Defiled Hearts: The EVIL of Religion
Matthew Lesson #085
July 19, 2015
“Father, we’re so thankful we have Your Word, that in Your Word You have revealed Yourself to us. We come to understand that we are creatures under Your authority, that You are the One that created the heavens and the earth and the seas and all that is in them. As our Creator, You are the One who expects and requires obedience, and for us to learn about You, and for our lives to be lived in a way that brings You honor and glory.
Father, as we come to our study of the Word today, we see that there is such a conflict, even in the presence of our Lord between a grace understanding of our relationship with You and that which is based upon arrogance, based upon works, based upon man’s religious ideas rather than the truth of Your Word. This crystallizes for us the issue of authority. Is the ultimate authority in our life Your Word or is the ultimate authority in our life what we think should be the nature of reality?
So, Father, help us as we study today to focus our attention upon You, and upon the lesson that Jesus is trying to communicate to His disciples here, and that is that they need to learn to function within the realm of grace, but that grace operates under Your authority, not under the authority of the traditions of men.
We pray this is Christ’s name. Amen”
This morning we’re transitioning from Matthew Chapter 14 to Chapter 15.
In the first 20 verses of chapter 15, the focus is really on defiled hearts. But that’s part of the topic of religion. Jesus is really contrasting the religion of the Pharisees, which represents human attempts to please God, human attempts to somehow impress God with our own morality, our own righteousness, our own obedience, our own actions.
In many ways, we can do things that God wants us to do, but if we do the right thing for the wrong reasons, then the result has no spiritual value. It is wood hay and straw. It is nothing but human good and it has no eternal value.
It is only when we as believers are walking in light of the grace of God, in dependence upon God the Holy Spirit, walking in the truth of God’s Word, energized by the Holy Spirit—that we are able to produce that which has eternal value.
The greatest danger that is presented to true spirituality throughout human history is the danger of human effort, the danger of human works which grows out of arrogance. Our arrogance just seeps into every dimension of our thinking. That’s because Scripture says we have defiled hearts. We have a major heart defect that we are born with, and that is known in theology as Adam’s original sin. We are born corrupt. We are sinners, I mean, we sin because we are sinners.
That is such an important concept to think through, and it’s one of those little statements that people like to use to get people thinking:
Do we sin because we’re sinners? Or are we sinners because we sin?
A lot of people think that we’re sinners because we sin. But that’s not what the Bible teaches.
The Bible teaches that we sin because we’re sinners. We’re born sinners. We’re born corrupt. We’re born spiritually dead. We’re separated from God; and therefore, all that we can produce, even that which has relative value, even that which is moral and ethical precedes from a corrupt root, which is our defiled heart, the Scripture says.
This gets at the very root of what Jesus is emphasizing in this particular section.
If we look at this just by way of an overview, we see the circumstances and the situation as set up in the first verse. Jesus is confronted by the Pharisees, who once again are using the disciples as a bully stick to beat Jesus within the next verse. Then in verse 3 He answers their challenge.
He does so in an extremely sophisticated way as He turns the tables on them on the way in which they use the Law of Moses. As a result of that, the disciples will point out that He really angered them. He really offended them.
He begins to address the multitude in verse 10. In doing so, He makes this proverbial statement that fits within the concept of a parable, or a PARABOLE as it’s identified in the Greek. That verse, verse 11, which reads, “Not what goes into the mouth defiles a man; but what comes out of the mouth, this defiles a man.” Now Peter is going to come back in verse 15 and say “Explain this parable to us.”
That’s what He’s talking about. Often we think of a parable as a longer story, but the idea of a parable can also include in the meaning of the Greek word, not just a parable as we think of it, but also a proverbial statement or universal principle. So Peter needs to have that explained.
In between there’s a question from the disciples. They want to inform Jesus, “You know you’ve really offended the Pharisees.” Then at the end Jesus explains the significance of His statement in verse 11.
This is really a section that is 20 verses, but it has to be dealt with as a whole. Otherwise, if we break it down too much, we lose the sense of what is going on here.
Now the last time, I took us up through Matthew 14:33, and I just want to cover the last three verses of Chapter 14 very briefly because this is another one of those general statements by Matthew—and we find those in the other gospels as well—where they just give a summary of what is happening with Jesus’ ministry.
