The Traditions of Men vs Essential Life From Within
Full Transcript of Matthew Mesage #45:
We’ve been looking at Matthew 14:13–16:20, and in that section there are six stories. It’s a very large section of scripture. The key to understanding this section of scripture is to realize that the Lord Jesus is teaching His disciples. It’s true that He’s dealing with others, but His real concern is His disciples. He is only using those contacts with others as an occasion to teach His disciples. Of course, that’s not to distract from the fact that He is still compassionate and sympathetic, and He has a heart for others. I’m not saying He doesn’t have a heart for others, but when He dealt with them, when He ministered unto them, it was because of the disciples.
Let me give an illustration. It’s like a surgeon who is trying to teach interns. So, they all gather around the operating room or around the patient, and then the chief surgeon performs surgery on that patient, and all the other doctors, the interns, are standing around watching. Now, certainly, the doctor has concern for the patient, but it’s deeper than that. He’s also teaching those who are standing around and watching, and observing. Just so, the Lord Jesus is doing that with His disciples. His disciples were in school. They are going to be required, when He left, to continue His practice. But right at this point in Matthew they are learners; they are observers, and are disciples. He’s teaching them, and He’s correcting all their false ideas and their mistakes, and He’s preparing them for the delicate work of soul surgery. They are soon be going into the lives of the men and women, and into their hearts, and He’s preparing them.
If you read the six stories in this section with that in mind, that He’s teaching His disciples, it will help you to understand what is happening and why. The Lord Jesus is teaching His own in the laboratory of the real world, and He’s using real human subjects. I suggested in our previous studies that there are three basic things that the Lord wants to teach His disciples in this section; three foundational truths that He longs that they would learn. Here’s a little outline; chapter 14:13-33, the principle of union with Christ; chapter 15:1-20 with 16:1-12, the principle of the spiritual over against the physical—the essence of life, essential life, internal and not external, what God does and not what man does; and then chapter 15:21-39, the principle of seeing God, a high and accurate view of the Lord. Those three principles are so basic to every lesson they’d ever learn is what Jesus was teaching His disciples.
This is the third lesson we have on these verses. The first lesson we took an overview of all three principles. Last time we began by going back over each of the principles one at a time in a little more detail. Last time we looked at chapter 14:13-33, the principle of union with Christ. Just to summarize it, the essence is this; just be your yielded self and know that Christ is Lord of all. That’s the whole message of union—just be yourself, and don’t try to be anything else, and know that He is Lord of all.
That brings us to Matthew 15:1-20 with 16:1-12, the second great principle He wanted them to learn; the heart life, essential life, Spirit life, life within.
Matthew 15:1-20, “Then some Pharisees and scribes came to Jesus from Jerusalem saying, ‘Why do your disciples transgress the tradition of the elders, for they do not wash their hands when they eat bread?’ And He answered and said to them, ‘Why do you yourselves transgress the commandment of God for the sake of your tradition, for God said, “Honor your father and your mother, and He who speaks evil of father and mother, let him be put to death,” but you say, “Whoever shall say to his father or mother, ‘Anything of mine you have been helped by has been given to God,’” and the word is “corbin”, “’and he is not to honor his father or his mother.’ Thus, you invalidate the word of God for the sake of your tradition. You hypocrites! Rightly did Isaiah prophesy of you saying, ‘This people honors Me with their lips, but their heart is far away from Me. In vain do they worship, teaching as their doctrines, the precepts of men.’ And He called to Himself the multitude, and said to them, ‘Hear and understand; not what enters into the mouth defiles a man, but what proceeds out of the mouth. This defiles a man.’ Then the disciples came and said to Him, ‘Do you know that the Pharisees were offended when they heard that statement?’ But He answered and said, ‘Every plant which my Heavenly Father did not plant shall be rooted up. Let them alone. They are blind guides of the blind, and if a blind man guides a blind man, both will fall into a pit.’ And Peter answered and said to Him, ‘Explain the parable to us.’ He said, ‘Are you still without understanding? Do you not understand that everything that goes into the mouth passes into the stomach and is eliminated, but the things that proceed out of the mouth come from the heart, and those defile the man, for out of the heart come evil thoughts, murders, adulteries, fornications, thefts, false witnesses, slanders; these are the things that defile the man. But to eat with unwashed hands does not defile the man.’”
