15th Sunday after Pentecost September 2, 2018
1 John 3:11-18
239, 244, 307, 283
Hymns from The Lutheran Hymnal (1941) unless otherwise noted
Then the scribes and Pharisees who were from Jerusalem came to Jesus, saying, “Why do Your disciples transgress the tradition of the elders? For they do not wash their hands when they eat bread.” He answered and said to them, “Why do you also transgress the commandment of God because of your tradition? For God commanded, saying, ‘Honor your father and your mother’; and, ‘He who curses father or mother, let him be put to death.’ But you say, ‘Whoever says to his father or mother, “Whatever profit you might have received from me is a gift to God”—then he need not honor his father or mother.’ Thus you have made the commandment of God of no effect by your tradition. Hypocrites! Well did Isaiah prophesy about you, saying: ‘These people draw near to Me with their mouth, And honor Me with their lips, But their heart is far from Me. And in vain they worship Me, Teaching as doctrines the commandments of men.’”
In Christ Jesus, dear fellow redeemed:
This morning we will study what Scripture has to say concerning traditions of man as opposed to doctrines, or teachings, presented in God’s Word and how these things apply to our worship service. We shall study, of course, from the Word of God, for, as our theme states this morning: TRUE WORSHIP IS A RESULT OF GOD’S WORD
Upon first hearing this, I’m certain you thought, “Of course it is! That’s a given! Who doubts that?” After all, the Bible says, “All Scripture is given by inspiration of God…” (2 Timothy 3:16). Jesus says, “The Scriptures cannot be broken” (John 10:35).
Here in our text Christ was called upon to defend His disciples, that is, those He Himself was teaching. Thus, when the Pharisees accused Christ’s disciples of sin, they were accusing Jesus of being a law-breaker. They said, “Why do Your disciples transgress the tradition of the elders? For they do not wash their hands when they eat bread.”
While perhaps a good idea hygienically, the washing of hands before eating had not been commanded in the law given by God to Israel on Mt. Sinai. Rather, it had been handed down by the elders in the form of a sort of, “You-know-what-Moses-said,” hear-say tradition through the ages. The Pharisees accused Jesus of breaking a man-made tradition.
Jesus did not bother to answer their charge. Instead, Christ turned the question back at them: “But He answered and said to them, ‘Why do you also transgress the commandment of God because of your tradition? For God commanded,’” or more literally, “God said…”
From what the Bible teaches concerning itself, it is obvious to us believers that it is, in its entirety, the verbally inspired Word of God, by which our eternal salvation is assured. The holy writer assures us, “From a child thou hast known the holy Scriptures, which are able to make thee wise unto salvation” (2 Timothy 3:15). And again, “I am not ashamed of the Gospel of Christ, for it is the power of God unto salvation to everyone that believeth” (Romans 1:16).
The authority of God’s Word is above all else; it is complete, and able to make one wise unto salvation. Again, this sounds so obvious to us—of course Scripture takes precedence over all things; of course the Gospel is the Word of Life. Unfortunately, what is so obvious to us is not so obvious in most churches today.
Many do deny that God’s Word is free of error, that it is all-sufficient for salvation, that it is an all-sufficient guide for daily life. Evolution is perhaps the most obvious example here. How many churches teach that God created the universe from nothing but His Word in only six 24 hour days? Even the Roman Catholic church has buckled to the world and given up the biblical account of Creation. “If you’re educated,” they say, “You can’t deny evolution.” Never mind that it’s an unprovable theory. Who are we to believe? Man’s ideas or God’s Word?
That’s what it came down to in the situation recorded in our text. The tradition of the elders held that if a person had tithed, or promised to set aside, a certain amount of his income to the temple, he could not use that money for any other purpose, not even to help a needy parent. Tradition said, “Whoever says to his father or mother, ‘Whatever profit you might have received from me has been dedicated to the temple’—is released from honoring his father or mother.”
God’s Word clearly says, in the Fourth Commandment, “Honor your Father and your mother.” In Exodus 21:17, the LORD commanded Israel, saying, “He who curses his father or his mother shall surely be put to death.” By forbidding a child to help his parents the scribes and Pharisees, “…made the commandment of God of no effect by [their] tradition.” They set man’s traditions, man’s ideas, above God’s Word. By denying the authority of Scripture, making God’s Word bow to man, man set himself above the Word of God. Sinful man sits in judgment of God and determines himself what is God-pleasing or not by means of reason and emotion, instead of by the clear, inspired Word of God.
The scribes and the Pharisees were so proud of their efforts. Why, they even kept all the traditions of the elders, and bound the consciences of others to these traditions, these commandments of man. And in so doing they were worshipping uselessly, in vain. They were worshipping the law and their own efforts, not the One who gave the Law and the Gospel in the first place, namely, the true God.
Those who, in our day, toss aside God’s Word in favor of reason and emotion, who are so proud of the fact that they’re so in-step with the times, so loving and non-judgmental, are really only worshipping their own reason, their own emotion is ruling their hearts instead of the true God.
Others, like the Roman Catholic Church, toss aside God’s Word in matters such as Creation, the Lord’s Supper, etc., while holding tenaciously to man-made traditions, teaching them as doctrines, such as forbidding priests to marry, worship of the saints, etc., in spite of clear words from Scripture that speak contrary to these traditions.