And we saw last time that the disciples were crossing over from the Sea of Galilee from where they had been located up here near Bethsaida, and they are crossing over at night. Jesus had gone off by Himself, and while they’re crossing over, this storm came up in the middle of the night, and they spend most of the time and all of their energy just trying to make headway, and they’re not getting anywhere.
Then in the early hours of the morning, somewhere between 3:00 and 6:00 AM, Jesus comes walking to them on the water. It is at that time that Peter says, “Well, Lord, I want to walk on the water, too.” So he walks out to Jesus. But he got distracted by the waves, and he’s overwhelmed and begins to sink, he cries out to the Lord to save him, Jesus rapidly reaches out and grabs him, sustains him, and together they walked back to the boat.
That is where we left it last time with their recognition, a little more, the light dawns a little more, just as it does with us, and we grow and grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. We learn more and more what it means that He is the Son God. And that admission is what concluded that section.
Slide 3 and Slide 4
Then Matthew inserts this summary: that when they had crossed over, and they’ve crossed over to Gennesaret here, which is located on the northwest shore of the Sea of Galilee between Magdala where Mary Magdalene was from, and Capernaum—it’s about three miles from Capernaum, so that will give you an idea of what the scale is on the map.
As I pointed out on the map last week, this is now the location of a kibbutz called Nof Ginosar, and they have a great hotel there where I try to stay on trips to Israel because it’s more relaxing, you’re sort of out in the country a little bit, and you get to walk around in the woods.
One morning I was there on one trip and going for a jog early in the morning about 6:30 AM, and I ran across an IDF patrol that was coming in from an exercise where they were doing land navigation. These guys told me that they had to go out—and each unit is assigned a territory—and they go on night patrols.
They have to learn every ravine, every ditch, every wadi, every creek, every tree in their area, so that even in the darkness of night, they can find their way back or to wherever they need to go without any lights.
So that’s just some of the training that they get, and there happened to be a couple of Americans, Jewish young men, with that unit that were also serving as lone soldiers. We had an interesting conversation that morning. They wanted to know if I wanted to look at all their different weapons. Of course I said yes.
Anyway, this is where Jesus comes to Nof Ginosar, and this becomes the location of this next event. When people learned that He was there, the word spread like wildfire (they didn’t have Twitter, they didn’t have e-mail, they didn’t have any of the modern conveniences that we have. They couldn’t send out a mass text to everybody), but somehow the word still spread, and people began to come to Him and to bring those who were sick.
We’re told in verse 36, “they begged Him that they could just touch the hem of His garment. And as many as touched it”—we’re told—“were made perfectly well.” That’s the faith that they demonstrated.
Within this section where Jesus is training The Twelve, and He’s training them to be true disciples of Him, we see that this foreshadows some of the miracles that take place in the Book of Acts. But we see the faith that is demonstrated here, and that’s what Jesus wants the disciples to see, to understand the faith that is present, and that the spiritual life is going to be based on a walk by faith and not by sight.
So that little vignette is put in there, and then we come to Matthew 15:1, “Then the scribes and Pharisees who were from Jerusalem came to Jesus, saying,”
I would guess from the way this is structured that He is still at Gennesaret. Now there’s a delegation of scribes and Pharisees who come up from Jerusalem. So this is significant.
First of all, we need to identify the group that’s coming. They’re called scribes and Pharisees. They were two different groups. The Pharisees had their origin after the Jews returned to Judea from the Babylonian captivity.
After they came back, if you’ll remember your Old Testament history, there were several returns.
There was an initial return under Zedekiah.
There’s another return under Ezra.
And then there’s another return under Nehemiah.
This took place over about 100 years or a little more.
After about 400 BC, the Old Testament Canon is completed. Malachi has written the last book, and a darkness descends in terms of divine revelation until John the Baptist or his father Zachariah is identified by the Lord that he’s going to be the father of John the Baptist.
So for a period of almost 400 years, there is a silence from Heaven. God is waiting for the Jews to respond to Him in obedience. It’s during this time that you have the rise of several different religious groups or sects within Judaism.
One of the groups came to be known as the Pharisees. We don’t know their exact origin, but what took place historically was that there was a desire on the part of many of those who were properly observant of the Old Testament law, and they were devoted to God, followers of the teaching of Ezra, who did not want the nation to make the same mistake they’d made before.
