Teaching the Taught — Tearing Down the Traditions of Men

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A great orator came to town and recited by memory great speeches of famous people. Someone asked him to recite the 23rd Psalm which he did wonderfully to great applause. He asked if anyone else could recite it, and an elderly man got up and recited it.
When the man finished the crowd was silence except for some who were moved to tears. The orator concluded the experience by saying, ‘I know only the Psalm, but this elderly man knows both the Psalm and the Shepherd.’
Do you know just the Psalm or do you know the Shepherd, too? Is your heart in it or is it just words?

The Delegation & Demand(Vs. 1-2)

Set the Scene from the previous chapter.
The DelegationScribes and Pharisees
Precept Austin — After the resettling of the Jewish people in Judea on their return from the Babylonian captivity, there were two religious groups among them. One party contented themselves with following only what was written in the Law of Moses and were known as Zadikim, the righteous. The other group called Chasidim or the pious added traditions of Jewish rabbis to the Law and voluntarily complied with them. Sadducees originated from the Zadikim. Pharisees and the Essenes originated from the Chasidim.
The Pharisees were the separatists of their day, and considered themselves much holier than the common people (Lu 18:11, 12). even wearing special garments to distinguish themselves. Although Pharisees were in number (about 6,000 according to Josephus, Ant. 17.2.4), their theology and tradition had great influence with the common people (who, ironically, the Pharisees often viewed with proud, self-righteous contempt).
The Pharisees distinguished themselves by their zeal for the traditions of men, which held to be equal to the Word of God. With the completion of the Mishnah (which was a written compilation of the oral law, rituals, and traditions) in about A.D. 200, and the Talmud (the combination of the Mishnah and the Gemara [three centuries of the rabbis’ commentary on the Mishnah]) in about A.D. 500, the Pharisees’ teaching became virtually synonymous with Judaism.
Ironically, it was their zeal for the law that caused the Pharisees to become focused on rituals and externally keeping the law. They abandoned true religion of the heart for mere outward behavior modification and ritual (Mt. 15:3–6), leading Jesus to scathingly denounce their pseudo spirituality:
So, we have this delegation of Pharisees and Scribes and the Bible tells us they came from Jerusalem.
Jerusalem is almost 100 miles from where Jesus is teaching and healing these people here in Gennesaret and in a time where travel was mainly by foot we can conclude that the reason for their visit must have been pretty serious!
They’ve heard about this Rabbi, who performs miracles and teaches with authority and has no regard for the customs of man!
They’ve heard how lame men have walked, dumb men have talked, blinded eyes now see, lepers have been healed, demons have been cast out and multitudes have been fed!
His fame is known throughout and people are flocking to Him by the droves!
They have heard the stories from their own peers how He’s put them in their place and left them speechless amongst the throngs of the masses and something has to be done!
Someone has to put an end to this madness!
So they, more than likely the Sanhedrin council and High Priest of Jerusalem, send a delegation of Scribes and Pharisees to what’s really going on!
They’ve traveled around 100 miles to see what this man named Jesus is all about!
They see masses of people thronging Him, simply trying to but touch the hem of His garment and every time a sick one comes and touches it, they leave being made whole!
Completely healed of their ailments!
They can’t believe what they’re seeing! They can’t explain what is taking place right before their very eyes but they also can’t allow it to continue!
Who is this man? How is He doing this? We must put a stop to it!
Miracles happening, sick people being healed all around them, lives being changed forever, and all they’re worried about is Jesus disciples over here to the side, having a bite of lunch, and not washing their hands before they eat!
Look at Verse 2.
Now, there are a couple words here that are key to understanding this verse and the context of what’s taking place.
Notice they didn’t say, “why do your disciples transgress the law of Moses or the law of God”…they said… “why do your disciples transgress…the tradition of the elders?”
Now, in order to understand this, you have to think back to what we just learned about the Pharisees.
They took the law of Moses…which was the law of God handed down to Moses on Mt. Sinai, and they began to add to it, right?
Notice you don’t see any Sadduccees here questioning this practice.
Why? Because it wasn’t the law of God that was being transgressed, it was the law of men!
And the Pharisees held the traditions of the elders, that had been passed down through the ages, in equality with the scriptures, sometimes even surpassing the scriptures!
They created the Mishna, then the Gemara which in turn, from my understanding…I don’t claim to be any sort of Jewish scholar here…but these two writings were combined to form what is known today as the Talmud.
The Mishna was laws created by the elders in addition to the laws of Moses to help keep them from transgressing the law of Moses and then the Gemara was Rabbinical commentaries on the Mishna.
Laws, upon laws, upon laws and more laws!
One writer gave a very good illustration of what the Pharisees had done down throughout the ages.
Brian Bell — You’ve seen many moms place a very thin blanket over their babies in their strollers (keep the sun off). But what would happen if they just kept placing blanket after blanket. It doesn’t matter how thin these blankets are…the baby would suffocate. Over the years the Pharisees had overlaid the biblical teaching with vast amounts of spoken teaching "blankets" and oral tradition "blankets." Though admirable, the original aim of protecting the baby, became its demise!
John MacArthur – By Jesus’ day, the tradition of the elders had for many years supplanted Scripture as the supreme religious authority in the minds of Jewish leaders and of most of the people.
The traditions even affirmed that “the words of scribes are more lovely than the words of the law,” and it became a greater offense in Judaism to transgress the teaching of some rabbi such as the revered Hillel than to transgress the teaching of Scripture.
They had taken the law to the extremes and got so off kilter that they thought their own laws, man made laws, were better than the laws of God!
That’s how twisted the situation had become!
It was so bad, that Mark in his gospel, now keep in mind he’s writing to a gentile crowd that wouldn’t understand the Jewish customs, but he spells it out in detail how serious they were about their man made traditions!
Mark 7:2–4 KJV 1900
2 And when they saw some of his disciples eat bread with defiled, that is to say, with unwashen, hands, they found fault. 3 For the Pharisees, and all the Jews, except they wash their hands oft, eat not, holding the tradition of the elders. 4 And when they come from the market, except they wash, they eat not. And many other things there be, which they have received to hold, as the washing of cups, and pots, brasen vessels, and of tables.
Now, let me explain just how serious their customs were for a second...
Explain the washing of hands
William Barclay describes how absurd rules of clean and unclean could be saying ...
This is not only a Jewish idea; it occurs in other religions. To a high-caste Indian anyone not belonging to his own caste is unclean; if that person becomes a Christian, he is still more seriously unclean.
Premanand tells us what happened to himself. He became a Christian; his family ejected him. Sometimes he used to come back to see his mother, who was broken-hearted at what she considered his apostasy, but still loved him dearly.
Premanand says: "As soon as my father came to know that I was visiting my mother in the daytime while he was away at the office, he ordered the door-keeper, a stalwart up-country man, Ram Rup ... not to allow me to enter the house."
Ram Rup was persuaded to slacken his vigilance. "At last my mother won over Ram Rup, the door-keeper, and I was allowed to enter her presence. The prejudice was so great that even the menial Hindu servants of the house would not wash the plates on which I was fed by my mother.
Sometimes my aunt would purify the place and the seat on which I had sat by sprinkling Ganges water, or water mixed with cow dung."
Premanand was unclean, and everything he touched became unclean.
Now, this wasn’t the Jewish culture but the premise is the same. They felt the same exact way!
Now, you tell me…would you rather sit on a chair where a Christian has sat or a chair that’s been washed with cow dung?
I mean this is a perfect illustration of how twisted people’s minds had become because of man made traditions!
Nowadays, those traditions are still prevalent in many religions around the world.
People ask priests for forgiveness, they pray to Mary, they claim that the wine and bread given during communion are “actually” the blood and body of Christ!
Some claim that baptism is essential to salvation; some claim you can’t have music in Church; some claim speaking in tongues is essential to salvation...the list goes on and on and on and at the end of the day, they are traditions of men with no scripture, understood in it’s entire context, to back up their claims whatsoever!
“Why don’t your disciples wash their hands before they eat?”
Lost people being saved all around them, lives being changed for all eternity, and this was the concern of the hour!
Now, let’s look at Jesus response and rebuke in Verses 3-9.

