Traditions verses Truth – Matthew 15:1-20; Mark 7:1-23

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Pastor Scott L. Harris
Grace Bible Church, NY
November 15, 2015

Traditions verses Truth
Matthew 15:1-20; Mark 7:1-23


I was glad to have Ricky Beck with us last week and that our congregation has affirmed him as one of our supported missionaries in his endeavor to plant a church in Buffalo, NY. It was exciting to hear that even in the few months since we had him here the last week of July, those who have committed themselves to be part of this new church has already grown to 32. We are looking forward to what God will be doing in the months to come and seeing their effort come to fruition with a tentative launch date sometime next Spring. Please keep Ricky and Laurie and the girls in prayer.

Pastor Beck’s message last week on abiding in Christ from John 15 exposed the problem we had seen in our study the week before from the end of John 6 that recorded the defection of so many that had been disciples of Jesus. The real problem was not the difficulty of what Jesus was teaching, but the fact that their hearts were not set on Christ to abide in Him. It is not so much that they had difficulty in comprehending the spiritual meaning of the figurative physical language Jesus used of eating His flesh and drinking His blood (John 6:53-54), but rather that they were not interested in believing His claim that He came down from heaven (John 6:42). It is obvious throughout the context of Jesus’ statements that He was talking about spiritual food that would bring them eternal life (John 6:27, 29, 33, 35-36, 40, 47-51, 56, 58, 63) and not something that was physically consumed. Those who had been disciples withdrew from Jesus because they did not want to believe and abide in Him (John 6:47, 56). The twelve that remained did understand that what Jesus was speaking was eternal life and they believed Him to be the Holy One of God (John 6:68-69), yet even one of them was a devil that would betray Him later (John 6:70-71).

This morning we will continue our study by looking at John 7:1 and then the passages that follow it in Matthew 15:1-20 and Mark 7:1-23. John 6 ends with Jesus left with just the twelve after the people that had been following Him the last few days departed. They had proved themselves to be quite shallow and fickle.

You will recall that the day prior a large group had walked the six or seven miles from Capernaum to near Bethsaida where Jesus taught them and healed their sick then fed over five thousand that had gathered there with just two fish and five barely loaves. (See: Ministering to the Multitude) That evening Jesus sent the disciples back across the sea while He prayed. Later that night He walked out across the lake to join them in their boat and gave them a terrible fright because ordinary men do not walk on water and especially in the middle of a wind storm. (See: Keeping Your Eyes on Jesus) The next morning they arrived at the land of Gennesaret and ministered to the people there before going back to Capernaum. The people who were still near Bethsaida could not find Jesus that next morning, so they sailed on small ships that had come from Tiberias back to Capernaum where they found Jesus teaching in the Synagogue. (See: Doing the Work of God)

With all that effort to keep finding Jesus you would think they were fairly committed to Him, yet once Jesus taught them something they did not want to believe, they demonstrated they were fickle and they left. At first glance it seems strange that they had enough faith to find Jesus in order to be healed but not faith enough to believe what the healing proved – that Jesus was the Messiah. However, to have faith that Jesus was indeed from heaven and therefore the Messiah would require them to change the way they were living and many of the things Jesus was teaching was against their traditions. How could Jesus be the Messiah if He did not uphold the religious traditions? He was a miracle worker, an unusual Rabbi, but the Son of God? (See: Responding to Difficult Doctrine)

Their response may seem strange and inconsistent, yet the same response is often seen today. People still tend to pick and choose what they want to believe about Jesus. There are many people that will say that Jesus was a good teacher, an excellent moral example, and perhaps even a superb philosopher, and yet they will deny His claim of deity. That is inconsistent, but a very common conclusion among people. Consider the contradiction in the claims and the conclusions. If Jesus’ claim to be the Messiah is false and He knows it is false, then Jesus is a liar. How then could he be a good moral example? If Jesus’ claim to be the Messiah is in fact false but He believes it is true, then He is deluded. How can a lunatic be a superb philosopher? Jesus is either a liar, a lunatic or the Lord God in human flesh as He claims.

