The Idolatry of Tradition

Mark 7.8
[Jesus said,] “You have let go of the commands of God and are holding on to human traditions.”

A large percentage of the traditions Jesus faulted were instituted or significantly amended during the 400 years between the end of the composition of the Old Testament and the events which fill the first pages of the New Testament.

During this time, referred to by theologians as the intertestamental period, volumes were written to explain and develop spiritual concepts. Systems for temple worship were reestablished and cemented into daily life. Theological orders were instituted under various groups, including the Sadducees and Pharisees.

When the Messiah arrived, despite all their traditions, many of the faithful missed him.

Christianity has had five times as many years since the composition of the New Testament as ancient Judaism had during the intertestamental period. We have largely invested in the same things. 

Volumes have been written—NPR reported Christian publishing is a 1.4 billion dollar market. Daily worship rhythms have been developed and practiced, formally through the Daily Office or informally through a ‘quiet time’. Theological orders have been established. 

Like the faithful before Jesus’ birth, we too expect our traditions to help us see God better. But even the ideal tradition can be used to veil Christ rather than reveal him.

At their best, traditions give historic root to modern practice. Jesus doesn’t condemn tradition in Mark 7. Instead, Jesus rebukes the sin of leveraging tradition to replace the hard work of active faith. When a tradition replaces faith the tradition itself becomes the object of worship.

When the book of Deuteronomy denounces idolatry it says, “You shall not worship the Lord your God in that way.” It’s possible to worship God through our idols. An idol isn’t just a token representing another god, it’s anything we exploit to soften the grace and truth of Christ in our lives.

The Pharisees in this passage wield their traditions to justify less grace toward others. We may manipulate ours to foster less trust in God. Either way, the idolatry of tradition causes the faithful to fall short of intimacy with Christ.

Father, thank you for the traditions of the faithful who have walked before us. Help us to preach the gospel to ourselves daily. Search our hearts and reveal everything they do to remove faith in you and replace it with faith in ourselves. Cultivate our souls to know, trust, and love you.

Today’s Readings
Genesis 37 (Listen – 4:56)
Mark 7 (Listen – 4:28)

The Compassionate Shepherd

Mark 6.41
Taking the five loaves and the two fish and looking up to heaven, he gave thanks and broke the loaves. Then he gave them to his disciples to distribute to the people. He also divided the two fish among them all.

Jesus saw the people “as sheep without a shepherd,” Mark explains. He’s setting the context for the miracle where Jesus fed five thousand people. The shepherding language harks back to the book of Numbers where Moses, after being told he will not be permitted to enter the promised land, begs God to provide a new leader for Israel. 

In that moment God provided Joshua. Later God provided kings. But the heart of a king can be corrupted — a theme which repeated incessantly in ancient Israel’s story. The longing for someone greater than an earthly king began to grow — a King of kings.

“Every flock which does not have a shepherd to govern it does, of necessity, meet with great disasters,” recorded Philo in the first century. “It is not able, of its own power, to repel what is injurious to it, and to choose what will be advantageous.” The compassion Jesus felt for the people that day wasn’t simply because they lacked food. It wasn’t limited to their political plight as a people under the pagan culture of Rome. Jesus saw something far more injurious. [1]

The miracle Jesus performed pointed directly to him as their Messiah. The words “taking,” “blessed,” “broke,” and “gave” in the verse above are thematically similar to the blessing said before a Sabbath meal found in Deuteronomy 8. Jesus would use these exact words again during the Last Supper when he pointed to himself as the sacrifice. [2]

The hungry were not fed that day as a party trick to show God had power. They were fed to show that the shepherd had arrived. The One that humanity needed to guide it from the great disaster of a broken relationship with God was bringing his kingdom into reality. He would heal the injury of sin, death, and injustice that humanity had been powerless to repel. [3]

Lord, we confess that we are sheep without a shepherd. Our greatest problem is admitting that there are problems that exceed our greatness. We don’t want to be dependent. Yet, in your love, you’ve offered your Son. Blessed by you, broken for us, and given to all who would trust. We are under your grace.

