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Mark 7: Food is Not the Problem

“Again Jesus called the crowd to him and said, ‘Listen to me, everyone, and understand this. Nothing outside a man can make him “unclean” by going into him. Rather, it is what comes out of a man that makes him “unclean.” ‘ ” (Mark 7:14-15)

If you’re the kind of person who is careful about what you eat, you might wince at Jesus’ words here. Some of us are so concerned with healthy and unhealthy food that we might really feel “unclean” after eating a drive-thru burger or an entire sleeve of Girl Scout cookies in one sitting.

prickly_350But to those who heard this in person, Jesus’ words were revolutionary. For them, it wasn’t about being fat or feeling gross, it was about being acceptable to God, about becoming spiritually unclean in their community. They had grown up with the idea that eating the wrong foods could change your spiritual status as a person.

Jesus demanded a radical shift in his followers’ thinking: God cares more about what lives in your heart than what passes through your digestive track. And what lives in our hearts is revealed by our sinful words, actions, thoughts, and attitudes. Sin comes from in there, not from the outside when we forget to wash our hands before having lunch.

Think: Our culture puts a huge emphasis on what we eat and don’t eat. Do you ever feel guilty about your food choices? Do you think you sometimes care more about healthy eating than whether your heart and mind is right with God?

Pray: Thank God that you will not be declared unclean for eating certain foods. Ask him to help you care more about honoring him with your heart, mind, and actions than you do about what you eat.

Do: Read Colossians 2:20-22.

Mark 7: Good Reasons to Disobey God?

“You have a fine way of setting aside the commands of God in order to observe your own traditions! For Moses said, ‘Honor your father and your mother.’ . . .”

“But you say that if a man says to his father or mother: ‘Whatever help you might otherwise have received from me is Corban’ (that is, a gift devoted to God), then you no longer let him do anything for his father or mother. Thus you nullify the word of God by your tradition.” (Mark 7:9-13)

prickly_350I wonder if the Pharisees regretted bringing up the issue of Jesus’ disciples not following the “traditions” by washing their hands before they ate. Jesus turned their own smug question against them, demonstrating here how they had elevated good intentions into traditions with the force of Law – and ended up missing God’s heart by a mile.

Even if we don’t think of ourselves as legalists, we’re all capable of hiding behind “the good” to keep from doing what God really wants for us. We can use the good idea of protecting our character by not associating with people of low character to avoid ever having to make relationships with unbelievers and tell them about Jesus. And we can do the same in reverse, using the good idea of evangelism as an excuse to lower our standards for personal holiness.

That’s just one example. It takes brutal self-honesty to avoid falling in line with the Pharisees by using “good” rules to serve ourselves instead of God.

Think: Can you think of other ways in which we use good-sounding, well-intentioned, man-made rules to avoid doing what God really wants for us, to avoid obeying him, even?

Pray: Ask God to give you the courage to be brutally honest with yourself about your real motives for doing “good” things. Ask him to help you to never come up with good reasons to disobey him.

Do: Notice this week what reasons people in your life (or in your media consumption) give for doing wrong things. How often do they point to their good intentions?

Mark 7: Clean Hands Empty Hearts

“He replied, ‘Isaiah was right when he prophesied about you hypocrites; as it is written: ‘ “These people honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me. They worship me in vain; their teachings are but rules taught by men.” You have let go of the commands of God and are holding on to the traditions of men.’ ” (Mark 7:6-7)

To catch up: The Pharisees, threatened by Jesus’ power and popularity as a rabbi, try to bring him down to their size by pointing out that his disciples are breaking an important “tradition” about hand-washing. Jesus cannot be diminished and responds with this quote from Isaiah to their ancestors.

prickly_350Two big things to notice:

Jesus’ point is NOT that it doesn’t matter if we obey God. Jesus obeyed the Law. This issue was about a man-made rule that had been given the weight of God’s own commands. In fact, these “bonus rules” not given by God had become more important than what God actually said.

The larger point Jesus makes here is that we can keep following the rules long after we’ve stopped following God. Our worship of him is not about everything we do together on Sunday morning; it’s about him. We obey him because he is God, not because we are good.

Think: Have you ever caught yourself honoring God with your lips even though your heart was far from him? Why does that happen? How can we keep it from happening?

Pray: Ask God to help you to be real in your worship of him. Ask him to help you to avoid making your worship and obedience more about you than him.

Do: Next time you actively participate in singing praise and worship songs to God with a group of people, get ready ahead of time by moving closer to God in your heart.

Mark 7: Why Not Wash?

“So the Pharisees and teachers of the law asked Jesus, ‘Why don’t your disciples live according to the tradition of the elders instead of eating their food with “unclean” hands?’ ” (Mark 7:5)

If you read the first 5 verses of Mark 7 from our cultural perspective of “CSI” and swine flu, you might at first glance agree with the Pharisees. Why didn’t Jesus’ disciples wash their hands before they ate? Gross.

prickly_350But this is bigger than a little bacteria on your baloney. This was a showdown between the Pharisees and Jesus over their requirement that people obey all the rules of “tradition.” These were a list of man-made rules added on top of God’s Law. The Pharisees used them to measure holiness – and to give themselves power over people.

