Category Archives: sin

Mark 7:1-23 – Where sin comes from

Discussion question:

How are you going with washing hands, social distancing and being careful when venturing to the shops?

Read Mark 7:1-23

Context

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.

Observation

Structure

  • 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?

Meaning

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.

Application

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.

Mark 6:14-29 – What Herod heard

Discussion question:

Have you ever wondered how different life would be as a king or queen? OR Do you think Queen Elizabeth watches Neighbours?

Read Mark 6:14-29

Context

This story of the death of John the baptist is included in the three Synoptic Gospels (Matthew, Mark and Luke). It appears in Mark right in the middle of the mission that the disciples are sent on. Jesus sent his Twelve Disciples off on mission in Mark 6:6-13 and Mark records their return from mission in Mark 6:30. While they are spreading the news about the kingdom of God, calling people to repent and believe, healing and casting out demons, we are given this account of John the Baptist. On the ground, the disciples are spreading the news of the kingdom, but in the earthly kingdom of Herod, we see sin with no repentance and a mishearing of who Jesus is.

Observation

Structure

  • 14-16 What Herod heard and concluded about Jesus
  • 17-20 What Herod heard from John
  • 21-29 What Herod heard from his step-daughter/niece!

14-16 What Herod heard and concluded about Jesus

“King Herod heard about this…” This is referring to the mission that the disciples were on. The commotion in the streets caused by the disciples preaching a message of repentance had reached the ears of Herod. We are brought from the real street-talk of the kingdom of God into the house of an earthly king. See Luke 3:1 for a scope of the rulers of the day. Herod was the tetrarch over Galilee. It lists four men ruling different regions under the higher reign of Tiberius Caesar. One of the four was Herod’s brother Philip.

“Some were saying… John… Elijah… A prophet…” Jesus’ name was not in question but what was his position or identity. His name was well known but what about his calling or importance? Malachie 4:5 will help understand why Elijah is listed and why the disciples repeat this rumour in Chapter 8. Ironically, it is John the Baptist who is the Elijah figure predicted to come as he was one of the prophets like the Old Testament prophets whose primary message was to call Israel to repent and return to the LORD. A prophet like Elijah would come and prepare the way for the LORD. This was John the Baptist (Mark 9:12-13). As readers of this story, we are meant to realise how wrong they all are – that they misunderstood Elijah and rejected his call to repent – how then will they understand who Jesus is?

“But when Herod heard this, he said…” Herod’s conclusion is that Elijah has somehow come back from the dead with even greater powers than he had before.

17-20 What Herod heard from John

“For Herod himself had given orders to have John arrested…” We are taken back in time to understand Herod’s experience with John. What follows is a story of lust and sexual immorality; of a call to repent and a man who doesn’t disagree but unwilling to repent.

“…Herod feared John… when Herod heard John, he was greatly puzzled; yet he liked to listen to him.” This is the profile of someone who is unable to understand the mysteries of the kingdom of God. Many people responded to John’s ministry of repentance and repented. Herod revered John as a holy man but what he spoke about puzzled him.

21-29 What Herod heard from his step-daughter/niece!

“Finally the opportune time came.” This refers to Herodias’ dilemma in Verse 19. She had a grudge against John. He was a nuisance to whatever her ambitions were. The size of this grudge comes out further when we hear how it is released.

“…the daughter of Herodias came in and danced, she pleased Herod and his dinner guests.” You can imagine alcohol and festivities and the passion of the moment and pride and the want to impress the rulers that have been invited to the party. This is not a PG rated party. Herod is swept up in the moment and promises his niece anything up to half the kingdom. Wow!

“She went out and said to her mother, “What shall I ask for?” Herodias must have had quite the influence over her daughter. The offer has already been suggested: half the kingdom! Why not take that offer?

“The head of John the Baptist.” The grudge is strong. Her hate of John focuses her attention and dismisses all other possibilities. 

“On hearing this, John’s disciples came and took his body and laid it in a tomb.” The story is complete with the outside world hearing what has taken place inside the governor’s house. This earthly ruler behaves so unimpressively. His kingdom offers nothing but selfish ambition. He is more concerned with saving face than with righteousness and justice.

Suggested questions for running this study.

Q1. Look up Luke 3:1 to hear who is listed as important in Jesus’ day. A tetrarch is a sub-ruler. By telling us the story about Herod and John, what contrast is Mark giving us to consider?

Q2. What had Herod heard about? What conclusions were being made about Jesus from Herod’s palace? What were they getting right and what were they getting wrong?

Q3. What issues did John the Baptist have with Herod and what does the bible teach about these things?

Q4. Given all we know from this story, how would you describe the kingdom of Herod?

Q5. Why do you think Mark (and Matthew and Luke) includes this story in the gospel?

Meaning

There is a scene change in the gospel of Mark. While the disciples spread the good news of the kingdom of God, we are taken to an earthly ruler who has no backbone or care for righteous living. He hears the talk about Jesus and is filled with fear. We hear the word of what went on inside his home and are filled with disgust. He had the prophet who God sent to point people to Jesus right in his house – imprisoned – but he killed him, letting lust and pride rule. Herod heard about Jesus but did not hear about the kingdom of God. Herod heard from John but did not understand. He heard from his family and submitted to sin.

