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Matthew

Out of the Heart

Matthew  15:1-20

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One of the great consistencies of the New Testament accounts is the way in which Christ dealt with the Pharisees. With the exception of a small number (Nicodemus comes to mind), He turned on them the ferocity of His wrath. He called them hypocrites, and for a religious person (especially one who has dedicated his life to service) it is a mind cracking insult. Perhaps it was intended to be such.

Tradition Abused

Then some Pharisees and scribes *came to Jesus from Jerusalem and said, "Why do Your disciples break the tradition of the elders? For they do not wash their hands when they eat bread." And He answered and said to them, "Why do you yourselves transgress the commandment of God for the sake of your tradition? "For God said, 'HONOR YOUR FATHER AND MOTHER,' and, 'HE WHO SPEAKS EVIL OF FATHER OR MOTHER IS TO BE PUT TO DEATH.' "But you say, 'Whoever says to his father or mother, "Whatever I have that would help you has been given to God," he is not to honor his father or his mother.' And by this you invalidated the word of God for the sake of your tradition.

(Mat 15:1-6 NASB)

The value of tradition

It is fashionable to deride tradition these days. I submit to the contrary, however, the thoughts of the orthodox Jews. They begin their prayers with the phrase, “Our God, and the God of our fathers.” The tradition is explained this way: if He is not your God – meaning that you have truly believed – then you have nothing but an empty tradition. If He is not the God of your fathers, then you can be deceived by “every wind of doctrine” that comes along. Tradition is the vote of those who don’t happen to be walking the planet at the moment.

Our church has traditions, too. One of the most prominent traditions we have is to proclaim ourselves to be a non-traditional church. Tradition, we are told, is for those who simply are holding on to the past, and nothing more. Are we traditional? Well, we use Welch’s grape juice instead of wine. All the other churches in the restoration movement do likewise, and have done since the rise of the “temperance” movement. It is a tradition, and none dare look into it.

Tradition, I submit, is of great value. It preserves you from the error of the moment by pointing you to the solutions of the past. But tradition must be kept in its place. It exists in the church to instruct you in what those in the past considered wise. The danger comes when your tradition stands before the word of God.

The best defense

Note, please, that the Pharisees in this passage are not the locals from Galilee. They’re from headquarters in Jerusalem. The man’s fame has spread, so the religious leaders come down to the sticks so that they might put this man in His place. They come with the highest authority in Judaism – and so it is that the blame on them is so much greater. The higher the responsibility, the greater the fall.

Note that their opening salvo is in the form of tradition. They have no basis in the Law of Moses to accuse Him, so tradition will have to do. They were expecting to hear what they would have said: some clever reply from some clever rabbi. The intent (as of this time) is not his death, but rather somehow to co-opt Him into “the system.”

It is a characteristic of God. The pious, learned hypocrite understands things only after they are clear to the humble. What you understand depends upon how you listen. If you’re listening to make an argument, you will not hear what He really says.

Honor your father and mother

The Old Testament provides ample instruction in how you are to treat your parents: with great honor. This seems just; after all, they put up with you through how many difficult years? Indeed, even to speak evil of your parents was cause for the death penalty.[1] The straightforward mind would view this as a command.

But the Pharisees had found a way out of this. The process was to solemnly dedicate to God whatever was necessary to keep your parents warm and fed. This put the parents in a difficult situation:

·         They could ask the child, now grown, for support – and be reviled for their unholy demand. It would be sacrilegious, in their view.

·         Or they could starve to death.

The real reason, of course, is money. So it is they made the house of prayer into a den of thieves.

Hearing and Understanding

"You hypocrites, rightly did Isaiah prophesy of you: 'THIS PEOPLE HONORS ME WITH THEIR LIPS, BUT THEIR HEART IS FAR AWAY FROM ME. 'BUT IN VAIN DO THEY WORSHIP ME, TEACHING AS DOCTRINES THE PRECEPTS OF MEN.'" After Jesus called the crowd to Him, He said to them, "Hear and understand. "It is not what enters into the mouth that defiles the man, but what proceeds out of the mouth, this defiles the man."

(Mat 15:7-11 NASB)

Practical hypocrisy

There is a present example which shows you just how easy it is to slip into pious hypocrisy. Consider the humble offering envelope. In some churches your giving is posted on the wall; which tends to tempt the wealthy into hypocrisy (“I’m no sinner; look how much I give”). In ours, by contrast, we have blue offering envelopes. I am told that the numbering system used is an aid to those in the office who count the offering, and with this one could not quibble. It would be poor stewardship to avoid the tax deductions available because of the gift. But the envelope system is as open to hypocrisy as the list on the wall – and at much less expense.[2]

Hypocrisy in the offering plate is rather limited in these days of checks and credit cards. It was greater in the days of gold coin, I suspect. But showmanship is not the chief tool of the hypocrite. Rules and regulations are. Don’t eat this; don’t go there; don’t touch that. If you wish to lead people astray from Christ, the method most common is that. (Did you know that Mormons are forbidden to drink hot liquids, including coffee?)

