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'A Year with Jesus' for 2/5/2016

Rules Versus Right Hearts

Note from Jesus

Dear Disciple,

You are probably aware that I had many disagreements with the Pharisees, scribes, and scholars during My time on earth and that I openly opposed them for their ungodly teachings and actions. In fact, a lot of My strongest condemnations were directed at the legalism and hypocrisy of these religious leaders (e.g., Matthew 23:1-33). However, I want you to understand something very important about these disagreements. I agreed with these people on nearly all of the principles they taught about the morality that God wants for His people and about adherence to God's commands. Where I disagreed with them was on the way to achieve what God wants. Their goal was to create a set of rules — called the (oral) traditions of the ancestors — that were taught as God's law. These rules were designed to be a hedge around the Torah to prevent anyone from getting close to breaking the commands of God.

Their desire was good — to honor the character and compassion of God in their behavior. However, their design was severely flawed since external rules cannot create a holy person; true transformation has to come from the heart.

While some people have tried to make My teaching into something soft and easy to fit their lifestyles, if you look carefully at My teachings, you will see that is not the case. Rather, I want people to examine their hearts. I want them to look deeper than a set of rules and listen for the heart and will of God in His teachings. To put it into the language of the issues in the verses below, let Me say it directly: I came to be a heart surgeon and not a hand washer!

External rules cannot get to the real issue that lies behind all behavior: the heart! Listen to the words of the Father through the prophet Ezekiel:

I will give them a new will — an undivided heart — and plant a new spirit within them; I will remove their cold, stony heart and replace it with a warm heart of flesh. Then they will follow My commands and uphold My laws and actually do as I say. They will be My people, and I will be their God.
(Ezekiel 11:19-20).
I came to try to win your heart to God and to transform it by the power of the Holy Spirit living in you!

Don't think that there are no people like Pharisees in your day. All around, people have turned discipleship into rule keeping, thinking they can make rules to keep people holy. It doesn't work. The apostle Paul had to deal with the problem a few years after My resurrection. Notice what he said about rule-keeping to the Colossians:
You have died with Christ, and he has set you free from the spiritual powers of this world. So why do you keep on following the rules of the world, such as, "Don't handle! Don't taste! Don't touch!"? Such rules are mere human teachings about things that deteriorate as we use them. These rules may seem wise because they require strong devotion, pious self-denial, and severe bodily discipline. But they provide no help in conquering a person's evil desires.
(Colossians 2:20-23 NLT)
The solution to this problem? A new, clean, and right heart. King David wrestled with ungodliness and did some despicable things. Yet he realized the power to change was not in making harder sets of rules, but in asking God for a cleansed and transformed heart that could change him from the inside out:
Create in me a clean heart, O God; restore within me a sense of being brand new. ... Give back to me the deep delight of being saved by You; let Your willing Spirit sustain me.
(Psalm 51:10-12)

Verses to Live

I have sent the Holy Spirit to live within you as a baptized believer. The Holy Spirit is at work to transform you from the inside out. However, you need to offer your heart to Me each day. Ask Me to do the work you cannot do on your own, to cleanse and to transform the desires of your heart. Rules cannot change your heart; they can only alter some of your behavior for awhile. Before long, your rules will become more important than the will of God and your heart can be far away from the heart of God, the very God you are trying to please with your rules!

Then the Pharisees returned to talk with Jesus [after He had healed many people (Mark 6:53-56)], and with them came some of the scribes and scholars from Jerusalem.

Scribes and Scholars (seeing the disciples eating):
Your disciples are eating bread with defiled, unwashed hands.
Now you need to know that the Pharisees, and all Jews for that matter, held the tradition of their ancestors that hands must be washed before eating to avoid being ritually unclean. Likewise, they washed when they returned from the market and followed similar purity teachings as well, from the washing of their food to the washing of their bowls, cups, and kettles.

Scribes and Pharisees:
Why don't Your disciples follow the traditions passed down to us? Why do they eat their bread with defiled hands?
Isaiah prophesied wisely about your religious pretensions when he wrote,
These people honor Me with words off their lips;
meanwhile their hearts are far from Me.
Their worship is empty, void of true devotion.
They teach a human commandment, memorized and practiced by rote.
When you cling blindly to your own traditions such as washing utensils and cups, you completely miss God's command. Then, indeed, you have perfected setting aside God's commands for the sake of your tradition. Moses gave you God's commandment: "Honor your father and your mother." And also, "If you curse your father or your mother, you will be put to death." But you say to your aged parents, "I've decided that the support you were expecting from me will now be the holy offering set aside for God." After that he is not allowed to do anything for his parents. Do you think God wants you to honor your traditions that you have passed down? This is only one of many places where you are blind.
Jesus (to the crowd that had gathered):
Listen, all of you, to this teaching. I want you to understand. There is nothing outside someone that can corrupt him. Only the things that come out of a person can corrupt him. All who have ears to hear, let them listen.
When they had come in from the road, His disciples asked Him what He meant by this teaching.

Do you mean you don't understand this one either? Whatever goes into people from outside can't defile them because it doesn't go into their hearts. Outside things go through their guts and back out, thus making all foods pure. No, it's what comes from within that corrupts. It's what grows out of the hearts of people that leads to corruption: evil thoughts, immoral sex, theft, murder, adultery, greed, wicked acts, treachery, sensuality, jealousy, slander, pride, and foolishness. All of these come from within, and these are the sins that truly corrupt a person.
(Mark 7:1-23)

Response in Prayer

O Father, may the words of my mouth and the meditations of my heart be pleasing in your sight, for You, O God, are my Rock and my Redeemer. I offer My heart to Jesus today, to be molded and shaped to honor Your will and reflect Your character and compassion. I ask that You create a clean heart in Me. Fill me with Your Spirit and transform my desires and my behaviors to be like Jesus, in Whose name I ask this. Amen.

For more information about this devotional as well as archives of the material please visit the 'A Year with Jesus' website.


All scripture quotations, unless otherwise indicated, are taken from The Voice™. © 2008 by Ecclesia Bible Society. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

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