With this PODCAST, we break the seal on the last year of Jesus’ life here on earth.
And admittedly, His last year begins on a rather ominous note.
Immediately following this story, Jesus will leave the country. That is no exaggeration. For the first time in His storied 3½ year ministry, Jesus now has to get out of Dodge, fast!
As we have seen in past podcasts, Jesus was run out of His adopted hometown of Capernaum. He was then run out of Nazareth, His boyhood hometown. On top of that, Herod Antipas was hunting Jesus in order to kill Him (this in the wake of Herod’s senseless execution of John the Baptizer). And so we read this in Mark 7:24:
“Then Jesus left Galilee and went North to the region of Tyre” (in modern-day Lebanon).
Yes, indeed. Jesus was literally run out of Galilee and run out of the country.
Something significant happened in this story, here in Mark 7, that forced Jesus to go North and out of the country, rather than South to the familiar environs of His beloved Jerusalem.
What in the world happened?
What did Jesus do? Or more accurately, what did Jesus fail to do? A failure that caused a cataclysmic religious scandal. A scandal so serious that Jesus fled to the North. Which, by the way, is the exact same word that Matthew used in his telling of this story: scandal.
Let’s begin by reading Mark 7:6-7
6 Jesus replied, “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.
7 Their worship is a farce,
for they teach man-made ideas as commands from God.’
WOW! Talk about a rebuke of all rebukes!!
To put Jesus’ words into context, let’s back up a few verses to Mark 7:1
Some Pharisees and several teachers of the Law of Moses from Jerusalem came and gathered around Jesus.
They came all the way from Jerusalem?! Jesus had traveled north to Tyre to get away from Jerusalem, but they came after Him with an agenda to confront, condemn and harass Him! All because Jesus was a rabbi who failed to recite the “party line”.
But, what in the world could He have done (or not done) that upset the religious leaders so much that caused Jesus to flee north and caused the Pharisees to pursue Him? And not only was it evident that Jesus had offended the religious leaders, but His disciples picked up on it to, as we read in Matthew 15:12
12 Then the disciples came to him and asked, “Do you realize you offended the Pharisees by what you just said?”
So, what was this scandal that Jesus put Himself into? What rocked the Jewish boat so much that it put Jesus smack dab in the middle of Jerusalem’s deadly scope? We read this in Mark 7:2-5
2 They noticed that some of his disciples ate without first washing their hands.
3 The Pharisees and many other Jewish people obey the teachings of their ancestors. They always wash their hands in the proper way before eating. 4 None of them will eat anything they buy in the market until it is washed. They also follow a lot of other teachings, such as washing cups, pitchers, and bowls.
5 The Pharisees and teachers asked Jesus, “Why don’t your disciples obey what our ancestors taught us to do? Why do they eat without washing their hands?”
Yup. Jesus – that good for nothing, leader of people with dirty hands!
Now, let’s go back even further for even more context. In Exodus, we learn that Moses received the Law from God, Himself, high atop Mount Sinai. The heart and soul of the Law is the Ten Commandments. To be very elementary, the entire Torah (or first five books of the Old Testament) are expanded commentary and application about how to make God’s Ten Commandments work in the lives of the Israelites and throughout the Nation of Israel. Then, over the next 1,500 years or so, from Mount Sinai to the Day of Jesus, the religious leaders (or ancestors) added even more “clarity” and “application” to God’s instructions. In essence, they sought to “build a fence around the Torah”; meaning that they wanted to make sure that they were so pure before God that if the Ten Commandments draw a line in the sand, we don’t even want to get close to the line. These 613 man-made laws were upheld for so many years, that by the time Jesus began teaching, they were regarded as just as authoritative and binding as the original Torah – God’s laws!
So, Jesus’ not mandating that His disciples ceremoniously wash their hands before eating was just as sacrilegious to the Pharisees as breaking one of God’s actual Commandments.
In other words, by the time Jesus arrived on the scene, the relationship between God and His people had been redefined to be all about a person’s performance. It was all about who could out-perform whom by “doing religious stuff”, like cleaning your hands before a meal.
You can imagine what this did to fuel and seduce the religious leaders’ – and their followers’ – pride and arrogance. On the contrary, Jesus actually said:
“Blessed are the poor in sprit, for theirs alone is the kingdom of heaven.”
Judging by how the sages were teaching and living, they had their own mantra: “Blessed are the proud in spirit, because they observe the traditions of the elders”.
