Mark 7:14-15 14 And he called the people to him again and said to them, “Hear me, all of you, and understand: 15 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.”
Mark 7:17-23 17 And when he had entered the house and left the people, his disciples asked him about the parable. 18 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, 19 since it enters not his heart but his stomach, and is expelled?” (Thus he declared all foods clean.) 20 And he said, “What comes out of a person is what defiles him. 21 For from within, out of the heart of man, come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, 22 coveting, wickedness, deceit, sensuality, envy, slander, pride, foolishness. 23 All these evil things come from within, and they defile a person.”
At this point in Jesus’ public ministry He is bringing to a head the false and dangerous teaching of the Pharisees. They looked and acted in a very righteous manner. They had added all kinds of rules on top of the 613 Old Testament laws that were given to Moses many generations earlier. One of these rules related to washing your hands before you ate food. They had developed a specific manner in which you had to ceremonially wash your hands in order not to defile yourself. All of their rules and traditions related to outward actions and they were devised in such a manner as to elevate the Pharisees and scribes who were experts in these laws and the only people in the nation of Israel who still knew the Hebrew language and thus could properly interpret the Old Testament scriptures. They were the spiritual elite and everyone knew and believed that they were to be looked up to and highly regarded. But the reality was that they were corrupt at the very core of their being just as everyone else in the nation of Israel by nature. The 613 laws were to show them that they were actually unclean and not clean.
Jesus makes a statement in verse 15 that would have astonished all those who heard: “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.” How could this be? There were all kinds of laws related to clean and unclean animals recorded in Leviticus 11. There were laws about leprosy which was a skin disease (Leviticus 13). There were many commands which seemed to indicate that you were defiled by what you touched or ate and the rules the Pharisees had developed related to ceremonial washing only expanded on such teaching. Was Jesus abolishing all of these commands? How confusing it must have been for the Jews to hear Jesus’ words. The Apostle Peter would later have the same struggle and confusion when he saw in a vision all kinds of animals on a sheet descending towards him and he was commanded to eat even the unclean animals (Acts 10). Peter, as a Jew, had never eaten an unclean animal.
There is always the danger that you could grow up going to church or perhaps you were forced to follow rules or commands that are supposedly in the Bible and you think that by doing them you are made holy. You think, perhaps unknowingly, that you are saved by your actions. You think that you will go to heaven when you die because you are clean on the outside. But this is a totally false belief that will only lead to eternal damnation. You are still defiled within.
Jesus, in verses 21-22, gives a synopsis of what is in the heart of every man: 21 “evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, 22 coveting, wickedness, deceit, sensuality, envy, slander, pride, foolishness.” We are all corrupt by nature. We were all born into this world with a sin nature. We are all prone to evil and active rebellion against God. Even if we know the righteous commandments of God we cannot keep them as we are. Any attempt at obedience is only a form of ceremonial washing leaving us with an outward appearance of being clean but inwardly defiled and corrupted. The Pharisees did not understand the purpose of God’s Law.
The purpose of the commandments are not to make us clean but to enable us to see our state of inward corruption and our inability to obey God’s commands perfectly. We do not compare ourselves to others who are trying to live up to God’s standard but to God Himself who gave us the commandments. There must be some other way to actually fulfill God’s commandments. There must be some way in which the inward man can have his corruption removed. If only the Pharisees and scribes had understood this they would have been looking for the Christ to save them. If only they saw their inward depravity, they would have been leading the people to follow Jesus. For only in Jesus of Nazareth was the law perfectly fulfilled because He was inwardly pure and clean. Out of His heart flowed perfect love and not evil because He was not born with a corrupt nature as we were. Jesus obeyed God’s Law perfectly because He was inwardly perfect. He came to this world to save us from our sins by dying on the cross and as we repent and turn to Him in faith and believe in Him, He regenerates our corrupt heart. We receive His perfect heart and in turn can obey God as we should. When we are born again by the Spirit of God, we are actually clean on the inside first and then this becomes evident on the outside. We don’t try to be holy. We are holy because of the amazing change that has happened within us.
