Sunday, June 25, 2023

The Pharisees confront Jesus: What does it mean to be a Hypocrite? An issue of the Heart

A lot of the scriptures that we look at, I feel like we get to understand another piece of the puzzle about who Jesus really is. It’s like we dive into a moment in history and we get to look over the shoulder of Jesus and see what he does, and why he does it, and we’re amazed. We want to live like that. I feel lucky, blessed to be here, at this moment, almost following Jesus around, listening to him. Even though I’m a hypocrite at times.

Behind closed doors, we’ve done things that don’t match who we say we are. We’ve treated people poorly when we’ve claimed to be Christian. We’ve done bad things and then hid it, covered it up, and that’s a shame. It really is. Because I want to be like Jesus. I want my life to mirror his, and I want my death to matter like his did. I see Jesus and what he does. I see how I live. And it doesn’t match. But there is this hope, in knowing Jesus, that I can live like Him somehow. That’s a beautiful mystery… that it’s not out of reach. It’s possible to really live like Jesus in this world.

Today we look at a moment when the religious leaders of Israel came to question Jesus. The pharisees were the religious leaders of Israel, men who devoted their lives to God, and sought to enforce the torah, the old testament law of Moses, and help teach it to the people, and guide the people to live according to God’s ways.

The pharisees today are often regarded as hypocrites, mean, nasty, people who killed Jesus, and it’s true that they plotted against Jesus. But in general these were not bad people. These were religious leaders trying to help the people live according to God’s ways.

But, just like any position of authority or importance, corruption begins to spread, and pretty soon pride begins to seep in, and selfish desires take over, and eventually, many of the religious leaders became oppressive and cruel and dangerous. And this had happened in Jesus time. Many of the pharisees were honorable and really did love God. But many of them had become focused on self, and pride, and their importance and their position, and as a result, the entry of Jesus onto the scene was not welcomed. They were jealous of Jesus and how he influenced the people. So the pharisees come to see if they can cause trouble for Jesus.

It says in Mark 7:1-5, “The Pharisees and some of the teachers of the law who had come from Jerusalem gathered around Jesus 2 and saw some of his disciples eating food with hands that were defiled, that is, unwashed. 3 (The Pharisees and all the Jews do not eat unless they give their hands a ceremonial washing, holding to the tradition of the elders. 4 When they come from the marketplace they do not eat unless they wash. And they observe many other traditions, such as the washing of cups, pitchers and kettles.)

5 So the Pharisees and teachers of the law asked Jesus, “Why don’t your disciples live according to the tradition of the elders instead of eating their food with defiled hands?”

So here we have the setup for this situation, Jesus is gathered with his disciples. His disciples are eating without washing their hands. The pharisees ask why his disciples aren’t following the traditions of the elders.

Here is how Jesus responds…

6 He replied, “Isaiah was right when he prophesied about you hypocrites; as it is written: “‘These people honor me with their lips,
but their hearts are far from me.
7 They worship me in vain;
their teachings are merely human rules.’

What is a hypocrite? A hypocrite is someone who doesn’t actually live what they say they believe. They say that they love God but they don’t really live for God. They tell people not to swear, not to lie, not to steal, but they do those things when others aren’t looking.

We are all hypocrites from time to time. I think one of the greatest battles in Christianity is fighting the battle to slowly see our lifestyle begin to line up with what we say we believe. And over time it looks closer and closer to who we say we are. Eventually, hopefully we can say, I’m really living what I believe.

Jesus calls them hypocrites. Then he quotes a particular portion of the old testament. Jesus is quoting there from Isaiah 29:13, “The Lord says:

“These people come near to me with their mouth
and honor me with their lips,
but their hearts are far from me.
Their worship of me
is based on merely human rules they have been taught”

So for the Pharisees, they claim they are doing all this work for God, but their hearts aren’t really in it. They pretend to care about God, but really they teach their own traditions and human rules, and call it the truth.

You can show up to church, read the Bible and pray and your heart can still be far from God. Where is your heart today? Do you really love God? Or are you just going through the motions?

If your heart has become hardened, and you’ve drifted away from God, you can always come back. He will welcome you with open arms. And he will heal your wounds. Return to Him. He Loves you.

It’s very important that we stay focused on God himself. The Bible tells us about God. Theology helps us understand scripture. Prayer helps us make our requests to God. But, our goal with Bible, prayer, church, is to meet with the God described in all of it.

