Defiled Without Jesus | Matthew 15:1-20
Topic: New Testament Passage: Matthew 15:1–15:20
Good Morning! We are in a series on the book of Matthew; the Gospel account revealing Jesus, the carpenter from Nazareth, as the Christ, the Savior – King of God’s people. This series has been titled the Revelation of the King as the section we will be looking at (chapters 14-20). Jesus teaches, Jesus heals, Jesus performs miracles, but above all Jesus is the King of Kings and Lord of Lord, in all that he does he is revealing Himself to the world. Jesus is also savior of His people; he will consistently point his people to the height of his mission, the cross. As he reveals his identity through miracles sometimes this is to individuals through healings and casting out demons, sometime this is to his disciples. Last week we saw Jesus send his disciples across the Sea of Galilee without him and the consequences of trying to push through a storm on our own. Without Jesus you’ll sink. As amazing and as eye opening as the miracles of Jesus are, the teachings of Jesus are equally as revolutionary. This week the teachings of Jesus take center stage as he is confronted by Pharisees, calls the people to a new standard of holiness, and clarifies his teachings with his disciples, showing everyone because of sin they are all Defiled Without Jesus.
Matthew 15:1-20 Then Pharisees and scribes came to Jesus from Jerusalem and said, 2 “Why do your disciples break the tradition of the elders? For they do not wash their hands when they eat.” 3 He answered them, “And why do you break the commandment of God for the sake of your tradition? 4 For God commanded, ‘Honor your father and your mother,’ and, ‘Whoever reviles father or mother must surely die.’ 5 But you say, ‘If anyone tells his father or his mother, “What you would have gained from me is given to God,” 6 he need not honor his father.’ So for the sake of your tradition you have made void the word of God.7 You hypocrites! Well did Isaiah prophesy of you, when he said: 8 “‘This people honors me with their lips, but their heart is far from me; 9 in vain do they worship me, teaching as doctrines the commandments of men.’” 10 And he called the people to him and said to them, “Hear and understand: 11 it is not what goes into the mouth that defiles a person, but what comes out of the mouth; this defiles a person.” 12 Then the disciples came and said to him, “Do you know that the Pharisees were offended when they heard this saying?”13 He answered, “Every plant that my heavenly Father has not planted will be rooted up. 14 Let them alone; they are blind guides. And if the blind lead the blind, both will fall into a pit.” 15 But Peter said to him, “Explain the parable to us.” 16 And he said, “Are you also still without understanding? 17 Do you not see that whatever goes into the mouth passes into the stomach and is expelled?18 But what comes out of the mouth proceeds from the heart, and this defiles a person. 19 For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false witness, slander. 20 These are what defile a person. But to eat with unwashed hands does not defile anyone.”
Confronted by Pharisees | v1-9
Jesus is out in Galilee among the people, this is the last major episode we see of Jesus ministry in this poor desolate region before heading to other cities/regions before ultimately heading to Jerusalem. While Jesus has been feeding, healing, and teaching the people in Galilee, showing his compassion and care for them, a delegation of Pharisees and scribes (lawyers) comes out from Jerusalem to investigate the fame of Jesus. Their concern is not a pastoral one for the people of Galilee but rather for the ministry of Jesus. These guys represent the religious elite; while their legal and practical authority is nearly non-existent (because of Rome) they still have great influence with the common people. Because of the growing fame Jesus their influence is decreasing with every person healed and every new follower of Jesus. This delegation is not here to understand Jesus but to undercut his ministry and they do so by calling out the behavior of Jesus disciples. They don’t ask about healings or feedings or casting out demons, they are simple in their critique. The people who follow you don’t perform the same ritual washing before eat that we, through the teaching of the elders, have prescribed and practice. They wantonly reject tradition. Jesus your people are not like us, they don’t seemed concerned with the traditions of the elders.
What is the “tradition of the elders”? There here are 600+ Old Testament laws. One of them includes the priests going through ceremonial washing before entering into temple/tabernacle service. (Ex 30:17-21) This was then taken, applied to everyone, and was to be observed with before every meal. This was done in some shape or form to nearly every other law as religious leaders kept asking themselves how to carry these out and how to prevent people from accidently breaking any of God’s laws. What started out well intentioned leads to greater and greater regulation that moves away from the heart and Spirit of what God commands. Specifically for the hand washing it was the idea that throughout the day “good religious people” would come in contact with ceremonially “unclean” items, or people, and if you ate with your hand your food would be “unclean” and it would in turn make you “unclean/defiled” before God. This was more than mild germ-a-phobia, this is Howard Hughes level sin-a-phobia, that somehow sin, what defiles a person before God is all outside of us and if we can just keep ourselves set a part from sin then we’ll never catch it. The Pharisees and scribes have perpetuated a “fool proof” system to not be defiled.
