The beginning of Mark 7 contrasts with the ends of Mark 6. In chapter 6, the popularity of Jesus is at an all-time high, as he feeds the five thousand, walks on water, and heals the sick. Jesus was beloved by the common people. He was despised by the religious leaders.
Mark 7:1 reads: “Now when the Pharisees gathered to him, with some of the scribes who had come from Jerusalem…” “Pharisees means “separated ones.” The Jews departed themselves from non-Jews. Pharisees separated themselves from fellow-Jews who did not live in strict adherence to the Law of Moses and the religious traditions. “Scribes” were a subgroup of the Pharisees. These scholars were teachers of the law. They are sometimes called “lawyers.”
A delegation of Pharisees and scribes were sent from Jerusalem to investigate the ministry of Jesus. The sought to catch Jesus saying or doing something to use against him.
Verse 2 says: “they saw that some of his disciples ate with hands that were defiled, that is unwashed.” “Disciples” may refer to the Twelve Apostles. Or it may be the larger band of followers of Jesus. Either way, the representatives of the religious establishment spied identifiable disciples of Jesus eating with defiled or unwashed hands.
This may seem to be a trivial matter. But it was actually a big deal. Their unwashed hands were not about personal hygiene. It was about devotion to God. Verses 3-4 record a parenthetical explanation of what was a stake: “(For the Pharisees and all the Jews do not eat unless they watch 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.””
In Exodus 30:9 and Exodus 40:12, Moses commanded the priests to wash before offering sacrifices. By the time of Jesus, the Pharisees made this a common practice. It became the custom not to eat without a rigorous process of ritual hand washing. They did this, “holding to the tradition of the elders.” Moses recorded the law of God for Israel in the Old Testament. Over the centuries, oral customs were handed down from one generation to the next.
These traditions were “fence laws.” The commandments of God were the law. The tradition of the elders built fences around the law to enforce it. If you did not break the tradition, you would not trespass the law.
Over time, these fence laws were given authority as the word of God. A prime example was the ritual of hand washing. To hold to the tradition of the elders, people did not eat without washing their hands properly. When they went to the marketplace, they may inadvertently have contact with something or someone unclean. So, upon returning from the market, they washed. They even meticulously washed their cups, pots, copper vessels, and dining couches.
Verse 5 says, “And when the Pharisees and the scribes asked him, ‘Why do your disciples not walk according to the traditions of the elders, but eat with defiled hands?'” The Pharisees and scribes were offended by the disciples eating without washing their hands properly. But they did not confront the disciples. They brought their complaint to Jesus.
This is the nature of true discipleship. The religious leaders understood that if the disciples did not wash their hands properly, it was an indictment against Jesus. The disciples were not living their truth. They were following Jesus. What they did was a reflection on Jesus. So the Pharisees and scribed asked Jesus, “Why do your disciples not walk according to to the tradition of the elders, but eat with defiled hands?”
Notice the wording of this question. Their primary concern was not that the disciples ate with defiled hands. it was that they did not walk according to the tradition of the elders. Unwashed hands raised a larger issue of religious nonconformity.
- If Jesus permitted the disciples to eat with unwashed hands, what other fence laws did he permit them to break?
- Was this an isolated incident?
- Or did Jesus and the disciples reject the tradition of the elders?
Mark 7:6-23 records Jesus’ response to the Pharisees and scribes. In these verses, Jesus makes two points. In verse 6-13, Jesus makes a point about biblical authority. In verses 14-23, Jesu makes a point about spiritual purity. In this message, I want to focus on what Jesus said to the religious leaders in verses 6-13.
Jesus responded to their question. But he did not answer it. There was no defense of the disciples. Instead, Jesus prosecuted the Pharisees and scribes. Without addressing defiled hands, Jesus condemns the religious leaders for being traded by tradition.
For the record, Jesus was not against tradition. “Tradition” means “that which is handed down.” The message of the gospel is handed down. It is what Paul means in 1 Corinthians 15:3: “For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received. It is what Jude 3 means one it bids us to “contend for the faith that was once for all delivered to the saints.”
