“Do not think that I came to destroy the Law or the Prophets. I did not come to destroy but to fulfill. For assuredly, I say to you, till heaven and earth pass away, one jot or one tittle will by no means pass from the law till all is fulfilled. Whoever therefore breaks one of the least of these commandments, and teaches men so, shall be called least in the kingdom of heaven; but whoever does and teaches them, he shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven.” Matthew 5:17-19 NKJV
Occasionally, while giving Bible studies, I will hear someone say, “Once Jesus fulfilled the commandments He did away with them. He fulfilled them so we don’t have to.” Well, let’s take a look at that. Does fulfill mean to do away with? My Websters Dictionary tells me that fulfill means to “carry out.” I don’t think carrying something out and abolishing it can be the same definition. My Roget’s Thesaurus tells me fulfill is the same as “pleasing or sufficing.” I don’t think that to “please or suffice” means “to abolish.”
Now that we have looked at Roget and Webster’s definition of the word fulfill, let’s see how the Scriptures use that word. How did Matthew himself use that word?
Then Jesus came from Galilee to John at the Jordan to be baptized by him. And John tried to prevent Him, saying, “I need to be baptized by You, and are You coming to me?” But Jesus answered and said to him, “Permit it to be so now, for thus it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness.” Then he allowed Him. Matthew 3:13-14 NKJV
So Jesus fulfilled the rite of baptism. Did He abolish it after He fulfilled it? No, of course not. Matthew, the same writer who tells us Jesus fulfilled the rite of baptism also records Jesus’ command,
Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit… Matthew 28:19 NKJV
So Jesus did not abolish baptism when He fulfilled that rite, but rather set an example for us to follow. Likewise, Jesus did not abolish the law by fulfilling it, but rather gave us an example to follow.
For what the law could not do in that it was weak through the flesh, God did by sending His own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh, on account of sin: He condemned sin in the flesh, that the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us who do not walk according to the flesh but according to the Spirit. Romans 8:3-4 NKJV
The good news according to Romans 8:3-4 is that when the Holy Spirit comes into our hearts, He not only fulfills the law for us but also fulfills it in us. It is not us doing the work, but the Holy Spirit who is working in us, fulfilling and writing the law of love on our hearts.
The rite of baptism “fulfills all righteousness” as I die to self and rise again, born of the Holy Spirit who now fulfills the law of love in me.
Sunday’s section of this week’s Sabbath School lesson, mentions circumcision, which some people in Western cultures now classify as barbaric. I have also heard a few good Christians question why God chose circumcision for a sign of belonging to Him? In certain safe circles faithful Christian men have asked, “Why the penis of all places?”
We all know circumcision is no longer a sign of a covenant between God and us, and we’re glad for that. Still it puzzles some believers and unbelievers alike as to why God ever had anyone do this. I propose to examine the question, “Why did God ever tell us to do this” and trust that we will see the gospel where before many people only saw a painful ritual.
The Scriptures say that Abraham had two sons, one from his slave wife and one from his freeborn wife. The son of the slave wife was born in a human attempt to bring about the fulfillment of God’s promise. But the son of the freeborn wife was born as God’s own fulfillment of his promise. These two women serve as an illustration of God’s two covenants. Galatians 4:22-24 NLT
God had made a covenant with Abraham and promised him a son. All God needed Abraham to do was believe the promise. Abraham saw that his wife was old and not even menstruating any more, so instead of trusting in God’s promise, he took Sarah’s much younger handmaid, Hagar, and worked things out on his own. Together they had a son. This represents the old covenant, which is man keeping the commandments in his own power, instead of trusting God to write them on hearts. The old covenant is legalism, or the works of the flesh. It’s a me-plus-Christ mentality instead of “Not I But Christ” (See Galatians 2:20), the motif Paul shared as the crux of the gospel.
So God gave Abraham as a reminder to trust Him, rather than trying to solve His own problems.