They had worshipped idols, they had violated the Sabbath, they had disobeyed the Mosaic Law time and time again. So for that reason God had removed them from the land for a period of 70 years as an act of judgment upon Israel.
When they came back, they said, “What can we do to keep from violating the Law?” At the time of Ezra, a school of scholars were established called “The School of the Sopherim.” These were scribes, and their plan was to go through and study and teach in detail the 613 commandments in the Mosaic Law, not just ten commandments—that’s just the prelude to the Mosaic Law, there were 613 commandments—and to make sure that the Jewish people understood those commandments.
Their thinking was if the people had a clear knowledge of the Law, then they wouldn’t make the mistakes that they did before. Hosea 4:6 indicted the people because God said that “my people perish for a lack of knowledge.” So that first generation wanted to make sure that the people understood the truth.
But after that generation of the Sopherim passed away, a second generation came up, and they said, “Well, it’s not just enough for us to teach the law”—you always enter into error in the history of Christianity when you start thinking that there’s something else other than the Bible that will help us solve the problem.
We’ve seen this over the last 300 years since the rise of the Enlightment that the world teaches that you can find truth, absolute truth, eternal truth, apart from the Word of God. So we have the rise of modern science, but originally the founders of modern science were all creationists.
They were Bible believers. They believed in a young earth. They believed that God created the heavens and the earth and the seas and all that is in them. They believed that God established certain fixed boundaries between the animals and that that affected everything in Christendom; therefore, we could even talk about things because when we talk about dogs or cats or birds we know that a dog isn’t a cat and a bird isn’t a land animal. We know that there are these distinctions, and they’re hard and fast.
There may be variations within the kinds, but there are set boundaries, and that allows us to communicate. Once you get rid of those set boundaries, then words can become the playthings of politicians.
Words can become the playthings of philosophers, and you can start making anything mean whatever you want to because your ultimate understanding of reality is based on the fluidity of evolution. So that if a dog can eventually evolve into something else, then the words can evolve into something else.
Once words start changing their meanings and the words can mean anything you want them to mean, then you take that kind of mentality and read it back into your interpretation of the Constitution, and the Constitution can mean anything.
It becomes a fluid document. It becomes a living document—a document that may mean one thing to one generation and one decade, but then you have justices that come along and change it where it may mean just the opposite in the next generation.
This is what’s happened historically in Supreme Court decisions in the last 100–150 years. It all started after the publication in 1859 of Charles Darwin’s book The Origin of Species, which laid the foundation for thinking about biological evolution.
This impacted the thinking in law, so that by the 1870s you had the development of the theory called “Positive Law.” In Positive Law the idea was that you’d no longer interpret the Constitution on the basis of how the Founding Fathers interpreted the Constitution.
What you now did was you were going to apply the Constitution to new generations, and it would have new applications and new meanings.
One of the Supreme Court justices that was responsible for bringing this into the Supreme Court was Oliver Wendell Holmes, who interestingly enough was appointed to the bench by Theodore Roosevelt.
Theodore Roosevelt was a Progressive, and he wanted someone with progressive ideals to be on the court. Interesting enough, up until the 1930s, up until the time when Franklin Roosevelt was President, the Supreme Court met in the basement of the Capitol. They didn’t even have their own building. They basically functioned as they were intended to function in the Constitution—as referees or umpires.
But once you had a new philosophy of interpretation start to take hold among the Supreme Court justices, then they started gaining a new and greater significance in terms of not just being an arbiter of the law, and umpire or referee, but they’d begin to be those who reinterpreted the law and reapplied it.
That’s been the battle over the last 70–80 years. We’ve seen where that has taken us. You have had this same kind of a problem throughout history in the interpretation of almost anything, but we’re talking about the Bible.
This was what happened coming out of the Babylonian captivity—that the Pharisees, as the more conservative of these three religious groups, were trying to add something that wasn’t part of the original text of Scripture—that somehow if we add something, we will prevent sin.
It’s a rejection of the sufficiency of Scripture. It’s a rejection of the total authority of Scripture because now what they’re going to do is add human thinking and human ideas to the revelation of God, thus diluting and destroying the revelation of God.
So the idea of that second generation of Sopherim was that they decided that they could protect the Law by building a fence around the Law, and that they could take statements of Scripture and add to it in order to prevent people from violating the original mandate in the Scripture.
