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May 9, 2021 | Chris Baselice
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“Then the Pharisees and some of the scribes came together to Him, having come from Jerusalem. Now when they saw some of His disciples eat bread with defiled, that is, with unwashed hands, they found fault. For the Pharisees and all the Jews do not eat unless they wash their hands in a special way, holding the tradition of the elders. When they come from the marketplace, they do not eat unless they wash. And there are many other things which they have received and hold, like the washing of cups, pitchers, copper vessels, and couches.”—Mark 7:1–4 (NKJV)
We now come to a scene in Mark’s account of Christ’s life where the Pharisees are doing what they do best: finding fault! Without going into elaborate detail, the Pharisees had positioned themselves as “spiritual quality control” over the people of Israel. Their mission was to detect and deal with any human behavior that deviated from their obstacle course of religious routines. They were able to exert their authority like this because they were trusted to faithfully interpret God’s Word in such matters. But as we’ll see, they had crossed that line a long time ago.
As resident fault finders, they soon began to notice that those who followed Jesus weren’t following their rules, especially when it came to not obeying their regulations on hand washing. How could someone hope to be accepted or loved by God if they didn’t meticulously wash their hands as they had prescribed? It prompted them to go straight to Jesus, asking how this could happen and how He could be okay with such a travesty. His response certainly wasn’t what they expected!
“He answered and said to them, ‘Well did Isaiah prophesy of you hypocrites, as it is written: “This people honors Me with their lips, but their heart is far from Me. And in vain they worship Me, teaching as doctrines the commandments of men.” For laying aside the commandment of God, you hold the tradition of men—the washing of pitchers and cups, and many other such things you do.”—Mark 7:6-8 (NKJV)
That escalated quickly! Instead of Jesus answering, “You’re right, what was I thinking? They should all be observing the rules that you’ve laid down for everyone. My bad!”, He takes it in the polar opposite direction. To the shock of everyone, He calls the Pharisees out for hypocrisy! This was unimaginable in that time. These were the “keepers of righteousness.”
But Jesus flips the script by revealing how wrong their hearts had become. By adding their traditions onto what God’s Word actually said, and then elevating those traditions above the authority of God’s Word, they became the real problem. Jesus essentially says, “Forget the dirty hands, your hearts are what needs to be cleaned!” And just for added measure, He references their sin through a prophecy from Isaiah. The very Scriptures they had so badly mishandled now bears witness of their sin.
As easy as it is to cheer Jesus on as He exposes the Pharisees sin, we need to be mindful of the fact that we can be guilty of the same sin. Human nature loves its traditions. We can even elevate our traditions above God’s actual heart on something. When we allow that, finding fault will be the inevitable outcome. Don’t do that! Cling to the eternal absolutes of God’s Word, but keep an open heart when it comes to everything else.
Pause: Where did the Pharisees go wrong? How can you be guilty of the same thing if you’re not careful?
Practice: Do you have any areas where you are clinging to traditions and have lost mercy, compassion, and grace? Is there an area where you’ve become and accidental Pharisee? Ask the Lord to examine your heart and then spend time in His Word seeking the true heart of God in this area.
Pray: Father, keep me right with You, clinging to Your truth and not the traditions of others.
Pastor Dan Hickling serves our online community, also known as the Calvary Chapel Online Campus. He and his wife Becky have been married for 22 years and have two children, Lauren and Danny. Both Dan and Becky have been part of the CCFL church family for 22 years and have served in full time ministry for 20 of those years.