Then God said to Abraham, “Your responsibility is to obey the terms of the covenant. You and all your descendants have this continual responsibility. This is the covenant that you and your descendants must keep: Each male among you must be circumcised. You must cut off the flesh of your foreskin as a sign of the covenant between me and you. From generation to generation, every male child must be circumcised on the eighth day after his birth. This applies not only to members of your family but also to the servants born in your household and the foreign-born servants whom you have purchased. All must be circumcised. Your bodies will bear the mark of my everlasting covenant. Any male who fails to be circumcised will be cut off from the covenant family for breaking the covenant.” Genesis 17:9-14 NLT
Abraham’s part in the covenant was to keep himself from doing those things God had promised. Because Abraham trusted in his flesh to work things out, God had Abraham circumcise the part of his flesh that he was trusting, so he would realize that he could do nothing to fulfil His promises. He had to leave it all to God.
For we who worship by the Spirit of God are the ones who are truly circumcised. We rely on what Christ Jesus has done for us. We put no confidence in human effort… Philippians 3:3 NLT
… like the birth of the child of Abraham, and that of Mary, was to teach a great spiritual truth, a truth that we are slow to learn and ready to forget. In ourselves we are incapable of doing any good thing; but that which we cannot do will be wrought by the power of God in every submissive and believing soul. It was through faith that the child of promise was given. It is through faith that spiritual life is begotten, and we are enabled to do the works of righteousness. -Ellen White, Desire of Ages, Page 98
Now, instead of circumcision, we have baptism as a sign that we are casting away self-confidence, as we go under the water symbolically dying to self, we rise up to a new life, not trusting in self, but trusting in Jesus.
Satan works hard to make us miss the whole point of this lesson by coming up with his own rituals, and then making male circumcision appear to be another cultural ritual similar to female circumcision, which has no Scriptural significance but is still widely practised, even though it is harmful to women.
It is worth noting that there is evidence to suggest that certain male health issues are less prevalent in communities where circumcision is widely practised, and circumcision also appears to have benefits for the wives. Others suggest that the same benefits may be experienced by proper hygiene. Thus everyone considering circumcision needs to prayerfully consider the reasons for and against the practice today.
Finally, some men who were circumcised as babies, and learning that circumcision is no longer morally necessary, have become quite bitter towards their parents for “mutilating” them. To those I would suggest, first of all, you have not endured anything that Jesus Himself has not endured. Jesus was circumcised too. See Luke 2:21. No matter how awkward or embarrassing an area of your life may be, Jesus has been there and experienced it for you. He understands everything! Second, most parents were simply doing the best they could with the information they had at the time. All parents have to make decisions about the treatment of their babies on a range of issues and most make those decisions with the best information available.
Satan likes to make the Gospel look foolish and even crazy in human eyes, and because circumcision is a sensitive issue it is an easy target. I pray my brief attempt has helped you to see the gospel where before all you could see was a Jewish ritual.
If it had not happened, could we imagine a world in which God became a Man and lived among us? Although He could have come as a powerful and wealthy King, He chose to come as a newborn powerless and poor Baby. He lived like those around Him. He obeyed His parents and His government. He even allowed them to put Him to death.
We don’t know much about Jesus’ growing-up years … probably because it was much like everybody else’s who grew up at the same time. There was nothing that would make His childhood look different from the other children in Nazareth. He was a Jewish boy, from a Jewish family, in a Jewish village.
Then something startling happened. When He was twelve, in Jerusalem for His first Passover, He realized who He was. Think for a minute about how that moment of revelation must felt for Jesus. Can you imagine being twelve and finding out that you were the Creator of the planet that you were standing on and everything on it?
Even more mind-boggling though, is that after coming to that realization, Jesus went home with His earthly parents and continued to live, work beside, and obey them for the next 18 years. Our sinful, earthly minds rebel at the thought of being subject to anyone, especially someone we perceive as being somehow less important than we are. Yet Jesus knew He was God, and still obeyed His parents and lived as their Son.
From the time when Jesus and God the Father made the plan to redeem humanity, Jesus had been obedient to the laws that governed Him. Some people like to paint Jesus as a rebel, but if we look closely at His life, we realize that He never broke a rule He didn’t have to. In every way He lived the life of a devout Jewish baby, child, and man. His parents had Him circumcised just like every other Jewish boy. He didn’t eat any unclean meat. He kept all the Jewish feasts that pointed to Him as the Redeemer. He kept the Sabbath that pointed to Him as the Creator. He kept the Ten Commandments that He had written with His own finger.
