July 29, 2018

Pentecost 10 - 1 Samuel 8:1-10

Theme: Beware of Getting Ripped Off
1. By the cheap imitations of sinners
2. From the Lord’s wisdom and grace

Have you ever been ripped off on a big purchase item? If you have, you know the horrible feeling. Chances are, that moment on being ripped off is a constant reminder for you in future purchases. Do your homework. Check reviews. Price things out. But, no matter how prepared you are, it won’t change that sinking feeling in your gut when it comes to making the payment. The uncertainty of not knowing whether it will happen again.

Thankfully, in those moments, believers can submit themselves to the will of God. God is able to overcome any deception, but the pain still lingers. It’s also a good reminder of the fleeting nature of this world. There will always be thieves, deceivers, and con artists – perhaps even more as the years move forward. Our hopes are not in this present age.

Despite the pain and difficulty of getting ripped off, it helps when those who wronged you are brought to justice. Sometimes, in that process, they get a taste of their own medicine. Jesus once said, “All who take the sword will die by the sword.” In that statement Jesus was warning His disciples about trying to accomplish God’s will through their own means. Anyone who does that, whether resorting to combat or not, will wallow away in the futility of the world and its works. A similar thought can be given when it comes to those who rip off others. There usually comes a day when they receive the same treatment in kind.

Consider such a story from a year ago in California. A con artist set up a real estate rental business and posted several properties online. He would lower the prices to the point that desperate buyers couldn’t resist, then he would set up meetings with them to make a security deposit to hold the property. Once the prospective tenants actually looked at the property in person and realized it was a vacant lot or a foreclosed home, it was too late. Those who returned to the place of business would find it empty of everything – no trace of the thieves.

When the mastermind behind the project was finally caught last year, it was estimated that he had conned over 1,000 people. But, once he was finally caught, the rip off artist received what he had coming. Not only did he have to pay restitutions to each of the victims, he was banned from ever working in any real estate field for the rest of his life. He who once ripped others off, now had his career ripped from him. As satisfying as catching and bringing that thief to justice must have been for the victims, it could never fully replace all they had lost.

Similarly, we have lost much in our lives because of our sins. But there are differences in our case. For one, no one stole righteousness from us; rather we willing gave it up. But, second, there is One who can restore all we have lost and even more. God, in His Son, Jesus, has brought us back to even by paying the penalty we incurred over our outstanding debts before God’s law. But, that same Jesus has also supplied the righteousness needed to be in God’s presence in heaven forever. Now, He beckons to us through His Word – don’t be ripped off, because by losing this precious gift of grace you also are stripped of your life with God. We read a lesson that teaches us the same from the Old Testament, an example from the life of Samuel recorded by inspiration of the Holy Spirit for your benefit and blessing today:   

1 Samuel 8:1-10 Now it came to pass when Samuel was old that he made his sons judges over Israel. 2 The name of his firstborn was Joel, and the name of his second, Abijah; they were judges in Beersheba. 3 But his sons did not walk in his ways; they turned aside after dishonest gain, took bribes, and perverted justice. 4 Then all the elders of Israel gathered together and came to Samuel at Ramah, 5 and said to him, "Look, you are old, and your sons do not walk in your ways. Now make us a king to judge us like all the nations." 6 But the thing displeased Samuel when they said, "Give us a king to judge us." So Samuel prayed to the LORD. 7 And the LORD said to Samuel, "Heed the voice of the people in all that they say to you; for they have not rejected you, but they have rejected Me, that I should not reign over them. 8 "According to all the works which they have done since the day that I brought them up out of Egypt, even to this day-- with which they have forsaken Me and served other gods-- so they are doing to you also. 9 "Now therefore, heed their voice. However, you shall solemnly forewarn them, and show them the behavior of the king who will reign over them." 10 So Samuel told all the words of the LORD to the people who asked him for a king.

