In this chapter you see the Pharisees once again at conflict with Jesus.
- From the beginning of Jesus’ ministry the Pharisees and scribes have accused Jesus of various things in order to publicly humiliate Him.
- In chapter 9:3 the scribes accused Jesus of “blasphemy” when he forgave the sins of a man.
- Then in chapter 9:11, Jesus is involved in another conflict with the Pharisees when they take issue with him eating with “tax collectors and sinners.”
- Next there is a conflict that arises over his disciples not fasting.
- And then, the Pharisees see Jesus cast out some demons and they accuse him of being in league with the devil.
And now, here in chapter 15, the conflict continues.
- And one thing that always happens when Jesus comes in conflict with the Pharisees is He teaches us some very powerful lessons.
- Lessons that sometimes hit home…lessons that we sometimes don’t like to hear.
So let’s look at this incident of conflict and let’s learn some valuable lessons from Jesus…Matthew chapter 15.
As verse 1 begins, some scribes and Pharisees have come from Jerusalem and they gather around Jesus and they have a question.
- They ask, “Why do Your disciples transgress the tradition of the elders? For they do not wash their hands when they eat bread.”
Now I want you to notice the word “tradition.”
- Their washing their hands before they eat bread was not something they did because God commanded it.
- They did this because it was the “tradition of the elders.”
- This was something they did because someone, years before started this and it became a standard practice, and before long, everyone was doing it.
- And probably it got its start from them obeying God’s laws concerning “being ceremonially clean and unclean.”
- It may have started with them “sprinkling something with water.”
- And then in time someone decided that if “a utensil or something had to be ceremonially clean” before they used it, then it would only make sense that the hands also needed to be clean…and so they came up with the idea of hand washing.
- And more than likely there was a technique to this hand washing.
- And if it wasn’t done properly then your hands were still not clean.
And let me tell you, they were pretty serious about this.
- One Jewish story tells of a Jewish man who was imprisoned in a Roman jail.
- And every day he was given just a little water and bread for his meal.
- But because he couldn’t eat with unclean hands he would use what little water he received to clean his hands.
- And eventually he died of thirst.
- These people were serious about this!
And so, when Jesus’ disciples don’t wash their hands, these Pharisees get upset.
- After all, “How do they know that they haven’t touched a Gentile?”
- “How do they know that they haven’t come in contact with some unclean man or someone who has been declared unclean?”
- These men need to “cleanse themselves before they eat.”
Now understand, that this has nothing to do with sanitation. This is all about tradition.
So these Pharisees get upset and they ask Jesus, “Why do your disciples transgress the tradition of the elders? For they do not wash their hands when they eat bread.”
- So Jesus responds. Notice what he says starting in verse 3:
And He answered and said to them, “And 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, Let Him Be Put To Death.” “But you say, “Whoever shall say to his father or mother, “Anything of mine you might have been helped by has been given to God,” he is not to honor his father or mother.” And thus you invalidate the word of God for the sake of your tradition.
- Let me tell you what they were apparently doing.
- In verse four, Jesus quotes the fifth commandment: “Honor Your Father And Mother.”
- Then he quotes Exodus 20:17: “He Who Speaks Evil Of Father And Or Mother, Let Him Be Put To Death.”
- Now these are two direct commandments of God. They were to honor their parents…and one way to do that was to help them.
But notice verse 5 again: But you say, “Whoever shall say to his father or mother, “Anything of mine you might have been helped by has been given to God,” he is not to honor his father or his mother.”
- When their parents needed some help they would get out of helping them by saying, “All I have is set aside to God.”
But notice what Jesus calls this practice at the end of verse 6: “And thus you invalidate the word of God for the sake of your tradition.”
- Their practice of saying. “All that I have has been given to God” was nothing more than a tradition.
- A tradition that was “handed down.”
- And by keeping that tradition they ”invalidated the word of God.”
And look what Jesus says starting in verse 7: “You hypocrites, rightly did Isaiah prophesy of you, saying, “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.”
- Jesus takes his quotation from Isaiah 29 and He applies it to these Pharisees and He says, “You are hypocrites! You are just putting on an act!”
- “You are only acting when it comes to your worshiping and honoring God.”
And look what he says again in verse 8: “This People Honors Me With Their Lips, But Their Heart Is Far Away From Me.”
- When it came to honoring God these people were only giving “lip service” to it.
- They didn’t mean it!
And Then He Says, “But In Vain Do They Worship Me…”
- Their worship was “vain… It was worthless… Folly… Offensive to God!”
And look at the end of verse 9: They were, “Teaching As Doctrines The Precepts Of Men.”
- Now, this is pretty strong language… A pretty strong indictment against these Pharisees!
- They were taking self-made rules, commandments, and man-made religious rituals and teaching them as though they were the word of God.
Over the years I have had people ask me, “Why are there so many different religious groups?”
- Well, here is the answer!
- Some people teach their “precepts”, their self-made rules, their man-made commandments as though they are the word of God.
Now it would be real easy for us to point our fingers at these Pharisees and smirk at them.
- But what about us. Do we sometimes do the same thing?
Back in New Mexico the elders in our sister congregation let the preacher start putting the words of the songs on the overhead just like we do. The reason for doing it was much the same as ours: To get people to look up instead of having their heads down; they could put up some new songs that weren’t in their song books, and they could put some old songs that weren’t in their new song books; and for mothers with small children…it was never intended to replace their song books…only to help and possibly improve.
- They lost about 40 families because of that.
- “We are “singing off the wall.” “Why do we have song books if we aren’t going to use them?”
