The religious leaders in Jesus’ day had decided that the moral commandments of God could and should be circumvented. Jesus disagreed. There certainly were some man-made rules that our Lord was indifferent about, such as ceremonial washing before meals, but he not only defended the righteousness of the law of God, but also urged obedience to it.
Let’s take the honouring of parents as an example. Some religious leaders had decided that this commandment was too burdensome so they had created an argument to allow people to avoid honouring their aged parents. If someone’s parents were in need of financial assistance, the children might dedicate to the temple that portion of their money that might have been used to help their parents. The money then was regarded as off limits to the parents, and the money saved might one day get to the temple.
Jesus saw this for what it was. Setting aside the law of God. The religious leaders preferred their own rules in order to benefit those who were determined not to honour their parents. They had framed their outrage against God’s law in pious language, but Jesus saw it for what it was — unbelieving disobedience.
Our Lord quoted Isaiah the prophet against these religious leaders: ‘You honour me with your lips, but your heart is far from me.’ They would not honour God by teaching — and calling people to obey — the commandments of God. The message of Jesus was a gracious message of forgiveness on the basis of his own life, death and resurrection. His call to all people was, ‘Repent and believe the gospel.’ Repentance involves the conviction of sin. Sin is lawlessness.
The apostle Paul makes the same point in Romans 1. Those who are disobedient to parents are under the condemnation of God. So are those who encourage those who dishonour their parents. It is no use to say that we are born that way (the evidence seems to be that all except Jesus failed this one), or to say that disobedience to parents is natural and normal. God’s law condemns it and only Christ can rescue us from the just condemnation that is due to it.
Paul went further. He said that those who will not care for or honour their own parents (and, by implication, those who encourage people not to honour their parents) have denied the faith are are worse than unbelievers.
The good news is that God’s love in Christ brings real forgiveness to bad people. However, bad people like us must realise our badness before we can recognise that the news of the gospel is extraordinarily good. To set aside that moral law of God is to dishonour God and to disable the gospel of grace.
May God give repentance to religious leaders of our day who minimised the moral law of God. The moral law is a means that God uses to work conviction of sin in the hearts of sinners. May the reality of God’s just judgement on sin cause many to turn to Jesus Christ as our only hope of mercy.