This story, in many ways, is about failure. Samuel failed by raising evil sons. As with any matter of parenting the blame here did not rest entirely on Samuel’s shoulders. But, he obviously shared in the fault to some extent. Samuel had a unique situation because he had been able to observe Eli growing up and was able to witness how Eli struggled in the very same way with his sons. Eli was a priest, Samuel was a judge – yet both raised wicked sons that turned away from the Lord. It’s a humble reminder that parents have a tremendous impact on their children, not just in how their children act but how their children will lead as parents.

Samuel, himself, could have learned from a previous Judge who had face a similar situation. Shortly after Gideon defeated the Midianites with his band of 300 warriors the people of Israel implored him saying, "Rule over us, both you and your son, and your grandson also; for you have delivered us from the hand of Midian." Gideon had an opportunity to establish a family dynasty in Israel. But, his reply revealed his trust in the LORD’s plan. Gideon said, "I will not rule over you, nor shall my son rule over you; the LORD shall rule over you." (Judges 8:22-23). It wasn’t wrong for Samuel to want his sons to follow in the office of judgeship. What was wrong was to force it into being without considering the LORD’s will. Now, both Samuel and the people of Israel would suffer because of it.    

Obviously, then, Samuel’s sons failed too. Certainly, there were many virtuous things that Samuel had taught them as a faithful judge of the Lord. Joel and Abijah failed to heed their father’s Godly example. They chose to be wicked. Our theme of getting ripped off comes from what the Scriptures says about Samuel’s sons. They were using their status in the nation to purge the common people – all because of their greed. They knew what the LORD demanded of their high office yet they chose to turn from Him.

And finally, in our text, the people of Israel failed. They rejected the LORD’s plan for their nation and chose to follow the model practiced by foreign nations. As in any matter of faithlessness, the people couldn’t completely reject God’s work in their lives. It is true that He remained with them as He allowed them to be ruled by a king. God would still be active in their nation, by choosing their kings and anointing them. But, a clear message had been sent by the people. They wanted to walk their own path. They wanted to choose how they would be led. They didn’t want to trust God’s office of the Judges. This rejection was a serious thing as the LORD compared it to the lessons learned during the Exodus. Once again, the people were reverting to the same ways of practicing their faith – by only calling on the LORD in trouble and no heeding His Word during good times.

These examples in our text are lessons for our lives. There are many ways, some even the very same as the people in this story, that we can turn from the LORD. It’s easy and logical to think that God isn’t involved in our lives. When bad things heap up, one after another, it’s not hard to doubt that God is working all things for our good. There are simply too many choice opportunities to weaken our trust in God because of the bad things that happen around us. This is especially true when we confront our mistakes head on. What areas of your life might you be like Samuel – where though you had good intentions to follow the Lord you nevertheless strayed from Him? In those moments it’s easy to keep on moving forward without trying to change anything. By convincing yourself that your sins aren’t all that bad or that other people are even worse than you are. Heed the first and most simple lesson of our text, trusting in cheap imitations will only lead to getting ripped off. That’s the situation when it comes to facing down the problem of sin – you can go your own way or you can submit to God’s.

Part 2

While this text does have a lot to say about failure – there is also a glimmer of hope. While we see the ways that Samuel, his sons, and the people made mistakes, we also see why God’s story of salvation did not extinguish here. Likewise, in our lives, it’s important to remember that there’s nothing we can do to undo God’s finished work of salvation. The warning alarm that God sounds throughout His Word is absolutely true enough – life with God can be spurned and rejected. But, despair has no home in a Christian’s heart because the glimmer of hope, born from and won by the merits of Jesus, is always present for each person.   

We see two examples of that hope in our text – both from Samuel. Despite being a sinner, he was still faithful to the LORD. You can follow that same path. You won’t be able to avoid your sin – it’s actually quite dangerous to try so. But, God is gracious and powerful enough to still allow you to be His child, even when you fall into sin. The first way we see that with Samuel was how he displayed his hope moving forward. Even though we read that Samuel was displeased with the peoples’ request for a king, his next move was to consult the LORD in prayer. As a leader, Samuel probably had the power to just ignore the people and stick with his own plan of having his sons succeed him. A great temptation must have been present to do this. By rejecting the office of the judges, the people were rejecting Samuel as well as his family. All he had done for them, all he had patiently endured for them – he was being told that it wasn’t good enough. But, Samuel put himself aside for the moment and listened – first to the LORD and then to the people.

