MAIN TEXT: MARK 7:1-23
Now when the Pharisees gathered to him, with some of the scribes who had come from Jerusalem, they saw that some of his disciples ate with hands that were defiled, that is, unwashed. (For the Pharisees and all the Jews do not eat unless they wash their hands properly, holding to the tradition of the elders, and when they come from the marketplace, they do not eat unless they wash. And there are many other traditions that they observe, such as the washing of cups and pots and copper vessels and dining couches.) And the Pharisees and the scribes asked him, “Why do your disciples not walk according to the tradition of the elders, but eat with defiled hands?” And he said to them, “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 do they worship me,
teaching as doctrines the commandments of men.’
You leave the commandment of God and hold to the tradition of men.”
And he said to them, “You have a fine way of rejecting the commandment of God in order to establish your tradition! For Moses said, ‘Honor your father and your mother’; and,‘Whoever reviles father or mother must surely die.’ But you say, ‘If a man tells his father or his mother, “Whatever you would have gained from me is Corban”’ (that is, given to God)— then you no longer permit him to do anything for his father or mother, thus making void the word of God by your tradition that you have handed down. And many such things you do.”
And he called the people to him again and said to them, “Hear me, all of you, and understand: There is nothing outside a person that by going into him can defile him, but the things that come out of a person are what defile him.” And when he had entered the house and left the people, his disciples asked him about the parable. And he said to them,“Then are you also without understanding? Do you not see that whatever goes into a person from outside cannot defile him, since it enters not his heart but his stomach, and is expelled?” (Thus he declared all foods clean.) And he said, “What comes out of a person is what defiles him. For from within, out of the heart of man, come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, coveting, wickedness, deceit, sensuality, envy, slander,pride, foolishness. All these evil things come from within, and they defile a person.”
Mark is concerned with readers knowing who Jesus is and what He did. He is driving home the point that Jesus was no ordinary man. Jesus is 100% God and 100% man. He is eternally existent. He has no beginning and He will have no end. He willingly left the splendor of heaven and took on human flesh becoming God incarnate. Jesus becomes a suffering servant and gives His life as a ransom for many. Mark 10:45 quotes Jesus’ own words:
For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.
Jesus did not fit the mold of the Jewish leaders – the Pharisees, Sadducees and Scribes. If you are familiar with the four gospel accounts, you have learned to cringe at these religious men. These leaders were not scorned as legalists during Jesus’ time. They were looked up to as model citizens and people of piety and religion.
However, according to Paul, they had a passion for God and yet did not know God (Romans 10:2). They were more concerned with the exact practices of the laws (both God’s and the ones that they had created) than they were about the spirit or heart of the law. The definition of legalism is: “Strict adherence to the law, especially the stressing of the letter of the law rather than its spirit”
Today, we too can develop a passion for God and the things of God and yet never know Him. We can be deceived, captured, and enslaved by the deadly lure of legalism. Our pride in religious rituals, church practices, cultural traditions, good deeds, and moral lifestyles blind us to both our great sinfulness and the great Savior who alone can rescue us from our sin. Although Jesus was a Jewish Rabbi, He was challenging and condemning the status quo. Jesus exposes the religious leaders pride, impure motives, incongruent behavior, bondage, and corrupt hearts. Today’s text gives a clear picture of the ugliness of legalism.
Legalists are guilty of false worship
Some Pharisees, scribes, and teachers of the law come to Jesus again amid His growing popularity (verse 1). They have determined that Jesus is blasphemous and they are determined to take Him down. These guys are proficient in reciting prayers, the Torah (law), and are great at debate. Unfortunately, like all religious legalists, they honor God with their lips, which results in false worship. These spiritual elite have surrounded Jesus looking for anything they can use to denounce Him.
Do not compare yourself to others
The disciples give them opportunity by eating with “defiled” (ceremonially unclean) unwashed hands (verse 2). This has nothing to do with hygiene. This was a religious tradition that went beyond scriptural command. This practice was used to establish the spiritual superiority of the Pharisees and scribes over the common people. Mark provides explanation in verses 3-4.
