priest October 15 Chronological Bible Study

Timeline. Map. Go to today’s Bible reading (NIV) or alternate versions (use your browser arrow to return): Mark 7:1-37; Matthew 15:1-31

True or False Religion?

How can we tell what is true religion and what is false? If people come to church regularly and give money in the offering plate, are they religious? If they give to the poor or charitable organizations, are they devout? Is true religion determined by our traditions? Is it measured by our sacrifices of time and money? Find out in today's Bible study.

In today's Bible reading, the Pharisees and Teachers of the Law (the Laws of Moses) certainly seem religious. What they show themselves to be, however, is different than who they are. To show themselves as being more righteous than common Jews, they added their own traditions to their religious law (these are the moral, legal, and ceremonial laws found in the books of Leviticus–Deuteronomy). Although there is nothing in the Law about washing hands, utensils, dishes, and cooking kettles before eating, the Pharisees, showing themselves to be more spiritual, require the Jews to do this. We might argue, “So, what is wrong with that? The practice of washing hands and dishes is very healthy.” That is not the issue. The issue is their heart, not their hands. Jesus explains,

What comes out of a man is what makes him “unclean.” For from within, out of men's hearts, come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, greed, malice, deceit, lewdness, envy, slander, arrogance and folly. All these evils come from inside and make a man “unclean” (Mark 7:23, NIV).

Some believe sacrifices of time, money, or efforts given in the name of God or the church make us righteous—they show how generous and committed we are. However, only Jesus Christ can make us righteous (more...). Attendance to our relationship with God must come first. In the past, the Jews offered the daily-prescribed animal sacrifices to God, but their outward obedience meant nothing because they were wicked. The LORD said to them, “ … I desire mercy, not sacrifice, and acknowledgment of God rather than burnt offerings” (Hosea 6:6, NIV). We should be making sacrifices because of our true commitment to God, not to demonstrate our commitment to others.

In Jesus’ continuing argument against the religious leaders, he quotes a famous prophet,

Isaiah was right when he prophesied about you hypocrites; as it is written: “These people honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me. They worship me in vain; their teachings are but rules taught by men.” You have let go of the commands of God and are holding on to the traditions of men (Mark 7:6-8, NIV).

Jesus says his Father in heaven wants true worship, and that starts with obedience. He then gives an example of a command which was being set aside for the sake of religion. The Pharisees were teaching that it is acceptable to set aside the commandment to “honor your parents” by making charitable gifts to the synagogues. By their traditions, the Pharisees were teaching the people to violate one of the ten commandments: “Honor your father and your mother, so that you may live long in the land the LORD your God is giving you” (Exodus 20:12, NIV). Of course, their money benefited the religious leaders.

Unfortunately, similar things are done today in American society. Much is preached about giving to the church and other religious organizations but little is preached about giving honor to aging parents by taking care of them. As a result, many people go to church and give their tithes and offerings, hoping for a blessing in return, but they do not help their family members who need it most. We should not neglect the church but neither should we neglect our families.

It has been well said that we can best judge a person's character by what they do privately. Do we just display an appearance of righteousness or are we really godly? These Pharisees are haughty, not humble. They are greedy, not gracious.

In our Chronological Bible reading, stories of humility follow the story of the hypocritical, self-righteous Pharisees and Teachers of the Mosaic Law. A Syrian Phoenician woman, and the friends and family of sick people in the Decapolis area, east of the Jordan River, need help and healing. They know they do not deserve God's grace. They beg Jesus to heal their loved ones and he does. They are humble, and yet they have faith in Jesus to heal. Humility and unpretentious faith please God. True worship is an expression of our faith, and our faith results in obedience, kindness and good works.

Lessons to Live By

  • True worship starts with a personal relationship with God. Only he can give us forgiveness, peace, and spiritual life. Only he can change our hearts (more...)
  • True worship is in our hearts not our hands.
  • We should be making sacrifices because of our commitment to the LORD, not to show our commitment.
  • God wants true worship, and that starts with obedience.

Synagogues were similar to small churches where people might gather for religious instruction. They also served as one room school houses for Jewish boys (girls were educated by their mothers at home with household duties, preparing to be married young). It also served as a gathering place for political meetings, administering justice, and political meetings (see A Survey of the New Testament, Revised Edition by Robert H.Gundry, ©1981, Zondervan Publishing House, Grand Rapids, pp. 37-41)

James 1:27 (NIV) “Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.”

View a video related to today's lesson about the differences between Jesus and the Pharisees

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A Look Ahead: When the crowds see Jesus heal, they have different reactions. See Some Responses to Jesus in our Next Lesson.

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