INTRO: Good morning church.
I would like you to open your bibles to the seventh chapter of the gospel of Mark. Our lesson text for this morning is going to be a consideration of verses 1-13. I’m not going to read through these verses at the start because I would like to read it as we go through our lesson today. I consider this section of scripture to be a very important and even a crucial section of teaching from our Lord Jesus Christ.
I would like to begin by affirming that tradition is not an ugly word. That is the title I have given this lesson. Customs and traditions, from a religious perspective, can indeed be helpful and useful, but tradition must always be tested by the word of God. If the tradition is found to be a violation of God’s word, then it must be put aside.
There is an interesting phenomenon that occurs in the religious world today. The word of God seems to be tested by tradition. Just the opposite of what needs to happen. It then becomes our task to ask ourselves, “What is tradition, and what is Biblical?” “What must be retained and what must be cast aside?”
In the text before us this morning there is an incident, a situation, which brings tradition versus the word of God into view. One of the interesting things about this particular text, this incident is, it is an encounter with the Pharisees and scribes who were not focusing on the word of God but instead on the tradition of the elders. What we have before us then is the Scribes and Pharisees coming to Jesus to make a complaint.
I. THE COMPLAINT OF THE SCRIBES AND PHARISEES – Let’s start with their complaint.
A. The first thing we learn in verse one is that these scribes & Pharisees were from Jerusalem – Mark 7:1 - “Then the Pharisees and some of the scribes came together to Him, having come from Jerusalem.”
1. If we look at another place in Mark’s gospel, we find this language. 3:22 - “And the scribes who came down from Jerusalem said, "He has Beelzebub,'' and, "By the ruler of the demons He casts out demons.''” The accusation that is brought to Jesus on that occasion is from scribes that come from Jerusalem. The same place as in Mark chapter 7.
2. That leads me to conclude that apparently, the “opposition” has become centered in Jerusalem.
B. The next thing we learn about them is in verse 2, let me read that – Mark 7:2 – “Now when they saw some of His disciples eat bread with defiled, that is, with unwashed hands, they found fault.” The second thing I want us to observe is, these are fault finders. You know folks, that is one thing it is so easy for us to do, become fault finders. It is so easy to find fault, … with others that is. It is a negative and sometimes hurtful disposition. This is one of the unpleasant aspects described about these particular people, they are fault finders.
1. The issue here by the way isn’t a matter of personal hygiene. They were not concerned about the issue of germs on the hands; they were concerned with ritual or ceremony.
2. In the rabbinic tradition there were rules given about the washing of hands, and it had nothing whatsoever to do with personal hygiene. Remember these are not regulations set down in the Law of Moses. Keep that in mind. We are not talking about God’s revealed word. We are talking about rabbinic tradition.
C. In verses 3 and 4 Mark gives his readers an explanation - 7:3,4 – “3. For the Pharisees and all the Jews do not eat unless they wash their hands in a special way, holding the tradition of the elders. 4. When they come from the marketplace, they do not eat unless they wash. And there are many other things which they have received and hold, like the washing of cups, pitchers, copper vessels, and couches.”
1. Some have said that Mark was writing with Roman readers in mind. If that is the case, it is a possible reason why he stops here and explains what is going on. Why are these people complaining that the disciples are eating with unwashed hands? He goes on to explain, it was a “holding to the tradition of the elders”
2. The belief was that things bought or touched in the markets might have come in contact with “unclean” people, and therefore were considered to be unclean. You may be familiar with that concept. They may have been touched by a person that was unclean ... Gentiles, for example. A Gentile may have picked up these items and laid them back down making them unclean. The belief involved them not knowing what was clean and what was unclean, ceremonially speaking. The idea they developed, was when you got through at the market you went home and you went through these ritual washings. Not to take care of germs, although that would be a good reason, but so that you and the items were ceremonially clean. To remove ceremonial defilement because some Gentile may have touched it.
D. The Pharisees & scribes arrive and make their complaint to Jesus, criticizing, finding fault.
1. Interestingly, they are not directly finding fault with Jesus on this occasion. The fault they find is with His disciples, yet we can understand that this is just an oblique way of criticizing Jesus. Your disciples, look, they are not observing the tradition of the elders! What is the matter with your teaching? That of course is the implication.
2. You will notice that there is not a single suggestion that there is a violation of the revealed word of God. Their complaint had nothing to do with a violation of the Law of Moses. Not a thing!
3. But it had everything to do, with “the tradition of the elders”. These oral traditions had been passed down for centuries, and make up what is now considered to be the Talmud. Filled with opinions and traditions of rabbis of hundreds of years past. What happens with these traditions is that they are laying aside the word of God in favor of tradition.