Jesus was not against tradition. He was against empty tradition, where there was ritual without reality. And Jesus was against tradition that exalted itself above the word of God. This is what Jesus confronts and condemns in our text. It is a critical warning: Before of ritual without reality. J.C. Ryle wrote: “This passage contains a humbling picture of what nature is capable of doing in religion. It is one of these scriptures which ought to be frequently and diligently studied by all who desire the prosperity of the church of Christ.”
Are you living by truth or by tradition?
Verses 6-7 read: “And he said to them, ‘Well did Isaiah prophesy of you hypocrites, as it is written, ‘This people honor me with their lips, but their heart is far from me; in vain do they worship me, teaching as doctrine the commandments of men.'”
The Pharisees and scribes confronted Jesus with the tradition of the elders. Jesus confronted them with the word of God, quoting from the prophesy of Isaiah. What Isaiah said to and about his contemporaries applied to the religious leaders standing before Jesu seven centuries later, as if Isaiah was talking to them. Jesus said Isaiah prophesied “well” about them. Quoting Isaiah, Jesus condemns the Pharisees and scribes in his own terms, calling them “hypocrites.”
What is a hypocrite? We define a hypocrite as a person who says one thing and does another. There is another term for that: a human being. We are sinful people who live in a fallen world. As a result, there are times what we say does not match what we do, even with the best of intentions. But that is not how Jesus used the term.
The word “hypocrites” translates the Greek term for “actor.” The actor would done a mask, take the stage, and play a role. A hypocrite was a professional actor. The term is only used in the Synoptic Gospels, fourteen times in Matthew, three times in Luke, and only here in Mark. It is only used by Jesus. Jesus never called tax collectors, prostitutes, or notorious sinners hypocrites. He called the religious leaders hypocrites. The people considered the scribes and Pharisees the most righteous men in the law. Jesus considered them play-actors, pretending to be something before others they knew they were not before God.
Quoting Isaiah 29:13, Jesus said, “This people honors me with their lips, but their heart is far from me; in vain they worship me, teaching as doctrine the commandments of men.”
This is Jesus’ twofold definition of religious hypocrisy. First, there is superficial worship. Hypocrites say the right things to and about God. But the words of their mouths do not reflect the state of their hearts. They honor the Lord with their lips, but their hearts are far from him. Second, there is empty worship. Hypocritical worship is in vain. It is empty, worthless, meaningless, because they teach as doctrines the commandments of men.
In verse 8, Jesu says, “You leave the commandment of God and hold to the tradition of men.” Jesus calls the word of God the commandment of God. The commandment of God in verse 8 responds to the commandments of men in verse 7. In verse 7, the commandments of men is plural. IN verse 8, the commandment of God is singular.
This is the unity of scripture. the Bible contains sixty-six books, with more than forty authors, written over fifteen hundred years. Yet it is not a library. the Bible is one book with one authority with one message (2 Timothy 3:16). But hypocrites leave the commandment of God and hold to the tradition of men. Note the graphic language. They “leave the lord of God. They “hold to” the tradition of men. Hypocrites ultimately trust man more than they trust God.
In verses 6-8, Jesus calls the religious leaders hypocrites for replacing truth with tradition. In verses 9-13, Jesus gives evidence to prove his case.
Verse 9 reads, “And he said to them, ‘You have a fine way of rejecting the commandment of God in order to establish your tradition.'” This is biting sarcasm. In verse 8, he says they leave the commandment of God. In verse 9, he says the reject the commandment of God. In verse 8, Jesus calls it the tradition of men. In verse 9, Jesus calls it “your tradition.”
The past may explain you, but it does not excuse you. This is not just the tradition of the elders. The religious leaders rejected the word of God for their own tradition. Hypocrites are idolators who worship themselves. They establish their tradition and call it truth. Then they pretend to worship, when in reality they are just doing their own thing.