So the principle that they had was that a sopher could come up with new principles of application. One sopher could disagree with another sopher. But they couldn’t disagree with the original 613 commandments.
This process of building a fence around the Law started around 400 BC and ended up about 30 BC, about 30 years before the birth of Christ.
It was the basis of rabbinical interpretation that characterized the thinking of the Pharisees. It became known as the “tradition of the fathers.” That’s what is mentioned here in the text. So they are using a principle from outside of Scripture to interpret Scripture.
There was a second group of rabbis who came along after that, about the time of Christ, called the “Tannaim,” a term that means teachers. They built on the work of these Sopherim, and they said, “Well, they may have built this fence around the law, but there are a lot of gaps in the fence, so if that fence is a series of commandments to prevent us from violating the primary commandments, we need to build a second fence around the Law.”
So they added an additional set of these principles and these traditions that made it even more complex and complicated.
This was one of the things that characterized Judaism at the time of Christ. For example what would take place is that the Scripture taught that you weren’t to work on the Sabbath. If you read in the Mishnah, they’ve added to that—that in order to avoid work on the Sabbath, you can’t dance, you can’t walk more than 3,000 meters, you can’t light anything, you can’t light a candle. The way that’s applied today is you can’t start a car because that would create a spark in the spark plug.
You can’t push a button on an elevator because that creates a light, and of course light was the first work that God did during the creation week, and we’re not supposed to work, so you can’t light a light, and you can’t clap, you can’t slap your hip, you can’t do many, many other things because if you do that, you’ve violated that initial commandment of working. But the Bible only says you shouldn’t work. It doesn’t define that.
Now we see a lot of conservative fundamentalists groups who are intent upon trying to obey Scripture, but they do the same thing. They create their own sets of application and make that as authoritative as the Word of God.
Several years ago, I was talking to a guy who had just come out of an Independent Baptist Church tradition, and he told me some interesting things. Scripture teaches that women—and men, too, but it emphasizes that women—should dress modestly, but it doesn’t really tell you what that looks like. That’s up to each culture to determine what modest is within that particular culture.
In our culture, that may be expressed in different ways, but in order to protect the modesty of women, there are these conservative fundamentalists who have become legalists, who say what that means is that women can only wear dresses with a collar buttoned up as high on the neck as possible, and the dress should be as long as possible.
And they can’t ever wear shorts. They can’t ever wear pants because that’s the way men dress, so they have to wear dresses or long skirts and high collars.
And this group had gone so far—and this guy had been a youth pastor—that when they took high school kids on a ski trip to Colorado, and the girls would put on their bib overalls, they had to wear a dress over their bib overalls! Some of you have been around some of these kinds of Christians. That’s the same idea.
It is adding things to the Scripture that aren’t part of the Scripture in order—in their minds—to protect the Scripture. So this was the kind of thinking that we have among the Pharisees.
The other group that’s mentioned are the scribes. The scribes are responsible for copying the Law and the writings, and they—most scribes if not all scribes—would have the entire Torah memorized. They would have every word memorized, and they would know its exact location on the Text. They were experts in the minutia of the Law, and it was their responsibility to teach the people the Law. Whenever there was a dispute, it was to the scribes you would go to in order to understand or learn the exact interpretation of Torah.
You had scribes that worked with the Sadducees, so they weren’t all conservatives. The Sadducees were much more liberal.
The Essenes were more mystical and were monastics, and they lived down in the Dead Sea area. They’re not mentioned in the Scripture; they’re mentioned by Josephus. Those were the three groups.
So the scribes and Pharisees come up or come down to the Galilee area from Jerusalem.
Here’s a map. We have down in the south, this is Jerusalem. They would cross over the Jordan River to the area known as Perea, which is modern Jordan today, on the east side of the Jordan River because otherwise they would have to go through the territory of Samaria, and they were highly prejudiced against the Samaritans—of course that wouldn’t be a sin—and then they would go north until they got just to the south of the Sea of Galilee, and then they would go around the west side of the Sea of Galilee and come up to Gennesaret where Jesus was.
Now this is significant because they’re sent out from the authorities in Jerusalem. Let’s say you’re working for some company in your business, and you find out that somebody from the City Council is coming out to check on you or somebody who’s a representative of the city.
We’ve had that happen when we first moved into this building. We got slapped with a sticker on the front door, and we had to make sure we came up to city code and things like that. Well, that’s to be expected. We’re living in this city, and there are certain things that have to be taken care of.
