This Sunday

 

THIS SUNDAY in worship (8:00 and 10:30) we will head to Matthew 15:1-20 and learn about what it means to have a pure heart. Join us for worship. There is an attended nursery at both services and children’s church at the 10:30 service.

YOUTH GROUPS AND AWANA resume this Sunday at 5:30 p.m. 

SUNDAY SCHOOL We have Sunday School classes for all ages (including an attended nursery) from 9:15-10:15 am. We also have three adult classes that are just getting underway. What Christians Believe is a class that covers essential Christian doctrine, and is taught by Bruce. Jesus 101 is a class that gives an overview of the life of Jesus and the gospels and is taught by Rick. Proverbs is a discussion based class examining some of the wisdom from the Book of Proverbs, and is taught by Cindy Irish.

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Church Office Hours: Daily (Sun-Sat.) 8:00-Noon. (Bruce has Tuesdays off, Rick has Thursdays off and Dave has Saturdays off)

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Last Week's Sermon

Pursuing Genuine Purity

Human beings are quick to “protect their territory”.

  • People defend their homes and families
  • Citizens protect their country
  • Workers try to protect their jobs
  • Students try to protect their class rank
  • And . . . religious people get territorial when it comes to protecting “their people” and influence.

This morning we are going to look at the religious establishment at the time of Jesus as they tried to protect their turf from Jesus. In Matthew 15 we learn about the Pharisees and teachers of religious law who come to see Jesus.

BACKGROUND

The Pharisees, Sadducees, and other religious groups at the time of Jesus, developed during the four hundred years of silence between the last book of the Bible Malachi, and the first book of the New Testament, Matthew. Most likely this was during the time when the Jews were subject to Rome. The Jews split into parties that followed different paths or either cooperation or opposition.

The Essenes were pacifists who withdrew into monkish communities that occupied caves in the dessert. They devoted themselves to purity believing this would once again restore the blessing of God. They were very strict about their religious observance. We don’t read much about the Essenes in the New Testament.

The Zealots (Jesus had Simon the Zealot as one of the disciples) advocated armed revolt to throw out the impure foreigners. They specialized in acts of political terrorism against the Romans. One of the disciples of Jesus was called Simon the Zealot (who was different from Simon Peter). Simon must have had a hard time when Jesus ministered to the Gentiles and told stories like the Good Samaritan where the hero was a non-Jew. It went against all he stood for as a zealot.

The Sadducees collaborated with the Romans. They did not believe in the afterlife or divine intervention on this earth. They believed this life was all there is so you had to do whatever you could to get all you could get and enjoy life. These guys had the most to lose by a change in the status quo.

Pharisees cooperated to some degree with Rome but found themselves in between all these other groups. They were very strict in their devotion and purity. They treated nonobservant Jews as “Gentiles” or pagans and shut them out of local councils. They boycotted businesses and ostracized them publicly if they felt they compromised the faith. These men were deeply committed to their beliefs. Once, the Romans Governor Pontius Pilate violated an agreement with the Jews by entering Jerusalem carrying flags and symbols that displayed the image of the emperor. The Pharisees considered that idolatry and protested strongly. When Pilate told them that they would be put to death if they did not cease their protest, they fell on their faces in unison, bared their necks, and announced they were prepared to die rather than allow the laws of God to be broken.

Though it is tough to draw clear distinctions between these groups, the one thing they had in common was the desire to preserve the things that were distinctly Jewish. (Yancey, The Jesus I Never Knew 61-63)

The Pharisees believed strongly in what was known as the Tradition of the Elders. Today these traditions are in a book called the Mishnah. These were regulations that were developed to ensure obedience to the Law or God. In other words, they were rules that helped you to keep the rules! With this background, let’s read the first part of our text.

 Some Pharisees and teachers of religious law now arrived from Jerusalem to see Jesus. They asked him, “Why do your disciples disobey our age-old tradition? For they ignore our tradition of ceremonial hand washing before they eat.”

