Mark 7.1-23

Title: The Traditions of Men

Text: Mark 7.1-23

Introduction: Our text this morning is Mark 7.1-23. As we left off two weeks ago, we saw Jesus ministering to the people in the region of the Gennesaret. You see that there in 6.53ff; 6.51-52 give us some context of what’s coming in the next chapter and beyond. 51 And he got into the boat with them, and the wind ceased. And they were utterly astounded, 52 for they did not understand about the loaves, but their hearts were hardened. It just doesn’t seem to fit, does it? They’re astounded and amazed and every time they’re ‘astounded or amazed’ this has been presented as a positive for them. cf.: 1.22, 27; 2.12; 5.20, 42

1.22 And they were astonished at his teaching, for he taught them as one who had authority, and not as the scribes. And in v 27: 27 And they were all amazed, so that they questioned among themselves, saying, “What is this? A new teaching with authority! He commands even the unclean spirits, and they obey him.”

2.12 And he rose and immediately picked up his bed and went out before them all, so that they were all amazed and glorified God, saying, “We never saw anything like this!”

5.20 And he went away and began to proclaim in the Decapolis how much Jesus had done for him, and everyone marveled. And in v 42; 42 And immediately the girl got up and began walking (for she was twelve years of age), and they were immediately overcome with amazement.

It has been positive for them, that is, until now. Now we see them… utterly astounded, 52 for they did not understand about the loaves, but their hearts were hardened. Two negatives: not understanding and hardened hearts.

This should create some problems for us – it should cause us to question:

  1. What is it they do not understand about the loaves?
  2. What does Mark mean when he says their hearts were hardened? Are they in danger of becoming like the Pharisees?

Now, we talked about this at our WEBS, so I don’t want to rehash that here. But there is more, because, within just a few verses, the Pharisees will complain about the disciples and their distribution of this bread without participating in the ceremonial washing that the Religious leaders require.

Don’t miss this connection with the bread and 2ndly, with hard hearts. Look at v 6; – where Jesus quotes Isaiah –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;

This section will culminate in Chapter 8.14-21; where Jesus asks them: Do you not yet understand?  The answer is no… we’re not understanding what you’re doing. There in 8.21, we find the transition to the next section in Mark’s Gospel, where Jesus will set his face toward Jerusalem and his crucifixion. He will tell the disciples all about it, but we’ll see they aren’t getting it.

Let me pause right here and pray for eyes to see and ears to hear what God is teaching us… Pray.

Lord, Open my eyes, that I may behold wondrous things out of your law. 19 I am a sojourner on the earth; hide not your commandments from me! Give me a heart to follow closely after your heart. I pray this prayer, not just for myself, but for those who are listening. Open the eyes of our hearts and let us see the beauty of your ways. Soften these hearts to receive your teaching and then to commit, with all of our heart, to follow you, Lord. To abandon our traditions that exalt our ways above your Word. 

With this thought of the Bread of Life and the disciples missing what Jesus is teaching, let’s look at today’s passage, 7.1-23 with the understanding that Mark’s theme is focused on the hardness of the people’s hearts toward Christ, God in their midst.

There are three separate sections to this little story of the Pharisees and their confrontation with Jesus:

  1. The Pharisees are offended and confront Jesus about his disciples’ lack of discipline when it comes to the traditions of the elders (1-5).
  2. Jesus responds to the Pharisees hypocrisy with Scripture references and examples (6-13).
  3. Jesus uses this confrontation as a teaching moment to show his disciples the principles that characterize the heart of God (14-23).

To be fair, this is a typical outline repeated in God’s Word.

  1. You and I have God’s Word – our instruction for living our lives with distinction. A life that reflects His Glory. That is our purpose. Agreed? What is the Chief end of man? To glorify God and enjoy Him forever. (Picture of Umbrella over the head)
  2. We then create boundaries to assist us in our obedience. (Picture of 2nd Umbrella)
  3. Over time, the 2nd umbrella (tradition) becomes the foundation and supersedes the 1st umbrella (the Word of God).

The perfect example: Adam & Eve; God said, “You may surely eat of every tree of the garden, 17 but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die.”

By the time we get to Chapter 3 in Genesis, Eve has added to this command. The serpent asks her, “Did God actually say, ‘You shall not eat of any tree in the garden’?” And the woman said to the serpent, “We may eat of the fruit of the trees in the garden, but God said, ‘You shall not eat of the fruit of the tree that is in the midst of the garden, neither shall you touch it, lest you die.’ ”

So somewhere between the command of God to Adam and Eve’s confrontation with the serpent, The Word of God is superseded by the tradition.

