Fwd: The Lutheran Hour: September 20, 2015 "Tradition, Tradition, Tradition"

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Date: 09/19/2015 9:15 PM (GMT-06:00)
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Subject: The Lutheran Hour: September 20, 2015 "Tradition, Tradition, Tradition"

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"Tradition, Tradition, Tradition" #83-03

Presented on The Lutheran Hour on September 20, 2015
By Rev. Gregory Seltz, Lutheran Hour Speaker
(What are the Lutheran Confessions?)
Copyright 2015 Lutheran Hour Ministries

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Text: Mark 7:1-13

Jesus replied, "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."

Christ is risen. He is risen, indeed! Hallelujah! Amen.

Tradition! Tradition! Tradition! Those are the words sung with great gusto by Tevye in the musical Fiddler on the Roof. He sang about how traditions help keep balance in the Jewish family, there are traditions for how to eat, how to sleep, how to pray, how to live. There are traditions for the father, the mother, and for the children. Each one has a guide for living out his or her role in the Jewish family. Then he proudly boasts, "Because of our traditions, every one of us knows who he is and what God expects us to do." There's something to be said for that, isn't there?

The Greek word for tradition means something that is given over or handed down. I would guess that the majority of us have special family traditions that have been handed down to us or traditions that we have started or handed down to our children. Perhaps they are things of what we eat on holidays--ham, turkey, duck, goose, or some special dish from our cultural background. There may be holiday traditions relating to when we open our Christmas gifts or decorate our Christmas tree; or Easter when and where we have our Easter egg hunt, or perhaps how we celebrate birthdays. For all religious people, there are even traditions for our prayers at meal time or bed time with our children. Every family can chime in with its own particular traditions.

But even non-religious people have traditions, rules, and regulations that order their lives too. They have things that they need to do, certain places to eat at certain times, games that must be celebrated with gusto at specific times of years, parties that must never be missed, songs that are to be sung at certain celebrations or meaningful events. Yes, religious and even non-religious people have rules, traditions, customs that try to infuse meaning into our lives.

So, with all these traditions, and rules, and regulations, and policies, if everyone is just trying to do what they think is right, why does Jesus seem so upset with that kind of life in our text? Wasn't He the most religious, obedient Man of all?

What could be so wrong with rules, traditions, regulations? Step back in history with me in the situation that is taking place here in our text. Jesus and His disciples had landed by boat on the shores of Gennesaret. As soon as they landed, people recognized Jesus, Whom they knew as the great miracle worker. They gathered up their sick and carried them on mats wherever Jesus went. They begged Him to let them touch even the edge of His clothing and everyone who did was healed. Following Jesus in the crowd were Pharisees and teachers of the law who had come from Jerusalem. Their strategy, totally different from the crowd's, was to catch Jesus and His disciples doing or saying something against the Jewish traditions, to use tradition as a club, as it were. So, when they saw the disciples were eating without going through the ceremonial practice of washing their hands, they felt that they had caught them red-handed. Without wasting a minute, they went to Jesus and said, "Why are your disciples eating without ceremonially washing their hands?" "Jesus," they were saying, "why aren't your disciples following the rules? Doesn't that disqualify you as a Messiah, as a Savior? You're just another Leader Who doesn't get it all right, aren't you?"

That's the problem here. They were talking about washing their hands with the only One Who could wash their hearts. They were arguing with the One Who made the rules of life, about how to live life properly, fully, abundantly.

The crux of their question, the crux of their problem is that as sinners, we tend to start bending God's rules and commands, even making rules that we can accomplish while at the same time missing the whole point of why we are to do and say the things we do. This ceremonial washing of the hands was just one of hundreds of rules and regulations the scribes and leaders came up with as ways to please God, and yet such slipshod, ceremonial, contaminated actions, it actually offended God's holiness and drove people further from a healthy, meaningful relationship with God!

It's not the rules, the ceremonies, the commands that are at fault; it's the sinful heart of people that denies what God says is best, while proudly doing and flaunting what they think matters.

