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!