To help us get started, let’s take a quick look at an ancient conflict described in Mark 7 between Jesus and some religious leaders. We can learn a lot from those episodes in the Bible where Jesus has confrontations.
This conflict takes place kind of early in Jesus’ ministry. He’s in an area called Galilee, about 70-80 miles from Jerusalem. In the story we see Jesus, His followers, and 2 groups of religious leaders, the scribes and the Pharisees. The Pharisees are the religious rule-keepers. The scribes are religious scholars. They make the long trip and gather around Jesus.
1 Now when the Pharisees gathered to him, with some of the scribes who had come from Jerusalem, 2 they saw that some of his disciples ate with hands that were defiled, that is, unwashed.
Now, this is not just a hygiene issue. It’s a religious issue. They noticed that some of Jesus’ disciples weren't following the Jewish ritual of ceremonial hand washings before eating.
3 (For the Pharisees and all the Jews do not eat unless they wash their hands properly, holding to the tradition of the elders, 4 and when they come from the marketplace, they do not eat unless they wash.
It’s important to know that this ceremonial washing was not specifically commanded in the Old Testament. What was commanded was holiness. The Bible says to be holy. The Jewish elders had asked, “How do we do that? How can we be holy? We use our hands to interact with the world. And we are defiled when we use our hands for sinful purposes. So, let’s create some rules about hand washing before eating to remind ourselves to be holy.”
This is called the Netilat Yadayim. Hand washing symbolizes the removal of impurity and a commitment to purity. So, how did it work?
Get water. Remove any rings from your fingers. Hold the cup in your left hand and then pour about half the water over the right hand, soaking the hand on both sides from the wrist down. You want every area of the hand to be wet. Now, pass the cup to your right hand and repeat for the left hand. After the hands have been washed, they should be held upward, so that the water drips toward the wrist and not the fingers. A blessing is then recited:
Baruch ata Adonai… Blessed are you, O Lord our God, ruler of the universe, who has sanctified us by His commandments, and commanded us concerning the washing of the hands.
The conflict was over this. Silly isn’t it? But we still do it today. “The pastor isn’t wearing a tie!” “They do (or they don’t) lift up their hands in when they sing!” “I can’t believe they are changing the worship times again!”
It was unthinkable for these religious, rule-keeping Pharisees to eat until they had washed the hands.
4b And there are many other traditions that they observe, such as the washing of cups and pots and copper vessels and dining couches.)
Remember. These specific washings aren’t commanded. They are traditions and rituals that had been developed over the centuries. The original intent was to help people pursue holiness. But the rituals themselves had become more important than the meaning.
5 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?”
This is probably not an honest question. They knew Jesus was popular with the people. They wanted to make Jesus look bad in front of the people. So, this question is really a kind of accusation. They wanted the people to know that Jesus was breaking the law of Moses by not following the traditions of the elders. "Why do your disciples not keep the rules? They don’t follow the traditions.”
Now, we are going to get some insights about what Jesus believed about the Bible. Notice that Jesus sees the OT character, Isaiah, as a real person. He treats the prophecy as true. He values the OT so much that He’s memorized it.
6 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; 7 in vain do they worship Me, teaching as doctrines the commandments of men.’
Isaiah was an OT prophet who wrote his words in the Bible about 700 years before Jesus. Jesus said, "When Isaiah put the pen to paper 700 years ago, he was writing about you. You are hypocrites – pretenders. You’re fake. You’re frauds. Remember what Isaiah wrote? ‘You say all the right things. But your hearts are a mess. Your worship is external, not internal. You act like you’re worshiping God, but you don't mean it.’”
8 You leave the commandment of God and hold to the tradition of men.” Mark 7:1-8 (ESV)
Jesus says, "You are walking away from what the God really wants. Instead, you are substituting your own traditions. You are missing the message of the Bible."
I love this about Jesus. He knows what this conflict is really about. The Pharisees liked to look good in front of people. Their religion was all about them. They missed the real message of the Bible.
Here, Jesus uses the Bible to set them straight. The Bible wasn’t just a book to Jesus.
Tomorrow, we will see some proof that Jesus believed the Old Testament.
Can we trust the Bible (3)?
Can we trust the Bible (4)?