And, let's not self-righteously cast blame on these scribes and Pharisees alone. That's the way we all do it when it comes to the things of God. For those who are extremely religious, there are lots of rules. But, even for you non-religious folks out there, you've got your rules too. And, in your mind, if there was a God, He should hold people accountable for breaking rules, and traditions, and commands that you think are right too. Be honest then. You have them too. So what again was Jesus so upset about?

As I said, it's not that there aren't correct rules and helpful traditions. The problem is with us, the heart, the mind of sinful people using rules and regulations to actually miss the whole point of life, and love, and service, and salvation. We like to make rules that we can follow to show off, to put off, and to stave off what is good and eternal. We actually like rules that we can bend to our liking. And yet, in the midst of our fake faithfulness such piety can cause us to miss the most important things in our life.

That's what Jesus is upset about. He is the Savior of the world, He is the One Who comes to forgive those who can't even begin to keep the rules that matter and in this lesson the very people who should be glad He's there, the religious folks, they're the ones who want to stop Him in His tracks. When it comes to life, salvation, love, peace, Jesus makes it clear; this is a gift to be received by grace through faith in Him alone. He's perfectly clear when He proclaims it this way, "I am the way, the truth, and the life, no man comes to the Father but by me."

Even today, it is so easy to get caught up in Pharisaical thinking. Traditions can easily become religious laws instead of guides for our worship and Christian life. We can easily think we are pleasing God when we give ten percent of our income instead of seeing it as a gift of love, or that we are pleasing God by attending church rather than seeing it as our response to give Him praise and honor. Even in our daily life, who isn't proud today of the fact that they drive the right car, or say the right words, or vote the right way; showing off how much better we are than others, when it misses the whole point of doing unto others as God in Christ has done for you!

For a lot of people that's just how it works, even with God. Many still think that God demands a can-do Spirituality. A self-made person wins the trophy. But what's wrong with that? The problem is that we think we can do what God demands. But let's be honest; even in striving for good, we give half-hearted, self-centered efforts that we think God should accept. The prophet Isaiah in Isaiah 64:6, calls us out. He says, "Even our good works are like filthy rags because of our sin." Because of our sinful nature, there is nothing we can do to please or earn points with God; our service to Him and to others will always fall sinfully short.

But that's the point. The Bible proclaims a radically different message; that God is a can-do God for us. Jesus was upset with them because He was God in action for them. He was the object of true faith, He was the power of true service, He was the Savior Who came to earn life and salvation for those who could never overcome their guilt on their own. When man-made traditions get in the way of Jesus' work and offer for you, that's when these rules made by men need to be set in their proper place!

Now understand, as we look closely at this text, we understand that Jesus is not against all traditions or laws. He and His disciples kept some of the Jewish traditions: they went regularly to the synagogue; they went to Jerusalem for the annual pilgrimage festivals; Jesus washed the feet of His disciples; He celebrated the Passover according to tradition. It becomes clear that there are good traditions and bad ones. If traditions actually bend and twist the teachings of the Gospel, that's bad! However, when traditions serve the Word of God and aid in true worship, they are traditions which should be cherished and passed down generation to generation.

In our text Jesus shows how traditions can easily be misused and abused; how they can actually be religiously used to avoid doing what actually is commanded in God's Law. For instance, in Jesus' day there was a tradition which stated that anything that was declared Korban (which means a gift dedicated to God) could not be used for other purposes. Such a teaching could actually properly help us use gifts to serve God and each other.

But, that's not what many did with this teaching. For instance, in the Ten Commandments it clearly says, "Honor your father and mother" and that would include caring for them in their old age. But, the scribal legalists of Jesus' day said that if siblings declared their belongings and money Korban, dedicated to God, then they would not have to support their father and mother in their old age. Can you imagine? In that culture, when there was no Social Security or pensions, where aging parents were very dependent on their children to care for them; these folks had written rules where, in the Name of God, they didn't have to use their wealth to honor their father and their mother! They missed the whole point of life and service, grace and faith!

Jesus calls such people hypocrites. That word in Greek meant one who acts on stage. Later it took on the meaning of one whose whole life is a piece of acting without any sincerity behind it.

So Jesus gets to the heart of the matter with the folks in the text and with us about how to live life God's way. First, He states the problem, "Nothing outside a man makes him unclean by going into him. Rather, it is what comes out of a man that makes him unclean" (Mark 7:15, RSV). Yeah, it's the sin that's already inside that makes us sinful. It's because we're sinful inside, that's why we sin on the outside. The problem is much bigger than we realize!

