Thirteenth Sunday after Pentecost: Mark 7:1-13

In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.

The Pharisees and the scribes came to Jesus, and they were offended.  They were offended that Jesus’ disciples were not observing their traditions.  See, the Pharisees and the scribes always washed their hands before they ate.  It was a ritual that they had, and this ritual they had received from their fathers, and their fathers had gotten it from their fathers, and their fathers had gotten it from their fathers, and further back than anyone could remember.  This was something that was always done.  And so when they come and they see these disciples not doing things the way they should be done, they’re upset.  They say to Jesus, “Your disciples aren’t obeying God.  They’re doing what they ought not to do.”  But Jesus turns around and says the opposite is true.  He says that, “Actually, you Pharisees and you scribes are breaking the commandment of God, because you are elevating your own traditions over the commandments of God.”

Now, you and I as Christians don’t often deal with this very specific example.  I mean, we usually aren’t too terribly worried if someone doesn’t ceremonially wash their hands before they eat.  But that doesn’t mean that we aren’t tempted to fall into this same trap.  This is a common temptation for all of us.  And so we’re going to deal with three very specific examples:  the first one is dealing with false teaching or false doctrine; the second one is dealing with practices which we think will improve our standing with God or make us right with God; and the third one is practices which look so good, but actually end up breaking the commandments.

And so we’ll go to our first example.

When dealing with false teachings, every Christian knows that whatever God says is true.  And if somebody comes up and says something contrary to what God has said, we know them to be a false teacher.  Sometimes this is really easy to figure out.  I mean, if somebody comes up to you and says something like, “Jesus isn’t God,” well, that one’s easy.  We can figure out that that’s a false teaching.  But where the temptation comes in is when it’s not so easy to see, when it’s a lot more subtle.  So take, for example, if someone comes up to you and says something like, “Yes, Jesus saved you, but now you have to do something to continue being saved.  You have to keep your salvation going.”  Well, it sounds good.  It sounds so reasonable, but it goes against what God’s Word has said, because God makes it perfectly clear that we are sinful by nature and that nothing that we do can actually save us.  Or maybe somebody would come along and say something like, “You have to make a decision for Jesus.”  Well, again, it sounds so reasonable.  It sounds so clear, but then you have to deal with Scriptures like, “You did not choose me, but I choose you,” or “all our righteousness is as filthy rags.”  And then we can see that that’s a false teaching.  But the one that perhaps that we deal with the most, the one we struggle with the most, is when we see all these different groups saying all these different things, and we say something like, “Well, can’t we just agree to disagree?  Does it really make a big difference?  You know, can’t we just say you have yours and I have mine, and we’ll just go from there?”  The problem with false teaching, though, is that false teaching kills the soul.  False teaching actually leads away from God.  False teaching is a sin.  And so, we can’t just turn a blind eye to it.  Now, the problem is that, on our own, we don’t have the ability to avoid false teaching, because we are all sinners by nature.  And so what do we do?  How do we get out of it?  Well, like I say, on our own, we can’t.

But Jesus came down among us, and He died for our sins.  And because He died and rose again for us, He is the one who takes us out of false teaching.  He is the one who sets us in the way of truth.  He is the one who keeps us in that truth.  And so, when we deal with all of these things and deal with all of these false doctrines around us, we can bear with those who are caught in it in Christian love, praying that Christ would take them out just as He took us out and set us on the way of truth.

And so that’s the first example, and moving on to the second one, practices which we think might improve our standing with God.

Now, the Pharisees and the scribes ceremonially washed their hands before they ate.  Our text translates this as “wash their hands properly.”  Now, we don’t know exactly what this means.  Some of the translations say that it was “with a fist,” and one possible explanation could be that they rubbed their hands together like this.  Now, if you look at that, and if you think that rubbing your hands together like that is going to make you somehow better with God, we can see how silly that really is, to think that this is going to do something about our eternal salvation.  The problem, of course, comes when you deal with something that seems a little less silly, that seems like it’s something we should be doing, something even perhaps that God has commanded us to do.  And so, for example, if you believe that reading your Bible every day, or praying every day, or going to church, or helping the hungry, or clothing the naked is going to make some sort of difference in your eternal salvation, well, you might as well just be rubbing your hands together, because all of our works do nothing when it comes to actually how we relate to God, our standing with God.  And on our own, we don’t have the ability to do anything about it, because we’re dead in our sin.

But.  But, Christ came down among us, and He died precisely to save us from our sins, so that when we couldn’t do anything, when we were just standing around rubbing our hands together, Christ did it all for us.  He took us out of our sins, and delivered us, and has paid the full price, so now there is nothing left to be done.  Jesus has paid for it all.  And so when we do do those things which God has commanded us to do, like read our Bible and go to church and all those sort of things, we do them not to be saved, not to go to heaven, but because of what Christ has already done for us.

And so that brings us to our final point:  practices which look so good.

There’s an excellent example of this in our text.  “And he said to them, ‘You have a fine way of rejecting the commandment of God in order to establish your tradition!  For Moses said, “Honor your father and your mother”; and, “Whoever reviles father or mother must surely die.”  But you say, “If a man tells his father or his mother, ‘Whatever you would have gained from me is Corban’” (that is, given to God)—then you no longer permit him to do anything for his father or mother.’”  See now, the Pharisees and the scribes here, what they were doing was pretending to keep the First Commandment, “You shall have no other gods before me.”  They ended up actually breaking the Fourth Commandment, “Honor your father and your mother,” because they took that money which they should have given to their parents, think of it as like their pension or something like that, something to support their parents in their old age, and they gave it over to the synagogue, and they said, “We’re serving God this way.”  But, Jesus says, “No.  You’re not.  You’re actually breaking the commandment.  You’re using one commandment to justify breaking another.”  Now, unfortunately, this is something we’re all prone to do as well, something we’re all tempted towards, this kind of hypocrisy.  You know, saying like “I love my neighbor,” but then we turn around, and we don’t do anything for him, or, you know, “I love my neighbor,” but then I turn around and I gossip about him.  No, these kind of thing, that we’re using one commandment to break another, is something that we all struggle with.  I mean, I struggle with it, and you all struggle with it as well.

But Christ came down, and forgives us.  He forgives us our hypocrisy, and he forgives us and takes us out of it, so that now we can actually keep the commandments.  We can actually serve him, so that we now honor Him with our lips, and our hearts are near to him, and we do not worship Him in vain, not because of anything we’ve done, but because of His gracious work.

And so that brings us to the end.  The Pharisees and the scribes, in their hypocrisy, thought that the disciples should keep their own commandments, and we would be caught in that trap too, were it not for Jesus.  Jesus came and died for our sins, so that we might be delivered from this, and so that we might serve Him with a new heart and in willing obedience.

In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen