Defiled Hands and Defective Hearts (part 1)
Text: Mark 7:1–13
Main Question: What is the essence of religious hypocrisy?
I. Hypocrites condemn others to preserve their religious standing (Mark 7:1–5)
II. Hypocrites mask deceitful hearts with deceptive lips (Mark 7:6-8)
III. Hypocrites use religious traditions to escape God’s clear commands (Mark 7:9–13)
Conclusion: Religious Hypocrisy is an affair of the heart that feigns religious piety for selfish gain, personal influence, and human applause.
Countless children have grown up and are growing up in homes that are defined by their parent’s incessant criticism. These poor children go through their entire childhood doing everything they can to earn their parent’s affection and praise. But, the only thing they receive for all their effort in athletics, academics, and extra-curricular activities are back-handed compliments that undermine their accomplishments and compel them to try even harder to earn their parent’s affection. These parents believe they are building character by preparing their children for the real world. When in the end, they are merely teaching their children to anchor their self-worth in their personal performance and the approval of other people; because, love is a status or commodity that has to be earned.
Even worse, countless Christians grow up in performance orientated churches that depict God as an unhappy, overly critical, merely judicial Father who is rarely pleased with his children; churches that reflect Jesus’ greatest opponents—the Scribes and Pharisees—rather than Jesus himself. And this morning, the Gospel of Mark helps us understand why they were so hostile toward Jesus and his disciples—their hostility was not driven by their passion for God, it driven by their deep-seated religious hypocrisy.
This morning I want to take a little different approach to the text. Instead of presenting the main point at the beginning, I want to begin by asking: What is the essence of religious hypocrisy? Because, I believe our text tells us at least three things about religious hypocrisy this morning.
- Hypocrites condemn others to preserve their religious standing (Mark 7:1–5)
- Hypocrites mask deceitful hearts with deceptive lips (Mark 7:6–8)
- Hypocrites use religious traditions to escape God’s clear commands (Mark 7:9–13)
So as we turn to our text, I want to make sure that we are seeing it in its broader context. What I mean by this is that Jesus has just fed over 5,000 people in the wilderness with 5 loaves and 2 fish. But even more, Jesus is healing everyone who merely touches the fringe of his garment (Mark 6:56). Jesus is fulfilling Isaiah’s New Exodus promise.
Isaiah 35:4–6 Say to those who have an anxious heart, “Be strong; fear not! Behold, your God will come with vengeance, with the recompense of God. He will come and save you.” 5 Then the eyes of the blind shall be opened, and the ears of the deaf unstopped; 6 then shall the lame man leap like a deer, and the tongue of the mute sing for joy. For waters break forth in the wilderness, and streams in the desert.
See, the Scribes and Pharisees should be the first people to embrace Jesus because they are experts. But, instead of seeing Jesus as the fulfillment of God’s OT promises, they condemn his disciples for eating with unwashed hands… (Mark 7:1–5)
Hypocrites condemn others to preserve their religious standing. (Mark 7:1–5)
The Point of Contention is Unwashed Hands
It’s important to note here that, the Scribes and Pharisees are not concerned about the disciple’s personal hygiene. Their hands are defiled not in the sense that they are contaminated with dirt and bacteria; they are defiled because they are not observing the “Traditions of the Elders” (v 3). But, the problem with their complaint is that God never commanded his people to wash their hands before they sat down to eat. Because, hand cleaning before meals was never an issue of fellowship with God.
According to the OT law washing is required in only three primary contexts:
- Priests were required to wash before entering the Holy Place so that they did not defile God’s house (Exod 30:19; 40:13; Lev 22:1–6).
- Israelites were required to wash when they came in contact with bodily fluids, lepers, or dead bodies (Lev 15:11).
- Israelites were required to wash dishes and vessels when they were contaminated by mold, diseased persons, or certain rodents.
