Mark 7:14-23

14 Again Jesus called the crowd to him and said, “Listen to me, everyone, and understand this. 15 Nothing outside a person can defile them by going into them. Rather, it is what comes out of a person that defiles them.” [16] 

17 After he had left the crowd and entered the house, his disciples asked him about this parable. 18 “Are you so dull?” he asked. “Don’t you see that nothing that enters a person from the outside can defile them?19 For it doesn’t go into their heart but into their stomach, and then out of the body.” (In saying this, Jesus declared all foods clean.)

20 He went on: “What comes out of a person is what defiles them. 21 For it is from within, out of a person’s heart, that evil thoughts come—sexual immorality, theft, murder, 22 adultery, greed, malice, deceit, lewdness, envy, slander, arrogance and folly. 23 All these evils come from inside and defile a person.”
(Mark 7:14-23 NIV)

We come to the end of this section about Jesus and the Pharisees’ confrontation about following God’s Law or the traditions of men.  The Pharisees had taken Jesus to task about His disciples not performing the ceremonial hand washing before they ate.

Jesus has addressed the Pharisees’ hardness of heart and their hypocrisy by pointing out the conflict between God’s Law regarding the treatment of their parents (the fifth commandment) vs. their oral traditions which they placed above God’s Law and used as a means of getting around God’s Law.

In today’s passage, Jesus turns His attention from the Pharisees to teach the crowd gathered around them.  Jesus teaches the crowd that it is not what goes into a person’s digestive system that defiles them, but what comes out of the heart and mind.

After Jesus had finished His teaching, Jesus’ disciples asked Him the meaning of the parable.   Jesus scolds them for not understanding, then proceeds to explain the meaning.  Jesus tells His disciples that sin is not an outward issue of what goes into our bodies, but rather, an inward issue of what comes out of us.

By moving the source of the problem (sin) from external (what we do) to internal (who we are), Jesus completely redefines the concept of “clean” and “unclean”.  Not even Jesus’ disciples fully grasped the reality and depth of this statement until after His death,  resurrection, and ascension into heaven.

Note Mark’s parenthetical declaration in verse 19b.  As Peter recalled these events and Mark recorded them, Peter was probably reliving his vision of the sheet coming down and the Lord telling him to “kill and eat” any of the “unclean” animals on the sheet (Acts 10:9-16 and Acts 11:2-18).

Jesus concludes this section by noting that sin comes not from the outside, but from deep within each person (including me and you).  The list of sins that Jesus mentions is not inclusive.  Jesus uses the list to demonstrate that evil comes from the inside, not the outside.

William Barclay provides a great summary:

“In effect Jesus was saying that things cannot be either unclean or clean in any real religious sense of the term.  Only persons can be really defiled; and what defiles a person is his own actions, which are the product of his own heart.  This was new doctrine and shatteringly new doctrine.  The Jew had, and still has, a whole system of things which are clean and unclean.  With one sweeping pronouncement Jesus declared the whole thing irrelevant and that uncleanness has nothing to do with what a man takes into his body but everything to do with what comes out of his heart.”
(William Barclay, “The Gospel of Mark, Revised Edition.  Louisville, Kentucky:  Westminster John Knox Press, 1975, p. 173).

Dear friend, if you are a follower of Jesus Christ, may you remember that this sin condition is who we were before we yielded our life to Christ.  Christ has not abolished or set aside God’s Law but fulfilled it on our behalf through His death, burial, and resurrection.  Jesus sees us in our redeemed condition through what He did for us on the cross.

May Paul’s words be an encouragement to our hearts today:

Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit who gives life has set you free from the law of sin and death.
(Romans 8:1-2 NIV)

If you are a follower of Christ but feel overwhelmed by the outward “rules” that you feel you must follow to earn God’s love through performance, may you find your freedom, grace, and peace today.

Blessings,
~kevin

Mark 7:9-13

And he continued, “You have a fine way of setting aside the commands of God in order to observe your own traditions! 10 For Moses said, ‘Honor your father and mother,’ and, ‘Anyone who curses their father or mother is to be put to death.’ 11 But you say that if anyone declares that what might have been used to help their father or mother is Corban (that is, devoted to God)— 12 then you no longer let them do anything for their father or mother. 13 Thus you nullify the word of God by your tradition that you have handed down. And you do many things like that.”
(Mark 7:9-13 NIV)

In yesterday’s passage, we saw the Pharisees take Jesus to task for His disciples not keeping the oral traditions of washing their hands before eating.  This was not about proper hygiene, but about maintaining ceremonial cleanliness (not following the Pharisee’s rules).

