I remember when I first turned 16 and was so looking forward to what every 16 year-old counts down the days for – getting my driver’s license. I went through the usual Driver’s Ed course when I was 15, and when my 16th birthday finally rolled around in late May (after most of my grade had already celebrated theirs) I went as soon as I could to the (usually dreaded) Bureau of Motor Vehicles (BMV). But oh, I was ecstatic! …Until I realized all the studying passing the written test required. It felt like there were more signs to memorize the shapes and meanings for than I had ever cared to notice along the side of the road; and was it really necessary to memorize urban and rural speed limits when every road has speed limit signs anyways? Regardless of the overwhelming nature of the traffic laws, I needed to know them if I wanted to legally drive. So I buckled down, studied hard, and somehow passed the test. (If you know what my driving record is now, you’d never believe it; but I promise I passed).
AND OH THE FREEDOM! I COULD FINALLY DRIVE!!!
Rewind a couple thousand years to first century Israel and there were a lot of Jewish boys studying rules as well. Except for two major differences:
They were studying the Mosaic Laws.
Their studying and adherence to these laws led to a life of enslavement – the farthest thing from freedom.
To give you an idea – the Pharisees (teachers of the law) had developed a system of 613 laws. Ten of them are the Ten Commandments which we learn about with Moses, but 603 others were added. 365 of the laws were negative commands and 248 were positive laws (bible.org). Then, on top of the 613 laws, there was something called the “Midrash.” The Midrash came about because over time, Jewish leaders began adding laws based on a compilation of Jewish Rabbis’ sermons and sayings. The intent was to clarify the original 613 laws, but it ended up adding extraneous layers of regulations. It amounted up to literally, thousands of laws. The Midrash was quite long in Jesus’ day, and it continues to grow to this day (pursuegod.org).
If you’ve ever had a lot to memorize for an exam, just try to wrap your mind around how much the young Jewish boys had to memorize when they were studying Mosaic Laws under a Rabbi.
Every Jewish person was expected to follow the Mosaic Laws in order to be considered “righteous.”
Can you imagine trying to be “righteous” in the eyes of the Pharisees? How calculated and meticulous you’d need to be with every word and move? Inevitably, you’re bound to break some.
The Mosaic Laws are extreme, but the idea of extra traditions and practices added to God’s laws, intended for our holiness, is not far off from what happens in many Christian churches today.
There’s a passage in Matthew 15:1-9 when Jesus and his disciples have a run-in with some Pharisees upset that one of their laws has been broken. They said to Jesus, “Why do your disciples break the tradition of the elders? They don’t wash their hands before they eat!” Jesus’ response is one that should have stopped them in their tracks: “And why do you break the command of God for the sake of your tradition?… You nullify the word of God for the sake of your tradition.”
Woah.Jesus’ words were bold: He wasn’t defending his disciples or condemning the Pharisees, but pointing out what was more important – God’s commandment to love.
Then Jesus reminds the Pharisees of how they are fulfilling Isaiah’s prophesy: “These people honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me. They worship me in vain; their teachings are merely human rules.”
Jesus came for our freedom. God gave his one and only son to die for our sins so that we might experience freedom. “God sent his son, born of a woman, born under the law, to redeem those under the law, that we might receive adoption to sonship. Because you are his sons, God sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, the Spirit who calls out ‘Abba, Father.’ So you are no longer a slave, but God’s child.” (Galatians 4:4b-7a)
In your every day, do you feel free? In your church, do you feel free? Or are you fearful of making the wrong move, heavy with guilt, or obsessive about “doing the right things”?
Friends, that was never the intent of our Father. God desires our hearts. He sent his Spirit to dwell in our hearts. He wants his sons and daughters hearts to draw near to him. Like with the Pharisees in Matthew 15, Jesus is more concerned about our hearts than our traditions or “righteous deeds.”
Let that sink in. Where is your heart in relation to God? Have you experienced His presence in a while? Are you experiencing true freedom? Are you as excited as I was about driving about following Jesus?
The Mosaic Laws resulted in at least ten tragic flaws (bible.org) that detracted people from the heart of the Gospel. Some of the same flaws can arise today when our traditions outweigh the love of God in our churches and in our hearts. Read these ten flaws and measure them against what you’re experiencing:
1) New laws (or practices and traditions) continually need to be invented for new situations
2) Accountability to God is replaced by accountability to men
3) Reduced ability to personally discern
4) A judgmental spirit
5) Confused personal preferences with God’s law
7) A false standard of righteousness
8) Feels burdensome
9) “Righteousness” is strictly external
10) Practices/traditions are rejected by Christ, or are unBiblical
May we live as FREE sons and daughters of God and fall more in love with his son who sacrificed everything to give us that freedom.
When we do this, living in obedience to His commands becomes a natural outworking.