Some stop at the Bible itself, and make the Bible their God. These types often become very obsessed with a particular theological system. In fact, they love the system, the theology, more than God himself. God is an after-thought. It’s about how it’s being described. It’s about fancy sermons. It’s about showing how much we know.

That is a pride of it’s own. A pride in self. A pride in one’s own perspective. And that isn’t true Christianity. It’s human traditions, human theology taking the place of God himself.

In verse 8 Jesus sums it up well when he says, “You have let go of the commands of God and are holding on to human traditions.”

I think many of us in modern day evangelical Christianity simply teach human traditions.

We shoot out these quick catch phrases, I know, I’ve used some of them, like…

Love the sinner, hate the sin

God loves everyone

His love is unconditional

God knows my heart

You can never lose your salvation

I sin everyday but his grace is enough

God will never let you down

God will never give you more than you can handle

Have you ever heard those quick answers? Some of them are probably more true than false, some of them are just blatantly false.

But there is this heresy, this false teaching cropping up in modern Christianity that really worries me. I call it “feel good Christianity.” And for this group, they will only listen or receive the scriptures that feel good, like, when you read them, they make you feel encouraged.

There are many scriptures that make us feel encouraged. And that’s good. But there are just as many scriptures that make us feel uncomfortable or convicted.

Now what happens if we remove all the scriptures that make us feel uncomfortable, and only teach or talk about the feel good verses? Well then you get modern Christianity. You get modern Christian rock lyrics. You can get modern luke-warm churches. You get a Christianity that can walk in step with the world because it never offends anyone.

What are some of the feel good verses? Just look at the top most searched bible verses.

Verses like John 3:16, “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.”

Or Jeremiah 29:11, ““’For I know the plans I have for you,’ declares the Lord, ‘plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.’”

Or Joshua 1:9, ““Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go.”

Or Philippian 4:13, or Romans 8:28, or any of those common bible verses.

And I think as we gather those 20 or 30 Bible verses, out of context, all very encouraging, very hopeful, very “feel good” we soon ignore and reject scriptures like…

Matthew 10:28 And do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell.

Philippians 2:12 Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, so now, not only as in my presence but much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling,

Or Mark 9:43 And if your hand causes you to sin, cut it off. It is better for you to enter life crippled than with two hands to go to hell, to the unquenchable fire.

You don’t see those scriptures stenciled on the wall in the bathroom at grandma’s do you? But they’re just as true as the feel good verses.

In our modern day and age, we aren’t much like the pharisees, where we add human traditions to the Bible to make it harder. We don’t add rules or regulations as much anymore.

But we become pharisees in a different way. We subtract from the word of God, we remove the Bible verses that talk about sin. We ignore the bible verses that talk about doing good works. We ignore the bible verses that challenge us to grow. We don’t even mention the bible verses that talk about judgment or hell.

Aren’t we just as much pharisees when we remove something as if we add something?

So that’s my challenge to you today, take all of the scriptures, even the hard ones, and grapple with them. God will help you to embrace even the more challenging verses as part of your faith walk with Christ.

Let’s see what Jesus said next:

And he continued, “You have a fine way of setting aside the commands of God in order to observe your own traditions! 10 For Moses said, ‘Honor your father and mother,’ and, ‘Anyone who curses their father or mother is to be put to death.’ 11 But you say that if anyone declares that what might have been used to help their father or mother is Corban (that is, devoted to God)— 12 then you no longer let them do anything for their father or mother. 13 Thus you nullify the word of God by your tradition that you have handed down. And you do many things like that.”

The pharisees had setup this rule, not found in the Bible, they just kind of added it in there, that if you have something, some money, that you’re going to use to help your parents, but if you decide to “devote it to God” maybe give it to the synagogue, then you no longer would have to provide for your family. And in that way, this rule had nullified the command of God to honor your father and mother.

I feel that much of our Christian theology today often has the effect of nullifying the word of God. When we tell people, hey you can never lose your salvation. Or you can live as a sinning Christian who just keeps sinning everyday, never repents, we’ve nullified essentially half of the commands of the entire new testament to be holy as he is holy, to abstain of sinful desires, to work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, to serve other Christians, to not judge, we nullify all of it with our fancy theology, that says hey just believe in Jesus and that’s all, then you’re fine, don’t worry about not sinning, don’t about worry about attending church, reading your bible, just pray this little prayer, believe, then you’re done, and you can go back to sinning, and you’ll go to heaven when you die. That is false. A lie. And our theology has then had the effect of nullifying hundreds, even thousands of scriptures from the entire Bible. Scary stuff. We must be very careful what we teach. Because us teachers will be judged more strictly.

