The Rules, the Rule, and the Ruler

August 8, 2016

Matthew 15:1-9

Then some Pharisees and teachers of the law came to Jesus from Jerusalem and asked, 2 “Why do your disciples break the tradition of the elders? They don’t wash their hands before they eat!”

3 Jesus replied, “And why do you break the command of God for the sake of your tradition? 4 For God said, ‘Honor your father and mother’ and ‘Anyone who curses their father or mother is to be put to death.’ 5 But you say that if anyone declares that what might have been used to help their father or mother is ‘devoted to God,’ 6 they are not to ‘honor their father or mother’ with it. Thus you nullify the word of God for the sake of your tradition. 7 You hypocrites! Isaiah was right when he prophesied about you:

8 “‘These people honor me with their lips,
    but their hearts are far from me.
9 They worship me in vain;
    their teachings are merely human rules.’”


The Scribes and Pharisees labored profusely to perfectly follow the rules. They believed this approach to holiness would precipitate the coming of the Messiah. The Messiah was standing right in front of them but all they could see was Jesus disciples’ failure to wash their hands. Remember back when Jesus healed the man with the withered hand in the synagogue on the Sabbath? All the Scribes and Pharisees could see was a violation of the Sabbath, meanwhile a messianic miracle had taken place. Jesus cleansed a leper and all they could see was he touched someone unclean. There is a way of meticulously observing the law without really obeying it. There is a way of following the rules which totally contravenes them.

 “‘These people honor me with their lips,
    but their hearts are far from me.

It is perhaps an over-simplification, but let’s try this. I want to posit three dimensions of law that may help us sort this out. There are the rules, the rule and the ruler.

The critical issue is where we begin. If we begin with the rules, the goal will be to follow the rules and the measure of success will be who kept the rules and who broke them. This creates a parody of community governed by the rule of honor and shame. Following the rules to the nth degree becomes the pathway to honor which leads to the sickness of self righteousness stemming from the cancer of pride. In truth, in the honor-shame system, one of the strongest motivations for following the rules is to avoid being shamed and considered one of “those people.” In these kinds of communities it is against one’s self interest to be honest about their failures because it will mean the loss of honor. This is how hypocrisy is born—the maintenance of an outward appearance that covers over the inward truth. The end of this scenario is a very distorted idea of the nature of the Ruler. And the rule can be summed up as legalism.

We get a completely different outcome if we begin with the Ruler. The Ruler is far more concerned that we follow him than that we follow the rules. The rules matter, but there is a way to follow them and a way not to. The Ruler is concerned to write the rules on our hearts. This is a heart level relationship. The rule can be summed up as love. When we learn to keep the rule, following the rules comes naturally and the honor accrues to the Ruler.

In Jesus, the Ruler has come near. Wherever the Ruler goes, so also goes this rule of Divine Love and it results in a completely different kind of community with a very counterintuitive set of rules. It’s called the Kingdom of Heaven.
Daily Text MATTHEW 08-08-16


Lord, Jesus, there is none like you and yet your heart is to remake us in your likeness. Form in us your rule of perfect love, which is perfect freedom, that our lives might persuade others of your passionate love for them. Fill us today with your Holy Spirit who is our life and our love for the glory of your name, Amen.


1. What insight does this taxonomy of rules, rule and ruler give you?

2. How does this help you make sense out of the Pharisees and Scribes and their relationship to Jesus?

3. Do you aspire to the beauty of the Kingdom of Heaven or is it too overwhelming to you?


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J.D. Walt, is a Bond Slave of the Lord Jesus Christ.

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