One of the things to keep in mind when considering the response of different people to Jesus is the strength of tradition in their lives. It could be very difficult for them to go against their religious traditions. Some of you who have backgrounds in liturgical religions understand the difficulty in setting those rituals aside to follow Christ alone. You end up in conflict with both that religious community and often family members as well. Part of the reason these people departed from Jesus was because they did not want to go against their religious traditions. As we continue our study this morning, the conflict between traditions and truth becomes even more obvious.

John 7:1 gives a summary statement about the ministry Jesus did after this incident and the tension that had increased between Him and the Jewish religious leaders in Judea. “After these things Jesus was walking in Galilee, for He was unwilling to walk in Judea because the Jews were seeking to kill Him.”

Matthew 15:1-20 and Mark 7:1-23 describe the events that took place that had resulted in this increased antagonism by the Pharisees and some of the scribes against Jesus. Turn to Mark 7:1 first.

The Religious Tradition – Matthew 15:1-3; Mark 7:1-5

1 The Pharisees and some of the scribes gathered around Him when they had come from Jerusalem, 2 and had seen that some of His disciples were eating their bread with impure hands, that is, unwashed. 3 (For the Pharisees and all the Jews do not eat unless they carefully wash their hands, thus observing the traditions of the elders; 4 and when they come from the market place, they do not eat unless they cleanse themselves; and there are many other things which they have received in order to observe, such as the washing of cups and pitchers and copper pots.) 5 The Pharisees and the scribes asked Him, “Why do Your disciples not walk according to the tradition of the elders, but eat their bread with impure hands?”

Both Matthew and Mark make the point that some Pharisees and scribes had come up from Jerusalem into the area of Galilee that Jesus was ministering. I do not believe this was by accident. You might recall that the Pharisees had been conspiring on how they might destroy Jesus ever since He had healed the man with the withered hand while in the synagogue on a Sabbath day (Matthew 12:9-14). They have not done this directly yet because the people still looked upon Jesus with favor. They would have to first discredit Jesus in order to destroy Him. I believe that is why some of the Pharisees and scribes have traveled up from Jerusalem. They are specifically looking for some teaching or practice of Jesus that would be in conflict with their law and then discredit Him about it before the people. There is not a clear indication in either text about when these Pharisees and scribes arrived. If it had been earlier that same day, then they would have seen Jesus healing people, but if they had been there, they make no mention of it. Instead, they had been scrutinizing the manner in which Jesus’ disciples were eating. Notice that they do not attack Jesus for the manner in which He was eating, but rather it is about His disciples. The underlying accusation here is that Jesus should have been instilling in His disciples the proper traditions and not let them get away with eating without washing their hands.

Now washing your hands seems like a very minor thing to us. Certainly it is preferable to have clean hands before you eat. It is much better hygiene and even helps check the spread of colds and other sicknesses. However, in our society, if someone eats with dirty hands, we just consider the person to be a slob and we then ignore them for it would be their problem. We would only be concerned if they were the ones serving our food. However, this was a very important consideration to these Jews. Why? Because it was not a matter of personal hygiene, but a matter of religious tradition tide directly to ceremonial cleansing.

The Law of Moses had many ceremonies that were designed to remind the people of their need for God. Some of these ceremonies involved things that signified that they were set apart to God. They were required to be separated from anything that was ceremonially unclean. The Law of Moses was never intended to be a religion of liturgy, but rather one of ceremonies that reflected an inward reality. Even circumcision, the outward sign of being a Jew, was supposed to be a reflection of an inner reality. This is brought out in Deuteronomy 10:12-16. 12 “Now, Israel, what does the Lord your God require from you, but to fear the Lord your God, to walk in all His ways and love Him, and to serve the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul, 13 and to keep the Lord’s commandments and His statutes which I am commanding you today for your good? 14 “Behold, to the Lord your God belong heaven and the highest heavens, the earth and all that is in it. 15 “Yet on your fathers did the Lord set His affection to love them, and He chose their descendants after them, even you above all peoples, as it is this day. 16 “So circumcise your heart, and stiffen your neck no longer.

Judaism was supposed to be a religion of the heart, but the traditions of the Rabbis, built up over many centuries, changed it into an intentionally external and shallow religion that could be practiced outwardly with great enthusiasm and loyalty regardless of the condition of the heart. The most hardened unbeliever could follow it because it had become a system designed to cover up sin rather than one exposing and cleansing it. It allowed a person to give the appearance of righteousness without actually being righteous.

