In vain do they worship 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:
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. 16 If 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 says: “Listen to Me, all of you, and understand: 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. If anyone has ears to hear, let him hear.” Does Jesus then give us permission to partake of and participate in anything? Jesus explains what He means saying: “Do you not understand that whatever goes into the man from outside cannot defile him, because it does not go into his heart, but into his stomach, and is eliminated?” (Thus He declared all foods clean.) And He was saying, “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.” He then, is speaking about food, not about sinful things we participate in. Even the things we choose to view with our eyes, the things we watch and what we listen to are not eliminated by digestion, but rather they do affect our hearts and our minds. 1 Corinthians 10:23 says: All things are lawful, but not all things are profitable. All things are lawful, but not all things edify. Again Paul is also not giving permission partake of or participate in what is unholy. In the context, in verses 20-22, Paul says: I do not want you to become sharers in demons. You cannot drink the cup of the Lord and the cup of demons; you cannot partake of the table of the Lord and the table of demons. Or do we provoke the Lord to jealousy? We are not stronger than He, are we? While Jesus says those things we take in will not defile us, it is still possible that they poison us or cause us to see less clearly. We may not notice the effect that sinful indulgence has on our lives immediately. Others may not see what is happening in our minds and our hearts as we partake of the table of demons. Eventually though, what goes in will proceed out. Particularly as it relates to our society and culture, not all things that are legal are good.
You may say that what Jesus is really speaking against in today’s text is hypocrisy and religious tradition; the rules of men. It is true that He was addressing the Pharisees and the scribes and rebuking them for holding to tradition. We need to understand though that Jesus is not rebuking them for holding to tradition while promoting licentiousness. He is saying that they honor and hold to the traditions of man rather than the commandments of God. Jesus says: “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.” Many people today either mistakenly or intentionally believe and teach a doctrine which says that by grace sin has been made of no consequence. They say that because of the cross, because Jesus paid the price for sin once for all, that sin no longer matters. God’s grace does not eliminate sin. Grace forgives sin and redeems us from it. Jesus did indeed rebuke the Pharisees as hypocrites for holding to tradition. But He also rebukes them for neglecting the commandment of God. In Matthew 7:21-23 Jesus says: “Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father who is in heaven will enter. Many will say to Me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in Your name, and in Your name cast out demons, and in Your name perform many miracles?’ And then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness.’” Whether we hold to the traditions of man and religion or claim to live under the grace of the cross, we worship in vain if we neglect the commandments of God.
In John 10:10 Jesus says: “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly.” It is a lie from the devil, meant to kill and destroy, which pits grace against righteousness, as though they were opposing principles. Grace does not do away with the need for righteousness. Rather, it is by grace that we are made righteous. Ephesians 2:8-9 says: By grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works, so that no one may boast. It is important though that we also keep in mind what verse 10 says: For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand so that we would walk in them. By grace we are saved, not by our works, but for good works. We are not to continue in sin because of grace, but rather, being redeemed by grace, through believing in the cross, we are to do the good works God prepared for us and prepared us for.
Heavenly Father, Lord Jesus Christ; precious Holy Spirit thank You for the gift of salvation, freely given by grace, through the cross. Holy Spirit teach me to know and follow the commandments of God rather than the traditions of men. Help me, by Your grace to walk in the fullness of redemption, to do the good works which You have prepared for me and prepared me for in Christ. Amen.