A Matter of the Heart

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Reading the Word

Mark 7:1–23 (ESV)

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. 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. And there are many other traditions that they observe, such as the washing of cups and pots and copper vessels and dining couches.) 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?” 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.’

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

9 And he said to them, “You have a fine way of rejecting the commandment of God in order to establish your tradition! 10 For Moses said, ‘Honor your father and your mother’; and, ‘Whoever reviles father or mother must surely die.’ 11 But 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)— 12 then you no longer permit him to do anything for his father or mother, 13 thus making void the word of God by your tradition that you have handed down. And many such things you do.”

14 And he called the people to him again and said to them, “Hear me, all of you, and understand: 15 There is nothing outside a person that by going into him can defile him, but the things that come out of a person are what defile him.” 17 And when he had entered the house and left the people, his disciples asked him about the parable. 18 And he said to them, “Then are you also without understanding? Do you not see that whatever goes into a person from outside cannot defile him, 19 since it enters not his heart but his stomach, and is expelled?” (Thus he declared all foods clean.) 20 And he said, “What comes out of a person is what defiles him. 21 For from within, out of the heart of man, come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, 22 coveting, wickedness, deceit, sensuality, envy, slander, pride, foolishness. 23 All these evil things come from within, and they defile a person.”

Parallel Text: Matthew 15:1-20

Understanding and Applying the Word

The Pharisees and scribes complained that Jesus’ followers were eating without washing their hands properly. This is an example of how the religious leaders had established their own rules about how things should be done that were not a part of God’s word. Jesus responded by quoting from Isaiah 29:13 and accusing the Pharisees with going through the outward motions of holiness while their hearts were not in the right place. Jesus then stressed that what goes into the body does not defile it. It is the things that come from the heart that defile a person. Sin is ultimately a heart issue.

With these words, we find a warning against religious activity and legalism. Both of these concern themselves with external actions and measure themselves by adhering to such actions: regular church attendance, financial gifts, not watching TV or going to the movies, not drinking alcohol, not working on Sunday, etc. While there may be good reasons for some of these actions listed, the religious person and the legalist uses lists of dos and don’ts to show they are spiritual and in a right relationship to God. They fail to see that their hearts are desperately wicked and that they are in need of grace and forgiveness.

Religious activity and the ability to keep rules will never save anyone. We must realize our sinfulness and call out to Christ for forgiveness. It is only by the righteousness that he gives to us and the penalty for sin that he pays for us that allows us to stand before a holy God. In this passage we are forced to ask ourselves what we are counting on to make us right with God. Only Christ will do.

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Following Christ Is Not a List of Rules

Matthew 1128 [widescreen]

Reading the Word

Matthew 11:25–30 (ESV)

25 At that time Jesus declared, “I thank you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that you have hidden these things from the wise and understanding and revealed them to little children; 26 yes, Father, for such was your gracious will. 27 All things have been handed over to me by my Father, and no one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son and anyone to whom the Son chooses to reveal him. 28 Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. 29 Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. 30 For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”

Understanding and Applying the Word

Jesus calls on all with the words “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.” When a disciple followed a teacher, the disciple followed the teaching and rules laid down by the teacher. The Pharisees and religious leaders of Jesus’ day had laid down extensive rules about what constituted acceptable religion. The path of those leaders was suffocating and a great burden and failed to give life (cf. Matthew 23:1-4). Jesus changes all of that. He promises rest from the heavy load of rules and restrictions. He promises a light load.

Perhaps you know someone or have attended a church where being a Christian is defined by a list of rules that tell what is and is not allowable. Scripture tells us that we are not accepted by God because of anything we can do (or not do), but we are accepted through our relationship with Jesus Christ. He lived the perfect, sinless life that none of us could and his righteousness is credited to us. Yes, our lives should be marked by growth in holiness and a desire to please the Lord, but not because we think that is what makes us acceptable to God. We are accepted by God because of Christ alone. Our desire to please the Lord is motivated by our love for him and because the Holy Spirit is at work within us to change our wills and desires. Are you frustrated and overburdened with trying to follow all of the rules? Run to Jesus. He kept them all for you.

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Doing Good on the Sabbath

The Man with the Withered Hand

The Man with the Withered Hand (Public Domain)

Reading the Word

Matthew 12:9–14 (ESV)

9 He went on from there and entered their synagogue. 10 And a man was there with a withered hand. And they asked him, “Is it lawful to heal on the Sabbath?”—so that they might accuse him. 11 He said to them, “Which one of you who has a sheep, if it falls into a pit on the Sabbath, will not take hold of it and lift it out? 12 Of how much more value is a man than a sheep! So it is lawful to do good on the Sabbath.” 13 Then he said to the man, “Stretch out your hand.” And the man stretched it out, and it was restored, healthy like the other. 14 But the Pharisees went out and conspired against him, how to destroy him.

Parallel Texts: Mark 3:1-6; Luke 6:6-11

Understanding and Applying the Word

Once again, the religious leaders are looking for a reason to accuse Jesus. In this passage, they are waiting for him to heal someone on the Sabbath. In response to their question, Jesus asks if they would rescue their sheep from a well on the Sabbath if it fell in. Of course they would! Well, if a person is of more value than an animal, why would it be wrong to heal someone on the Sabbath? Then Jesus healed the man with a withered hand. The religious leaders were not happy with Jesus and they sought how to destroy him.

Legalism is a dangerous mindset towards God’s word. Those who live this way may follow the letter of the word, but they often fail at the weightier matters that the law intends to address. What good is it to obey the letter of the law and fail to exercise love and compassion towards others? This is why Jesus said, “I desire mercy and not sacrifice,” in verse 7. Such “obedience” does not please God and can often become an excuse for selfishness and pride. Let us hear the words of Jesus and seek to love our neighbors by doing what is good and right.

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The Lord of the Sabbath

The Disciples Eat Wheat on the Sabbath

The Disciples Eat Wheat on the Sabbath (Public Domain)

Shaped by the Word is a daily, Bible-reading devotional. I do not publish supplemental materials on Sundays, but I do include a suggested Scripture reading. Please be sure to subscribe to this page so you can follow along each day. We are reading through the life of Christ in 2019.

Reading the Word

Matthew 12:1–8 (ESV)

1 At that time Jesus went through the grainfields on the Sabbath. His disciples were hungry, and they began to pluck heads of grain and to eat. 2 But when the Pharisees saw it, they said to him, “Look, your disciples are doing what is not lawful to do on the Sabbath.” 3 He said to them, “Have you not read what David did when he was hungry, and those who were with him: 4 how he entered the house of God and ate the bread of the Presence, which it was not lawful for him to eat nor for those who were with him, but only for the priests? 5 Or have you not read in the Law how on the Sabbath the priests in the temple profane the Sabbath and are guiltless? 6 I tell you, something greater than the temple is here. 7 And if you had known what this means, ‘I desire mercy, and not sacrifice,’ you would not have condemned the guiltless. 8 For the Son of Man is lord of the Sabbath.”

Parallel Texts: Mark 2:23-28; Luke 6:1-5