Listening is such a simple thing – it often doesn’t take any effort at all. Yet, because of our own cares, desires, and the distractions of the world, listening has become a monumental task for people. But, what a profound difference we see once Samuel listens, and continues to listen. Instead of compounding the original failure to make it worse, it ends at this point. So, also, the same is true in your life. If you’re confronted with the painful consequences of your sin, and who isn’t, you can also listen to the LORD, and to the people He was put in your life, for help. God designed His Word to you with that express purpose in mind. He speaks life and forgiveness to you through it. He reassures you of a second, third, fourth, and beyond opportunities to be renewed by Jesus. Remember when Peter tested the Lord on this matter – how often should I forgive my brother? Yes, seven was a lot for a sinner to give to a sinner. But, the Lord said even more – 70 times 7. When you listen, the Holy Spirit brings that to your heart so that you may once again hear, know, believe, and trust it.

Once Samuel listened, we see the natural progression to the next glimmer of hope. Samuel spoke. We’re told in the last verse that Samuel told ALL of the LORD’s words to the people. Just like any moment of speaking the truth, this was not an easy thing. Sure, the people got what they wanted. But, it would come with some harsh realities – realities that would play out for generations to come, even up to the birth of the Messiah. Simply put, the people would get ripped off by many wicked kings. They would be taxed. Their lands and their children taken from them. They would have to swallow the bitter pill of total subservience. There would be much pain and suffering for their children and their children’s children because of their choice. And sadly, even more seriously, many would be ripped off from the LORD by being led into the same blasphemies and idolatry as their kings.    

But, Samuel didn’t hesitate and he told them ALL that the LORD had said. Yet another humble reminder that God’s will is done – even by the sinners that He calls to speak. When a person is led by faith they can do this incredible thing.

So, do you enjoy that feeling when justice is served? It’s hard not to appreciate the irony of a rip off getting ripped off. Heed the lesson in your life. When it comes to your faith and your salvation, don’t fall for the cheap imitations offered by mankind. Some are simple. Some are complicated. All are very personal. It can happy as easily as talking big as a Christian yet failing to listen to God’s Word. Heed the warning so you aren’t cut off from God’s wisdom and grace in Christ! But, heed also, and more importantly, because by that same wisdom and grace of Christ God promises that He will always renew and forgive you. Amen.

July 23, 2018

Pentecost 9 - Matthew 5:33-37

Theme: Words Still Matter

Words still matter. I’ve heard that phrase more and more recently. From hearings before Senate committees to seminars on race relations in America to reports at the CLC convention, people are saying that words still matter. I agree too. However, even though that saying alone is not divisive in our culture, the use of words has probably never been at a more sensitive level before in the world’s history. We’ve arrived at this strange intersection where people talk as much as they can to get attention and gain notoriety but often at the expense of their credibility and often their public image.

As soon as a person becomes famous, there’s someone opposed to them at work trying to dig up something they said in order to discredit their name. It really makes a person wonder if words do still matter when they are stripped of their context, or deliberately misrepresented, or dragged out into the open after 20 years. While we may agree on the importance of words, it’s really how words are used that separates us into different camps of belief.

Words are a powerful tool because they can communicate. Winston Churchill, who was Prime Minister of Great Britain during WWII, never lifted a weapon in combat but swayed the balance of power in what he said and wrote. Former US President John F. Kennedy famously said of Churchill that he mobilized the English language and sent it into battle. But, words are also powerful for destruction as well – which is why they are so often used to tear down a person’s credibility. In his letter, the Apostle James likens the human tongue to a deadly fire, a lethal poison, and an untamable beast. 

Sometimes, however, the weapon is turned inward. A person’s own words often become their worst enemy. I recently saw a documentary on a college football team in which the coach, a supposedly self-proclaimed Christian, would regularly curse out his players and take the Lord’s name in vain in one breath while exhorting them to lock hands in prayer to Jesus in the next breath. Makes me think of another portion of Scripture, again from James, where the Spirit tells us that both blessing and cursing ought not to be present in a Christian’s words. For me, that college coach lost credibility as a Christian because of how he chose to use his words.

