Summary: Legalistic list makers focus on having clean hands; the Lord gives us clean hearts.
Holiness Without Hypocrisy
Rev. Brian Bill
July 23-24, 2016
More than 200 years ago, Edward Gibbon wrote a six-volume series called, The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire. He spent 20 years studying the Roman Empire to find out how a nation that was so great suddenly imploded.
Interestingly, the first volume was published in 1776, the year our country was born. Gibbon listed five primary reasons for the collapse.
1. The rapid increase of divorce, with the undermining of the sanctity of the home, which is the basis of society.
2. Higher and higher taxes; and the spending of public money on bread and circuses.
3. The mad craze for pleasure, with sports becoming every year more exciting and more brutal.
4. The building of gigantic armies to fight external enemies, when the most deadly enemy, the decadence of the people, lay within.
5. The decay of religion; faith fading into mere form, losing touch with life, and becoming impotent to guide it.
This should be a sober warning that we are repeating many of the same patterns that wrecked the Roman Empire. I asked Justin Rumley, our intern, to look up some stats that relate to each of these, but realized that the connection to our culture is more than obvious. I want to focus on the last one, the fact that our faith can fade into mere form, losing touch with life, and becoming impotent to guide it. Instead of being moved by the Majesty, we can end up just going through the motions. We can so easily focus on religion and not relationship, which leads to pretenders in the pews.
BTW, when I hear someone say that they don’t come to church because it’s filled with hypocrites, I often smile and say something like this: “Oh, don’t let that stop you…come and join us, we have room for one more!”
We grow tired of people saying one thing and living something that’s completely opposite, don’t we? According to the dictionary, a hypocrite is “a person who pretends to have beliefs or practices which he or she does not actually possess.” As used in the Bible, the term comes from ancient Greek theater, where one actor would often play two parts. When saying something humorous, he would hold up a mask with a smiley face [hold up]; when playing a tragic part, he would hold up a mask with a sad face [hold up]. A good actor could imitate the speech, mannerisms, and conduct of the character he was portraying [hold up mask of Pastor Ed]. The word literally means, “One who hides behind a mask.”
How then can we fight this? How can we grow in holiness without giving into hypocrisy? We’re going to look at an encounter Jesus had with some religious dudes and learn that the heart of the problem is the problem of the heart. That’s exactly what Proverbs 4:23 says, “Keep your heart with all vigilance, for from it flow the springs of life.” That’s one of the reasons I like our parenting class for mothers called, Entrusted with a Child’s Heart. The heart is always the heart of the matter. BTW, we will be having a parenting seminar on October 22nd for moms and dads.
Hypocrisy concentrates on the external while holiness starts on the inside. The religious leaders were focused on having clean hands; Jesus was all about having a clean heart. Let’s walk through Mark 7:1-13 and see how Jesus handles unholy hypocrites.
Here are a few observations before we dive in.
1. Much of Mark’s material focuses on what Jesus did; chapter 7 is filled with what He said. To say it another way, much of this gospel records the miracles of Jesus. In these verses we get to hear His message.
2. From this point forward in Mark’s gospel we see the popularity of Jesus begin to decline. Moving toward the final year of His life, Jesus pours more time into the disciples while the religious leaders ramp up their confrontation. As Jesus exposes their superficial spirituality, they become more agitated and attack Him relentlessly to discredit Him and eventually send Him to death.
3. The word “tradition” is used six different times in this passage (v. 3, 4, 5, 8, 9, 13). While tradition can be a good thing, Jesus is going to show us that tradition must be subservient to Scripture, not the other way around.
4. Mark 7:7 is the key verse that will help us unpack this section: “In vain do they worship me, teaching as doctrines the commandments of men.” The word “vain” means groundless, invalid, and hypocritical. We don’t want our worship to be worthless, do we?
With that as background, here’s a simple outline that captures the flow of thought: