I once heard a story of a woman who cooked a ham every Sunday for lunch. And every Sunday she would cut off the end of the ham and throw it away even though it was perfectly good. Someone asked her why she did this and she said because that’s what her mom had always done. So then someone asked her mom why she always cut off and threw away a perfectly good piece of ham? She said it was because that’s what her mom had always done. Then someone asked the second lady’s mom why she always cut off the end of a perfectly good piece of ham before cooking it. Turns out that it was simply because her pan was too short to hold the whole ham.
Sometimes our traditions are like that, sometimes the things we do hark back to another day which has passed, sometimes we end up saying and doing things in a certain way just because that’s what people have always done, rather than because there is any good reason for it. All so that that may be acceptable to God.
How to be acceptable to God is, obviously, the biggest question that the Bible answers, the biggest question in our lives, and the biggest question in this evenings passage. How can we be acceptable to God? In the opening five verses of our story tonight we meet a group, not for the first time, who think they know the answer to that question.
They know how to the be acceptable to God, and they think their job is to go around making sure everyone else is doing exactly what they say. We see something of their rules and traditions in verse 3 ‘for the Pharisees, and all the Jews, except they wash their hands, oft, eat not, holding the traditions of the elders.’ According to Jewish tradition, unless people often washed their hands, they shouldn’t be eating. And yet we read in verse one that Jesus disciples’ were eating bread with ‘defiled, that is to say, unwashen, hands.’ This would have been very upsetting to the Jewish leaders. Not only were Jesus’ disciples being unhygienic, they were surely being unholy, they were surely acting unacceptably towards God. How could they be God’s people if they were not washing their hands? I love how Mark commentates on this incident, twice in these verses he mentions that the Pharisees were upset because the traditions were being broken, not because they saw Jesus do something unBiblical. This situation is close to home sometimes isn’t it? We’ve all met people who believe in things, and defend things that we can not find in the Bible. Well that’s what’s happening here.
Jesus then spends a long time answering them, between verses 6 and 13. Lets look at what He says ‘well hath Isaiah prophesied of you hypocrites as it is written ’these people honoureth me with their lips but their hearts are far from me. How be it in vain do they worship me, teaching as doctrine the commandments of men. For laying aside the commandment of God, you hold the tradition of men, as the washing of pots and cups and many other such things you do.’ And He said to them
‘full well you reject the commandment of God, that ye may keep your own tradition.’
What was the problem that these guys had? Why were they so upset with Jesus and then Jesus so angry with them? Because they taught their opinions as if they were from God, and ignored what God Himself taught. They didn’t care about the commandments of God and were more concerned about whether or not people were washing their hands. God had called them to preach but they were acting more like fussy old women. This was not, and is not right. We see the very serious result of that in verses seven and eight. Jesus says that people worship Him in vain, He says that they honour Him with their mouths yet their hearts are far from Him. He wanted people’s hearts. He wants your heart. He’s not interested in just your church attendance record, or just how much you read your Bible, or just how much you serve, He wants your heart to be near Him. Now, He wants you to come to church and read your Bible and serve. But he only wants you to do that because your heart is near Him. If you come to church because of tradition, then Jesus says you worship Him in vain. If you would rather be almost anywhere else in the world than in that sanctuary between 11 and 12 on a Sunday morning, if you sit in church waiting for lunchtime to come, then Jesus says you worship in vain. He says that we are not acceptable to Him.
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