Matthew 16:1-12, “And the Pharisees and Sadducees came up testing Him and asked Him to show them a sign from heaven. But He answered and said to them, ‘When it’s evening you say, “It will be fair weather, for the sky is red.” And in the morning, “There will be a storm today, for the sky is red and threatening.” Do you know how to discern the appearance of the sky, and cannot discern the signs of the times? An evil and an adulterous generation seeks after a sign, and a sign will not be given it, except the sign of Jonah.’ And He left them and went away. And His disciples came to the other side, and had forgotten to take bread. And Jesus said to them, ‘Watch out and beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and the Sadducees.’ And they began to discuss among themselves saying, ‘It’s because we took no bread.’ But Jesus, aware of this, said, ‘You men of little faith! Why do you discuss among yourselves because you have no bread? Do you not yet understand or remember the five loaves of the five thousand and how many baskets you took up, or the seven loaves of the four thousand and how many large baskets you took up? How is it that you do not understand that I did not speak to you concerning bread, but beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and Sadducees.’ Then they understood that He did not say to beware of the leaven of bread, but of the teaching of the Pharisees and Sadducees.”
Let me tell you how I’d like to develop this, and give you a little outline. First of all I’d like to give you a little background of this particular section because I think it will help if we fit in the Scribes, the Pharisees and Sadducees and who they were, and then I’d like to give three great principles of life that Jesus was touching on when he illustrated heart life; the essential life. Then I think it will become intensely practical as we get into it.
Let me begin by giving a little background to help us to get into the Spirit of this passage. We read chapters 15:1-20 and chapters 16:1-12 because in both cases groups came to Jesus deliberately trying to trick Him up to test Him. Matthew 15:1 says, “Some of the Pharisees and scribes came to Jesus from Jerusalem.” Matthew 16:1 says, “The Pharisees and Sadducees came up, and testing Him, asked Him to show a sign from heaven.” By comparing chapter 15:1 and 16:1 you may get the idea there were three groups—there were scribes, there were Pharisees, and there were Sadducees, but that’s not true. There were not three groups. There were only two groups; only Pharisees and Sadducees. Who are the scribes? The Pharisees had their own scribes, and the Sadducees had their own scribes. There’s only the two group, the Pharisees and Sadducees, and both of them had their own scribes.
In the days of Ezra, the scribes were good. They had a wonderful responsibility. They were scribes in the real sense of the word. They were writers, and they copied the manuscripts. That’s how we got our Bible, because the scribes wrote it down, when they didn’t have printing presses, and all of that. That was the scribes’ job, to write down the Bible. But by the time you come to the New Testament, scribes didn’t mean “one who copied”. Scribe was one who taught and one who debated. He was a lawyer. In other words, there were Pharisees, and scribes of Pharisees, and the scribes were the smart ones. The Pharisees were just the laymen, the regular ordinary people, and the brainy ones were the scribes. They were the lawyers and the ones who disputed and argued and got into all the fine points. The same thing was true of the Sadducees. They had their scribes, too—those who were the doctors, those who were the bright ones. When you see “scribes”, you are looking at the big guns. Those were the ones who were supposedly so smart.
Some times in the cults you’ll find this. A Jehovah’s Witness will come to your home, or a Mormon will come to your home, and as soon as they find out you know something, they say, “Well, I’ll come back with my scribe, with the big guns, with the leader.” That’s what the Pharisees did. They weren’t qualified to go against the Lord, so they brought their scribes, and the scribes were the ones who knew all the answers, supposedly. Those were the doctors. Sometimes in the Bible you’ll see the word “Rab”, and sometimes you’ll see “Rabbi”, and sometimes you’ll see “Rabboni”. That’s just B.A. degree—Rab, and then a further degree is Rabbi, and then the Master’s degree is Rabboni. That’s all that is. The scribes are the ones that had those degrees. They were the fancy ones who went to college and had all the big titles.
These two groups, the Pharisees and Sadducees, came together against Christ. In order to get the impact of this, you’ve got to remember that the Pharisees and the Sadducees were about as far removed as darkness is from dawn. When we read that the Pharisees and Sadducees came together, you are reading about a miracle. That they would have anything to do with each other is amazing. We just sort of read that the Pharisees and Sadducees came together, like they were buddy-buddy, like they were friends. Those folks didn’t agree on anything. They fought like cats and dogs. They had no love for each other. The Pharisees knew nothing of a heart relationship with God. His whole religion was to be legally correct before God. He was full of rules and regulations, forms and rituals, and all externals. In many cases the Pharisees were pretty orthodox on paper, but their heart wasn’t in it. It was just all on the outside. They had the words and the doctrine, but it was all form.
On the other hand, the Sadducees didn’t even have the right doctrine. They were the rationalists of the day. They didn’t believe in spiritual things. They didn’t believe in angels, in God, and if you can’t taste it, feel it, smell it, it’s not true. They did not believe anything in the supernatural. They denied God, denied miracles, denied life after death, and they had a natural interpretation for everything that happened. So, the Pharisees and the Sadducees were worlds apart, and the only thing they agreed on was to disagree with Jesus. They agreed on rejecting Christ.
