MS Week #21: Commandments and Traditions

Brad Libolt speaking on Mark 7:1-23. He spoke about how the Jews made their traditions more important than God’s commandments. He asked us to look at our own lives and traditions to see if we too are making our traditions surrounding God’s commandments more important than the commandments themselves.

  • This passage today is all about traditions. In my family we always opened one present on Christmas Eve and it was always pajamas and we would sleep in those pajamas that night. Last Christmas I did not open a present on Christmas Eve and did not sleep in my new pajamas. Does that mean that it wasn’t Christmas? No. It is still Christmas whether or not that tradition happened or not.
  • Here’s another example. Whenever you go to the movies, always get a large popcorn and soda. One time you go and your parents say you are not going to get that, and your world is rocked. You have associated popcorn and soda with going to the movies so you really want that, even though it’s not about that. It’s about seeing the movie.
  • The Jews had a lot of traditions around the commandments that started to become more important to them than the commandments themselves. Let’s see what Jesus has to say about that.

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?”

  • The Pharisees gather to Jesus again, and they notice something his disciples are doing that they don’t like. They see that they are eating with defiled hands, hands that are unwashed. Verses 3-5 give us an explanation of this rule, saying that the Jews were supposed to wash their hands before they ate, when they came from the market place, and they were supposed to wash their dishes too. This is all very normal, you should definitely wash your hands before you eat.
  • But the Pharisees see this as a major issue. Not because eating with unwashed hands is nasty, but because the disciples are not walking according to the tradition of the elders. All these washing rituals and rules were part of Jewish tradition. And it was tradition that was passed down from generation to generation, and the elders approved of it and continued to spread it. So they are questioning Jesus about his disciples, Jewish men, why they weren’t following the traditions of the elders.
  • And Jesus’ response is intense, take a look.

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.”

  • Jesus recalls the prophet Isaiah, and quotes from chapter 29. He is saying that the Pharisees are like the hypocrites that Isaiah was talking about. They honor God with their lips but their heart is far from him. They worship God, but it is in vain. Men come up with rules and commandments, and those things are taught as doctrinal truth. Isaiah and now Jesus were speaking of an elevation of human authority over God. The hypocrites are giving lip service to God, saying all the right things, doing all the right things, making it look like they are worshipping God when in reality their heart is far from him. They aren’t worshipping him with their hearts, just their lips.
  • And then in verse 8 Jesus says they leave the commandment of God and hold to the tradition of men. So what man says becomes more important than what God says. They no longer respect or adhere to the commandments of God, but rather hold fast to the tradition of men.
  • Jesus continues his rebuke, look at verse 9.

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.”

  • Jesus tells the Pharisees they have a fine way of rejecting the commandment of God in order to establish their tradition, and he gives another example.
  • The Ten Commandments say to honor your father and mother. If you revile your father and mother you will be punished. But now the Pharisees are changing this, allowing people to get out of honoring their father and mother. One way to honor your father and mother, was to take care of them once you had a job and they retired.  They didn’t have 401k’s or a retirement package back then, their retirement plan was that their children would take care of them. Now this isn’t all that honoring your father and mother is about, but part of it was to take care of your parents once you are able. But now the Pharisees are saying you can “give your money to God” instead of taking care of your father and mother, and that frees you from having to do anything for them. Jesus says this makes the word of God mean nothing, and tradition that is handed down by man is more important.
  • And this isn’t the only example, Jesus adds that there are many things like this the Pharisees do.
  • Now here’s the thing. The Pharisees intentions were right. In creating these traditions they were trying to honor God. Instead of giving money to your parents, you give it to God. Make sure your hands are clean before you eat so you don’t defile yourselves with uncleanliness. These things aren’t necessarily bad. But when you make these traditions equal with God’s law, then there is an issue. So it would have cut deep when Jesus said they are rejecting the law of God, because that wasn’t their intention.
  • But the result of this was a religion built on tradition instead of the law of God, and a people who were so caught up in rules and rituals that they could not rightly worship God.
  • Now this can affect us today as well. We don’t have the washing traditions that they Jews did back then, but we have other traditions that can get in our way of our worship to God.
  • Think about praying before meals. We sit down to eat, someone takes a bite of their food, then someone says we should pray, and I will look at the person who took a bite and joking tell them they have eaten un-blessed food. Now it’s totally a joke, but think about what it is saying. Saying a prayer before a meal somehow changes the status of the meal we are about to eat. But that’s never said in the Bible. We should be thankful for our food, but we can pray before the meal, during the meal, after the meal. Ultimately that’s not the point. The point is to be thankful for our food.
  • Take stock of the traditions you have. They might not be bad, but at the end of the day are you more focused on the tradition or the command of God the tradition is built around?
  • Jesus then calls people to himself to teach, look at 14.

