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These critics of Jesus talked like they knew God but lived like they didn't. The righteousness on their lips was far removed from their heart.
The Pharisees and scribes asked Jesus, "Why do Your disciples not walk according to the tradition of the elders, but eat bread with unwashed hands?"
Jesus answered, "Well did Isaiah prophesy of you hypocrites, as it is written: "This people honors Me with their lips, But their heart is far from Me. In vain they worship Me Teaching as doctrines the commandments of men."Laying aside the commandment of God, you hold the tradition of men."
Jesus called all the multitude to Himself, and said, "Hear Me, everyone, and understand. There is nothing that enters a man from outside which can defile him; but the things which come out of him, those are the things that defile a man. If anyone has ears to hear, let him hear!"
When He entered a house, His disciples asked Him concerning the parable. So He said to them, "Whatever enters a man from outside cannot defile him, because it does not enter his heart but his stomach and is eliminated.
"What comes out of a man, that defiles a man. From within, out of the heart, proceed evil thoughts, adulteries, fornications, murders, thefts, covetousness, wickedness, deceit, lewdness, an evil eye, blasphemy, pride, foolishness. All these evil things come from within and defile."
Mark 7:5-23 NKJV, condensed
Where's the Dirt?
"Laying aside the commandment of God you hold the tradition of men!" When we lay something aside, we can't see it anymore. It's no longer before us and probably out of mind. Jesus gave us an example. In order to avoid thinking about the possibility of their own sin, the ancestors of these Pharisees and scribes devised a system to deceive themselves into feeling clean in the sight of God. One's outward observances became more important than their inner secrets.The box more important than its contents. The cover more important than the words of the story.
They thought their rites and rituals were about God, but God was not in them; the Spirit of the tradition was long gone. It was all man made, not heaven born. Their hearts were mired in deceit and hypocrisy. Then they paraded around in public wearing a badge which read, "God's People"! It gave God a bad name. It smeared the reputation of the holy One they claimed to represent. Downright dirty it was to treat God that way. And it put Jesus in a defensive mood.
The Pharisees and scribes had asked Jesus a simple question but it stirred up a firestorm--Why don't you and your disciples do what you have been taught to do all your life, namely wash your hands with the water from the ceremonial jar before eating your meals? Jesus may have been in trouble with that special water from the start of his ministry. The fourth Gospel writer, John, said that Jesus' first miracle was at a wedding in Cana where he turned water into wine for the wedding guests, using six of those purification waterpots! So much for the hand washing process.
As said in the previous study, washing before eating had nothing to do with germs, grit or grime. It had everything to do with practicing their faith and wanting to be clean in God's sight. But Jesus showed no appreciation for these daily rituals. He was looking at these guys and thinking their hand washing hadn't been doing them any good for years. And he told them so in words they did not want to hear.
The prophet Isaiah said it well and Jesus saw no need to improve on it--You honor God with your lips, but your heart is far removed. You worship in vain and think more of the words of mere men than the commands of almighty God!
Then, since doubts and innuendos spread quickly through a crowd, Jesus addressed everyone on the subject of cleanliness. He wanted to make his position very clear. If you want to know what makes a person unclean, it's not what goes in. It's what comes out from the heart, the mind and the lips. To be cleaned up for worship is to be near God in one's heart. Not physical cleanliness, but a genuine spirit of godliness. Not outward, but inward.
Are we listening! From within, out of the heart, comes the dirt. Not what's on the outside, going in; but what's on the inside, coming out in our attitudes, words and behavior. That's the real dirt. Unfaithful and dishonorable words, thoughts and deeds; those things that tear down and destroy, rather than build up and promote the good of all.
It's as though Jesus is telling us when we clean house and get everything tidy and shiny, remember to work just as hard, and more, on the dust and smears inside our own body. When we clean up after a day's work or a good workout, work just as hard, or more, at cleaning up your heart. Remember it next time you houseclean or take a shower. Fresh and clean on the outside only, does not cut it before God.
We think our thoughts are private. We can do what we want with them. Jesus said: Not so! Is it any wonder we substitute our own rites and traditions for the word of God! Now we understand those scribes and Pharisees. They knew it was much more comfortable to just keep that water of purification handy and rub on the magic a few times a day.
The question is--Will we remain like the scribes and Pharisees? Or will we use our ears, listen to Jesus, clear out the evil and clean up the inside, too?
Use the following questions for small groups, journaling, further study or reflection.
Icebreaker: Without naming names, briefly describe someone who says one thing, and does another.
As you read through the Gospels, you get the impression there were very few scribes and Pharisees whom Jesus respected. Why might that be?When he spoke to them his words were harsh and condemning. Do you think he could have had more success with them if he sugarcoated his words?
What is alarming about these exchanges between Jesus and the scribes and Pharisees is that these people were the leadership of their religion. Therefore everyone in a leadership position in their local congregation should pay close attention to these conversations. As church leaders, how different are we than these scribes and Pharisees?
Jesus' words were not only for the scribes and Pharisees, he spoke them to his congregation, the multitude. They apply to everyone. Do you pick on others while excusing yourself? Is your heart far away when you worship God? Do you prefer the comfort of tradition over the challenging words of God? Give an example of this. Are you more careful about physical hygiene than spiritual cleanliness? What would it really mean to have a clean heart before God?
Do a check on the doctrines and rituals of your church. Are they based on God's word? Are there any traditions based more on human convenience than divine instruction?
React to Jesus' use of the word, hypocrite. Are you OK with that word, hate it, maybe use it sometimes yourself? Should Jesus be calling people names?
The heart is more than feelings and emotions. Hearts also involve our will and desires. Would you want to show your heart to God? Why or why not?
Read Psalms. 51:1-17, and discuss what it means to have a clean heart according to this Psalm. Pick one phrase from the Psalm that is particularly meaningful to you; memorize it, take it with you, and feed it into your soul.