Sunday, March 6, 2016

cleanliness is NOT next to godliness

(by Pastor Joe)
The Word for today: Matthew 15:1-20
What is your favorite soap? Do you prefer anti-bacterial? Moisturizing? Exfoliating? Foam? Liquid? Bar? Too many choices for me.
While I don't spend long hours in the health & beauty aisle, I do work regularly with junior highers, who very often need reminders to do certain things like wearing deodorant or taking a shower!
So once again I find myself talking about washing because it's right there in today's reading.
The Pharisees are at it again, criticizing Jesus because His disciples didn't obey their rules. And once again, Jesus turns the focus from their criticism to more important matters of the heart and the Word of God.
To begin, there is nothing wrong with washing your hands before you eat. In fact, I encourage it.
There was nothing wrong with the Pharisees little tradition- let them wash their hands or feet or whatever they wanted as much as they wanted. No, Jesus diagnoses the real problems:
The Pharisees were guilty of a critical, nit-picking spirit [v.1-2]
The Pharisees were guilty of putting their own rules and traditions above the commands of God [v. 3 ] and therefore the Pharisees were actually breaking the law [v. 6]
The Pharisees were guilty of hypocrisy [v. 7]
The Pharisees' hearts were far from God [v. 8]
The Pharisees did not understand true worship [v. 9]
The Pharisees did not understand sin and holiness [v. 10-11]
How awful of them! What a tragedy! The very people who had the greatest access to and "respect" for the Word of God were the same people who were furthest from God. The ones who should have had the best understanding of the Messiah were the same ones who missed Him and opposed Him the most.
It's easy to hold the Pharisees in contempt and talk about how bad they were until we take a look in the mirror. You see, they are not so different from us after all. In fact, the Pharisees' knowledge of the Bible and commitment to the commands of God would put most of us to shame. Sure they were legalists, but only because they actually believe that God was serious about His Word. Sure they had more obscure rules than anyone could possibly keep, but at least they had some understanding that God is a Holy God and calls us to be holy as well.
As we look at the faults of the Pharisees, most of them, if not all, hit close to home. It is very easy to have critical, nit-picking spirit. Many of us, myself included, struggle with fault-finding. (e.g. The service is too long, short,deep, shallow, loud, quiet, etc.)
We all think that the rules and traditions of the Pharisees are ridiculous (I don't think anyone has tithed their spices in the last 500 years! See Matthew 23: 23.) But what kinds of modern day regulations and man-made rules do we require? What hoops do we require others to jump through in order to show that they are acceptable to us? What molehills do we turn into spiritual mountains for the lost?
Conversely, and perhaps even more problematic, what commands are we neglecting because we are too busy with our man-made rules? In our efforts to always be correct, have we forgotten to love? Do we make a hierarchy of sins, accepting certain ones while condemning others arbitrarily?
Are we really seeking God? Are our hearts drawing near, or have we given up intimacy with God for some substitute?
Finally, what kinds of games do we play with worship, with holiness, with sin? Do we really believe that we are the final authority on all truth-- that our opinions are exactly what God thinks? As the Pharisees use a mask of legalism to hide their sin, do we use a mask of false liberty to hide our own? Perhaps one of the greatest sins in the American church is to use the "I don't want to be a Pharisee" excuse that somehow gets us off the hook for knowing and loving God's Word and seeking to obey His commands.
The solution for us is the same as it was for the Pharisee, 2000 years ago. It's time to realize that often with the same words that Jesus called the Pharisee to task He is also calling you and me. It's time to understand just how prone all of us are to being just like the dreaded Pharisee. It's time to learn well not the prayer of the Pharisee, but that of the tax-collector: "God, have mercy on me, a sinner." (Luke 18:13)

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