PHARISEES EXALT THEIR TRADITIONS
T. Pierce Brown
In Matthew 16:1 the Pharisees and Saducees were “trying him, asking him to show them a sign from heaven.” Since they loved their traditions more than God’s will, they had made void the word of God by their traditions (Matt. 15:6). Mark 7:8-9 puts it, “Ye leave the commandments of God and hold fast the traditions of men. —Full well do ye reject the commandments of God, that ye may keep your traditions.” There is nothing wrong with traditions per se, but persons who think more of their traditions than they do the will of God will CONTINUALLY be “trying him,” and rejecting the commandments of God.
Jesus seems to indicate that their traditional interpretation of the weather conditions was right. He says, “Ye know how to discern the face of the heavens” (Mt. 16:3). They were still “an evil and adulterous generation” that had already seen many signs from heaven and rejected them, preferring their own doctrines and traditions. They had seen him raise the dead, cast out demons, feed thousands of persons with a few loaves and fishes, heal the sick, give sight to the blind and numerous other signs, wonders and miracles which mere mankind could not duplicate. So they were hypocritical in asking for a sign from heaven when they had already rejected many signs from heaven. And they were allowing even a tradition that was right to be used to make void God’s commandments.
I once knew a church in which even a good tradition was used to transgress the commandments of God. They had a tradition of using a tablecloth over the Lord’s Supper. When they had met in a building with open windows and doors and no screens, it was appropriate. When those conditions changed, and the men wanted to cease using the table cloth which few could remove, fold, or dispose of properly, the preacher raved about the modernistic, liberal effort to follow denominational practices, and the church was split over the issue.
I knew the preacher, and appreciated his desire to be right. But I had to rebuke his ignorance, unsound reasoning, and efforts to bind where God had not bound. We need to know that 1. One CAN lovingly “reprove, rebuke and exhort with all longsuffering” (2 Tim. 4:2) and 2. When one makes void the word of God with their traditions, it is necessary to so rebuke if we are to follow the example and teaching of Christ.
We do not know how to emphasize too strongly that the Christ who loved the scribes and Pharisees enough to die for them not only rebuked them in the most scathing terms (Mt. 23), but also demanded obedience to the gospel before his gracious love could be adequately appropriated (Acts 2:38, 2 Thess. 1:7).
Let us be aware, then, of these five important things: 1. It is still possible to make void the word of God with our traditions. 2. Such actions must be reproved and rebuked in no uncertain terms. Jesus did not hesitate to brand them publicly and plainly as “an evil and adulterous generation.” 3. Such rebuking should and can be done in love, and that love is not a mushy sentimentality that hides the seriousness of the sin. 4. We need to make a distinction between rebuking a sin and making a slurring personal remark about the motives of those who may be rebuked. 5. Neither our love nor the love of God or Christ can in any way lessen the importance of obedience. It is tragic that the teaching of many who claim to be preachers of the gospel would make John 14:15 sound like, “If ye love me, you do not need to bother about keeping my commandments!”