In the stories of the mythological gods, all of them tried to “fly under the radar.” Most of them didn’t even attempt to live by the same rules that humans were expected to follow. Most of the mythological gods were immoral, jealous, and unprincipled beings, according to the stories written about them. They used whatever power they had to draw attention to themselves and to get what they wanted, no matter what it cost anyone else.
Jesus was different. He allowed Himself to be beaten and killed to save each one of us, even though He could have destroyed those who were mistreating Him.
Do you think you would be able to do what Jesus did, even on a smaller scale? Here’s the story of someone who did. His name was Witold Pilecki, a captain in the Polish army and a committed Christian. In September 1940, Pilecki did the unthinkable – he sneaked into Auschwitz!
Why would anybody sneak in to a Nazi death camp? Well, Pilecki was sure that very bad things were happening in that place and he wanted to get proof of what was going on. He could only get that information from the inside. So Pilecki came up with the plan. His superiors approved it and made sure he had a false ID card with a Jewish name. Then Pilecki went out and got himself arrested by the Nazis. He was sent to Auschwitz and tattooed as inmate number 4859.
Now, it wasn’t like Pilecki had nothing to lose, he had a wife and two kids. He said, “I bade farewell to everything I had known on this earth.”
Once inside the death camp, he didn’t go around telling people that he wasn’t Jewish and that he should be treated differently.
He “became just like any other prisoner—despised, beaten, and threatened with death. From inside the camp he wrote, ‘The game I was now playing at Auschwitz was dangerous…. In fact, I had gone far beyond what people in the real world would consider dangerous.’
“But beginning in 1941, prisoner number 4859 started working on his dangerous mission. He organized the inmates into resistance units, boosting morale and documenting the war crimes. Pilecki used couriers to smuggle out detailed reports on the atrocities. By 1942, he had also helped organize a secret radio station using scrap parts. The information he supplied from inside the camp provided Western allies with key intelligence information about Auschwitz.
“In the spring of 1943, Pilecki joined the camp bakery where he was able to overpower a guard and escape. Once free, he finished his report, estimating that around 2 million souls had been killed at Auschwitz. When the reports reached London, officials thought he was exaggerating. Of course today we know he was right.
“Here’s how a contemporary Jewish journal summarized Pilecki’s life: ‘Once he set his mind to the good, he never wavered, never stopped. He crossed the great human divide that separates knowing the right thing from doing the right thing.’ In his report Pilecki said, ‘There is always a difference between saying you will do something and actually doing it. A long time before, many years before, I had worked on myself in order to be able to fuse the two.’ The current Polish Ambassador to the U.S. described Pilecki as a ‘diamond among Poland’s heroes.’”1
Mr. Pilecki was not Jewish and didn’t need to worry about what was going on in those camps. As far as he and his colleagues knew they were work camps. But Pilecki wasn’t satisfied to stand by and watch. He had spent his life working for freedom and eventually gave his life because he refused to give up the names of the people with whom he worked.
Jesus was not human and He didn’t need to worry about anything here on earth. We blew it – he could have just created another world and forgotten about us. But Jesus couldn’t stand by and watch, either. He and His Father made a plan and snuck Him into our sinful existence. And just like Pilecki, Jesus risked all. He risked failure and eternal loss.
“In stooping to take upon Himself humanity, Christ revealed a character the opposite of the character of Satan. But He stepped still lower in the path of humiliation. ‘Being found in fashion as a man, He humbled Himself, and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross.’ Philippians 2:8. As the high priest laid aside his gorgeous pontifical robes, and officiated in the white linen dress of the common priest, so Christ took the form of a servant, and offered sacrifice, Himself the priest, Himself the victim. ‘He was wounded for our transgressions, He was bruised for our iniquities: the chastisement of our peace was upon Him.’ Isaiah 53:5.
