By Simon ManchesterSunday 10 Sep 2017Christian Growth with Simon ManchesterFaithReading Time: 17 minutes
Our section of Scripture this morning is Mark chapter 7 verses 1-13. This section of Scripture is dealing with a human disease, and the human disease is so deep, so dangerous that it makes all physical diseases look small by comparison. Jesus does, in Mark 7, a dissection of the human heart. And it’s not easy to study the first half of chapter 7 without the second half – but we will do the second half next week, and we will focus on the first half.
When we talk about dissecting the heart, it’s probably right to say ‘he is dissecting our minds” – the way we think, the way we plan and the way we live. And it is such an educational dissection that it changes the way the Christian views himself, herself, the world and everything.
We have been praying as a staff, that the Word of God which is very weighty would come to us as weighty and not just as sort of froth. This particular passage is very weighty – it’s not a Nursery Rhyme. One of the great preachers in London in the last century was a man called Dr. Sangster, and he preached at the London Westminster Hall. He said that some congregations would be quite happy with the exposition of a Nursery Rhyme. He used as an example:
Old Mother Hubbard
Went to the cupboard,
To give the poor dog a bone;
To make the point he preached a little bit like this:
Notice that she was OLD
And no one else is mentioned – she was probably ALONE
And FRIENDLESS and OLD
But did she sit down and complain? NO
She WENT to the cupboard – she didn’t run or hop or skip to the cupboard
She WENT to the cupboard.
And why did she go to the cupboard?
Was it to get gold plates or precious stones or costly clothes or wealth?
NO – it was to GET HER DOG a BONE
Because the dog was POOR as well
Her ONLY FRIEND was a dog
And the dog was POOR
So she went to the cupboard to get a bone for her dog.
You can imagine milking this and then making an appeal at the end – please come forward! And Dr. Sangster says “if and the Congregation is gripped by that and declares that the sermon has been inspirational – you know you are in big trouble.”
Now Mark chapter 7 is not a piece of light weight fluff. This is where Jesus is attacked verbally by religious leaders who are angry that he doesn’t bow to their rules and their regulations and he goes on the counter attack because behind their rules and regulations is actually a cover for rejecting God himself. So this is a very heated debate.
In case you think that Mark chapter 7 doesn’t fit into the series so far and that this chapter is now a random, left field, new topic, let me remind you that Jesus in the previous chapters of Mark has been displaying such power and such majesty especially in chapters 5 and 6. You think of him, for example, exercising the man with the demons or think of him healing the lady with the sickness or raising the little girl from the dead or feeding the 5,000, walking on the lake.
He has such a display of his power and majesty that he expects people and especially his disciples, to work out that he is the Son of God – but they don’t work out that he is the Son of God. And I think this is a shock to Jesus and he is forced to very patiently take his disciples especially on a much longer road of education. He is going to teach them that they have a deep need, a problem, they have a condition which only He can solve – and that they need Him. So Mark chapter 7 is part of that longer road of teaching to show the problem and the condition in the human heart.
Because it is a clash between the Pharisees and Jesus himself, I think we can divide our section this morning into two points.
- What is it that the enemies of Christ want?
- What is it that Jesus Christ wants?
They are very simple questions, but they are very profound differences. What do the enemies want and what does Jesus want?
What do the Enemies of Jesus want? In Mark chapter 7 verse 1 we see that some leaders, the Pharisees, the religious leaders, teachers of the law – they come from Jerusalem – probably quite a long way – and they come from the Headquarters and they come to complain that Jesus’ disciples are not keeping their rules because they are eating food without doing the religious ceremonial washing process.
Now they are not complaining that they are not washing their hands like parents will complain when their children don’t wash their hands. This is not a hygiene issue – this is just a ritual – a ceremony. It would be like me saying to you this morning – “Where are your hats?” and I am not concerned about sun protection. I am saying “come on there is a tradition of the past – wear hats – where are your hats? This is the sort of rule.
In the Old Testament the priest Aaron and his sons did wash their hands before entering into the Tabernacle and it’s possible that God’s people made this a rule for everybody and especially after they had been dragged to Babylon and exile and they had been deeply humbled and had become very repentant, very penitent and it’s possible that they had come back and were saying to themselves – ‘you know if we are really going to be faithful, if we are going to prevent this kind of problem from happening again, we need to really be serious about washing’. And so it’s just possible they had made this a rule for everybody, but it is not God’s word – it’s just their rule. It’s what theologians call “Oral Law.” Something which they have said which is not really what God has said.