As a quick reminder from yesterday, the Pharisees believed that Moses gave two sets of commands from God:  The first was the written Law (the first five books of the Old Testament), given to Aaron and the priests, and the second was the oral law, given to Joshua and the elders.  The Pharisees held both of these in equally high esteem.

The Pharisees’ focus seemed to be on Moses more than God.  In fact, they called themselves “disciples of Moses” (John 9:28) and not children of God.  As we learned yesterday, Jesus focused only on God’s Law and rejected the oral traditions of the Pharisees.

Jesus ended yesterday’s passage (vv. 6-8) by quoting Isaiah 29:13 to condemn the Pharisees’ teaching their oral tradition as God’s Word.  Jesus then told the Pharisees that they had abandoned God’s Word in favor of their oral traditions.

As we pick up the story today, Jesus uses a glaring example to show how their oral tradition is in direct conflict with God’s written Law given through Moses.

In verse 10, Jesus quotes God’s 5th commandment to honor our father and mother (Exodus 20:12) and the consequences of not obeying this command (Exodus 21:17).  God’s command was not optional, nor was it trivial – obedience was a matter of life and death!

In verse 11, Jesus cites the Pharisees’ misuse of the principle of corban to deny help to their parents and thus invalidate the fifth commandment to honor their parents.

In short, “corban” (Hebrew, “qorban“) means “an offering to God”.  This Hebrew word was used over 80 times in the Old Testament, in the books of Leviticus, Numbers, and Ezekiel.  This word depicts an offering of an unblemished animal that shows the love and devotion of the one presenting the gift.  This outward gift reflects the inward heart of the giver.

The Pharisees had turned the principle of corban around to mean “consecrated” (reserved for God) and “forbidden” (no one else could use it).  What God intended as a means for His people to present a blessing to Himself from the hearts of His people, the Pharisees turned into a form of a curse against one another, even children against their parents.

The Pharisees’ practice of corban did not require immediate delivery of the gift to God; the giver could use the gift in the intervening time.   For example, if the parents were in dire need of assistance (like needing a new roof on their house) but were unable to afford it, they would ask their children for help.  The children could declare their spare funds “corban” (reserved for God) and thus deny their request.

In verse 12, Jesus turned the tables on the Pharisees and held them accountable for their teachings and the peoples’ subsequent behavior, just as the Pharisees had tried to hold Jesus accountable for His disciples not keeping themselves ceremonially clean.

In verse 13, Jesus tells the Pharisees that in this one example alone, they are nullifying God’s Word by following their oral traditions.  Jesus indicated that this was just one example of many that He could cite of how the Pharisees were putting their oral traditions before God’s Law.

As we look at today’s passage, do we use so-called “rules” to disobey God’s Law?  Do we put rules before love?  Or do we put love before rules, as Jesus demonstrated in His own life?

May we never use one Scripture passage to invalidate another; God’s Word is true, and it is consistent.  May we live in love from the heart, not just to look good on the outside by following a set of rules.

Blessings,
~kevin

Mark 7:1-8

The Pharisees and some of the teachers of the law who had come from Jerusalem gathered around Jesus and saw some of his disciples eating food with hands that were defiled, that is, unwashed. (The Pharisees and all the Jews do not eat unless they give their hands a ceremonial washing, holding to the tradition of the elders. When they come from the marketplace they do not eat unless they wash. And they observe many other traditions, such as the washing of cups, pitchers and kettles.)

So the Pharisees and teachers of the law asked Jesus, “Why don’t your disciples live according to the tradition of the elders instead of eating their food with defiled hands?”

He replied, “Isaiah was right when he prophesied about you hypocrites; as it is written:

“‘These people honor me with their lips,
    but their hearts are far from me.
They worship me in vain;
    their teachings are merely human rules.’

You have let go of the commands of God and are holding on to human traditions.”
(Mark 7:1-8 NIV)

Today’s passage is actually the beginning of a larger passage (verses 1 – 23) where Jesus takes on the Pharisees and their traditions.

