Theme: True Religion
This week we see the pitfall that is self-righteousness
You hypocrites! Well did Isaiah prophesy of you, when he said:
“‘This people honors me with their lips,
but their heart is far from me;
in vain do they worship me,
teaching as doctrines the commandments of men.’”
And he called the people to him and said to them, “Hear and understand: it is not what goes into the mouth that defiles a person, but what comes out of the mouth; this defiles a person.
Jesus’ condemnation of the self-righteousness of the Pharisees was so important that he called the crowds to him and strongly applied what he had said. This is the second of the three teaching conversations. He told them, “What goes into a man’s mouth does not make him ‘unclean,’ but what comes out of his mouth, that is what makes him ‘unclean’” (v. 11). This was a direct contradiction of the Pharisees, for he was saying that what matters before God is not clean hands or kosher food, which is what they were concerned about, but a purified heart.
The teachers of the law should have known this because it is taught in the Old Testament. For example, it is the teaching of Psalm 24. Psalm 24 asks, “Who may ascend the hill of the Lord? Who may stand in his holy place?” (v. 3). It answers,
He who has clean hands and a pure heart,
who does not lift up his soul to an idol
or swear by what is false. (v. 4)
It is obvious from these verses that “clean hands” in verse 3 does not refer to removing physical dirt by ceremonial washings, but to a blameless way of life flowing from a transformed heart. We may put it like this. To have a “pure heart” refers to inward holiness. It is what Jesus was speaking of in the Sermon on the Mount when he said, “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God” (Matt. 5:8). “Clean hands” refers to one who is holy in outward actions as well as inwardly, because he has been changed within. It is the exact opposite of Pilate, who although he washed his hands publicly, saying, “I am innocent of this man’s blood” (Matt. 27:24), nevertheless was guilty in his condemnation of the Lord. He was guilty of violating the laws of Rome as well as of his conscience by agreeing to the crucifixion of one he had three times declared to be innocent (cf. John 18:38; 19:4, 6).
The Pharisees should also have been taught by Psalm 15, which asks, in words like those of Psalm 24, “Lord, who may dwell in your sanctuary? Who may live on your holy hill?” (v. 1). Psalm 15 answers:
He whose walk is blameless
and who does What is righteous,
who speaks the truth from his heart
and has no slander on his tongue,
Who does his neighbor no wrong
and casts no slur on his fellow man,
who despises a vile man
but honors those who fear the Lord,
who keeps his oath
even when it hurts,
who lends his money without usury
and does not accept a bribe against the innocent. (vv. 2-5)
This is the inward character of those who please God, whom God approves. But the only people who will ever have a life like that are those who have had their nature changed by God. Or to put it in the language Jesus used when he spoke to Nicodemus, “You must be born again” (John 3:7).
What matters more to God than kosher practices?
Explain Jesus’ use of the image of clean hands.
Where are Jesus’ teachings about a transformed heart found in the Old Testament?
What are the traits of the person in Psalm 15? Examine your character in light of each trait. Where do you fall short?
Pray that you may honor God with clean hands and a pure heart.