Posts Tagged ‘God’s word’

The literary structure of Mark 7:1-13

We’re launching into an important passage today, Mark 7:1-23. There are actually two significant issues that are talked about in these verses – human religious traditions and how to be pure before God.  The plan is to deal with the first one today, in vs. 1-13. And we’ll look at the second, purity, next week.

Our Scripture begins with Jesus involved in, surprise, surprise –

A conflict

1Now when the Pharisees gathered to him, with some of the scribes who had come from Jerusalem, 2they saw that some of his disciples ate with hands that were defiled, that is, unwashed.

So some Pharisees are present and also some experts of the Law from Jerusalem – the theologians of that day. They’re checking Jesus out. They want to see what he’s up to.

The last time we saw some scribes they accused Jesus of being possessed by Satan (3:22), so not a friendly audience. Well, they and the Pharisees take issue again when they see some of Jesus’ disciples not washing their hands before they eat.

Now, this isn’t about good hygiene. As v. 2 indicates, it has to do with ritual uncleanness or defilement; that is to say, eating this way makes you ceremonially unclean before God.

Mark goes on to explain –

3For the Pharisees and all the Jews do not eat unless they wash their hands, holding to the tradition of the elders, 4and when they come from the marketplace, they do not eat unless they wash. And there are many other traditions that they observe, such as the washing of cups and pots and copper vessels and dining couches.

[“All the Jews” is a bit of a generalization. Certainly the Pharisees, who were influential, held to the need for washing hands, as did the Essences, another prominent group of Jews. 

One word in not translated. It comes at the end of the phrase in v. 3, “they wash their hands . . ..” It says literally “with a fist.” No one knows for sure what this means. It might mean “carefully” or it might refer to how the hands are ritually washed. 

The very last phrase of v. 4, literally “and beds” or “and dining couches” is not in all the manuscripts. So if your Bible doesn’t have it, that’s why.]

Mark here is helping his non-Jewish readers (us) understand the situation. 1) Washing things was a big deal for many Jews, especially the Pharisees. And 2) The command to wash hands comes from “the tradition of the elders” not from Scripture itself.

This body of tradition was followed by the Pharisees. It’s sometimes called the oral law. The idea was that Moses wrote down the Law in the Bible, but other instructions were passed on generation to generation by word of mouth. (This tradition was later written out in the Mishna, and other writings.) So, the Pharisees believed there are two sources of commandments, the written Law in Scripture and the oral law or tradition of the elders.

5And 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 really an attack on Jesus. The charge is that his disciples aren’t faithful to God, which means that, since he’s their teacher, he’s not faithful. (Jesus also didn’t follow this practice – Luke 11:38).

Their charge involves both the issue of 1) keeping the traditions, and 2) what purity means. But as I said, we’ll focus on the first for today.

Jesus on human traditions

Jesus’ first response comes in vs. 6-8, where he calls them out as hypocrites.

6And 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; 7in vain do they worship me, teaching as doctrines the commandments of men.’”

A hypocrite looks one way – good, but is actually another – not so good.

Jesus quotes from the prophets, specifically Isaiah 29:3, a passage that deals with honoring God. And he sees this verse, on one level, as pointing to the Pharisees and the scribes – and their error here. (The quote is closer to the LXX, although the same basic point in made in the MT).

The word “worship” should be taken in its broad sense of  a life of service and obedience to God, not just how they participate in a worship service.

They look like they’re honoring God with their lives. But this is only external, with their lips. Their heart remains far away. Why is their heart far away? Why is their worship “vain” or useless? Because they are only about teaching and following human rules.

He’s saying Isaiah hit it right on the head about you guys –

8You leave the commandment of God and hold to the tradition of men.”

Notice the contrast here between a life that is based on God and God’s commandments, and a life that is based on tradition and human commandments, which is useless.

Jesus’ second response comes in vs. 9-13, where he illustrates their hypocrisy. He begins with the same point he just made in v. 8 –

 9And he said to them, “Well have you set aside the commandment of God in order to establish your tradition!’”

He’s saying again, you prefer your tradition to God’s commands. You leave or set aside what God says, to keep what you say.

Jesus then quotes from the Law on honoring parents –

10For Moses said, ‘Honor your father and your mother’; and, ‘Whoever reviles father or mother must surely die.’”

 He’s quoting Exodus 20:12, the fifth of the ten commandments and Exodus 21:17. It was understood by all that honoring parents, for adult children, includes caring for them financially when the’re older. The second reference shows how serious this issue is. Those who don’t honor their parents, but revile or curse them, deserve the death penalty.

