Matthew 15:1–9 ESV
1 Then Pharisees and scribes came to Jesus from Jerusalem and said, 2 “Why do your disciples break the tradition of the elders? For they do not wash their hands when they eat.” 3 He answered them, “And why do you break the commandment of God for the sake of your tradition? 4 For God commanded, ‘Honor your father and your mother,’ and, ‘Whoever reviles father or mother must surely die.’ 5 But you say, ‘If anyone tells his father or his mother, “What you would have gained from me is given to God,” 6 he need not honor his father.’ So for the sake of your tradition you have made void the word of God. 7 You hypocrites! Well did Isaiah prophesy of you, when he said: 8 “ ‘This people honors me with their lips, but their heart is far from me; 9 in vain do they worship me, teaching as doctrines the commandments of men.’ ”
We are now entering into the 15th chapter of Matthew’s Gospel account, and again I am encouraged by seeing how God leads us to the appropriate text at the appropriate time.
As a pastor, I often feel the pull to preach on a specific issue when I see the needs that some of you have, but so often has the Lord carried us through the expository preaching of the word that we are sovereignly guided to the text we need.
So I pray that you are able to receive God’s word with gladness this morning as it addresses the issue of the human heart. In fact, I am determined to do a multipart sermon series on the subject of the “Abundance of the Human Heart” as we see here in verses 1-20.
This is a passage that specifically applies to all of us in this room in more ways than we can see. So, may it be an encouragement to all, especially our newly baptised sisters.
This chapter begins with yet another confrontation between the Pharisees and Christ, between the teachers of the Law and the Law-Giver. The fact that there is such a confrontation should open your eyes to the reality that there is a way in which we can follow God’s word and praise God’s name and not recognise him if he stood before us. Claiming to love the law of God, here was the very law of God, his Word in flesh and blood before their eyes and they did not recognise him.
The fact that you hold a Bible in your hands, and that you attend Redemption Hill Church where there is the expository preaching of the word does not mean anything if you cannot recognise Christ.
Beloved, an intellectual grabbing of the truth of God will not suffice. Cleaving to this honeycomb, you must drink of its sweetness till you are satisfied.
Ezekiel 3:1–3 ESV
1 And he said to me, “Son of man, eat whatever you find here. Eat this scroll, and go, speak to the house of Israel.” 2 So I opened my mouth, and he gave me this scroll to eat. 3 And he said to me, “Son of man, feed your belly with this scroll that I give you and fill your stomach with it.” Then I ate it, and it was in my mouth as sweet as honey.
Knowing Jesus is to savour him in your hearts. Your agreement with Scripture does not save you if you have not tasted of Christ. There are many questions regarding salvation, the assurance of salvation, and God’s sovereignty that come up with such a subject and I pray that as we study chapter 15, God will speak to your hearts.
The crux of the message in this section is given to us by Jesus in
Matthew 15:17–19 ESV
17 Do you not see that whatever goes into the mouth passes into the stomach and is expelled? 18 But what comes out of the mouth proceeds from the heart, and this defiles a person. 19 For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false witness, slander.
- If you swallow, the contents in your mouth go to your stomach. If you breathe through your mouth, the contents go to your lungs. But there is nothing the mouth can do to inject its contents into your heart. There appears no connection.
Bad food that upsets your stomach can come out of your mouth, and you can breathe out the air from your lungs as well. But where do words come from? The mouth is not for chewing and breathing, but for speaking. Which is the organ that pipes words into our mouths?
Your heart is the reservoir of what you hold most dear. The Bible calls it your treasure trove,
Matthew 6:19–21 ESV
19 “Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal, 20 but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. 21 For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.Out of the mouth comes the abundance of the heart.
Law-lover, law-preacher, or law-teacher, it matters what is the abundance of your heart.
Christian, when you confess that Christ is my all, what do you think that means?
We will go through his text verse by verse till we’ve exhausted from it all that we can learn about the human heart.
Matthew 15:1 ESV
1 Then Pharisees and scribes came to Jesus from Jerusalem and said,
- You have heard of Christ travelling across the land to take the Good News to the people in other regions, but see here his critiques of travelling to other regions as well to oppose him.
This delegation came from Jerusalem, the headquarters you may say. So, the Pharisees and scribes are sending their higher-ups now to challenge Christ.
Surely now, this top brass of their leaders must have the best arguments to confront Jesus, right?
Matthew 15:2 ESV
2 “Why do your disciples break the tradition of the elders? For they do not wash their hands when they eat.”
- Now, before you dismiss this needless accusation of the Pharisees, it would do us good to understand how they arrived at such a question.
