NB: For some mysterious reason, I cannot find the notes I had for the second half of Mark 6. Oh, well. On to chapter 7.
In this next passage, we find that the Lord Jesus Christ rejects man-made piety in the strongest possible terms, and in a way calculated to offend the devout.
“Then came together unto him the Pharisees, and certain of the scribes, which came from Jerusalem” (Mark 7: 1-23).
Mark returns now to the on-going controversy Christ had with the religious leaders of His day (v. 1). Note that this collision occurs right prior to Christ’s ministry to Gentiles. These theologians had reduced true religion to externals, like the washing of hands, and so they found fault with Christ’s disciples (v. 2). Like all such folly, it began well, in this case emphasizing the priesthood of all believers. The Pharisees had wanted all Jews to submit the requirements for cleansing that the law applied to the priests and Levites.
Because Mark was not writing for Jews, as Matthew was, he takes a moment to explain the custom of the Jews at this point. According to the tradition of the elders, the Jews would not eat apart from ceremonial washings (v. 3). This washing with cupped hand is called by Mark a baptism. They provide the same kind of baptisms for their household utensils (v. 4). And so the challenge is made against Jesus on this basis — why do your disciples disregard the tradition of the elders (v. 5)?
Jesus answers their question with a direct challenge to their entire system of piety. Isaiah got it right, the Lord said. The prophet did well in foreseeing your hypocrisy (v. 6.). These men honor God with the mouth, but keep their heart far away. The instrument they use for doing this is the teaching of man-made doctrine as though it were the word of God (v. 7). The issue was not the mere existence of tradition, but rather the antithetical choice between supplanting, ungodly tradition (v. 8) and submissive tradition (2 Thess. 2:15; 3:6). We have the additional factor of the traditions we (necessarily) develop. What role do they have? The issue is over the binding of the conscience. Christ uses fine irony here. Christ commends them: “good job on that disobedience of yours.” Full well ye reject the commandment (v. 9).
We learn here that honor of parents includes financial support, and that overt, cursing dishonor is worthy of death. This is one of those “embarrassing sections” out of the Old Testament law which didn’t seem to bother Christ any (v. 10). The legal issue surrounding Corban for the scribes was the keeping of an oath. And Corban did not mean the money had to go to the Temple; it simply kept the money from going to the parents in case the donor might want to give it to the Temple. Further, he could not change his mind later (vv. 11-12). Tou do this all the time — you, the Lord says, have this down to a system (v. 13). And what they are after is the right of biblical nullification. They want the right to nullify the Bible.
At this point, Jesus gathers everyone around. He wants them to get this point (v. 14). What is the heart of the matter? Ingestion is spiritually irrelevant—a man cannot be spiritually defiled by what he eats (v. 15). Think about it (v. 16). By the way, this principle is one which Americans in particular need to hear—if they have ears. Jesus declared all foods clean (v. 19), which includes Cocoa Puffs.
Jesus then tells a strange parable — this comment about food at first strikes us as straight didactic teaching. But it is a parable (v. 17), and the disciples ask Him about it. They are still in the grip of their hardness (v. 18), and so Jesus chides them. There is a play on words here — what a man eats cannot defile him (v. 18). It does not go to his heart (v. 19), but rather to his stomach and then out into the latrine. The excrement goes out of a man (in the Greek, one word). In the same way (and described with the same word), sin is the excrement of the human heart, and goes out into the world. For the ungodly, the world is their toilet.
What comes out of a man’s heart, this defiles a man (v. 20). Jesus tells us what this excrement looks like, so there can be no mistake. “Evil thoughts, adulteries, fornications . . .” (vv. 21-22). This is what defiles a man (v. 23). Men want to believe that this excrement comes from outside, and not from within. The fundamental problem is not companions, the world, the Internet, school, the devil, or any external thing. We are the ones who foul our own nest. Only one solution has ever been offered to the sons of men, and this is the gospel of Christ.