Hearing The Word Of God

December 6, 2009
日本キリスト教団 頌栄教会牧師 清弘剛生 Pastor Takao Kiyohiro, Shoei Church, Church of Christ, Japan
Translator M.A.F., Indiana, USA
Mark 7:1-13

The Religious Life Like A Skeleton

1. The Pharisees asked Jesus the question, "Why do your disciples not walk according to the ancient traditions of men, but eat meals with defiled hands?," (verse five). In fact, the disciples did have meals without washing their hands. They didn't mean, "Aren't they being unsanitary?" It was about how they took their meals without observing the religious rite of hand-washing. Why would that be an issue? An explanation is offered in the text for those unacquainted with the customs of the Jews. "All the Jews, beginning with the Pharisees, strictly observed the ancient traditions of men, and would not eat unless they had conscientiously washed their hands, and when they came back home from the market, they would not eat unless they had purified themselves first. Besides that, there were many things that they strictly observed as they had inherited them from of old, like the washing of cups, bowls, copper vessels and couches," (verses three and four). Jesus' disciples did not observe these [traditions]. [This] is the story of how the Pharisees had found fault with them.

2. "The ancient traditions of men" that they had been observing. -- It seems there were a whole lot of them. I think at the beginning they originated out of their zeal in wanting to live in accordance with the will of God. These [rules] emerged out of their loving God, and had been passed along for that reason. They did not want to follow God academically, but wanted to put it into practice in a concrete daily way of living. For that purpose they interpreted the words of the law of Moses and applied them to real life practices. Or it could be they were of the mindset that they not turn their backs on the will of God unconsciously. In order to take precautions against sinning, they established detailed regulations to set a protective fence up around them. Thus, "the ancient traditions of men" had been set up originally out of good intentions, and they had been passed down by hearts in love with God.

3. However, when it gets to where certain actions are set up and done by everybody, then the very acts themselves begin to take on a life of their own. The performing of the acts themselves become the goal, unrelated to the intentions by which they were done originally. It comes to pass that the heart falls out [from the act] and only the form remains. The Pharisees were extremely sincere in one sense. They performed painstakingly the deeds they decided on their own to do [over the process of time]. They observed strictly what had been set up and determined to do. But Jesus saw through to the fact that their hearts had fallen away [from the practice]. So, Jesus confronted this reality with a truly harsh set of words. The Lord said, "Isaiah prophesied splendidly on hypocrites like you. He wrote as follows. 'This people honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me. They teach as doctrine the commandments of human beings, and worship me in vain.' You have cast the commandments of God off and are strictly observing the traditions of humankind," (verse six through eight).

4. "Their hearts are far from me." Isn't it just as God has said it? That's what Jesus said. Their hearts have fallen away [from the deed], they lost the life [that was in it], only the religious deed like a dried out skeleton remains. Therefore, the kind of thing that is written here in today's passage of scripture does happen. We do things because it has turned into something we're supposed to do. We observe things because we're now supposed to observe them. When these obligatory acts have multiplied, we get to the point we notice the people who don't perform them and don't observe them. "I myself am carefully observing [the customs]. I have been doing them reliably and faithfully." When a person's thoughts keep getting stronger like that, unavoidably, he or she will want to criticize the people who do not carefully keep the observances. Before too long they are all gung-ho about criticizing and condemning others, but they end up not noticing the most important thing, that their own hearts are far from God. That's how they get.

5. The scripture says the people appearing in this scene in this text for today "had come from Jerusalem and gathered around Jesus." They had come on purpose from places nearly one hundred kilometers away. It was not because they had a deep affection for Jesus, or wanted to honor him with a visit or didn't mind long trips. They came to judge him. They came to find fault with him. This was not the first time [for something like this to happen]. Already in chapter three, the scribes of the law had come from Jerusalem to criticize and argue with him. Even in this text they quickly detected the flaw in the disciples of [their] "eating meals with unwashed hands." Even though the grace of God through Jesus and the disciples was plentifully evident, even though what God was doing was plainly evident, it did not come into plain view for them there; because their hearts were far from God.

6. Well, the line of reasoning written in this scripture is, of course, not for the purpose of the church to criticize Judaism. It certainly is not, because the church can also get like this. The faith practice of Christians can also turn into a dried up skeleton like practice, where [our] hearts have fallen away [from the deed] and [it] loses life. [We] perform the things [we're] supposed to perform. [We] observe the things [we're] supposed to observe. But, [our] hearts are far from God. As a result, [we] care only about the people [part], [not God]. [We] only care about the words and the actions of people. [We] want to criticize [others]. [We] want to condemn [them]. Meanwhile on the other hand, [we] can't help but worry about how [we] are seen by others. [We] can't help but be frightened about wondering if [we] are being judged by someone else. Worried only about the eyes of others, [we] fall into a rigid practice, truly impaired. And [we] get that way feeling like it's someone else's fault, but if [we] wonder where the true problem lies, it lies within our own selves.

