Sermons

March 10/11, 2018

What Defiles and What Cleanses: Part One

Jason Meyer | Mark 7:1-13

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 properly, 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.”—Mark 7:1–13

Introduction: Transition From Mark 6 to Mark 7

The Gospel of Mark tells a story of conflict. Who has dive authorization: Jesus or the religious authorities? We have already seen a five-fold drama of conflict between Jesus and the religious authorities in Mark 2:1–3:6. Jesus and the scribes and Pharisees clashed over whether Jesus had the authority to forgive sins, why he could eat with tax collectors and sinners, why his disciples did not fast, whether his disciples could eat heads of grain plucked on the Sabbath, or whether it was lawful to heal on the Sabbath. The controversies built to a crescendo. Jesus brought a direct challenge to the religious leaders. They remained silent and behind the scenes they began to plot his murder (Mark 3:6).

Now we come to the next round in this battle between Jesus and the Religious Authorities. This conflict comes to us in three stages: the background, the question, and the rebuke. We will let these three stages unfold before we summarize the main point of the passage at the end.

Outline

  1. The Background (7:1–4)
  2. The Question (7:5)
  3. The Rebuke (7:6–13)

1) The Background (Mark 7:1–4)

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 properly, 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.)

One commentator says: The material of these verses has no definite connection with the preceding narratives and it is impossible to determine when or where the incident took place (William Lane, The Gospel of Mark, NICNT [Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1974], p. 244).

I admit that the connection is hard to catch at first, but paying careful attention to the words Mark uses help us spot the connection. The very first time that Mark uses the word “marketplace” came in Mark 6:56.

And wherever he came, in villages, cities, or countryside, they laid the sick in the marketplaces …

Then,

And when they come from the marketplace, they do not eat unless they wash.—Mark 7:4

Why does the reference to the marketplace matter here? Let’s sketch the scene and some of the dynamics at play. The religious authorities came “from Jerusalem” (7:1). This is an official delegation. It is the second time this has happened. The first came in Mark 3:22. The religious leaders were faced with a dilemma. It was obvious that Jesus was casting out demons with supernatural power. What was the source? Was it clean power (God) or unclean power (the devil)? They made a startling choice. “And the scribes who came down from Jerusalem were saying, ‘He is possessed by Beelzebul,’ and ‘by the prince of demons he casts out the demons.’”

Now they have come back again for a second time. He has been healing in the marketplace. But they do not take that evidence to heart. They do not see the obvious evidence that Isaiah 35 is being fulfilled. They have to ignore or suppress evidence that puts him in a good light (like the signs of his healing) and instead they look for ways to accuse him. Therefore, they ignore the healings and latch onto an issue of ritual cleanness or uncleanness—because these healings happened in the marketplace. Clean and unclean were inescapably ethnic issues because one would meet unclean people in the marketplace: the Gentiles. Jews could be defiled by coming into contact with them. As one commentator said: “The shadow of a Gentile falling across a dish or plate made it unclean” [Donald English, The Message of Mark (The Bible Speaks Today) [Downers Grove, InterVarsity: 1992], p. 143)].

When it says “the Pharisees and all the Jews” (v. 3), Mark alerts us to the fact that washing hands, cups, and vessels is a defining cultural issue for all the Jews. This tradition is so ingrained that many would say “to be Jewish” means to wash hands, cups, vessels. Changing this tradition would essentially challenge what it means to be a Jew in the eyes of many. And don’t forget—this is not a hygiene issue. They were not worried about germs, but uncleanness before God, which would break fellowship with God. Jesus would essentially be challenging what fellowship with God is and what breaks it. That is why the question in verse five is so massively important. We move there now in point 2

2) The Question (Mark 7:5)

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?” 

Don’t forget that this question is really a thinly veiled charge. The Pharisees and scribes have just attempted to shame him publicly—presenting him as an incompetent teacher by asking this question. Your followers eat with defiled hands and you don’t correct them. Jesus would be breaking a deeply ingrained boundary marker. The Pharisees and scribes think that they have him. They are basically saying, “You are promoting uncleanness and you don’t care—which means you don’t care about the holiness of God.” Jesus is going to take that charge and turn it on its head in point three.

3) The Rebuke (Mark 7:6–13)

 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.”

Jesus’ rebuke comes in three stages. First, he takes the charge that he has defiled hands and reverses the charge by saying they actually have defiled hearts (Isaiah 28:13). Second, he labels “the tradition of the elders” as Isaiah’s “commandments of men.” Third, he gives an example of the way that keeping their tradition actually causes others to break the commandments of God. The tradition of “Corban” is an example of a man-made commandment that breaks the fifth commandment (Exodus 20:12).