“Christ was treated as we deserve, that we might be treated as He deserves. He was condemned for our sins, in which He had no share, that we might be justified by His righteousness, in which we had no share. He suffered the death which was ours, that we might receive the life which was His. ‘With His stripes we are healed.’”(E.G. White, Desire of Ages, p. 25)
- Matt Woodley, managing editor, PreachingToday.com; Rob Eshman, “The man who snuck into Auschwitz,” JewishJournal.com (12-5-12); Captain Witold Pileck, The Auschwitz Volunteer (Aquila Polonica, 2012) ↩
Current lesson of the Hope Sabbath School class led by Pastor Derek Morris. (Adobe Flash Player version.) A Youtube version of the Hope Sabbath School “Discipling Spiritual Leaders” is below. You can download the video, the MP3 audio, and the lesson outline from the HopeTV Sabbath School Site. You might want to bookmark the HopeSS Youtube channel.
After He clarified His intention to uphold the law, Jesus started to explain a righteousness that exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees. He begins by citing the sixth commandment (Exod. 20:13) and summarizing, from the law of Moses, the penalty for violation (Exod. 21:12, Lev. 24:17).
The sixth commandment does not include all cases in which one person kills another. In cases of manslaughter, a person could flee to a city of refuge and gain temporary asylum (Exod. 21:13, Num. 35:12). However, one who intentionally took another’s life would receive swift judgment. In His explanation, Jesus does not focus on the act itself but on the motive and intents of the one who commits the act. One might take a life accidentally, but the person who purposes to take a life has gone through a period of deliberation. The sin took place before the person even carried out the terrible deed. Many potential murderers are stopped only by a lack of opportunity.
Read Matthew 5:22. What does Jesus equate to murder? How does 1 John 3:15 help to emphasize the point? What is the real issue here that Jesus is pointing to, and what does this tell us about the real reach of God’s law?
Though the Bible often talks about the power of words, Jesus here takes it to a deeper level. Often, the sole purpose of harsh words or cursing is to evoke negative feelings in the victim. Jesus’ point is crystal clear. It’s not just those who carry through with the crime who are guilty of murder but also those who speak harsh words to others or who even harbor murderous thoughts. Jesus counsels those harboring these thoughts to reconcile with their victims before coming to the altar (Matt. 5:23-26).
Dwell on the implication of Jesus’ words in the texts for today. How well have you done in this regard? What does such a high standard tell you about the need to be covered by Christ’s righteousness at all times?
Read again Matthew 5:17-20. How interesting that Jesus would greatly emphasize the law here, while at the same time making the statement that He did about the scribes and Pharisees, who so greatly emphasized the law, as well. What important lesson does this passage teach about true obedience to the law?
Jesus begins this section with the assurance that He has not come to abolish
the Law or the Prophets (Matt. 5:17, NKJV). Although there is no reference to it, many see this as a formulaic expression for the entire Old Testament (see also Matt. 7:12, 11:13, 22:40, Luke 16:16, Acts 13:15, 24:14, Rom. 3:21). In spite of what His opponents claimed, Jesus did not attack the very book that revealed the will of His Father. Instead, His purpose was to
fulfill the law and the prophets, not to do away with them.
The word used for
fulfill (plero) literally means to
fill up, or
complete. It carries the sense of
filling to the brim. There are two ways to understand fulfill. One is to place the emphasis on Jesus as being the fulfillment of Scripture (for example, Luke 24:25-27, John 5:39). However, the key to understanding this text lies in the immediate context, which shows that Jesus did not come to destroy Scripture but to reveal its inner essence.
Having established His overall intent, Jesus switched emphasis from the Old Testament in general to the law in particular. Almost as if He knew that people would one day accuse Him of abolishing the law, He cautions that as long as heaven and earth remain, the law will exist until everything
is accomplished (Matt. 5:18, NIV). With this statement, Jesus confirms the perpetuity of the law.
In fact, the law is so important that all those who violate its precepts will be called
the least in the kingdom. This is just a way of saying that they are wrong in what they are doing. Jesus is quick to point out that He is not promoting the empty righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees but instead a righteousness springing from a heart that loves God and seeks to do His will.