We could say the same thing about any action that the Lord has called sinful – and we are all just as guilty at hypocritical attitudes and lifestyles as the next person. For our sins and faults we confess repentance to the Lord. But, it’s words in particular that our attention is directed at today because Jesus addresses that topic in our text, as we read from Matthew 5:33-37:

Matthew 5:33-37 "Again you have heard that it was said to those of old,`You shall not swear falsely, but shall perform your oaths to the Lord.' 34 "But I say to you, do not swear at all: neither by heaven, for it is God's throne; 35 "nor by the earth, for it is His footstool; nor by Jerusalem, for it is the city of the great King. 36 "Nor shall you swear by your head, because you cannot make one hair white or black. 37 "But let your`Yes' be`Yes,' and your`No,'`No.' For whatever is more than these is from the evil one.

God has done something that many would call: counter-productive, foolish, and even downright stupid. He has entrusted His Word to believers. That means God has given us the opportunity, and even the command, to speak on His behalf. God has staked His reputation, at least how it is portrayed, on the words of sinful people. Think about this for a moment and consider the weight of that responsibility. We have a direct impact on how other people think about God. Each time we use the Scriptures we are taking God’s perfect message and relaying it to people whom God shed His own blood to redeem. This is an awesome undertaking and not to be lightly considered.

Yet, we don’t have to be timid or afraid either. God promises to bless our fallible endeavors. God reassures us that He is working through our words – even for our own blessing. And God shows us the right way in His Word. Our section today from Christ’s Sermon on the Mount is one of those places where God teaches us about how we should use words. 

Jesus spoke these things first of all to a specific audience. It was no strange thing for God to warn His people about careless swearing or lying. There are several instances in the Old Testament when God speaks about that very thing. One of the Ten Commandments specifically addresses the use of God’s name. Another commandment specifically addresses how a person speaks to another person. These were not new things for the people.

However, during that time the Jewish people had developed a custom where if they didn’t swear by God’s name, they didn’t have to take that oath as serious. Hence, Jesus addresses swearing by heaven, earth, Jerusalem, and even the people. In fact, in Jewish culture it was considered highly offensive to even speak the name of God – let alone swear by it. This practice is still in place today among orthodox Jews. Jesus condemns this false practicing by revealing it as the shallow formality that it was. Jesus taught that swearing was swearing. It didn’t matter if you used God’s name or if you used something else – because all things are connected to God.

More importantly, however, God gave us words to use with clarity. Deliberately promising something, even under oath, with the pre-conceived idea to go back on your word, was lying and an act of deception. In fact, as with all sin, it could traced back even to the work of Satan, whom John tells us is the “father of all lies (John 8:44).” Rather than being deceptive with our words, Jesus simply says, “Let your yes be yes and your no be no.” Be clear, deliberate, and honest with your words, because words still matter.   

In a way, words serve as a gateway to the heart. When the Jewish people were deceptive with their promises – thinking they could go back on them if they swore by some lesser thing – what they really showed was a lack of faith in God. The person or thing that you promise something by is really the person or thing that you trust. The same is true for how we use God’s name today. God warns us about swearing in a casual way or falsely by His name because to make a promise in God’s name is really to confess trust that He can bring it to pass. God says – don’t do that if you haven’t thought it through. If it’s a matter that really doesn’t need God’s promise or blessing – don’t swear by His name. If you don’t intend to keep your word – don’t swear by His name.

People today still care about words. Betrayal and lying are still considered wicked acts. What has changed though is how people use God’s name. The world agrees with Jesus when He says, “let your yes be yes and your no be no.” However, respect and trust in God is often not existent in how a person uses their words. This is especially important for a Christian’s life – for by faith they have literally taken God’s name as their own. To be a believer is to be identified as God’s own and, as we mentioned earlier, to have the burden and privilege to use His name before others. But, sadly, being a Christian doesn’t mean we always use God’s name as we should.