I don’t know if you like reading old Puritan writers, but sometimes they have a pithy way of saying something. Listen to how John Trapp said what I’ve been trying to tell you. He says, and this is the analogy he uses, “Dogs, though they fight ever so fierce, and mutually tear one another, if a hen should run by, they will give over and run after her together.” In other word, dogs will fight, but if a rabbit runs by they’re going after the rabbit; they’ll work together for that. Well, Jesus was the rabbit. They’re always fighting, these Pharisees and Sadducees. They couldn’t get along, but when Jesus came along, they joined together against Him. They stopped fighting each other to join forces against the Lord.
Look at Matthew 16. It’s interesting how they agreed to get together to disagree with the Lord. In Matthew 16:1 they asked for a sign from heaven. Well, that was a good question for the Sadducees because they didn’t believe in salvation; there was no such thing, and it was impossible to have a sign from heaven. There is no such things as miracles. So, they said that was a good question, to ask for a sign. And the Pharisees said that’s good for us, too, even though we disagree with you, that you don’t believe there is such a thing, we do believe there is such a thing, but we don’t believe that He can give it.
Sometimes we wonder about these Pharisees and say, “How come they didn’t see all these miracles and believe; they had so many signs?” It’s because they had a doctrine, and they believed that the only signs that were from God were from heaven. Any sign done on the earth was not from God, but from Satan. That’s what they were taught. That’s why they didn’t believe His healing ministry. That was done on earth. That’s why they didn’t believe when He calmed the storm. That was done earth. That’s why they didn’t believe when He multiplied the loaves. That was done on earth. That’s why they said, “He does it by Beelzebub, the prince of the demons. But if He could show us a sign from heaven, like the sun stand still like it did in Joshua’s day, or let fire come down from heaven like it did in Elijah’s day, or let it thunder when there is no clouds in the sky, like it did in David’s day, or let the prophesy of Joel or the minor prophets be fulfilled, that the moon turn to blood, and the stars fall from the sky, then we’ll believe. Give us a sign from heaven. But if it doesn’t come from heaven, it’s not from God.
So, the Pharisees said, “Alright, that’s a good question. We’ll both agree on that. The Sadducees said that a sign is good because we don’t believe in signs. He’ll never be able to do it. Pharisees said that a sign was good because He’ll never give one from heaven; He’s not from God.” So, they agreed together, even though they disagreed, in order to accuse the Lord.
The occasion of these two chapters, 15:1-20 and 16:1-12, the question that the Pharisees and Sadducees raised was the occasion the Lord Jesus used to instruct His disciples in the great principle of heart living. It was an object lesson, and Jesus dealt with them in such a way as to instruct His disciples. Notice Matthew 16:6, “Jesus said to them, ‘Watch out and beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and Sadducees.’” There’s always that double danger of the Pharisees and the Sadducees. It’s easy to know what the leaven of the Pharisees was because of Luke 12:1, “Beware the leaven of the Pharisees which is hypocrisy.” They come out and tell you what it is; having the outside right, and the inside wrong. That’s hypocrisy; having the right answers without heart.
Then there is the leaven of the Sadducees; worldly wisdom and rationalization. The words we use today is these; for Pharisees we used the word “legalism”, and for Sadducees we use the word “humanism”. It’s the same thing and it’s never changed, and it’s always been the same. “Watch out for the leaven of legalism, and watch out for the leaven of humanism.”
With that as background, let’s home in on the great teaching that the Lord Jesus longed to give His disciples. I’ll state it as a principle, and then try to develop it a little. The principle can be stated in these words, “All essential life, real life, is from above, and from within. The Heavenly Father plants it, and He plants it in the heart. That’s essential life. If the Heavenly Father hasn’t planted it, it shall be rooted up. All essential life is from above and from within. Everything else is not essential.” I won’t apply it yet. We are going to apply it, but just think in your own life. If God uprooted everything that was non essential in your life, how much spiritual life would be left? If everything He hasn’t planted, and that is from within, was removed from your life, how much would be left? It’s a heart searching question.
To bring this principle into the open, He has used the question that was raised by the Pharisees, and the scribes of the Pharisees, the smart ones. Matthew 15:1-2, “Some Pharisees and scribes came to Jesus from Jerusalem saying, ‘Why do your disciples transgress the tradition of the elders, for they do not wash their hands when they eat bread?’” The question is a lot deeper than what is on the surface. On the surface it looks like the Pharisees were concerned about germs, and that they had a passion for cleanliness. I wish it were so. I wish even if that were on the surface that their real problem was cleanliness.
