Jesus, Traditions and Obedience
I find it remarkable that some have thought that Jesus’ rebuke of the devotion of the Jewish leaders to their traditions minimizes the importance of obedience. It is true that He had little regard for the traditions and rules these leaders had created. It is equally true that He believed that our relationship with God depends on our obedience.
He was so different from other teachers of His day. In the Sermon on the Mount, He contrasted His teachings with the teachings of the first century rabbis. In Matthew chapter five, there is a marked contrast between “You have heard that it has been said” and what “I say to you.” What they had “heard that has been said” was often where the Jewish leaders read a passage from the Old Testament and then gave their interpretation about what it meant. Sometimes they even added a “passage” to the Bible like, “you shall hate your enemies,” to fortify their traditions.
Man’s traditions can never negate God’s commandments. For example, the Old Testament never indicated that when the Ten Commandments said that you shall not kill, such would give license to hate a brother, call him a fool and treat him with contempt. This might have been what the rabbis said, but Jesus showed this attitude would negate any sacrifice they brought to God (Matt. 5:21-23). However, His rebuke of their “rules of righteous behavior” could never make void obedience to God. He was simply emphasizing obedience to all the teachings of the Bible.
Think also about how the rabbis taught that all that was involved in divorce was simply giving a writing of divorcement. Nowhere in the Old Testament was divorce permitted for every cause. Moses had given one reason (Deut. 24:1), yet the rabbis added their traditions to God’s words, forbidding adultery and allowing people to divorce for every cause. The rabbis’ teaching resulted in adultery, the very thing Moses had forbidden.
What did Jesus teach about obedience? He taught that any persons who ignored God’s commands and taught others that these commands were not important were the least in the kingdom. Those who taught others to keep His commands were the great ones in the kingdom (Matt. 5:19).
Do not be led astray. Jesus’ rebuke of the “rules of righteousness,” often based on a misinterpretation of what God said, never gives license for us to ignore what the Bible says. The only one who will enter the kingdom is the one who does the will of the Father (Matt. 7:21). Traditions, theirs or ours, must never give us permission to do wrong!