All three of these rebukes hits upon some aspect of his overarching word for the Pharisees as “hypocrites.” A hypocrite is a word drawn from the world of acting. The Pharisees were playing a part—pretending to be someone they are not. This is perfectly acceptable in the theater, but not in everyday life. Pretending to be someone you are not in real life is part of what makes someone a con artist.

How are they play-acting? First, they are pretending to be very devoted to God. Their ritual scrupulousness could look like they are serious about drawing near to God, but Jesus says that their hearts are far from God. They go through the motions religiously, but the motivation does not come from love for God or desire for God, but a desire to be seen by others.

Second, they are play-acting because they are pretending to be the mouthpiece of God, but they are only sharing man-made ideas and treating them as if they are commandments from God. They are not teaching the truth of God, but the invention of man.

Third, their traditions actually cause people to break the commandments of God. The example Jesus gives is particularly striking because they justify failing to care for their parents by saying that something is devoted to God. They invoke God’s name to avoid doing something God himself commanded. Hypocrisy indeed!

It appears that the Pharisees had a three step process: (1) they began by adding rules as useful supplements, (fence the Law) then (2) these rules were elevated to the same level of authority as Scripture (on par with the Law), then (3) these rules were actually elevated above Scripture in that the traditions actually led to the breaking of God’s commands.

Don’t miss the irony. The tradition of the elders added commands to the Law in an attempt to fence the Law of God. They reasoned that God expelled them from the Promised Land because they broke the Law of God. Now that they were back in the Promised Land they had to make sure that no one would break the Law that way again. So they set up a layer of additional commands around the Law so that even if people broke those commandments they would not break through all the way to the original commandments. Do you see the irony? Jesus is saying that you fenced the Law in order to avoid breaking the Law and it actually caused you to break the Law.

Jesus highlights the end result of this process by repeating his central charge three times:

Verse 8: “You leave the commandment of God and hold to the tradition of men.”

Verse 9: And he said to them, “You have a fine way of rejecting the commandment of God in order to establish your tradition!”

Verse 13: “… thus making void the word of God by your tradition that you have handed down. And many such things you do.”

So what is the point of this passage? The negative way to state the main point would be: “Don’t hold tightly to the traditions of man and establish them in a way that causes you to leave, reject, and make void the word of God.”

But that would fall short of the totality of what Jesus teaches here.

The positive way to say the main point would be this: Disciples holistically hold to the word of God (mind, heart, will). Jesus’ teaching addresses the mind (knowing the word of God), the heart (not being a hypocrite, having hearts far from him), and the will (the call to obey—like honor and care for parents with material provisions).

Application: What We Do With the Word of God

What would holistically holding to the word of God look like today?

Adding to Scripture

1. Roman Catholic tradition (add to Scripture).

It would be a mistake to forget about the Reformation now that we are on the other side of the 500-year anniversary of it. This is not an antiquarian issue, that is, one that is only interesting if you are an academic historian, not an everyday Christian. The issues in the Reformation are still alive and well in our day. One of the cardinal errors of the Roman Catholic Church is adding to the word of God. They do this in many ways. Take one example.

To whom do we pray?

Here is the answer that Catholics in our day give (http://biblestudyforcatholics.com/catholics-pray-mary-saints/)

So in order to explain why we pray to Mary and the saints, they need to understand that there is a connection between the Body of Christ that is already in heaven and those who are still on earth. Though a person is no longer living on earth, that does not mean they are not living. Catholics understand that we have a relationship with those who are living in heaven, and that during the Mass heaven and earth connect.

Once that difference is explained, you can make the connection that praying to Mary or the saints is like asking a friend here on earth to pray for you. Catholics also believe that a saint in heaven has a better connection to Christ, since they are right there with him.

Part of the problem of explaining the communion of saints to non-Catholics is that the Bible that they use does not have the books that mention praying for the dead and asking for the intercession of angels, so trying to quote those Scriptures will not be accepted.

It is easy to have a superficial comparison that says, “Well, both Protestants and Roman Catholics believe in Christ, so why would you even bring this issue up? Aren’t they essentially the same?” No. The Reformation did not hinge on Scripture, grace, Christ, faith, and the glory of God, but the Reformation hinged on the adjective “alone.”

The Reformers placed their trust in Christ alone, not Christ plus the mediation or merits of the saints. Listen to 1 Timothy 2:5–6.