But the starting point for anyone who will ever come to know Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior is to see the evil within their own heart. It is always easier to see the evil in others. The Jews believed that it was the Gentiles (the foreign nations) who were evil and not themselves. They believed they were saved by obeying the Law but rather it condemned them. Jesus knew this and so as He further expands His teaching of what change is required in the heart in order to enter into this new Kingdom of God that Jesus was establishing by next going among the Gentiles as we will see in the Book of Mark. His Kingdom would include Jews and Gentiles.
The scary thing for anyone who is self-righteous is that God will always expose the state of your heart. No matter how hard you try to hide the evil within, it is only a matter of time before God reveals it not just to yourself but to those around you. Do not fool yourself into thinking that you can be right with God apart from a new nature. No matter how hard you try to change, no matter how hard you try to deceive yourself that you are strong enough or good enough, the perfect standard of God condemns you. Your only hope is found in the Son of God who became the Son of Man. Jesus of Nazareth is the answer! Through faith in Him we are born again and the corrupt nature is removed forever! The defilement from within is replaced with the same Spirit that was in the heart of Jesus Christ! Do you know Him? Has this change happened in your heart? Do you know if the Spirit of Christ is within you?
Pastor Murray Hack
Mark 7:6-13 6 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; 7 in vain do they worship me, teaching as doctrines the commandments of men.’ 8 You leave the commandment of God and hold to the tradition of men.”
9 And he said to them, “You have a fine way of rejecting the commandment of God in order to establish your tradition! 10 For Moses said, ‘Honor your father and your mother’; and, ‘Whoever reviles father or mother must surely die.’ 11 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)— 12 then you no longer permit him to do anything for his father or mother, 13 thus making void the word of God by your tradition that you have handed down. And many such things you do.”
What will be the end state when the leaders in a nation have become corrupt? This was the condition within the nation of Israel when Jesus and John the Baptist before Him entered on the scene of world history over two thousand years ago. Their appearance at such a time can give us hope that in spite of the great turmoil and distress in our day, God can yet make His presence known in a powerful way. The Pharisees and scribes were the only people in Israel who could read the Hebrew language. The Jews had lost their language when they returned from exile in Babylon many generations earlier. These leaders were incorrectly teaching the people of Israel. They had distorted and corrupted the Word of God- the means by which Israel could know the voice of God and be a light upon the earth. Without knowing what God revealed in the Bible how could they know God’s plan of salvation and how could they understand the righteous requirements of God’s Law? Without a proper knowledge of God, the nation of Israel would become just like all the other nations upon the earth and would be lost forever.
But the fascinating thing is that when Jesus entered into His public ministry, He did not come to save Israel but rather the whole world! His intentions were not ultimately to reestablish the throne of King David as the Israelites saw it, but rather to set up a global kingdom- the Kingdom of God where Jesus Christ would reign over individuals from every nation upon the earth. He would not rule over everyone from only a single nation but rather from those whom He has called among all the nations who will receive Him and submit to Him. But for those who reject Him (including the Israelites) they will one day in the future be cast into the lake of fire. They will one day be forever removed from the presence of Jesus Christ as the ruler of His perfect eternal kingdom when He creates a new heaven and a new earth following the final judgment.
At this point in Jesus’ ministry, He is demonstrating a formal rejection of the corrupt leadership within Israel as well as (we will see later) an opening up of the Kingdom of God to the Gentiles- to the people on the outside of the surrounding nations to whom the Jews had assumed were lost forever and that only a few of them would ever be saved and only as the were circumcised and as they rejected their national identity and became a part of the nation of Israel. To be saved was to become a Jew but this would no longer be the case as the Church was established. You did not have to forsake your nationality or all of your culture to be saved.
Here Jesus gives very specific examples as to how the Pharisees and scribes were misleading the people as He comes to the core problem in their teaching. He had already shown previously as recorded in the book of Mark that the Pharisees and scribes were teaching the people wrongly in regards to eating with sinners (Mark 2:15), fasting (Mark 2:18-22), and the Sabbath (Mark 2:23-28, 3:1-6). And here in Mark 7, He condemns their traditions beginning with ceremonial washing (Mark 7:1-8). Then He exposes their tendency to place their man made laws above the law of God as given to Moses on Mount Sinai.
