How are you going with washing hands, social distancing and being careful when venturing to the shops?
Read Mark 7:1-23
The disciples have been drawn into Jesus’ teaching circle. He sent them out on mission in Chapter 6 and began to show them how to be shepherds, but they still have hard hearts (Mark 6:52). Jesus has been teaching the crowds in parables so that only those who have ears to hear will listen and understand and be saved. Jesus has upset people in Chapter 3 with healing done on the Sabbath. Jesus’ message when spoken plainly has been to repent and believe.
- 1-5 – Defiled hands
- 6-13 – The word of God defiled
- 14-23 – Defiled hearts
1-5 – Defiled hands
“The Pharisees and some teachers of the law…” The greatest resource of information we have about the Pharisees comes straight out of the gospels. They were super serious about keeping the law of God. Mark takes us from the disciples learning to do mission and shepherding with Jesus to the Pharisees and teachers of the law.
“…hands that were defiled…” When Mark inserts some commentary in Verses 3-4, it is because he writes his story to the world who may not be familiar with the traditions of the Pharisees and Jews. The issue is more than dirty hands – the issue is ceremonial – it is a religious problem that they see – it is a question of how to deal with sin! These Jews feared being out of favour with God. It stems back to the Levitical laws: being unclean means you cannot participate in holy activities and if you cannot do that then you cannot receive forgiveness! These laws were given by God to teach us about the great separation between us and God. As Mark points out in Verse 4, the Jews were now riddled with many traditions – more than what the law of God gave. They are living under rules that have exceeded the restrictions given in the days of Moses.
“…from the marketplace…” Note that some of the traditions are to do with interaction with Gentiles (people of other nationalities!)
“So [they] asked Jesus, “Why don’t your disciples live according to the tradition…” Good job for them to ask a question. There are no stupid questions so long as we are ready to learn from the answer. The question boils down to a small accusation: why are you not instructing your disciples to live like godly Jews? Why don’t you walk like we walk? Why aren’t you following the rules? But the question implies that the traditions are right. The question highlights their concern for keeping their hands clean and undefiled as if this is what God is most concerned with. This opens Jesus up to ask: where does sin come from?
6-13 – The word of God defiled
“…you hypocrites…” No subtlety here. Jesus is about to apply OT scripture directly to the Pharisees.
“…their hearts are far from me.” Isaiah 29:13 is quoted by Jesus. The verses preceding this in Isaiah give an amusing account of everyone being offered to read the word of God and finding reasons why they cannot but they go on obeying human traditions that have been taught to them. The chapter also talks about the blind seeing. The many who live by following the teachings of others are like the blind being led by the blind.
“They worship me in vain…” It is a waste of their time. There is no benefit to them in doing these things.
“…their teachings are merely human rules.” This is why the worship is in vain. As Isaiah 29 goes on to say, the clay can’t tell the potter what to do! As if the clay knows better than the potter. The irony of this is that Jesus is teaching the teachers of the law from the very text that they should know. He is not introducing some new insight – but repeating what they should already know.
“…let go of the commands of God and are holding on to human traditions.” That sounds awfully obvious and ridiculous for them to be doing this and yet we are prone to do these very things. To equate being Christian with what Christians do rather than reading the word of God and being transformed by it – that is honouring God with our lips but not with our hearts.
“And he continued…” Jesus has started. Get the popcorn out.
“… a fine way of setting aside the commands of God…” See the problem is that they are not listening to God but to human tradition: ie, religion. They put tradition before God, making it the authority. It’s like being taught to drive and you flick the lever on the right to make the indication of you turning – but then when you sit in a European car with the indicator switch on the left, you insist on using the right lever when you turn. So people watch you clean your windscreen every time you want to turn a corner!
“And you do many things like that.” Verses 10-13 provide an example of what they do wrong. Instead of doing the right thing by parents, the Pharisees imagine they are serving God better by giving the money to Him. They are defiling the word of God by placing their laws above the laws of God.
Note that Jesus did not answer the question asked of him. Rather, he accused the questioners of being wrong to the heart. This is not a simple issue, it goes to the heart of how they worship God. They worship him in vain. Next, Jesus turns to the crowd who are more likely to hear him and teaches them – he directs his answer to those who have ears to hear.
14-23 – Defiled hearts
“…Jesus called the crowd to him and said, “Listen to me, everyone, and understand this.” He doesn’t talk to the Pharisees. They have not listened to him or his Father. Jesus expects us to listen and to understand. Our faith is not about do this, do that, but about listening and understanding. We are about changed hearts which change our lives, not about new practices that instruct us to worship in vain.
“…it is what comes out of a person that defiles them.” Simple one liner to set the record straight. You cannot upset God by simply eating something. Paul spends a great deal of time in his letters assuring his readers that it is no longer about special days or food or deeds done to the body. See Colossians 2:16-23 as one example.
Now look at verse 16! Side note on the accuracy of the bible. Verse 16 is not included but at one point in the past, some copies of the bible included a line here which read “if anyone has ears to hear, let them hear.” Similar to Mark 4:23. Adding that line would fit perfectly well with how Jesus began in Verse 14. It is removed from our bibles because there is more evidence to suggest that this was not there in the original. Our modern translations will include the verse number and a footnote to tell you what has happened here. This is an example of ‘textual criticism’ (not like insulting the bible but being critical in working out the original text). Anyone interested in pursuing a study in textual criticism will discover how much work has gone into ensuring that the bible we read today is the most accurate bible that we have had! Dare I say that our NIV and ESV and HSBC are more accurate than the KJV because of ongoing research. More than enough said here.
