« Desire | Main | Numbered With Transgressors »

Out of the Heart of Man

Jesus dealt with many very religious people throughout his ministry. There seemed to be two categories – the everyday people who were striving and struggling to understand, apply and follow God’s will and prophecies and the clergymen who often lorded their education and authority over everyone else with high-handed hypocrisy. Jesus, the greatest religious leader in history, is frequently seen siding with the common believer against the hypocrites among the Pharisees and scribes because true religion must not only reach into the heart, but wholly reproduce its character. Who we are is not so much what people see or believe, but what God sees and knows in our hearts.

I. The Scribes and Pharisees’ Religion

    A. Self-Righteousness

        1. the scribes and Pharisees were Jerusalem’s leading clergymen in the days of Jesus Christ, feared and respected for their unusual ability to interpret the Law of Moses, even if the common people did not always understand exactly what they were teaching

        2. they quickly recognized in Jesus a unique foe – an uneducated man who nevertheless understood the Scriptures and was able to interpret them for the people in an astonishingly authoritative way that shamed the clergymen, but which also exposed their hypocritical teaching and self-serving application (see Matthew 7:28-29)

            a. they objected to his habit of dining with sinners in teaching situations, failing to fast according to the elders’ tradition, and doing good deeds on the Sabbath (see Mark 2:15-28, 3:6-30)

            b. Mark notes that after one of their confrontations, “The Pharisees went out and immediately held counsel with the Herodians against him, how to destroy him” (Mark 3:6).

        3. the rivalry between Jesus and the clergymen of his day was rooted in their envy of his celebrity among the people, whose admiration the Pharisees and scribes craved (see Mark 15:10)

            a. keeping the people just ignorant enough that their dependence on the clergymen would remain absolute was the goal and Jesus was teaching with parables and metaphors and truth that instead made God’s will approachable and applicable to every man

            b. Jesus was touching the hearts of people, where Pharisaical religion only provoked their fears and doubts; “unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 5:20).


    B. Ceremonial Laws

        1. one area in which the clergy excelled was the enforcement of the ceremonial laws that had always been a part of the Law of Moses, and the centuries of traditions that had grown up around the law as a hedge against disobedience (Mark 7:1-5)

            a. the practice of ceremonial washing had begun with the work of Aaron and the priests in the tabernacle, who were required to wash their hands and feet in a bronze basin before approaching the altar, or else they would die (see Exodus 30:17-21)

            b. this also applied to the utensils and furniture, as implied by the Pharisees’ complaint (Exodus 40:9-16)

        2. from that peculiar beginning, centuries of tradition had caused the command to evolve and the interpretation to expand to something beyond religion or hygiene – a tradition that only insiders and interpreters could anticipate, a test of fellowship derived neither from God nor Scripture, but from opinion

        3. an additional problem with exaggerating some commands is that it leads to laxness in other areas where the private interpreter is less intense about his own obedience; it is as if he is trying to balance his own softness in other areas by being excessively strict in the easier things

            a. the scribes and Pharisees preferred to exaggerate the ceremonial laws that they might more easily ignore the weightier matters where they would struggle (Matthew 23:23-24)

            b. this is where we are reminded to bind only where God has bound, to loose only where he has loosed and not to insist that everyone adhere to the personal hedges we might erect for our own protection

        4. Jesus diagnosed them with a heart problem, even if their behavior looked perfectly pious on the surface (Mark 7:6-13)


    C. Defilement

        1. they were not defiled by failing to keep the Sabbath or to tithe, but by crafting traditions that increased the burdens upon others, while lightening their own

        2. their defilement had the look of deep religion, but was entirely self-serving and inconsistent with the greed and envy that ruled in their hearts (Mark 7:14-23)

        3. they were resisting bodily defilement by washing everything in sight, but the heart is a metaphor for the mind and spirit, that most intangible entity that is either defiled or purified by concepts, attitudes and intentions before any deed or word is ever attempted (Hebrews 4:11-13)


II. Defilement

    A. Liberty From the Law of Moses

        1. Mark, who would have been writing decades later, even after Pentecost and Peter’s visit to the house of Cornelius, makes comment upon the words of Jesus, that through this teaching, “Thus he declared all foods clean.”

        2. Jesus, who did not come to destroy the Law of Moses, but to fulfill it, was in the process of creating a new covenant that would not include the ceremonial regulations so beloved by the scribes and Pharisees for their obscurity, but would instead comprise a law simple enough to be written upon the hearts of believers

        3. the Law of Moses, especially these ceremonies and regulations, had fulfilled its purpose in identifying the sinfulness and dependence of man, and now its obsolescence would lead to its extinction (Galatians 2:11-12, 4:8-11, 5:1-6)

        4. the kosher dietary regulations, the festivals, the Sabbath and circumcision, even the Decalogue were nailed to the cross with Jesus, whose own testament then prevailed (Ephesians 2:11-18)


    B. Adherence to the Law of the Spirit

        1. on one occasion, Jesus was invited to dine with a Pharisee and he took the opportunity to rebel against tradition again and to teach his host something pertinent (Luke 11:37-44)

        2. Jesus was not opposed to good personal hygiene and I can’t imagine that he would prefer a dirty kitchen to a clean one, but he wanted his followers to understand fully that there is no substitute for purity of heart and sweeping the real, timeless moral defilement that we sometimes make room for in our hearts (Psalm 51:1-2, 7-12, 17)

        3. understand that the application for us covers the things that we do that have an appearance of religion, but which might only be masking a hidden, wicked agenda

            a. attending worship services, perhaps making it a point to be present whenever the doors open

            b. submitting to baptism

            c. praying earnestly in public and serving at the table or in the pulpit

            d. seeking appointment to the presbytery or diaconate

            e. practicing acts of charity or helpfulness about the building

        4. all these are good and important deeds, but each can be reduced to a disguise for hypocrisy if our hearts do not match the deeds, if pride, envy, greed or lust are the deepest motivations for them


    C. Obstacles to Purity

        1. our goal is to change the way we think about things, not just our behaviors, but our attitudes about them as well (Titus 1:15-16)

        2. there are enough symptoms of spiritual heart disease that just about anybody can find something that needs treatment (Mark 7:20-23)

        3. even our way of describing our spiritual weaknesses can suggest surrender and defeat (This list of “pickled cliches” appeared in Language of Counseling, by Jay E. Adams (Stanley, NC: Timeless Texts, 2000).)

            a. exaggeration: “Impossible,” some say when challenged to resist sin.

            b. helplessness: “I don’t know how to do better. I just can’t overcome it.”

            c. hopelessness: “What’s the use? I’ll just stumble again.”

            d. blame shifting: “I would do right if he would, too, or first.”

            e. sickness: Modern psychology labels many sins as diseases and mutes rebuke.

            f. self-pity: “Why me?”

            g. excuse-making: “I know I should, but you see …”

        4. diligence and determination are better responses



Out of the heart of man proceeds evidence of real defilement if we let the disease exist there.


Questions For Review

  1. Who were the Pharisees? Who were the scribes?
  2. Why didn’t they like Jesus very much?
  3. How did they make hypocritical use of Corban?
  4. How did Jesus declare all foods clean? What lasting implication did this have?
  5. How did Jesus describe real defilement as opposed to unwashed hands?
  6. From what parts of the Law of Moses are Christians liberated?
  7. What are some responses that indicate a sinner is surrendering to defeat?

PrintView Printer Friendly Version

EmailEmail Article to Friend