Listen to G. Campbell Morgan. I’m quoting what he quotes from one of the rabbis. “This question of washing before meals was the result of a tradition that Shibka, a demon, sat upon the hands of men while they slept during the hours of the night, and if any person should touch his food with unwashed hands, he has touched his food with demons, and the demons that sat upon his hands made the food dangerous.” Then he went on to quote another of the rabbis, “Whoever eats his common food with washed hands, may rest assured that he has eternal life.” There is an amazing thing. This is not just, “La, la, la,” and they washed their hands before they ate. This was the very heart and core of their religion. It touched at the very essense. It’s an illustration that shows the essential difference between their religion and what the Lord Jesus Christ was presenting as essential life, and they were opposites. They were going in difference directions. This washing of hands was more than a point of etiquette or hygiene. They were talking about something that went way down inside.
A.T. Roberston on the same subject, “The rabbis held it to be a mortal sin, a sin which would lead to hell, to eat with unwashed hands.” It’s amazing! This question went right to the heart of the difference between life as they understood it and taught it, and life as the Lord Jesus Christ is teaching it. To the Pharisees life was lived before God, and not in relationship with God. God was a big stranger up there with a whip, and if you didn’t keep the rules you would be in trouble. You lived before God with rules and regulations, and they began with the law of Moses, and they had interpreters of the laws of Moses, and they had what they called traditions. As they interpreted the law, they applied it in every area of life. They wrote down those traditions, and those traditions became laws. Then they had a group of scholars who interpreted the traditions. So, they had traditions for the traditions. And then there was another group of scholars that interpreted the tradition, that interpreted the traditions, so they had traditions, traditions. They had laws of dress, and laws of diet, and laws of labor, and laws of stewardship, and laws of hygiene, and laws of morality, social laws, marriage laws, and laws of worship. Life was just obeying the laws, just obeying the rules, keeping all the do’s and don’ts straight.
But Jesus had another view of life, and that’s what blew their mind. That’s what was so radical and revolutionary. He said, “All essential life is from above, and from within. And if it’s not from above and if it’s not planted within, it’s not real, so forget it. He presented life as a matter of communion with God; not on the outside, but on the inside. The Pharisees felt defiled because their hands weren’t washed, and maybe there was a demon sitting on their hands, but Jesus said that defilement was deeper than skin. Defilement doesn’t begin on the outside. It begins on the inside, from the heart. For example, Matthew 15:7, “You hypocrites! Rightly did Isaiah prophesy of you saying, ‘This people honors Me with their lips, but their heart is far away from Me.’” Matthew 5:17, “Do you not understand, that everything that goes into the mouth passes into the stomach and is eliminated? But the things that proceed out of mouth come from the heart, and those defile the man.” So it was that the questions that looked so surface, wasn’t really that surface, and it struck at the core of everything. It pointed out the difference between religion and life in Christ. Jesus wanted to teach His disciples that essential life is from above, and essential life is from within, and that no amount of externals could ever reach essential life.
According to the Lord Jesus real life, essential life, heart life, spirit life, life within, the life that counted, verse 13, “Was planted by God. Every plant that My heavenly Father did not plant shall be rooted up,” and it’s in the heart, verse 8, “People honor Me with their lips, but their heart is far away from Me.” Of course, that truth went across the grain of the religious crowd in that day. It continues to be the radical truth, the revolutionary truth that goes against the religious majority in every age. This He longed to burn into the hearts of His disciples. Essential life—not following rules and regulations, and not listening to the traditions of men, but real life that is from above and is from within. Jesus knew the danger of starting on the outside and working toward the inside, that you could go through all of the forms, and say the right words, and honor Him with your lips, and yet in reality your heart would be far from Him.
The Lord Jesus in this section spoke very straightforwardly, very boldly. Let me state what H e said in principles, so that it may be very practical. The first can be stated in these words; since essential life is from above and from within, all that is not essential life is leaven. Jesus warned His disciples to beware of the leaven of legalism, and the leaven of humanism. If it’s not from above, and it’s not from the heart, it’s dangerous; it’s leaven. Notice verse 2, “Why do you disciples transgress the tradition of the elders?” That expression—“tradition of the elders”. Jesus warned about tradition; that which comes from man and is handed down from man to man, which only touches the shell, and never reaches essential life. You can just look at your own life, and you’d know the truth of this next statement. “Every man born of Adam is a slave of tradition.” It clings to us like glue. We finally hear something, and it sounds good, we read it in a book, and it becomes ours, and it becomes a habit, and a tradition. Jesus said, “Beware of tradition. Watch out for the leaven of legalism, and the leaven of humanism.”
