Jesus and the Pharisees rarely got along; understatement of the year, I know. But when two opposing ideas claim ultimacy, conflict can only ensue. Christ, as our great prophet, priest, and king, reveals to us all that God desires, and all that He has provided to His church. In exchange of Matthew 15:10-20 between Himself and the Pharisees, the Lord Jesus Christ was dealing with the issue of defilement. What is it that defiles a man? Is it food? Is it friends? Is it ourselves? Can a man defile himself? Let us take a moment to examine Scripture and see what God has to say for Himself.
The Pharisees’ concern is summed up for us in the Markan parallel to our own story. Mark provides their concern in this way, “Why do you disciples…eat with defiled hands? (Mark 7:5 ESV) The Pharisees were not unique in seeing a cultic or religious function in hand washing to keep one from defilement. However, of the Scriptural examples none of them had anything to do with ordinary people ritually cleansing themselves prior to eating. In the Old Testament, the priests were called by God to wash both hands and feet prior to their ministering in His presence at the tabernacle on pain of death (Exodus 30:19-21), those who were already ceremonially unclean had to wash (Leviticus 15:11), and the elders would wash their hands as a sign of innocence in the case of an unknown murder (Deuteronomy 21:6). These alone were the scriptural examples of hand washing, and more importantly these are the only traditions which bore weight because their author was God. The ruling of the Pharisees was completely out of step with what God had prescribed. What was Christ’s reaction to their claims?
We know that Jesus had little time for traditions rooted in the hearts and imaginations of men. They do not have the right to bear authority over anyone. Such claims come entirely against the liberty which God has given unto His people. Christ had enough of the Pharisees non-sense, and so refocused His attention to the people in the crowds. If we pause and consider what Christ does in His shift of attention what we’ll note is that there comes an end to the patience of God. Just as there was a day for Christ’s Apostles to shake the dust of their feet from the towns that rejected the Gospel, so Christ no longer wasted His breath on this occasion with the Pharisees. He called to the crowds to “hear and understand” (Matt. 15:10). But what Christ said next obliterated the Pharisaical teaching like a hammer smashing through a glass.
Christ taught, “It is not what goes into the mouth that defiles a person but that which comes out of the mouth this is what defiles a person.” (Matt. 15:11 ESV) Simply put, the Pharisees were wrong. And the only solution was God’s truth. Every time Christ destroys the arguments of the Pharisees we see an echo of the Old Testament prophets standing against the false prophets of their day. The Pharisees were offended and indeed needed to be. Do you know that people need to be offended sometimes? This is one wholesome application for us today as Christians. But why? Because nothing else seemed to penetrate their hardened unbiblical hearts. You see, the danger in Pharisees’ theology or assumptions about God was harmful both to themselves and to others under their influence. Although we ought to seek out peace, we as believers are not most successful if no one is offended by us. We are most successful as the body of Christ when we faithfully speak God’s Word. Wisdom and love are still necessary in application, but so is the truth.
Christ showed by His words that we are all defiled people. All of us have been stained by our sins, our passions, and our lusts. Every wicked thing we do is not from outside influence alone, but from our own hearts. And it is here that Christ must work. He opens our eyes to our conditions, and even to our false solutions. We need Christ’s perfect shed blood to purify our imperfect and hard hearts (Hebrews 9:11-14). Have you been cleansed by the blood of Christ? Have you been born again by power of the Holy Spirit? Please friend, do not waste any more time. Come to Christ while there is still time. Call out to Him this day. Join us for worship this Sunday that you might call out to God for forgiveness, for a new heart, for a new mind renewed by His Word and Spirit. Come to this Christ and He shall make your stained heart whiter than snow. God bids us to come and be cleaned.
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