Even Christians have used God’s name is lesser, even derogatory ways. In moments of panic and shock using God’s name as a mere expression. In moments of careless thought and immaturity calling upon God’s name to make a foolish promise. Anyone on social media has surely seen the modern expression OMG so much that it’s meaning barely registers on the conscience, becoming more of an accepted literary saying rather than a blatantly offensive use of God’s name and a complete misrepresentation of true Christian morals. 

How precious is the name of our God? Consider what Peter said, “Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to mankind by which we must be saved." Whenever you use God’s name – either for your own faith or as a witness to others – salvation is at play. If you’re careless with God’s name or use it in a foolish, immature way – you are treating eternal salvation in the same way.

Jesus lesson is extremely important for our lives. Be clear in what you say and be careful. Instead of trying to be externally pure when your heart is corrupt, just let your yes be yes and your no be no. Be a person of reputable character, who doesn’t have to swear constantly to get their point across, but will be trusted by others with a simple yes or no.

But also remember, especially for those moments when your words are poor, that what you say is always connected to God. As a believer God has taken you as His own by faith. You are His representative and the best way to represent what you believe is by what you say. But above all – God is connected to you. It was by His oath, a covenant sealed with Jesus’ own blood, that God promised eternal life to you. It’s the written history of this covenant, recorded over thousands of years, that provides daily hope and renewal for your life and gives you the foundation to share Christ with others.

Each word you speak as a Christian, and even each breath you take, are reminders of your connection with God – based on His Word to you; God’s yes and God’s no. God says no, I will not overlook sin. God says no, you cannot earn your own salvation. God says no, other so-called paths to heaven are false. God has many no’s in His Word – they too are promises that are backed by action. But God also says yes, you are forgiven in Jesus. God says yes, you can have hope that you are sinless and spotless by faith. God says yes, believe you will live eternally after you die.

God promise is not a hyperbolic oath. He’s not just saying something to look good on the outside without intending to fulfill what He promises. God was not careless in what He chose to promise to you. His yes is yes and His no is no – His Words still matter.

Likewise, it is to that very end that Jesus calls us by faith for our Christian lives. There is much at stake. The healthiness of our individual trust in Christ. The faith of others as we speak on God’s behalf. The direction and state of the congregation that God has entrusted to us in our corner of the world. Many things are at stake – but most important of all the certainty of Christ as our Lord and Savior. The words of salvation still matter most important of all. May we be proper servants of that Word as we seek to let God’s yes and no be our yes and no – through the clarity that only the Holy Spirit can give. To His glory, Amen.

July 16, 2018

Pentecost 8 - Mark 7:14-23

Cleanliness Matters
1. We are defiled from within
2. We are cleansed from the Lord

Mark 7:14-23 When He had called all the multitude to Himself, He said to them, "Hear Me, everyone, and understand: 15 "There is nothing that enters a man from outside which can defile him; but the things which come out of him, those are the things that defile a man. 16 "If anyone has ears to hear, let him hear!" 17 When He had entered a house away from the crowd, His disciples asked Him concerning the parable. 18 So He said to them, "Are you thus without understanding also? Do you not perceive that whatever enters a man from outside cannot defile him, 19 "because it does not enter his heart but his stomach, and is eliminated, thus purifying all foods?" 20 And He said, "What comes out of a man, that defiles a man. 21 "For from within, out of the heart of men, proceed evil thoughts, adulteries, fornications, murders, 22 "thefts, covetousness, wickedness, deceit, lewdness, an evil eye, blasphemy, pride, foolishness. 23 "All these evil things come from within and defile a man."

What is your “second rule”? I’m speaking about food consumption here. How long, once something hits the floor or some other surface, until your food is contaminated? We all have different standards. For some, it’s a two-second rule, or three-second. For those with high functioning immune systems, maybe it’s a ten-second rule. For others, the only rule is that the food can’t touch anything.

