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Mark 7:1-23: The Trouble With Tradition (Or, Where's the Pastor's Tie?) Print E-mail
Sunday, 09 September 2007

There are some in the Church, possibly even some here this morning, who would claim: ‘You cannot preach without a tie.’  Thus, the only way for me to accurately preach is with a tie on.  This is a tradition that has come down through the years and many continue to agree with it.  However, there are some in the Church, who also may be represented among us, who would say the opposite, namely: ‘You cannot preach with a tie.’  This thought comes from their belief that a tie is too formal and actually prevents people from listening to the message.  In this way (and in so many other ways) you have those who are committed more to tradition in contrast with those who are committed to newer trends.  Seemingly, one is committed to the old ways, while the other is committed to the new.

So, what about you?  Should I preach with the tie or without the tie?  Well, the right answer is this: who cares?  Whether or not I where a tie has absolutely nothing to do with my effectiveness, or ineffectiveness, as a preacher.  Rather, it simply illustrates our obsession with the visible.  We judge a man by the clothes he wears or the company he keeps or the car he drives or a number of other visible attributes.  The issue of faithful preaching does not have anything to do with whether or not the preacher is wearing a tie.  No, the issue is faithfulness to the text, which can be done with or without a tie.  We have to be careful that we do not fall into the trap of being obsessed with the visible.  How do we discern?  We focus on what really does matter, namely faithfulness to the Word of God.  This is true when we are considering preaching and true when we are considering other issues in life as well. 

In our text this morning, we see the Pharisees once again confronting Jesus over His disciples’ failure to follow their traditions.  They too were obsessed with the visible and could not understand why Jesus was not correcting His followers.  They stumbled over their traditions and Jesus was quick to point out their error.  I want to point out from the text a general lesson about the trouble with tradition as well as a more specific lesson.  Let’s start with the general.

Generally speaking, tradition can blind us to the heart of the matter (v. 1-8).

Mark gives us an explanation for why the Pharisees were struggling with the disciples not washing their hands in verses 3-4.  He tells us that they had a tradition of washing their hands before meals in order to avoid defilement.  Mark also tells us that they had other traditions as well that they rigorously held.  In verses 5-8, we see the Pharisees questioning Jesus about the disciples’ actions.  Look at those verses with me.  To answer the Pharisees, Jesus quotes from Isaiah 29:13.  The Lord, through the prophets, often accused Israel of just going through the motions in their worship.  He corrected their erroneous conclusion that mere ritual was pleasing to Him by condemning such action through the prophets.  Jesus applies such teaching to the Pharisees here.  They, like Israel before them, are more concerned with maintaining the ritual of worship.  They get all the words right, but their hearts are far from honoring to the Lord.  Jesus calls this hypocrisy.

What is the real problem here with the Pharisees?  Their tradition has missed the point, for it does not focus on the heart.  We often have the same problem.  We go through the motions.  We say the right words and pray the right prayers and give the right money, but our hearts are far from honoring to the Lord.  Let me ask it this way: do you delight in Jesus this morning?  Is it your joy to come and sing and give and pray and listen and meet with other believers?  Or is this just part of your routine?  You do it because it is what you have always done.  If you are honest with yourself this morning, do you find yourself thinking like the Pharisees?  Something like: ‘Hey, William, get off my back, at least I am here, at least I give, at least I sing when it is a song I know or like, at least I try to stay awake while you preach.’  The problem with such thinking is that Jesus calls it hypocritical.  It is not the worship that Jesus desires and deserves.  No, He deserves our whole heart and He demands it as well.  Anything else is vain and worthless.  Unfortunately, if we are not careful, our traditions can lead us down a path toward such vain worship.  We must be wary of such a path by realizing just how blind our tradition can make us.

More specifically, tradition can focus on the externals and the man-made, while neglecting the internals and the God-given commands (v. 9-23).

Let me clarify this point by breaking it into two sections, namely the externals versus the internals and the man-made versus the God-given.  In verses 9-13, we see an example of the Pharisees focusing on the man-made and neglecting the God-given commands.  Look at those verses with me.  Jesus is condemning a particular practice of the Pharisees at this time.  He identifies the clear God-given command in verse 10, namely children are to honor their parents, which includes providing for them monetarily. 