Their rituals and traditions had taken over their lives and enslaved them. The religious washing had good intent – to remind the Jews that they were unclean before God. However, they were off base on the true source of their impurity. Their problem wasn’t outside, but inside. It wasn’t their hands but their hearts.
It is difficult to compare hearts, which only God can see. So instead, they decide to draw up a list of external religious activities to see who came out on top. This is much easier than staying humble before God which does not feed human pride.
Do not be a hypocrite with a distant heart
One thing Jesus consistently did was call out hypocrites (verse 6) and expose them for who they truly were. Jesus does not even address the conduct of His disciples. Instead, He exposes the heart of the matter. He quotes Isaiah 29:13,
“This people honors me with their lips, but their heart is far from me; in vain do they worship me, teaching as doctrines the commandments of men.”
Today, making lists of what we think must happen and must not happen in worship is common. Personal preference in musical worship style, dress, sermon delivery style, and how a church addresses moral issues become sacred checklists. If all the right boxes are checked, we are good. But lists are easy to check off. Examining our hearts isn’t. Are you a text-driven or tradition-driven Christian (verses 8-9)?
Legalists blindly fall into spiritual disobedience
Do not reject God’s command and establish your own
Not all traditions are bad. They become bad when we put them on the same level as Scripture or in place of Scripture. It is a “bible-plus” or “Jesus-plus” approach to Christianity. Adding to the requirements of the Bible nullifies its truth and power in your life (verse 13).
We know it is possible to be a hypocrite. We see it so clearly in others. When hypocrisy is in us we tend to go spiritually deaf, dumb, and blind.
Do not manipulate God’s Word to your own advantage
They had positioned their traditions in the place of scripture and themselves in
the place of God. The heart is truly an idol factory and religious traditions are some of its best tools. We may be just as guilty as the Pharisees of Jesus’ day and not even see it.
Legalists lack true understanding
Defilement has its root on the inside
Every human heart has the root of every human sin in it. It is entirely possible to look nice on the outside while being dead on the inside. The most deadly contamination is not what I touch. The most deadly contamination is what is in my heart. In verses 14-20, Jesus teaches (and reteaches it to His disciples) one of the most critically important spiritual lessons in the whole Word of God: corruption is not external but internal. It’s not what goes in but what naturally comes out. This is echoed later by James (the half brother of Jesus) in James 1:14-15.
Defilement reveals its fruit on the outside
Verses 21-23 give us a massive understanding of our sin and brokenness straight from the mouth of Jesus. Our hearts are corrupt. Sin’s roots in our hearts will produce sin’s fruit. The fruits that we naturally produce as fallen people are destructive. These evil actions flow naturally from our sinful hearts – the source of sin.
The problem in the world isn’t “out there”. The problem in the world is inside of us. The answer to the problem inside of us isn’t to do more. The answer to the problem inside of us is what Christ has done! We cannot be people trusting in our right beliefs, practices, and behaviors. We must be humble sinners trusting only in what Jesus has done.
We desperately need a Savior!
APPLY TO LIFE
This week, as you reflect on the message, utilize this section to help you apply what has been taught to your life. Think of friends, co-workers, neighbors, family etc., that you could meet with to have a time of mutual sharing as you open God’s Word together.
This simple acronym (BLESS, B - Bless, L - Listen, E - Eat, S - Speak, S - Sabbath) should help you to frame your life according to the great commandment “love God” (Matthew 22:37) and the expression of that commandment in loving your neighbor (John 13:34). Each time you meet, start by discussing the rhythms of your life according to B.L.E.S.S.
Intentionally bless: Christ-followers, non-believers and those different than you.
Listen to what God is saying to you, through His Word and others.
Share a meal with a Christ-follower and also a non-believer.
Talk to God through prayer and to others about Jesus through witness.
Be intentional about taking time to both rest and recreate.
DISCUSS THE MESSAGE
Read: Mark 7:1-23
Would the Romans of Jesus’ day likely consider pride a vice or a virtue? How do non-Christians generally view pride today?
What is the connection between pride and legalism?
Do you have any tendencies toward legalism? How would you recognize such tendencies in yourself? How would you battle against them?
What is the remedy for the list of sinful heart conditions? Why is “trying harder” inadequate and counterproductive?