Nature provides a great example. I've been eating a lot of apples lately and occasionally when you go to the store; you'll find one that has one of those little worm holes in it, right? It doesn't mean that there is a worm inside the apple. It simply means that an insect laid an egg in the apple blossom. Sometime later, the worm hatched in the heart of the apple, then ate its way out. Despite the appearance, the worm does not work its way into the apple, it works its way out. And so it is with sin. It doesn't work its way into our hearts, it is already there, and it works its way out. It becomes evident through our outward words and actions, but it was there all along hidden in the very blossom of our human nature.

Many people, then and now, think that it doesn't matter if a person may, in his heart, hate his fellow man, be full of envy, jealousy, concealed bitterness, and pride as long as one carries out the correct laws and regulations. You may know some folks like this but, let me caution you, Jesus would look at us all and say, without Me you are all the same, sinful in need of God's grace and forgiveness! Who of us has a heart that is right? Who of us doesn't try to hide behind our best efforts as if everything we do, then and now, is cleansed by them?

Even more serious Jesus says that kind of thinking drives you away from God. He quotes the prophet Isaiah when He says, "The people honor me with their lips but their hearts they're far from me." Then Jesus says, "You have let go of the commands of God and you are holding on to the traditions of men."

Those are strong words; but this is serious business. Jesus is talking about how you and I can get right with God because that's the key to it all. And He, Himself, is the Way, the Truth, and the Life when it comes to the things that matter now and forever. Traditions, rules; no, first a grace relationship with God in Jesus Christ; first faith in His can-do work for you on the cross, then serving and singing, rejoicing in the traditions that carry that on to the next generation or the rules that help us serve others in His Name.

You know, Christians are sometimes caricatured as people who think that they can fulfill the Ten Commandments of God, that somehow we're better than everyone else. Wrong! As we study the Ten Commandments, or any of God's law, we quickly realize there is nothing we can do to keep His law perfectly. We know we're sinners. We know it. In fact God's Laws show us how sinful we are as we try to follow them. We know, like I hope that you know today, that the Scripture is true when it clearly states "All have sinned and come short of the glory of God."

The Christian life begins when we realize the futility of us living solely by our deeds, when we realize that God has given a new way to live, life that Jesus accomplished for us, for all.

This is why God sent His Son in the world to do the things we cannot do. He perfectly obeyed God's own actual Commandments in our place. He lived a life without sin in our place. He paid for all sins by giving His life on the cross in our place. He rose from the dead to declare victory over Satan and death in our place. Like 2 Corinthians 5:21 states, "For our sake God made him (Jesus) to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God."

This is the Gospel that defeats all legalism. This is the Good News of life and salvation that even puts ceremonies, traditions in their proper place. Jesus took upon Himself our sins, our hypocrisy, even our sins of thinking we can earn favor with God by what we do. Those were nailed to His cross, absolved when He says, "Father forgive them." "It is finished."

In our text, Jesus is angry because the very religious leaders who should have been shouting this Good News of God to everyone, they instead created rules and regulations that had people looking away from the very One Who came to give them life and salvation right then and there. Well that's why we're here on this radio program shouting the Good News, "Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and you will be saved." And live that life of grace in Him for others.

Traditions, traditions, traditions, some are good, some are bad. They are good if they guide and help us in our worship and life together as an expression of the life that God has given us in Christ as pure gift. They are bad if they twist God's law, God's Word, trying to make them a means of working out our own salvation or declaring themselves equal to God's Word. In our text today, Jesus is making it crystal clear to the Scribes and Pharisees and to us, with or without traditions; He's saying God's Word provides the only thing that is needed, the simple good news of this message, "For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not of your own doing; it is a gift of God." He's inviting you to trust Him today because that's a grace foundation for life, for life that lasts. Amen.

LUTHERAN HOUR MAILBOX (Questions & Answers) for September 20, 2015
Topic: What Are the Lutheran Confessions?

ANNOUNCER: Now, Pastor Gregory Seltz responds to questions from listeners. I'm Mark Eischer. Pastor, what are the Lutheran Confessions and what does that matter to other churches?

