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.

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: 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: 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: 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: Are You So Dull?

“After he had left the crowd and entered the house, his disciples asked him about this parable. ‘Are you so dull?’ he asked. ‘Don’t you see that nothing that enters a man from the outside can make him “unclean”? For it doesn’t go into his heart but into his stomach, and then out of his body.’ (In saying this, Jesus declared all foods ‘clean.’)” (Mark 7:17-19)

Ouch! I’ve had moments in my life where I might have imagined that Jesus thought I was pretty thick-headed, but it must have stung a little to hear him actually say out loud, “Are you so dull?”

prickly_350Part of the problem was that Jesus’ teaching about food not being able to make you unclean was radically different from what the disciples had grown up believing. It was built into their worldview about both God and food. Jesus’ declaration that all foods were now clean was so startling they had to ask what, exactly, he meant.

Does Jesus sound too harsh to you, given what seems to us like the disciples’ understandable confusion? It might feel that way through the ears of our culture, but Jesus was a teacher, a rabbi, and challenging students with stern questions is often an effective teaching method. It wakes us up, tells us “this is serious,” and helps us to realize that we are NOT too dull. We can get this.

Jesus was never NOT loving or patient or kind. Even his harsh-sounding questions were intended for the disciples’ good.

Think: Do you ever feel a little dull when it comes to understanding some of the hard-to-get words of Jesus? Does that motivate you to work a little harder to figure them out through prayer, research, or asking someone you trust?

Pray: Ask God to help you to keep growing in your understanding of Jesus’ words in the Bible.

Do: Think about Jesus and his disciples next time one of your teachers or coaches asks you a stern or abrupt question.

Mark 7: The Evil Within

“What comes out of a man is what makes him ‘unclean.’ For from within, out of men’s hearts, come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, greed, malice, deceit, lewdness, envy, slander, arrogance and folly. All these evils come from inside and make a man ‘unclean.’ ” (Mark 7:20-23)

We were concerned yesterday when we read about Jesus asking if the disciples were “dull.” After this list, I’d take being called dull any time.

prickly_350In essence, Jesus’ response to the Pharisees was, “You’re worried about hand-washing and food when your hearts are full of all of this. These things are constantly erupting out of human beings every day – and the thing on the top of your list is what a guy had for lunch?”

Jesus’ point was that human beings are sinful from the inside out – and we give evidence of it every day. We need saving inside, not more polishing on the outside. We need to be born again and made new, not to pretend that following a few extra rules are going to fix our problem.

Washing our hands won’t change our evil hearts.

Think: Do you think people are basically good or basically evil? After you read this statement from Jesus, do you think he believes people to naturally be pretty good or naturally – without God transforming them – pretty evil?

Pray: Ask God to help you to understand the truth about the reality of human hearts with and without Christ.

Do: Read another analysis of the human heart on Jeremiah 17:9.