And Jesus hates this stuff! It’s right out of the parable in Luke 18:10-14
10 Two men went into the temple to pray. One was a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. 11 The Pharisee stood over by himself and prayed, “God, I thank you that I am not greedy, dishonest, and unfaithful in marriage like other people. And I am really glad that I am not like that tax collector over there. 12 I go without eating for two days a week, and I give you one tenth of all I earn.”
13 The tax collector stood off at a distance and did not think he was good enough even to look up toward heaven. He was so sorry for what he had done that he pounded his chest and prayed, “God, have pity on me! I am such a sinner.”
14 Then Jesus said, “When the two men went home, it was the tax collector and not the Pharisee who was pleasing to God. If you put yourself above others, you will be put down. But if you humble yourself, you will be honored.”
Jesus wasn’t impressed by the holier-than-thou Pharisees, but was very interested in the poor in spirit, the humble, those who realized that they need God. As Jesus put it in Matthew 11:28-30
28 “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. 29 Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. 30 For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”
So, ask yourself this: Has trying to be a good enough, Godly enough Christian ever become a burden for you? Have you felt like you live in a perpetual state of Spiritual defeat because you can’t even begin to follow all the “rules”? Ever feel like Jesus’ yoke is anything BUT easy and light?
Then, perhaps you need a new perspective. The God-given rules of the Torah are actually very reasonable and logical. You need to have laws in order to live together in community. But, when these laws are encumbered by unreasonable, man-made rules that God never intended for His people to keep, then it absolutely logical that only bad can come of it.
Therefore, when the Pharisees asked Jesus why He allowed His disciples to not wash their hands before eating and disregard the teachings of their ancestors, He went straight to the heart of the matter with His response:
6 He replied, “Isaiah was right when he prophesied about you hypocrites;
Now, keep in mind that Isaiah was writing about the religious leaders of his own day, as well as those in Jesus’. In Isaiah’s day, things had gotten so bad within Israel that God allowed the Babylonians to wipe out Israel and burned their temple. In the years to follow Jesus’ ministry, God would allow the Romans to wipe out the Jews and burn down their rebuilt temple.
You think Jesus’ words caught their attention?
…as it is written:
“‘These people honor me with their lips,
but their hearts are far from me.
7 They worship me in vain;
their teachings are merely human rules.
8 You have let go of the commands of God and are holding on to human traditions.”
9 And he continued, “You have a fine way of setting aside the commands of God in order to observe your own traditions! 10 For Moses said, ‘Honor your father and mother, and, ‘Anyone who curses their father or mother is to be put to death. 11 But you say that if anyone declares that what might have been used to help their father or mother is Corban (that is, devoted to God)— 12 then you no longer let them do anything for their father or mother. 13 Thus you nullify the word of God by your tradition that you have handed down. And you do many things like that.”
To the contrary, when we look at Isaiah 1:17, we see what God really, truly wants from us:
Learn to do good
Too often, even Christians today get hung up on our “man made rules” of Christianity. If only we would simply learn to do good. Isaiah further defined what God wants:
See that justice is done.
In other words, treat others justly. Deal with them honestly and fairly. React to people kindly. Be a man or woman of integrity. Be trustworthy. When you err, make it right. Clear enough?
If not, James 1:27 says
This is true religion: showing compassion for the least among us.
It’s not about singing in the choir, attending Sunday School, sending your kids to Private school, standing on church committees or anything other than how you honorably treat other people. It’s about your character.
What good is it if you and I participate in every church activity that ever exists and yet we mistreat the people within the community we allegedly pray for?
That’s my point.
The Pharisees of Jesus’ day were so off the mark that Jesus said this:
10 For instance, Moses gave you this law from God: ‘Honor your father and mother,’ and ‘Anyone who speaks disrespectfully of father or mother must be put to death.’ 11 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.’ 12 In this way, you let them disregard their needy parents. 13 And so you cancel the word of God in order to hand down your own tradition. And this is only one example among many others.”
It really all boils down to one question. The question that Jesus was asked in Matthew 22:36-40
36 “Teacher, which is the most important commandment in the law of Moses?”
37 Jesus replied, “‘You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your mind.’ 38 This is the first and greatest commandment. 39 A second is equally important: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ 40 The entire law and all the demands of the prophets are based on these two commandments.”
Love God and love the people around you.
If you “yoke” yourself to Jesus, this all becomes easy, light and not burdensome. All you need to do is love Him, allow Him to love you; and while you’re at it, love the people around you. That’s what the Christian life is all about.