Application

Challenge#1 Human government and us

Romans 13 and 1 Timothy 2 teach us to pray for our governments and have respect for their authority. It does not follow that we are to agree with their conduct or decisions. This can be a complicated area of discussion but isn’t it possible to live as citizens of this world but love the kingdom of God because it is so much better? People in this world will often disappoint us. The greatest people in the kingdom of God are those who live for Christ and give him the highest respect. John the Baptist spoke the truth to the ruler and faced the consequences for it.

Challenge#2 Lust, envy, hate and pride

These things are to be put to death in us. The fruit of the spirit feeds none of these things. Romans 8 teaches us to give energy to the Spirit and not to the desires and passions of the flesh. Sin is destructive and the Spirit gives life. When the outworkings of the flesh appear, turn back to God and repent. 

Challenge#3 The kingdom of God is not in palaces

While we read about the mayhem in the court of Herod, the real kingdom growth was happening in the villages. The news of this world will revolve around what is happening in politics and sport. Very little attention is given to people turning back to God. This emphasis will be turned on its head one day when everyone sees Jesus as King and that everything that we thought was great in this world is nothing compared to him.

Commandment #10 – Do not covet

Opening Question

Name 3 things that you already have and are thankful for.

Exodus 20:17

“You shall not covet your neighbor’s house. You shall not covet your neighbor’s wife, or his male or female servant, his ox or donkey, or anything that belongs to your neighbor.”

In the beginning (5 mins)

Once again we turn our minds to Genesis 1-3 and consider what is there that speaks to covetousness. What do we see is our focus in life?

Genesis 1:31-2:1 – God made everything very good. It was complete and full of life.

Genesis 2:7-9, 15-18 – God continued to bring everything into being. He made man from the earth and gave him everything to enjoy. He was not to eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. The big idea here is that mankind did not create, establish or struggle for existence and plenty. God created and gave generously.

Genesis 3:6 – they took and ate after they looked and considered how good it looked. They wanted what was not theirs to take and what they did not need.

*God created all things to be dependent on him and to live in harmony with his order and will. Life is not defined by objects but by relationships, especially to God and his will

The command to Israel (5 mins)

What is listed as things to potentially covet in the 10th commandment?

House, wife (or husband), slave (or Jim’s lawnmowing service), ox or donkey (or VW Tiguan), or anything that belongs to your neighbour.

Israel’s history (10 mins)

Read Psalm 49. What is the conviction of this Psalmist? See also Ecclesiastes 2:1-11.

Wealth may look appealing but it will not defeat the grave. Note verse 16 tells us not to be in awe of the rich and verse 18 warns us against being seen by others as successful. You can’t take it with you. What is most valuable, according to this Psalm is understanding.

The Gospel (10 mins)

Jesus warned against giving our hearts to riches on earth that are stolen and fade in Matthew 6. He did so also in Luke 12. Read the following and discuss how easy it is to be living like the rich fool (12:20) and pagans (12:30)!

  • Luke 12:13-21
  • Luke 12:22-34

The command is to not covet. What is the cause of coveting according to Verse 32? 

Fear. Jesus said, ‘do not worry’ in the Matthew 6 account. 

What do we replace coveting (or fear) with according to Luke 12:28,31,32?

God has already given us the kingdom. We already have everything we will ever need. For today, we will need to exercise our faith and trust him. In this life, we may see others with more and apparently easier lives (a lie) but our hope is not for heaven right now. We have a Father who loves us, a Lord who gave his life for us and a kingdom prepared for us and promised. 

Christian Living (15 mins)

We know that God created life and everything in it. We know that turning to Christ is about receiving a kingdom that can never perish spoil or fade. And we know that our greatest test is to put our trust in God (faith) and live for the kingdom. 

The New Testament throws reason after reason to stop hoping that this world will deliver and turn our hearts to God who has promised us everything we need. Either read through the following three passages and turn them to prayer or focus on 1 Timothy 6:6-12a.

Ephesians 1:3-10 lists out how much we have received in Christ!

1 Peter 1:3-9 reminds us that we have been given new life into a living hope through the resurrection. The time of struggling is only or this world and is there to mature us as we learn to lean on God and love him more and more.

Read 1 Timothy 6:6-12a and turn it into prayer. Being the final week on the 10 commandments, it might be appropriate to consider how we need to repent and turn back to God and live our lives for him.

But godliness with contentment is great gain. 7 For we brought nothing into the world, and we can take nothing out of it. 8 But if we have food and clothing, we will be content with that. 9 Those who want to get rich fall into temptation and a trap and into many foolish and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction. 10 For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil. Some people, eager for money, have wandered from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs. 

11 But you, man of God, flee from all this, and pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, endurance and gentleness. 12 Fight the good fight of the faith. Take hold of the eternal life.