8th April 2023
Read (Matthew 15v1-20)
Message (Scott Woodburn)
The old adage "some people never learn" was certainly true of the Pharisees and scribes. They had consistently opposed Christ and just as consistently were left with egg on their face. They brought another challenge to the Lord over the issue of hand washing asking “Why do your disciples break the tradition of the elders? For they do not wash their hands when they eat.” (v2). What was the problem? In Christ's day many traditions had been passed down from previous generations and some of those dealt with how an individual was to wash in order to be ceremonially clean. It would appear that the disciples were not following the Pharisees' strict code.
It is important to note that the Pharisees were not insisting that the disciples adhered to God's Law. The "tradition of the elders" may have been well intentioned but it was not part of the Law. Therefore Jesus responded “And why do you break the commandment of God for the sake of your tradition?" (v3). The Law was clear that parents are to be honoured (Exodus 20v12) and anyone who cursed his parents should die (Exodus 21v17) but the Pharisees were using the "tradition of the elders" to circumvent the Law.
What were they doing? The Pharisees were making use of something called "qorban" which allowed them to dedicate food, money or property to God thus keeping it from the grasp of their parents. Now dedicating something to God is an honourable thing but it appears that the Pharisees were acting in a dishonourable manner. Imagine a son grew to hate his father - he could declare his home as "qorban" meaning that his father would have no right to his son's property. There is even evidence that such a vow could later be made void with the help of a rabbi - in such circumstances a son could "devote" his money to God and keep it away from his earthly parents and then at a later stage he could take his money back from the Lord. Neither his earthly or heavenly father would get anything from such an individual.
Christ's rebuke was stern, He said "for the sake of your tradition you have made void the word of God. You hypocrites! Well did Isaiah prophesy of you, when he said: ‘This people honours me with their lips, but their heart is far from me; in vain do they worship me, teaching as doctrines the commandments of men.'" (v6-9).
The Pharisees and scribes were making much of traditional man-made rules and regulations which for them had grown to trump the very Word of God. Jesus told the people that the Pharisees were "blind guides" (v13) and tragically if the blind lead the blind they both will fall into a pit and be destroyed (v14). Where the Pharisees had gone wrong was that they were insisting on outward behaviour without inward heart change.
Jesus said that is not what goes into a person that makes them unclean but what comes out of the mouth (v11). What comes from the mouth finds it source in the heart and from the heart comes evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false witness, slander (v19). A person could have the cleanest hands in Ballynahinch and still be in a desperate spiritual condition. This is what the Pharisees missed - outward obedience to man-made laws is no substitute for a Gospel transformed heart. Equally man-made laws and traditions should never take priority over the Word of God.
We would do well to heed this teaching in our day and age. The Gosepl of grace has been preached consistently in our land for generations and yet I'm always amazed at how many place their trust in man-made standards. "My hands are clean" we tell ourselves, "There's worse than me" we say, "the big man upstairs will see me right" we hope. But none of these attitudes address the real issue.
Everyone needs radical heart surgery which takes our heart of stone and replaces it with a heart of flesh. For such surgery we don't need to go on an NHS waiting list. Instead the Holy Spirit is our doctor who sends us to Christ the surgeon who uses the Gospel scalpel to operate on the dead hearts of sinners. It is by grace we have been saved through faith in Christ. Brothers and sisters rejoice, we have not gone through the motions of ceremonial hand washing, instead we have washed our robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb (Revelation 7v14).
Q15 What was the sin whereby our first parents fell from the estate wherein they were created? The sin whereby our first parents fell from the estate wherein they were created, was their eating the forbidden fruit.