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Part VIII: Idolatry: What It Is and Its Importance

March 11, 2016 @ 8:00 am - 5:00 pm

Part VIII: Idolatry: What It Is and Its Importance

Continuing our study of the gospel of Matthew, chapter 15 juxtaposes two contrasting views of lawkeeping: law keeping according to God’s law vs. man’s law AND lawkeeping in one’s own strength vs. another’s strength. This contrast takes us back in the Garden (Genesis 3). Like Adam, Israel’s leaders agreed that lawkeeping was important. Unlike Adam, they agreed that another physical exile was to be avoided at all costs. They did not want to return to Babylon. They understood that lawbreaking was the problem. But they failed to understand the reasons for the exile. The reasons were unfaithfulness to God and the worship of self through the worship of something other than God – idolatry. The religious leaders engaged in lawkeeping but according to their standard. In response and in an effort to purify themselves (the origin of the term Pharisee is to separate) the religious leaders developed their own laws which were handed down through generations. Jesus, in Matthew 15 (and Mark 7), termed these rabbinic laws as tradition. Jesus charged the religious leaders with nullifying God’s commands in favor of tradition carried out in their own strength.
Isaiah captures the mindset of Israel in both the Old and New Testaments in Isaiah 29:13: their hearts were far away from God. In the Old Testament, “far away from God” often referred to worshipping idols and not God (Jer. 2:5; Ezek. 44:10). When help was deemed necessary, the people and priests did not ask “where is the Lord” but relied on other nations (Jer. 2:8,23; Isaiah 30:1-5).
In Jesus’ day, tradition had become more important than God and his law. Their law and their lawkeeping were linked. They did not need a spiritual messiah. Certainly they thought they needed to keep commandments (see the rich young man in 19:16-29). Israel thought in terms of earning something by what they did and did not do. Moreover, the lawmakers themselves became more important than Jehovah, the true Lawgiver (see John 5:45-47; 7:21-24). Their lawkeeping according to tradition became the standard for success or failure. They imposed that standard on others including Jesus. Tradition was the vehicle or tool for them to get for themselves.
Trusting something outside of self is actually self-trust. Hearts “turned from God” result from a heart turned to self. Holding on to tradition (manmade principles and laws) is to neglect the commandments of God. But it is more. Holding on to tradition means holding to self and worshiping self in lieu of God.
A major theme throughout the Old and New Testaments is heart worship vs. ritual. John 4:20-24 teaches that God seeks Holy-Spirit-formed and directed heart worshippers. Ritual alone is not key. Rather true worship is full allegiance to God (Isaiah. 1:10-18; Jer. 6:20; 7:20; Ezek. 18:5-9; Pss. 40:6-8; 51:16-17; 1 Sam. 15:22-23; Amos 5:21-25; Hosea 6:6-8; Micah 6:6-8; Zech. 7:9-10; 8:16-17). Jesus elaborated on this point in Matthew 9:13 and 12:7. Jesus labeled those who put more stock in their laws and personal lawkeeping than God’s laws and the Messiah’s lawkeeping as hypocrites (Matthew 23). Idolatry is hypocrisy.
Matthew 6:1-15 teaches among other things that Jesus was not against duty: giving, praying, and fasting, Obedience can be a manifestation of God’s love of a person and the person’s love for God (John 14:15, 21, 23). 1 Samuel 15:22-23 sheds light on the type of obedience God requires and deserves. Saul “obeyed” according to his standard and his efforts. Like Adam in the Garden, God removed Saul from his presence. Neither represented God. Each represented self and did so poorly. Samuel told Saul that doing things his way for his gain was rebellion and idolatry. Saul rejected the word of the Lord. He, as the lawmaker, put something in the place of God’s law and depended on his own lawkeeping. Such is all idolatry.

1. What traditions have you as a lawmaker carved out for yourself to obey?
2. How have you set aside biblical truth?
3. Worship has an object. Write out the times it is easy to serve and worship self and hard to serve and worship God.


March 11, 2016
8:00 am - 5:00 pm