Mark records in Chapter 7 a collision of polar-opposite perspectives that we in Gospel ministry continue to navigate today. “Then came together unto him the Pharisees, and certain of the scribes, which came from Jerusalem. And when they saw some of his disciples eat bread with defiled, that is to say, with unwashen, hands, they found fault. For the Pharisees, and all the Jews, except they wash their hands oft, eat not, holding the tradition of the elders.”
The visit of the scribes and Pharisees to begin this chapter was evidently an official inquiry from the Sanhedrin, the Jewish religious ruling council. Jesus had violated the Sabbath traditions (2:15–28; 3:22–30), and now they were watching Him closely to see what else He might do. In this case, it was a violation of their tradition about the ceremonial washing of hands. This ritual had nothing to do with hygiene; it was purely ceremonial to get rid of whatever “defilement” the Jews accidentally picked up from the Gentiles or Samaritans.
Over the next three weeks, we are going to study in Mark 7 on how Christ longs to cleanse us in a manner that is much less superficial and much more substantial. We begin with our tendency, like the Pharisees, to get caught up in temporal values and priorities over the bigger, eternal corruption in each of us that needs to be addressed.
In a recent mission trip, it was again personally refining and recalibrating to strip away all of my western issues and values and just articulate the pure, unadulterated Gospel to a group of people who would not even “get” much of what passes as teaching and preaching in the United States. I am discovering, more intensely than ever before, that it is possible for me and you to set up personal standards/preferences that won’t even allow Jesus to enter our personal space and that of everyone we influence! How do we avoid making this egregious mistake in not only our individual walk but also our ministry context?
Here are two takeaways from this chapter that help us be purged philosophical and practically from temporal values:
Allow Jesus to mark your life with authenticated worship.
Mk 7:6-8 “He answered and said unto them, Well hath Esaias prophesied of you hypocrites, as it is written, This people honoureth me with their lips, but their heart is far from me. Howbeit in vain do they worship me, teaching for doctrines the commandments of men. For laying aside the commandment of God, ye hold the tradition of men, as the washing of pots and cups: and many other such like things ye do.”
Jesus quoted Isaiah 29:13 and applied Isaiah’s description of his contemporaries to His questioners whom He called hypocrites (occurring only here in Mark). Their hypocritical worship of God was in vain because like the Jews of Isaiah’s day they were teaching the rules of men as authoritative (divine) teachings. Jesus charged them with abandoning the commands of God and instead adhering to the traditions of men. He redefined their oral tradition, emphasizing its human origin, and He directly rejected its authority.
Ultimately an emphasis upon externals over internals is a proud, power-play for worship! (“Look at how clean we are, how clean I think you are, how clean you think I am!”). Jesus comes to clean us from the inside out NOT TO GET WORSHIP FOR OURSELVES but TO GIVE GREATER WORSHIP TO GOD WHO ALONE CAN “TRY THE HEART!” To truly worship God who intimately knows our heart better than we ourselves requires us to abandon the “clean up your act” from the outside-in approach. We must start with cleansing in the heart-to start ANYWHERE ELSE is to offer hypocritical worship before God!
To the woman at the well with all kinds of superficial issues as a Samaritan, Christ precisely declares, “But the hour cometh, and now is, when the true worshippers shall worship the Father in spirit and in truth: for the Father seeketh such to worship him. God is a Spirit: and they that worship him must worship him in spirit and in truth” (Jn. 4:23-24). In other words, authentic worship that pleases God has nothing to do with surface issues!
One writer recently shared this insightful interaction that captures what is at stake in our worship:
Random Church goer: “I really didn’t like the worship today.”
Pastor: “It’s ok, we weren’t worshiping you.”
Allow Jesus to mark your life with honest responsibility.
Mk 7:9-13 “And he said unto them, Full well ye reject the commandment of God, that ye may keep your own tradition. For Moses said, Honour thy father and thy mother; and, Whoso curseth father or mother, let him die the death: But ye say, If a man shall say to his father or mother, It is Corban, that is to say, a gift, by whatsoever thou mightest be profited by me; he shall be free. And ye suffer him no more to do ought for his father or his mother; Making the word of God of none effect through your tradition, which ye have delivered: and many such like things do ye.”
Jesus singled out an example of how tradition had made void the law of God. One of the Ten Commandments demanded that children honor their parents (which included caring for them in their need). The death penalty was decreed for anyone who dishonored their father or mother. What specific issues is Christ referring to here in these verses? Suppose that certain Jewish parents were in great need. Their son had money to care for them, but didn’t want to do it. All he had to do was say “Corban,” implying that his money was dedicated to God or the temple. This relieved him of any further responsibility to support his parents. He might keep the money indefinitely and use it in business. This tradition of saying “Corban,” the Lord treats not only as a wrong done to the parents, but as a rebellious act against the express commandment of God.
When you make your life all about externals, you become SUPERFICIAL toward that which God takes very SERIOUSLY! The reason we tend to be so defensive and hypersensitive toward those who challenge our traditions is because they allow us to feel good about not dealing with heart-level issues between us and others and us and God! Much of the impurities in us are the result of shirking our heart-level responsibilities. Stop sidestepping the core issues of core faith and obedience—that’s where the cleansing power of Jesus must start its work!
E. Stanley Jones, in his evaluation of this section of Scripture, concluded, “They came all the way from Jerusalem to meet Him, and their life attitudes were so negative and faultfinding that all they saw was unwashed hands. They couldn’t see the greatest movement of redemption that had ever touched our planet—a movement that was cleansing the minds and souls and bodies of men.… Their big eyes were opened wide to the little and marginal, and blind to the big. So history forgets them, the negative—forgets them except as a background for this impact of the positive Christ. They left a criticism; He left a conversion. They picked flaws, He picked followers.“