Current lesson of the Hope Sabbath School class led by Pastor Derek Morris. (Adobe Flash Player version.) A Youtube version of the Hope Sabbath School “Christ and Religious Tradition” is below. You can download the video, the MP3 audio, and the lesson outline from the HopeTV Sabbath School Site. You might want to bookmark the HopeSS Youtube channel.
Do not think that I came to destroy the Law or the Prophets. I did not come to destroy but to fulfill. For assuredly, I say to you, till heaven and earth pass away, one jot, or one tittle will by no means pass from the law till all is fulfilled
When most people think about the Sermon on the Mount, they automatically think
the Beatitudes (Matt. 5:1-12). However, the Sermon on the Mount actually covers three chapters that have been divided into four sections. The Beatitudes comprise only the first section. In the second Jesus compares Christians to light and salt (Matt. 5:13-16). The third, Matthew 5:17-48, is where Jesus gives us a new and deeper perspective on the law. And then there is the final and longest section, Matthew 6:1-7:23, in which Jesus provides clear teaching on Christian behavior. The whole talk ends with the parable of the wise and foolish builders (Matt. 7:24-27), which stresses the importance of obedience to what God calls us to do.
This week we will investigate the third section, Matthew 5:17-48 (which theologians call the antitheses, cases in which sharp contrasts are presented), to see what it teaches us about the law.
*Study this week’s lesson to prepare for Sabbath, April 26.
Informal discussion regarding this week’s Sabbath School lesson with author Dr. Keith Burton on Vimeo in less than 30 minutes:
You can view the same video on Youtube if you prefer.
When I was a child, my family lived near the Adventist church in our town in northern Namibia. Mother took us to church, though we weren’t Adventists. I liked church. On Sabbath afternoon, we’d go to Himba villages to sing and talk to them about God. Then when I was 8 years old, we moved away, and I couldn’t go to church anymore.
As I grew up I began bullying other kids at school. I knew it was wrong, but I enjoyed the power. My parents kept me busy selling things in the market so I would stay out of trouble. One Saturday I slipped away from work to play soccer. I saw the Adventist church near the field and watched the children walking to church. They were dressed nicely and seemed so happy. I wished I could be more like those kids.
I left the soccer field and walked to the church. I recognized a few of the kids who went to my school. I expected these kids to treat me badly, but they didn’t. They welcomed me into their group. When church started, they invited me to join them. I was embarrassed. My clothes were old, and I didn’t have shoes. But no one cared.
During church one of the leaders announced that the new Pathfinder Club needed more members. I didn’t know what Pathfinders was, but it sounded like fun, so I asked to join. The leader invited me to the meeting that same afternoon.
I told my mother that I had attended church and wanted to go back. She nodded. In time I took my younger sisters with me. Then I invited my cousin. She started attending Pathfinders and eventually came to church.
I gave my life to God. Mother sees how God is changing me, and she’s glad. Others have noticed too. I’m done bullying people. God has showed me how the kids I had bullied felt when I treated them badly. Now I try to be kind to others, and encourage other kids.
God has given me a great job! I help record and edit Bible stories for the Himba people, most of whom can’t read. I’m happy that God is letting me help make a difference other people’s lives. My mother is Himba, and I want to help teach the Himba that Jesus loves them and wants them to live with Him forever.
A recent Thirteenth Sabbath Offering is helping us record more stories reach the Himba in a way they can understand and respond to. Thank you!
Willem Hifikepunye is a student serving God in Opuwo in northern Namibia.
Let all who accept human authority, the customs of the church, or the traditions of the fathers, take heed to the warning conveyed in the words of Christ, -Ellen G. White, The Desire of Ages, p. 398.
In vain they do worship Me, teaching for doctrines the commandments of men.
- What are some of the traditions that we as Seventh-day Adventists follow? Why is it important to recognize them as such? Why are traditions important, and what role do they have in the life of our community? Which have universal significance, and which are based on local and cultural factors?