Jesus describes their laws regarding offerings given to God (through the Temple) in contrast with the fifth commandment. Of the Ten Commandments, the fifth commandment says: “Honor your father and mother” (Exodus 20:12). The Pharisees had come up with a man made law that if you devote your property as a gift to God then you do not need to to help your parents in their old age and provide for them. There were no senior centres in the nation of Israel two thousand years ago. The family was expected to support their elderly parents as part of the fifth commandment in honoring their parents. But the Pharisees and scribes taught that their spiritual authority and the needs of the Temple superseded the fifth commandment. You could effectively starve your parents if you donated to the Temple. It was a greater cause in their eyes to pour money into their pockets and in the upkeep of the Temple. But the commandments of God do not work in this way. One commandment does not trump the other but they all work together in perfect harmony as they reflect the perfect character of God. The fact that their man made law conflicted with the commandment to honor their parents showed that it was absolutely false. Their man made law had made void the Word of God. This was just one example of how they were corrupt in their hearts but disguised their desire for wealth in claiming that it was spiritual. By rejecting the fifth commandment they had rejected it all. It is all or nothing.
How often do we do the same? There is a tendency in us all to think that what we believe is the right way but often what we may think is truth contradicts the commandments of God. It is only as we really study and examine what God requires as recorded in the Bible that we will come to see His perfect righteousness. We all desire to make God’s standard less than what it actually is in order to satisfy our own wicked desires. We must submit to the commandments of God in their entirety. They are the only way by which we should live. But how many people even know what God requires of them? How many people claim to be Christians but they have never examined the Scriptures in detail to even determine how they are to live? If we love Him we will want to be obedient to Him. A rebellious child does not show love to their parents and the Pharisees were teaching the people to actively rebel against the commandments of God by claiming their authority in their man made laws was over and above the commandments of God. They had become gods and Jesus rightfully puts them in their place.
Is this how you live? Do you decide what is right and what is wrong? Is the standard by which you live your life based upon the commandments of God or by your own standard? Do you make void the Word of God by the traditions that have been passed down to you or the traditions that you establish? Or do you rejoice in the righteous requirements of God?
Pastor Murray Hack
Mark 7:1-8 1 Now when the Pharisees gathered to him, with some of the scribes who had come from Jerusalem, 2 they saw that some of his disciples ate with hands that were defiled, that is, unwashed. 3 (For the Pharisees and all the Jews do not eat unless they wash their hands properly, holding to the tradition of the elders, 4 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.) 5 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?” 6 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; 7 in vain do they worship me, teaching as doctrines the commandments of men.’ 8 You leave the commandment of God and hold to the tradition of men.”
Every family or tribe or nation has traditions that are passed down from generation to generation. Often these traditions change over time and no longer resemble what was originally practiced. It is often the elders or the elderly who are looked to in order to continue the traditions that were once practiced. Traditions can be a very good thing as they remind us of our identity as a people and they generally have significance and meaning as to why they are practiced. But how do we determine whether a tradition is acceptable to God or not?
At this point in Jesus’ public ministry He more sternly and directly condemned the teaching of the elders in Israel- the Pharisees and the scribes. Why? What was wrong with their custom of ceremonial washing? This wasn’t a matter of just washing your hands before you ate but this was a ceremonial rite that needed to be done and it was viewed as spiritual and if you did not do so you ate your food with defiled or desecrated hands.
The reason why Jesus attacks the Pharisees and scribes so intensely is that they were the only ones who taught the Bible to the common people in Israel. In Israel’s history God had allowed enemies to conquer them because of their own wickedness. Assyria defeated the northern part of Israel and then later Babylon defeated the southern part of Israel including Jerusalem. After 70 years of exile in Babylon the Israelites were allowed to return home but the common people had lost their language. They no longer spoke Hebrew but Aramaic and the Old Testament teachings were written in Hebrew. The only people who could read and interpret the Scriptures in Israel were the Pharisees and the scribes. But instead of teaching the people the proper significance and meaning of the Scriptures they had formed their own traditions that completely destroyed the original intent of the traditions recorded in the Bible. As Jesus taught the people He presented to them the proper interpretation and destroyed the teaching of the Pharisees and scribes that were so dangerous as the common people had no way to know that what they were being taught was absolutely wrong and was in fact causing them to become self righteous and blind to their need of repentance before God in order to find salvation through Jesus Christ. For no one will see a need for Jesus to die for their sins if they do not first see their own depravity. The Pharisees were teaching the people that you could be spiritually clean by washing your hands in a certain manner while their heart was still as wicked at the core. Any one of us can honor God with our lips and yet our heart can be far from Him. Any one of us can believe that we are genuinely worshipping God while in reality we are only exalting ourselves before God.
