Now when the Pharisees gathered to him, with some of the scribes who had come from Jerusalem, they saw that some of his disciples ate with hands that were defiled, that is, unwashed. (For the Pharisees and all the Jews do not eat unless they wash their hands, holding to the tradition of the elders, 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.) 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?” 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; in vain do they worship me, teaching as doctrines the commandments of men.’ You leave the commandment of God and hold to the tradition of men.” And he said to them, “You have a fine way of rejecting the commandment of God in order to establish your tradition! For Moses said, ‘Honor your father and your mother’; and, ‘Whoever reviles father or mother must surely die.’ 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)— then you no longer permit him to do anything for his father or mother, thus making void the word of God by your tradition that you have handed down. And many such things you do.” And he called the people to him again and said to them, “Hear me, all of you, and understand: (Mark 7:1-14, ESV)
Grace and peace to you from Our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.
Jesus is always being confronted by his enemies. They are always looking for ways to accuse him in public. One of the problems we have in understanding this is that we’ve heard these stories so many times we see the title Pharisee and we automatically think “bad guy.” They weren’t the bad guys of the time. They were the good guys. In fact, they were highly respected. The name Pharisee means to be set apart. They were considered folks who lived nearly a perfect life. That’s why we get Mark’s explanation:
For the Pharisees and all the Jews do not eat unless they wash their hands, holding to the tradition of the elders, 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.
Actually you could translate that part about them coming from the market, “they do not eat unless they wash themselves. They considered themselves so close pure and perfect that if they came into contact with regular folks they had to wash the uncleanness off. Now we see this as arrogance. But back then parents wanted there sons to grow up to be Pharisees. People looked at them and thought, “They are really living the way God wants people to live.”
They were only doing what comes naturally to people. God gives his law and we have two possible reactions. First, when we see the demands of God we realize that we can’t keep it. We see our utter hopelessness. If we don’t hear about God’s grace found in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus we fall into despair. If we never hear the Good News about Jesus coming to keep the law for us, we don’t have anywhere to turn when the law does its full work. There are mountains of people who have been so hurt by law preaching without the Gospel. They are angry with the church over what they think are its demands of perfection. They look at us as hypocrites because they know that no one can keep the demands of the law, and we come across as Pharisees.
The other reaction to the law is that we look at the law and think that we are doing pretty well. This I fear is the most common reaction among us. It is this reaction to the law that pushes us very close to the Pharisees. How often when you hear your preacher talk about the sins of society do you think to yourself, “at least I’m not doing that!” Or “I can’t believe they do that sin.” Dear people of God, it doesn’t matter what sin I speak of, you and I are guilty of it. Jesus always pushes God’s law to our breaking point. He sets the bar so high that no one can reach it. He does this not to push us to despair but to push us to Him as our Savior. It is only in seeing that we are “poor miserable sinners” who “sin in thought word and deed, by what we have done and left undone” that we can see our total need for His work on the cross for us. His death as paying the debt for our sin that we can’t pay. His life lived for us because we cannot live it. The Pharisees had a way around God’s demands in the law. They thought they were protecting God’s laws with extra rules and regulations. They thought they were building a hedge. But instead what they were really doing was making God’s law manageable. It fits Jesus’ example very well. God says, “Honor your father and mother.” The Pharisees allowed a way for you to do that and NOT support them in their old age. “Sorry Pop, I’ve set aside my money for God. I can’t give it to you.” It’s the same thing. “What do you think God thinks of your living together?” “Well Pastor, I think God would want me to be happy.” “I can’t afford to live alone, I’m sure God would want me to be a good manager of my money.” “God forbids divorce.” “But Pastor, God knows what pain I’m in because my spouse doesn’t understand me anymore.” It’s the same thing the Pharisees were doing, and Jesus calls them on it. And Jesus calls you and me on it, too. We make deals with God about our sin. We pretend that we have the exception to the rule because of our situation.