But if somebody came from Austin and wanted to talk to us, then we would be a little bit more concerned. Then if somebody actually came as a representative from the federal government from Washington D.C., then we might be a lot more concerned.
That actually happened, too, a couple of years ago. We came in one day, and there was the business card of an IRS agent who wanted to talk to me! So that ended up being a minor problem, but as soon as you see that card from an IRS agent saying, “I want to talk to Robert Dean,” immediately you’re just sort of gasp! Your stomach gets real tight. This is serious! They’ve come from the IRS.
Well that’s the situation here. These Pharisees and scribes have come from Jerusalem, and they’re going to interrogate Jesus. The question they asked is, “Why do your disciples transgress the tradition of the elders?”
Notice it’s not saying, “Why do your disciples transgress the Word of God?” That would be the correct question because the authority is the Word of God. The authority is not the tradition of the elders, but in religion, the authority is always in something else.
This happens within Christianity a lot. We have legalistic fundamentalists who have their traditions, their ideas of how Scripture ought to be applied, and this can relate to almost any area of life. They say, “This is the way this has to be done.”
Then you have other denominations within Christianity. You have Roman Catholics, and you have Greek Orthodox, and in those two traditions, the ultimate authority isn’t the Bible alone—it is the Bible plus tradition plus what’s been handed down by the church fathers—what their decisions were.
So what happened in those traditions is the same thing that happened in the traditions of the Pharisees—is that you end up studying what the church fathers wrote, what the Pope has said, and you quit studying the Bible!
Many years ago when I was working on my Master’s Degree in Philosophy here at the University of St. Thomas, I was in one class, and there were a couple of nuns in that class. One day we were just sitting around talking, and I don’t even remember what the topic was, but I made a reference to the Bible and to a passage of Scripture. This nun who was sitting next to me said, “Really? That’s in the Bible?” And I said, “Yes, haven’t you read the Bible?” She said, “No, we’re Catholics. We never read the Bible.”
True admission! The same things happened in Judaism. The Pharisees by this time were spending all their time studying what the rabbis had said, and they weren’t studying what the original text of Torah said. And that’s very much true today.
You talk to even more conservative Jews, Orthodox Jews, if they ever read the Torah, and they’re just reading that which is part of the original five books of Moses.
They don’t spend a whole lot of time reading other books, especially Isaiah and Daniel, because you may get really funny ideas if you read Isaiah and Daniel! You may actually think that the Messiah has come. You might actually think that Isaiah 53 is talking about Jesus!
This has pretty much been looked down upon by rabbis. You might read Daniel 9 and read about Daniel’s prophecy that the Messiah would come approximately 483 years after the return of the Jews, after the decree of Artaxerxes for Nehemiah to go back and rebuild Jerusalem and the fortifications and that that was fulfilled precisely in history, and Jesus came exactly when that 483 years was completed.
So they spent their time looking at what other people say. This is the same thing that’s happened in the study of the Constitution. We have a President who has bragged about the fact that he has been a professor of Constitutional law. Those people who are conservatives don’t hear that correctly.
The study of Constitutional law in a law school today does NOT mean you go back and you read the original Constitution, you read the Federalist Papers, the Anti-Federalist Papers, you study the thinking of the authors of the Constitution in order to understand their mindset so that you can properly interpret the Constitution.
What you read is all of the judicial opinions that have been set forth about the Constitution, and you never ever ever read the original Constitution.
Because as one Supreme Court justice put it in the 1980s, “How in the world can you ever get into the mind of the original writers of the Constitution?”
Well, I’ll tell you how you get into the mind of the writers of the Constitution: You read the Federalist Papers. You read the Anti-Federalist Papers. You read their diaries. You read their speeches. You read all the things that they said, including the things that were said by many of them—that the way you understand what they meant is to read their writings and read their debates and come to understand what they meant.
Clarence Thomas in 2004 made this statement to a legal assembly in New York—that you either interpret the Constitution in the way the writers intended it, or you must make it up. And that’s what we have in the Supreme Court today. We have usually four or five justices, and that’s what they’re doing. They are just making it up as they go along.
It happens in theology all the time, and that’s what gave rise to liberal protestant theology, and that’s what happens in many, many churches around the country today—is they add from another tradition. They just make it up.