Jesus entirely fulfilled the ceremonial law of the Old Testament. These were traditions related to animal sacrifice, etc. relating to offerings to God and the presence of God within the nation of Israel. These traditions are described in detail in the book of Leviticus and were instituted by God Himself for His chosen people- the nation of Israel. These traditions all pointed to Jesus’ ultimate sacrifice in dying for our sins in order that we might know the presence of God personally in our lives. But after Jesus’ death these traditions were no longer necessary to be practiced. Along with bringing to an end these old traditions Jesus also established new traditions for the Church including baptism and communion. This clearly demonstrates the authority Jesus claimed as the Christ and the Son of God. No other man can claim to fulfill or change the traditions of God as given to the nation of Israel.
But what about the traditions of all the other nations apart from Israel (among the Gentiles) and their view of god? All these traditions are the traditions of men. There may be some similarities in the traditions as all the nations have the same ancestors going back to Noah and ultimately to Adam. But the reality is that only the traditions of Israel had been established by God. This brings the question, if I become a born again Christian by repentance and faith in Jesus Christ do I need to renounce all of these traditions that I once knew? Yes and no. The problem with the ceremonial washing that the Pharisees and the scribes promoted was that it made the person think they could be made right with God by their own actions and by external works. The only way we can be made right with God is through repentance and faith in the works of Jesus Christ- looking upon our Savior who died in our place. As we are born again by the Spirit of God He cleanses us from the inside out. Any tradition or act of worship that we practice from that point forward is out of a deep and reverent love towards God and Jesus Christ because of the cross. Our hearts can love God as He intended. We love Him because He first loved us! It is possible now if we are in this new condition to practice a tradition that we once knew before in a incomplete understanding of God in a new true state of worship towards God. The tradition can be appropriated in a manner that is pleasing to God. As long as the tradition is not in contradiction with the teachings of the Bible it can still be practiced albeit in a different way than we once practiced it. But it is not necessary to continue practicing such traditions. For many they associate these traditions with their previous false worship of God and can no longer in good conscience continue to practice them. Both appropriating an existing tradition and abolishing an existing tradition is acceptable in the sight of God. But there are circumstances where if we are practicing an appropriated tradition with others among whom are unbelievers it cannot be viewed as a form of worship that is pleasing to God for they are not worshipping the same God that we are. They do not truly understand God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit. In turn we are attaching ourselves to their false views of God. If we appropriate a tradition we must be careful that we do so in a manner that is not an offense to God.
Can you see the challenges with traditions and why Jesus attacked the Pharisees as He did?
Pastor Murray Hack
Mark 6:45-56 45 Immediately he made his disciples get into the boat and go before him to the other side, to Bethsaida, while he dismissed the crowd. 46 And after he had taken leave of them, he went up on the mountain to pray. 47 And when evening came, the boat was out on the sea, and he was alone on the land. 48 And he saw that they were making headway painfully, for the wind was against them. And about the fourth watch of the night he came to them, walking on the sea. He meant to pass by them, 49 but when they saw him walking on the sea they thought it was a ghost, and cried out, 50 for they all saw him and were terrified. But immediately he spoke to them and said, “Take heart; it is I. Do not be afraid.” 51 And he got into the boat with them, and the wind ceased. And they were utterly astounded, 52 for they did not understand about the loaves, but their hearts were hardened.
53 When they had crossed over, they came to land at Gennesaret and moored to the shore. 54 And when they got out of the boat, the people immediately recognized him 55 and ran about the whole region and began to bring the sick people on their beds to wherever they heard he was. 56 And wherever he came, in villages, cities, or countryside, they laid the sick in the marketplaces and implored him that they might touch even the fringe of his garment. And as many as touched it were made well.
