But their heart is far away from Me
Mark 7:1-23 from the daily reading in the One Year Bible
The Pharisees and some of the scribes gathered around Him when they had come from Jerusalem, 2 and had seen that some of His disciples were eating their
bread with impure hands, that is, unwashed. 3 (For the Pharisees and all the Jews do not eat unless they carefully wash their hands, thus observing the traditions of the elders; 4 and when they come from the
market place, they do not eat unless they cleanse themselves; and there are many other things which they have received in order to observe, such as the washing of cups and pitchers and copper pots.) 5 The Pharisees and the scribes asked Him,
“Why do Your disciples not walk according to the tradition of the elders, but eat their bread with impure hands?” 6 And He said to them, “Rightly did Isaiah prophesy of you hypocrites, as it is written: ‘This
people honors Me with their lips,
But their heart is far away from Me. 7 ‘But in vain do they worship Me, Teaching as doctrines the precepts of men.’ 8 Neglecting the commandment of God, you hold to the tradition of men.”
9 He was also saying to them, “You are experts at setting aside the commandment of God in order to keep your tradition. 10 For Moses said, ‘Honor your father and your mother’; and, ‘He who speaks evil of father or mother, is to be put to death’; 11 but you say, ‘If a man says to his father or his mother, whatever I have that would help you is Corban (that is to say, given to God),’ 12 you no longer permit him to do anything for his father or his mother; 13 thus invalidating the word of God by your tradition which you have handed down; and you do many things such as that.”
14 After He called the crowd to Him again, He began saying to them, “Listen to Me, all of you, and understand: 15 there is nothing outside the man which can defile him if it goes into him; but the things which proceed out of the man are what defile the man. 16If anyone has ears to hear, let him hear.”
17 When he had left the crowd and entered the house, His disciples questioned Him about the parable. 18 And He said to them, “Are you so lacking in understanding also? Do you not understand that whatever goes into the man from outside cannot defile him, 19 because it does not go into his heart, but into his stomach, and is eliminated?” (Thus He declared all foods clean.) 20 And He was saying, “That which proceeds out of the man, that is what defiles the man. 21 For from within, out of the heart of men, proceed the evil thoughts, fornications, thefts, murders, adulteries, 22 deeds of coveting and wickedness, as well as deceit, sensuality, envy, slander, pride and foolishness. 23 All these evil things proceed from within and defile the man.”
In today’s text Jesus again speaks against the Pharisees and scribes. We must be careful though, to understand what it is that He is critical of. Jesus does not rebuke them for faithfully holding to their religion. Jesus Himself was a Jew who followed the God ordained tenants of His religion. What Jesus rebukes them for, what He says is: “Rightly did Isaiah prophesy of you hypocrites, as it is written: ‘This people honors Me with their lips, But their heart is far away from Me. ‘But in vain do they worship Me, Teaching as doctrines the precepts of men.’ Neglecting the commandment of God, you hold to the tradition of men.” “You are experts at setting aside the commandment of God in order to keep your tradition.” Notice what the real problem is, it is neglecting and setting aside the commandment of God. People often twist these accounts to promote the idea that Jesus was against religion. It was not the religious traditions themselves that Jesus was critical of. There is nothing wrong with religious tradition. The problem arises when we prioritize tradition over truth, when we substitute our own rules and rituals for the commandments and the worship of God.
Thankfully, through Christ, we are no longer subject to or required to keep and follow all of God’s original ordnances for the Jews. There were 613 God ordained laws dealing with everything from worship to food and cleanliness. The Levitical law also dealt with righteousness. Again it is important for us to understand that Jesus never rebuked or condemned those who rightly practiced religion and righteousness. In Matthew 5:17-20 Jesus says: “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. For truly, I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not an iota, not a dot, will pass from the Law until all is accomplished. Therefore whoever relaxes one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do the same will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever does them and teaches them will be called great in the kingdom of heaven. For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.” Jesus is the fulfillment of the law. No longer are we required to do all the things which were contained in the law. Jesus, the perfect sacrifice for our sins, replaced all of the other required sacrifices in the law. We are no longer justified by the sacrifices we offer, we are justified through our faith, believing in the sacrifice of Christ. Still Jesus never condoned the sins He died for. In fact He says: “whoever relaxes one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do the same will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever does them and teaches them will be called great in the kingdom of heaven. For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.” Our righteousness can only exceed that of the scribes and Pharisees because it is founded in Christ. But like the Pharisees and scribes Jesus will rebuke and discipline us if we, like they neglect and set aside God’s commandments. Notice what it is that Jesus says defiles a person: “That which proceeds out of the man, that is what defiles the man. For from within, out of the heart of men, proceed the evil thoughts, fornications, thefts, murders, adulteries, deeds of coveting and wickedness, as well as deceit, sensuality, envy, slander, pride and foolishness. All these evil things proceed from within and defile the man.” How can we justify that which Jesus says defiles us?
In Matthew 22:37-40 Jesus says: “‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the great and foremost commandment. The second is like it, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ On these two commandments depend the whole Law and the Prophets.” Many people mistake this to mean that love is all that matters, that we can neglect or set aside the commandments if we have love. That’s not at all what Jesus says. He says the commandments and in fact everything we do depends on love. Love is important, it is foundational to our relationship with God and others, but it is not either love or the commandments. Jesus says: “If you love Me, you will keep My commandments…He who has My commandments and keeps them is the one who loves Me; and he who loves Me will be loved by My Father, and I will love him and will disclose Myself to him.”… “If anyone loves Me, he will keep My word; and My Father will love him, and We will come to him and make Our abode with him. He who does not love Me does not keep My words; and the word which you hear is not Mine, but the Father’s who sent Me.” (John 14:15-24)
Romans 5:8 says: God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us. 1 John 4:19 says: We love, because He first loved us. Our love is in response to God’s love, demonstrated on the cross, the cross on which Jesus suffered and died for our sins. How then could we, if we love Him, continue in our sin? For us it should never be a choice of love or obedience to God, but rather because of love we should live righteously, never neglecting or setting aside His commandments.
Heavenly Father, Lord Jesus Christ; precious Holy Spirit thank You for the demonstration of Your perfect love, the perfect sacrifice for my sin on the cross. Because You first loved me, while I was a sinner, I can love You and others. Through Your righteousness, I too can be righteous. I choose to both love and obey, in response to and empowered by Christ who strengthens me. Amen.