[Mark 7] Have We Made the Word of God a Useless Thing? In Mark 7, Jesus confronts religious authorities with the vanity of their extra-biblical demands on the people. Have you seen this done in your personal history? Have you ever been held to an expectation, or unwritten religious law that at the end of the day had nothing to do with the bible or anything God would expect of you? Jesus declares that these religious traditions rather than strengthening us in our faith, rob us of the power and potency of God’s word in our life. This teaching will set you free from religious tradition today.
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1 Then came together unto him the Pharisees, and certain of the scribes, which came from Jerusalem. 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. 5 Then the Pharisees and scribes asked him, Why walk not thy disciples according to the tradition of the elders, but eat bread with unwashen hands? 6 He answered and said unto them, — Well hath Esaias prophesied of you hypocrites, as it is written, This people honoureth me with their lips, but their heart is far from me. 7 Howbeit in vain do they worship me, teaching for doctrines the commandments of men. 8 For laying aside the commandment of God, ye hold the tradition of men, as the washing of pots and cups: and many other such like things ye do. 9 And he said unto them, Full well ye reject the commandment of God, that ye may keep your own tradition. 10 For Moses said, Honour thy father and thy mother; and, Whoso curseth father or mother, let him die the death: 11 But ye say, If a man shall say to his father or mother, It is Corban, that is to say, a gift, by whatsoever thou mightest be profited by me; he shall be free. 12 And ye suffer him no more to do ought for his father or his mother; 13 Making the word of God of none effect through your tradition, which ye have delivered: and many such like things do ye. 14 And when he had called all the people unto him, he said unto them, Hearken unto me every one of you, and understand: 15 There is nothing from without a man, that entering into him can defile him: but the things which come out of him, those are they that defile the man. 16 If any man have ears to hear, let him hear. 17 And when he was entered into the house from the people, his disciples asked him concerning the parable. 18 And he saith unto them, Are ye so without understanding also? Do ye not perceive, that whatsoever thing from without entereth into the man, it cannot defile him; 19 Because it entereth not into his heart, but into the belly, and goeth out into the draught, purging all meats? 20 And he said, — That which cometh out of the man, that defileth the man. 21 For from within, out of the heart of men, proceed evil thoughts, adulteries, fornications, murders, 22 Thefts, covetousness, wickedness, deceit, lasciviousness, an evil eye, blasphemy, pride, foolishness: 23 All these evil things come from within, and defile the man.
Jesus is still ministering in the region of the Sea of Galilee (or Gennesaret as it is referred to in chapter 6) and a group of Pharisees and scribes from Jerusalem seek Him out to confront Him regarding the abuse of certain traditions which they held sacrosanct in their culture. Upon finding Jesus they demand an explanation as to why Jesus’ most intimate disciples are failing to observe the ritualistic washing of hands and the neglect of other traditions of the elders. What is this that they are referring to – the traditions of the elders? Do we have any such like traditions or customs today in Christian culture? The traditions of the elders in Jesus day were interpretations and applications that contemporary teachers imposed upon observant Jews in terms of how they thought the law of Moses should be applied in their day. In other words they were putting rules around God’s rules so no one would break the rules. Have you ever encountered this in the traditions that you have been raised in or exposed to in the faith? These are the unwritten laws imposed upon men and women in effect saying “if you are a good Christian you will do thus and so, and if you do not do thus and so then you are not really a good Christian…” There are some circles in Christian culture in the USA, where if you do not put your children in Christian schools then you are not seen as a good Christian. Is that true? There was a day not long ago if you did not attend Sunday School or Wednesday night service at your church that you were considered a lapsed Christian. Is there validity to this, and if there is what do we say today where Sunday School and Wednesday night services are pretty much a thing of the past? We have to be careful that we don’t lay down boundaries and expectations upon believers that have no basis in scriptural teaching.