This is the sad indictment against many professing Christians today. It is like the man who walked a country road. Passing by a barn, he saw arrows in the bullseye of targets all around the barn. He asked the farmer how he became such a good shot. The farmer said, “Easy. I shoot an arrow into the barn. Then I paint the target around it.” This is how so many so-called believers reject the Bible, forsake the church, celebrate worldliness, sin without blushing, and live their truth. They call themselves Christians. Jesus calls them hypocrites.
Verse 10 reads: “For Moses said, ‘Honor your father and your mother’; and, ‘Whoever reviles father or mother must surely die.'” Again, Jesu makes his case by going directly to scripture. He gives a positive and negative quote from the Law of Moses that ever Jew regarded as a binding command of God. Exodus 20:12 says, “Honor your father and your mother, that your days may be long in the land that the Lord your God is giving you.” Exodus 21:17 says, “Whoever curses his father or mother shall be put to death.”
In verses 11-12, Jesus says, “But you say, ‘If a man tells his father or 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.”
Note the stark contrast. Verse 10 begins: “For Moses said…” Verse 11 begins: “But you say…” The command to honor your parents prescribed more than respect. It required obedience in your and support in adulthood. Adult children were the primary social security program for old parents. But if a parent came to a son with a need, he was permitted to claim Corban. Mark explains the word means “given to God.”
It was a religious way of filing bankruptcy. You claimed the money your parents needed was given to God. But you did not give it to God. You only vowed to give it. The vow consecrated it. You could not give it to your parents. But you could use it for yourself and give it to God later, or not. Thus, the religious leaders conspired with selfish people to find a loophole that enabled them to dishonor their parents in the name of God!
Verse 13 states the end result of this hypocrisy: “thus making void the word of God by your tradition that you have handed down.” In verse 10, Jesu attributes the command to honor your parents to Moses. In verse 13, Jesus calls it the word of God. This is the miracle of divine inspiration. Moses wrote the Ten Commandments. Yet Moses did not write the Ten Commandments. God wrote the Ten Commandments. The Bible is the word of God. But Jesus says the word of God is made void by traditions that are handed down.
Note the progression of the text. Verse 8 says they leave the word of God. Verse 9 says they reject the word of God. Verse 13 says they “make void” the word of God. It is the picture of canceling a contract. The religious leaders had cancelled their subscription to the word of God so they could selectively practice religious on their own terms. With these words, Jesus concludes his response to the Pharisees and scribes. Verses 14-23 address the people. The Pharisees and scribes say nothing in return to Jesus. They knew Jesus had rightly diagnosed their religious hypocrisy.
Are you a hypocrite? A hypocrite is considered one of the worst things you can be. People say, “I may be a thief. But at least I’m not phony, “as if there is virtue in being honest thief.
Some refuse to go to church because of hypocrites. This is weird and warped logic. You are willing to risk spending eternity in hell with all the hypocrites, because you do not want to spend Sunday mornings in church with some hypocrites. If a hypocrite is standing between you and the Lord, that hypocrite is closer to the Lord than you are!
The Bible problem is that none of us are called to expose the hypocrisy of others. We have a greater responsibility of gaurding our own hearts from hypocrisy.
- Are you a hypocrite?
- Are you living by the truth of God or the tradition of men?
- Are you trapped by tradition?
Here are three principles to embrace that will set you free from the trap of tradition:
- The word of God is greater than the tradition of man.
- Relationship is greater than religion.
- Jesus is greater than everything!
I have bad news and good news. The bad news is that there are hypocrites in the church. The good news is that Jesus is not a hypocrite. Jesus is real! Jesus Christ is the Son of God. Jesus lived a righteous life. Jesus died on the cross to pay for our sins. Jesus rose from the dead to give us new life. Jesus is able to set you free from sin, guilt, shame, fear, death, hell, and the grave.
In Matthew 23:4, Jesus condemns the scribes and Pharisees, because, “They tie up heavy burdens, hard to bare, and lay them on people’s shoulders, but they themselves are not willing to move them with their finger.” But the cross of Jesus brought the ceremonial law to an end. In Matthew 11:28-30, Jesus says, “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for y our souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”