Believers have not infrequently allowed the enemy to work through them at the very time when they should have been wholly consecrated to God and to the advancement of His work. Unconsciously they have wandered far from the way of righteousness. Cherishing a spirit of criticism and faultfinding, of pharisaical piety and pride, they have grieved away the Spirit of God and have greatly retarded the work of God’s messengers.-Ellen G. White, Testimonies for the Church, vol. 9, p. 125. How does one
unconsciouslywander far from the way of righteousness? What steps can a person take to avoid getting trapped in a self-righteous rut?
- Reflect on the order of the divine worship service in your church. Why does your church have that particular order? What is the meaning of each item in the litany (for example, invocation, doxology, pastoral prayer, et cetera)? What lessons can you learn from the church service that help to reveal just how much tradition is interwoven in our faith? At the same time we need to ask: just because it’s tradition, and nothing else, is it bad?
So He [Jesus] came to Nazareth, where He had been brought up. And as His custom was, He went into the synagogue on the Sabbath day, and stood up to read. And He was handed the book of the prophet Isaiah. And when He had opened the book, He found the place where it was written:
“The Spirit of the Lord is upon Me,
Because He has anointed Me
To preach the gospel to the poor;
He has sent Me to heal the brokenhearted,
To proclaim liberty to the captives
And recovery of sight to the blind,
To set at liberty those who are oppressed;
To proclaim the acceptable year of the Lord.” Luke 4:16-19
In the parables which Christ had spoken, it was His purpose both to warn the rulers and to instruct the people who were willing to be taught. But there was need to speak yet more plainly. Through their reverence for tradition and their blind faith in a corrupt priesthood, the people were enslaved. These chains Christ must break. Ellen White, Desire of Ages, p 611, 612
How tragically ironic that a people who religiously observed the Passover representing God’s deliverance of an enslaved people from Egypt could not comprehend they were just as enslaved to false teachings and needless traditions of men. Christ came to set them free from traditions that under a guise of righteousness were nothing more than cunningly devised methods of control that led away from the truth.
The religious rulers who longed to be free from the dominance of the Roman power were meanwhile unscrupulously dominating those that revered them as godly leaders. While they were looking for a Messiah to deliver them from bondage they would plot to kill the Messiah who came to deliver them from sin.
This week as we look at Christ and Religious Tradition we come face to face with one of the greatest helps or hindrances to spiritual growth. As recorded in Matthew 23 Christ pulls back the curtain on the Pharisees who sat in Moses’ seat. He revealed the hypocrisy that ran rampant through the leadership. He exposed the pride of the natural heart that found its way of expression through so-called prayers and public exhortations.
Christ’s full assault against the debilitating traditions of the Pharisees was more than a discussion over preferences to worship styles and practices that governed society. This was not a matter of finding more modern relevant ways of serving and worshiping God. This indictment of their traditions was deeper than that. Eternal life weighed in the balance.
“I’ve had it with you! You’re hopeless, you religion scholars, you Pharisees! Frauds! Your lives are roadblocks to God’s kingdom. You refuse to enter, and won’t let anyone else in either.” Matthew 23:13 The Message
It’s really quite stunning when you think about it. Instead of being seduced by heathen gods and practices, the people were being seduced by their own. The enemy was within the camp. But thanks be to God who provides salvation to all, including those who thought they didn’t need it, Christ came to set captives free.
What about today? What about our religious traditions and maxims of man? Are they roadblocks to God’s kingdom or helps? Are we fostering godliness or creating incubators for spiritual pride? Will we debate style over substance? Sabbath school should be very interesting this week!
Here are a few Hit the Mark questions for this week’s lesson discussion:
- What does “tradition” mean to you?
- What is the difference between a good tradition and a bad tradition?
- Some say Jesus left us an example of compliance to religious laws and norms and traditions. Is that true? Why or why not?
- Isn’t it true that unless a religious tradition clearly violates principle we should comply? Why or why not?
- Isn’t it true that we should discard traditions that are not relevant to today’s society, i.e. young people and unchurched? Why or why not?
- Isn’t it true that the best way to attract new members is to make our church traditions and practices more modern? Why or why not?
We close this week with an insightful exchange over the role of highly-regarded traditions alarmingly disregarded by Christ and His disciples:
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. Mark 7:5-9
Until next week, let’s all continue to Hit the Mark in Sabbath School!