So Jesus deals with the pharisees by calling them out on their poor teachings. He says what you’re teaching is man made theology, man made tradition, and it’s nullifying the word of God and the commands of God.

Then Jesus turns his attention to the crowd. He had a word for the teachers, now he has a word for the average everyday people standing around listening.

In verses 14-16: “Again Jesus called the crowd to him and said, “Listen to me, everyone, and understand this. 15 Nothing outside a person can defile them by going into them. Rather, it is what comes out of a person that defiles them.” [16]

Sin isn’t really about what goes into you. If you eat a turkey, eat a bean casserole, if you wash your hands or don’t wash your hands, those things aren’t affecting your salvation. They aren’t defiling you. Jesus says, what really matters is what comes out of you. And Jesus is going to explain what he means by this soon, with his disciples.

The pharisees were so concerned with external matters. But Jesus is concerned with our heart.

Interesting note, that some ancient manuscripts don’t include verse 16, others do, in fact the NIV Bible translation doesn’t include verse 16, but only as a footnote. I don’t suppose it matters much, it’s simply a refrain Jesus would often make when addressing a crowd, saying, “if you have ears to hear, then hear this.”

Next in verses 17-19: “After he had left the crowd and entered the house, his disciples asked him about this parable. 18 “Are you so dull?” he asked. “Don’t you see that nothing that enters a person from the outside can defile them? 19 For it doesn’t go into their heart but into their stomach, and then out of the body.” (In saying this, Jesus declared all foods clean.)

If you recall, in the Old Testament law of Moses the Jews would only eat certain foods. In fact, even to this day, conservative Jews will still eat only kosher foods. But Jesus explained that the Old Testament eating rules were no longer in effect, and he here declared that all foods were clean to eat.

Jesus continues, in verses 20-23:  He went on: “What comes out of a person is what defiles them. 21 For it is from within, out of a person’s heart, that evil thoughts come—sexual immorality, theft, murder, 22 adultery, greed, malice, deceit, lewdness, envy, slander, arrogance and folly. 23 All these evils come from inside and defile a person.”

What is the key problem for someone lost in sin? It’s not external, it’s internal.

What happens when we sin? First, a temptation comes up in the flesh. We start to think about it, and as we think about it, our heart grows fascinated with that sin. Then eventually as we think about it, and feel it in our heart, eventually, these swirling thoughts and emotions give birth to sin. And in our actions we take action that is sinful. We sleep around. We steal something. We lie to someone. We spread rumors about someone. We bad mouth someone behind their back. And a pattern begins to be established, the temptation grows stronger, the emotions and thought around it grow stronger, more focused, more powerful, and a pattern of action takes hold. We begin to practice sin almost daily. It become part of who we are in our heart. And that’s why we all need a savior, we need Jesus, because without Jesus we’re doomed, we can’t escape that pattern of sin by our own strength.

So, in conclusion today, let’s take a look at applications, how can we live what we’ve learned today?

We are all hypocrites from time to time, but less and less as we grow in Christ

-If you’re noticing more hypocrisy, not less, time to pray, and ask for God’s help

Make sure your heart is focused on God, not on externals

-If you find yourself looking at others and judging others, turn back to look at your own conduct, and to your own heart

Refuse “feel good Christianity” embrace biblical Christianity

-The feel good verses are biblical, but you must also embrace all the harder truths of scripture, or you are making an idol of god in your own image, and it will lead to ruin

Train your heart and mind to embrace “hard truths”

-Proverbs says a wise person is impressed by a rebuke. Train yourself to be impressed when scripture rebukes you, be amazed, impressed by god’s glory, and let those hard verses speak to you too.

Don’t be afraid, Jesus can change your heart completely

-Lastly don’t be afraid, if you are noticing your heart isn’t right, you’re a hypocrite, then take it to God right now. Ask him to change your heart. Or give your life to Jesus for the first time today. He can change you completely. Praise the Lord.

-But don’t hide it if there’s a problem in your heart or if you’re sinning secretly, take it to God in prayer ,talk to someone one on one and get some help, you aren’t alone. The enemy wants us to try to hide our sin. But the word says instead we should take it to God, turn away from the sin, and turn toward God, and God will help us. Bring it into the light. .

God wants your heart. But he doesn’t expect you to clean it up and bring it clean to him. Bring it dirty, broken, smashed, hard as a rock, and give it to him like that, totally messed up ,and watch Jesus completely transform it. He will take your mess and turn it into a message, a ministry, a mission of hope, and new life. God bless you today.