Jesus sees right through these men and calls them hypocrites. This term at that time did not have a religious connotation. To be a hypocrite in Jesus day was to be an actor in a Greek theatre. While this was a popular entertainment even among the Jews, nonetheless actors, or “hypocrites” were universally despised and held in disrepute along with publicans and sinners. Jesus’ usage of this term to apply to false professors of religion is original with Him, just as the term “carnal” and “spiritual” originated and were first used by the apostle Paul in his writings. In lending or infusing sacred authority upon extra-biblical religious traditions, Jesus declares that they have made the word of God of none effect, or a useless and common thing. Do we see this in our society today? More so than you might realize. In the 1990’s congress passed the “Defense of Marriage Act” with pretty much bi-partisan support and the church considered it a victory. However, in taking an institution as sacred and unimpeachably God ordained and making it a matter of litigation in a human court, marriage itself was cheapened and made vulnerable to the assault that eventually came from the LGBTQ lobby who simply bided their time, waiting for a sea change of the sentiment of our population and successfully subverted one of the most universally sacred institutions of our day. Yet, when the act was passed in the 1990’s the church rejoiced and considered a victory when in fact it was simply the beginning of that which has destroyed the sanctity of marriage, and gender identity in our society.
The same can be said of prayer in schools. While the church slept, a conservative dominated Supreme Court ruled that prayer did not belong in schools, effectively laying the groundwork for the interpretation of religious freedom as being freedom FROM religion rather than freedom OF religion. Now, the clamor has been for decades for prayer to come BACK in school but there are two problems with that – 1.) the church at large in our culture is a prayerless church. They are lobbying politically for something that they do not as a whole practice spiritually. 2.) if prayer IS ever brought back in school, it will have to be done by the courts, and therefore in order to bring this about they will first have to DEFINE what it is they are legislating. In other words they will have to give a government sanction definition of prayer which is in effect the establishment of a STATE religion such as the founding fathers fled from when they left England and came to North America in search of freedom from the persecution of a government sponsored state religion, I.e. the Anglican Church of the 1700’s.
What is the answer then? We cannot achieve politically or judicially what can in reality only be brought about by the hand of God upon a repentant nation. As the angel declared to Zechariah in Ze. 4:6 “it’s not by might, nor by power, but by My Spirit says the Lord ….” the church has turned to the judiciary and to politics to achieve what God’s word said can only be brought about by the Sovereignty of God, which the church self-evidently has demonstrated they no longer have faith in.
24 And from thence he arose, and went into the borders of Tyre and Sidon, and entered into an house, and would have no man know it: but he could not be hid. 25 For a certain woman, whose young daughter had an unclean spirit, heard of him, and came and fell at his feet: 26 — The woman was a Greek, a Syrophenician by nation; and she besought him that he would cast forth the devil out of her daughter. 27 But Jesus said unto her, Let the children first be filled: for it is not meet to take the children’s bread, and to cast it unto the dogs. 28 And she answered and said unto him, Yes, Lord: yet the dogs under the table eat of the children’s crumbs. 29 And he said unto her, For this saying go thy way; the devil is gone out of thy daughter. 30 And when she was come to her house, she found the devil gone out, and her daughter laid upon the bed.
31 And again, departing from the coasts of Tyre and Sidon, he came unto the sea of Galilee, through the midst of the coasts of Decapolis. 32 And they bring unto him one that was deaf, and had an impediment in his speech; and they beseech him to put his hand upon him. 33 And he took him aside from the multitude, and put his fingers into his ears, and he spit, and touched his tongue; 34 And looking up to heaven, he sighed, and saith unto him, Ephphatha, that is, Be opened. 35 And straightway his ears were opened, and the string of his tongue was loosed, and he spake plain. 36 And he charged them that they should tell no man: but the more he charged them, so much the more a great deal they published it; 37 And were beyond measure astonished, saying, He hath done all things well: he maketh both the deaf to hear, and the dumb to speak.
After censoring the Pharisees from Jerusalem Jesus leaves with His disciples to Tyre and Sidon in the north. This is significant, because these hypocritical leaders came to Galilee from the south and Jesus is placing Himself in what we now call southern Lebanon, as far away from the false authority and hypocrisy of Jerusalem as He could get. Having arrived there, in the northern borders of Jewry, it isn’t surprising that He encounters a Gentile woman in need of deliverance for her daughter.