“…his disciples asked him about this parable. “Are you so dull?” he asked.” I take it back: there are stupid questions. The disciples were labelled as having a hard heart back in Mark 6:52. The pharisees had no heart for God because they would not listen to God’s word. Now we have the disciples scarily close to being in the Pharisee camp – because they are not listening in order to understand (I know, they are asking the question and so that is good, but Jesus’ response tells me that they can work this out if they just listen).
“Don’t you see…?” Jesus describes the digestive system. With one line, Jesus took the laws of God and unbound them to mankind. This tells me that when Jesus says elsewhere that he has not come to abolish the laws, he must mean something other than, I’m not going to shut them down – or maintain them. He has come to fulfill them. It’s like taking the laws to the final conclusion. Obedience to God, respecting him as the creator and LORD Almighty is where we have always been directed. Our hearts for him. Our allegiance to him. Although the law of Moses forbid certain foods, God was teaching a young nation to walk with him. Galatians 3:23-25 compares the law with a guardian or a school teacher that kept Israel until the fulfillment of the law came. Again, this is a big topic which every Christian must grapple with: how does obedience to God and faith work together? Jesus is teaching us to look beyond the rules and deeds and see the devoted heart that God wants. He wants listeners who understand.
“…out of a person’s heart, that evil thoughts come…all these evils come from inside and defile a person.” You don’t need to eat pork to become a sinner! Being a sinner is way easier than that! If we limit sin to a list of dos and don’ts then we miss the point of sin. We are defiled, made unclean before God, by our own thoughts.
“Sexual immorality, “ a Pharisee might focus on what is and what isn’t sexual immorality but a heart that is for God will understand that any time we twist the beautiful gift from God to be used, even in the mind, for selfish pleasure, ignoring the love and care for the other person, we have sexual immorality. It’s not just what we do but how we think.
“…theft, murder, adultery…” not just what we do but when we meditate on these things.
“…greed, malice, deceit, lewdness, envy, slander, arrogance…” All very selfish terms. When we put ourselves above others and seek first our wealth and wellbeing over others. That is our hearts demanding to be king!
“…and folly.” Foolishness is a life that doesn’t listen to God.
“All these evils come from inside and defile a person.” There is no need for a ‘devil to be sitting on your shoulder’. We are all very capable of cultivating evil from inside. Where is evil in this world? Check out your heart.
Suggested questions for running this study.
Q1. Who are the characters and what is the problem described in Verses 1-5?
Q2. How does Jesus answer the question? Does he even answer it when he speaks to the Pharisees and teachers of the law? (Verses 6-13)
Q3. What does Isaiah 29:13 teach us about the Pharisee’s problem?
Q4. What are some examples of human tradition in our day?
Q5. Who does Jesus direct his answer to in Verse 14? Why did he not give this answer to the Pharisees?
Q6. How does Jesus treat the disciples in Verse 17? Why do you think he is being so hard on them?
Q7. What is common to all the things Jesus lists in Verses 21-22?
Our own hearts defile us as we continue to live for ourselves and not for God. When we listen to God’s word with understanding, we will honour him because we will let him soften our hearts rather than constructing a new path for ourselves which may be called religion. The Jewish leaders were not honouring God because they were not even listening to him. They put their rules above God’s word. Religion cannot help us. Giving our ears and hearts to God will move us from dull folly to responsive wisdom.
Challenge#1 Read the bible with understanding
Many will read the bible as if it is a directive manual. They will read it looking for what they need to do. Many will read the bible as an inspirational book. They will search the pages for verses that inspire them so that they may feel pleased with where they’re at. Many people will simply not read the bible and will turn to human teaching to work out how to live self-righteously. We must read the bible to listen and understand. Folly is one of the evils listed by Jesus. Dull was what the disciples were being. Hearts far from God is where the Pharisees were. When we read the bible, be listeners and read for understanding.
Challenge#2 Tradition is religion
What things do you do as part of your honoring to God that are more a result of human tradition than an authentic worship? Start by listing all the things that you do regularly for God. Church. Growth Group. Singing. Giving. Keep the list flowing. Why do you do them? Is it important when and how it is done? Are there any things that you feel hurt by when they are not done ‘properly’? Why is that? How do we decide what is worshiping God in vain and what is worshiping God in spirit and in truth (John 4:24)?
Challenge#3 Changing our hearts
How do you fix a defiled heart? How do you stop being driven by what the heart wants? Similar to challenge 1, it is about hearing from God’s word and training the heart to be changed. If we think with our hearts, then we will let evil win. If we are determined to think and act with our brains, we are likely to fail because our hearts are so powerful (not the muscle but the passion and desires within). The solution is to have our minds transformed by the word of God and train the heart to love what God loves. Now, this can only take place by the power of God through the Spirit of God. We don’t get that lesson from this passage but Romans 8:5-11 is one good place to see how the Spirit will train our minds to reject the heart impulse (the flesh) and choose wisdom over folly. The Spirit trains us through the word of God. We need to reign in our hearts to submit to the Spirit by His word.