands that were "unclean," that is, unwashed. 3 (The Pharisees and all the Jews do not eat unless they give their hands a ceremonial washing, holding to the tradition of the elders. 4 When they come from the marketplace they do not eat unless they wash. And they observe many other traditions, such as the washing of cups, pitchers and kettles.) 5 So the Pharisees and teachers of the law asked Jesus, "Why don't your disciples live according to the tradition of the elders instead of eating their food with 'unclean' hands?" 6 He replied, "Isaiah was right when he prophesied about you hypocrites; as it is written: "'These people honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me. 7 They worship me in vain; their teachings are but rules taught by men.' 8 You have let go of the commands of God and are holding on to the traditions of men." … 14 Again Jesus called the crowd to him and said, "Listen to me, everyone, and understand this. 15 Nothing outside a man can make him 'unclean' by going into him. Rather, it is what comes out of a man that makes him 'unclean.'" … 21 For from within, out of men's hearts, come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, 22 greed, malice, deceit, lewdness, envy, slander, arrogance and folly. 23 All these evils come from inside and make a man 'unclean.'"
5. How did the Pharisees add to God’s law?
6. Why did Jesus call them “hypocrites”?
7. The Pharisees were afraid of becoming unclean because of contact with Gentiles in the marketplace. How does a man become truly unclean, according to Jesus?
1. At Mt. Sinai God had given his chosen people promises and decrees that were perfect in every respect – even though many of the laws would only bind God’s people until the Messiah came. Adding or subtracting to perfection would dishonor God and his grace. Obeying these commands would show
Israel’s faithfulness to God and
attract the attention of their heathen neighbors.
2. God’s laws and decrees originated with the righteous and holy God and pointed people back to him, not to selfishness. A) God’s moral law demands perfect love for God and fellow man. B) His ceremonial laws pointed ahead to the world’s only Savior. C) Israel’s civil laws demanded fair punishment for wrong doers. No other nations’ laws compared, and no other nation had received their laws when their God had come near them to rescue them from slavery and to adopt them as his people by a holy covenant.
3. James highlights God’s Word, through which God gave us new birth – the word which God planted in us to save us.
4. God’s perfect law gives freedom, James says. Instead of being slaves to our own pride, to all our dirty desires and to people-pleasing, we are free.
5. The Pharisees added to God’s law by elevating hand-washing to a religious ceremony that they claimed made them better before God than those who did not wash (literally, “baptize”) their hands.
6. Jesus called such men hypocrites (literally, “actors”) because they were always finding fault with other people but never with themselves and pretended to love and worship God when they really intended to make themselves appear holier than others.
7. Jesus says sin and filth starts in the heart when we allow the devil, the world, and our own sinful nature to plant evil inside of us. We are dirty due to our sinful hearts. Then we become even more unclean when we embrace evil ideas and expose them to the rest of the world by what we say and do. (The Pharisees exemplified this when they plotted and worked to kill Jesus, while claiming to be especially religious men.)
Putting your faith into action
“Tradition, tradition!” sings Tevye in “Fiddler on the Roof.” Giving traditions abound in congregations everywhere. Some seek member pledges. Some always conduct a fall stewardship campaign. Even the way we take the offering in church can be a tradition that no one had better mess with. Our reading warns us that traditions need to be periodically evaluated to see whether they still get the results that please God and serve the church. Churches surely want to do things decently and in order, but tradition for tradition’s sake can send us in a wrong direction when it comes to understanding or teaching truths of Scripture. Conversely, traditions that bring honor and give a witness to Christ are to be retained. The question to ask is whether the tradition is one proclaimed or prescribed by Scripture, or whether it is a human invention for purely human purposes. And sometimes Scripture commands that we abandon rules or traditions that outlive their purpose or clash with a new command of God. The change in dietary habits for the Jews that Jesus suggests in our text was hard for them to swallow. We know from the book of Acts that Peter had the hardest time in giving up this tradition, but finally obeyed God’s command. As God’s stewards we want to be sure that our way of managing all of life is in harmony with God’s directives.
Our churches have taught that we cannot merit grace or be justified by observing human traditions. We must not think that such observances are necessary acts of worship. Christ defends the Apostles who had not observed the usual tradition (Matthew 15:3). This had to do with a matter that was not unlawful, but rather, neither commanded or forbidden. It was similar to the purifications of the Law. He said in Matthew 15:9, “In vain do they worship Me, teaching as doctrines the commandments of men.” Therefore, He does not require a useless human service. He adds, “It is not what goes into the mouth that defiles a person, but what comes out of the mouth; this defiles a person” (Matthew 15:11). So also Paul, in Romans 14:17, “The kingdom of God is not a matter of eating and drinking but of righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit,” and in Colossians 2:16, “Let no one pass judgment on you in questions of food and drink, or with regard to … a Sabbath.” And again, “If with Christ you died to the elemental spirits of the world, why, as if you were still alive in the world, do you submit to regulations—‘Do not handle, Do not taste, Do not touch’ ” [Colossians 2:20–21]. In 1 Timothy 4:1–3 Paul calls the prohibition of meats a teaching of demons. It is contrary to the Gospel to institute or do such works thinking that we merit grace through them. – Article XXVI ,The Distinction of Meats, paragraphs 21-26, 29