II. HOW JESUS RESPONDED – How does Jesus respond?
A. First, Jesus quoted Isaiah. Jesus says in Mark 7:6 - “He answered and 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.” Now that is a part of Isaiah 29:13. Let’s look and keep your finger at Mark chapter 7 while you turn with me to Isaiah 29:13 - “Therefore the Lord said: "Inasmuch as these people draw near to Me with their mouths and honor Me with their lips, but have removed their hearts far from Me, and their fear toward Me is taught by the commandment of men,”
1. What is the situation? What is the problem that Isaiah is addressing? I want to note a couple of things here.
2. Isaiah is addressing people who are ostensibly religious people. He is also addressing people whose religion consists of ritual and precepts that are of human origin. He is not addressing people who are honoring God honestly with their hearts and their lives. They are honoring God with their lips, but their hearts are far from God and their hearts are given to this man-made religion for they are “taught by the commandment of men”. Where does that leave them? They are the adherents of a spurious faith.
3. Folks, listen, this is exactly the situation of the scribes and the Pharisees in Jesus day. They are religious, no one denies that. But their religion consisted of rituals and beliefs rooted in the traditions which had been passed down through the generations... not rooted in the law of God. So here Jesus makes an application of the passage in Isaiah.
B. Read with me in Mark 7:7 – “And in vain they worship Me, teaching as doctrines the commandments of men.'” These people had the same problem as the people of Isaiah’s day. I wonder, does that still happen today?
1. Jesus takes a passage from Isaiah and because of who Jesus is, He applies that passage to the situation that exists in His time. Jesus says that the religion that is being taught by the scribes and Pharisees is “vain” religion. It is empty and it is meaningless.
2. When tradition is elevated to the position of law, when precepts of human origin, become the basis for religion, the religion is vain.
3. One can be honest and sincere in the pursuit of religion ... and be as wrong as were the scribes and Pharisees.
C. Let us look now at Mark 7:8-9 - “For laying aside the commandment of God, you hold the tradition of men the washing of pitchers and cups, and many other such things you do. And He said to them, All too well you reject the commandment of God, that you may keep your tradition.”
1. Look at the words “For laying aside the commandment of God … All too well you reject the commandment of God”. Wait a minute. These are religious people. They have made their religion their life’s work. Yes, they are and yes, they have. As do many, many people in the world today. They have a religious language, they look religious, and they go through religious activities and rituals.
2. Most of them would probably declare “we have not laid aside the commandments of God”. Certainly the Pharisees and scribes would!
3. The denial of the laying aside of the commandments of God, however, cannot change the facts. When we wander away from, when we alter, when we minimize in any way God’s revealed word… we are laying it aside. In the religious activities of our world today, though people are religious, and very likely sincere, and faithful, they can be just as wrong as the scribes and Pharisees. You can find in the literature of these religious groups all sorts of things written about regulation and traditions and practices and beliefs, and you might even find some scripture references, but that does not make them right when they have abandoned the scripture in favor of these other things.
D. Next Jesus carefully gives them a contemporary illustration of their error in Mark 7:10-13 – He starts out and reminds them what the Law of Moses says. “"For Moses said, `Honor your father and your mother'; and, `He who curses father or mother, let him be put to death.' "But you say, `If a man says to his father or mother, "Whatever profit you might have received from me is Corban (that is, dedicated to the temple)''; "and you no longer let him do anything for his father or his mother, "making the word of God of no effect through your tradition which you have handed down. And many such things you do.''”
1. Jesus first cites the law of Moses in part at - Exodus 20:12 & at Leviticus 20:9
2. The very people to whom He quoted these things could well have said, should have said, “Amen”
3. But you see, rabbinic tradition had given them a “loophole” in the Law of Moses. Now I need to say this, the loophole is not there as far as scripture is concerned. You can’t find it there, but if you elevate tradition to the level of law, then you can use it for your loophole.
4. The loophole is in the word “Corban”. The word means, generally speaking, a gift devoted to God ... but still in one’s possession ... still under one’s control and use, until it is actually placed into the “collection plate” so to speak. Further, I can say it is given, it is Corban, a gift to God and I can keep it and use it until I die.
5. Here then is the situation. I have needy parents, they are not able to take care of themselves and they come to me and say, “Son, we need your help, we need for you to pay our rent.” I reply, “Oh, well the money I would use to pay your rent I have called Corban, I have devoted it to God you see, and because I have devoted it to God I can’t give it to you.”
6. This is what they were doing to be free of parental obligations! I’m remembering I Timothy 5:8 – “But if anyone does not provide for his own, and especially for those of his household, he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever.” That is the law of God!
7. Look though at this tradition of the rabbis, this well-known practice among the religious Jewish leaders. It was how they got around keeping the law of God. “By our traditions, because our traditions are law.” Their traditions have made the “word of God of none effect”
8. Jesus made it clear that this “tradition” violated the word of God. And He declares that this tradition was only one of “many such things”.
E. Clearly, there is a warning here for all time, and I believe it is a crucial lesson for our time and place.
1. We have in our community and in our country; numerous religious groups of people whom I believe are very sincere.
2. They are governed in their religion by documents of human origin which teach and illustrate both beliefs and practices which are not authorized in God’s word. Yet the words in these documents are sincere.
