“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?" 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."
14 After He called the crowd to Him again, He began saying to them,"Listen to Me, all of you, and understand: 15 there is nothing outside the man which can defile him if it goes into him; but the things which proceed out of the man are what defile the man. 16 [If anyone has ears to hear, let him hear."] (Mark 7:1-16)
In the passage set before us we see Jesus once again confronting false religious leaders for misleading the people. This time they misrepresented the intent of the law of God, which was handed down to Moses. The Pharisees and Scribes added tradition to God’s law, in their words to better safeguard it, but in reality they sidestepped God’s will for their own.
One of their many traditions is mentioned in verse 3, “(For the Pharisees and all the Jews do not eat unless they carefully wash their hands, thus observing the traditions of the elders;” God’s law is of the heart, it is not ritualistic obedience that is done apart from any meaningful inward reality. “For the kingdom of God does not consist of food and drink, but righteousness, peace, and joy in the Holy Spirit.” (Romans 14:17)
The religious leaders that came from Jerusalem and confronted Jesus for not keeping their traditions also had Jesus put to death out of envy. “Then the crowd came up and began to ask Pilate to release a prisoner for them, as was his custom. Pilate answered them, saying, "Do you want me to release for you the King of the Jews?" (For he knew that the chief priests had handed him over because of envy.)” (Matthew 15:8-10) They were great at keeping empty traditions that satisfied their own sense of right and wrong, but was of no value concerning true holiness in the sight of God.
There is the way that men look at the world and then there is God’s point of view. Fallen and sinful humanity see’s things for self serving benefits, which includes justifying things that are intrinsically wrong by God’s law. God is the author of all things and that includes all that is right, and good, and holy. “So then, the law is holy, and the commandment is holy, righteous, and good.” (Romans 7:12) Man is ever looking outward, seeking the prize of self accomplishments, desiring high self esteem, as if he himself were the author and creator of all things. However, such honor is reserved for God alone.
Apart from God, man is unable to look within and understand the true nature of his sinful soul, and for this reason he seeks outward accomplishments as a proof of his inward goodness. But Jesus declared that man on the inside is sinfully corrupt and for this reason He had to sacrifice Himself. He made this distinction between the outward and the inward when He said,
“Now when Jesus had left the crowd and entered the house, his disciples asked him about the parable. 7:18 He said to them, “Are you so foolish? Don’t you understand that whatever goes into a person from outside cannot defile him? 7:19 For it does not enter his heart but his stomach, and then goes out into the sewer.” (This means all foods are clean.) 7:20 He said, “What comes out of a person defiles him. 7:21 For from within, out of the human heart, come evil ideas, sexual immorality,theft, murder, 7:22 adultery, greed, evil, deceit, debauchery, envy, slander,pride, and folly. 7:23 All these evils come from within and defile a person.”
The religious leaders of Jesus’ day directed the people to outward observances of their own making rather than to the corruption that dwelt within their own hearts. God’s first concern is with the state of man on the inside, because it is from their that outward behavior is determined. Also good behavior can still be corrupt when inward motivation is evil.
In this present passage Christ condemned the religious leaders for commending outward obedience when the motive behind such behavior is self righteousness and not a righteousness given by God. In the New Testament there is the conversion of one Pharisee, (Saul who became the apostle Paul), by which there was a complete transformation of his soul, which included how he understood justification in the sight of God.
“In my zeal for God I persecuted the church. According to the righteousness stipulated in the law I was blameless. 3:7 But these assets I have come to regard as liabilities because of Christ. 3:8 More than that, I now regard all things as liabilities compared to the far greater value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things – indeed, I regard them as dung! – that I may gain Christ, 3:9 and be found in him, not because I have my own righteousness derived from the law, but because I have the righteousness that comes by way of Christ’s faithfulness – a righteousness from God that is in fact based on Christ’s faithfulness.” (Philippians 3: 6-13)
Have you had such a transformation in your thinking? Do you seek to justify yourself through the things you do? Are you resting in the life and work of Christ a the means of your justification? Have you come to understand the wickedness of your own sin and have you sought refuge in the substitutionary death of Christ? Or are you living out of a sense of your own goodness?