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.” 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.)

  • Jesus addresses the food issue again, and explains how it is not what goes into a person that defiles him or makes him unclean. Rather, it is the things that come out of him. And this is because it is a heart issue. Food cannot defile you because it goes into your stomach. It doesn’t matter if your stomach is defiled, what matters most is your heart. And what comes out of you is evidence of whether or not your heart is defiled.

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.”

  • These things are what defile someone. Evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, coveting, wickedness, deceit, sensuality, envy, slander, pride, foolishness. These are what makes someone unclean, and it has nothing to do with what you eat or if you wash your hands, it has everything to do with what is in your heart.
  • So are these things in your heart? Is your heart defiled? Is it unclean? Do you have evil thoughts towards other people? Thoughts of violence or hate? Do you struggle with sexual immorality? Do you objectify those of the opposite sex or do you value them as image bearers of God? Do you steal from your friends or parents? Do you want what others have? Do you trick or deceive people? Are you jealous of others? Are you proud? Do you think of yourself too highly?
  • Jesus says that all of these things are evil, and they come from within. And they are what makes someone unclean. It’s not about tradition, it’s not about having washed hands, its not about saying the right things or doing the right things, it’s about what is in your heart.
  • So what is in your heart? If we are honest, there are probably more of these things in our heart than we would like to admit. I know there are for me.
  • If we are really, truly, honest with ourselves we can see the defilement of our heart. We can see that what is inside of us is evil, and it is sin. And this is nothing new. In Genesis 8:22 after the flood has subsided and Noah is starting life anew, God says that he will never curse the ground again because of man, because the intention of man’s heart is evil from his youth. The intention of our heart is evil from our youth. It has been since Adam and Eve fell, nothing has changed.
  • So what is the solution? Well Jesus has made it pretty clear that tradition isn’t the solution. The issue is the heart, so the solution needs to be the heart. All throughout Scripture God promised his people a new heart. This new heart and new covenant were promised over and over again, and people looked forward to it for centuries. Then finally, the new covenant and the new heart came with Jesus.
  • Through Jesus’ blood shed on the cross, a new covenant is available. For those who believe in Jesus, believe in who he is and what he did. In his death and resurrection. Believe in Jesus and you will receive a new heart. A heart that no longer has evil intentions, but good intentions. A heart that rather than evil thoughts and wickedness produces pure thoughts and righteousness. That heart is available through belief in Jesus.
  • Now, many in this room have believed in Jesus. We have accepted him and the new heart that he offers. But our intentions and what is in our heart is still evil. So now we live in this in between state, where our hearts are already new, but not yet new. When Jesus returns and brings with him the new heavens and the new earth we will be glorified and our hearts will be completely new. No evil thought or wicked intention. But in the mean time, we battle, fight, and strive to rid ourselves of wickedness and evil and replace it with good and righteousness. And because we have a new heart, we are able to do this. We call this process sanctification. It is the process of becoming like Christ, being made holy. It is a work of the Spirit on our lives to lead and convict us, but it is also a work we take part in. We have a responsibility to respond to the Spirit and make choices that are glorifying to God.
  • So, the issue is that we need a new heart. Jesus offers us a new heart in his death and resurrection. When we believe in him we get a new heart. That new heart isn’t totally new yet, and will be when Jesus returns. In the meantime, we are led by the Spirit and fight to make decisions and have thoughts that are good and righteous. This is all done under the umbrella of grace, knowing that our heart has been made new in Christ.

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