The Underlying Conflict is Tradition of the Elders
See, hand washing only became an issue as religious Jews were increasingly forced to interact with Gentile populations after Jerusalem fell in 586 B.C. In the beginning, “The Elders” were trying to protect Israel from breaking the law by adding additional layers around the law itself, like a fence or safety net. They wanted Israel to walk in holiness despite their defeat and deportation. But, in this very attempt to protect and preserve Israel from moral failure, they unwittingly paved highway to an empty, hypocritical religion that dutiful measured external religious performance instead of fostering true a passion for God. (Mark 7:6–8)
Hypocrites mask defective hearts with deceitful lips. (Mark 7:6–8)
The Heart of the Issue
Notice, Jesus does not actually address the issue of ritual purity. Instead, he attacks their blatant hypocrisy.
What is hypocrisy and why do we hate it so much? I’m asking this because I’m not sure that everyone defines it the same way.
First, the Greek word hypocrite originally referred to an actor in the theatre, a professional play-actor who put on a mask so that he or she could perform their part in a production. But, over time, the word hypocrite was increasingly used to label someone as a charlatan, a pretender, or a fraud. See, the offence of hypocrisy is not that someone tries their best and fails at a task.
- A mountain climber who trains for months in hopes that he will be able to summit Mt. Rainier in 2 hours—less than half the current record of 4 hours, 24 minutes, and 30 seconds— is not a hypocrite if he fails to meet his goal.
- A politician who vows to reduce taxes or find reasonable healthcare solutions is not a hypocrite if they fight for their cause and loose.
The offence of hypocrisy is that the hypocrite makes lofty declarations and prolific promises that they have no intention of keeping; all because they are play-acting a part for your applause.
Second, Jesus’ quotation of Isa 29:13 help us see that a “hypocrite” is someone who merely honors God with their lips. Hypocrites talk about their love for God. Hypocrites love to talk about God’s Word. But, the sad reality is that their well-groomed religion is nothing more than a performance because their hearts are stone cold to God. The later causes the former!
If you truly delight in God you will delight in his commandments.
- 1 John 5:3 For this is the love of God, that we keep his commandments. And his commandments are not burdensome.
- Psalm 119:34–37 Give me understanding, that I may keep your law and observe it with my whole heart. 35Lead me in the path of your commandments, for I delight in it. 36Incline my heart to your testimonies, and not to selfish gain! 37Turn my eyes from looking at worthless things; and give me life in your ways.
If you truly delight in the praise of people you will be constantly drawn to the legalistic traditions of men because there is no room for personal boasting in the gospel or the good works that flow from the gospel!
Ephesians 2:8–10 For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, 9 not a result of works, so that no one may boast. 10 For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.
But, we need to be careful that we do not simply equate legalism and hypocrisy.
The legalist believes that God delights in his or her rule keeping. The legalist lives by the motto: God is most glorified by the person who observes the most rules. See, the legalist may be completely misguided but deep down they believe they are honoring God.
The Hypocrite, on the other hand, does not care if God is glorified at all. Religion is simply a means to bolster their public influence, expand their bottom line, and escape God’s clear commands. (Mark 7:9–13)
Hypocrites use religious traditions to escape God’s clear commands. (Mark 7:7–13)
A Piercing Accusation (Mark 7:9)
The piercing accusation in verse 9 is unmistakable. The Scribes and Pharisees are not unwitting victims of good religion gone bad. Their hypocrisy is manifest in that they are intentionally obscuring and abandoning God’s commands so that they can secretly establish their own self-serving and clearly sinful traditions.
To be even more direct, Jesus is saying that the Traditions of the Elders is nothing less than the willful substitution of man-made religion for the revealed will of God. A perverted and premeditated substitution whereby self-absorbed people are free to abandon their parents to perpetual poverty under the guise of religious affections.
A Clear Illustration
In rabbinic literature, qorbān denoted something that was unavailable for human use because it was dedicated to God. On the surface it sounds good! But in practice, Corban provided a convenient loophole, in that, it prevented the owner from spending money on anyone or anything outside the home WHILE allowing the owner to retain full access to their finances until their death; only then would their life savings be transferred to the temple.
Jesus is showing them that Corban was tradition from Hell, in that provided the religiously sanctioned means for people to proclaim their devotion to God while ignoring the 5thcommandment and abandoning their parents to abject poverty. The practice of Corban didn’t just nullify the concrete, unambiguous divine command and moral good, “ ‘Honor your father and mother.” Corban completely reversed the 5thcommandment by forbiddinga child to do “ ‘anything for his father or mother’ ” in the name of God himself. Corban turned parental support into a blatant sin.