Jesus replied, “And why do you, by your traditions, violate the direct commandments of God? For instance, God says, ‘Honor your father and mother, and ‘Anyone who speaks disrespectfully of father or mother must be put to death.’ 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.’ 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. You hypocrites! Isaiah was right when he prophesied about you, for he wrote,

‘These people honor me with their lips,

but their hearts are far from me.

Their worship is a farce,

for they teach man-made ideas as commands from God.’”

THE COMPLAINT

 The Pharisees had undoubtedly come all the way from Jerusalem because they wanted to find something they could use to neutralize or silence Jesus. Their tactic was to point to Jesus and his disciples and accuse them of being law-breakers.

Their complaint is not that the disciples were not washing their hands and eating with dirty hands. The complaint was that they were not washing their hands in the proper way. Apparently the tradition of the elders had prescribed a particular way to wash your hands so as to make sure you did not eat in a way that defiled you.

Jesus replied that these men were fixating on minor things while neglecting major issues. They were concerned about the way the disciples washed their hands while their traditions made it possible for people to disobey the commandments that came directly from God. Jesus gave an example. The command of God said people were to honor their father and mother and that people who cursed their parents should be put to death. R.C. Sproul explains what was happening,

The fifth commandment, “Honor your father and your mother” (Ex. 20: 12a), imposed a divine obligation on families to take care of their elderly parents. However, people would sometimes attempt to get around this obligation by pledging their estates to the temple. This meant that while they were alive, they could not spend so much as a farthing to take care of their parents, for the money was pledged to go to the temple when they died. By this method of subterfuge and evasion of the responsibility God had given to them, they really kept their money for themselves. Jesus was telling the scribes and Pharisees that their tradition sanctioned such reprehensible behavior and permitted violation of the commandment of God. [RC]

Jesus said the Pharisees were exalting their traditions over the inspired Word of God! This is one of the things Martin Luther felt was happening in the Catholic church of his day. The tradition of men and the dictates of the Pope were taking precedence over Scripture. This is why one of the rallying cries of the Reformation was sola scriptura! Which means: the Bible alone is our authority.

Jesus recognized that these men were religious. In fact, they were very religious. The problem was, it was all superficial. Their religion however, was actually a false religion. It was not the way of God, it was the way of men.

This can happen in our own day. We exalt personalities and programs and our “steps to victorious living”. Unfortunately, much of the time these are anchored to the opinions and traditions of men and not the Word of God. In some cases, it is more about marketing than faith! As a result, we end up with a bunch of superficial believers. They are fervent and enthusiastic, but there is little evidence of the work of Christ in their lives. They are devoted to the tradition of men and not to the Lord.

When I was in college at Trinity we would often get transfer students from other Christian schools. We would hear all kinds of stories about students not being allowed to dance, go to movies, play card games that used a regular deck of cards, or have their hair longer or shorter than (depending on whether you were male or female) prescribed. The rules were enacted to “protect” the student from temptation. I’m not sure it did what they wanted. These laws were like the tradition of the elders. They may have meant well, but they turned the focus to rule-keeping rather than Christ-following.

Christians are to be “people of the book.” Our devotion is to the Lord rather than to a teacher, an experience, or a philosophy of living.

THE PRINCIPLE APPLIED

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.”

 Did you notice what the disciples said, “the Pharisees were offended by what Jesus said.” Jesus told the disciples not to worry about it. He said these men were not true followers so it was better to just to ignore them! They were leading people astray and the best way to keep from being deceived was to stay away. It’s a good rule!

Unfortunately, people often flock to those who specialize in “rules taught by men” because it is comfortable. It allows us to maintain a superficial faith because it is all about externals. People like going to church and feeling good about their “nod to God” so they can head off to do what they want to do without any further thought. It is much more difficult to live in a relationship with Christ who wants to address our heart!

The disciples asked, what Jesus meant when he said we are defiled by the words that come out of our mouths. Jesus said the words we speak show what is deep in our hearts. In other words, our words give a clue as to who we really are.

We live in a society that is obsessed with physical health! You may watch very carefully what you put into your body. You may have eliminated caffeine, sugar, gluten, chocolate and all kinds of other good tasting things (in which case you are probably one miserable person). You may get every vaccine known to man or consider every vaccine a health risk. We monitor what goes into our body in the interest of health. It is good to care for our bodies.