Hearing The Word Of God

7. Being in such a condition is truly a great shame. We have been invited by the grace of God at great length. We are invited just by God's mercy. And because of the atoning blood that Christ shed on the cross, we have received forgiveness of sin. We have been forgiven of sin, justified, and allowed into fellowship with God. We call God [our] heavenly father, look up to God, and have been granted life alive with God. At one time, Christ said, "I have come in order that the sheep might receive life, what's more, that they receive it abundantly," (John 10:10). The Lord came in order to grant a day to day practice that is full of life. And he joins us to the father, who is the source of life. As it were, it is like we are connected to a gigantic fountainhead. But, we ended up shutting the faucet, making it so that no water is coming out, and getting upset seeing just the faucet, we polished it to a shine the best we could. As it were, when we do this kind of thing, it is truly a shame.

8. What should we do in order not to be that way? It is the next words, which we ought to take note of in the text, that Jesus said about these persons. "Thus, you make the word of God null with the traditions you have inherited," (verse thirteen). That was their problem. Therefore, it is important that we "do not make the word of God null."

9. But what does this mean, "do not make the word of God null?" In the Jewish world, whenever one spoke "the word of God," it was first of all "the scriptures." And in a certain sense they did not make the scriptures null. The scribes of the law were right there. They were the experts in the law. They were the experts in the scriptures. Even "the traditions they had inherited" were, in the end, interpretations of the words from the scriptures. They respected the scriptures. They weren't doing anything shabbily, without respect. But, Jesus says, They "are making the word of God null." Then he offers an illustration of it.

10. "Moses said, 'Honor your father and mother,' and he also said, 'Whoever speaks ill of his father and mother ought to be given the death penalty.' Nevertheless, you say, 'If someone says to his father and mother, What I am supposed to offer to you, it is qorban, that is, an offering unto God, then that person is done doing anything for his father and mother.'," (verses ten through twelve).

11. It adds a number of explanations. The reference to "qorban" is Hebrew to express "an offering." The law regarding "qorban," that is, "the offering," is found in detail in places like Leviticus in the Old Testament. According to it, the offering is a holy thing that a person sacrificed to God, and one cannot use it for some every day [purpose]. This is the "stipulation for qorban." They certainly observed it. Like their ancestors have done, the people in the time of Jesus also observed it. But then it says it was being done like this. For example, someone says to his parents, "Since what I have is for qorban, I cannot use it for you." When that happens, it shouldn't be used for parental support. Having said that though, it is not that the person dedicates almost all his possessions practically to the temple. His offering was valid after he died. Therefore, it isn't a true offering [yet]. [I get to use it any way I want now. I give nothing to you my parents. After I die, whatever is left will be donated to the temple. With this deal the priests are happy.]

12. They were certainly observing it in the above manner. But did God will it this way? Were they following from the Bible what God wanted them to do? Were they following the will of God? "No!," of course not. Word transmits will. Since they had not heard the will of God, they [could] not have heard the words of God. No matter what kind of biblical scholars they were, they weren't hearing the word of God. No matter how literally they kept what was written, they weren't hearing the word of God. The Lord said, "You are making null the word of God."

13. Without paying careful attention to the word of God, a person cannot form a faith practice that has life to it. If a person has never paid careful attention to the word of God, his or her faith life will be a dried out skeletal one that has no life. Paying careful attention to the word of God is to be conscious that God is speaking to us. it is to be conscious that we are in the presence of God. God is also speaking right to us. We are to be conscious of that. That is important. Therefore, what is being practiced here cannot be called a simple biblical study group. It is through and through "a service of worship [unto the Lord]."

14. When the scripture is read aloud, we mustn't follow the literal text with just [our] eyes, listening haphazardly. Instead, unless necessary, we shouldn't even open the scriptures. We should listen. Then as we think, "What is God saying to us today?," we pay close attention with all of our heart. We mustn't listen only to the sermon and the words of the pastor. We mustn't end up saying things like, "Today it was interesting," "Today it was boring." What is God saying to me today? What has [God] said? It is important to think over this.

15. If [our] faith life, now, has become a condition like that of a skeleton which has lost its life, let's re-build [our] faith lives once more! In treasuring the listening to the word of God, let's re-build again! If we act like we have a dried out life, it is nobody else's fault. It is a problem with our own awareness. Let's turn our awareness onto God! Let's renew in the area of worship, in the area of the Lord's Supper later. We are here in this place but we are not merely categorized as "Christian followers" in a religious category. As we listen to the word of the living God, we are alive together with the living God.