The issue of washing the hands was a matter of ceremonial cleansing that was of great importance according to the “tradition of the elders.” Notice they do not say according to the Law of Moses for the Law of Moses does not teach what they taught. But the “traditions of the elders,” much like church dogma in Roman Catholicism, had replaced the Scriptures themselves in importance. This tradition was patterned after the ritual washing in the Law of Moses that was to take place after a person had become defiled by touching something unclean, for example a dead body or bodily discharge as specified in Leviticus 15:11 and Deuteronomy 21:6. But the tradition of the elders went far beyond what Moses said with many more things added to the list of defilements. Ceremonial hand washing became greatly elevated in importance.

One Rabbi taught that “whosoever has his abode in the land of Israel and eats his common food with rinsed hands may rest assured that he shall obtain eternal life.” Another rabbi taught that it was better to walk many miles to get water than to eat with unwashed hands. Another rabbi who had been imprisoned would use most of his water ration to wash rather than drink because he would rather die than violate the tradition. Some of the rabbis even taught that a demon named Shibtah would attach itself to people’s unwashed hands while they slept, and that if they had not washed their hands according to the ritual, then the demon would enter into the person through the food the person touched with his unwashed hands. These kinds of teachings resulted in a demand to ceremonially wash the hands before every meal and sometimes even between courses of a meal.

Notice that Mark 7:3-4 gives greater detail about some of their practices about hand washing after being in the market place and also the washing of cooking, serving and eating utensils. When you understand what was taught as part of the tradition of the elders in hand washing before a meal, it makes more sense that they are so focused on something that we would consider to be so unimportant.

Jesus Rebukes Their Traditions – Matthew 15:3-6; Mark 7:6-13

Jesus does not deny that His disciples were breaking the tradition of the elders regarding washing their hands before eating. Instead, He answers their question with a question according to Matthew 15:3, “Why do you yourselves transgress the commandment of God for the sake of your tradition?” This is a stern rebuke that they are being hypocritical in criticizing His disciples for breaking a tradition of the elders when they are doing something much worse in transgressing the commandment of God. Jesus applies to them a condemnation of Jerusalem given by the prophet Isaiah. He then gives them a specific example of their sin. Matthew records the same thing but in the reverse order of giving the example of specific sin first and then applying Isaiah’s condemnation against them. The reversal of the order may have been Matthew’s style preference in writing to a Jewish audience of putting a reference to the Torah before a reference to the Prophets.

Mark 7:6–13, 6 And He said to them, “Rightly did Isaiah prophesy of you hypocrites, as it is written: ‘This people honors me with their lips, but their heart is far away from me. 7 ‘But in vain do they worship Me, teaching as doctrines the precepts of men.’ 8 “Neglecting the commandment of God, you hold to the tradition of men.” 9 He was also saying to them, “You are experts at setting aside the commandment of God in order to keep your tradition. 10 “For Moses said, ‘Honor your father and your mother’; and, ‘He who speaks evil of father or mother, is to be put to death’; 11 but you say, ‘If a man says to his father or his mother, whatever I have that would help you is Corban (that is to say, given to God),’ 12 you no longer permit him to do anything for his father or his mother; 13 thus invalidating the word of God by your tradition which you have handed down; and you do many things such as that.”

Jesus applies the condemnation of Jerusalem given some 700 years earlier in Isaiah 29:13 directly to these Pharisees and scribes for their sin was the same. The particular quote is from the Septuagint, the Greek translation of the Hebrew Scriptures which was commonly used at that time. While the exact wording is different in the Septuagint, the meaning is the same as in the Hebrew. They were hypocrites, a transliterated classical Greek term for a stage actor that wore a mask to play his character. They were people who pretended to be something they were not. Their worship of God was vain because it was just lip service. They had made worship into a liturgy in which they said the right things but their hearts were far away from God. A fact that was demonstrated by their replacement of the doctrines of God with the precepts of men. That is still a common problem today even among many who profess to be Christians.