The Response & Rebuke(Vs. 3-9)

It is in this moment that you can really see the distaste that Christ had for these folks. I mean He’s just over it!
And I get it because sadly we have a whole lot of this stuff all around us today!
People are more worried about everything going on around them than they are seeing souls be saved!
And I just love Jesus directness here!
He doesn’t even give them the pleasure of an answer!
He responds to their question with a much more important underlying question.
Notice…they asked, “why do your disciples transgress the traditions of the elders”…and Jesus says, “why do you transgress the commandment of God?”
I mean that’s a mic drop moment right there! I can just hear the crowds when Jesus said that…there was one of two responses...
And then, He goes on to explain His position.
Jesus quotes the law to them, and then calls them out on their own actual sin…not sin against men but their sin against God!
Now, I learned a little something this week here in Verse 5 that I didn’t know and so now you get to learn as well and you need to know this in order to understand what exactly Jesus is talking about here.
Look at Verse 5.
Chuck Swindoll — In Jesus’ day, the Pharisees had invented a way to shirk their responsibility to their aging parents. They claimed that people could dedicate all their possessions to God, devote themselves completely to God, and then excuse themselves from all other personal and financial responsibilities, such as caring for their family members according to the Law.
The technical term for this practice was Korban (also spelled Corban), which was a Hebrew word meaning “given [to God]”; John Peter Lange notes, “If a person merely pronounced the word ‘Corban’ over any possession or property, it was irrevocably dedicated to the temple. Thus it became a kind of interdict [official prohibition].”
Yet Jesus asserted that the appeal to Korban had become a means of rationalizing disobedience to the spirit of the Law.
R. T. France explains: “This convenient declaration apparently left the property actually still at the disposal of the one who made the vow, but deprived his parents of any right to it.… Such a pious fraud is in direct conflict with the will of God as expressed in the fifth commandment.”
The law said to honor thy father and mother yet the Pharisees had finagled a way to get around it!
Proverbs 23:22 KJV 1900
22 Hearken unto thy father that begat thee, And despise not thy mother when she is old.
Take care of your parents when they are old!
Then He really calls it for what it is and calls them “hypocrites!”
“You hypocrites! You pretenders! You frauds! Isaiah hit the nail on the head when he wrote of you all!”
Basically what He’s saying right here is, “Your worship is worthless because it’s based on man made external traditions instead of God-changed internal truths!”
Warren Wiersbe — Tradition is something external, while God’s truth is internal, in the heart. People obey tradition to please men and gain status (Gal. 1:14), but we obey the Word to please God. Tradition deals with ritual, while God’s truth deals with reality. Tradition brings empty words to the lips, but truth penetrates the heart and changes the life. No wonder David prayed, “Create in me a clean heart, O God!” (Ps. 51:10)
Then look what happens!