[Thought questions for Christ and Religious Tradition April 16, 2014]
1. Intro. We like to think that “other” churches teach the doctrines of men while “our” church believes in doctrines that are 100% from God. Is it possible for “our” church members today to prefer hand-me-down beliefs to the clear Word of God? Is it wrong to have religious traditions in our homes? If not, what sort of religious traditions do you believe would be most helpful to God’s people today?
2. Sitting in Moses’ seat. Did the scribes and Pharisees have good reason to monitor the teachings of the people to be sure they conformed to the law? Does it matter if we recognize the mistakes of others before we overcome the underlying problems first? Why or why not? The story is told of a minister long ago who would ease his way to the TV set in a home he was visiting on Sabbath and feel to see if it was warm. Is it wrong to search for errors by fellow Christians in order to make it right?
3. Human commandments. Logic was that if the Jewish people would follow minor requirements, they would automatically follow the major ones. What is the natural result of this belief? What is wrong with that logic? Sometimes students at our boarding schools begin thinking that the faculty enforces rules of living as if they were God’s law. Where do such thoughts lead? Are “human commandments” necessary in our programs for our children? If so, why? and to what extent?
5. Majoring in minors. Have you ever had a great idea for your church or Sabbath school class only to be spurned when you tried to present it? Why did people gradually come to regard the rabbinical teachings as equal to Scriptures? Did our friend and prophet Ellen White think of her words as equal or superior to the Bible? Should we? Interpret the following from Lesson 5: “(Jesus) was well aware that the Pharisees were majoring in minors.” What does that mean? Do we ever have a similar problem?
6. Precepts of men. What did Jesus mean when He said, “Thus you nullify the word of God for the sake of your tradition”? (Matthew 3:6) Did He mean that hand washing, tithe paying, and other rituals were unholy? sinful? Should we ignore religious rules and traditions that seem illogical? What was the Pharisees’ underlying motive in promoting human-made standards? What was the final effect of such action?
7. Excessive righteousness. If a righteous person is more like God than the rest of us, how can we have “too much” righteousness? What about self-righteousness? Or, in some cases at least, righteous indignation? Have you ever been a hypocrite? How easy was it? How can you and I make sure that our hearts are so close to Christ’s that our faith in Him guides us in all the we do?
8. Discussion questions. The discussion questions at the end of the lesson are especially appealing this week. Consider the following based on these questions as you prepare for the Sabbath.
- While visiting other Seventh-day Adventist churches, what traditions do you find that aren’t evident in your home church?
- How can you and I wander from righteousness without knowing it? How can we stay out of the “self-righteous rut”?
- Would you be upset if items such as the opening hymn, special music, and the offering were placed in an entirely different order–maybe with the offering being first and the special music immediately following the opening hymn? Should you be? What should you do if you don’t like these changes?
If read in isolation, Matthew 5:20 could be seen as an invitation to out-Pharisee the Pharisees; that is, do what they do, only do it more.
But is this what Jesus is saying? Fortunately, the answer to that question is within our reach. Yesterday’s lesson pointed out that it was not unusual for the scribes and Pharisees to elevate traditional laws over the law of God. Jesus had to tell them that their actions in effect invalidated the plain Word of God. Monday’s lesson also mentioned that, although the scribes and Pharisees probably had good content in their teaching, many of them lived hypocritical lives.
Given this background, it is not hard to see the true sentiment behind Jesus’ statement. He very well could have been referring to that which He had elsewhere warned about:
Anyone who breaks one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do the same will be called least in the kingdom of heaven
The kind of righteousness that Jesus promotes is one that starts in the heart. In the hand-washing incident, Jesus pointed to the Pharisees’ error by quoting from Isaiah 29:13:
These people . . . honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me
Jesus calls for a righteousness that exceeds what the Pharisees themselves thought that they possessed. The righteousness that counts is not obtained by checking off every item on a task list; it can be gained only by faith in Jesus Christ and by claiming His righteousness for ourselves. It is a righteousness that comes from a complete surrender of self and a passionate realization that we need Jesus as our Substitute and Example.
