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God’s Word for You

Mark 7:5-8 Hypocrites

by Pastor Timothy Smith on Tuesday, November 12, 2019

5 So the Pharisees and scribes asked Jesus, “Why don’t your disciples walk according to the tradition of the elders instead of eating their bread with unclean hands?”

The key word in verse 5 is “elders” (πρεσβυτέρων). The scribes were so certain that they had caught Jesus in an error that they had no idea of their own mistake. They had seen his disciples eating without undergoing any ceremonial washing. This consisted of dipping either the fingertips or the hand all the way to the wrist in a water jar found outside orthodox Jewish homes (just how much of the hand was necessary for this was the subject of yet another debate among the Pharisees). The problem was that this was not a teaching from God, but only from “the elders.” They were equating what they taught with the doctrines of the Holy Scriptures.

6 He answered them, “Isaiah was right when he prophesied about you hypocrites. As it is written:
  ‘These people honor me with their lips,
    but their hearts remain distant, far from me.
7 They worship me in vain;
  teaching commandments of men as doctrines’
8 You have dismissed the commands of God and are holding fast to the traditions of men.”

Jesus cites Isaiah 29:13. In context, Isaiah was talking about the spiritual downfall of Israel that led to the Assyrian captivity. Notice the severity of the Lord’s words as he says, “These people” rather than “my people.” The lip service of the Jews then brought about their destruction and captivity. Is God any less displeased when someone today goes through the motions of going to church and saying mealtime prayers, but does not truly trust in God and in the forgiveness that he offers through Jesus? God let Assyria sweep through Israel in order to show his people how serious he is about sin. He is a jealous God; he won’t share our worship with any other god. And when we wander from him, sometimes he uses the rod of punishment to call us back.

Jesus calls the scribes (and their Pharisee colleagues) hypocrites. “Hypocrite” is a Greek word from hypo- “beneath” and krites “a mask.” Some ancient Greeks may have understood this to mean an actor who interprets the words of a playwright, but throughout the Bible (more than 20 occurrences) it means someone who is secretly an unbeliever but who pretends to be a believer. There are three marks of a hypocrite which are revealed both by Isaiah and by the Lord here:

1, Lip service. They seem to honor God with their words and/or actions, but they really don’t honor God at all.

2, Teachings that are presented as right doctrine, but which only reflect unbelief. They insist that their teaching is right, but they say, in effect, “My way is better than God’s way.”

3, Hearts that are truly distant and far away from God. They don’t really care about Christ or the forgiveness of sins because they truly don’t believe that they need Christ or forgiveness; that what they do isn’t really all that bad.

The second point should be looked at more carefully. One teaching of the Bible is emphasized throughout the Holy Scriptures: Justification by faith in Christ alone. This is the pillar upon which the Church stands or falls. When anyone takes a teaching of the Bible apart from that pillar and holds it up as more important than anything else, this says to God and to all: My way is better than God’s way. “Better” might secretly mean more logical, or more reasonable, or it might mean easier, simpler, more politically correct, or any number of things. But it means rejecting what God has said.

This false teaching is one example among many that sin runs rampant throughout our fallen world. Each and every human being needs a Savior from this and all other sins. The true Christian Church teaches that since the fall of Adam all human beings who are born in the natural way are born in sin. They—we—are without fear of God and without true faith in God, and this is an unborn and inherited sickness that damns us and means eternal damnation to everyone who is not born again through baptism and the gospel by the Holy Spirit. Our sinful attitudes show an inclination or leaning toward sin which the sinful mind cannot overcome. But we are judged by God to be innocent of this and all other sin because the penalty for our sins was inflicted on the Son of God, who took our punishment in our place (Colossians 2:14; Isaiah 53:5). God is completely satisfied by this act (1 John 4:10). By trusting in this good news, we have put our faith in Jesus and are set free of our sins purely by the goodness and grace of God.

It is not hypocrisy to be a believer and yet stumble into sin. That’s just being a human and a Christian. Hypocrisy is claiming that one has no sin because of one’s own merit. Only by the blood of Jesus are we saved, not through our own merits (Romans 3:20). But through Jesus’ blood we are truly saved indeed.

In Christ,
Pastor Timothy Smith

Pastor Tim Smith

About Pastor Timothy Smith
Pastor Smith serves St. Paul’s Lutheran Church in New Ulm, Minnesota. To receive God’s Word for You via e-mail, please contact Pastor Smith.


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