 For there is one God, and there is one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, who gave himself as a ransom for all, which is the testimony given at the proper time.

2. Protestant Additions

We can certainly add to Scripture by taking issues that are really a matter of conscience and then take our conclusions and bind them upon other believers so we form insiders and outsiders within the body of Christ: Drink alcohol or not? Homeschool or public school? Read Harry Potter or not? Should you listen to non-Christian music? We can scoff at some who eat McDonalds instead of eating local, hormone-free, cage-free, grass-fed, artisan, handmade, organic, gastro-molecular cuisine. What can happen is that we are using food to show off our conscientious culinary sophistication.

Do you see what happens when we add to Scripture? Whatever issue we have a passionate answer for can become an idol. A certain taste for food or music or cultural engagement can become a status symbol and identity statement—and then pride takes over and we look down at someone or view them with suspicion. Someone may agree with us on the imputation of Christ’s righteousness and disagree with us about Harry Potter, and suddenly we view them with suspicion. Or we define ourselves as the opposite and look down upon the other. I am not some sophisticated, elitist, super-cultured snob. But there is something bigger here at work for us and I think we have already crossed over in that discussion: the matters of the heart.

The Heart

Our worship is to be not just accurate (the head), but reverent (the heart). It is not about making our rituals accurate. There is a devastating and searching point that Jesus has for us. One aspect of hypocrisy is when the outside and the inside do not match.

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.”Mark 7:6–7

Beware of taking our bodies to church but leaving our hearts at home. God does not delight in the style of our songs so much as the source of our songs. Do they come from the heart? Are we going through the motions? These issues have an important bearing upon us: missionally, corporately, and personally.

A Holistic Embrace of the Word

Don’t just think of the way a church can make an impact on a city; think also of the way a city can make an impact on a church with its idolatry. One book I read called Cities Matter talked about how a city can have a corporate idol—something that begins to form a corporate boast. The Silicon Valley can be known as technologically advanced or cutting edge.

Have you ever stopped to think about what the collective idol for a place like the Twin Cities might be? A book called the Triumph of the City lists Minneapolis as “The Smart City.” We have heard the statistic before that the Twin Cities have more colleges and universities per population than everywhere except Boston.

Has that idol had an impact upon us? In our century, so many people bought into the lie that education would be the savior. If we could just educate people, then that would change the world. We have focused on education more in the last century than ever before and it was the bloodiest century on record. The totalitarian dictators who killed so many of their own people were super educated. C.S. Lewis said that education alone would only make people more clever devils. Education will not change the heart.

Are there places where this intellectual idol has infiltrated Bethlehem? We are an educated church. We value books and classes—we have a college and seminary. We believe we are called to love God with the mind—yes! But that is not enough. We cannot trust in our theological knowledge. It is not enough. Martyn Lloyd-Jones said that he spent half of his time telling his people to study doctrine and the other half reminding them that doctrine is not enough. Listen as he offers a stirring reminder for us on this same point (D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones, The Puritans: Their Origins and Successors) ...

What was it that turned the world upside down? Was it just theological teaching? Was it mere enunciation of correct doctrine? Over and above that there was this mighty demonstration of the Spirit and of power. How did those people turn the world upside down? The answer is that in the Book of Acts we have an account of a great revival, of the Spirit outpoured. What happened could not have happened otherwise. How did all these churches come into being? Was it merely that the apostles taught correct doctrine? Of course not! It was the Spirit’s demonstration and power which accompanied the correct doctrine. Correct doctrine can leave the church dead; you can have dead orthodoxy, you can have a church that is perfectly orthodox but perfectly useless. Over and above, there was this demonstration, this unction, this authority, this outpouring of the Spirit’s power. It is the only explanation of the astonishing things that happened.

We must avoid the danger of intellectualism that is devoid of the Holy Spirit. We must also avoid an intellectualism that does not address the heart. Knowledge without love puffs up. Reading the Bible is not enough if we read it with a cold, unaffected heart. Listen to Isaiah 66:2.

But this is the one to whom I will look:
     he who is humble and contrite in spirit
     and trembles at my word.

This was a devastating moment for me this week. I can begin to believe in subtle ways that if I know the Bible better than some people and know doctrine better than some people, than I am better. God’s word pierced my heart this week and reminded me that there is a lot that I know that I am not obeying. Why has it ceased to make me tremble? Why does that knowledge not lead to obedience?

