Welcome back as we continue working through the Gospel According to Mark. Last week we covered Mark 6, where we saw Jesus rejected by Nazareth, we saw Him send out the Apostles to preach, we saw Christ feed the multitudes in the wilderness, and we saw Him walk on water and heal many. We saw Mark sort of close out a theme at the end of chapter 6, and we will see Mark begin another arc in his Gospel account.
Today, we’ll resume reading, beginning in Chapter 7 of the Gospel According to Mark.
Mark 7:1-13 (ESV) | Traditions and Commandments
Now when the Pharisees gathered to him, with some of the scribes who had come from Jerusalem, they saw that some of his disciples ate with hands that were defiled, that is, unwashed. (For the Pharisees and all the Jews do not eat unless they wash their hands properly, holding to the tradition of the elders, and when they come from the marketplace, they do not eat unless they wash. And there are many other traditions that they observe, such as the washing of cups and pots and copper vessels and dining couches.) And the Pharisees and the scribes asked him, “Why do your disciples not walk according to the tradition of the elders, but eat with defiled hands?” And he 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;
in vain do they worship me,
teaching as doctrines the commandments of men.’
You leave the commandment of God and hold to the tradition of men.”
And he said to them, “You have a fine way of rejecting the commandment of God in order to establish your tradition! For Moses said, ‘Honor your father and your mother’; and, ‘Whoever reviles father or mother must surely die.’ But you say, ‘If a man tells his father or his mother, “Whatever you would have gained from me is Corban”’ (that is, given to God)— then you no longer permit him to do anything for his father or mother, thus making void the word of God by your tradition that you have handed down. And many such things you do.”
Dear fellow discerning Christian… when someone calls you a Pharisee to silence you from pointing to the Word of God to correct, reprove, rebuke, and to teach… don’t back down. Don’t be silent. Don’t let the individual get away with such sloppy attempts at playing the Pharisee card. The Pharisees were not guilty of holding to the Law of God; rather, they were guilty of passing their own commandments, their own traditions, their own law and calling it the Oral Law or the Tradition of the Elders. Later (approx 200 A.D.) this oral law (Mishnah) would be included in the Talmud, when Judaism had to completely change now that the temple was no more. What modern-day Jews practice now is nowhere near the Judaism of the Bible. The Covenant with Moses has been superseded by the New Covenant with the Messiah of God, Jesus Christ, God the Son.
Jesus calls these Pharisees out for their hypocrisy, yes, but it isn’t of the form that we usually consider today where someone says “don’t steal” while they live a secret double-life as a cat-burglar. No, this is more insidious… they teach a whole bunch of rules (that they can outwardly keep) and make the claim that they are teaching how to live lives pleasing to God and that this stems from an oral tradition that reaches all the way back to Moses and complements the Written Law. There’s the hypocrisy, the Law is a closed book to them, they don’t see Christ in the Scriptures and cannot recognize Christ standing before them as a result, yet they remain standing in the place of teachers of the law and teach their own traditions which only serve to bolster their own “righteousness”. Much like our modern-day self-appointed vision-casting leaders who teach their own dreams and impressions and read themselves into every text, completely missing Christ about whom all the Law, the Prophets, and the Apostles wrote/taught. And they teach their own traditions (while claiming they are new and innovative) hypocritically, for they do not in any way complement the Scriptures, in-fact, they contradict the Gospel of Jesus Christ. That, my friend, is a Pharisee.
Mark 7:14-23 (ESV) | What Defiles a Person
And he called the people to him again and said to them, “Hear me, all of you, and understand: There is nothing outside a person that by going into him can defile him, but the things that come out of a person are what defile him.” And when he had entered the house and left the people, his disciples asked him about the parable. And he said to them,“Then are you also without understanding? Do you not see that whatever goes into a person from outside cannot defile him, since it enters not his heart but his stomach, and is expelled?” (Thus he declared all foods clean.) And he said, “What comes out of a person is what defiles him. For from within, out of the heart of man, come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, coveting, wickedness, deceit, sensuality, envy, slander, pride, foolishness. All these evil things come from within, and they defile a person.”
