Clean And Unclean
Key Verse 7:15
“Nothing outside a man can make him ‘unclean’ by going into him. Rather, it is what comes out of a man that makes him ‘unclean.’”
Today’s story is not so easy to understand. I want you to focus and follow the passage when we read it. I also want you to remember that in all these stories, the Lord urges us to put our faith in him and in him alone. Today we want to think about the difference between religious customs and rituals and faith.
I’m going to read verses 1,2 & 5 while you follow me in your Bibles. “The Pharisees and some of the teachers of the law who had come from Jerusalem gathered around Jesus and saw some of his disciples eating food with hands that were ‘unclean,’ that is, unwashed.” “So the Pharisees and teachers of the law asked Jesus, ‘Why don’t your disciples live according to the tradition of the elders instead of eating their food with ‘unclean’ hands?’” It’s not so easy for us to understand what their gripe was. For us, this kind of criticism seems ridiculous. Why fixate on whether one’s hands are washed before a meal or not? Maybe for sanitary purposes, but certainly its not an issue of breaking religious laws. But to the Jew, to eat with unwashed hands was considered a serious offense against God and his laws. Laws about to what was “clean” and what was “unclean” were regarded as holy laws that made a man clean or unclean in the sight of God. These religious people kept such laws as a matter of life or death. A Pharisees would rather die than to break one of these “clean” and “unclean” laws. When the Romans (who were considered Gentiles and “unclean” By nature) influenced their culture, some of them died rather than break one of these laws. They wanted to uphold what God had commanded them regarding what was “clean” and “unclean” in the Bible. We cannot simply dismiss these religious people and their laws and their criticisms of Jesus’ disciples as nonsense.
Four hundred years— they had been the guardians of the laws of God. During those four hundred years until the coming of Jesus, they were the heroes who defended the laws of God in the Bible against pagan occupation. The question then is, were they right in criticizing Jesus and his disciples for eating with “unclean” or unwashed hands? What do you think? The fact is it would be hard to tell, if Jesus did not explain how and why they were wrong. And he did. Joshua— please read verses 6-7. “He replied, ‘Isaiah was right when he prophesied about you hypocrites; as it is written: “These people honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me. They worship me in vain; their teachings are but rules taught by men.”’” There was a time when they kept the faith. But Jesus tells them that now they were no longer the men of faith God wanted them to be. What did he mean by “These people honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me”? He meant that they honored God only with their mouths— words— words— nothing but words. They attended religious services, as a duty, by habit. But Jesus exposed what’s in their hearts. He said “their hearts are far from [God].” Whatever they did for God— especially their worship was fake.
What is worship? Worship is not an activity. Worship is love— loving God! And love is worship! Worship is not just an action of worship. It is an expression of love to God. You have to love God to worship him. You have to appear before God with a heart that loves God. And not just Sundays— those who love God worship God all day every day. But Jesus read their hearts, he exposed their fakeness. They didn’t really love God. They went through the motion of worship with their hands and feet and mouth and bodies, but their hearts— Jesus says— were far away from God. So Jesus tells them, “They worship me in vain.” It is meaningless— worthless worship— I will not accept it, the Lord might say. God wants us to love him. If worship is not founded on loving God, do you know what happens? It promotes self righteousness and pride. They began to take pride in fulfilling the necessary rituals and went as far as justifying themselves before God. Something else happens too. Because they did not love God, they stopped understanding his words— they knew the Bible and what the Bible commands, but they didn’t know why God had given those commands in the first place. They began to think that what made them holy and righteous before God was all these command being obeyed. No wonder then— now as they stood accusing Jesus and his disciples of breaking the law, it made them feel superior and righteous and justified in criticizing and condemning those who did not.
Jesus explains to them what went wrong along the way. Please read verse 8 & 13. “You have let go of the commands of God and are holding on to the traditions of men.” “Thus you nullify the word of God by your tradition that you have handed down. And you do many things like that.” They criticized his disciples for eating with “unclean” hands. But Jesus tells them that their offense against God is by far greater. He accuses them that they were no longer living according to the true spirit of the word of God— and turning God’s commands into some kind of custom or tradition. So, what else happened when they no longer understood the heart of God’s commands in the Bible? They were the teachers of the people. But they no longer taught the word of God which grows faith in people’s hearts — that’s what a true bible teacher does— he or she plants faith in God in peoples hearts— But instead they were teaching Jewish church traditions— Do this— don’t do that— that does nothing but grow pride and self righteousness in people’s hearts when they follow these laws. And if they cannot follow these laws, what they were teaching grows self condemnation in people’s hearts. Those who end up following these laws become proud, and feel a sense of superiority over others who do not, and criticize them.