Yet, the Pharisees allowed people to get out of keeping this command by committing their money to the temple (Corban).  In other words, if a person made a vow to give their money to God by giving it to the temple, then that vow actually kept them from using that money to provide for their parents.  Thus, their man-made tradition of Corban actually prevented people from obeying the God-given command to honor their father and mother.  Of course, as Jesus states in verse 13, this is only one example of the ways that the Pharisees were allowing man-made traditions to trump the commands of God.  Thus, tradition can lead us to focusing on the man-made and neglecting the God-given.

Likewise, tradition can also lead us to focus on externals while neglecting the internals.  This is what we learn from the hand-washing incident.  The Pharisees were convinced that the disciples were defiling themselves by eating with unwashed hands.  Yet, Jesus speaks to this directly in verses 14-19.  What Jesus says here is extremely controversial to the Jewish community.  They were still following the Old Covenant and the Mosaic Law, which clearly condemned the eating of certain foods.  Now, it should be noted that Jesus constantly corrects their misunderstanding and misapplication of that Law (as we have already seen in our text this morning). 

Yet, here He makes a break with the Old Covenant and as Mark notes for us: He declared all foods clean.  Seemingly, the prohibition against certain foods (see Leviticus 11) was meant to convey the principle of holiness and being set apart (despite the misunderstanding of the Pharisees).  Yet, as Jesus makes so plain in the Sermon on the Mount, the primary concern of the Law and the primary concern of the New Covenant is not externals (or what goes in) but internals (or what comes out).  The real issue is the heart. 

In God’s providence, the food prohibitions are not a part of the New Covenant and the Law of Christ, but the principle that what comes from the heart is what defiles a person is very much a part of the New Covenant.  This is what Christ is driving at in verses 20-23.  Look at those with me.  It is not food that defiles a man.  It is not eating with unclean hands that defile a man.  No, it is what comes out a man’s heart that defiles him.  Jesus gives us a representative list of the evil that comes out of our hearts and defiles us.  What He is conveying is that we should be more concerned with our hearts and with these sins than with the washing of hands or the eating of unclean foods.  Yet, the Pharisees tradition had led them away from focusing on the heart and left them focusing on the externals and man-made rules.  The result is that they had very clean hands and very dirty hearts. 

Let me just be honest at this point: I fear that we think like the Pharisees too much in the American Church.  We often let our tradition blind us from the heart of the matter.  We often focus on the externals at the expense of the internals and the man-made rules at the expense of the God-given commands.  You may be tempted at this point to be thinking: ‘Yeah, so we focus on what the preacher wears more than we should, but it’s really not that big of a deal, right?’  Well, no, it is a big deal when we lose the gospel in the mix.  Let me explain what I mean.  We, like the Pharisees, often focus on everything but the heart of the matter when it comes to the gospel.  We talk about sincere prayers and baptism certificates.  We talk about not smoking, not drinking, not dancing, not playing cards.  We talk about going to Church (or at least having your name on a membership role somewhere) and tithing.  Not that these issues are unimportant, but unfortunately they often take our focus off of the heart of the matter, namely the heart.  So, how do we avoid this error?

First, we must get the gospel right personally.  When you examine yourself, do not get so obsessed with the visible that you fail to examine the heart.  Ask yourself questions like these: where are my affections?  Am I making war with my sin and putting it to death?  Do I actually love the people of God or do I just tolerate them?  Do I really believe that my relationship with Jesus is the most important thing in my life?  We have to move beyond just the externals and take an honest look at our hearts.  We can fool each other.  We can even fool ourselves. 

But we cannot fool the Lord.  He is concerned with our heart.  Ask Him even now to convict you and show you whether or not you are His.  You can go through all the right motions.  You can keep all the rituals.  You can have the cleanest hands in this Church.  But if your heart is dirty, then you are in trouble.  Jesus gives a stern warning in Matthew 5:20.  Listen to what He says: For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.  May we cry out to God this morning to prevent us from making the mistake of focusing on the externals at the expense of our own hearts.  Oh God, give us clean hearts, give us new hearts, that we might follow hard after You and worship You in spirit and in truth.

Second (building off of the first), we must get the gospel right corporately.  We cannot look into the hearts of each other, but we can teach and encourage and hold each other accountable to examine ourselves.  In our evangelism and reaching out to the community, we must not focus on the externals at the expense of the gospel.  Rather, may we be a Church that strives to make disciples and not just decisions.  May we avoid mere ritual and come before the Lord with true worship (tie or no tie), in our corporate gatherings and our individual lives.  To Him be the glory.  Amen.

Last Updated ( Thursday, 20 September 2007 )

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