There are many events recorded in the Bible that from an outside perspective and only looked at by themselves seem unbelievable. In spite of the fact that just before this incident, as recorded in Mark 6:30-44 Jesus had fed a crowd of around 20,000 people with only five loaves and two fish, this miracle seems harder to believe. How can anyone walk on water? The only way is if you are the Creator Himself and God in the flesh. And yet, even as Jesus performed this miracle He did not act as the Son of God with all of His power and authority that He had before He entered this world as a baby born of the virgin Mary. Rather he acted as a man equivalent to us but as a man who had been baptized with the Holy Spirit (when He was baptized by John at the beginning of His public ministry). Jesus would not act in all His authority as the Son of God until after He had risen from the dead for He had to die in our place as a man. Our sins could not be paid for in Jesus’ death upon the cross if He was not like us in every way. There had to be a like for like representation. A perfect man had to die in my place in order for my sins to be forgiven. So this was a great miracle but not beyond what any man could do. This is proven in that Peter too walked on water (Matthew 14:28-31).
But to bring us back to the point in question this seems to be a very strange miracle. What was the purpose of this miracle? Why did Jesus walk on the water? Was it just because He was looking for a shortcut to His destination? The disciples had already gone across the sea of Galilee while He was alone in prayer and maybe it was quicker for Him to catch up with them in the boat? But He was actually walking on the sea as if to pass them by. It appeared as if He was going to a different location (verse 48). He walked near them at 3 am but why were the disciples being taught in yet another storm? Mark 4:35-40 describes the incident when Jesus was asleep in the boat with the disciples when a storm arose that scared them. When Jesus awoke he rebuked the storm and it became calm. Why did the disciples face this storm now?
The key to finding the answer is in verse 52: “for they did not understand about the loaves, but their hearts were hardened.” The disciples had just been on their first mission apart from Jesus. They had gone out around Israel preaching the message of John the Baptist: “Repent for the Kingdom of God is at hand! Jesus of Nazareth is the Christ!” They had healed the sick and cast out demons just like Jesus but He was not physically present with them. But when they returned they naturally would have become proud and puffed up in what they had accomplished. They could not see the state of their own hearts and although they had performed great miracles which would have been new and exciting for each one of them they could only do so because of their relationship to Jesus Christ. He, through the Holy Spirit, had empowered them. They had no power in and of themselves. Jesus tells them to feed the five thousand which they knew they could not do but did not recognize the parallel incident in the wilderness where God fed the Israelites in the wilderness. Jesus would show them He is the bread of life and they were to feed on Him. He was the source of their life. But here in the storm they did not yet understand this. They still had pride in their hearts from their mission trip.
Jesus sent them out across the sea without Him and a wind arose of which they did not have the strength to overcome. No matter how hard they tried in their own strength they were powerless. This storm was to teach them the importance of always keeping their eyes fixed upon Jesus. They were still at the beginning of learning what the Kingdom of God is like vs. the kingdom that they had previously known as being a part of the nation of Israel. Jesus walks on the water not directly to them but near them to get their attention. But they needed to return their focus upon Him as the only King in the Kingdom of God. They needed to see their complete need of Him. When Jesus entered the boat the wind ceased. The struggle to overcome the power of this world was overcome in a moment when they once again submitted to Jesus Christ. He, in a very dramatic and unbelievable way, corrected His disciples.
From Mark 6:53-56 there is a description of how Jesus completed the miracles among the Jews at the end of this first chapter of His ministry. He had shown mercy to the Jews and ample evidence that He is indeed the Christ- the Savior of mankind. But as I mentioned last week, His message now turns to correct the impure motives and false beliefs of many who followed Him. Just at the height of His ministry, Jesus goes in a direction that nobody would have expected.
When you take your eyes off of Jesus as your only hope and the only means of your salvation do you need Jesus to walk on water before you once again return your focus upon Him? How long do you keep fighting against the wind in your own strength before you once again acknowledge that you are powerless apart from Jesus Christ? Do you really understand what it means to be in the Kingdom of God or do you continue to see the world around you as before? Do you fall back into superstitions and traditions as the disciples were initially afraid and assumed that Jesus walking on the water was a ghost? Do you fall back into fear and doubt? In spite of the disciples’ error, Jesus said to them, “Take heart; it is I. Do not be afraid.” The kingdom of this world brings us to a place of fear. But to be in the Kingdom of God is to know the peace that passes all understanding as we rest in knowing Jesus as our Lord and Savior!
Pastor Murray Hack