Everyone has a system they’ve put together of who’s good, who’s bad, who’s in, who’s out and when we put that system up to others they usually fail in some way to our standards while we somehow always seem to measure up to our own. We place our faith in a system then we sit back and say “let the system play out, if I succeed in it it’s because I’m awesome, if you fail it’s because you’re not.” The answer when there is struggle or failure is put more effort into following whatever system you’ve got. When you’ve got so much faith in a system then you stop thinking a caring about the (intended or unintended consequences because the system is safe. When you’ve got a system you don’t have to think you just do. Faith in a system and your ability to perform in that system isn’t faith in Jesus and the work he performed on the Cross.
What standards or systems, apart from God’s word, you have you set in your life that you are relying on to determine your success or failure? What standards or systems are you using to judge others? What is your standard of sin? What are things in this world that you look and say that is wrong? Where does it come from?
Following a huge set of rules doesn’t always sound totally awesome, but we sell it to ourselves by saying it’s going be helpful in dealing with what is wrong in our lives. The problem we all have is sin. The Pharisees and Scribes goal is to be clean and undefiled, to be free from sin. When you have a legalistic system it has the appearance of making sin more serious and more significant but what it does in fact is make sin seem less serious. It makes the bar for what is and isn’t sin lower than what God has said so when that bar is crossed and that “sin”/transgression is committed it really doesn’t seem so bad. This becomes highly problematic because eventually you’ll get to an actual serious transgression and blow right through it without considering the consequences as grave because the previous consequences seem insignificant. Jesus says you can have all the systems and standards in place you want but it can still lead to actively breaking the commands of God while providing the appearance of taking God seriously. So when the Pharisees come to Jesus about a question regarding living out the “traditions of the elders”. Jesus responds with “Why do you break the commandment of God?” Some of the direct teaching of the elders not only allows but specifically encourages people to break a clear commandment from the Lord. Jesus says, this is serious!
These guys were using the tradition of people making pledges of their estates as offering to the temple to say “well I pledged everything I have to God, so I can’t help you mom and dad because if I spend a big chunk of my resources caring for you it’ll be like I’m robbing my offering to God. I know you wouldn’t want me to rob God would you?” Thus people could be completely in line with the “traditions of the elders” AND be completely out of line with the clear commands of God to “Honor your father and mother.” Jesus calls out the Pharisees for giving the people the false hope they are “clean” in the eyes of the elders while actually being defiled in the eyes of the Lord. Jesus doesn’t mince words in calling these elites hypocrites. One morning this week I took cookies from Haddon she had gotten left out from Road Group and told her clearly “we don’t eat cookies for breakfast.” Then promptly turned and ate said cookies. This is a “harmless” hypocrisy and usually how we think about it. But what Jesus is saying to the elites is much more serious. The Pharisees and Scribes are actually fulfilling a prophecy in Isaiah 29. When Jesus fulfills an OT prophecy it’s pretty awesome, when people or leaders are it is usually not as awesome. They are teaching people you’re serious about God by how serious you are about man-made traditions and applications you are teaching them to worship God in way different then how God desires to be worship. Specifically, you’re leading people with fear of God’s wrath only, by teaching them the only goal of the law is to avoid sin rather then also being used to guide people to faithfully walk with and towards the Lord. Yes the law shows us how to separate from sin, but it also serves to point us back to a Holy God of mercy.
Isaiah 29:13-14 And the Lord said: “Because this people draw near with their mouth and honor me with their lips, while their hearts are far from me, and their fear of me is a commandment taught by men, 14 therefore, behold, I will again do wonderful things with this people, with wonder upon wonder; and the wisdom of their wise men shall perish, and the discernment of their discerning men shall be hidden.”
Calls the People | v10-11
Jesus, through Isaiah, is clear you can lead people with fear to unhealthy places. Their worship is vain, their teaching is from men (meaning corrupted) and not from God. The religious elites, charged with pointing people to God are in fact leading people father away. This seems hopeless and burdensome, yet it is amazing to see God’s response to the emptiness of vain worship with the fullness of His presence and power! When contrasting the doctrines of men with the truth of God, the first fades while the other stands. God is good to His people, he doesn’t leave us along to continue blind to the truth. He sends His Son to bear witness to the truth and call us to a fuller understanding of God, sin, and our response to both.
Jesus calls a crowd together. There has been false doctrine being taught. Jesus uses opposition to him and his teaching as an opportunity to call people out of darkness and into light. Jesus IS a good teacher in that he brings the truth of God to bear on the traditions and teachings of men. He calls them and us to “hear and understand” Listen to God, comprehend what is comprehendible. Jesus again shows his compassion for the people, he doesn’t want to merely heal their physical ailments or fill their material needs. As unhealthy, hungry, and needy as they are in their bodies and lives, he knows they are equally as needy in their souls. These people have begun to experience “wonderful things” with God through Jesus Christ but fear can return quickly. Jesus doesn’t want their new found freedom and peace to be undermined by big city Pharisees and Scribes. It’s time for the “wisdom” of these seemly wise leaders to perish. Jesus completely contradicts hundreds of years and countless generations of evolving “discernment” about sin. Jesus says, “don’t misunderstand the nature of sin, it is not a primarily “out there” thing to be avoided and kept from defiling you. Rather sin it is an “in here” thing that comes from you and needs to be rooted out. This is both highly revolutionary, illuminating in the sense of providing clarity about sin. A new understanding presents new challenges in dealing with what defiles and ultimately where our hope is in being clean.
