Theme: True Religion
This week we see the pitfall that is self-righteousness
Matthew 15 : 12-20
Then the disciples came and said to him, “Do you know that the Pharisees were offended when they heard this saying?” He answered, “Every plant that my heavenly Father has not planted will be rooted up. Let them alone; they are blind guides.And if the blind lead the blind, both will fall into a pit.” But Peter said to him, “Explain the parable to us.” And he said, “Are you also still without understanding? Do you not see that whatever goes into the mouth passes into the stomach and is expelled? But what comes out of the mouth proceeds from the heart, and this defiles a person. For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false witness, slander. These are what defile a person. But to eat with unwashed hands does not defile anyone.”
The last of the three conversations in these verses is between Jesus and his disciples. It seems to have been private. His previous words were to the crowds. But the disciples come to Jesus now to say that the Pharisees were offended by his teaching. I find that amusing. Of course they Were offended by his teaching. Self-righteous persons are always offended when we speak of their sin or their inability to please God by their own corrupt and wicked efforts. Truth is resented. But I also find this amusing because the disciples thought that somehow they had to clue Jesus in. He knew the situation very well, of course. He replies now by even stronger teaching.
1. Their being offended is proof not only that the Pharisees are false interpreters of the law, but they are outside the kingdom altogether. That is what being “pulled up by the roots” refers to. It is a clear application of the second parable of the kingdom (Matt. 13 :24-30) in which the weeds are separated from the wheat at the last day and are burned.
Actually, there are two images for these men. First, they are called plants the “father has not planted” (v. 11). That is an apt description of many who are involved in Christian work. They pretend to have been called by God, but they have not been called by God. They claim to speak for God, but they do not speak for God. On the contrary, they teach the traditions of mere men and sometimes even the doctrines of the devil, who is the prince of darkness. What else are we to think of preachers who deny the deity of Jesus Christ, dismiss the value of his atoning sacrifice for sin, ridicule the resurrection and defend as normal, sins that the Bible says will carry those who persist in them to damnation? We say they are plants the father has not planted. More than that, they are tares sown in God’s field to hinder God’s true work. Their condemnation will be just.
Second, Jesus calls the Pharisees and teachers of the law “blind guides” (v. 14). They were aspiring to lead others, but the only outcome was that both those who were leading and those who were following would fall into a pit. I do not think Jesus meant only a pit in the ground either. He meant that bottomless pit in which there is an eternal darkness and a weeping and gnashing of teeth (Matt. 25:30).
2. “The things that come out of the mouth come from the heart and these make a man ‘unclean’” (v. 18). Were the Pharisees and the teachers of the law concerned about others being “unclean”? If so, Jesus will state What makes a person unclean. It is not what goes into his mouth or whether he eats with unwashed hands. It is what comes out, for what comes out of the mouth comes from the heart, and the heart, as any careful reader of the Old Testament should have known, is incorrigibly wicked. Jeremiah wrote, “The heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure. Who can understand it?” (Jer. 17:9). What Jesus says here is that all sins come from the heart. And he names them: “For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false testimony, slander. These are what make a man ‘unclean’; but eating with unwashed hands does not make him ‘unclean’” (vv. 19, 20).
Mark concludes from these words that by this teaching “Jesus declared all foods ‘clean,’” thereby abolishing not only the Pharisaic but also the Levitical regulations (see Mark 7:19).
And Paul, who learned the same lesson, argues in Romans 14 that because of this teaching Christians are not to divide over matters of diet or even the observance or non-observance of certain holy days. Why? Because “the kingdom of God is not a matter of eating and drinking, but of righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Spirit. . .Anyone who serves Christ in this way is pleasing to God and approved by men” (vv. l7, l8). Righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Spirit is true religion. It is what Jesus came to teach and establish. Righteousness, peace and joy are the spiritual opposite of kosher cooking and eating with washed or unwashed hands.
What do the Pharisees demonstrate by their being offended?
Who are the plants the Father has not planted? What is to become of them?
How does Jesus define the unclean? What conclusions do Mark and Paul draw from this?
Where do you see self-righteousness demonstrated today?
Righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Spirit is true religion. It is what Jesus came to teach and establish.