It’s not hard to think about traditions today among the people of God, because it’s hard to find something planted by God and from within. Almost everything you can name is tradition. No matter how you start or where you start, almost everything you name… Very little that’s among the people of God today is planted by God, and from within. Most of our religion and Christianity is nothing more than the tradition of the elders.
I’m going to give you a list of the traditions of the elders in the modern church, and it’s not a complete list. It’s only suggested. It’s not exhaustive. Don’t misunderstand what I’m saying. I’m not saying to throw all this out. I am saying, “Danger –Caution; watch out and beware!” I’m going to show you in a moment the traditions you have to throw out. You don’t have to throw out all traditions. You have to beware of all traditions, but you don’t have to throw them all out. Some of it you have to throw out. I’ll tell you exactly what you are supposed to throw out. I’ll give you a principle, so that you’ll know exactly what it is.
The things that I’m going to mention now have no Bible basis. They’ve been started by men—men in many cases who love the Lord, and wanted people to love the Lord. So, they came up with an idea how it would help to get people to love the Lord, and they handed down a tradition. It’s amazing that some of these things are so entrenched into our lives, to get rid of them, we’d almost feel like we were blaspheming God, like we were departing from the living God, because it sounds almost like heresy to suggest that this comes from man. Let me start mentioning a few. Don’t misunderstand it. I’m not saying to throw these out. I’m just showing you how infiltrated the people of God has become with the traditions of men. The tragedy of it all is that it clutters the life. Oh, for the uncluttered life, for the simple life, and only what God plants, and only that’s within. That’s the Christian life He wants. How simple it would be, and how wonderful it would be if God would root up everything He hadn’t planted. May He do it! Alright, let me list some of these heartbreaking traditions that sound so good, look so good, and have such a spiritual flavor, but they are leaven.
Table grace is a tradition of man. It’s not mentioned in the Bible. It’s not found in the Bible. Midweek prayer service is a tradition of man. Meeting in special buildings, Sunday school, quiet time, passing offering plates, having creeds and constitutions, getting married in a church by elders and by pastors, confirmation, choirs, Bible Schools, seminaries, ordination by men, church membership, door to door witnessing—all of these don’t have a thread of scripture to back them up. Faith promise plans, designating giving, board meetings, election of officers, all kinds of programs, revivals, open air meetings, retreats, conferences, pastors candidating for position, Christian funerals, mission boards, deputation—are you getting the idea? Courting certain liturgies, prayers, being very quiet in certain rooms in holy buildings (whatever they are). All of that has been handed down by someone, usually for a good reason, and none of it touches essential life. That’s the danger of it. It’s doesn’t touch essential life. It’s not planted by God, and if it doesn’t come from within, it’s leaven, and it’s to be watched out for.
Someone says, “Is all that sin? Did you mentioned all that as sins?” No, tradition is not in itself sin, but it can become sin. When does it become sin? Let’s look. Matthew 15:3, “And He answered and said to them, ‘Why do you yourselves transgress the commandment of God for the sake of your tradition, for God said, “Honor your father and your mother, and he who speaks evil of father and mother, let him be put to death. But you say, ‘Whoever shall say to his father and mother, “Anything of mine by which you might have been helped has been given to God. He is not to honor his father and mother,” thus you have invalidated the word of God for the sake of your tradition.’”
Let me show you the illustration Jesus uses, and then give you the principle. These Pharisees had a word they called “corbin”. They would go over any of their possessions, money or whatever it was, and if they blessed it with the word “corbin”, it was dedicated to God, and it could never be used for anything but God. Some of these Pharisees liked the idea because they were the distributors of God’s money. They were the priests. That was a good idea; they would just dedicate everything, and now they are the distributors of it, so they don’t really get rid of it. They still have it, but they just say corbin over it. Now, their mothers and fathers are in hard financial straits, and the Bible says to honor your father and your mother. They said, “Well, we’d sure help you out, mom and dad, but we said corbin over our money, and we can’t give you any of that money because it’s the Lord’s money. Sorry about that, folks. He points out that when your tradition causes you to transgress a commandment of God, God said to honor your parents. One was to honor your parents is to support them financially. If you don’t do that, you’ve sinned. That is a great Bible passage, by the way, against putting your folks in a nursing home, or something like that. Timothy also teaches about that. It’s the child’s responsibility to take care of his aged parents. It’s not even a question among the Christian.