As we finished chapter 6 yesterday, Jesus and His disciples were in the Gennesaret region, going from village to village healing people.  As we begin chapter 7, Mark is not clear about the timing or location of these events.  The location is not important to these interactions – they could have taken place anywhere within Israel where the people were expected to follow the rabbinic traditions of the Pharisees.

Jesus has had other run-ins with the scribes and the Pharisees (chapters 2 and 3); now the Pharisees are now back to investigate Jesus.  Before, the Pharisees had accused Jesus of breaking the Law by healing on the Sabbath.  Now, the Pharisees accuse Jesus’ disciples (and thus Jesus) of something much more pervasive – ceremonial uncleanness.

In Exodus 30:17-21, God described a ceremonial washing for Aaron and the priests before they came before the Lord and performed their priestly duties.  The Pharisees believed in the “priesthood of all believers”; that is, they believed everyone was to follow the commands God laid out for Aaron and the other priests.  The Pharisees thought that this made them more acceptable in God’s sight.  God never said that everyone had to follow this command to Aaron and the priests.

This washing of hands before eating was not about hygiene or sanitation; this was strictly about ceremonial cleanliness, about following the traditions of men.

A short history lesson will help us understand the Pharisee’s thought process.  The Pharisees believed that Moses handed down the Law (the Ten Commandments) to Aaron and the priests.  They also believed that Moses gave an oral (unwritten) law to Joshua and the elders.  The Pharisees believed both the written Law and the oral law were equal in value and weight; both must be obeyed.  Of course, this oral law was human tradition, not given by or sanctioned by God.

In verses 3  -4, Mark provides a brief explanation to his Gentile (non-Jewish) readers about the traditions of the Pharisees.  He explains how ceremonial purity is pervasive in Jewish life – from washing the dirt off after being in the market, before eating, and even how eating vessels, earthenware vessels, and metal vessels are affected.

In verse 5, the Pharisees confront Jesus directly.  They are not accusing Jesus of eating in ceremonial uncleanness -they are accusing His disciples of doing so.  And in Jesus’ day, the master (the teacher) was held accountable for the actions of his followers.

In verse 6, Jesus begins His reply.  Mark notes that Jesus called the Pharisees hypocrites, then quotes Isaiah 29:13 as his basis of judgment.  Jesus then summarizes His condemnation in verse 8, accusing the Pharisees of dropping God’s Law in favor of their oral traditions.

Jesus accused the Pharisees of being hypocrites because they were like the Greek actors – pretending to be something on the outside that they were not on the inside.  According to the Pharisees, as long as they followed the outward traditions of ceremonial cleanliness, the inward condition of their hearts did not matter.  Yes, God gave the Israelites His Law to govern their relationship with Him and with each other, but it was not to be the basis of their righteousness.  In Deuteronomy 6:5 and many other places in the Old Testament, God commanded the Israelites to live from the heart, from the inside out.

Whenever we put human tradition on equal footing with God, we have made the human tradition an idol in our life.  By putting human tradition in equal stead with God, we have pushed God off to the side and make that tradition our god.

May we give God the glory that is due Him, and not look to prop our own self-righteousness.

May our life be genuine and come from the heart, from the inside, and not just be a stage prop to look good on the outside.

Blessings,
~kevin

Mark 6:53-56

53 When they had crossed over, they landed at Gennesaret and anchored there. 54 As soon as they got out of the boat, people recognized Jesus.55 They ran throughout that whole region and carried the sick on mats to wherever they heard he was. 56 And wherever he went—into villages, towns or countryside—they placed the sick in the marketplaces. They begged him to let them touch even the edge of his cloak, and all who touched it were healed.
(Mark 6:53-56 NIV)

In our last passage, Jesus had just fed the five thousand, then immediately sent His disciples away in a boat while He dispersed the crowds to their homes.

Jesus told the disciples to head for Bethsaida, on the northern tip of Lake Genneserat.  The disciples ran into some strong headwinds and were not making progress toward their destination.  Jesus saw their plight from His hillside vantage point and walked out on the water to encourage them.  The disciples thought Jesus was a ghost and were scared out of their wits.  Jesus spoke to them, identified Himself, then climbed into the boat with them.  The winds died down immediately.

