Lesson 5: Teacher

Jesus finished speaking and left the crowds spellbound at his teaching, because he taught with an authority that was unlike their religious scholars.

– Matthew 7:28-29 (TIB) 

Devotion: Read Matthew 15:1-20. After a series of negative encounters, the tension between the religious leaders and Jesus reaches a boiling point. Jesus criticizes their traditions and challenges their authority. The Pharisees and scribes accuse Jesus’ disciples of not washing according to customary purity ceremonies. The issue is not hygiene but the disciples’ failure to participate in a ritual based on oral tradition. Jesus teaches that while the Law is good, not all traditions based on the Law are. He points to a tradition that says if people give an amount to the temple equal to what they would have spent on their parents, they are released from the parental obligations ascribed by the Law (Ex 20:12). The leaders support this self-serving rule even though it ignores the intent of the Law. The goal of purity traditions is to remind people to have a pure mind and heart. Such traditions are not a bad thing, but only going through the motions of the ritual misses the goal. Being formed as God’s people from the inside out is what matters. Why do leaders so often stress rule-keeping? How hard is it to measure internal integrity? What current church rules have outlived their usefulness?  

Personal Worship Option: Read Romans 2:13-16. What rules did you have as a child? What was the intent behind those rules? How many of those rules still apply to you? What are church traditions you follow? What is the intent behind those traditions? Where are you only following the rules when you should be allowing God to do something deeper within you?

Dig A Little Deeper:

Read Matthew 9:32-34; 12:1-14, 22-32, 38-42 to gain perspective on the growing tension in Jesus’ relationship with the religious leaders.

15:1 The Pharisees view the written Law as superior to oral traditions, but those “traditions of the elders” still carry significant weight. Consider the doctrine of the Trinity. While this oral tradition is not explained clearly in scripture, orthodox Christians consider it vitally important. Some Christians seek to make parts of the Law, such as the Ten Commandments, binding on Christians. What does Galatians 5:3 teach us about this temptation? What positive role can the Law in general or the Ten Commandments in particular play even if they are not binding? How might the historical perspective offered by the Law help Christians rely on the Holy Spirit to fulfill the two great commandments (Jn 16:12-15; Mt 22:34-40)?

15:2 This oral tradition is based on a strict interpretation of Leviticus 15 concerning bodily discharges. The goal of that passage is to prevent the spread of disease, in particular sexually transmitted diseases. The Pharisees have made washing a ritual action unrelated to disease.

15:8 Jesus quotes Isaiah 29:13. What do these words have to say to the modern church?

15:11 Compare this passage to the vision of Peter (Acts 10:9-16; 11:1-10). What does it teach us about God that food labeled “unclean” in the Law is now considered “clean?”

15:13 The implication is that if you take offense at Jesus’ words, you have not been planted by God. Jesus’ denouncement of the religious leaders is powerful. How should the average Christian believer treat people who want to argue about religion? What should our aim be?

15:15 “Parable’ is defined here as “a hidden meaning” rather than a story. They are confused because Jesus’ teaching (setting aside the ritual for the greater meaning behind the ritual) is something new. How radical is it today?

15:17 Just as his parables are drawn from everyday life, Jesus uses a very earthy metaphor. His point is clear: “cleanliness” has nothing to do with what food is eaten because all food becomes “unclean” in the body, ending up in the sewer.

15:18 Our morality is demonstrated by how we respond to the world. The “heart” symbolizes the seat of our emotional responses (1 Chron 28:9). The mouth verbalizes the heart’s intention. Sin and righteousness first occur inwardly, and then our actions reflect our intentions. Our hearts need to be cleaned, not our hands.

15:19 Harmful actions toward others are defiling, reflecting an inner, evil intention. The list reflects the prohibitions of the Ten Commandments.

15:20 Jesus finally answers the original issue: people are defiled by the evil in their hearts coming to fruition in their actions, not by failure to participate in ritual purification.

Read Luke 11:37-54 to see the next phase of Jesus’ relationship with the Pharisees and lawyers.

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