So the issue here for the Pharisees is “why do your disciples transgress the tradition of the elders?”
They’re going to bring up one particular issue: they do not wash their hands when they eat bread.
Now this is typical of the Pharisees to try to use the actions of the disciples to attack Jesus. They have been antagonistic to Jesus for some time. For example in Matthew 9:34, the beginning of their opposition, they began to think that Jesus casts out demons by the ruler of demons. That’s before Matthew 12. That’s probably a year and a half before they formalized that in Matthew 12.
In Matthew 12:14 we’re told that after Jesus healed the man with the withered hand that they went out and plotted against Him—how they could destroy Him.
Then a few verses later in Matthew 12:24 we realize what they came up with. They said that this fellow casts out demons by Beelzebub, the ruler of the demons.
Back in Matthew 9:11 when Jesus was having a banquet with Matthew at his home, he was a tax collector, and there were other tax collectors there. We’re told in Matthew 9:11 that when the Pharisees saw it, they said to His disciples, “Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?” See? They start accusing Jesus of not following the Law. He’s not holy enough.
Then in Matthew 12:2 they attack Jesus through the behavior of His disciples, and they said, “Look, your disciples are eating grain on the Sabbath. They’re popping the heads of grain off the stalks and eating that. Why are your disciples doing that which is illegal? If you’re really a holy man, if you’re really a man of God, then your disciples need to get in line! Your disciples are dishonoring God by violating the Sabbath.”
So we come to this passage in Matthew 15:2, “Why do your disciples transgress the tradition of the elders? Because they don’t wash their hands when they eat bread.”
Now this isn’t about hygiene, just as the dietary laws were not about health.
The Laws of Moses were about teaching the principles of being spiritually clean versus being unclean. So ritual cleanness and ritual uncleanness were designed to teach these particular spiritual principles.
Under the development of pharisaic theology, they took the washing of hands to an extreme level. In fact, there’s a whole section in the Mishnah that goes through all the details and all the many different ways that you have for washing.
Aas you see on this particular slide, there’s a picture taken down by the Western Wall, where they have this fountain of water, where those who go down there that are orthodox can wash their hands.
You go into any restaurant in Israel, and there will be a pitcher of water and a basin there where they can ritually cleanse themselves. This doesn’t have anything to do with hygiene; it has to do with understanding cleanliness. I mean ritual cleanliness. This was their idea. They’re focusing on the externals of the Law, but not on the internals of the Law.
So they had developed all of these various rituals. In fact a whole section, as I said, on the Mishnah related to this. It’s interesting that in the Old Testament, if you read the 613 commandments in the Mosaic Law, guess how many regulations there are related to hand washing?
There’s only one.
When the priest, not the people, when the priest or the high priest goes into the tabernacle or the temple, he’s to go to the laver and wash his hands and wash his feet.
That’s the only hand washing that’s listed in the Mosaic Law!
But yet they’ve added this huge number of traditions to that as part of their religion. That’s what they are focused on. They are so concerned about their particular tradition.
The reason is this: under religion, people are trying to work their way to God. They’re trying to impress God with their own righteousness, they’re own spiritual cleanliness.
So they had developed all these different traditions. But what the Scripture teaches is completely different. For example, in Isaiah 64:6 we read, “But we are all like an unclean thing.”
Notice that when Isaiah is speaking here, he includes himself. Here’s a prophet of God, and he includes himself in the group. We are all like an unclean thing. We are all unclean. Not ritually, but because we’re all born with this corruption of sin. We’re all sinners; therefore, we are all unclean.
Then he says, “and all our righteousnesses are like filthy rags.” The word for “righteousness” in the Hebrew is tsedaqah. This is a critical word in modern Judaism.
Modern Judaism is really the development out of pharisaism because the Pharisees managed to survive the destruction of the temple, and they were the ones (because of their system of conservatism in approaching the Scripture), that came together and reorganized so that Judaism could survive after the destruction of the temple.
Part of Pharisaical theology, which becomes a critical element in rabbinical theology, is the performance of good deeds, the performance of charitable deeds, serving people.
This is at the very heart of even modern Reform Judaism, the whole idea of “tikkun olam,” which is that they are to reform or cleanse the world.
This really feeds into, some people say, “Well, why are so many Jews liberal?” Well, because so many Jews are reformed, and this idea of tikkun olam is an idea that the Jews can reform the world. They can cleanse the world.
