Summary: Seek a genuine heart relationship with God, and not the superficial religion of the Pharisees.
Nullification – Mark 7:1-23
This morning, I’d like to invite you to look into chapter seven of Mark’s gospel with me, and to consider what God may want to say to you from this portion of his word. But before I begin, I’d like to explain something. You may have noticed that I’m wearing jeans this morning. L.L. Bean relaxed fit denim, to be precise. Yes, relaxed fit. And that’s appropriate. Because I have a relaxed body. It seems to be getting more relaxed all the time. Now, the last time I spoke from this pulpit, I wore a suit and tie. Jim usually wears slacks or maybe chinos. And so, as I was walking up here, you may have wondered, why jeans? Well, let me tell you. It’s because I’m just an open, friendly, informal guy. I’m relaxed and easygoing and approachable, and what I’m wearing reflects that about me. [pause] No, that’s not really the reason. Confidentially, I’m wearing jeans because I don’t respect the house of God, and in fact, I don’t really respect God, period. I don’t dress up for church because I’m not willing to give him my best. [pause] No, that’s not true either. OK, the real reason I’m wearing jeans is because I’m a rebel. I live by my own rules. I defy convention. I don’t have to follow any stinkin’ dress code, and I’m going to wear what I please. I could care less what you or anybody else thinks. [pause]
Now, in fact, none of those is the real reason I wore jeans this morning. But if any of those thoughts ran through your mind as you saw me walk onto the pulpit this morning, then congratulations—you’re a Pharisee. Or at least you’re thinking like a Pharisee. Because one of the characteristics of a Pharisee is making judgments about someone’s character or spiritual condition based on appearances. Specifically, based on whether they comply with religious norms of behavior. Like wearing a certain type of costume when participating in a worship service. The Pharisees, of course, went further. They not only judged others based on outward appearances, but they manipulated their own appearance and behavior, in order to influence the judgment of others about themselves. In order to project an image of piety and holiness, an image that in many cases was false. And what I would like to suggest to you this morning is that we all have these tendencies. We all have a bit of Pharisee in us. We all tend to make judgments about what’s inside based on what we see on the outside. And we all try to look better than we really are. It’s human nature. But knowing that about ourselves, it’s also something that we can resist and work against as we seek after true holiness and true spiritual maturity, the kind that isn’t based on mere outward appearance.
So in today’s text, we find Jesus being confronted by the Pharisees and the teachers of the law, the religious establishment of his day, over a point of religious practice. “Why don’t your followers wash their hands before they eat?” Now, was that their real concern? If Peter had responded, “oops, sorry, I was late for dinner, I didn’t have time to wash; my apologies,” would the Pharisees have been satisfied? Would they have said, “Well, all right, then,” and walked away, and left Jesus to teach and preach in peace? No, of course not. As is often true when conflicts arise between people—between husbands and wives, between parents and children, between brothers and sisters, between church members—the apparent reason for the conflict was not the real reason. Many times, in conflict, the root cause is subterranean; it’s hidden, it’s concealed, it’s unspoken. And yet that’s where the negative energy comes from, those tensions deep below the surface which build and build until they break loose and produce earthquakes and tsunamis of conflict on the surface of our relationships.
Such was the case here. This isn’t the first time that Jesus has been challenged by the Pharisees. From the beginning of his public ministry, as his reputation and influence have grown, and as the crowds around him have multiplied, the Pharisees have regarded him, first with suspicion, then with concern, and then with alarm and growing hostility. In the beginning, he was an irritation to them. Then he became a problem that had to be dealt with, and finally, he became a threat which had to be eliminated by any means necessary.
Why was that? First of all, he undermined their authority. He undermined their intellectual authority as interpreters of the Scriptures, by challenging their understanding of the law.
“Jesus replied, ‘You are in error because you do not know the Scriptures or the power of God.’” (Matthew 22:29)