And you will see that Jesus has no interest in this because he has not taught his disciples to do it. And now these religious leaders come, and they are angry – See verse 5 “Why don’t your disciples keep the tradition of the elders”?
We might expect Jesus at that point to say something that is quite peaceable. It’s not a big issue. You know he might say something to them like this:
“Well you know we are not all Old Testament priests – so we don’t have to do that” OR
“Let’s focus on the big things – let’s forget about the small stuff.”
But Jesus recognizes what we would not recognize, and that is there is a much bigger danger which is that these Pharisees, these religious leaders, are lifting up the word of man and are putting down the word of God. Now that may seem a small thing to you, but it is the difference between in choosing the wrong diagnosis over the right diagnosis.
We have been praying this week for Thomas from this Congregation who had a triple by-pass on Wednesday and wonderfully came through, and we trust is going from strength to strength. But on Tuesday he is sitting in his chair in his room waiting for a triple by-pass because he has an artery that is 100% blocked. Now if somebody comes in and says “I have some Fish Oil for you – forget about this serious, depressing diagnosis from the doctors – just put this on, and all will be well – we are mucking around with somebody’s health – we are mucking around with somebody’s future. And Jesus sees that this elevating of human opinion over divine word is choosing death over life.
So look at how the Pharisees do this –
Look at verse 7. Jesus said these are rules taught by men
Verse 8 – these are the traditions of men.
Verse 9 – these are your own traditions
Verse 13 – these are your traditions
Four times he says to them – this idea of washing hands before the meal for a ceremonial “keep God happy point of view” has come from your own head. This has not come from the mind of God – four times he says it to them.
Now there is nothing wrong with coming up with a rule or tradition. We had a rule in this property that you can’t drive your car – I think it is faster than 10kms in the car park – it’s a good rule. We have a tradition which is that we celebrate the Lord’s Supper Communion at this Service one every month – it’s a reasonable tradition. Is there anything wrong with the rule? Is there anything wrong with the tradition? Not at all. But when it cuts across the plan of salvation – when it brings in a non-essential and says ‘this is now an essential for your dealing with God’ then you have brought in some damage. As soon as you start to think to yourself this rule is the way I will handle God – this is how I will keep God happy with this rule, or this tradition is how I will save my soul – that’s how I will save my soul – as soon as you start to think like that, you’ve crossed the line.
So these Pharisees are lifting up human opinion and look at verse 8 – they are putting down the Word of God. Jesus says “you’ve let go of the commands of God.” The thing that you are holding on to you seemed to have loosened your grip, and you’ve let it slip – it’s gone. Then in verse 9 – if you’ve set aside or pushed aside the command of God – you’ve actually pushed it away. And then in verse 13 “you have nullified, you have made void” the word is literally to de-lord it, to de-throne it – you have said that word is over – its reign is over.
So picture a man who has got a Bible –
He has a Bible in his hand –
He likes his Bible –
He puts his Bible on a table – (that’s not too bad)
Then he says the Bible belongs on a shelf (he pushes it into the shelf)
Then he takes it from the shelf, and he puts it in a cupboard and shuts the door and locks the door.
That’s the process Jesus is describing to let it go – push it aside and then basically to consider it to be void. And you can image how an individual or a committee – Imagine the Sydney Synod in an insane moment gets together and says “We are passionate about human ideas. We are going to make this year for all the churches of Sydney – The Year of the Climate Gospel. We are going to make sure that in all the churches what enthuses and what unites us is going to the Gospel of Climate Change – that’s what we are going to preach. And as the group gets more and more excited about this and thinks of ways in which this can be implemented – the Bible is quietly closed. Then the Bible is slightly pushed away in case it threatens the plan, and then the Bible is seen to be a positive nuisance – an irritant. That’s what is going on here.
Now the illustration that Jesus uses in verses 10 to 13 is very interesting. He uses the illustration of the Pharisees who know perfectly well the Fifth Commandment – Honour your Father and your Mother – but they have invented a rule for themselves which is called “Giving your money to a Religious Project called Corban devoted to God, ” and therefore they turn around and they say to their parents – “I’m so sorry mum and dad but you know I have given money which would enable you to survive, but I have given it to a religious project, and there is nothing for you – sorry about that”.