Location makes a difference too. There’s a big difference between a freshly wiped kitchen table and a public restroom floor. There’s a big difference between the napkin resting on your lap and a living room rug. We could hardly make any surface 100% clean – everything has germs. But, location is still important. Since Lukas has started eating solid food, we’ve had to be quite careful in this regard – because he has no rules. He will eat just about anything off of any surface. Any when you’re taking a trip, locations change. Over the course of our trip Lukas took a liking to stuffing food items in his car seat for snacking on later. That’s pretty disgusting but not nearly as bad as crawling under the kitchen table at Gretchen’s parents, the very stomping place of everyone’s feet as well as the family dog, and cleaning up the remnants of supper – another favorite activity of our dear Lukas.

Now that our culture knows a lot about contamination and germs, cleanliness in eating habits matters. It’s strange in a way to hear what Jesus says in our text because we know for a fact that what you put into your body will affect it. Yet, Jesus is not talking about germs or food-related illnesses. He’s talking about spiritual defilement. That was the theme of this conversation because the Pharisees who were claiming that Jesus’ disciples were ceremonially unclean. There’s much to worry about when it comes to physical hygiene in your diet, but much more concerning your soul!

In the Old Testament God laid down very strict laws governing the dietary habits of His people. One of the central components to those laws was washing both themselves, and their food, with clean water. Logically, we understand the reason for this and God was thinking about this too. He wanted to preserve the health of His people. He issued these laws as safeguards against disease and illness. Yet, just like Jesus’ statement, there was more going on than just the physical. We know that no matter how much you wash something, you can’t make it perfectly clean. There’s always a certain amount of risk involved in eating because whatever it is could make you sick.

More importantly, God looks at how we treat our souls. The food requirements in the Old Testament were also reminders of cleanliness from sin. Forgiveness, too, is a washing; a washing, as Peter describes, that is “not the removal of the filth of the flesh, but the answer of a good conscience toward God, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ (1Pe 3:21).” Peter was speaking specifically of baptism – one of the sin-cleansing tools that God has given us through His Word. Jesus, though He doesn’t mention baptism in our text, is looking at the same thing because He’s answering an accusation from the Pharisees about the same thing. How is my soul cleansed? The lesson is – not from something within me, but from something given by God.

Before Jesus could get to this point, He had to start at the beginning – by addressing what makes a person spiritually unclean in the first place. The Pharisees were bold enough to assert that not washing one’s hands before a meal would make them spiritually unclean, and they thought they were on solid footing with this theory because it went back to God’s laws in the Old Testament. There were two problems with their thinking however. First, they divorced God’s law from the intended purpose, namely to lead God’s people to Christ. And second, they added elements to God’s law that were never really there.    

Christ’s message in our text helps us see the intended purpose of those Old Testament laws. Logically, there was a need, but there was even more than that – for nothing that enters a person can defile them, as Jesus teaches. Much more dangerous is what comes out of the sinful heart, things in the list at the end of our text: evil thoughts, adulteries, fornications, murders, 22 "thefts, covetousness, wickedness, deceit, lewdness, an evil eye, blasphemy, pride, foolishness.”

The Pharisees were ignoring these ailments of the heart and focusing only on externals. With the use of a modern colloquialism we could say they were making “mountains out of molehills.” While there certainly was value in washing one’s hands before a meal, as there is today, it makes no sense to focus only on that at the expense of recognizing sinful pride, wickedness, evil thoughts, and the like. But, this is the very tactic that is employed by people who seek to justify themselves. They can only succeed in the lesser externals of life, like hand washing rules, so that is what they focus on. The Pharisees knew that they weren’t perfect people. They were aware of the deep secrets of their own hearts, as all people are. They knew they suffered from the things mentioned by Jesus. But, they ignored it because they deemed that if they were good enough at following their own rules, none of their other problems would matter in the end. How wrong they were and how many people they led astray. As Jesus admonished them earlier in the chapter, they were leading others away from God by “teaching as doctrines the commandments of men (Mark 7:7).” By doing this, the Pharisees missed the entire purpose of the Old Testament law – to lead sinners to Christ. The Old Testament washing laws were meant first and foremost as symbols of the need that sinners have to be cleansed by Jesus. Anytime a person forgets or misplaces this greater spiritual purpose of the law, in place of the lesser physical purpose, they set themselves up for self-righteousness.

