… why do you break the commandment of God for the sake of your tradition? (Matthew 15:3)
October 31, 2017 is the 500th anniversary of the day that Martin Luther nailed his 95 theses to the door of the Wittenberg church sparking what would become a great restorative reformation of Christ’s church. We will commemorate this event by taking the month of October to meditate on some of the themes that spurred on the Reformation. At the same time, our exposition of the Gospel of Matthew has us in chapter 15, which (along with the first 12 verses of chapter 16) contains four stories that can be organized around four of the major themes highlighted in the Gospel and rediscovered by the evangelical church in the Reformation.
The first story involves some of the traditions and dietary laws of the religious leaders (15:1-20); Jesus affirms and establishes the Scripture as the sole authority for God’s people, above all tradition. This will be the text we will consider on October 1st, under the banner of the first rallying cry of the Reformation, “Sola Scriptura,” Scripture alone. Then the following week as we study the faith of a Canaanite woman in verses 21-28 of chapter 15, we will find the means by which people become God’s children, namely “Sola Fide,” by faith alone. The third story describing the great feeding of the four thousand in verses 29-39 of the chapter, highlights the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ as He uses disciples, independent of all merit, by grace alone (“Sola Gratia”). The final two paragraphs of this section (chapter 16 verses 1-12), contain the demand for a sign and Jesus’ warning about “the leaven of the Pharisees;” these texts point us to find our satisfaction in the sufficiency of Christ alone (“Solus Christus”) instead of signs.
These four principles rediscovered in the Reformation recapitulate the main doctrinal truths that we have already seen in Matthew’s Gospel (the authority of Scripture, the inclusion of other ethnicities among God’s people on the basis of faith, the grace of Christ, and His magnificence as the fulfillment of the law). Beginning with the theme of “Scripture alone,” we have been seeing time and again in Matthew how God’s word is always superior to human traditions, and personal relationships always trump religious regulations. While there is a place for tradition within the Christian faith, any tradition that is not supported by Scripture must bow to the higher authority of God’s Word.