Summary: I fear too often we major on the minor things and neglect the greater aspects of our faith and service unto the Lord. Jesus confronted the hypocrisy and neglect of the Pharisees. This passage reveals similarities to the modern church.
Clean Hands and Defiled Hearts
Mark 7: 1-23
It has been a while since we’ve heard from the scribes and Pharisees, but they were a continual nuisance to the Lord as He ministered among the people. It appears they followed Jesus as often as they could, seeking any means to accuse Him and discredit His ministry.
As we have discussed before, there will always be those who seek to hinder the work of the Lord. Jesus dealt with them; the disciples dealt with them; Paul dealt with them, and so shall we if we are committed to honoring the Lord. The Pharisees were known for their adherence to the Law and legalistic traditions, but in reality they were hypocrites. As the criticized their perceived faults in the Lord and His work, they completely ignored their lack of obedience to those aspects of the faith that genuinely pleased the Lord. Outwardly they looked good, but within they were defiled and corrupt.
These truths have not changed. Like the Pharisees of old, our lives are measured by what is in our hearts, instead of the life we portray before men. It is possible to have a form of righteousness, but actually have a defiled heart. As we examine the lessons in the text, I want to consider: Clean Hands and Defiled Hearts.
I. The Accusation of the Jews (1-5) – Our opening verses reveal another controversy brought about by the unjust accusation of the Pharisees. Notice:
A. The Examination (1-2) – As we have learned, the Pharisees kept a close watch on Jesus and the disciples, seeking any means to accuse them. At this particular moment, they had witnessed the disciples eating bread without washing their hands. (The enemy will see to it that our motives and actions will be called into question by those outside the faith. He knows he is defeated, and our Lord is eternally victorious. While he can’t defeat Christ, he can work to bring accusation to those who desire to serve the Lord and proclaim the Gospel.)
B. The Tradition (3-4) – Mark revealed that the Pharisees held strict traditions, passed down through generations. They were forbidden to eat unless they washed their hands. There were many traditions regarding the washing of cups, pots, brass vessels, and the tables upon which the food was served. While there is absolutely nothing wrong with cleanliness, these traditions were kept while they ignored the greater aspects of the faith. They exercised great care for outward cleanliness and yet neglected the needs within their hearts.
Traditions are fine in a proper context. There is nothing wrong with washing one’s hands or properly cleaning cups and pots, but these and other traditions must not be held in higher regard than the fundamentals of our faith. Tradition cannot replace or exceed biblical mandates. The modern church is often willing to ignore biblical mandates if it goes against long held traditions.
C. The Confrontation (5) – Having stood on the sideline as long as they could, the Pharisees confronted Jesus about the disciples disregard for long held traditions. They were appalled that these men would dare to eat without first washing their hands.
The enemy and those who promote his agenda are never afraid of confrontation. Some within the church are even quick to confront those who fail to honor certain traditions and rituals that are held in high regard. If you are committed to serving the Lord, you might as well prepare to deal with confrontation. Someone will eventually take issue with your practices.
II. The Proclamation of Jesus (6-13) – As He had done in the past, Jesus immediately responded to the accusation of the Pharisees. However, rather than chastising the disciples for failing to honor tradition, He questioned the motives of the Pharisees and rebuked their agenda. We find that:
A. He Condemned their Hypocrisy (6-9) – I don’t think the Pharisees were necessarily shocked by Jesus’ response, but He challenged them publicly regarding their continued hypocrisy. Jesus quoted a prophecy from Isaiah that was being fulfilled at that very moment. These sought to honor God with their lips and their actions, but their hearts were not right with the Lord. These held to traditions that were passed down and demanded, but they ignored the commandments of God. Their righteousness was all an outward show, a front that lacked real substance. In essence Jesus rebuked the hypocrisy of the Pharisees. According to Warren Weirsbe, “Rabbi Eleazer said, ‘He who expounds the Scriptures in opposition to the tradition has no share in the world to come.’ The Mishna, a collection of Jewish traditions in the Talmud, records, ‘It is a greater offense to teach anything contrary to the voice of the Rabbis than to contradict Scripture itself.’” (i)
Unfortunately such practices continue today. Our world is filled with those who hold to religious traditions and certain practices, but their hearts are not right with the Lord. They give great attention to performing that which is expected by the religious establishment and yet fail to honor the Lord by living according to the dictates of Scripture.