Matthew – God’s Purposes
What is purity? What does it mean to be pure? What is holy? What is right? What does it mean to be righteous? People whose hearts have been broken and scarred are seeking a better way to live. Seekers really want to know. People living on the “outside” are seeking answers from the “insiders” of churches by watching the lives of those who attend. They are looking for who is real and what is real. They are seeking Truth in all the confusion and lies the world offers them.
New attenders to our churches are wondering what they have to do to be more like those seem to be “living right”. What do we tell them? The better question is Who do we point to for Truth? Ourselves? Our way of life? Our rules? Our unwritten rules of church life? What songs to sing, clothes to wear, what organizations to join, how to raise our hands or not raise our hands in worship, etc.? OR do we point them to Jesus? Do we guide them to God’s Word, teaching them to obey HIS commandments? Are we confusing the seekers as God’s church? Are we becoming a bit like the Pharisees with our unwritten “laws” of church going behavior?
These are all questions of reflections that are vitally important as we examine our own hearts. What goes into our hearts stays in our hearts and makes its way out in our speech and behavior like Jesus teaches here in this passage. Pure is undiluted. How pure is my heart is the question I must ask myself. Is my heart polluted by man-made traditions that have little to do with God’s “greatest” commandments (as Jesus called them) to love Him first and then love others like Jesus loves us? Is it time for me to ask for His Holy Spirit to cleanse my heart and make it pure once more?
Matthew 15, NLT
Jesus Teaches about Inner Purity
15 Some Pharisees and teachers of religious law now arrived from Jerusalem to see Jesus. They asked him, 2 “Why do your disciples disobey our age-old tradition? For they ignore our tradition of ceremonial hand washing before they eat.”
3 Jesus replied, “And why do you, by your traditions, violate the direct commandments of God? 4 For instance, God says, ‘Honor your father and mother,’ and ‘Anyone who speaks disrespectfully of father or mother must be put to death.’ 5 But you say it is all right for people to say to their parents, ‘Sorry, I can’t help you. For I have vowed to give to God what I would have given to you.’ 6 In this way, you say they don’t need to honor their parents. And so you cancel the word of God for the sake of your own tradition. 7 You hypocrites! Isaiah was right when he prophesied about you, for he wrote,
8 ‘These people honor me with their lips,
but their hearts are far from me.
9 Their worship is a farce,
for they teach man-made ideas as commands from God.’”
10 Then Jesus called to the crowd to come and hear. “Listen,” he said, “and try to understand. 11 It’s not what goes into your mouth that defiles you; you are defiled by the words that come out of your mouth.”
12 Then the disciples came to him and asked, “Do you realize you offended the Pharisees by what you just said?”
13 Jesus replied, “Every plant not planted by my heavenly Father will be uprooted, 14 so ignore them. They are blind guides leading the blind, and if one blind person guides another, they will both fall into a ditch.”
15 Then Peter said to Jesus, “Explain to us the parable that says people aren’t defiled by what they eat.”
16 “Don’t you understand yet?” Jesus asked. 17 “Anything you eat passes through the stomach and then goes into the sewer. 18 But the words you speak come from the heart—that’s what defiles you. 19 For from the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, all sexual immorality, theft, lying, and slander. 20 These are what defile you. Eating with unwashed hands will never defile you.”
GOING DEEPER…The tradition behind the accusations.
Their accusation about “washing hands” had nothing to do with cleanliness. They were referring to the ceremonial washings of the rigidly orthodox Jews. It was bad enough that Jesus and His disciples mingled with outcasts, but they did not even seek to be purified!
Of course, in making this accusation, these religious leaders were forcing Jesus to deal with the very foundation of their religious faith. If Jesus rejected the sacred traditions of the nation, then He was a heretic!
Where did these traditions come from? They were handed down from the teachers of previous generations. These traditions were originally the “oral law” that (said the rabbis) Moses gave to the elders, and they passed down to the nation. This oral law was finally written down and became the Mishnah. Unfortunately, the Mishnah became more important and more authoritative than the original law of Moses.
Our Lord’s reply to their charge began with an accusation (Matt. 15:3). It was they who were breaking God’s law by practicing their traditions! He then proceeded with an illustration (Matt. 15:4–6), their practice of “Corban” (see Mark 7:11). The Hebrew word Corban means “a gift.” If a Jew wanted to escape some financial responsibilities, he would declare his goods to be “Corban—a gift to God.” This meant he was free from other obligations, such as caring for his parents. But in so doing, the person was losing the power of God’s Word in his life, and thus hurting his character and missing God’s blessing.
Jesus concluded His reply with an application (Matt. 15:7–11), quoting Isaiah 29:13. Jesus made it clear that obedience to tradition made a person disobedient to the Word of God, and this proved the tradition to be false. Exodus 20:12 taught a man to “honor” father and mother. But the “Corban” rule would make a person dishonor his parents, and, at the same time, disobey God. 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. Actually, tradition robs a person of the power of the Word of God.
Unfortunately, there are many “evangelical traditions” in churches today, man-made teachings that are often considered as authoritative as the Word of God— even though they contradict His Word. By obeying these traditions, Christians rob themselves of the power of God’s Word.
God wants us to give Him our hearts, and not just our lip service. We believe in the heart (Rom, 10:9–10), love from the heart (Matt. 22:37), sing from the heart (Col. 3:16), obey from the heart (Rom. 6:17; Eph. 6:6), and give from the heart (2 Cor. 9:7). No wonder David prayed, “Create in me a clean heart, O God” (Ps. 51:10). Jesus declared boldly to the multitudes that sin comes from the heart, not from the diet. It is what comes out of the mouth that defiles us, not what goes in.
Dear Heavenly Father,
We have to watch all that goes into our hearts. We need to think about all that goes into our minds and be selective about what nourishes our soul. When you tell us to be alert, watchful, to spot pollutants, this is the warning we must always heed. Cleanse my heart, O Lord, of all that is dark, musty, that grows infections of sin that hinders and tangles my walk with You. Be the filter of my heart. Don’t let anything in that makes me less than pure. Make me pure and holy before you. I need you every hour. Every hour I need your help. Thank you for your Holy Spirit.
In Jesus Name, Amen