Starting in today’s passage, we see Jesus and His disciples ministering again, this time at Gennesaret, just south of Capernaum on the western shore of the Sea of Galilee.  The map below shows the relative locations of the towns around the Sea of Galilee.

sea_of_galilee-bethsaida-gennererat

There is a question about the timing of verses 52 and 53.  Were these two verses in immediate succession to one another (no gap in time), or were they separated by some indeterminate time period?

If the two verses were back-to-back, this would imply that the disciples were up all night rowing against the wind, arriving in Gennesaret bone-tired in the early morning, only to be mobbed again by crowds wanting something from Jesus and from them.  This would also imply that these experienced fishermen had gotten blown completely off course, and instead of heading north and east to Bethsaida (where Jesus sent them), they wound up in Gennesaret, which is south and west of their intended destination.

If there is a time gap between verses 52 and 53, this means that Jesus and the disciples did make their way to Bethsaida, where they were able to rest and recuperate, as Jesus intended.  The time gap also fits with the travel description in verse 53 – “When they had crossed over”, implying that they had indeed crossed sides in the lake, not just drifted south and west from their starting point.

In either case, Jesus and the disciples end up in Gennesaret.  As soon as they moored their boat, the locals recognized Jesus and brought their sick to be healed.

Verse 55 indicates that the people were carrying their sick family members and friends to wherever they heard Jesus was at the time or planned to be in the future.  They hoped to cross paths with Jesus so the sick could touch the hem of his outer robe and be healed.

Mark mentions nothing about Jesus teaching or preaching, only of the crowds’ desire in every town and village to receive healing from Jesus.

What is our attitude toward Jesus?  Is our relationship with Him such that we only care what we can get from Him?  Or do we give Him our ourselves, as we would our best friend, expecting nothing in return?

We are all guilty (to some extent) of being needy toward the Lord.  May we stop and offer Him our time and attention, our love, and our worship.  He knows our needs and promises to meet them; His heart, however, desires our affections offered freely to Him, just as He first loved us.

Blessings,
~kevin

Mark 6:45-52

45 Immediately Jesus made his disciples get into the boat and go on ahead of him to Bethsaida, while he dismissed the crowd. 46 After leaving them, he went up on a mountainside to pray.

47 Later that night, the boat was in the middle of the lake, and he was alone on land. 48 He saw the disciples straining at the oars, because the wind was against them. Shortly before dawn he went out to them, walking on the lake. He was about to pass by them, 49 but when they saw him walking on the lake, they thought he was a ghost. They cried out, 50 because they all saw him and were terrified.

Immediately he spoke to them and said, “Take courage! It is I. Don’t be afraid.” 51 Then he climbed into the boat with them, and the wind died down. They were completely amazed, 52 for they had not understood about the loaves; their hearts were hardened.
(Mark 6:45-52 NIV)

Jesus had just finished feeding the five thousand in our previous passage.  The disciples were not bystanders in the miracle – they were active participants, serving the crowd and gathering the remaining food – just enough for each of the Twelve to have a meal.

As soon as the last bits of food were in the disciples’ lunch pails, Jesus forced His disciples off to a boat and ordered them to head to Bethsaida.  Our first thought might be that Jesus was concerned about their health (His original intent, after all, was to bring them to a remote place where they could rest – v. 31).  In this scenario, Jesus was simply being the good and gracious host, sending His disciples off to a well-deserved rest while He blessed the crowds and sent them back to their homes.

When we read the parallel passage in John’s Gospel (John 6:14-15), we see a much different view of the situation.  John tells us that Jesus sensed that the crowd wanted to force Jesus to be their earthly king.   In reality, Jesus likely sent His disciples off before they caught wind of this poisonous and highly contagious idea.  Jesus then quickly disbursed the crowds to their homes before heading for the mountains by Himself.

The evening is late when all this transpires; Jesus heads off to the mountains to pray, while His disciples are in a boat headed for Bethsaida.  Mark records that sometime between 3 AM and 6 AM, the disciples have still not made the Bethsaida shore.  From His vantage point on the mountain, Jesus can see that the disciples are still struggling against the wind that is pushing against them in the middle of the lake.

Jesus leaves His mountain perch and walks out to meet His disciples, walking across the windy waves.  The disciples, likely bone tired from the day and still without sleep trying to get to Bethsaida, think they are seeing a ghost as Jesus approaches the boat.  The disciples’ natural reaction is that of fear.

