The background for these verses begin in verse 1 of Mark 7 where we find the disciples eating bread and the Pharisees notice they are eating with unwashed hands. In Jesus’ day there was an oral tradition that came out of the laws God gave the Israelites regarding clean and unclean. These traditions became the heart of rabbinic Judaism and in regards to hand washing, the Pharisees did more than just ritually wash their hands – they thoroughly purified themselves. So they asked Jesus, “Why do Your disciples not walk according to the tradition of the elders, but eat bread with unwashed hands?” Jesus points out that washing hands, does not wash hearts. Sin is a heart problem caused by an unclean heart.
When Rituals make us Hypocrites we have a heart problem
Jesus knew that this wasn’t a question of curiosity. Nor were they solely accusing the disciples. They were in reality accusing Jesus of not following the law himself and acting as if he believes himself to be above the law. In response, Jesus quotes Isaiah 7:6-7 and straight out calls the Pharisees hypocrites right to their face. He tells them that the prophet Isaiah accurately prophesied about them when he said, “This people honors me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me.” Their heart problem kept them caught up and bound up in the law – so much that they couldn’t recognize the Messiah was present among them.
So how does ritual hand washing make them hypocrites? Jesus gives the answer in verse 8: “For laying aside the commandment of God you hold the traditions of men.” In other words, the Pharisees twisted the commandment in order to side-step the law. Jesus was not rejecting the law. Instead he rebuked the Pharisees for not upholding it. The real issue here is not eating with unwashed hands, ritual purity, or oral traditions and who should or should not follow them. In quoting Isaiah, Jesus lets them know the real issue is a heart problem and their hearts are far from God. They were so caught up in keeping up with the traditions and rituals that there was no room for true worship.
What gets you into heaven?
So to the crowd that was around, Jesus wanted them to understand that it is not what you take into your body that qualifies you as unclean or impure. Instead, it’s what comes out of the heart that defile us. (Mark 7:15) Rituals and traditions don’t gain us entrance into heaven. Whether we sing the old hymns or contemporary music in church won’t get us into heaven. Whether there is a pulpit on the stage or not won’t get us into heaven. Nor does it matter if we sing the Doxology after the offering or not. You can memorize the books of the Bible and all the best known Bible verses – but it won’t get you into heaven.
You can memorize specific prayers and repeat them non-stop till you die, but it won’t get you into heaven. And you can pray to Mary, John the Baptist, St Paul, St Andrew, St. Matthew and all the other apostles – but they can’t get you into heaven either. You can live a highly moral life, but it won’t get you into heaven. You can’t buy your way in and no traditions or rituals will get you in. What gets us into heaven is a pure heart that has been forgiven through the faith we place in Christ as our Savior – nothing more – nothing less. The only cure to our sin infested heart problem is for our hearts to be washed in the soul-cleansing blood of the Lamb.
When we have a heart problem, it affects the whole person
Then as we come to verse 17, we find that the disciples didn’t get it and asked Him to explain what he had said. Jesus tells them that it is was is produced in the heart that affects the whole person. The heart is thought of the center of human will and rationality, as well as desire. It is the place from which all our intentions are birthed.
Jesus lists 13 moral heart problems to illustrate what He was teaching them. The first seven are all plural, indicating repeating acts. However, it only takes one sin to make us a sinner. Fornication includes all illicit sexual practices outside of marriage. Wickedness is used for anything malicious. The last six sins listed are all singular and are sinful attitudes. Lewdness refers to promiscuity. An evil eye means jealousy, envy, covetousness, and a grudging attitude. Blasphemy includes not just blasphemy against God, but slander of other people. Pride is exalting oneself above others. Foolishness is lack of moral judgment. We can find similar lists in Romans 1:29-31, Galatians 5:19-21, and 2 Timothy 3:2-5.
What pleases God?
When our heart problem is consumed with self-seeking desires, we become insatiable in pursing the things that please our self rather than pursing the things that please God. Ephesian 5:10 tells us that we need to discern the things that please God. So what pleases God?
- Faith (Hebrews 11:6)
- Offering ourselves as a living sacrifice to God, which is true worship (Romans 12:1)
- Not being conformed to this world but renew our minds and discern God’s will (Romans 12:2)
- Good deeds and growing in the knowledge of God (Galatians 1:10)
- speaking as God wants us to (1 Thessalonians 2:4)
- doing the will of God (1 John 2:17)
- loving others (1 Thessalonians 4:9)
- Sharing with others (Hebrews 13:16)
- humble and contrite heart (Isaiah 57:15)
- the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable in His sight (Psalm 19:14)
- Working heartily, as for the Lord (Colossians 3:23)
- Obeying God rather than men (Acts 5:29)
- fearing (awe, respect of) Him and placing our hope in his steadfast love (Psalm 147:10-11)
- Walking as children of Light (Ephesians 5:8-10)
- doing everything to the glory of God (1 Corinthians 10:31)
Just as the list of 13 sins come from within, so does what pleases God. It all comes down to the condition of our heart. Do we have a heart black with sin or a heart that has been cleansed by Christ and living for Him?
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