The Calling & Clarification(Vs. 10-11)

Jesus says, “let’s set the record straight!”
He calls everyone together and then clarifies.
“Defiles” — (koinoō) — Describes the action of something or someone becoming ritually or morally impure.

The Worrying & The Warning(Vs. 12-14)

The Inquiry & Instruction(Vs. 15-20)

Chuck Swindoll — The spiritually blind fail to realize that what defiles comes from the heart (15:18). Keeping your hands perfectly sanitized can do nothing for your soul. You can’t wash away the deep-seated corruption of the fallen human heart by scrubbing dirt from your body.
Jeremiah 17:9 says, “The heart is more deceitful than all else and is desperately sick; who can understand it?” The answer: Only God.
The words of our mouths demonstrate the content of our hearts. And in a spiritually sick, depraved, unsaved individual, nothing good can be found there.

The Application for Us

As we come to a close this morning there are a couple things I want to ask you to do.
First off, I want to ask you to do a heart checkup on yourself.
Jesus said the heart of the problem was a problem with the heart!
And this has been the way of man since the very beginning!
Genesis 6:5 KJV 1900
5 And God saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every imagination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually.
Psalm 53:1–3 KJV 1900
1 The fool hath said in his heart, There is no God. Corrupt are they, and have done abominable iniquity: There is none that doeth good. 2 God looked down from heaven upon the children of men, To see if there were any that did understand, that did seek God. 3 Every one of them is gone back: they are altogether become filthy; There is none that doeth good, no, not one.
Proverbs 28:26 KJV 1900
26 He that trusteth in his own heart is a fool: But whoso walketh wisely, he shall be delivered.
Ecclesiastes 9:3 KJV 1900
3 This is an evil among all things that are done under the sun, that there is one event unto all: yea, also the heart of the sons of men is full of evil, and madness is in their heart while they live, and after that they go to the dead.
These Pharisees had all the outer trimmings a man could want but they were still spiritually blinded by their own inhibitions and lost; headed for a devil’s hell.
You see friend, you can have all the traditions you want but if you’ve never had a spiritual heart transplant then you are no better than these Pharisees we just read about.
You’re lost and in need of being saved.
Ezekiel 36:26–27 KJV 1900
26 A new heart also will I give you, and a new spirit will I put within you: and I will take away the stony heart out of your flesh, and I will give you an heart of flesh. 27 And I will put my spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes, and ye shall keep my judgments, and do them.
Our original heart, our human heart, is tainted with sin and it must be cleansed and the only way for that to be done is by the transplanting of a new heart that can only come from God.
And the only way God can do a heart transplant on you is if you’re willing to come to Him, humbly, and be born again.
Jesus told Nicodemus in...
John 3:3 KJV 1900
3 Jesus answered and said unto him, Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God.
Well Brother how in the world am I supposed to be born again?
Just slip on down a few verses there in...
John 3:16 KJV 1900
16 For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.
If you will surrender your life to God, believe upon His Son Jesus and His finished work on Calvary, and ask Him to forgive you of your sins, you shall be saved.
Romans 10:9–10 NLT
9 If you openly declare that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. 10 For it is by believing in your heart that you are made right with God, and it is by openly declaring your faith that you are saved.
And in that very moment, when you come to the end of yourself and come to the beginning of God, in that very special time of reconciliation, forgiveness and sanctification, God takes away that old heart, that old heart that was set on man’s ways, and He gives you a new heart and puts His Holy Spirit within you which is set on His ways!
We all need a heart transplant, Amen!
I’ve had mine! Have you head yours?
And lastly, after you do a heart checkup on yourself, I want you to look at your life and see if there are any man made traditions that you are accustomed to that are keeping you from being all that you can be for God.
Is there anything standing in your way of leading others to Him or growing closer to Him yourself?
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