When the tradition goes against the commandment of God, the tradition becomes a sin. You are to beware of all tradition, but when it goes against the commandment of God… Let me illustrate that, in order to make it clear. Children love the simple lie, as God loves it. He loves to plant His life in the soul, and let it come out from the soul, and permeate. It will touch the external by and by, but it begins on the inside. When you begin on the outside you’ll find yourself sometimes working against the purposes of God. Let me give you some traditions that can become sin because they transgress the commandment of God. Here’s the tradition that I mentioned in the other list; all kinds of meetings, like the one you are at now. That’s a meeting and it’s a tradition of men. Man started this. All kinds of home fellowships, Bible studies, prayer meetings, visitation programs, all kinds of banquets and work days, Christian service opportunities, whether it’s open air evangelism or door to door visitation, or prison work, or child evangelism, or nursing home, or whatever it is. All kinds of meetings are traditions. And, as you know, you can be meeting-ed to death. Sometimes we’re told that we should be present every time the door opens.
Now watch! How can you transgress the commandment of God by meetings? If you have a wife, husband, children, family, or other responsibilities, and you spend all your time at meeting—traditions, and you fail in your responsibility, you have used the tradition to transgress the commandment of God. Some parents would be far more spiritual if they watched their children in the school play or watched them play Little League baseball, or something like, or just played games around the house, or just stayed at home, than they would be going to prayer meetings or Bible study, or a lot of the other meetings. If you neglect your responsibilities, the clear commandment of God, by tradition, even though it’s a good religious tradition, then your tradition becomes a sin. Beware of it. That’s what He’s saying. Meetings are man’s traditions, and if it transgresses the commandment of God, it’s wrong.
The same thing is true, for example, about quiet time. Of course, there is a positive effect about having a habitual time where you get together in God’s word every day. There’s nothing wrong with that; it’s glorious! I wish more Christians would do it. But in some cases it could transgress the commandment of God. How so? Well, if it cuts into your health, for example, it’s wrong. I know in one case, one Christian brother, it didn’t matter how late he had to work and what his responsibilities are, rises every day at 4 am to spend time with God. He’d be better off sleeping. He needs sleep. That’s the commandment of God. God has provided that. You can sin against God studying your Bible when God wants you to sleep. It doesn’t sound spiritual, but that’s the simple life, what God plants and what God puts in is essential life.
Tradition is not wrong, if it doesn’t transgress a commandment of God. For example, God has given a commandment about a generous heart. He’s told us to be sensitive to the needs of those around us. Storehouse tithing is a tradition of man. It doesn’t have a foundation in the Bible. That verse in Malachi has nothing to do with how it’s interpreted today. Some people always give their money in the same place. They support a certain ministry, or a certain church, they may transgress the commandment of God by doing that. If there is a brother or sister in need, I can’t say that I’ve given it all to the church, all to the ministry. It’s a wonderful tradition, if it doesn’t transgress a commandment of God. That’s why we walk in the Spirit. That’s why it’s what God plants, and what comes out naturally. That’s the Christian life, and not following all these rules.
I love to read books. I appreciate more and more that the Lord has given me more and more books. But if there ever comes a times where the books of men, the ideas of men, the interpretations of men ever substitutes the commandment that we must be taught of God, that the Spirit of God is our teacher, then I hope God destroys my library. And I mean that! Every book and every page that is what’s from man; my library is a tradition. May God remove it if it ever comes in between my heart relationship with God, and being taught by the Spirit of God. It’s easy for traditions to get in the way and transgress the commandments of the Lord.
The Lord’s Day is designed to be a day of rest and worship. That’s why He gave it. For thousands of Christians it’s not a day of rest and worship. Fact is that it’s a day of bondage and ulcers. Lillian said one morning on the Lord’s Day, “This day of rest is not everything it’s cracked up to be!” So much tradition. Sometimes you have to wake up running on the Lord’s Day, and you get into a fever to get to the first gathering, and you’re screaming at the kids to get ready, and you’re frustrated waiting to get into the bathroom for your own turn. Sometimes we’re critical as we sit in the place of worship, listening to the message, and then we sigh with relief when it’s all over. It’s a day of traditions, and nothing was planted by God that came from within. How often the Lord’s Day and the Lord’s Supper and the Lord’s Book and the people of the Lord have become traditions and stood in the way!
Christmas is a tradition. There’s nothing in the Bible about that. It’s not wrong to celebrate Christmas, if it doesn’t transgress the commandments of God. I know in my own life that Christian stewardship takes a beating from Christmastime, and Christian liberty takes a beating in my life around Christmastime, and temperance takes a beating in my life. Traditions can get in the way; they don’t need to. I think that’s enough to give you an idea what the Lord Jesus was saying. He was teaching His disciples that He wanted them to grasp essential life, simple life, life from above, life from the heart, life from within. Everything that is not from above, and not from within is leaven. It’s to watched and it’s dangerous, and there is a warning, and it can even become sin, if it contradicts the commandment of God.