- · “I can skip church, because I go a lot more that most.”
- · “It’s not really wrong if I tell that little lie as long as no one is hurt.”
- · “I can tell the rumor about my friend as long as in the long run they get the help they need.”
- · “I don’t have time for bible class, I only get so much time of for enjoying the weekend.”
- “I’m not really cheating. I’d learn the material, I just ran out of time.”
- · “It’s not really cheating to get the advantage over my competitor by lying about what I can do, after all I have employees to pay.”
You see, our sinful nature is the same as those Pharisees. We do the very same things as they did. We think we are better than others so God will grant us exceptions. We think we keep the law good enough for God to be good to us. And then Jesus words sting us.
“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;”
A good practice to help you understand God’s law correctly is this. If your first reaction to hearing God’s law is to think of someone else who doesn’t keep it, turn the law back upon yourself. “Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy.” Instead of pointing your finger at those who miss worship most Sundays; think about how you wanted to stay in bed this morning; or how your mind wanders during the sermon; or how you were distracted from Jesus because the tune of that hymn was just too hard to sing.
The key here in this passage is the washing. Our problem, our sin, is that we try to wash ourselves. That’s what the Pharisees did. They washed themselves, they justified themselves by making exceptions to the rules and making rules to tone down the law.
[If you want a very clear example of this today think of the Purpose Driven Life. God has a purpose for your life. If you live in that purpose you can please God. This idea completely sets aside that fact that you can’t please God with anything you do, unless! You are “in Christ.” Unless you have the forgiveness of sin won by Christ on the cross. That forgiveness washes away this sin of all we do, leaving only good.]
Maybe you missed it in the Epistle reading for today. Most often we hear the “Wives, submit to your own husbands” part and we are so offended that we don’t hear what Paul is really saying. He tells the ideal for marriage; a wife submitting to her husband who does everything purely for her benefit. We get hung up on the words about marriage and miss the words about Christ.
Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, so that he might present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish.
He finishes it off with these words:
This mystery is profound, and I am saying that it refers to Christ and the church.
When we “submit” to Christ it doesn’t have anything to do with our doing anything. To submit to Christ is to allow Him to wash us clean. To submit to Christ is to see our sin as a spot and stain that we cannot remove. No elbow grease to apply. No extra laws to keep. No exceptions to the rules we can follow. Just Jesus cleansing us, washing us, with water and the Word. Just Jesus shedding his blood on the cross for the forgiveness of our sin. Just Jesus presenting us before God clean through His scrubbing, through His perfect life, perfect death and perfect resurrection. Just Jesus making us clean and free from the sin stain.
That is worship for us. Gathering together and submitting to Christ as His bride, to be washed by water and His Word; to be set free from our sin so that we can serve Him in everything that we do. That’s what makes worship what God wants it to be instead of the commandments of men. That’s what makes our hearts “close” to Christ instead of far away. We have a great many traditions in this church. We, as sinful human beings, are always tempted to use traditions to find a way to wash ourselves. You have my permission to ask and question everything we do here in this church. The question you should ask is this: Does this thing that we do point to Jesus Christ crucified, dead and buried and raised again for the forgiveness of my sin? Does this tradition point to Jesus washing us clean, and giving himself for us? Does this thing teach me of God’s love for me in Jesus, life, death and resurrection? If the answer is no, we should stop. If the answer is yes, we can rejoice in the gift we’ve been given.
There’s the font, there’s water in there to remind you of Christ your bridegroom washing you clean from your sin through His blood on the cross. There’s the Word that strikes you in your ears and in your heart; the law that softens you by convicting you of your sin; and the Good News of Jesus your Savior taking the curse of sin for you that gives you the joy of being clean. There’s the body and blood of Christ, right from the cross, poured into you to wash you from the inside out. None of these are traditions of men. These are the promises of God for the forgiveness of your sin. Amen.
The peace of God that passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.