Christian Identity
Part 2 of 5,

Today’s Readings
Genesis 35-36 (Listen – 9:33)
Mark 6 (Listen – 7:23)



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[1] Yonge, C. D. with Philo of Alexandria. (1995). The works of Philo: complete and unabridged (p. 138). Peabody, MA: Hendrickson. [language updated] | [2] See Deuteronomy 8.7-10. The Jewish Annotated New Testament notes that the prayer “developed into the ‘blessing for nourishment’ [“birchat ha-mason”] used at mealtime. | [3] Mark 6.34; Numbers 27.12-17; Mark 14.22-25

Informed Faith

Mark 5.34
Jesus said to her, “Daughter, your faith has healed you. Go in peace and be freed from your suffering.”

There is only one woman in the gospels who Jesus called daughter. They met after she pushed her way through a dense crowd, stretched out her hand, and caught one of the tzitzit, or prayer tassels, dangling of the fringes of Jesus’ clothes. Immediately, Scripture records, she was healed of a bleeding disorder that had plagued her for over a decade. [1]

She suffered not only from her condition, but from her cures as well. “The cures were terrible back then,” observes Timothy Keller. He notes that one of the known remedies from the time was to, “take a goblet of wine and to fill it with a powder of pulverized rubber, alum, and garden crocuses.” The best solutions her culture had to offer were not only insufficient, but they intensified her suffering. [2]

It was a great risk to reach for the teacher. Her actions sent a clear message to every spiritual leader and healer about her doubts of the efficacy of their work. Moreover, if nothing happened after she touched Jesus, then she — a ceremonially unclean woman — would have made one of the most famous rabbis of her day unclean. The social scorn would have been immense.

This was an act of informed — not blind — faith. This miracle occurred early in Jesus’ ministry, long before even his closest disciples would recognize who he was. Yet this woman trusted he was her savior. Her trust in this had been formed from her knowledge of the Scriptures. 

In the final verses of the Hebrew Bible the prophet Malachi reveals that, “the sun of righteousness shall rise with healing in its wings.” In Hebrew the name of the fringe of a garment, where tzitzit attach, literally means “wings.” 

The woman’s dedication to the scriptures helped her see the world in a way no one around her did. The object of her faith wasn’t her knowledge, but her Savior. He saved her from her pain. He saved her from the pain of trying to solve her pain with the best of the world’s thinking. He gave her new life in his Kingdom. [3] [4]

Father, too often we do not trust you simply because we do not know you. Our prayers are too often terse. Our knowledge of the scriptures, anemic. Help us become disciplined in knowing and following you. Give us grace and courage to act on what we know about you.

Christian Identity
Part 1 of 5,

Today’s Readings
Genesis 34 (Listen – 4:18)
Mark 5 (Listen – 5:21)



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[1] Matthew and Luke’s accounts of this same story provides the detail that it was the kraspedon (Greek for tzitzit) that the woman reached for. (The Gospel of Mark was written for a Greek audience, so tzitzit would not have been familiar to them.) | [2] Timothy Keller. “How to Find Faith,” delivered November 8, 1998. The Timothy Keller Sermon Archive. New York City: Redeemer Presbyterian Church. | [3] Scripture references, in order of appearance: Mark 5.26; Malachi 2.4 | [4] What proved the efficacy of her faith was not her healing, but her salvation. Many of us today, as well as our family members and friends, await the healing of our bodies. Outwardly we waste away, but inwardly the healing of the Messiah has ransomed us from greater pain and greater death than our body can experience. We trust because we are saved. We hold the Spirit as a deposit which guarantees full restoration when Christ returns. (2 Corinthians 4.16; Ephesians 1.14; 2 Corinthians 1.22)


Personal Forgiveness vs. Public Justice

Mark 2.5
When Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralyzed man, “Son, your sins are forgiven.”