3. In many church buildings we see so many beautiful things. Wonderful artwork. Objects that are so majestic and awe inspiring. We see people going into those buildings, sitting with heads bowed and praying. We realize that these are sincere people. Those folks have given much of their lives, and dedicated their time, and a portion of their wealth, be it great or meager. I would never question their sincerity for a moment. But you see, sincerity isn’t enough before God.
4. When by our traditions we have laid aside the word of God, our religion, no matter how sincere, has become vain. It has become empty. Such religion is vain because it rests on the traditions and the commandments of men, and not in God’s Word.
5. That said, my real concern today is not with those folks, but with you and me. That we, you and I, always honor the word of God, carefully. Obeying it in love, and with all joy, because it is the word of God, the word of our Father.
III. THEIR TEACHING – What did these religious leaders expect?
A. Let me ask this question. How did the religious leaders expect the disciples to know to wash their hands? Because that washing was what was taught. What is the Biblical word to describe teaching, or that which is taught? Doctrine.
1. The Jewish doctrine, or what was taught, included their traditions.
2. How do we teach? Well, we teach by holding classes, by preaching, by writing articles and tracts, and by our actions, the things that we do. Let me illustrate, how do very young children learn? One way is by observation. The way we behave in front of those youngsters teaches them things. We show them our doctrine.
3. I’m quite certain that by using the term “doctrine” I have made somebody a bit uncomfortable. The word “doctrine” has become an unpleasant word even among some Christians. Today the word is defined as a specific or particular principle or policy purported or advocated by a particular government or religion. In the times of the New Testament, the word had a much more generic sense, and its meaning is simple to understand, it is instruction, teaching, or that which is taught. We teach all the time by words and actions.
B. Another question; What do we teach? The religious leaders included in their teaching things which had developed as tradition. These things came from the mind of man, not from God. Their error was they taught the commandments of men.
1. Does that mean tradition is bad or wrong? Not at all, as long as it is not in conflict with the Word of God.
a. Let me give you an example. We have for many years when conducting communion, had some of the men pass the bread and the fruit of the vine to the congregation in serving plates. That was our tradition and it is the same in many congregations.
b. Along came COVID and we desired to limit close contact between the members to decrease the likelihood of disease spread. We switched to prepackaged bread and grape juice which people individually picked up before service.
c. Did that new tradition conflict with the word of God? No. We still provide the emblems for each person who wishes to partake. Scripture does not specify how they are provided only that we are to partake.
2. We made the necessary change in how we do things as an expediency to be able to continue to do what scripture tells us. What if there were supply issues and grape juice became impossible to find around here so we deided to provide apple juice as an alternative? Would that violate God’s word? Yes. Because the Bible specifically says to use the fruit of the vine.
3. Traditions are really quite useful. They help us remember what needs to be done. They also provide a framework to help us do things decently and in order.
I am concerned, and we all should be, that we do not do anything to establish traditions which we then elevate to the position of law. That we would not do anything, which by the doing would violate the word of God. Do I think we have done that in this congregation? Generally speaking, I do not believe we have. Yet on the other hand if you talk to people individually and you listen to the expressions of their deep seated opinions, you wonder.
To these things that Jesus has said here you might say, “You know, great. Wonderful history lesson, Jewish history, we are glad we talked about that this morning, what is next?” Folks, listen, what Jesus said here has a great application for our present time and place. For what we see, even within the Lord’s Church, is a gradual abandoning of the clearly defined word of God in favor of feelings and opinions. No matter how well meaning or well sounding those feelings and opinions may be, if they are contrary to God’s word, they will result in a religion that is vain.
In congregations of the churches of Christ we are to teach the Bible and not a “church of Christ doctrine”. Yet things creep in and we need to be on guard, study the word and be prepared, perhaps even against resistance and hard feelings, to root out error. Any teaching which is more important than the unity of the body and promotes division, is nothing less then a doctrine of men rather than the gospel. It is a tradition of men that is loved and preferred more than a loving relationship with one another. Too often what we have become comfortable with becomes our doctrine, rather than “thus saith the Lord.”
I suggest that this is one of the critically important lessons of Jesus for our time and place. The drift away from what scripture authorizes in favor of feelings and opinions, no matter how well meaning, is a very present reality. What we may find written in the revealed word may not be what we find practiced out in the religious world. What we find written in the Bible, is the word of God and we must never be found laying it aside in favor of some tradition.
We learn from God’s word in the New Testament how to be saved. We need to hear the word; believe in Jesus; repent of our sins; we must confess our belief that Jesus is the Son of God; and be baptized for the remission of our sins… If we follow these steps, the Lord adds us to His church.
Perhaps there is someone in the assembly today with the need to be buried with Christ in baptism. If you have faith like Rahab we urge you to step out, come forward and be baptized. If anyone that need or desires the prayers of faithful Christians on their behalf, we encourage them to come forward while we stand and sing.
Reference Sermon by: Cecil A. Hutson
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