Transition: So, let’s begin with this 1st section, and find out just what is so offensive to the Pharisees…

I. The Pharisees are offended and confront Jesus about his disciples’ lack of discipline when it comes to the traditions of the elders (1-5).

exp.: in v 1 and 2, we see why they’re offended; rd v 1-2; here we have…

  • The Offence: eating bread w/ unwashed, defiled hands. And all of God’s children said – NASTY! Yeah! Any germ-a-phobe like me is going to side with the Pharisees on this one! At first glance, you might say you agree with them. But is that really the problem? We have…
  • The Explanation: rd v 3-4; properly: Gk is unless they wash their hands with a fist. There is a certain way to wash, and the disciples aren’t doing that. When you read this, in the English, you get the idea that these guys were just eating with dirty hands. I’m with the Pharisees if that’s the case! But a closer look at the Gk tells us that their complaint wasn’t that they didn’t wash their hands; it was that they didn’t wash their hands “with a fist”. They didn’t wash their hands the way the Pharisees do! If it ain’t done like we do it… it ain’t done! So, here’s the deal: Jesus is responsible for his disciples. It might just be his fault as much as it is theirs. So, they confront Jesus about his apparent failure to teach the disciples how to wash themselves.
  • The Confrontation: rd v 5; the word translated ‘defiled’ is the word common. Common and Uncommon are words used in the Law to differentiate the clear distinction between the things of God and the things of man. Sometimes you see the words holy and unholy. This is the word they’re using here. They eat with common hands or unholy hands. When they say that the disciples are washing with unclean hands, they don’t mean they have dirt under their fingernails. Clean and Unclean, Uncommon and Common, Holy and Unholy – this is the terminology these folks would have been familiar with. You see their thought was that you had to baptize your hands before eating. And not just the hands, but also, the cups and pots and copper vessels and the dining couches and the… You get the idea.

t.s.: These disciples of Jesus aren’t practicing religious requirements like they should…”Jesus, why do you let that go on?”

II. Jesus Responds to the Pharisees’ hypocrisy with Scripture references and examples (6-13).

exp.: rd v 6; And he said to them… I wonder if there was a pause before he spoke. I wonder if he was quiet. The words Mark is using seem to me to be something you would say rather quickly and loudly. Rd v 6-7; Jesus quotes from Isaiah.

Just a side note, but Isaiah is quoted more than any other prophet in the OT.

I think two points are to be made by Jesus when quoting Isaiah.;

  1. These people were simply giving lip service to God. Their hearts were not in their worship.
  2. They had elevated their traditions to the level of the commands of God.  Or worse, above God’s commands.

He tells them straight out in v 8; You leave the commandment of God and hold to the tradition of men.” We see these same two points being made in v9-13; rd 9-13; Here we see the 5th commandment and the punishment for those who do not keep it. However, Jesus blatantly accuses the religious leaders of lining their pockets, so to speak, at the expense of honoring parents. These leaders would nullify the Word of God with the hopes of gaining whatever had been dedicated.

Jesus points out two commands in the OT – the 5th commandment to honor one’s parents and the steep penalty for abusing one’s parents. In biblical times, it was a great honor and privilege, as well as responsibility to care for one’s parents in their old age. I think we’ve maybe lost that. But I’ll press that issue in a different sermon. For now, these Pharisees have nullified these commands to line their pockets. Jesus says, rd v 12: then you no longer permit him to do anything for his father or mother,

app.: talk about hardened hearts! Jesus was revealing the hearts of these Pharisees and Religious leaders. Their hearts were indeed far from God.

t.s: So, these religious leaders have gotten more than they bargained for! They’re offended and so they confront Jesus. Now, Jesus turns to the people and teaches them with a parable.

III. Jesus uses this confrontation as a teaching moment to show his disciples the principles that characterize the heart of God (14-23).

exp.: rd v 14-15; Ok, so we’ve got a problem now; How can Jesus wipe away the law in just one statement like that? Isn’t he doing the same thing he is accusing the Pharisees of doing? I mean, at least to some degree. Note: The religious leaders are ignoring the Word of God to accomplish their own agenda. And now, Jesus nullifies much of the law by deeming all foods clean! The Disciples must think this very thing because they don’t get it. They’re without understanding. Look at v 17-19; there is a principle here that is being overlooked; common, holy, clean – this is a matter of the heart. The Law taught us these things. God instituted these laws and requirements to distinguish himself as separated from them. And he did the same for them to distinguish between them (the Jews) and the Gentiles. They were distinguished, different, holy. He made them clean and so different from the unclean – the Gentiles.

Jesus is saying to them that they’ve missed it! rd. v 20-22.

app.: I read this part of the story and I wonder how many of these traits or characteristics mark the Pharisees in their actions to line their pockets and rob from the elderly who are now neglected by their own children.

This, of course, is easy to do when applying it to others. But I think the goal is really to read this and think of myself! – Apply it to me!


Ill.: Ticket for not having a plug inserted into my shotgun.


  1. There is a principle of the law and a spirit of the law.
  2. Do you or I have traditions that we have established that just aren’t supported by Scripture. Do we have to do flip/flops with the Word of God to make our case? Here’s the thing about asking this question – the answer is probably yes, but we’re so blinded to it, we just can’t see it. We make excuses for it – without even knowing.

Invitation for preparation for the Lord’s Supper.


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Filed under Mark, Scripture

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