Then Jesus lays out their hypocrisy –

11But you say, ‘If a man tells his father or his mother, Whatever you would have gained from me is Corban’ (that is, given to God)— 12then you no longer permit him to do anything for his father or mother . . .”

Notice the strong contrast between what God has said through Moses, and what they say based on their tradition, which is not God’s word.

The word “corban” is a technical term for a vow to give your resources to God (that is, the Temple), but apparently the person here could still have access to them and use them until a later time. (This view was most likely held by many Pharisees and scribes at this time. It was rejected in later Judaism m. Ned. 9:1).

So based on their tradition the Pharisees and scribes said that you must keep your vow, and not the commandment to honor your parents. That is, you can withhold giving your resources to support your parents.

“. . . 13thus making void the word of God by your tradition that you have handed down. And many such things you do.”

They allow people to nullify what God commands, in order to keep a vow that is unrighteous in the first place. Indeed, they allow not only the breaking of the fifth commandment, but an action that is on a par with reviling one’s parents, which deserves the death penalty!

Summing up: Their charge was, ‘Jesus, you’re not faithful to God because you don’t keep the traditions of the elders.’ His response was, ‘Pharisees, you’re not faithful to God because you keep the traditions of the elders.’

They neither honor God (Isaiah 29) nor people, that is, their parents (Exodus 20 and 21). This is why they’re hypocrites. And he makes his point, not based on the traditions of the elders, mere human teaching, but based on the Law and the Prophets, that is, based on God’s word.

Well, it’s easy to criticize others, like the Pharisees, but –

What about us?

We all have human traditions. We all have opinions and convictions about how Christians should do things – that are not explicitly taught in Scripture.

  • What style of music should we sing in worship?
  • Should the sermon be about evangelism each week, with an altar call, or not?
  • What kind of clothes should we wear to church? Should we dress up or it doesn’t matter as long as they are modest?

Maybe you would see “the tradition of the elders” as equaling doing things the way we’ve always done things. But maybe our religious rule is that we have to be on the cutting edge and always do something new. It can work either way.

Now, for sure, we have to make choices on things to be able to function as a community. It isn’t wrong to have some traditions. But they can be taken too far.

What about us? Learn to differentiate between your traditions and God’s word. Eight times, in one way or another, our passage talks about human religious traditions. And throughout these are contrasted with “God’s word” or what is written in Scripture. These things are not the same. And so do not put them on the same level as the Pharisees did.

Yes, sometimes we have different views on things based on different interpretations of Scripture. But in the examples I have given you there is no explicit Scriptural teaching to settle the issue. They are matters of personal conviction, or a whole church’s conviction. And faithful Christians can differ.

What about us? Make sure your obedience to God is based on God’s word, and not mere human traditions. If your Christian life is just about making sure you practice your  traditions – I dressed right for church, I only sang the right kind of songs – then your obedience to God is useless, just like the Pharisees. Congratulations, you are a hypocrite! You look religious, but you haven’t built your life on following what God is actually interested in; what God teaches us.

Finally, what about us? Don’t judge others as unfaithful because of your traditions. This is what the Pharisees did to Jesus and his disciples. Jesus was faithful in every way, but was rejected as unfaithful because he didn’t conform to their merely human traditions.

And we do this too. Look, they aren’t faithful to God because they don’t dress right or sing the right kind of songs. When we do this we place our traditions over God’s commands. We do just what Jesus says about the Pharisees in v. 8 – we “leave the commandment of God and hold to the tradition of men.”

So let’s learn to identify and relegate our traditions to what they actually are – just our own convictions, not God’s commands. And let’s be generous and flexible with each other in the practice of our common Christian faith.

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Genesis 1:1-5

I want to share with you today on the topic of overcoming the chaos in our lives. Chaos is defined as a state of disorder and confusion, even total disorder and confusion. It means to be in disarray, to be in turmoil. To say it another way, it means that your life lacks order, peace and calm. Do you ever feel like your life is chaotic – that you yearn for order, peace and calm?

We are in Genesis chapter one today because, as we will see, this is where God overcomes the chaos at the beginning of creation. So we want to learn from this how God can overcome the chaos in our lives.

Let’s read Genesis 1:1-5, as a sample of what is going on in the whole chapter.

“1In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth. 2The earth was without form and void, and darkness was over the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God was hovering over the face of the waters.

3And God said, “Let there be light,” and there was light. 4And God saw that the light was good. And God separated the light from the darkness. 5God called the light Day, and the darkness he called Night. And there was evening and there was morning, the first day.”