SELTZ: This is an important question because it gets to the heart of what it means to be a Christian, especially if you are a Lutheran, Mark. In fact, churches like the Lutheran Church are called Confessional or Confessing Churches. So, the goal of these kinds of churches is to have public teachings of the church give a faithful witness to the Bible's teaching. For the Lutheran Church, such Confessions are contained in the Book of Concord.

ANNOUNCER: Now, are these all writings from the time of Martin Luther?

SELTZ: No, not all of them. Remember, the goal is to be a faithful witness of Christ and His Church at all times, so the Lutheran Confessions contain the three ancient creeds of the Christian Church--the ecumenical creeds. The Apostles' Creed, the Nicene Creed, the Athanasian Creed. In addition to those creeds, the Book of Concord contains key writings of the Reformation era that communicate clear Biblical doctrines, and the biggest one, obviously, justification by grace, declared innocent before God, by grace, through faith in and because of all that Jesus has done for us.

ANNOUNCER: But, isn't the Lutheran Church based on Scripture alone? Why do you need to speak about Confessions and Creeds?

SELTZ: That's a good point, Mark, remember, the Lutheran Confessions have a servant position with respect to the Bible. The confessions are normed, and judged, and held accountable to the words of the Scriptures. The Bible, you're right, is the divine source and norm for all Christian teaching.

ANNOUNCER: Right, so why do you need confessions?

SELTZ: Well, one thing Christians have done throughout the ages is to organize the teachings of the Bible so they can be clear about what it teaches and we can share it faithfully. So, in the Creeds, we can see and hear in an organized way, what the Bible teaches about God and what He has done. In the Augsburg Confession, Lutherans got even more specific, talking about the main teaching of the Bible this way. This is what it says: "We cannot obtain forgiveness of sin and righteousness before God by our own merits, works, or satisfactions, but...we receive forgiveness of sin and even become righteous before God by grace, for Christ's sake, through faith" (AC IV).

ANNOUNCER: But that sounds a lot like verses from Romans, chapters three and four, so couldn't you just do away with those statements and stick with the Bible?

SELTZ: We could if people weren't making assertions contrary to the Bible. That's where the need for Confessions comes in. Our statements of belief counteract untruth that's being propagated. In fact, one of the main reasons for the Lutheran Confessions and why they exist is that they were meant to speak against corrupt teaching not just in the world, but also in the church. The Confessions actually point us back to the truth of the Bible.

ANNOUNCER: Weren't some of these documents written as responses to false accusations about things the Reformers were teaching?

SELTZ: That's another big component of the Confessions. They provide a clear explanation of what the Reformation Church really taught during a time of confusion and accusation. In fact, the document called "The Apology to the Augsburg Confession" is a defense of that confession against people who mischaracterized what it said.

ANNOUNCER: So, like today, it seems you have to deal not only with what you say, but what other people say you said.

SELTZ: Exactly, and the Reformers did a good job in setting forth the teaching in a way that said, "Here's what we said, Here's what we did not say....." That's a good model for any Christian who is in dialog about his faith.

ANNOUNCER: I recall the Apostle Peter's words recorded in 1 Peter, chapter three. He said, "Always be prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect" (1 Peter 3:15 ESV). We're called as Christians, then, to defend our faith in a clear and concise way.

SELTZ: And that's not always easy. But, that's what the Reformers were doing, what they were seeking to do. They were putting the Scriptures first and defending their faith in an organized, Scriptural way. I think it's a great example for all of us to follow.

ANNOUNCER: What are the practical uses of the Confessions today?

SELTZ: Starting with the Creeds, again, this is taking the Confessions of the Church for yourself; a Christian can use these as a simple outline of faith to share with people who don't know the true and saving God. The Small and Large Catechisms in those Confessions are teaching tools for discipleship, you can use them with your families. Writings like the Augsburg Confession; they outline central teachings of the Bible in a succinct way. A Christian can use these writings to understand and communicate Biblical teachings like Who is Jesus, what is repentance, faith, salvation, and much more.

ANNOUNCER: So, confessing the truth of Scripture, we have the Confessions to guide us in our teaching and in our explanation to others.

