The Earthly Religious Leaders

Theme: The Earthly and the Spiritual
Mark 7:1-13
Now when the Pharisees gathered to him, with some of the scribes who had come from Jerusalem, they saw that some of his disciples ate with hands that were defiled, that is, unwashed. (For the Pharisees and all the Jews do not eat unless they wash their hands properly, holding to the tradition of the elders, and when they come from the marketplace, they do not eat unless they wash. And there are many other traditions that they observe, such as the washing of cups and pots and copper vessels and dining couches.) And the Pharisees and the scribes asked him, “Why do your disciples not walk according to the tradition of the elders, but eat with defiled hands?” And he said to them, “Well did Isaiah prophesy of you hypocrites, as it is written,
“‘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.’
You leave the commandment of God and hold to the tradition of men.”
And he said to them, “You have a fine way of rejecting the commandment of God in order to establish your tradition! For Moses said, ‘Honor your father and your mother’; and, ‘Whoever reviles father or mother must surely die.’ But you say, ‘If a man tells his father or his mother, “Whatever you would have gained from me is Corban”’ (that is, given to God)—then you no longer permit him to do anything for his father or mother, thus making void the word of God by your tradition that you have handed down. And many such things you do.”


This life of faith, this spiritual life that Jesus came to reveal, is seen even more clearly when it stands in contrast to the religious life of the scribes and Pharisees. Mark introduces this contrast between earthly and spiritual religion again in Mark 7, wherein the first eight verses, these men involve Jesus in an argument about ceremonial washings and the eating of unclean foods. As usual, their concern was with ceremonialism and not with inward holiness. But for Jesus, the concern was not the posture of the worshiper’s body, the soberness of his face, or the ritual that accomplished outward acceptability. Jesus’ concern was the submission of the heart. There is no good to be done by taking your body to church if you leave your heart outside. That is why Jesus calls them hypocrites in verses 6-8. Instead of using human traditions as helpful supplements to Scripture, these men had gone further, first to make the traditions equal to Scripture and finally to make them supersede scripture, degrading God’s, Word and making an idol out of human principles. This was an idol that left them free to sin against God without any pangs of conscience (vv. 9-13).
This leads to Jesus’ stinging denunciation of the Pharisees’ whole approach to spirituality. “Listen to me now, all of you, and understand this. There is nothing outside a man which can enter into him and make him ‘common.’ It is the things which go out of a man that make him ‘common’!” Later, when He had gone indoors away from the crowd, His disciples asked Him about this parable. “Oh, are you as dull as they are?” He said. “Can’t you see that anything that goes into a man from outside cannot make him ‘common’ or unclean? You see, it doesn’t go into his heart, but into his stomach, and passes out of the body altogether, so that all food is clean enough. But,” He went on, “whatever comes out of a man, that is what makes a man ‘common or unclean. For it is from inside, from men’s hearts and minds, that evil thoughts arise—lust, theft, murder, adultery, greed, wickedness, deceit, sensuality, envy, slander, arrogance and folly! All these evil things come from inside a man and make him unclean!” (7:14-23, PH)
This is one of the most important paragraphs in Jesus’ entire teaching, for it turns upside down some common theology that is fostered by the devil. The devil wants people to believe that he is responsible for human sin, for then people say, “Well, after all, what can I do? I’m just a little amateur and he’s in the big leagues; I can’t fight against him. I might as well roll over.”


  • What is the difference between earthly and spiritual religion?
  • What was the main folly of the Pharisees?
  • How is Christ’s understanding of religion fundamental different than that of the Pharisees?

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