Then some Pharisees and teachers of the law came to Jesus from Jerusalem and asked, “Why do your disciples break the tradition of the elders? They don’t wash their hands before they eat!” (Matthew 15:1-2, NIV).
At this time Jesus was up at the sea of Galilee, which is about 75 miles north of Jerusalem. This was obviously a pre-planned, very deliberate visit. It was no easy task to make that kind of a journey back then. What would take us a about an hour today would have taken them the better part of a week. The fact that the Pharisees would send people to find Jesus when He was that far away shows how serious their opposition to Jesus was. What did they travel all that way for? What was the cause for such a serious trip? They were upset that the disciples were not following the rabbinic traditions that had been put in place by the Pharisees to safeguard against breaking God’s law.
Specifically, they bring up the ceremonial washing of hands before eating. In Exodus 30:17-21, priests are commanded by God to ceremonially wash their hands before they began ministering every day. The Pharisee’s traditions extended this to ceremonially washing your hands before you ate a meal so that you would not defile yourself and become ceremonially unclean. “We have always done things this way” is the justification they offer.
There’s one problem with that: the tradition had no biblical support. Things might have been different if that tradition was based on a biblical text, but this was not the case. Because the tradition was not based on God’s Word, it could only be based on human, and therefore, sinful motives. Instead of directly answering their question Jesus asks them why they are so concerned since their “traditions” many times were not only not supported by Scripture but contradicted it. Jesus retorts by reminding them that the fifth commandment was to honor your father and mother. Children were responsible to take care of their parents in their old age. What the Pharisee’s tradition taught was how you could evade the biblical requirement to honor your parents by supporting them in their old age by saying, “I’d love to help you out but this money is going to be a gift to God.”
Traditions, liturgies, and rituals are there to help visibly express what we feel in our heart, which is invisible. The Church is made for man, not man for the Church. When we focus more on the form than the message the form is meant to express, we are not worshipping.
Jesus was not afraid to be so bold against the tradition of the Pharisees because it went against Scripture. The Bible is the standard by which we are supposed to justify what we do. If we can’t justify our own traditions with Scripture then we need to get rid of them, speak out against them, and discourage them. We should not fear what people might think or what they might do because they do not in the end have God’s blessing. In fact, their judgment is sure. This teaches that there is a correct and incorrect way of using Scripture. You cannot just say whatever you want.
Guilt is born form moral failure, not from failing to follow amoral political laws and religious regulations. Ceremonial washing will not make your food any more or less appropriate to eat. Food is not what causes sin, what comes out of the heart causes sin. Sin does not come in from the outside; it comes from within and expresses itself outwardly.
Which leads us right to the heart of understanding our number one purpose: worship. The worship that pleases God accurately expresses what is in our hearts. The Pharisees thought they were doing pleasing worship but were not. I want to make sure we don’t make the same mistake.
Let’s be clear first about what worship is not:
Worship is not defined as “coming to Church regularly.” Sometimes worship is equated with attendance. We say things like “I went to worship today.” Worship is not gauged by attendance records or time cards. It’s not what you do but why you are doing it that makes what you do an act of worship.
Worship is not singing certain songs or types of music. The hot topic in the Church today is music. The number one reason churches split apart today is not over doctrine or problems with leadership but over what kind of music should be played. It is not “first we have worship and then we hear the sermon.” The whole service from prelude to postlude is worship. I agree with Rick Warren that one of the worst things that has happened in the music world has been the label “praise and worship” as a style of contemporary songs. Your preference towards hymns or praise songs says more about you and the kind of music you like than what kind of music God likes.
Worship is not a particular ritual. Worship is not limited to a certain style or format or behavior. Those things change with the culture, occasion, and purpose of the service. Traditions, liturgies, and rituals are the clothes we dress our worship up in but are not worship itself.
Jesus was not against going to church to worship. He encouraged people to go and often taught in church Himself. Jesus never mentions anything about what kinds or styles of music was appropriate. We know that music and singing were done in every synagogue but He did not take the time to say anything about it for us. Jesus was not against having traditions. He started traditions. Good Christians do all these things-but they are not the right signs to be looking for to discern where you stand with God.
The first essential ingredient of worship is faith in God’s ability and willingness to provide for all our needs. Worship is the attitude that God is not just important but everything; not just a thing but The Thing in your life. That’s faith.
This faith in God produces hope for the future. We live for the glory of God because this life is preparation for eternity.
Faith and hope are both rooted in a love for God so that you can define worship as expressing your love for God in everything you do.
How do you express your love to God?
- Praise. Praise is the natural and spontaneous to what we love.
- Discipleship. Building your relationship with God.
- Fellowship. Lift and be lifted by spending time with your Church family.
- Ministry. Give yourself to others who are in need.
- Sharing God’s message. Brining your friends to Christ.
There are two enemies of worship:
Legalism. Christians are famous for making lists of things to do and to avoid that supposedly make you a better Christian. We talk about not drinking, smoking, dancing or chewing. We have some of our own like no clapping and being quiet in church. There may be good reasons why individual persons may chose to avoid or discourage those things, but making them marks by which we judge a person’s spirituality is legalism. This is what Jesus was condemning in the Pharisees. They made a bunch of rules that had no grounding in Scripture and told people they were sinning if they did not follow them. That is legalism and that kills worship.
Duty. When the reason we come to church, pray, read the Bible, or join ministries is primarily out of a sense of duty, you are doing it for the wrong reason. When you do the right thing for the wrong reason it becomes the wrong thing. “These people worship me with their lips but their hearts are far from me.” “Dutiful roses” is a contradiction in terms. Love is not shown out of duty, duty is shown out of love.
The thing we need to be asking ourselves is this: Is my worship only skin deep? Do I come to church because I need to express my love to Him with my church family? Or is my motivation for worship driven by something else?
The biggest danger of skin-deep worship is that it can look an awful lot like spirit-driven worship. Look at Matthew 7:21-23:
Not all people who sound religious are really godly. They may refer to me as ‘Lord,’ but they still won’t enter the Kingdom of Heaven. The decisive issue is whether they obey my Father in heaven. On judgment day many will tell me, ‘Lord, Lord, we prophesied in your name and cast out demons in your name and performed many miracles in your name.’ But I will reply, ‘I never knew you. Go away; the things you did were unauthorized.
I don’t know about you, but if I knew a person who could prophesy, cast out demons, and perform miracles, I would be running to that person for counsel and direction. But even those actions do not guarantee genuine worship.
No less than 21 times, Jesus talks about the rewards of putting our faith, hope and love in Him. The other NT authors teach about the rewards promised for a life driven by worship for God another 18 times. In facts the author of Hebrews says, “Anyone who wants to come to Him must believe that there is a God and that He rewards those who earnestly seek Him” (11:6). Let me just mention two.
Doing what we are designed to do brings meaning, fulfillment, and joy. Warren cites a great quote from C.S. Lewis on this fact:
The more we let God take us over, the more truly ourselves we become-because He made us. He invented all the different people that you and I were intended to be…. It is when I turn to Christ, when I give myself up to His personality, that I first begin to have a real personality of my own. (p. 80)
The second reward is eternal life. God promises that we will inherit a kingdom that can’t be destroyed. Hebrews 12:28 says, “Since we are receiving a kingdom that cannot be destroyed, let us be thankful and please God by worshiping him with holy fear and awe.” I don’t know about you, but the idea of Jesus taking my hand and saying, “Well done, my good and faithful servant. You ran a great race. Come, sit down at my table, let’s celebrate together!” is really motivating to me. Is it to you?