- “They are keeping people from learning the 4 part harmony.”
- Their tradition caused them to invalidate the commandment to be “united in peace and to love one another.”
And there are other such instances:
- “They started the communion from the back of the room instead of the front.”
- “They had the Lord’s supper at the end of the service instead of the beginning.”
- “They met at 5 instead of at 6.”
It would be so easy to point our fingers at these Jews or some of our other brethren but before we do, we had better look at ourselves first.
Now, let me say some things right here.
- As you look at what Jesus says here in these verses, there is one lesson that really jumps out here and that is, there are some things that really matter and some things that don’t.
- God’s commandments really matter and man’s traditions really don’t.
- Does it really matter whether we have 6 men on the Lord’s table or 8?
- Does it really matter if I stand behind the pulpit or to the side of it?
- Does it really matter if we use gold communion plates or aluminum?
- Sometimes these kinds of things are important to man and yet they are not very important to God.
- What counts the most with God is obeying his commandments and being sincere when we do.
- And we need to be careful about making the “method” or the “means” we use in fulfilling those commands, commandment.
A few years ago I had a lady come to me after a baptism…a father baptized his son… And she was really concerned because the father didn’t say, “I baptize you in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.”
- She was concerned that the baptism wasn’t valid.
- We have no instructions on what “must” be said at a baptism.
- We need to be careful about making “the method” we use in fulfilling God’s commandments, law.
Now, let me say this real quick.
- We need to be careful not to call something God commands a tradition.
- Today, many want to say that “baptism” is nothing more than a tradition.
- Or that taking the Lord’s Supper weekly is tradition.
- We need to be careful in doing that.
- It is a foolish individual that looks at God’s commands and decides that God doesn’t mean what He says.
- We need to be careful not to call that which God commands a tradition.
And at the same time we need to be careful about taking a tradition of man and making it a commandment of God.
- Many do that with Easter and Christmas, insisting that we “keep” these days, perhaps even confirming or authorizing them in our worship.
- To intermingle in worship things not commanded by God, is regarded by God as evidence that the heart is not right in the sight of God, and that the heart is not loyal and true to Him, but, as He says in verse 6, “Is far from him.”
- When we worship God, it must be what He commands; and we must do it to honor and obey Him, or He is not pleased with the service.
- A common practice today is for people to bring things into worship because, “They like it.”
- When we do what “we like” then God is no longer sovereign; we become sovereign; we must be cautious in what we do.
Now look at verse 10; And after He called the multitude to Him, He said to them, “Hear and understand. “Not what enters into the mouth defiles the man, but what proceeds out of the mouth, this defiles the man.”
- When He said this some eyes flew wide open.
- All of their lives they had the idea that the externals are what is important.
- “Ritual purification is what sets you apart or what makes you different.”
- And when Jesus says this it contradicts what they have been taught all their lives about what is really important.
- In fact look at verse 15. The disciples or so stunned by this that they questioned him about it again.
And Peter answered and said Him, “Explain the parable to us.” And He 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, evil thoughts, murders, adulteries, fornication’s, thefts, false witness, slanders. These are the things which defile the man; but to eat with unwashed hands does not defile the man.”
- These people had put so much emphasis on the outside that they had forgotten what was on the inside.
- And Jesus is saying, that the outside is not where God looks.
- What God looks at is the inside.
- Because what comes out of your mouth is reflection of what is really in your heart.
- And the condition of a man’s heart determines his standing with God.
- The condition of a man’s heart determines whether he is defiled or clean in the eyes of God.
Now let me give you a couple of quick lessons:
First: Rules don’t make you righteous.
- These Pharisees were of the mindset that the one with the most rules wins.
- And we follow the same concept today.
- Look at our country: How are we going to deal with the drug problem? Pass more laws?
- The theft problem? More laws?
- I am not against laws at all and I am not against prisons at all.
- But do you know how many more laws we have now than we did 20 years ago?
- How many more prisons than 20 years ago?
- How much better are things? Has that fixed anything?
We have a great big rulebook and we have all kinds of penalties for breaking the law, but has that really address the problem?
- No, the issue is not externals. The issue is the internal.
- What America has is a heart problem.
- What America has is a spiritual problem.
- And until the issue of morals and values is addressed and dealt with all the laws in the world and all the morals in the world aren’t going to fix the problem.
- It is simply not a matter of having enough rules.
- Externals are never a substitute for internals.
- And that is exactly the point that Jesus is making here. We are kidding ourselves if we think we can ride enough rules to make us religious.
Second: You won’t fool God.
- These Pharisees look so clean and right to people but they didn’t fool God.
- Can we look clean and be dirty?
- I think one of the biggest dangers that we face spiritually is that we can fake our way through.
- You can fake me out, I can fake you out.
- I can fool you, and you can fool me.
- I can stand up here and I can look clean, and act clean, and yet, spiritually, I can be dirty and you will not know it.
- I can even fool myself. But I will never fool God and neither will you.
And finally, you cannot write your own rules and win.
- These Pharisees were writing the rules so they could win, so they didn’t have to honor their mother and their father.
- And they lost.
- If you are writing your own rules, submitting what you want for what God commands and allows, you will lose too.
Jesus has given us some valuable lessons here. Lessons about just giving lip service to honoring God. About me and teaching as doctrines the precepts of men. About allowing our traditions to invalidate the commandments of God. About what really counts would God is the inside and not the outside. We won’t fool God. Let’s all seek to be inside what he wants us to be. And by the way, if the inside is taking care of the outside were pretty well take care of itself also.
© Sunset Ridge Church of Christ 2023