The AMI QT Devotionals April 2-8 are written by David Son, who serves as the college pastor at Symphony Church in Boston. David, a graduate of UC Berkeley (B.S.) and Gordon-Conwell Seminary (M.Div.), is married to Grace who teaches at a public school. (Two more news about them: first, they just had their first baby (Eli); second, they will be going to Taiwan as church planters later in the year.)
Devotional Thoughts for Today
“When Worship Becomes a Mere Tradition”
Now when the Pharisees gathered to him, with some of the scribes who had come from Jerusalem, they saw that some of his disciples ate with hands that were defiled, that is, unwashed. (For the Pharisees and all the Jews do not eat unless they wash their hands properly, holding to the tradition of the elders, and when they come from the marketplace, they do not eat unless they wash. And there are many other traditions that they observe, such as the washing of cups and pots and copper vessels and dining couches.) And the Pharisees and the scribes asked him, “Why do your disciples not walk according to the tradition of the elders, but eat with defiled hands?” And he said to them, “Well did Isaiah prophesy of you hypocrites, as it is written, ‘This people honors me with their lips, but their heart is far from me; in vain do they worship me, teaching as doctrines the commandments of men.’ You leave the commandment of God and hold to the tradition of men.”
In the 1700’s, German settlers in America had an interesting way of predicting the weather. On February 2nd, the midpoint between the Winter Solstice and the Spring Equinox, they believed that if the weather was sunny, there would be six more weeks of winter. On the other hand, if the weather was overcast on February 2nd, it would mean an early spring was coming. On that day, residents of Punxsutawney, PA would watch carefully to see if the sun would come out and cast a shadow on a groundhog, peeping out of its hole after hibernation. Thus, Groundhog Day was established. Still today, nearly 300 years later, on February 2nd of every year, tens of thousands of people travel to this small town to observe the tradition. But it doesn’t actually mean anything to anyone anymore. No one in attendance actually believes that this tradition will make any sort of real difference in their lives. It’s nothing more than a feel-good gathering of attendees. Yet, nearly 30,000 people show up to Punxsutawney, faithfully, every year, to celebrate Groundhogs Day, a mere tradition!
Why do you show up to Sunday worship each week? Do you come with an expectation to encounter the living God? Is there a desire for real transformation each time you enter into worship? Or somewhere along the lines, has worship become a mere tradition?
In our passage today, we discover that the Pharisees and scribes are very faithful about their traditions. And to be clear, none of these traditions are inherently sinful or wrong in their observance (washing hands, washing cups/pots/vessels). In fact, some of these traditions stem directly from obedience to the instructions God gave for His people to follow in Leviticus! However, we see that these things had become mere tradition. Jesus says, quoting Isaiah, “in vain do they worship me….”
Often I find myself envying the passionate worship of someone who has recently accepted Christ. Have you felt that way before? Perhaps the words “jaded” or “stuck in a spiritual rut” speak to how you’ve been feeling in your faith. Perhaps this is an indication that our worship has become mere tradition. Let’s spend some time this morning, reminding ourselves of why we do the things we do, and who we do them for—particularly if we have been doing them faithfully, for a long time.
Prayer: Father, bring us back to our first love today. Remind us of how You see us and love us. Refresh and renew our souls that we may once again be in awe of You. Breathe life back into the ways that we serve and the ways that we worship. We love You. In Jesus’ name I pray. Amen.
Bible Reading for Today: Ephesians 2
Lunch Break Study
Read Isaiah 1:12-17: When you come to appear before me, who has required of you this trampling of my courts? Bring no more vain offerings; incense is an abomination to me. New moon and Sabbath and the calling of convocations—I cannot endure iniquity and solemn assembly. Your new moons and your appointed feasts my soul hates; they have become a burden to me; I am weary of bearing them. When you spread out your hands, I will hide my eyes from you; even though you make many prayers, I will not listen; your hands are full of blood. Wash yourselves; make yourselves clean; remove the evil of your deeds from before my eyes; cease to do evil, learn to do good; seek justice, correct oppression; bring justice to the fatherless, plead the widow’s cause.
Questions to Consider
- In this passage, what is God’s response to the worship of His people? What is surprising about this?
- Why do you think God feels this way towards these acts of worship?
- What kind of worshippers is God seeking?
- Surprisingly, God is indignant towards the worship that the Israelites are offering. He says to “bring no more vain offerings” and that “incense is an abomination to [Him].” He even says that when they pray, He will hide His eyes from them and not listen. This is quite surprising because none of these things are actually bad things. In fact, many of them were commanded by God to do!
- To be clear, God isn’t against worship, offerings, and prayer, and such. But when these things are “vain,” empty, and just a formality of tradition, that’s when God isn’t pleased with them. The Israelites were doing all of these things habitually; meanwhile they were not actually seeking the heart of God. In other words, it had the appearance of worship, but it was empty.
- God instructs His people to wash themselves (repent), learn to do good, seek justice, and correct oppression. In other words, the worshippers that God seeks are those who are being actively transformed by His character. This means that unless there is also some kind of Christ-like transformation happening in the way that we act/speak/think, the ceremonial aspects of worship lose their meaning.
Deuteronomy 5:15 – “You shall remember that you were a slave in the land of Egypt, and the Lord your God brought you out from there with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm. Therefore the Lord your God commanded you to keep the Sabbath day.”
This word in Deuteronomy is given to the Israelites more than 40 years after they had been delivered from Egypt. Yet, they are commanded to continually remember the day of their salvation. Likewise, tonight, spend some time remembering how He has redeemed you. The more we remember this, the better!