In Jesus’ confrontation and rebuke of the Jewish religious establishment in Mark 7, He identified what happens among religious people when they start exalting their religious heritage above the authority of the word of God. When the traditions of men become the controlling authority of our faith, the next stage of digression from the word of God is only natural. Jesus explained, “For laying aside the commandment of God, you hold the tradition of men” (Mk 7:8).
We must never underestimate the power that religious traditions have over the authority of the word of God. In fact, we would say that tradition almost always prevails over commandment. The reason is that tradition is the voice of our peers. When the word of God lays silent on our kitchen tables, tradition will always prevail. An individual is often more inclined to believe and behave according to the desires of his peers, than stand alone to believe and behave according to the directions of the word of God. When we desire to be accepted by our religious community that is walking contrary to the word of God, we will succumb to the pressure of our peers. Friends form the foundation of the faith of those who have ceased studying their Bibles.
An example of the intimidation of the community over the individual was manifested in the behavior of Nicodemus when he came to Jesus at night (Jn 3:1,2). He had questions concerning the teaching of Jesus. However, he did not want to risk being rejected by his fellow Pharisees by asking his questions in their presence. The darkness of the night brought to light the intimidation of his peers. He succumbed to the work of Satan through group intimidation, even though he believed that the signs that Jesus worked were real (Jn 3:2).
The point is that even though Nicodemus believed the miraculous confirmation of Jesus’ message, he was still intimidated by his peers. We must conclude that when a religious group has a long history as the Jew’s religion, and is extended throughout the word, then certainly the peers of every preacher will be greatly intimidated to conform to the heritage of the religion over the authority of the word of God. Most religious people today would rather follow their peers than the authority of the words of the Prince of Peace.
We must add to this social intimidation of one’s peers another point that possibly influenced Nicodemus. Judaism was the religion of a social Jewish structure that was built on strong Jewish families. Therefore, when Jesus presented Himself to those of the Jews’ religion, He knew that those who would come to Him would find resistance even among their own families. Not only would one have to overcome the religiosity of the community, but also the religion of his own family. And for this reason, Jesus said,
If anyone comes to Me and does not hate his father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and his own life also, he cannot be My disciple (Lk 14:26).
Though Nicodemus and others were emboldened later in the early beginnings of the church to follow Jesus, the traditions of the religious community during the ministry of Jesus prevailed upon him, and others, to lay aside that which was right according to the word of God. He sacrificed Jesus in order to avoid conflict with his peers. When a group of people have a high regard for their religious traditions, these traditions are usually elevated above the commandment of God. The commandment of God, therefore, is easily laid aside in order that traditions of the religious group be maintained.
If one is part of a fellowship of erring religious leaders, as was Nicodemus, it is often rare that within the group he will take a stand for the word of God. If one is not willing to forsake an erroneous religious community, then certainly he will not be willing to forsake the religious heritage of his father, mother, wife, children, brothers and sisters. The desire to be accepted is often too great for most people, who through their personal studies or observation as Nicodemus, have discovered that some things the group believes are contrary to the word of God. When an entire group seeks to maintain a heritage of apostate religiosity, the leaders of the religion would rather lay aside the word of God in order to maintain their fellowship with their friends and family. When an entire family is caught up in a religious fantasy, only a few of the family will be willing to break away and follow the word of Jesus. This is simply one method of work that Satan uses to keep the unsaved lost.
[Next lecture: June 23]