There is a difference between personal forgiveness and public justice. While personal forgiveness is concerned with the relationship between victim and offender, public justice is concerned with the relationship between public and offender. Sometimes, however, the line gets blurred. In our criminal justice system, for example, victims can present evidence at sentencing hearings to convey the harm they have experienced as a result of the crime in question. Although some of them express their personal forgiveness at these hearings, the criminal justice system does not encourage it because, regardless of how the victims may feel, the public has an interest in making sure justice is done. [1] 

The Jewish scribes of the first century may not have used our judicial terminology, but they did understand the difference between personal forgiveness and public justice. This is why when Jesus told the paralytic, “Son, your sins are forgiven”, they were outraged. As Mark tells us, “Some of the scribes were sitting there, questioning in their hearts, ‘Why does this man speak like that? He is blaspheming! Who can forgive sins but God alone?’” They understood that Jesus was not talking about personal forgiveness; after all, what had the paralytic done to him? The scribes understood that Jesus was offering public justice; he was speaking on behalf of God the Judge himself.

Jesus knew it too. He said to them, “Why do you question these things in your hearts? Which is easier, to say to the paralytic, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or to say, ‘Rise, take up your bed and walk’? But that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins, I say to you, rise, pick up your bed, and go home.” This was God-in-charge in a new dimension. His kingdom was not just about healing physical ailments; it was also about something much more crippling – namely, the forgiveness of sins.

Lord, our sin is our biggest problem because you love justice. In your holy presence, we confess our sins and acknowledge that our hearts are prone to sin and consciously yield to it. Yet Jesus bore our sin on the cross and, thereby, satisfied your requirements of justice. Therefore, he is able to declare, “Your sins are forgiven.” Lift up our eyes to him as we rejoice that your kingdom is about healing our crippled bodies and souls. Amen. [2]

Justice Through Christ
Part 5 of 5,

Today’s Readings
Genesis 31 (Listen – 7:47)
Mark 2 (Listen – 3:54)


This Weekend’s Readings

Saturday: Genesis 32 (Listen – 4:40); Mark 3 (Listen – 3:41)
Sunday: Genesis 33 (Listen – 2:59); Mark 4 (Listen – 5:01)



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[1] Payne v. Tennessee, 501 U.S. 808 (1991) (holding that victim impact statements are constitutionally admissible in court so that the victim is seen as an individual). | [2] Scripture references, in order of appearance: Mark 2.6-7; Mark 2.8-11


TBT: Justice and the Kingdom of God

By Carl F.H. Henry

“The time has come,” Jesus said. “The kingdom of God has come near. Repent and believe the good news!” — Mark 1.15

Some evolutionists have argued that human beings came gradually to depict divinity in terms of ethical norms. But the Bible presents man as standing from his very beginnings in ethical relationships to God, and nowhere portrays law as a gradual conjectural equalization of human interests later declared to be divinely sanctioned. 

The conception of law as purely juridical, and the enforcement simply on grounds of custom or social legislation, reflect a later societal development in which man is considered the originator or revealer of law; such a development first obscures and then eclipses the truth that law in its absolute sense is the revealed will of God.

To be sure, many humanists engage vigorously in the struggles for justice and freedom; their effort, in fact, is sometimes more energetic than that of Christian believers, and should be commended whenever it coincides with the requirements of objective morality. But humanistic ethics has no secure way of transcending a relativistic theory of justice. Factual observations and utilitarian considerations on which humanists base their social concern imply no normative principle; they accommodate no logical transition from the is to the ought. 

The Christian vision of justice is comprehensive and spans all areas of good and evil; it not only vindicates the truly just man condemned to a criminal’s cross, but also summons to final judgment the self-righteous who vaunt themselves as paragons of virtue. 

Reminding his disciples of the approaching, inevitable judgment and justice of God, Jesus commends trustful prayer. His prayerful and faithful followers are to anticipate the Son of Man’s return in power and glory to vindicate the justice that God ordains. 

— Abridged from Carl F.H. Henry, God, Revelation, and Authority.


O Christ, essential Day, O Light
that peels the darkness from the night,
we know you for the Heart of light,
who tell the blessedness of light.

O holy Master of the night
we beg defense against the night
and rest against your breast this night
and peaceful sleep throughout the night.

See what snares the foe prepares
see what villainy he dares—
in vain: your blood has bought your cares
for us, your guidance victory bears.

— From an anonymous hymn used in numerous medieval liturgies.

Today’s Readings
Genesis 30 (Listen – 6:10)
Mark 1 (Listen – 5:05)

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