Matthew 15:1-11, 15-20 Lesson Notes
V1 Jesus is in Galilee in the north and scribes and Pharisees travel up there from Jerusalem to see what all of the commotion was about. News was spreading like wildfire about Jesus’ ministry. The Pharisees were a major religious party among the Jews. While the Sadducees basically controlled Jerusalem and the Temple, which was significant, the Pharisees were all over Palestine, in the north and south, among the people and the synagogues. Their influence was extensive. The scribes were basically lawyers. They were trained in the interpretation and application of the Jewish law. These two groups consistently “teamed up” against Jesus to “bring Him down.”
V2 Of course, the Pharisees had many of their own traditions that were loosely based on the Mosaic Law but were not actually law. Yet, these oral traditions had become a law unto the Pharisees and scribes who taught the people. They put the yoke of their traditions on the masses. This is part one of those traditions. They had taught for decades that a person should wash his/her hands before eating a meal, not for physical cleanliness but for ritual purposes.
(*See Mark 7:2-4 about this tradition). There were also many other regulations concerning just the washing of hands. For example, if you poured water over one hand with a single rinsing, it was clean. However, if you poured water over both hands with a single rinsing, they were unclean. . . .
V3 It is bad enough to hold so strongly to man-made traditions, but it is that much worse when your traditions force you to break the actual Scriptures. Notice that the Pharisees question Jesus about breaking the laws of the elders while Jesus questions the Pharisees about breaking the laws of God.
VV4-6 As you know, the Pharisees were constantly trying to side-step the OT laws. They would keep the laws but only according to their perverted interpretations. The Sermon on the Mount is a clear refutation of these practices. Jesus gives us an example of how they do this. Instead of helping their aging parents (which was part of honoring your father and mother), they would dedicate a portion of their finances to God. In reality, all they were doing was using those finances for themselves, breaking the law by not honoring their parents, and in essence cursing their parents.
VV7-9 Jesus calls them “hypocrites.” They were wearing the mask of religion and righteousness, but underneath they were dishonorable lawbreakers. The Lord then quotes the prophet Isaiah who spoke sharply against this kind of people. Speaking for God, the prophet criticizes the “good show” that they put on acting as religious (draw near to God with their mouth, honor him with their lips, act as teachers), but God knows our hearts and could see that it was fake (heart is far from God, worship is empty, teaching is man-made commands).
VV10-11 While the exchange had been between the Lord and the religious leaders, Jesus now calls the multitude to come close to listen. He says, “Hear and understand.” You see, the Jews thought that if they ceremonially washed their hands before they ate, then they would not defile the food and thus defile themselves. Jesus pulls the crowd close and gives a short metaphor, a parable. What Jesus says is revolutionary. Yes, the Jewish tradition had gotten out of hand concerning these things, but the true source, the Mosaic Law, actually did forbid certain foods as defiled. Yet, Jesus says here that no food that goes into a person’s mouth actually defiles. Thus, He is saying, “All foods are clean.” This is setting Christianity on a different path than what God’s people had walked before. Ultimately, it is pointing to the inclusion of the Gentiles.
VV15-20 Peter, as the spokesman, asks for Jesus to explain the parable. Even the disciples do not understand. Jesus is blowing their minds. Jesus rebukes their failure to understand by questioning them about it. Is it not simple enough to understand that what you eat is processed and then eliminated by the body? Now, listen to the Lord’s logic, what comes out of the mouth actually comes from the heart. So, when evil comes out of the mouth, it means that the heart is evil. That is what defiles a person. There is a major difference between ceremonial/legalistic/traditional/physical cleanliness and moral cleanliness. Notice that when Jesus gives a list of sins/evils/defilements they closely resemble the Ten Commandments.
ConclusionAs many pastors/commentators would point out, we should say that all Christians need to take a step back, a deep breath, and really consider what verses 17-20 are saying. So many Christians continue to come to the church building and participate in worship and church activities while continuing a life of sin on the side without repentance. Many Christians draw close to God in worship, but are far from Him in their hearts.