Live a God-Pleasing Life
Sermon on Mark 7:1-8,14,15,21-23
Text: The Pharisees and some of the teachers of the law who had come from Jerusalem gathered around Jesus and 2 saw some of his disciples eating food with hands that were “unclean,” that is, unwashed. 3 (The Pharisees and all the Jews do not eat unless they give their hands a ceremonial washing, holding to the tradition of the elders. 4 When they come from the marketplace they do not eat unless they wash. And they observe many other traditions, such as the washing of cups, pitchers and kettles.)
5 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?”
6 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.
7 They worship me in vain;
their teachings are but rules taught by men.’
8 You have let go of the commands of God and are holding on to the traditions of men.”
14 Again Jesus called the crowd to him and said, “Listen to me, everyone, and understand this. 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.’”
21 “For from within, out of men’s hearts, come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, 22 greed, malice, deceit, lewdness, envy, slander, arrogance and folly. 23 All these evils come from inside and make a man ‘unclean.’”
You can often learn as much from a bad example, as you can a good one. Sometimes, because you are seeing the contrast, you may even learn more. For example, a coach may show his team what happens when someone misses a block and the play results in a loss. He shows the consequences of bad actions. The Bible is also full of bad examples. For instance, the apostle Paul writes about the nation of Israel in 1 Corinthians, chapter 10. He writes about the evil that they did and how they were punished for it. He concludes that section with these words, “These things happened to them as examples and were written down as warnings for us.” Jesus does the same thing as he deals with the Pharisees in our text for this morning. As he instructs the crowd, he encourages them and us to LIVE A GOD-PLEASING LIFE. It is a life that 1. Follows God’s Word, Not Human Traditions. It is also a life in which we 2. Have A Pure Heart, Not Just Outward Actions.
As our text begins, Jesus finds himself at odds with the Pharisees and teachers of the law. The reason for this is that they “saw some of his disciples eating food with hands that were “unclean,” that is, unwashed.” This does not mean that they were eating with dirty hands and not following good hygiene. Over time, rules had been established that dealt with being ceremonially clean or unclean. In the Old Testament, we find certain foods and animals there were designated as unclean. People, objects and places could acquire uncleanness if they came into contact with anything unclean. Uncleanness brought guilt, sin and a loss of holiness. Often, this uncleanness required a special offering.
However, the Old Testament said nothing about a person being unclean by eating with unwashed hands. The rule against eating with unwashed hands developed in Jewish oral tradition. In a book called the Mishnah, there is a specific section dealing with just the hands. There it was stipulated how much water was to be used to ceremonially cleanse the hands and how the water was to be applied. The regulations about ceremonial washing also extended, as our text says, to “the washing of cups, pitchers and kettles.” While the Pharisees and the teachers of the law were fanatical about all of this washing, there was a problem with it. The problem was that they were putting these laws and regulations on the same level as the laws that God gave. They said that they, too, had to be obeyed. It was because of this that they came to Jesus with a question, which is really more of a condemnation of the way that Jesus was teaching his disciples. They asked Jesus, “Why don’t your disciples live according to the tradition of the elders instead of eating their food with ‘unclean’ hands?”
Jesus responded with a quote from the book of Isaiah: “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.” Then, in commentary, Jesus added, “You have let go of the commands of God and are holding on to the traditions of men.” Jesus was pointing out the fact that they had elevated these man-made rules and traditions not only to the level of God’s Word, but even superceding it. We see this from the book of Misnah, which I mentioned earlier. There we read, “Greater stringency applies to [the observance of] the words of the Scribes than to [the observance of] the words of the [written] law.” In other words, what they were saying was that it was far more important to follow the traditions of the elders than it was to follow God’s Word. Obviously, when you start to follow this way of thinking, you will find the results to be disastrous.
Remember, that a bad example can often be a better teacher than a good one. The idea of holding on to human traditions over the Word of God is still seen today. How often can’t we look elsewhere and see what is being proclaimed as truth is not what is found in the Bible, but only what is taught according to the traditions that have been handed down from one generation to the next? For example, when you read how others teach how a person is saved, you find many different ideas. You must do something or act a certain way if you want to be saved. You must follow these steps in order to get into God’s good graces. These are “rules taught by men.” However, they have nothing to do with what God’s Word says. There it says clearly that the only way that we can get into God’s good graces is through the work of Jesus Christ. Without his work, we would be lost forever. When you allow manmade teachings to supercede what God’s Word says, it always ends up having disastrous results.