Mark 7:9 “You have a fine way of rejecting the commandment of God in order to establish your tradition!
Mark 9:13 thus making void the word of God by your tradition that you have handed down. And many such things you do.”
A Working Definition
So how would Jesus define hypocrisy? I think he would say that:
Hypocrisy is an affair of the heart that feigns (fakes) religious piety for selfish gain, personal influence, and human applause.
Notice, the source of hypocrisy is a heart that does not love God or believe that he is infinitely worthy of praise and supremely satisfying. A heart that does not believe that he is gracious and merciful, slow to anger abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness. A stone-cold, self-absorbed heart that demands wholesale autonomy and thrives on human praise.
So How Should We Respond to This Passage?
I don’t think it’s wise for Christians to say that “everyone is a hypocrite.”
I understand what Christians mean when they say this. They mean that we don’t always practice what we preach. But for the most part our problem isn’t blatant hypocrisy, it’s a failure to understand the gospel.
True believers are new creations in Jesus Christ because he raised us to life and delivered us from our slavery to sin so that we might no longer live for ourselves but to God. We are in a perpetual battle against our old sinful nature. A battle against unbelief. A fight for ever-deepening faith. A Spirit-empowered fight for holiness that we call sanctification. A life-long battle that will ultimately end in glorificationwhen we see Jesus face to face.
Jesus may be grieved by our failures BUT I do not believe that he calls our failures hypocrisy. He calls our failures sin. And he promises complete forgiveness and full restoration to every believer who repents of their sin.
Psalm 103:8–12 The Lord is merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love. 9He will not always chide, nor will he keep his anger forever. 10He does not deal with us according to our sins, nor repay us according to our iniquities. 11For as high as the heavens are above the earth, so great is his steadfast love toward those who fear him; 12as far as the east is from the west, so far does he remove our transgressions from us.
1 John 1:9 If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.
God is not glorified by any “so-called” act of Christian piety that does not uphold the Two Greatest Commandments.
Matthew 22:35–40 And one of them, a lawyer, asked him a question to test him. 36“Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law?” 37 And he said to him, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. 38 This is the great and first commandment. 39 And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. 40 On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.”
I am deeply concerned that well meaning Christians are getting tied up in modern traditions of men that “legally” free us to hate our neighbors in the name of God.
When Jesus answered the follow up question, “who is my neighbor?” in the parable of the Good Samaritan he showed us that our neighbors don’t just live next door. But, that our neighbors even include political opponents, religious heretics, and racial outcasts—that’s what the Samaritan’s were to the Jews. The Jewish–Samaritan conflict was just as bad as: America’s conflict with Islam, Rebublican’s conflicts with Liberals, and social conservatives conflict with proponents of the ever growing “LGBTQ lifestyle.” Yet, it was the Samaritan who loved his neighbor as himself.
My question is this, does your steadfast dedication to Christian social values and Constitutional fidelity trump God’s clear mandate to love your neighbor as yourself. If so you are dangerously close to Corban!
I truly believe that most Christians want to live a life that glorifies God. And if that’s you, the answer is simple: treasure God supremely so that you can love your neighbor rightly because “love is the overflow of joy in God that gladly meets the needs of other people.”
Here is the beauty of the 2 greatest commandments.
If we love God supremely, we will not be tempted to ignore sin or re-cast it in ontological categories that are at odds with God’s revealed Word.
If we love God supremely, we will not be tempted to elevate politics over personal relationships.
If we love God supremely, we will not be repulsed by our neighbors current state. Because, Our delight in God will constantly remind us that even though we were unlovable wretches, justly doomed to eternal punishment for our willful rebellion against God; God poured out his love on us by sending his precious Son Jesus Christ to die for our sin so that we might be forgiven and find eternal joy through faith in him.
In other words, if we love God supremely we will understand that our neighbor’s and our nation’s greatest need is found in a blood stained cross and an empty tomb.
James R Edwards, The Gospel According to Mark, The Pillar New Testament Commentary (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2002), 205.
Walter Bauer et al.,A Greek English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature, 3rd ed. (University of Chicago Press, 2000), 1038.
Edwards, The Gospel According to Mark, 209–10.