He not only wanted them to know, #1, that all essential life is from above, and from within, but #2, all that is not essential life is leaven, but He wanted them to know a third thing, and it’s a precious thing. He wanted them to know that all that is not essential life He would deal with in His own time, and in His own way. Once again, verses 13 & 14, “He answered and said, ‘Every plant which My Heavenly Father did not plant shall be rooted up. Let them alone. They are blind guides of the blind. If a blind man guides a blind man, both will fall into the pit.” Jesus knew that this principle of heart living was very radical. He knew if would go against the grain and He knew it would be a hard message for His disciples to lay hold of. Let me show you a couple of ways He anticipated what His disciples would be thinking.
Notice verse 2, “When the Pharisees came they said, ‘Why do you disciples transgress,’” (notice that word), “’the tradition of the elders?’” If would be natural for a Christian to try to compromise a little and soft peddle his stand on tradition, to speak carefully so that you wouldn’t offend anybody. But verse 2 is very bold. These people came right out and said, “Your disciples transgress the tradition of the elders.” They didn’t say “neglect”. It would be one thing to say, “Boy, they are neglecting it,” but they said, “You disciples are deliberately and purposely, by an act of their will they are refusing our traditions.” You would expect Jesus to say, “Come on, fellows, don’t misunderstand. They aren’t really against your traditions. They are just trying to emphasize the more important thing; the heart.” He could have said that, but He didn’t. He admitted it. They said, “They’re transgressing our traditions.” And Jesus said, “Yup, you’re right, and so are you.” Notice the footnote in verse 3, “Why do you yourselves,” and in the footnote it says, “You also. Yes, you are right, they are transgressing your traditions, but you also are transgressing, and it’s not tradition. You’re transgressing the commandment of God.”
Jesus came out and spoke for His disciples and put them in a very precarious position. He said, “Yes, they have chosen to go against your dumb traditions.” He didn’t say “dumb”, but He said, “Yes, they have chosen. They’re not neglecting it. They didn’t forget. They deliberately went against it because I’m training them in the uncluttered life. I’m training them in the simple life, the life from within. I expect as you grow in the Lord from the inside out, that you’ll be increasingly delivered from tradition. I expect as I grow, that will be happening over and over again. I warn you against all tradition. It’s all leaven. I warn you against the tradition that goes against the commandments of God. That’s sin. That’s more than leaven. That’s leaven brought to its fruition. It’s poison. I warn you against all tradition, and I encourage you before God, and I don’t care how simple it is, if you only have two things in your life, don’t settle for anything more than what He plants, and what comes from within. I don’t care how simple that makes you. If you only know one thing, it’s enough. Just what He plants, and what comes from the heart, and don’t be afraid to admit it. Don’t be afraid to say, as they did, “Yes, we are transgressing your traditions. Yes, we don’t like it. We’ve been burned by it. No, we don’t want it. Thanks, anyway. Keep your programs. Keep your tradition. Keep your own ideas. We don’t want them. I know you need them. I know they sound religious to you. I know you think I’m backsliding, but I don’t care. I am transgressing your traditions by a deliberate, bold, straight forward act of my will. I hate tradition. Don’t be afraid to say it. That’s what Jesus said. “Your disciples transgress our traditions.” He said, “Yes, they do. I’ve taught them to do that.” And He continues to teach us to do that.
Notice how nervous the disciples got in verse 12. The disciples came and said to Him, “Do you know that the Pharisees were offended when they heard this statement?” They were offended. See, they didn’t like it. The disciples were scared to death, and were afraid because they were a minority, a remnant, a handful, and Jesus was pushing to the place where they went against the majority, and they had to swim against the tide, and spit into the wind. Jesus put them on a spot, and they said, “Don’t you know that they don’t like this. Don’t you know they are offended with this? Lord, if we go against tradition, don’t you know we’re going against the whole framework of religious thinking?” And He said, “Yes, I know that. So what!” Verse 13, “He said, ‘Every plant that My Heavenly Father has not planted shall be rooted up.’” All that is not essential life, Jesus said, “I’m going to destroy it one day anyway. Tradition will not survive. Tradition will die. I’m going to root up tradition.”
All the programs that He didn’t plant, and all the ministries that He didn’t plant, and all the Christian service that He didn’t plant, and all the behavior in our lives that He didn’t plant, it’s all going to be rooted up. If God didn’t plant it, it will not survive and won’t live. And I don’t care if prophets stand up with their pretended visions and prophesies, and it doesn’t matter if martyrs die for it, and scholars write books about it, and time endears it, and kings guard it. He that sits in the heavens shall live and have them in derision. Whatever He has not planted He is going to grab, and I don’t care how big the stock is, that thing like it’s a cedar needs to be ripped up by the roots. It will not survive, and may God do that in our lives now! I just trust that He’ll take everything in our lives that He hasn’t planted and tears it up by the roots! It God opens our mouth, Satan can’t shut it. But if Satan opens our mouth, may God shut. May God root up everything that is not of Him!