Jesus’ words to the Pharisees also serve as a warning for us. We want to be careful that we don’t take our traditions and end up putting them on the same level as God’s Word. There are many things that we hold near and dear to our hearts. It may have been the way that has been handed down to us. It may be the way we’ve always done things. In and of themselves, there is nothing wrong with traditions. They give us a sense of continuity and history. However, when we insist on them and almost seem to imply that to do anything else is a sin, we can be on dangerous ground. Where God insists, we will insist. Where God gives us freedom of choice, then we dare not insist. We want to be very careful in our God-pleasing life that we follow God’s Word over and above any human tradition.
Jesus really gets at the root of the problem when it came to the Pharisees. Again, quoting from Isaiah, he said, “These people honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me.” They were saying and doing all of the right things, but they were doing it for all of the wrong reasons. They thought that by doing certain things and acting a certain way, God would give them eternal life. One of the reasons that they thought that this was possible was the fact that they taught that a person is born with a good disposition and a free will to do what is good. They taught that there must be some outside element that makes a person become bad. Jesus shows them that you do not need an outside source of evil. You are born evil. You are born with a heart and mind that is inclined only toward evil. Jesus lists sins that all start with an evil heart. He says in verses 21-23, “For from within, out of men’s hearts, come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, greed, malice, deceit, lewdness, envy, slander, arrogance and folly. All these evils come from inside and make a man ‘unclean.’” Jesus was showing them that you can do all the good things that you can think of. You still have a sinful nature. You are born in sin. That, in and of itself, is enough to condemn you for all eternity.
Because of their incorrect teaching on the basic human condition, they were being, Jesus said, “hypocrites.” The word hypocrite comes from the Greek and it involves the idea of a person playing a part on the stage. It came to refer to anyone who pretended to be something that they weren’t. Though the Pharisees may not have been consciously playing a part, yet, in reality, they were tremendous actors. They acted as God’s favored followers, while they, in reality, on their way to hell.
In order to get into heaven, you have to have a pure heart. Jesus has shown us, quite clearly, that we do not. As we look at the list that we read earlier, I’m sure that each one of us could pick out several of those items that we have been guilty of in one way, shape or form: “For from within, out of men’s hearts, come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, greed, malice, deceit, lewdness, envy, slander, arrogance and folly.” We not only have the inclination to do these things because we are born with a sinful heart. We have acted on those impulses. We have sinned against God in so many different ways. Because of these things, we deserve to have our eternity spent in hell.
We do not have the pure heart that God requires. That is why Jesus came to the earth. He came to be pure for us. He lived a life that was completely free of sin. He never gave into one temptation. Then, to wash us clean, to give us a pure heart, Jesus suffered and died on the cross. His blood has purified us from all sin. His resurrection assures us that his Father accepted his payment for our sins. We have been given the purity that is required for eternal life.
Because of what Jesus has done for us, we want to thank him. We do so by the way that we live our lives. Here again, we find a warning for us. We want to make sure that the reason we live and act and talk a certain way is because we have been moved to thank him with our lives. It is very easy for us to fall into hypocrisy, as well. A man by the name of William Barclay made this observation, “There is no greater religious peril than the peril of identifying religion with outward observance . . . Church going, Bible reading, careful financial giving, even time-tabled prayer do not make a man a good man. The fundamental question is, how is a man’s heart towards God and his fellow man? And if in his heart there is enmity, bitterness, grudges, and pride, not all the religious observances in the world will make him anything other than a hypocrite.” In other words, a God-pleasing life is not only marked by what we do, but also why we do it. We can do all of the right things for all of the wrong reasons. May God help us to continually evaluate why we are doing what we are doing. When we have done things for the wrong reasons, we pray that God, for Jesus’ sake, forgive us. We pray that he would give us pure hearts so that everything we do may be motivated by love for him. As King David prayed in Psalm 51, “Create in me a pure heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me.”
Some of you may remember a page from the Highlights magazine called “Goofus and Gallant.” It always showed these two boys acting the opposite in the same situations. For those of you who are not familiar with this, you can at least guess how each one acted. Gallant always did or said the right thing, while Goofus did or said the wrong thing. Obviously, by placing these two boys’ actions one by the other, they were showing both a good example and a bad example. It was done to teach you the right way to act. As Jesus has taught us this morning, he has shown us a bad example in the activity and attitude of the Pharisees. He does so, in order that we might learn from them, as to what we are not to do. He has also shown us, by the way he lived his life the right way to live. May we, motived by the love that God has shown to us, live a life that pleases God, thanking him for all he has done for us. Amen.