So they are prone to being involved in social activism, which is always a code word for some kind of Marxism, some kind of socialism, “social justice”—these words are critical.
So this shapes the thinking of modern Judaism and makes it acceptable to or makes the people who are thinking that way already prone to modern liberalism.
But the Bible says that all of our tsedaqah is like filthy rags. “We all fade as a leaf”—not some of us, not just the ones that are involved in idolatry, but, “We all fade as a leaf and our iniquities”—notice Isaiah is talking about all of us—“all of our iniquities are like the wind, have taken us away.”
Away from what? Away from God! We’re all separated from God because of sin. But God has solved that problem.
In Titus 3:5 in the New Testament we read, it’s “not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to His mercy He saved us, through the washing of regeneration.”
See, that physical cleansing, washing of the hands, is just a picture of something in the spiritual realm, which is an act that only God can perform, which is the cleansing of the soul of the unbeliever from this stain of sin. We are washed clean from sin metaphorically.
God saves us through the washing of regeneration and the renewing of the Holy Spirit. We have a shift, a change that takes place in relation to our soul, our heart, as we’ll see in this particular passage.
So now Jesus confronts these Pharisees, and He says in Matthew 15:3, “Why do you also transgress the commandment of God because of your tradition?”
He is so sophisticated here because He’s just going to skewer them on what they have done in relation to a prime commandment of Scripture, a prime commandment of Scripture.
When we look at the Ten Commandments, you really see two sections of the Ten Commandments. The first section deals with honoring God. The second has to do with honoring people, loving God, loving one another.
Now what Jesus does is He goes to the commandment, “Honor your father and your mother,” and “He who curses father or mother, let him be put to death.”
So He takes these two commandments, one from Exodus 20:12, and the other from Exodus 21:17, and He’s going to talk to them about how they’re abusing that.
I just want to summarize the Ten Commandments for you.
You know a lot of people have never read the Ten Commandments. I think most of you probably have. I’ve heard of people who have seen the Ten Commandments on a school wall or out in front of a courthouse, and they actually read it, and they are just amazed. “That’s the Ten Commandments?” They think it’s something much worse. That’s why they want it taken out of the courthouse.
But the Ten Commandments, regardless of their religious significance, have had an impact on the legal thinking of the development of jurisprudence in the history of western civilization because of the impact of Judaism and because of the impact of Christianity—that it is really the Old Testament, the Jewish Scriptures, the Hebrew Scriptures that define freedom and liberty. That’s the foundation for the concept of liberty and freedom in western civilization. If it weren’t for the Hebrew Old Testament, we wouldn’t have it [freedom].
So the first four commandments talk about God:
“You shall have no other gods before Me.”
“You shall not make any carved image or an idol.”
“You shall not take the name of the Lord your God in vain.” And,
“Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy.”
But the next six commandments, the last six commandments: the first one is “Honor your father and your mother, that your days may be long upon the land which the Lord your God is giving you.”
Paul said this is the first commandment with a promise. The promise is that you’ll live a long time, not because there’s something mystical or magical about obeying your parents.
But if you read a little further in the law and get over into Deuteronomy 21, you find out that if a son or daughter is rebellious, if they dishonor their parents, it’s a capital offense, and they’re to be stoned in the public square!
So that’s why if you’ll obey your parents, you’ll live a long life. You won’t be stoned in the public square.
And then you have:
“You shall not murder.”
“You shall not commit adultery.”
“You shall not steal.”
“You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor.” And,
“You shall not covet your neighbor’s house…”
So this is the first commandment with promise.
Now what they were doing when Jesus confronts them with this is that He is saying that they have twisted the Law in order to avoid having to honor their parents.
We read in verse 5, “But you say, ‘whoever says to his father or mother, “Whatever profit you might have received from me is a gift to God.” ’ ”
In other words, their parents are destitute. They need some help financially, but you say, “Well, rather than giving my money to you—because I’m cheap—I’m going to dedicate everything I have to the temple.” They could do that, and they didn’t have to give it up at that point. They could still use it all they wanted to, but nobody else could use it. Then when they died, it would all go to, belong to the temple.
Now what’s interesting is we do have a financial instrument similar to that today, and some people do this—just thought I’d point this out—where they establish a trust for their possessions.
They can deed that to a church or nonprofit organization at the time of their death, and they still have access to those funds until they die.