There’s great hope in that word, “All that is not essential life will be rooted up.” Not only should we not be afraid to admit it, “I hate tradition,” we should not be afraid that people will be offended when we go against their tradition. So what! But He anticipated, then, the possibility of His disciples taking an opposite view. They might get too brave. They might get so brave and say, “I hate tradition, and I don’t want anything to do with it, and anyone who teaches it I’ve got to shut him up.” They might get so brave that they’ll try to shut the mouths of the legalists and the humanists. So, He says in verse 14, “Let them alone. Don’t you try to deal with it. I’ll rip them up. Whatever your Heavenly Father has not planted shall be rooted up, but you won’t root them up. You don’t have to fight legalism or humanism. I’ll do that.” Every system that He hasn’t planted, and it’s not only religious, but He’s going to root up communism, too. Every system that God has not planted will be rooted up, and it’s not our responsibility. Let them alone. To fight with the legalists to defend ourselves, “Oh, we don’t need this,” (Ed put his hand over his mouth), you don’t need to defend yourselves. The disciples didn’t have to do a thing. Jesus did it all. “They transgress the commandments.” He said, “Yes, they did. And we don’t care about your traditions.” Let them alone. You just live the simple life, that life that God plants, that comes from the heart, and beware of the possibilities that you are giving lip service. May God deliver us from that!
The principles are simple. Essential life is from above, and from within. All that is not essential life is leaven, and all that is not essential life, the Heavenly Father will uproot one day. We don’t need to be ashamed and don’t need to be afraid, and we don’t need to think that we have to overthrow the enemy. One more thing and we’re done with this section.
There’s a precious revelation of the Lord Jesus in this passage. The way He dealt with the Pharisees and Sadducees is in contrast with the way He dealt with His disciples. Remember that he’s using them as an object lesson. He’s teaching His disciples. The way He dealt with the Pharisees and Sadducees was hard and strict. Matthew 15:7, “You hypocrites.” Matthew 16:4, “Evil and adulterous generation.” But the disciples, they were weak and they were trembling, and they were foolish, and they were babes, and they were backward, and they were awkward. Look how patient He is. Matthew 15:10, “And He called to Himself the multitude and He said to them, ‘Hear and understand.’” He called them to understand. But the disciples are slow, so in verse 15 Peter answers and says to Him, “Explain the parable to us.” He said, “Are you still without understanding? You still don’t understand it, Peter?” So, He explains it again. Matthew 16:6, “And Jesus said to them, ‘Watch out and beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and Sadducees.’ And they began to discuss it among themselves and said, ‘It’s because we have not bread.’ But Jesus, aware of this, said, ‘You men of little faith; why do you discuss among yourselves because you have no bread. Do you not yet understand? I’ll explain again.” Verse 11, “Why is it that you don’t understand?” They still don’t understand. Verse 12, and then they understood.
Isn’t this amazing, how He deals with disciples! The way he dealt with the Pharisees and Sadducees, the Bible then says that He walked away. For His disciples He says, “Here’s what I want you to learn; essential life from within, and they didn’t get it. And he said, “Don’t you understand? It’s this,” and He explained it, and they still didn’t get it. He said, “Look, it’s right here,” and they didn’t get it. It was five times, and then they understood. He’ll always come back a second time, and a third time, and a fourth time, until verse 12 is true in your life, “Then they understood.” Praise God for that! It’s doesn’t matter how long it takes. He’ll deal with you until you get it. Don’t feel dumb and stupid going to the Lord and saying, “I still don’t think I have this. I’m still having trouble with rest, and I don’t understand crucified. What does it mean to reckon. I still don’t get it, though I’ve tried.” He’ll explain it again, and again, until the light goes on in your heart, and you understand, and then He’s planted it in your heart, and it will come out of your heart, and whatever the Lord hasn’t planted will be rooted up. That’s the second great principle. He wanted to teach union, and He wanted to teach them this kind of inner life; heart life, Spirit life, real life, essential, life from above, and life from within.
Father, we do thank You for Matthew 15 & 16, again, not for our puny understanding of this great word, but all that You know that it means. Work it in our hearts. Lord, you’ve told us to beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and the leaven of the Sadducees. Give us grace to beware, and especially those traditions in our lives that transgress Your commandments. Give us wisdom and eyes to see that, that we might not transgress Your commandments by our traditions. We ask in Jesus’ name. Amen.