Chaos in Genesis 1

In vs. 1-3 we see several indicators of chaos:

1. The earth was “without form and void.” This is basically the definition of chaos.

2. “Darkness” was everywhere. Both darkness and formlessness are negative things in the Hebrew way of thinking.

3. “The deep” or “the waters” cover the earth. In the Scriptures “the waters” and “the deep” represent chaos and turmoil. They are associated with hard times (Psalm 69:14), evil or Satan (Yam, Rahab, Leviathan, Revelation 12:9), judgment (Psalm 104:6-7) and death (Psalm 18:16).

4. There is no life. Rather the earth is barren, bleak and desolate.

Next we see in this passage –

How God overcomes the chaos

 And he does this in two ways. First, through his Word. v. 3 – “And God said . . .” This phrase is used 10 times in Genesis 1. From our example, on the first day, God said, “Let there be light.” He is saying, ‘this is my purpose and will. This is what I want.’

By his word of command, God speaks out his will and his way to give order and structure to his creation.

From the New Testament we know that God’s word is God’s Son. In Colossians 1:16 Paul says this about him, “For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities – all things were created through him and for him.”

In John 1:1-3 John speaks of him in this way, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through him, and without him was not anything made that was made.”

God also overcomes the chaos through his Spirit. v. 2 says, “And the Spirit of God was hovering over the face of the waters.” The Spirit is the power of God that brings God’s will into being.

So on the first day, God spoke out his will concerning the light, and then, “there was light. . . . And God separated the light from the darkness” – vs. 3-4. This is the working of God by his Spirit/power bringing to pass his word/will.

From the New Testament we know that God’s Spirit or power is God’s Holy Spirit. A person, not an impersonal force. The Holy Spirit acting to make God’s will come into reality.

How does God overcome chaos? God speaks out his will through his Word. And God brings it into reality by his Spirit. And because of his Word and Spirit there is:

  • order, not chaos
  • light, not darkness
  • victory over the waters and evil
  • life, not lifelessness

Now despite all this, there is still chaos in the creation. Our job as humans was to finish what God began. We were to subdue the earth (Genesis 1:28). After all Satan was still loose. And then our rebellion against God (Genesis 3) introduced more chaos into the world. And so –

God is still working to overcome chaos

God is working to bring forth a new creation. This is going on at the cosmic level, and it certainly plays out in our individual lives.

We all have times of testing. We go through difficult life circumstances that bring us inner turmoil. These are times when:

  • our lives are disordered; they seem to be without direction or purpose
  • the darkness closes in on us.
  • the deep waters flood in and overwhelm us.
  • We feel lifeless, barren, bleak, hopeless

Well, just as God has acted for the whole world, so also he works in us. The same creative Word of Genesis 1, God’s Son, has become a human – Jesus, to teach us and to model for us God’s will and way. And the Holy Spirit has come to live within us to strengthen us and help us.

And so when your life is in chaos, when things around you are spinning out of control, when the deep waters are churning, look to the Word, to the Scriptures, to Jesus the living word made flesh. Learn from his teaching and example. He shows us God’s will and way.

As the Psalmist says to God, “Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path” – Psalm 119:105. God’s Word shows us the way when things around us are chaotic.

And so ask yourself, ‘Is my life in line with God’s Word?’ If you are knowingly walking in sin you’re opening the door wide to chaos – darkness, deep waters, lifelessness. Walk according to the Word.

And also, are you walking  in the path God has for you individually? We may not know all the details of God’s will for our lives, but he shows us the direction he has for us. Are you walking in that direction?

Look to the Word. This is what gives order and structure to your life when the world is chaotic. This is what gives you a path to walk on.

And also, look to the Spirit who lives within us as Christians. When we feel like we are being overwhelmed, the Spirit can strengthen us to move forward in God’s path for our lives. The Spirit can empower us to endure testing and trials, with God’s peace within us whatever is going on around us.

We can’t do this in our own strength. We can’t do it by ourselves. We have to rely on the Spirit to help us. As Zechariah 4:6 says, “Not by might, nor by power, but by my Spirit, says the Lord of hosts.” This is how we can overcome.

When we allow the Word to guide us and the Spirit to help us, just as in Genesis 1, God will bring:

  • order out of our chaos
  • light out of our darkness
  • victory over our trials, Satan and death
  • new life out of lifelessness

We not only learn how God does all this in Genesis 1. We learn that he can do this. And if he can overcome the chaos of all creation, surely he can do this in your life and mine. God is able and we can thank God for this and take courage wherever we find ourselves.

William Higgins

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