Read Romans 10:3. How does this text help us to see what true righteousness is all about?
The substitution of the precepts of men for the commandments of God has not ceased. Even among Christians are found institutions and usages that have no better foundation than the traditions of the fathers. Such institutions, resting upon mere human authority, have supplanted those of divine appointment. Men cling to their traditions, and revere their customs, and cherish hatred against those who seek to show them their error. . . . In place of the authority of the so-called fathers of the church, God bids us accept the word of the eternal Father, the Lord of heaven and earth.-Ellen G. White, The Desire of Ages, p. 398.
When the Pharisees confronted Jesus about the hand washing incident, they expected Him to respond directly to their charge. However, in His unique style, Jesus confronted them with a question that got to the real heart of the issue. Jesus wanted them to know that the problem was not about hand washing or tithe paying but about the elevation of human standards over divine standards. The Pharisees could provide a logical explanation for their stance on hand washing. Undoubtedly, they probably also reasoned that their channeling of resources to the cause of God rather than to their parents was an expression of their unparalleled love for God.
Although the Pharisees may have had logical motives for their actions, God does not expect humans to love Him on their own terms. It was good that they were concerned about discipline and holy living, but that concern should never eclipse the will of God. The Pharisees should have recalled that the 613 laws recorded in the law of Moses were harmonious and not contradictory. None of the laws sought to supplant another. However, their insistence in following the
tradition of the elders invalidated the Word of God (Matt. 15:6), at least as far as they themselves were concerned. No doubt, seeing themselves as the protectors of the law, they must have been shocked, even scandalized, by the claim that they were actually violating it, even making it of
none effect by the very traditions that they thought were helping people to keep the law better!
Key Thought : While tradition has its place in the church, no human has the authority to create religious traditions and elevate them to the level of Divine law.
[Lesson plan for Christ and Religious Tradition April 14, 2014]
1. Have a volunteer read Matthew 15:8,9.
a. Ask class members to share a thought on what the most important point in this text is.
b. Why are traditions important, and what role do they have in our community?
c. Personal Application: What are some traditions that we as Seventh-day Adventists follow? Are they important, or do they divert us from God’s truth? Share your thoughts.
d. Case Study: One of your relatives states: “Why does your church have the order of service that it does? Have you changed it much? If you did, would people be upset?.” How would you respond to your relative?
2. Have a volunteer read Matthew 23:1-7.
a. Ask class members to share a short thought on what the most important point is in this passage.
b. We have a tendency to exalt and revere our spiritual leaders in the church. But how do we help them from becoming prideful, egotistical, and lifted up?
c. Personal Application: Have you ever experienced a boss or leader who gave good advice but didn’t follow it themselves or model it as they should? Share.
d. Case Study: One of your neighbors states, “All the ministers are hypocrites. They talk about following Christ, but all they seem to want is money, prestige, and power. They are more in love with the world than the unbelievers.” How would you respond to your neighbor?
3. Have a volunteer read Matthew 15:1-6.
a. Ask class members to share a short thought on what the main idea of this text is.
b. What are some ways that people “rationalize” breaking God’s law? Are any of these “legitimate” reasons?
c. Personal Application: What traditions do you see in your culture that by keeping are in opposition to God’s law and will? Share.
d. Case Study: One of your friends states, “Many pastors are working so hard to serve the churches that they sometimes neglect their own families. How can they balance the demands of the Conference, their church functions, their church members, outreach, and their own families?” How would you respond to your friend?
4. Have a volunteer read Matthew 5:17-20.
a. Ask class members to share a short thought on what the main idea of this text is.
b. Is Jesus saying we should be better law-keepers than the Pharisees? Or was He saying something different? Share your thoughts.
c. Personal Application: Have you ever been guilty of being critical of others for not following Christ’s teachings perfectly in some way? Share.
d. Case Study: Think of one person who needs to hear a message from this week’s lesson. Tell the class what you plan to do this week to share with them.
(Note : “Truth that is not lived, that is not imparted, loses its life-giving power, its healing virtue. Its blessings can be retained only as it is shared.” MH p. 149.