Jesus said they were very able at declaring the commandments of God to be invalid in order to keep their traditions and He then gave them a specific example. The commandment to honor your father and mother is the fifth listed in the Ten Commandments in Exodus 20:12. It is repeated in a positive manner in various ways throughout both the Old and New Testaments. It is also stated from the negative view point in both Exodus 21:7 and Leviticus 20:9 that the child that failed to do so and cursed his or her parents was to be stoned to death. Yet this very clear command of God was overturned by the traditions of the elders through the practice known as “Corban.”

Corban allowed a person to dedicate whatever he wanted to the Lord but to continue to use them personally as long as he wanted. A handy way to pretend to be pious without giving up the personal use of what was dedicated. It was also a handy way to restrict the use of items to just yourself. Though the dedicated items had never actually been given to the Lord, the fact that they were now consecrated to God restricted them from being used for the benefit of other people including parents. Corban allowed a person to refuse to honor his parents by supporting them in their old age, yet continue to have the personal benefit of whatever might have been lost in supporting his parents, and still be considered very pious. It would be like if your parents were poor and in need of a car and you had two but wanted to keep them both for yourself. Corban allowed you to dedicate one or both cars to the church which then restricted you from either giving one to them or letting them use it. However, you still physically have the cars and not the church, and you are using them for yourself. What was corban was given in name but not in reality. Or perhaps a more simple example, it would be like listing in your will the things that will be given to the church when you die, but once listed, their usage is restricted only to you.

Notice in verse 12 that this tradition of corban would no longer permit the man to do anything for his father or his mother. Matthew 15:6 is more direct in saying by the practice of corban he was “not to honor his father or his mother.” This is exactly opposite God’s commandment. They had invalidated the word of God by their traditions which they kept handing down to the next generation, and this was only one example for Jesus added, “and you do many things such as that.”

MacArthur gives a good warning about tradition: “Satan has no greater allies than hypocrites who go under the guise of God’s people. And hypocrites have no greater ally than tradition, because tradition can be followed mechanically and thoughtlessly, without conviction, sincerity, or purity of heart. Because traditions are made by men, they can be accomplished by men. They require no faith, no trust, no dependence on God . . . they appeal to the flesh by feeding pride and self-righteousness . . . that is why ritual, ceremony, and other religious traditions are more likely to take worshipers further from God than bring them closer. And the further a person is from God, the more vain his worship becomes.” C.H. Spurgeon challenged his own congregation about traditions saying, “If there were no Sunday morning service at eleven, how many of you would be Christians?”

It is not tradition itself that is bad for tradition can connect us with the generations past who served God faithfully. They can hold much meaning for us as they spur us on to faithfulness. But traditions that lose their meaning, and even more so, traditions that replace the Word of God are not just worthless, they are evil. We must always be careful to think through and know why we do what we do.

The worship of God makes everything we do sacred and so everything else must reflect that worship of Him. The type of music, the number of services, the times when those services start and end, the order of service, and the things we do in a worship service can all vary tremendously if they bring our hearts and minds to focus on the Lord Jesus Christ. But if we are just going through the motions, then no matter how good the music, the prayers and the preaching may be by traditional standards, we have not given reverence to God and our worship is in vain. And if in any way we have taught either verbally or by example the doctrine of men over the Scriptures, then our worship is not just in vain, it is hypocritical and evil. Everything we do here is subject to the Bible, and by God’s grace, anything that does not match the Scriptures will be thrown out or changed to match it.

The Origin of Defilement – Matthew 15:10-20; Mark 7:14-23

Jesus had not given a direct answer to the religious leaders about their question about eating with unwashed hands because they only deserved a strong rebuke for their hypocrisy and disobedience to God’s commands. He now turns His attention to the multitude to make sure they understood His point and why washing before eating was not necessary to be clean before God.

Mark 7:14-16, “And after He called the multitude to Him again, He began saying to them, ‘Listen to Me, all of you, and understand: there is nothing outside the man which going into him can defile him; but the things which proceed out of the man are what defile the man. If any man has ears to hear, let him hear.’”

The traditions of the elders taught that eating with unwashed hands or eating what had been prepared or served with unclean utensils would defile a man. Jesus is plain and direct that the tradition was wrong. It was not what was external that went into a man that defiled him. It was what was internal that came out of a man that defiled him. Matthew is more specific that it is not what enters the mouth that defiles the man, but what proceeds out of the mouth that defiles him (Matthew 17:11).