In verses 9-12 Jesus gave them an example of the danger of putting tradition above the word of God. So “… you nullify the word of God by your tradition ….” They were stifling… choking….. the word of God and its loveliness and promoting nothing but useless traditions. Then they had begun to believe that these meaningless customs and traditions were themselves the word of God! They became like churches today, that follow certain customs and rituals and thinking that this is Christianity when Christianity is all about faith in Jesus and not in doing things. — That is not Christianity at all. Sadly when they lost the word of God and its meaning, they also lost God. This was their condition when they met Jesus; criticizing him and his disciples. They couldn’t recognize God in Jesus. How often does this happen? When we get stuck on the do and the don’ts of what we or others ought to do or not to do, we miss seeing Jesus all together!
How was Jesus different from all that they had become? While they lived by their own traditions and taught the customs and traditions of the Jewish church, Jesus on the other hand — was teaching something else all together— He taught that people ought to live by faith in God. While they stressed the importance of tradition— Jesus stressed the importance of faith— and of love and hope and of seeking God and his kingdom. Jesus was not interested in teaching his disciples traditions— Jesus understood that people want to know God and how to make things right with God. Jesus understood that people were longing to be delivered from the burdens of their own guilt and shame, and the overpowering sins that plagues them. They wanted God’s forgiveness for their souls— not how to dress or walk or wash or how many times to pray. Jesus came to make the burdens of our hearts lighter not heavier. Most importantly, Jesus taught people to come to him by faith, because all the teachings and laws of the Bible were written to draw people to Jesus and to faith in Jesus.
Jesus himself was the new church. He was the new beginning. Jesus was building a church not based on customs and traditions and rules and regulations and laws. He was building a church based on faith in him. His church would be built on his death and resurrection, on the glorious forgiveness and cleansing that come not through customs and laws, but through his blood, shed on the cross. And his church would be built on the confession of faith in him and what he had done— the only way for people’s souls to be saved from sin and their hearts cleansed from sin. And his church would have one law— “Love God with all your heart, and [love] your neighbor as yourself.” His church would have one custom— that of self sacrifice and self denial. His church would have one rule— that of serving God’s purpose, and one regulations— that of holding on to the truth of God at any cost. If we remember these things we can grow in Jesus as Christians after God’s heart— Christians who understand and uphold the Bible because of the love God has poured into our hearts. Jesus was building a church that was free from the oppressing rules and regulations that people put on other people in order to keep them prisoners of some religious system. Jesus was building a church that was free from rules and regulations that promote prejudice and division and criticism. Jesus was building a church based on the one thing that pleases God the most— faith in Jesus. And he was teaching one thing that would enable men and women to grow as the children of God— faith in Jesus.
In order to build this kind of church, Jesus had to focus on the inner person—the heart. Look at verses 14-23. While the Pharisees concentrated on outward customs and traditions, Jesus helped his disciples to look at their inner person — to consider the condition of their heart and soul— and not only them but every human being who wants to do what is right before God… especially the Christian— it was a teaching for the Pharisees too, but they never understood it— because they were too concerned with outward appearances and with living before the eyes of each other— and completely ignored what lurks in their souls and hearts.
Jesus taught them that what is clean and what is unclean on the outside is of no consequence to the soul. It is the heart which people— you and I— must cleanse, Because the heart is the “unclean” thing that makes them — unclean to God and separates them from God…. Its what’s in the heart that makes people offensive to God. Jesus taught his disciples that a man aught to clean his heart— why? — Because, for the heart contains all kinds of evils that make a person unclean in the sight of God. Think about it, whether you’re a Christian or haven’t made that confession of faith in Jesus yet— Think about your heart— what’s in there that makes you and me unclean. Do you have anger— spite— hatred— unclean dirty thoughts— do you have grudges and no commitment— skepticism and doubts— unforgiveness towards others. Is any of this in there? — What makes your and my heart unclean before God?
I repent every day for my anger and my frustration and the bitterness that rises in my heart when I think of those who used me or those who hurt me. I know how unclean my heart is and can be— Do you? But I also know how to make it clean— Do you? Jesus has shown us the only way to cleanse my heart— Faith in him and in what he has done for us on the cross. He shed his blood to make my unclean heart clean and to set it on a course that can ultimately honor and glorify God. Jesus taught this truth. This truth— that can save a man from hell and damnation.
God knows that no one is able to cleanse his or her own heart. A person may pretend to be good or holy or religious. He may be able to put on religious clothes and perform religious duties. But no man can cleanse himself on the inside. People can hide or suppress or repress what’s inside— but no human being is able to cleanse his insides. Jesus taught that the cleansing of the heart can only be done by God, through the blood of our Lord Jesus on the cross. This cleansing can only be done through faith in Jesus who died to cleanse my unclean heart. So what can we do to cleanse our inner person, our filthy heart? We can do nothing but come to God with repentance and with faith that the in Lord Jesus’ blood, there is power to cleanse all my sins and to wash my heart. We can only repent and put our faith in Him. Jesus was building a new church, built on such faith.