So it’s something similar. I’m not clear on all the specifics, but I’ve run across this once or twice over the years in ministry.
This is what they’re saying—that, “Oh, mom and dad, you need money. Sorry, I’ve already dedicated everything to the temple. And so, I’m not going to give it to you.”
What Jesus says is what you have done is you’ve made the commandment of God to no effect by your tradition.
This is what happens. Eastern Orthodoxy, Roman Catholicism, take the tradition of the fathers, and that becomes their authority over the Word of God. Legalists take their customs, their ideas, and make that as authoritative as the Word of God.
Here we see the indictment from Jesus. He says, “Hypocrites! Well did Isaiah prophesy about you saying: These people draw near to Me with their mouth, and honor Me with their lips, But their heart is far from Me.”
It’s a heart defect. They willingly are sacrificing at that time in Isaiah. They’re going through all of the motions. They’re going through all of the rituals. But they’re doing a right thing in the wrong way, and the wrong way is their heart isn’t in it. They are not trusting in God. They’re just going through the externals.
Deuteronomy 6:5 says that “You should love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your strength.”
Now what does it mean in the Bible when it talks about heart? The heart is an interesting word. In only a couple of times does the word “heart” actually refer to the physical organ in the body. I think there are only two particular examples, if that, in the Scripture: In 2 Samuel 18:14, and in 2 Kings 9:24.
The primary use is metaphorically. It refers to that that’s at the center or the core of something, and then that’s transferred over to the individual. It’s what’s in your core, what’s in your soul. That’s what’s important.
So it’s a synonym for the soul. We’re to love the Lord our God with all of our heart, with all of our soul. That just ramps it up a little bit and explains it a little more.
Jeremiah 17:9 says, though, that our basic problem is that, “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked; Who can know it?”
At the very core of our being, we are antagonistic to God, and we deceive ourselves into thinking we’re doing well. Yet we’re actually violating the authority of God.
Then Jesus comes to them, and He says in verse 10, “When He called the multitude to Himself, He said to them, ‘Hear and understand.’ ”
I’m going to have to stop here because I took a lot longer going through the first 10 verses than I thought I would. We’ll come back to this next time.
Jesus says the solution here is to listen and understand. What He’s talking about is you have to pay attention to the Word of God. That needs to be your authority. You need to listen and understand.
What’s interesting in Scripture is when the word says “to hear.” Biblically hearing means to respond and do what you’re told to do.
Hearing isn’t just listening or having your auditory nerve stimulated. Hearing is understanding, comprehending, and performing the command.
When you say, “you haven’t listened to me,” it doesn’t mean they didn’t in some sense know or hear what was being commanded. They weren’t obeying it!
When God says you’re not listening, He doesn’t mean you’re ignorant. He means you’re not obeying. So Jesus here is addressing the crowds, and He tells them that they are to listen to this particular Proverb, “Not what goes into the mouth defiles a man, but what comes out of the mouth.”
In other words, it’s not external observance of the Law. It is that heart orientation. The orientation of the soul to God—that is what matters.
We’ll come back next time and look at the details of that.
“Father, thank You for this opportunity to study these things this morning and to reflect upon Your Word and to come to an understanding that You do not look on the outside, but You look on the inside. On the inside we’re born corrupt. We’re born with a heart that is deceitful and wicked above all things, so that all that we can produce is works that are like filthy rags.
But there has to be a transformation, and the Scripture calls that being born again or being regenerate, and that occurs when we trust in Jesus Christ as Savior. At that instant we are born again, we become a new creature in Christ. Titus 3:5 says, “It’s not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to His mercy He saves us, by the washing or regeneration and renewal by the Holy Spirit.”
Father, we pray that if there’s anyone here that’s unsure of their salvation or uncertain of their eternal destiny, they would take this time to make that sure and certain.
Jesus died on the Cross to pay for your sins. He is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. By trusting in Him and trusting in Him alone, you have eternal life. That His death is then a reality for you, and you realize the forgiveness of your sins, and that at that instant God creates in you a new entity. You receive a new element that takes up residence in the immaterial part of your soul that enables you to understand the things of God and to live for Him, and that you are now a new creature in Christ, and you have everlasting life.
Father, we pray that You would help us to understand the things we studied today and apply them in our lives. In Christ’s name. Amen.”