And I wonder whether Jesus chose this illustration from many that he might have chosen among the Pharisees because it shows that God’s command is heart-felt, but their rule is heart-less. This simple looking rule of ceremonial washing of the hands is actually a whole new system of religious pride. It is designed to remove the Word of God and replace the Word of God and remove the Son of God and replace the Son of God and Jesus can see that and we probably wouldn’t. So no wonder he is strong in chapter 7 verse 6 – called them hypocrites because they are playing a game. They know what they are doing, and they are speaking empty words. And this is the tragedy I think in chapter 7 verse 6 – they are creating separation from God.
So the very thing that Jesus has come to do which is to build the bridge between God and people – they are busting the bridge. The separation which he has come to solve – they are establishing – establishing the separation which he has come to remove.
Now friends what does all this mean to us? We know that the secular world is perfectly capable of elevating human opinion and demoting, disregarding, destroying the Word of God. Just think for example the very strong opinions that are around today on self and that you should believe in and relationships and marriage and the afterlife – just think of all the very strong opinions that are around today. We know the secular world is perfectly capable of lifting up human opinion and having nothing to do with divine word.
There is a very clever article in yesterday’s paper where Michael Jensen actually names some of the popular comedians today who are preaching their secular agenda more forcefully and more narrowly and more aggressively than any pulpit in Sydney – and I am sure he is right – With an absolutely adoring studio audience crowd/congregation egging his on.
But actually, we should turn this particular issue back in on ourselves because it’s the religious world which is also very good at elevating human thought and putting down God’s Word. For some reason, we make lots of rules and regulations because it sort of comes naturally to us.
That’s the way the human heart thinks that we relate to God,
sustain our fellowship with God,
do our obedience,
keep up our righteousness –
that’s our default position.
My mind and your mind goes again and again to works, not faith.
And every denomination whether it’s Catholic, Anglican, Presbyterian, Baptist, and Charismatic easily elevates some non-essential into a religious essential.
So it possible that the Catholic Church will say –
You’ve got to have membership with us; you’ve got to have our sacraments
The Anglican Church will say –
You’ve got to credit our Bishops; you’ve got to get confirmed
The Presbyterians will say –
You’ve got to adopt our Eldership; you’ve got to adopt our Reformed Theology
The Baptist will say –
You’ve got to have baptism by immersion; you’ve got to take seriously the membership system
The Charismatics will say –
You’ve got to have the experiences that we have had, you’ve got to enjoy the gifts that we have.
And suddenly a non-essential is set up is set up as an essential for fellowship. Now notice that the test for Jesus is what does the Scriptures say and what bridges do not separate?
I have been in churches like you have been – many of you – for years and decades, and I have observed that it is possible (we don’t see much of it thank God) but it is possible for people to become ferocious when it comes to a rule about something like clerical dress, or architecture or which form of language is used in the reading or the liturgy, and this becomes THE TEST for fellowship and THE TEST for righteousness. And therefore we need to be very wary of where this human opinion rises up and becomes a source of separation.
We can’t, of course, do what Jesus does in chapter 7 verse 6 to see into another person’s heart. I can’t see into your heart, and you can’t see into mine but we can check ourselves, and we can ask ourselves the question – “Am I content with God’s Word for fellowship”? “Am I content with God’s Gospel for fellowship”?
Old Bishop Ryle says back in the 1880’s “Let us remember this in the public congregation – it must not content us to take our bodies to church if we leave our hearts somewhere else. The eye of man may detect no flaw in our service. Our Minister may look at us with approval. Our neighbours may think us patterns of what a Christian ought to be. Our voice may be heard foremost in the praise and prayer. But it is all worse than nothing in God’s sight if our hearts are far away. It is only wood, hay and stubble before Him who discerns thoughts and reads the secrets of the inward man”.
So is it possible for me to get into the pulpit and preach to you while my heart is far away? It is.
Is it possible for you to be sitting here and singing and saying all the things with the mouth and yet your heart is somewhere completely different? It is.
We need to be very careful and especially need to be careful that with our rules and regulations we don’t become an enemy of Christ. That’s the first section.
Now the second section – very briefly in the last few minutes is What is it that Jesus Christ wants? What does he want? Why does he have this argument? Does he have this argument because he likes having arguments? Is he an angry person? Well, I hope you know the answer to this – he has this conversation because he wants to deal with disease – the disease of the human heart which is going to be made new when a person puts their trust in Him and his cross.
