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Lesson 3: Christ and Religious Tradition *

Introduction: Recall our previous discussion about natural law, moral law, civil law and ceremonial law? Our working theory is that each level of law (with natural law at the top) is intended to support or explain the higher level of law. We know, however, that this does not square with what we observe in life. Some civil laws are clearly contrary to moral and natural law. Humans substitute their own judgment for that of God. We see the disasters which follow. How do we deal with the failure of human lawmakers? Let's dive into our study of the Bible and see what we can learn!

  1. Filling Moses' Shoes

    1. Read Matthew 23:1-2. What does Jesus mean by "Moses' seat?" Did Moses sit on a throne and they still had it? (No. Moses was the religious and political leader of God's people. The teachers of the law and the Pharisees held a similar position in Jesus' time.)

    2. Read Matthew 23:3-4. Are the current leaders worthy of the title? (No!)

      1. What is wrong with them? (Their actions do not line up with their words.)

      2. We all understand why it is good to follow correct teaching even if the teacher fails to follow his own teaching. But, why would Jesus tell the people to "obey" when it involved "heavy loads?" Loads that appear, in the context, to be unjustified?

    3. Read Matthew 15:1-2. What charges are made against the disciples? (They are not carrying the "heavy load" of the elders' tradition.)

    4. Read Matthew 15:3-6. How would you characterize Jesus' response? When someone tells you that you are doing something wrong, do you say, "You, too, are doing wrong things!"

      1. Is that what Jesus is doing here - you are a lawbreaker too? (No. When we go below the surface of what is said, we see that the religious leaders argue for their tradition. Jesus says their tradition violates God's law.)

      2. Recall our discussion last week. What were the ceremonial laws suppose to do? (They were to help us understand God's plan of salvation. They were to help us avoid violating the moral and natural laws. Jesus says that this tradition is contrary to its purpose.)

    5. Read Matthew 15:10-11. Would it violate God's law for the disciples to wash their hands? (No, but it would make the people misunderstand God's law. They would be focused on hand washing and turn their attention from the real problem - what comes out of their mouths. Can you see how the man-made law violates what is suppose to be its purpose - to be in accord with the moral law.)

      1. Is that a lesson for us today? Do we emphasize unimportant things that distract us from considering the more important points?

    6. Read Matthew 15:12. What did we learn in the lesson last week about giving offense? (Read Matthew 17:27. Jesus paid the temple tax so as not to give offense.)

      1. Are the disciples reminding Jesus of His own teaching?

    7. Read Matthew 15:13-14. What does Jesus tell us to do with regard to false religious teaching? (Avoid it. Do not follow it.)

    8. Re-read Matthew 23:2-4. Jesus would not contradict Himself, so we must find the solution to the apparent conflict in the matter of giving "offense" and following "everything" taught by the religious leaders. What do you suggest? (I think this is similar to our discussion of civil law. God is the author of authority and civil order, but that does not mean that God intends that we should follow human laws which violate natural or moral laws. Thus, I understand Jesus to say that we should follow the teachings of those who hold positions of religious authority, avoid offending them whenever possible, but we should reject those things that are inconsistent with moral law. This would include teachings that are not immoral in themself (like washing hands), but which direct attention away from what is important.)

  2. Bursting Moses' Robes

    1. Read Matthew 23:5-7. What is the main problem with those sitting in the place of Moses? (They have forgotten that they are simply conveying the will of God to the people. They start thinking that they might be like God. They have begun to "swell.")

      1. Read Genesis 3:4-5. Does Satan have a list of standard temptations he uses repeatedly?

    2. Read Matthew 23:8-10. In years past a member of my church took to calling me "Rabbi" and it reminded me of this text. Students normally call me "professor," many call me "teacher" and my children call me "Dad" or "Father." Are these obvious violations of Jesus' teaching?

      1. What do your children call you? (Compare Exodus 20:12.)

    3. Read 1 Corinthians 12:28. Is God opposed to church organization and titles?

      1. If so, why did the disciples call themselves (Acts 15:23) "apostles?"

    4. Read Matthew 23:11-12. What point is Jesus making? (Human authority makes us proud. In the relationship between natural law, moral law and civil law, it is a perversion of the law to set the ones who are conveying God's will above the rest. "You are all brothers.")

      1. Do you think Jesus meant exactly what He said, and the words "Rabbi, teacher and father" should not be used? (I don't think Jesus is saying that we cannot call people by their roles in life or in the church. Are "apostle," and "prophet" acceptable, and "rabbi" and "father" unacceptable? Is "teacher" wrong in Matthew 23, but right in 1 Corinthians 12? I think Jesus' point is that we should avoid "honorifics" - titles that are more than a simple job description.)

        1. Can you think of any of those? (How about "Right Reverend," or "Most Reverend?" These do not seem to be job titles, they are intended to convey much more.)

      2. What does Jesus require of those in leadership positions, those who are administering the law? (Servant leadership - Matthew 23:11.)

  3. True Moses

    1. Read Matthew 5:17 and Colossians 2:9-12. Last week we studied this text in Colossians and the circumcision controversy. How does this relate to what Jesus says in Matthew 5:17? (This is a perfect example of what Jesus is saying. He fulfilled the law of circumcision.)

    2. Read Matthew 5:18. Is the law still valid? (Recall our conversation about natural law and moral law? God gives us the moral law, like a map, to avoid the pitfalls of violating natural law. Natural laws do not disappear. We need our map! Our map, like grace, is a gift from God.)

    3. Read Matthew 5:19. Is Jesus saying that bad teachers go to heaven? (Yes. Grace saves us, not being good teachers or commandment keepers. But breaking God's commandments and teaching others to do so is pure foolishness that has no reward in heaven.)

      1. What logic lies behind this? (What fool tells you to ignore the map? What idiot tells you to violate natural laws? God gives us the moral law to protect us and give us freedom!)

    4. Read Matthew 5:20. Do we have to outperform the religious leaders of Jesus' day? Those He called ( Matthew 15:14) "blind guides!" (Yes, and the task is both easy and logical. If we accept Jesus as our righteousness, then we have exceeded the righteousness of any human. Logically, we will focus on major things and oppose those who seek to focus on minor things that distract us from what is important.)

      1. What, exactly, are some of the major things? (Read Matthew 15:17-20. What you eat, the cleanliness of your hands, are minor things. Evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, perjury, and slander are major things.)

    5. Friend, humans make errors in their laws and rules. Will you accept the challenge to keep your focus on what is important?

  4. Next week: Christ and the Law in the Sermon on the Mount.
* Copr. 2014, Bruce N. Cameron, J.D. All scripture references are to the New International Version (NIV), copr. 1973, 1978, 1984 International Bible Society, unless otherwise noted. Quotations from the NIV are used by permission of Zondervan Bible Publishers. Suggested answers are found within parentheses. The lesson assumes the teacher uses a blackboard or some other visual aid.

© 2021 Bruce N. Cameron, J.D.
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