The Law of Moses did have designations of things that were clean and things that were unclean, and there were strict prohibitions in the Law of things that made a person ceremonially unclean if touched (like a dead person) and there were procedures that needed to be observed for a person who had become ceremonially unclean to follow in order to be allowed back into the camp, to be made ceremonially clean. These were but type and shadow of Christ. The traditions of the elders had added to the Written Law and obscured and subverted it. Jesus, being the Son of God, the Word made flesh, cut right through the noise and made it clear that what truly defiles a person comes from within the heart, not by what the person ate. For whatever a person eats passes through the body and is expelled. I love how plainly and directly He addressed it, too. The tradition of hand washing was powerless to prevent what the Elders taught. It was meaningless. It was a vain tradition, empty of power. Furthermore, the problem of sin was not something that strict dietary laws could avoid, for the true source of sin lay not outside in the world, but in the very heart of man. No tradition or ceremony could address that. Mark didn’t give us a detailed record of what transpired after this engagement, but what he moves to next gives us an understanding that what is required is Faith in the Son of Man.
Mark 7:24-30 (ESV) | The Syrophoenician Woman’s Faith
And from there he arose and went away to the region of Tyre and Sidon. And he entered a house and did not want anyone to know, yet he could not be hidden. But immediately a woman whose little daughter had an unclean spirit heard of him and came and fell down at his feet. Now the woman was a Gentile, a Syrophoenician by birth. And she begged him to cast the demon out of her daughter. And he said to her, “Let the children be fed first, for it is not right to take the children’s bread and throw it to the dogs.” But she answered him, “Yes, Lord; yet even the dogs under the table eat the children’s crumbs.” And he said to her, “For this statement you may go your way; the demon has left your daughter.” And she went home and found the child lying in bed and the demon gone.
This Gentile woman, heard of Jesus, and believed. She had faith because she heard of Him. And it was great faith, for she was not deterred by Jesus point-blank telling her that His primary mission was for the children of Israel, she knew that crumbs of the table were sufficient. The LORD blessed her that day, delivered her child, and granted her child rest. I find it beautiful that the story ends with her little one lying in bed, free from the demon. We find rest in Christ alone.
Mark 7:31-37 (ESV) | Jesus Heals a Deaf Man
Then he returned from the region of Tyre and went through Sidon to the Sea of Galilee, in the region of the Decapolis. And they brought to him a man who was deaf and had a speech impediment, and they begged him to lay his hand on him. And taking him aside from the crowd privately, he put his fingers into his ears, and after spitting touched his tongue. And looking up to heaven, he sighed and said to him, “Ephphatha,” that is, “Be opened.” And his ears were opened, his tongue was released, and he spoke plainly. And Jesus charged them to tell no one. But the more he charged them, the more zealously they proclaimed it. And they were astonished beyond measure, saying, “He has done all things well. He even makes the deaf hear and the mute speak.”
Remember the Decapolis? It’s where the demoniac of the Gerasenes proclaimed what Jesus had done for him, and the people marveled (Mark 5:1-20). Jesus returned to this region once more. As a sidenote, growing up in church it really occurred to me how often Jesus went to the Gentiles in His earthly ministry. Fascinating. He came first for the Jew and then for the Gentile. Okay, back to the text, the people brought out a deaf man who had a speech impediment. I really need to learn Koine Greek but we know that this impediment is severe because later he was described as a mute who had been made to speak. Again, we see here that Jesus charged them to tell no one. They praised Jesus as a miracle worker, that He has done all things well. I take this as an indication that while they recognized the miraculous good work, they didn’t understand who Jesus is just yet.
But we do see something pretty cool here. The man was deaf and his speech was impeded. Jesus opened up his ears and loosed his tongue, so that he could speak plainly. When we are born, we are born spiritually dead. We have ears, but they are blocked by our sin and fallen state to the things of God. As such, our speech is impaired, we are muted by our own fallen natures unable to worship God, to please God, even to repent. Spiritually, we are born deaf and mute. Until the Holy Spirit opens our ears to the Truth of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, the Bible is a closed book to us, something we use to build our own false gods, our own means of righteousness to suit our own desires. But when the Lord opens our ears to the Word of God, granting us saving faith, we are set free to Worship the Only Living God. All praise be to the God of Mercy and Grace.
Next week we’ll be looking at another action-packed chapter in the Gospel According to Mark. Until then, I pray you make some time to study the Word of God. I pray the Holy Spirit open your eyes and ears to the Truth of God’s Word, both Law and Gospel, that by His Grace, through Faith you might enter into Christ’s rest. Preach the Word, repent, be forgiven, and forgive others their sins in Jesus’ Name.
Romans 16:25-27 (ESV) | Doxology
Now to him who is able to strengthen you according to my gospel and the preaching of Jesus Christ, according to the revelation of the mystery that was kept secret for long ages but has now been disclosed and through the prophetic writings has been made known to all nations, according to the command of the eternal God, to bring about the obedience of faith— to the only wise God be glory forevermore through Jesus Christ! Amen.
In Christ Jesus,