Jesus speaks to His disciples and comforts them with His words, then climbs in the boat with them.  The wind dies down, and the disciples are completely amazed.  Mark records (from Peter’s perspective, no doubt) that the disciples still did not comprehend who Jesus was.  They still saw Jesus as a prophet with miraculous powers, an incredible man of God.  But even though the disciples had just experienced Jesus performing an indescribable miracle in which they had actively participated, they still did not see Jesus as God’s Son, the Messiah.

Before we discredit the disciples for not seeing what is going on, we have to look in the mirror.  Have you ever had the same experience as the disciples as you look back over your life and see God’s hand of Providence working on your behalf?  From your current perspective now, God’s intervention in your life back then is as plain as day, but yet you completely missed it at the time it was happening.  I am raising my hand and nodding in agreement with you.

And now we understand how Peter could have told Mark that the disciples’ hearts (including his own) were hardened, and they completely missed Jesus’ revealing His glory and power through the unmiraculous miracle of feeding the multitude.

And what about now?  What are we struggling against under our own power?  What contrarian wind are we trying to row the “boat” of our life against, making no progress, and exhausting ourselves in the process?

Like the disciples, when will we remember and relate our prior experiences of Jesus calming the storms and headwinds in our life, and in faith, ask for His help?

May we start with Jesus and our humble submission to Him in faith, rather than going in circles and landing at the foot of the cross in utter exhaustion.

Blessings,
~kevin

Mark 6:35-44

35 By this time it was late in the day, so his disciples came to him. “This is a remote place,” they said, “and it’s already very late. 36 Send the people away so that they can go to the surrounding countryside and villages and buy themselves something to eat.”

37 But he answered, “You give them something to eat.”

They said to him, “That would take more than half a year’s wages! Are we to go and spend that much on bread and give it to them to eat?”

38 “How many loaves do you have?” he asked. “Go and see.”

When they found out, they said, “Five—and two fish.”

39 Then Jesus directed them to have all the people sit down in groups on the green grass. 40 So they sat down in groups of hundreds and fifties.41 Taking the five loaves and the two fish and looking up to heaven, he gave thanks and broke the loaves. Then he gave them to his disciples to distribute to the people. He also divided the two fish among them all.42 They all ate and were satisfied, 43 and the disciples picked up twelve basketfuls of broken pieces of bread and fish. 44 The number of the men who had eaten was five thousand.
(Mark 6:35-44 NIV)

Today’s passage is a favorite for many – Jesus feeding the five thousand.  This story is one of the few that is recorded in all four Gospel accounts.  The impact of this event was evident to every one of the Gospel writers.

In our last passage, we saw Jesus gather up His disciples to give them some rest.  They were so busy ministering that they didn’t even have time to eat.  They boarded a boat and headed across Lake Gennesaret to a quiet wilderness spot.  The crowd, still wanting more from Jesus and His disciples, anticipated where Jesus and the disciples were headed and ran around the top of the lake and were waiting for them when they came ashore.

Jesus, feeling compassion for the crowd that was as lost as sheep without a shepherd, began caring for them spiritually, teaching them many things.

As the end of the day drew near, Jesus’ disciples urged Jesus to send the crowd away so they could eat.  Jesus, ever the teacher looking for the teachable moment, with a gleam in His eye told the disciples to feed the crowd.

The disciples responded disrespectfully and sarcastically, telling Jesus that even an entire year’s wages would not feed this crowd.  The disciples were still thinking naturally, not supernaturally.  They were looking to their own abilities rather than looking to the Lord for His provision.  And being itinerant preachers, no one had that kind of money, even if they pooled all their resources.

Jesus had the disciples take an inventory of what they did have.  All they could find was a poor child’s lunch: five bite-sized barley mini-rolls and two sardine-sized salted fish.  Jesus took the meager meal and fed the entire crowd – five thousand men plus women and children (likely fifteen to twenty thousand people in total).

After everyone was full and satisfied, Jesus had the disciples gather up what was left so nothing went to waste.  In Jesus’ perfect provision, there were exactly twelve lunch-pail servings left over – just right for His disciples to have their fill, also.