- It was part of the priestly responsibility in the OT they wash their hands and their feet prior to performing their duties. It was a ceremonial act that reminded them that they had to be clean as they stood in God’s presence and ministered to God’s people.
Now the OT never taught that outer washing with water would clean a man. Even then God required a clean heart.
Psalm 24:3–4 ESV
3 Who shall ascend the hill of the Lord? And who shall stand in his holy place? 4 He who has clean hands and a pure heart, who does not lift up his soul to what is false and does not swear deceitfully.Although God has always required this of his people, his people have always tried to prove their piety by intensifying the outer works instead of securing their inner hearts.
So the Jewish leaders out of a desire to be clean before God took the cleansing ceremony and applied it to all of Israel and tied the washing of the hands before every meal as a symbol of ceremonial cleansing.
If you kept the outer signs, you were praised for your piety. If you didn’t, you were unclean. This is what legalism does. It raises the outer commitment as a veil that hides the lack of an inner commitment. It calls for outer conformity and leaves the heart empty.
- This issue is addressed by the Pharisees as the traditions of the elders. They know it is not a scriptural instruction but an oral tradition that was passed down to them through generations.
Again we cannot dismiss the importance of tradition and instruction that is passed down to us. David instructed his son Solomon, and that instruction was to be passed on. In Deuteronomy, God instructs Israel to pass the teaching down through generations.
Traditions are an inheritance and they are not evil things unless these traditions are not rooted in Scripture, especially if they hinder biblical counsel and instruction.
Jesus responds to these unhelpful traditions of their elders by citing the greater tradition, God’s commandment in the Scripture. Remember always that no tradition of man can ever stand in equal authority with Scripture.
Mark 7:8 ESV
8 You leave the commandment of God and hold to the tradition of men.”You are not bound to hold up any tradition that does not glorify God.
Certain traditions need to be broken.
- Now, having seen how the Pharisees arrived at this question, do you see how blind they became, for they stood before the One who came to wash them with his blood?
They stood before the One whose washing would leave them clean and without condemnation ever. He would purify them in a manner they never knew possible. Here was offered to them the greatest blessing that they could not see. The gift of their salvation became their offence.
Beloved an outer commitment to the Christian faith can both blind and numb you to the person of Christ who desires your hearts before he desires your hands.
Psalm 34:8 ESV
8 Oh, taste and see that the Lord is good! Blessed is the man who takes refuge in him!Some definitions are important at this point.
An outer commitment is not a sign of spiritual piety. But then Jesus taught us that you can know true disciples by the fruits they bear (John 15). James teaches us that faith without works is dead. Then how can you say that outer commitment is not a sign of spiritual piety?
You are right. Do not mistake my use of the phrase ‘outer commitment; to meaning a commitment to all the outer works of the Christian, rather what I mean by outer commitment is a kind of commitment to works that are farthest from your heart.
There are what I would call ‘inner commitments’ as there are outer commitments. We will see this as we read on.
Matthew 15:3 ESV
3 He answered them, “And why do you break the commandment of God for the sake of your tradition?
- A man who cleans his hands before every meal is a reminder to himself of his need to be clean before God does not sin. He holds to this tradition and it does not hinder him because that tradition is close to his heart as he desires to be washed by God and made clean.
Such a man will also not propagate such a practice as law for he knows the price is not in outer conformity but inner transformation.
But that is not what the Pharisees did. They held to their tradition at the cost of breaking God’s commandments.
When the Pharisees asked Jesus why his disciples were breaking the tradition of their fathers, Jesus responded by asking them why they were breaking the commandment of His Father.
Matthew 15:4–6 ESV
4 For God commanded, ‘Honor your father and your mother,’ and, ‘Whoever reviles father or mother must surely die.’ 5 But you say, ‘If anyone tells his father or his mother, “What you would have gained from me is given to God,” 6 he need not honor his father.’ So for the sake of your tradition you have made void the word of God.Exodus 20:12 ESV
12 “Honor your father and your mother, that your days may be long in the land that the Lord your God is giving you.
- Here we have a clear commandment of God that is hard for many to keep.
- Caring for parents in their need is honouring them
- Outer commitment makes void the word of GodMatthew 15:7–9 ESV
7 You hypocrites! Well did Isaiah prophesy of you, when he said: 8 “ ‘This people honors me with their lips, but their heart is far from me; 9 in vain do they worship me, teaching as doctrines the commandments of men.’ ”
Isaiah 29:13 ESV
13 And the Lord said: “Because this people draw near with their mouth and honor me with their lips, while their hearts are far from me, and their fear of me is a commandment taught by men,
Ezekiel 33:31 ESV
31 And they come to you as people come, and they sit before you as my people, and they hear what you say but they will not do it; for with lustful talk in their mouths they act; their heart is set on their gain.