The woman approaches Jesus, bringing the sad story of her demon possessed daughter. Now she is a Gentile, and the Jews were notoriously scornful of all Gentiles in their midst. Perhaps she has heard how Jesus excoriated the Jewish authorities and felt that this gave her hope that the young Rabbi and miracle worker would be willing to act on her behalf. Look at the balance that Jesus strikes. He has offended the Jewish rulers and their hypocritical self important attitudes, but then neither is He willing to give in to those on the opposite end of the spectrum and simply cast away all restraint and ignore the law altogether. This is a common controversy today. There are some that preach that a standard of holiness must be maintained and they imposed upon all (but themselves) a demand for a higher standard of godliness. On the other end of the scale are those accused of “greasy grace” who seem to put up with anything and everything all in the name of love. What is the balance? This is not a small matter. Let us consider what the wisdom of Solomon declares in Ecc. 7:16-17:
[Ecc 7:16-17 KJV] 16 Be not righteous over much; neither make thyself over wise: why shouldest thou destroy thyself? 17 Be not over much wicked, neither be thou foolish: why shouldest thou die before thy time?
The Syrophenician woman fell at Jesus’ feet and “besought” Him to cast the devil out of her daughter. The word used here give a clue as to why Jesus initially denied her. The word “besought” means “to interrogate”. That is something other than plaintitive pleading that Jesus act to help this pitiful family. This suggests that the woman’s attitude was more like we often see today when people say “if you call yourself a Christian – then you must do thus and so…” You should NEVER give in to this kind of scornful challenge. We are to love people on GOD’S TERMS and not theirs. So we see that Jesus denies the woman and in effect unambiguously calls her a dog. In our parlance today what Jesus called her we cannot repeat in polite company. Suffice to say that He made it abundantly clear He was not going to give in to her manipulation.
What was the woman’s response? What is our response when we cry out to God or if we were to go to a healing meeting and be openly denigrated as Jesus did this woman? Would we leave the altar in a huff and go home offended? If the woman had done this, her daughter would have perished in her miserable condition. God give us the faith and the humility that this woman demonstrated to REPENT QUICKLY and she changes her tone and says “yes, Lord yet the dogs under the table eat of the children’s crumbs…” Jesus without further preamble heals the woman’s daughter and she upon returning home found the demon was gone and her daughter was free. Here as well you see the faith of a parent, another party and the effect that it had upon a member of their family. In the popular teaching of the day, Evangelical theology places so much emphasis on free will that we render our ability to believe for others in a bound state to receive their miracle. Thankfully, in dealing with the Syrophenecian woman, Jesus was not thinking like an Evangelical.
From Tyre and Siden, departing again to the south Jesus encounters a deaf person. Now, is this a demon that needs to be cast out, or a healing that needs to be effected? Sometimes we see Jesus casting out a deaf or dumb spirit, but in this case He doesn’t do this but effects the man’s deliverance as a healing. This is an important lesson, because we tend to want to classify different malady, and situations as this particular problem or another. You hear people say all the time, that epilepsy is not a physical thing but a demonic spirit. Is deafness always a demon? Sometimes it was and sometimes it wasn’t. We need to dispense with our tendency to simplify – in fact over simplify such things as the opinion of those who are too spiritually lazy to discern the actual situation so that people can receive their deliverance.
Jesus heals the man by spitting on His fingers and touching the man’s tongue with the spittle. Is this the way we should always pray for a deaf person? No, because Jesus prayed many different ways for deaf and dumb people. You have to be led by the spirit and be willing to act in impropriety if necessary. It was no more acceptable to put one’s spit in another person’s mouth in ancient times than it is today – learn to be led by the Spirit and not be intimidated by the flesh. If you do with your faith what Jesus did with His faith you will get the same results. If we choose to be bound by tradition we will continue if failure.
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