SELTZ: Use them and be blessed!

ANNOUNCER: Thank you, Pastor Seltz. This has been a presentation of Lutheran Hour Ministries.

Action in Ministry for September 20, 2015
Guest: Pastor Michael Newman

ANNOUNCER: This is The Lutheran Hour; our Action In Ministry segment. Pastor, I can think of many traditions I learned growing up and certain traditions we've also established with our own family.

SELTZ: Traditions, Mark, they can either be good or bad. However, when traditions get in the way of God's truth and we end up embracing lies, that's Satan at work actually. And we're talking about that today on our Action In Ministry segment.

ANNOUNCER: And joining us via Skype is Pastor Michael Newman, who's the author of our booklet, Great Deceiver; and later we'll tell you how you can get a free copy of this for yourself.

SELTZ: Pastor Newman, thanks for joining us.

NEWMAN: It's a joy to be with you.

SELTZ: Mike, I found this booklet fascinating. Satan is the great deceiver and whenever something distorts and twists the truth, isn't that exactly how Satan likes to work?

NEWMAN: Oh, exactly. That's his method of operation. It's kind of like when we watch the news all day. Pretty soon you get a twisted idea of the truth. Everything seems bad and that's what Satan wants to do. He wants to dishearten you, distract you, demoralize you. But the Bible lets us know our battle is not against flesh and blood. It's against this dark forces. It's against Satan. He wants to mess us everything God is doing in your life.

ANNOUNCER: And we should remember that Satan is not this little, imaginary guy with the horns and the pitchfork sitting on your shoulder trying to tempt you. He's very real. He's a fallen angel and he's very cunning. You describe some of his favorite schemes. What are they?

NEWMAN: Well, he's got all kinds of methods. The Bible says we know his schemes. But maybe the best summary of that is that he tries to confront us in our points of vulnerability. If you think of Jesus in the wilderness, when Jesus was hungry, he tried to get Jesus to make bread out of the stones; the same thing with trying to play on Jesus' pride or even desires. Now Jesus didn't fall for it, but this is how Satan approaches us as well. When you think of Peter, he asked to sift Peter like wheat; in other words, tossing him up in the air in uncertainty. And those vulnerability points; our desires, our pride, even the uncertainty we face, are some examples of how Satan tries to attack us as well.

SELTZ: Another way Satan is so successful is by convincing us that our lives are actually meaningless especially since we've blown it time and time and time again. Life doesn't...it just doesn't seem even to let up on us. But that's anything but the truth; isn't it, Mike?

NEWMAN: The Bible says very clearly Satan is a murderer. He's a destroyer. There's no illusion that is sometimes out there that he is a good guy to hang out with or a harmless fun buddy. He's described as a dragon who devours people, he's out to destroy people who hold to the testimony of Jesus, and he wants all of us to believe that God can't love us and that we have no purpose in our lives. And the purpose, really, for him doing that is so that he could hide Christ's light from shining through us. It's a big lie.

ANNOUNCER: But what I find especially good about your booklet is that it ends on a message of positive hope. Tell us how God enables us to overcome the devil and his threats.

NEWMAN: Well, this is the beautiful thing as I said. The Lord lets us know Satan's schemes. Satan is not God; he's that fallen angel as you've mentioned before, Mark, and so we know his method of operation. And Jesus calls us to Himself. He says, "Come to Me all you who are weary and burdened." God is our "Refuge and Strength." Jesus even proclaimed, "In this world you will have trouble;" but then He gives us the best answer of all. He says, "Take heart. I have overcome the world."

SELTZ: Yes. And Pastor Newman, thank you so much for joining us today. This booklet, The Great Deceiver, is packed with valuable insights and truths that we can all use to strengthen our faith and shore up our spiritual defenses. So, thanks again, Mike, for being with us. It's a pleasure to talk to you.

NEWMAN: Great speaking with you guys as well.

Music Selections for this program:

"A Mighty Fortress" arranged by Chris Bergmann. Used by permission.

"Lord of Glory, You Have Bought Us" From The Concordia Organist (© 2009 Concordia Publishing House)

"Lord, Keep Us Steadfast in Your Word" From The Concordia Organist (© 2009 Concordia Publishing House)



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