Jesus however, says none of these things impact our spiritual health. In fact, it is humorous that He says what we take into our mouth will inevitably come out in “the sewer”. We might say today that whatever goes into our mouths will eventually come out in the toilet! These things may not be best for us, but they do not defile us spiritually. What defiles us spiritually is what comes out of the heart. If we were as diligent about guarding our hearts as we are about guarding what we put into our bodies, we would be much better off.

Don’t miss the list that comes next,

For from the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, all sexual immorality, theft, lying, and slander. These are what defile you.

Do you find that you are quick to notice the things you believe you are not guilty of: murder, adultery, sexual immorality and theft? (Of course the Bible tells us that if you understood the heart nature of these sins, we would ALL be guilty of them to some degree).

We pat ourselves on the back for the things we think we do well and overlook the others. Jesus also includes: evil thoughts, lying, and slander. We don’t like these things because they strike a little too close to home.

1 Timothy 4:8 says

“Physical training is good, but training for godliness is much better, promising benefits in this life and in the life to come.”

Let’s face the truth and ask the appropriate question: how do you train in godliness? How do you pursue a faith that is deep and not superficial; from the heart and not just in words we say?

First, we must be intentional about spiritual training. Start by doing a little evaluation. How much time do you put into caring for your physical body? Count the time you shower, shave, work out, get massages, manicures, chiropractic adjustments, examine labels on packages and shop for clothes? Really think about this. Now compare the time you give to your physical state and compare it to the amount of time you spend in Bible Study, worship, prayer, and reading and study for spiritual growth. I suspect you will learn some interesting truths. I suspect you are out of balance in your life.

Listen to yourself during the day and try to count up all the time you talk about your appearance or what you eat (and shouldn’t). Compare that with the time you spend teaching or talking to people about Jesus.

Look at the people who influence your life: your friends, co-workers, favorite authors, television programs and musicians. Are these good influences or bad influences? Are they drawing you forward or pulling you away? Are they influencing you to be more superficial or more committed.

You might want to:

  • Begin attending a Bible Study
  • Get involved in a Sunday School class
  • Read a Christian book that takes you into God’s Word
  • Be more diligent about worship
  • Begin a time of personal study and prayer with the Lord every day
  • Start a family devotion time in your home
  • Find some Christian mentors and learn all you can from them
  • Get your children involved with Sunday School and our youth ministries
  • Visit your friends and look for ways to tell them about Jesus
  • Memorize Scripture.

It is important that you not take these things as rules to living right with God. Replacing one set of rules with another is not helpful. The goal is to be intentional about seeking and following the Lord. I don’t know where God might be calling to you. Be attentive and responsive! Yearn for more of Him!!!

Second, beware of requiring others to follow your rules. We are experts at deciding that certain people must not be Christians if they don’t do things the way we think they should. We pronounce them pagan if they don’t,

  • Read from the right Bible
  • Attend the right church
  • Vote the right party
  • Like the right music
  • Follow the right teachers
  • Have the same view on every doctrine
  • Or possess the same gifts and passions you do

When we do this we are being modern day Pharisees and asking people to submit to rules taught by men. Such rules will save NO ONE!

Finally, worship from the heart. Make it a point to come into this place with a heart that is focused on the Lord. Guard against being the person who talks a good game but who never has their heart engaged. There are several ways to do this,

  • Get enough sleep
  • Begin preparing for worship at home by getting your mind in the right place
  • Take a few quiet moments during the worship prelude to consciously enter God’s presence.
  • Pay attention to the words of songs
  • Follow along in your Bible
  • Take notes
  • Take what you learn with you into the world

I suspect the Pharisees and teachers of the Law were not bad guys. They were however men who were headed in the wrong direction. They allowed their rules and opinions to rule over the Word of God rather than the other way around. Jesus called us not to be religious, but to be holy. He calls us to follow Him rather than encourage people to follow us. He called us to deep rather than shallow.

If we will listen to what He says, we will be delivered from superficial and dead religious actions and instead enter a vibrant, rewarding and even fun relationship with the Lord who loves us more than we can begin to imagine.

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