You see the point. Hard work is used as man’s replacement for God’s grace. So it is that the hypocrite seems to be a hard worker – it’s just that the work doesn’t produce the results God promises.

The right to accuse

It is a maxim of Anglo-Saxon justice: the accuser must have clean hands. (Pun intended). So it is that Christ here does not bother to defend his disciples; rather, he assaults the Pharisees. See how this is done: the argument comes from the Old Testament (hence, Moses and Isaiah are their accusers) – and goes against their tradition, not the Law.

It is a consistent problem. If we’re not adding to the Scriptures, we’re taking away. Need a couple of examples?

  • In our congregation, the phrase that “the body is the Temple of the Holy Spirit” is now used to justify commanding the believer to eat organic foods and join a health club. No mention of prostitution[3] or sex – that’s cultural, and no longer applies.
  • For additions, I would point you to the number of classes (well attended) that our church runs whose main subject is not Christ, nor the Scriptures, but modern pop psychology.

You may think I’m being hard on my home church. I would be if there were not plenty of evidence that the church in America is well down the trail of addition and subtraction.

There is a sense of blasphemy about it; but that you may judge for yourselves. How often today does the church act as an extension of the Republican party? Do not take His name in vain.

Hearing and understanding

Please note: Jesus calls the crowd to Himself. He wants to make it clear to the average man of the time that this is important. He then tells them that uncleanness (of great importance in the ceremonial part of the Law) was not a matter of what you ate but what you thought. He does so in plain text – no code required. It’s not a parable. But it is simple and radical – like so many great ideas.

Stone of Stumbling

Then the disciples *came and *said to Him, "Do You know that the Pharisees were offended when they heard this statement?" But He answered and said, "Every plant which My heavenly Father did not plant shall be uprooted. "Let them alone; they are blind guides of the blind. And if a blind man guides a blind man, both will fall into a pit." Peter said to Him, "Explain the parable to us." Jesus said, "Are you still lacking in understanding also? "Do you not understand that everything that goes into the mouth passes into the stomach, and is eliminated? "But the things that proceed out of the mouth come from the heart, and those defile the man. "For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murders, adulteries, fornications, thefts, false witness, slanders. "These are the things which defile the man; but to eat with unwashed hands does not defile the man."

(Mat 15:12-20 NASB)

The Pharisees were offended

Peter thinks there’s something wrong here. The Pharisees, after all, have been portrayed to him as truly religious figures who are to be treated with reverence. So it is not unexpected that he points out the offense to Christ. The word he uses for “offended” is the root word from which we get our word “scandalize.” In short, Peter is trying to smooth things over a bit.

But our Lord is the Stone of Stumbling, the Rock of Offense. It is in the very nature of things that righteousness should appear offensive to hypocrisy. Hypocrisy itself often makes heavy use of “good manners.” It is undoubtedly a case of poor manners to accuse someone of being a hypocrite, especially to his face.

But just as you would want your doctor to level with you about what your disease is and what that might mean, it is no favor to the hypocrites to allow them to continue as such, uncontested. Surgery is just a friendly attack with a knife.

It seems, at first, that Jesus makes no effort to reform the Pharisees. But in fact He is doing just that. By clubbing them over the head with their sin, He hopes that they will see the light. It is not a very effective technique, evidently. But that is hardly our Lord’s fault.

Peter wants an explanation

Peter – a man whose automobile would have a big engine and no steering wheel – wants Christ to explain “the parable.” Jesus tells him that he has missed the point entirely.

But to make the matter clear, He tells them that if something is not from God it will, eventually, be uprooted and destroyed. (Contemporary America might just be a good example). Note, please, that this does not necessarily imply that God’s plants never get ripped up; we can certainly destroy what He has planted.

So what does Christ do in this instance? He chews them out – and lets them alone. Sometimes, it’s a good idea to state your case, then sit down and shut up. We’re responsible for the planting; the growing is God’s business.

It’s a tough time for the disciples. They’re Jewish; those dietary laws are sacred to them. It will be some time before Peter sees the sheet let down from heaven.

Out of the heart

The reader will please note that ‘the heart” at this time would be considered the seat of a man’s will – not his emotions. If you wanted to refer to emotions in this time, you would reference a person’s liver. So Christ is not talking about some passionate mistake; rather, He’s talking about the cold-hearted will of one who deceives others with his attempt at imitating the real Christian.

We need not worry about it; it takes a while, but eventually the fruit of a man’s life is shown. It takes a little while for the heart of a man to be seen – but the hypocrites heart will eventually give rise to the words to match.

There is one last thought with which I leave you. It is the hypocrite’s reward:

"Many will say to Me on that day, 'Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in Your name, and in Your name cast out demons, and in Your name perform many miracles?' "And then I will declare to them, 'I never knew you; DEPART FROM ME, YOU WHO PRACTICE LAWLESSNESS.'

(Mat 7:22-23 NASB)


[1] Exodus 21:17

[2] Your author has but one functioning eye, thus no depth perception. Those around observe me trying to put the envelope in the bag, and undoubtedly draw their own conclusions. The folly of conclusion jumping is hereby proclaimed.

[3] See 1 Corinthians 6:15-20 for the original context.

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