Mark 7:17, When he had left the crowd and entered the house, His disciples questioned Him about the parable. When Jesus was done talking to the crowd, they went back to the house in which they were staying and the disciples began to question them there. Matthew 7:12 records the disciples’ surprise at the strength of Jesus’ rebuke. “Then the disciples came and said to Him, ‘Do You know that the Pharisees were offended when they heard this statement?’” The disciples were still concerned about what the Pharisees thought and worried that Jesus may have offended them, but Jesus is not concerned about offending those who teach false doctrine as seen in Matthew 7:13-14.

“But He answered and said, ‘Every plant which My heavenly Father did not plant shall be rooted up. Let them alone; they are blind guides of the blind. And if a blind man guides a blind man, both will fall into a pit’” (Matthew 7:13-14). The Pharisees boasted that they were the guides to the spiritually blind of Israel. They claimed the role of showing the ignorant masses the way to God. But the truth was they were actually blind themselves, and a blind man that claims he can see cannot be helped. They were hypocrites as proven by the fact that they were offended by the truth. People who love the light delight in correction so that they may live in the light. Those who love the darkness are offended at any exposure. And hypocrites who love the darkness are destined for destruction, so stay away from them lest they lead you astray too.

Let me give you a word of caution here. Be careful of what you listen to and what you read. There are still many spiritually blind teachers proclaiming to know the way to heaven, but they are leading their followers straight to hell. Some are easier to spot because they

steadfastly reject and oppose the gospel of Christ. This would include the many false religions and vain philosophies. Others are more dangerous for they proclaim a perverted gospel that can sound close to the truth unless you are listing carefully, and you will hear them on Christian TV and radio and find their books in Christian book stores. They pose a grave danger to the unsuspecting. You must be a Berean and check out what you read and what you hear against the Scriptures, and that includes what I say. If it does not match the Bible, first seek to correct the one in error. If that cannot be done or they refuse to listen, then stay away from them for such people always lead others into disaster along with themselves. Don’t you be caught in it with them.

After these strong words Peter asked Jesus for further explanation. Matthew 15:15-20, That is a mark of his growing faith in Jesus. People of growing faith are not afraid of the truth, they just want to understand it more. 15 Peter said to Him, “Explain the parable to us.” 16 Jesus said, “Are you still lacking in understanding also? 17 “Do you not understand that everything that goes into the mouth passes into the stomach, and is eliminated? 18 “But the things that proceed out of the mouth come from the heart, and those defile the man. 19 “For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murders, adulteries, fornications, thefts, false witness, slanders. 20 “These are the things which defile the man; but to eat with unwashed hands does not defile the man.”

The things that Jesus was saying was hard for Peter to understand for He was also very tied into the traditions himself. Even years after Pentecost, Peter still had trouble accepting the idea that all foods were clean if they were eaten with thanksgiving. It took a visitation from an angel in a vision (Acts 10:14) and then years later a rebuke from Paul (Galatians 2:11-12) to get it through his head. Yet we find Peter doing all he can to try to understand.

The Pharisees and scribes were absolutely wrong. It was not what a man ate that defiled him, for anything he eats will eventually pass through his body. It is the things that come out of his mouth, for what he says that will reveal his heart, and sin does not originate outside the body, but in the inner thoughts of the person. Murder, adultery, fornication, theft, false witness, slander and all other sin begin in the heart. Paul writes in Titus 1:15-16, “To the pure, all things are pure; but to those who are defiled and unbelieving, nothing is pure, but both their mind and their conscience are defiled. They profess to know God, but by their deeds they deny Him, being detestable and disobedient, and worthless for any good deed.”

A man is defiled because he has an unwashed heart, not because he has unwashed hands, and the traditions of men can never wash the heart. The heart can only be cleaned through the blood of Jesus Christ by the power of the Holy Spirit. How can that happen? Confess your sins to Him, turn away from those sins to believe in Christ, then ask for His forgiveness for He is faithful to forgive us our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness (1 John 1:9). He can make you into a new creature with a new heart (2 Corinthians 5:17).