But, the Pharisees also had another problem, they added elements to God’s law that were never there. If you read the actual laws from Exodus, Leviticus, and Numbers about ceremonial washing, almost all references are directed at the priests. The priests, as God’s holy representatives, were required to wash regularly. There were times when God directed the people to wash themselves, but only in specific circumstances where they had done something else to become unclean in His eyes. The Pharisees stretched these very specific circumstances to include things like washing your hands before mealtime. What they did was a complete mishandling of God’s Word.

It’s easy to pinpoint these problems with the Pharisees. What we really need to recognize, however, is that it’s just as easy for us to treat God’s commands in these ways. It’s easy to make the law of God our own thing, by divorcing it from the greatest meaning of leading people to repentance in Christ. We, much like the Pharisees, will never fully understand God’s law if we don’t see it in its relationship to the work of our Savior. Many people today tempt us to cut corners on the more unpopular, or some might say less culturally relevant laws from God. If we walk down that path we might fit in better in our world, but the Word of God will become our own malleable tool. God’s direction for our lives is to follow and listen to the unchanging standard of His Word – whether that’s easy or hard. The Word is not ours to bend or change as we see fit – that attitude will only bring pain for our lives and hurt for others who use our Christians example and teaching as a model to follow.

The whole reason why we don’t have to treat God’s commands like this is because they are connected to Christ. All the commandments have found their completion in His work on the cross. Whatever requirement we come face to face with we know that Christ has redeemed us from the well-deserved curse that we bring upon ourselves. We don’t have to hide from the law. We don’t have to make it easier to digest to our society. We don’t have to shamefully curtail its full force and effect. Because we have Jesus. To do any of those former things to God’s holy Word is also to dishonor our Lord and Savior who obeyed the law, even to His own death, for us. 

Let us also be aware, too, of the second pit of the Pharisees – making the commands of God broader than they are. There’s really only one reason to do this – it’s about control. It’s easier to control people when you can bind them down with extra laws. It’s easier to keep them in line with your thinking. It’s easier to keep them from practicing their faith in a way that you might not. Control over one another gives a false sense of unity when really it debilitates a person’s trust in Jesus.  

How does this manifest itself in our lives? Well, key in on the same word that Jesus uses in His rebuke – tradition. In verse 9 He said, "All too well you reject the commandment of God, that you may keep your tradition. (Mar 7:9 NKJ). Tradition. It’s tradition that can make a person defiled in their heart without even knowing it. Tradition itself isn’t bad. Customs in the church and in our faith-lives have their proper place. But, when they become equal to or more important to God’s Word, tradition defiles the heart. Do you like worshipping on Sunday? Do you like to come with family and because of the fellowship of brothers and sisters in the faith? Do you like to dress up in respect to the Lord? Do you appreciate the rich heritage of our hymnody and liturgy? These are all excellent traditions – but still traditions. If they ever become the main reason we come to God’s house, or our primary identity as a Christian – you have a problem; making the traditions of men more important than the Word of God. It’s a trap of broadening your scope of God’s law in order to make yourself feel more confident in your faith or in limiting the faith of others to converge with your own opinions. Traditions can be tools that help people understand and learn God’s Word. If traditions end up blocking the Word, they should be jettisoned.

There are several factors that determine cleanliness in life – especially dietary cleanliness. What you’re comfortable with may be different from someone else. But, our diets are a lot like our souls – no matter how thorough or good we are, we can’t be perfect. There will always be contamination –both of germs and of sin. Help is not found in making new rules or in changing God’s rules. Help is found in Jesus – the only one who can offer complete 100% cleansing from sin. Anything that gets in the way of faith in Jesus can defile a person’s heart, even if it appears to be helpful on the surface. Likewise, with Jesus as our strengthen and support, nothing can defile us before God. No danger is too great, no sin devastating enough to destroy forgiveness in Christ for a repentant sinner. Thanks be to our great God and Savior, who came to us in our defiled condition, and washed our lives clean in His righteous blood. Amen.