When I was eight years old, my school had a strict “no Pokemon” rule. Since my school was a Christian institution, I assumed that Jesus didn’t approve of my Pokemon cards. This was a huge conundrum because Pokemon was a way of life for me and my friends. “How can Jesus dislike something so cute?” I would think. As I grew older, I found out the rule wasn’t about Christ; it was about crowd control. One grade above mine, two boys got in a fight over a holographic Pokemon card. The distraction, fighting, and stealing led the school to broadly ban all things Pokemon.
You may not realize it, but you are always following rules. You drive the speed limit, you wear a uniform to work, you don’t put stickers on your locker, and you show up to PE on time. Rules will play a role in your whole life. You’ll follow them — even when you’re in a nursing home with a curfew. Rules are helpful, but they’re not very hopeful. They’re often about legalism rather than love. Unfortunately, people often boil our faith down into a list of rules.
The majority of Mark’s Gospel takes place in Cesarea Philipi. It was (and still is) the center of the religious universe. Priests proudly walked the streets. Temples were as common then as McDonald’s are today. The population was eager to see another move from God. Some of the most prolific religious leaders in that time were also prolific rule-makers. They were called the Pharisees. These men were obsessed with appearances, which meant they were obsessed with observable rules and regulations. Jesus called them out, “You have a fine way of setting aside the commands of God in order to observe your own traditions!” (7:9)
Pharisees still exist today. These are the kind of people who would dismiss a girl for wearing ripped jeans in church, or tell a boy he can’t lead worship with purple hair. Tragically, I’ve witnessed church-going people expect unbelievers to act like them, look like them, and talk like them before they’re allowed to hear the word of God at one of their church services. That’s backwards and misguided. People obsess over appearances and actions, but God looks on the heart (1 Sam 16:7). Your life is not about following rules; it’s about following Jesus.