Clarifies with the Disciples | 12-20
This wasn’t a minor tweak in perspective Jesus laid out, it was a major paradigm shift. It was and is not quickly and universally accepted by all, particularly the delegation from Jerusalem. The disciples come to Jesus for greater understanding and clarity. Did you know the Pharisees are upset and offended? Yeah, I picked that up. People don’t like to have their worldview challenged especially when it’s in a way that removes them from the role of hero of their story. The religious elites claim so confidently this is how God works, but yet Jesus says they are not sent from God the Father. The fruit of their teaching is evident in the consequences it leads in those that follow it. People are still able to pursue their own selfish desires while avoiding their responsibilities, all while looking like they’re holy and pursing God.
2 Timothy 3:2-5 2 For people will be lovers of self, lovers of money, proud, arrogant, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, 3 heartless, unappeasable, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not loving good, 4 treacherous, reckless, swollen with conceit, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, 5 having the appearance of godliness, but denying its power. Avoid such people.
Do not follow them or listen to them. When I was fired up about false teaching on the television preaching my wise pastor told me about “Turn the channel ministries, this effective action that silences false teachers by turning the TV merely one channel up or down.” This is what Jesus says to the disciples, avoid but don’t worry about the false teachers because what is real and good and right is from God and will never fail while the doctrines of men will always fade away. They are blind to the truth of God and will lead others who are blind down a pit of destruction. Blind need the sight of the Gospel, if they’re going to be able to lead others. You are all defiled. Don’t think you’re going to be the one who cleans you up. You need Jesus.
2 Cor 4:3-5 3 And even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled to those who are perishing. 4 In their case the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God. 5 For what we proclaim is not ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord, with ourselves as your servants for Jesus' sake.
What goes in will feed you. What is valuable will give you life and energy. What is not valuable is waste that will be expelled. Verse 15 says it’s going to come out in the latrine. You watch all these little external things and they’re all going to end up in the toilet. But your heart, that shows where your true devotion is.
This is where things get even more challenging with Jesus teaching. Yes there is freedom that we are not defined by what comes in, we can throw out our long list of legalisms! But wait Jesus has a list of things that do defile, oh no. What do we do about this? There is apparently attitudes and actions that can define us and actually have the ability to defile us. Why does Jesus tell us this? Because disciples need to take sin, their sin, more seriously, not less. It was great when Jesus was calling out the religious guys, because I don’t like those guys either. Now Jesus goes pretty extensive into thoughts and actions most of which line up with the 10 commandments. The clear teachings of Jesus never lower the standards of God’s commands they always raise them as he reveals more and more what holiness looks like in His kingdom. Jesus gives a list of things that come from inside us that defile us that looks a lot like nearly every other list of sins scattered throughout the letters of the New Testament. This is an invitation to look at our own hearts.
Yes we don’t need worry about “traditions of the elders” and no we don’t need to be concerned with dietary restrictions or washings, or if wearing a cotton blend will be a transgression of the law. However, Jesus is clear to his disciples, sin is still something to be concerned about, avoided, and rooted out. They will grow in us come out of us they will defile us. The problem is, sin dwells deep in our hearts, competes for our affections, and seeks to choke out the joyful abundant life God has for us. The answers to dealing with sin can never be to reclassify what God calls sin and begin to call it good. Since the source of our defilement is from within, something from outside of ourselves is needed to clean up this mess. This is where the gospel starts and ends with a merciful God who knows our defilement and knows we need to be clean. Disciples of Jesus are those who echo the prayer of David when confront with his sin cries out to God for salvation.
Psalm 51:10-12 Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me.11 Cast me not away from your presence, and take not your Holy Spirit from me. 12 Restore to me the joy of your salvation, and uphold me with a willing spirit.
The Joy of our salvation is Jesus work on the cross! We are defiled by our sin but we don’t need to be defined by it. Jesus bears our dirt, our sin that defiles, take the wrath from God it deserves, bears the punishment in our place dying the death we deserve and sheds his perfect sinless, undefiled blood on our behalf. Yes we are given a new heart, with new desires but the only thing that can clean the defilement of sin we have in us, sin we’ve committed outside of us, and sin done to us is the royal blood of King Jesus.
Rev 1:5 To him who loves us and has freed us from our sins by his blood
1 John 1:7 But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin.
At the Cross we see the ultimate obedience and adherence to the law of God in the perfect sacrifice of Jesus, we see the ultimate defilement of our sin, and we see the one hope of Jesus blood making us clean. Religion doesn’t save, redefining sin doesn’t make it defile any less. Only Jesus saves. Trust Jesus!