All such practices lead to one thing—uncertainty on the part of man. What did God say? What didn’t God say? Did man say this or did God? Was the world created in six days or billions of years? God’s Word says six days. Whom do I believe? God’s law says I’m a sinner, that I’ve broken God’s law. Man says, no, you’re fine as long as you’re happy. Whom should I believe?
God’s Law says I’m going to hell on account of my sins. God also says that I don’t have to—Jesus died for my sins—simply trust in the Lord Jesus Christ, for it says in the Bible, “For God so loved the world that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish but have everlasting life” (John 3:16 KJV).
Man says the Bible’s wrong in some places and that God didn’t say everything that’s written there. But if some of it is not true, the rest is suspect. If the Bible’s wrong in some places, how do I know that it’s right when it tells me that Jesus died for my sins? Maybe He didn’t! How do I know that I have forgiveness in Him and have eternal life in Him?
Such is the result when man tries to make God’s Word captive to reason, instead of reason captive to God and His Word. For true worship of God, Scripture’s authority must be above all other authorities, else we open the door to doubts concerning our salvation, which jeopardizes our faith, for:
Only a believing heart accepts God’s Word for what it is, namely, the Word of the one, true, Living God. His Word is, as Paul notes, “…profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, thoroughly equipped for ever good work” (2 Timothy 3:16f).
Only a believing heart can accept this, for it is by that Word that man’s heart is brought from unbelief to faith in the true God, as it is written, “Faith cometh by hearing, and hearing by the Word of God” (Romans 10:17 KJV). That Word is, “…living, powerful, and sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing even to the division of soul and spirit, and of joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart” (Hebrews 4:12).
In answer to my recent question, “How do I know…” the Living Word answers, “God says it is so.” Listen: “God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself, not imputing their trespasses to them, and has committed to us the Word of reconciliation” (2 Corinthians 5:19); “The blood of Jesus Christ [God’s] Son cleanses us from all sin” (1 John 1:7).
Such passages are the heart of true worship—the Gospel is the heart of true worship. The scribes and the Pharisees motivated themselves and others by the law. They sought to show man a better way to worship God and, by their reason, ended up teaching the same old work-righteousness, the false teaching that man can please God apart from Christ if he works hard enough. Such teaching is in vain, for man is sinful. We cannot keep God’s law perfectly. We cannot earn His favor.
This is why true worship is not motivated by the law. The law, in its glory, produces a gulf between God and man. The law drives a wedge between God and the heart of man, so that, motivated by man-made ordinances, the words of Isaiah were fulfilled by Pharisees in Christ’s day and in ours, “These people draw near to Me with their mouth, and honor Me with their lips, but their heart is far from Me.”
The Gospel, on the other hand, teaches the truth that Jesus Christ suffered, died, and rose from the dead to save you from your sins. Such truth cannot help but move the sinner to worship with joy and thanksgiving, knowing what great things God has done for sinful man in His Son Jesus.
True worship can only come from a believing heart, for only a heart moved to faith by the God the Holy Spirit believes both that man is sinful, worthy of condemnation, and that God has freely forgiven all sins in the blood of Christ Jesus, all as revealed in God’s holy Word.
It is in connection with doctrine that tradition finds its rightful place in worship and daily living. Tradition is not to detract from doctrine. At its best, it promotes doctrine. Pages 5 and 15 in the hymnal are traditional Lutheran liturgies, both of which are filled with the two great teachings of the Bible, the Law and the Gospel, man’s sinfulness and God’s grace in the forgiveness of sins.
Some say that the Lutheran hymnody is outdated, the music is old and drab. Aesthetics aside, I challenge anyone to find hymns that are more doctrinal than those found here. Each one is filled with doctrine. Don’t just sing the hymns, read them as you sing. Learn from them! In hymn, 290, we find these words: “We have a sure prophetic Word, by inspiration of the Lord; And tho’ assailed on ev’ry hand, Jehovah’s Word shall ever stand.” That one stanza carries everything we spoke of in the first part of this sermon.
Notice the teachings regarding the Real Presence of Christ’s body and blood in the Lord’s Supper in Hymn 305, “Soul, Adorn Thyself With Gladness.” In our closing hymn, hymn 283, God’s Word Is Our Great Heritage, we proclaim our commitment to God’s Word, and our resolve to teach it in its truth and purity.
But even these “God-pleasing” liturgical traditions can become displeasing to God. When? When tradition becomes doctrine. If we taught that true worship is only carried out by following page 5 in the hymnal and that you could use no other liturgy, then that would be wrong. No order of service is prescribed in God’s Word. He leaves that up to the congregation. And so liturgy varies widely, even among the members of the CLC, from coast to coast, from Nebraska to Nigeria.
Whatever form our worship takes, let us strive to maintain God’s doctrinal standards, viz., that His service be to His glory, as we proclaim the doctrines necessary to the eternal salvation of sinners. In Jesus’ Name, Amen.
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All scripture quotations, unless otherwise indicated, are taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
Scripture quotations marked KJV are taken from the King James Version.