Are we going through the motions with God? Are we doing what Jesus charged the Pharisees with—play-acting; pretending to be very devoted to God? Do our actions of church attendance, joining a Bible study, or volunteering at church give the impression that we are devoted to God, but all the while our hearts are far from God? I especially ask this question of our grade school children here at Bethlehem. Do your church activities look the same as others who are here, but your private lives look very different? It is time for a mind, heart, and will-check when it comes to the word of God.

Conclusion: Not Merely a Question of What Defiles, but What Cleanses

The Pharisees were wrong in having an elaborate external system for determining clean vs. unclean. The Gospel of Mark is moving toward a climax in which we learn that there is only one thing that can cleanse us: the blood of Jesus.

This is where I am so grieved by the Roman Catholic Church’s doctrine of purgatory.

Then, of course, there is the Bible’s approval of prayers for the dead: “In doing this he acted in a very excellent and noble way, inasmuch as he had the resurrection of the dead in view; for if he were not expecting the dead to rise again, it would have been useless and foolish to pray for them in death. But if he did this with a view to the splendid reward that awaits those who had gone to rest in godliness, it was a holy and pious thought. Thus he made atonement for the dead that they might be freed from this sin” (2 Maccabees. 12:43–45). Prayers are not needed by those in heaven, and no one can help those in hell. That means some people must be in a third condition, at least temporarily. This verse so clearly illustrates the existence of purgatory that, at the time of the Reformation, Protestants had to cut the books of the Maccabees out of their Bibles in order to avoid accepting the doctrine. 

Why would anyone go to purgatory? To be cleansed, for “nothing unclean shall enter [heaven]” (Revelation 21:27). Anyone who has not been completely freed of sin and its effects is, to some extent,“unclean.” Through repentance he may have gained the grace needed to be worthy of heaven, which is to say, he has been forgiven and his soul is spiritually alive. But that’s not sufficient for gaining entrance into heaven. He needs to be cleansed completely. 

Contrary to what we hear here about purgatory, you cannot be both forgiven and unclean.

Christians are cleansed by the blood of Christ—completely. Jesus’ blood is presented as cleansing as washing away every stain.

“They have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb.”—Revelation 7:14

Christians are redeemed—bought with a price—the precious blood of Jesus. Revelation 5:9 says that the purchase price was enough: “For you were slain, and by your blood you ransomed people for God from every tribe and language and people and nation” (Revelation 5:9). Our debt was paid in full. Purgatory would be saying that the purchase price and the cleansing was incomplete. Let us be a church that preaches the gospel clearly: The blood of Christ cleanses us thoroughly and it pays our debt completely.

That also means that whatever is in your past, whatever sin you have committed, whatever mess you have made, God’s arm is not too short to save. Nothing is too dirty for the cleansing power of Christ’s blood. I call you to believe. Experience the cleansing. What can wash away my sin? Nothing … but the blood of Jesus. Tell me why I will reach my home? Only by the blood of Jesus. O precious is the flow. No other fount I know.

Sermon Discussion Questions

Outline

  1. The Background (vv. 1–4)
  2. The Question (v. 5)
  3. The Rebuke (vv. 6–13)

Discussion Questions

  • What was one of the ways that the Pharisees used to assess whether someone was clean or unclean?
  • How did Jesus turn the tables on their charge against him? What are the three stages of Jesus’ rebuke?

Application Questions

  • How do Roman Catholics add to Scripture? How are Protestants tempted to add to Scripture to determine who is an “insider” or an “outsider”? Can you recall a time when you did this or had this done to you?
  • How can we battle against a mundane reading of the Bible, in which our hearts feel no trembling? How can we guard against our faith being merely intellectual? How do you fight merely going through the motions?
  • Do you believe that the work of Christ is enough to save you, to cleanse you? Are there things in your life that you are tempted to believe have made you too dirty or too unclean? Are you resting in the truth that Jesus’ blood cleanses thoroughly and pays the price of our salvation completely?

Prayer Focus
Pray for a grace to beware adding to the Bible. Pray for a grace to read the Bible with trembling. Pray for worship that is reverent and accurate: engaging head and heart, radiating light and heat, and affecting doctrine and life.

Downtown Campus

720 13th Avenue South, Minneapolis, Minnesota, 55415
Sundays, 7:30am, 9 & 11am

North Campus

5151 Program Ave, Mounds View, Minnesota, 55112
Sundays, 9am & 11am

South Campus

21135 Jacquard Ave, Lakeville, Minnesota, 55044
Sundays, 10:30am