As I contemplated this amazing story, several things became evident.  One was that the people being fed were totally unaware of the miracle being performed right before their eyes.  The disciples had gone through the crowd to find food; the people likely thought they had scrounged up enough to share.  The miracle was unmiraculous to the untrained senses and hearts.

The other thing that came to mind was the parallels of this story to David’s 23rd Psalm:

The Lord is my shepherd, I lack nothing.
    He makes me lie down in green pastures,
he leads me beside quiet waters,
    he refreshes my soul.
He guides me along the right paths
    for his name’s sake.
(Psalm 23:1-3 NIV)

  • Jesus took on the role of shepherd for this wayward crowd.
  • He satisfied their lack of spiritual and physical food
  • He made them lie down (sit down) on the green grass (pasture)
  • He led them beside the quiet waters of Lake Gennesaret
  • He restored their soul through the quiet solitude of the wilderness setting
  • He gave them guidance in righteous living by His example as host of this gathering
  • He did all this to worship the Father as He broke the bread and gave thanks

If Jesus can do this unmiraculous miracle with something as simple as a child’s lunch, how much more can and will He do through us if we will simply allow Him to use us as He sees fit?

May we put ourselves in Jesus’ hands,  allowing His to break us and supernaturally multiply our lives in others for His glory.

Blessings,
~kevin

Mark 6:30-34

30 The apostles gathered around Jesus and reported to him all they had done and taught. 31 Then, because so many people were coming and going that they did not even have a chance to eat, he said to them, “Come with me by yourselves to a quiet place and get some rest.”

32 So they went away by themselves in a boat to a solitary place. 33 But many who saw them leaving recognized them and ran on foot from all the towns and got there ahead of them. 34 When Jesus landed and saw a large crowd, he had compassion on them, because they were like sheep without a shepherd. So he began teaching them many things.
(Mark 6:30-34 NIV)

In today’s text, Mark resumes the story of Jesus sending His disciples out in pairs to minister in Jewish villages.  Verse 30 records the disciples returning and telling Jesus all the things that happened during their ministry.

Notice that Mark calls the disciples “apostles” – meaning “missionaries” or “sent ones”.  And like a child coming home from an errand and a stray dog or cat following them home, others gathered around the disciples to hear and be healed.  Mark records that there were so many and the need was so great that the disciples did not even have time to eat.

Jesus recognized their need for rest and pulled them away from the crowd.  They got in a boat and were headed for a solitary place in the Judean wilderness.  Jesus knew the value of healthy boundaries between work and rest and sought to give His disciples that balance.

Because the Sea of Galilee is not that big (you can see across the lake from every point on the shore), the crowd figured out where Jesus and the disciples were going, ran around the top of the lake, and met them when they arrived on the other shore.

In verse 34, notice Jesus’ reaction to the crowd.  He was not angry, nor was He resentful toward the crowd for not leaving them alone.  Instead, Jesus had compassion on the crowds because He saw their spiritual hunger.

Mark (via Peter) records Jesus’ emotional response and reasoning – that Jesus saw the people as sheep without a shepherd, in desperate need of care.  When Mark used this word choice, it was a reminder of Numbers 27:16-17, where God promised to provide a leader for the people so they would not be like sheep without a shepherd.  Ezekiel 34 is another passage where the Lord condemns the “shepherds” (the religious leaders) of His people as only looking out for themselves and not caring for the sheep (God’s people).  God promises to send a shepherd from the lineage of David to be their shepherd.  Jesus was the fulfillment of that promise made so many centuries earlier.

As mentioned above, Jesus saw the crowd’s spiritual hunger and began teaching them.  Mark, true to form, does not disclose the substance of Jesus’ teaching, only that He taught them “many things”.

Jesus’ feeding the flock spiritually in the wilderness is reminiscent of God feeding His people spiritually in the wilderness after Egypt and before the Promised Land during the days of Moses.  And as we shall see in the next text, Jesus provides for the people’s physical hunger along with their spiritual hunger, just as God provided manna and quail for the children of Israel during their wilderness experience many generations ago.

May we remember God’s hand of provision to feed us both spiritually and physically, to give us both work and rest, and the example to set healthy boundaries for each.

May we have a grateful heart to the Lord for His promises, example, and provision.  May we spend time with the Shepherd of our bodies and souls as our worship today.

Blessings,
~kevin