Wednesday 5 June 2024

Mark 7  v 1-13

The Gospel reading for Sunday depicts how we can become capable of ill treating worship. The religious leaders were more concerned over proper traditional rituals being carried out and external practices observed. It was so in Jesus day and it still is in some places today

This gospel passage is about what Jesus thought about such practices. The religious leaders were often teaching and practising tradition rather than Scripture and so leading people astray.

They had the practice of teaching the Jewish law, which was accompanied by the ceremony of washing to display ceremonial cleanliness, which had to be performed in a strict order and if you did not follow that way you were deemed to be unclean. Jesus said, they were’’ laying aside the commands of God for the tradition of men’.

God had laid down a procedure for the priests to do a washing ceremony before they worked in the temple. The Pharisees then made up their own rule, which said all people had to do all sorts of ceremonial washing all the time so creating tradition before Scripture.

People can attend Church without the right intention and expect a certain routine and order when they get there, and woe betide any Minister who makes any alteration. There is nothing amiss with order, but something can become so ingrained they become almost sacred to people.

When I was ordained I was posted to a High Church and found that some members there were more concerned as to how the ceremonial procedure was performed than anything else. The sermon was viewed as a necessary extra. Such was the experience Jesus was having with the religious leaders.

People are creatures of habit accustomed to doing things in the same way without giving any thought as to why they are doing so.

I began ministry years ago in the Methodist Church before later moving into the Church of England.  Over the last 10 years I have spent most of that time back in Methodist ministry, but still retain a concern for the Anglican Church, even though it has cast aside the Bible for its own obsession to please society. I also think there is too fixed a programme of worship in having the same liturgy week after week, whereby members are saying and hearing words which have lost their impact through routine use.

There should be the freedom to move from fixed Lectionaries to enable crucial moral and social issues to be considered in the light of Biblical teaching.

There is much in today’s reading for us to take note of. We all have our own little preferences. As a little exercise, complete the following sentence, ‘it wouldn’t be church for me without….’

Jesus was prepared to ignore their tradition and follow that given by God. It is essential for every Church to agree on the supreme authority of the Bible, otherwise you will have the chaotic and confused situation of the present in which the Church finds itself on the subject of morality.

We have to contend for the whole faith and see beyond the visible. Think of the two principal sacraments of baptism and Holy Communion, for example. For most people, in the baptism service it is the physical acts of the priest and the sentimental display of the baby which commands the most attention, but baptism points to the reality of a commitment to Jesus Christ, a symbol of what God has done in the life of a believer. In the Communion service, we need to think of the love of God in sending Jesus to shed His blood on the Cross to redeem us rather than the way the physical actions are performed

The Bible shows that Jesus had a liberty of spirit and did not stick to an established routine, and He condemned practices which were man made and became more important than what was really meant to be. When we start introducing unnecessary practices into services we invariably introduce false doctrine. Scripture is rarely preached in some Churches, and sound doctrine is not given in many others as it contravenes the moral belief of many Ministers and members.

The focal point of one’s faith is the heart. We have to contend for the whole faith and not just pay lip service. The heart is what God is concerned about and what He notices. All the posturing and exaggerated motions and actions avail nothing; we take our hearts to Church as well as our bodies. So many people can talk the faith without ever practising it. Heart and lips must go together.

When the Pharisees asked Jesus why His disciples did not observe the strict cleaning practice Jesus pointed out their hypocrisy. Correct words can produce wrong attitudes, to appear to be doing something, but have no attitude inwardly. Worship must be genuine, something you do which is deep and real, it must be given with heart and mind.

Jesus says, that's how these Pharisees and teachers were treating God. God says, "These people honour me with their lips" - they sound keen to please me – "but their hearts are far from me. They worship me in vain; their teachings are but rules taught by men." That is, they don't actually do what God asks them. They have their own idea of what'll please God, and they do that instead.

In verses 9-10, Jesus taught that the words of the Bible writers were the words of God. We call that the 'inspiration' of the Bible. God took 40 men of different characters and occupations, most not knowing the others or what they were writing and by his Spirit, God worked in those writers so what they wrote was precisely what he wanted them to write.

Jesus taught that the whole Bible is from God. He also taught the supreme authority of the whole Bible; this indicates that the Bible should be the supreme authority in the church and in our lives. Jesus criticised these people for making their teaching-traditions supreme instead

Jesus taught the divine origin of the Bible with its supreme authority above all practices, observances and institutions. This is why unity between the Churches can be difficult to achieve as some Churches are not prepared to put Scripture above practice and preference. We see today how religious leaders here are eager and wanting to override the Bible and endorse sexual practices to accommodate modern morality

In verse 13 Jesus said, you cancel the Word of God in order to hand down your own tradition. This has an application for us now. Consider the matter of preaching.

Earlier I drew your attention to some practical failings in Anglican worship, but whilst I like the Free Church ability to be inspirational, it can also be very confusing.

Preachers cannot be trusted in the way that the words of the Bible can be. For example, on the subjects of relationships, marriage and divorce, there are wide differences in what is preached.

I and others like me who hold a strong traditional and conservative belief, and however much may fail to do so, try to be faithful to the Bible. The following week there could be someone with a totally different and liberal attitude who is prepared to teach the release of the commands of God to hold onto the traditions of men and society.

What kind of impression does that give to anyone seeking spiritual guidance or hope? This should emphatically enforce the point that Jesus is giving throughout this passage that the Bible is from God and therefore supreme authority and there should be no deviation from its teaching.

Martin Luther stood almost alone against the false teaching and traditions of the church of his day, and by doing so sparked off a world spiritual revolution in which the Bible triumphed over man made rules. Luther said, ‘my conscience is captive to the word of God; here I stand’ Are we standing for the word of God?

This passage has an important message, that Jesus is the supreme interpreter of the Bible and we must never let human interpreters overrule Him Our salvation depends on our belief in Jesus Christ not by observing man made rules and practices. Never let us hear being said to us the words that Jesus used to the Pharisees, that we held on to the traditions of men rather than the commands of God. We must accept that nothing needs to be added or taken away from the words of Scripture.


May God inspire our hearts and may His Holy Name be Praised

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