We’ll see over the next few days that Jesus used their criticism as an opportunity to point out their hypocrisy. The Pharisees had made the rules the point of their whole religion and lost their focus on God in the process.

Think: We live in a different time and place. Do you think we still tend to put too much emphasis on man-made rules – or do we more often put too little emphasis on obeying God’s direction for our lives?

Pray: Thank God for Jesus’ courage to stand up to the legalism of the Pharisees. Ask Him to help you never to make following human rules the point of your relationship with him.

Do: Make a quick list of a few man-made rules that are sometimes attached to following Jesus?

Mark 7: Looking for Flaws

“The Pharisees and some of the teachers of the law who had come from Jerusalem gathered around Jesus and saw some of his disciples eating food with hands that were ‘unclean,’ that is, unwashed.” (Mark 7:1-2)

This week, we’re going to try to learn some things from a quick conversation between Jesus and some Pharisees. The Pharisees were starting to get tired of everyone talking about how great this new rabbi Jesus was. But after the miracles people had seen him do, how could they not talk?

prickly_350You would think the Jewish religious leaders would be excited about a rabbi that could do such powerful things, right? I mean, people were saying that Jesus could heal anyone of anything, that he could cast out demons without even breaking a sweat, that he could feed a stadium full of people with a sack lunch.

Instead, the Pharisees seem to have felt threatened. They did what some of your friends do when they feel insecure; they started to look for things about Jesus to criticize, to show that he was not that big of a deal

But Jesus pulled the curtain and showed everyone what was in their hearts.

Think: Have you ever heard someone mock Jesus or the idea of Jesus? Do you think sometimes people do that because they’re a little worried he might really be God?

Pray: Ask God to help you to learn this week both from Jesus’ words and the Pharisee’s negative example.

Do: Read Mark 5 to hear some of the reasons Jesus was becoming so well known.

Romans 5: Relationship Restored

“For if, when we were God’s enemies, we were reconciled to him through the death of his Son, how much more, having been reconciled, shall we be saved through his life! Not only is this so, but we also rejoice in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation.” (Romans 5:10-11)

Today, we wrap up our week-long list of all the benefits that come with trusting in Jesus for our salvation from sin and into a new, eternal life in God’s family. And this last one is huge.

cross_350Have you ever heard the story of a father and his son, estranged and distant for years and years because of some disagreement, who come back together on the father’s deathbed and make peace with each other. They forgive each other and embrace (and probably cry). They have been reconciled.

We were estranged from God because of our sin. We needed to be forgiven, and that’s what Jesus earned for us on the cross. It was over his empty deathbed that we were embraced by our Father in heaven. The relationship is fixed for all time. Jesus is alive again and we have been reconciled to God.

We are saved, and we will be saved, this verse tells us. Once God has reconciled us to himself, we will not become unreconciled. We will be walking with him forever.

Think: What did you have to do to convince God to “take you back” or reconcile you to himself? Why do you think he took action to make reconciliation with him possible before we even cared about it?

Pray: If you have trusted in Jesus for salvation, thank God for reconciling your relationship with him through Jesus’ death for us on the cross. Thank him that you are saved and will walk with him forever.

Do: Finish your list from this week with one last item: 10) We are reconciled to God forever! Then put the list up somewhere where you will bump into it for a few weeks to be reminded of who you are right now, today, as a Christian.

Romans 5: Saved from Hell

“Since we have now been justified by his blood, how much more shall we be saved from God’s wrath through him!” (Romans 5:9)

Wait a minute! What we’ve heard all week as we’ve been building our list from Romans 5 about all the good things that come with our salvation is how kind and loving and sacrificial our good God is. And he is all of those things. He loves us deeply and the sacrifice of Jesus in our place, for our sin, proves his love.

cross_350He’s also the God who would send us to hell forever in his wrath if we were not in Christ. That’s a tough concept for a lot of people square with their understanding of a good God. Part of the problem is that we undervalue sin. We think of it as a cold when it’s really a plague. We think of it as dynamite when it’s really a nuclear bomb. A God of justice must not let sin pass.

The other reason we discount hell is because we discount what it cost God to sacrifice his only Son. He provided payment for the plague and scorched-earth destruction of our sin by crushing the Son he loves in our place. And then we say, “How unfair of you, God, to allow only one path into heaven and away from hell!”

Let’s not miss how high these stakes are. We needed to be saved from eternal punishment in hell for our sin. And that’s what God gave us through Jesus.

Think: Are you tempted to be ashamed or embarrassed by Christian teaching about hell? Why do you think we’d mostly rather not talk about the reality of God’s wrath against sin?

Pray: Thank God for saving you from his own wrath through your faith in the blood of Jesus spilled for your sin.

Do: Add the next item to your list: 9) We are saved from hell.