Inside each of us is the tendency to be a Pharisee; we judge others by what we can see. Jesus looks deeper and sees what we cannot; He knows our heart condition.
I confess this devotional is heavier on the teaching side, but stay with me to the end because all of us need to allow Jesus to examine our heart condition.
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? Matthew 15:16-17
Do you not see that whatever goes into a person from outside cannot defile him, since it enters not his heart but his stomach, and is expelled?” (Thus he declared all foods clean.) Mark 7:18-19
Matthew and Mark are both recounting the same story; most bible scholars agree that Mark was written first, and was most likely used as a source or reference by Matthew. I believe that to be true, but even if it is not the difference in what we read in each of these accounts should not be ignored, and should be properly understood. Holy Spirit we need Your help to know the truth.
On with the story; both tell what happens in much the same way. It begins because some Pharisees confront Jesus about his disciples disregard for the traditions of the elders; the disciples were eating without first washing their hands (no this was not a concern about those invisible germs). This was a ceremonial washing, which Mark goes on to say was but one of many traditions passed down by the elders. They believed that if one ate without the ceremonial washing of hands, bowls, pots and the like that the person would become unclean. And if you were unclean you could not worship the LORD at the Temple until you had been properly cleansed.
Jesus responded by pointing out the true hypocrisy of the Pharisees quoting the prophet Isaiah, “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“ (Mat. 15:8-9 and Mk. 7:6-7).
Both gospels also include Jesus ‘spiritual surgery’ to reveal the heart condition of the Pharisees. Because their hearts and not their hands were unclean they would break God’s commandments in order to keep their traditions. Jesus reminded them of the commandments “Honor your father and your mother,” and “Whoever reviles father or mother must surely die.” Yet Jesus points out how they use their traditions as loopholes to do as they please rather than live in obedience to God.
Jesus then addresses the crowd telling them that what enters through the mouth does not defile a man or make him unclean. Instead, Jesus tells them it is what comes out of the mouth that defiles a man making him unclean – things just like the spiritual double talk of the Pharisees who claim to obey God’s law but are actually lawbreakers.
Most of us have read this story before and know Jesus is not talking about food causing an upset stomach but the condition of our hearts. At that time, however, the disciples at did not understand that what entered the mouth is food and what comes out of the mouth is words – an overflow of their heart. So when they were alone with Jesus they asked Him to explain this simple parable.
Jesus is amazed that they are still so slow to understand, so He gives them a rather graphic answer cleaned up in our bibles. Literally he tells them, “Food goes into your mouth and then into your stomach, and then whatever is not used by your body goes out of your body and is flushed down the toilet” (that’s right the Greek word aphedrōna used only here could literally be translated latrine).
Jesus then explained an unclean heart condition to His disciples and how everything we say and do begins in our heart. He says, “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.” (Mat. 15:18-20; see also Mk. 7:20-23). Notice how Mathew specifically includes the reminder that this entire conversation began because of the Pharisees accusation that the disciples were defiled or unclean because they ate without ceremonially washing their hands. The context of Mark bears witness to this as well.
Yet there is one difference that we find in our bibles. It’s the parenthetical statement made after Jesus begins to explain the meaning of the parable to the disciples: (Thus he declared all foods clean.)
I hope you’re still with me because it’s important that we understand Jesus did not say, “All food is clean;” instead this is a remark included to explain what Jesus said. But was this explanation made by Mark or a scribe who wrote an explanation in the margin only to have it later included within the text by another scribe? Many bible scholars, and I agree, that this was a marginal note inserted later into the text and is not original.
Many scholars will point to the clumsy Greek grammar; I don’t want to bore you with that. I think a much simpler explanation is right in front of us. If Mark had written this, then why did Matthew exclude it? And let’s not forget too that Matthew was there when Jesus first said this. Matthew wrote to predominately Jewish Christians who understood the Old Testament law regarding clean and unclean food. If Jesus had in fact released His followers from the restrictions of clean and unclean food, then wouldn’t Matthew have made that known too?
Equally important is to dig a little deeper and realize that Peter, the disciple who spoke up and asked Jesus to explain the parable in the first place, Peter did not understand Jesus to say all food was clean. About twenty years later Peter has continued to obey the “kosher” food laws. So how does Peter respond to his vision of the sheet filled with unclean animals and hearing the LORD say, “Kill and eat” three times in Acts 10? Does Peter understand then that it’s okay to eat all kinds of animals? No! His testimony at the house of Cornelius and again before the church at Jerusalem in Acts 11 tells us that Peter understood that the Holy Spirit used the vision to show him that God had recognized Cornelius and other Gentile believers in his household as clean.
And why was Cornelius declared clean by the LORD.
What did Jesus say? It was not because he had kept the traditions of the elders through ceremonial washings. It was not because of the food he ate. Rather it was Cornelius’ heart as “a devout man who feared God with all his household” (Acts 10:2).
It is what comes from within that makes us clean or unclean and not what we eat; but let’s not misinterpret scripture to make Jesus or Peter say something they never said. The explanation the all food had been declared clean did not mean eat whatever we like. Rather, food as defined by God’s law in Leviticus 11 is clean regardless of the ceremonial washing of hands or bowls.
It really all does come down to the condition of our hearts.
I need the LORD to continue to examine my heart condition creating in me a pure heart. I choose to honor Jesus as my King by refraining from eating unclean foods, however this act does not make me righteous or clean; only Jesus can cleanse my heart. Rather, my choice of obedience is an act of loving devotion to my LORD, and should not become a badge of spiritual pride or holiness.
(Dare I say that many of us as Pentecostals have used the baptism in the Holy Spirit the same way. It is meaningless to speak in tongues if we don’t also control our tongues in the way we talk about each other – as but one example. Would Jesus see us just like modern Pharisees holding more to our traditions than to obedience to His Word? Let’s not fall into the same trap again just as the Holy Spirit teaches us to obey God’s commandments being sacrificed by His Word.)
Yes to Yield
LORD Jesus, forgive me for letting my heart become unclean by giving place to spiritual pride; it is a heart condition that left unchecked will impact my attitude toward others tearing down rather than strengthening our relationship. Holy Spirit continue to teach me and lead me in truth sanctifying me by God’s Word. But don’t stop there; empower me to also live out the spirit of the law so others might see the joy of walking in obedience desiring it, rather than a self-righteous condemnation unfairly put upon them as a burden. Examine our hearts and make them clean.