I was reading that a street preacher in the United Kingdom has been taken to court and he has been taken to court by somebody who has been offended at him speaking of sin in public. And this is one of those situations where the Judge (praise God) has been utterly helpful and sane.
The Accuser said that he didn’t like the Preacher speaking of sin.
The Judge said – “Are we not all sinners”?
The Accuser said – “Yes but I don’t like being told that I am bad.”
The Judge said – “Well I will do that for you.”
The Accuser said – “That offends me.”
The Judge said – “Yes but we can get offended by somebody’s tie, ” and he dismissed the case!
The preacher said that his motives for speaking about sin in the public arena were so that he might tell people the wonderful news that God has sent his Son to provide forgiveness – it’s so obvious isn’t – so obvious.
And that’s exactly what Jesus is interested in. The great compassion of Jesus means that he is even speaking to the Pharisees for their welfare. Even though he speaks angrily to them, he really does want them to be saved. So he attacks the heresy of the Pharisees because the heresy of the Pharisees ties them and everybody else into knots and friend’s rules do tie us into knots. You know – have I kept the rule which keeps me in God’s good books? That is a roller coaster of thinking isn’t it – you know. Up one day with pride and down one day with despair. It’s a fatal way to run your Christian life – Read Romans 7.
I remember a lovely lady who was at this Church when I first came – a really sweet lady, but she was fixated on the traditions and had no real interest in the Word of God. Year after year after year her interest and her priority was the traditions and not the Word of God.
She and her husband moved to the country – she was a really sweet lady. He husband has died not too long ago, and I bumped into her at Town Hall Station. We had a lovely catch up, and she talked about the little church where she was, and it seemed to me that she was still only interested in the traditions and not the real Gospel and this is the last thing she said to me as we left:
“I so hope I am a Christian.”
I thought what a sad thing for her to say. I so hope I am a Christian. Because in the end, these traditions provide no real Gospel – they tie you up in knots.
The other reason Jesus attacks this is because the traditions create walls in the Fellowship
Are you keeping up with me everybody?
Do you know my standards?
Are you keeping up with me?
What a terrible thing to say.
Am I keeping up with you?
Am I managing to do everything you are doing?
Are you managing to do everything I am doing?
This is the sort of thing that creates unnecessary walls and barriers and separation. And these traditions also create separation from God. They don’t bring fellowship with God. They don’t bring gratitude. They don’t bring grace. They don’t bring Christ, and so Jesus attacks this disease as the best doctor in the Universe. He brings his X-Ray machine, and he says ‘just look at this – this is your desperate plight’ because he is going on to give them not just the diagnosis but the medicine of his blood, of his mercy, of his forgiveness and of his grace.
I want to close by reading you a paragraph which I have always loved from Martin Lloyd-Jones in full flight preaching on the Cross. And I do this because those of you who are here this morning, who are not trusting in rules and regulations but are trusting in the Lord Jesus will love to hear again the basic never-tiring message of the Cross. This is what Lloyd-Jones said in one of his sermons:
“I don’t know you my friends, not individually most of you, but this is the wonderful thing about the work of a preacher – he does not need to know his congregation completely. Do you know why? Because I know the most important thing about every single one of you and that is that each of you is a sinner. I do not care who you are because ‘all have sinned and come short of the glory of God’. I do not want a catalogue of your sins; I do not care what your sins are. They can be very respectable, or they can be vial, foul and filthy. It does not matter, thank God, but what I have authority to tell you is this – though you may be the vilest man or woman every known and though you may until this moment have lived your life in the gutters and brothels of sin in every shape and form – I say this to you – Be it known unto you that through this man, the Lord Jesus Christ, is the forgiveness of sin. And by him all who believe, you included, are justified entirely and completely from everything you have ever done if you believe that this is the Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of God and that he died there on the cross for your sins and to bear your punishment. If you believe that and rely on Him and what he has done, I tell you in the Name of God – all your sins are blotted out completely as if you had never sinned in your life and his righteousness is put on you and God sees you perfect in his Son – that is the message of the cross – that is a better message than traditions and rules”.
Let’s bow our heads together –
Our Father we know that your Word is light for the path and food for our souls, strength for the weary, comfort and challenge. We pray that as we think through these words this morning, you would speak to us in a personal and helpful and special way.
We ask it in Jesus’ Name – Amen.