Sermon Notes: Traditions verses Truth
Matthew 15:1-20; Mark 7:1-23


The problem is not that Jesus’ teaching is difficult, but that people ____________________what He teaches

Those disciples withdrew from Jesus because they did not want to believe and ____________in Him

They had followed Jesus from Capernaum to Bethsaida and back, yet proved to be _______________

People still tend to pick and choose what they want to _______________about Jesus.

Jesus is either a liar, a lunatic or the ____________God in human flesh as He claims.

It can be very difficult to go against the religious ______________of family and society

The Religious Tradition – Matthew 15:1-3; Mark 7:1-5

The Pharisees wanted to destroy Jesus and were looking for opportunity to ________________Him

Hand washing is minor to us as just a matter of hygiene, but for them it was very _______________

The outward signs in the Law of Moses was to reflect an ___________reality – Deut. 10:12-16

Religious traditions changed Judaism into a _____________and shallow religion that hid sin

Their hand washing tradition was patterned off of Lev. 15:11 & Deut. 21:6 but went far ____________them

Jesus Rebukes Their Traditions – Matthew 15:3-6; Mark 7:6-13

Matthew 15:3 – Jesus questions their ____________________of the commandment of God

Mark 7:6-7, Jesus applies the _________________in Isaiah 29:13 (LXX) directly to them

Their ________of the 5th Commandment for their traditions was a specific example of their general practice

Corban allowed personal usage of what was dedicated but ___________________it from everyone else

The practice of corban ____________permit them to obey the command to honor parents

Traditions can be good if their meaning is _________________, but those that replace the Scriptures are evil

The Origin of Defilement – Matthew 15:10-20; Mark 7:14-23

Jesus turns His attention to the _______________- Mark 7:14-16

Jesus is direct that the traditions are ____________and defilement comes from what is internal, not external

Mark 7:17 – The disciples _____________Jesus when they depart from the crowd and return to the house

Matthew 7:12 – they are surprised and the ______________of Jesus’ rebuke

Matthew 7:13-14 – They were proven ______________who could not be held and were dangerous to others

Be cautious! Be a Berean! – ________________what is taught with the Bible and flee false teachers

Matthew 15:15-20 – ________________asks for further explanation

It was hard for Peter to understand for he was very ___________by the traditions (Acts 10:14; Gal. 2:11-12)

Defilement arises from the _______, not the hands, and is expressed through the mouth (1 Timothy 1:15-15)

Parents, you are responsible to apply God’s Word to your children’s lives. Here is some help.  Young Children – draw a picture about something you hear during the sermon. Explain your picture(s) to your parents at lunch. Older Children – Do one or more of the following: 1) Count how many times “tradition” is mentioned. 2) Discuss with your parents how religious traditions could be helpful or harmful.

Questions to consider in discussing the sermon with others. Why did the disciples in John 6 have such a hard time understanding what Jesus was teaching? Do you understand Jesus use of figurative language about physical things to explain spiritual realities? Explain. Where had these people traveled the day before and on that day in order to find Jesus? Why would they have enough faith to believe He could heal them but not enough faith to believe He was from heaven? Why did they finally depart from Him? Do you see similar responses to Jesus today? Why can it be so hard to go against family and community traditions? Why had the Pharisees and scribes come up from Jerusalem to Galilee? Why were they questioning Jesus about what His disciples eating habits? Was God’ plan for the practice of Judaism to be one of outward rituals or a matter of the heart? Explain. How had the Rabbis changed Judaism into an external and shallow religion. Did that change expose or hide sin? Was that good or bad? What was the basis in the Mosaic Law for hand washing rituals? How had the Rabbis elevated the importance of ritual washing beyond God’s purpose? Why does Jesus apply to these Pharisees and scribes the condemnation given in Isaiah 29:13? What is “corban” and how did its practice cause people to violate the command to honor parents? Can religious traditions be good? Explain. Why is it common for religious traditions to become evil and replace God’s commands? Why does Jesus specifically address the multitudes after rebuking the Pharisees and scribes? What explanation does he give to explain why it was acceptable for his disciples to eat with unwashed hands? Why was Jesus unconcerned that He had offended the Pharisees? How were the Pharisees “blind guides of a blind man?” What proofs were their that they were hypocrites? How can you protect yourself against spiritually blind teachers (false teachers)? Why were the traditions of the elders wrong? What does cause a man to be defiled?

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