We started our study of Mark way back in September, and are just coming off our Christmas break, so I think it would be good for us to review what we have studied, and where we currently are in the story. Remember that the theme of the entire book is this question, “Who is Jesus?” The Gospel of Mark is all about introducing readers to Jesus and prompting them to consider for themselves the nature and purpose of Jesus’ ministry. Mark contains 3 major story arcs that all build upon one another to answer the questions: “Who is Jesus?”, “What does it mean that Jesus is the Christ?” and “How will Jesus become the Messiah?”
Our lesson this week continues the suspense and rising action of that first story arc – Jesus’ initial ministry and people’s responses to his authoritative teaching and miraculous acts.
This section of Mark takes place between the two miraculous wilderness feedings! The structure of our passage is based on three encounters Jesus has with defiled people who have come to him.
A. Mark 7:1-23 – The Pharisees and Scribes – the religious bullies
B. Mark 7:24-30 – An undeserving alien – the Gentile woman
C. Mark 7:31-37 – A contaminated outcast – the Deaf/mute man
Jesus addresses defilement of the heart and reveals that he came with authority to bring healing to those who come to him in faith.
The Religious Bullies
As a note, normally I do my studying in the English Standard Version of the Bible, but today, I will be quoting from the New Living Translation. It might not be what you are used to studying from, but I think if we listen, we will see that it just gives us a fresh sense of understanding this passage.
So, we will look first at Jesus’ encounter with the Religious Leaders (Mark 7:1-23)
Jesus’ fame is spreading and news of his miraculous deeds (feeding 5,000 in the wilderness, perhaps or the physical healings and exorcisms done by Jesus or his disciples) and teaching with authority has reach the epicenter of Judaism. So, we have the Pharisees and teachers of religious law sent on errand from Jerusalem to seek out Jesus and discredit him.
One day some Pharisees and teachers of religious law arrived from Jerusalem to see Jesus. 2 They noticed that some of his disciples failed to follow the Jewish ritual of hand washing before eating. 3 (The Jews, especially the Pharisees, do not eat until they have poured water over their cupped hands, as required by their ancient traditions. 4 Similarly, they don’t eat anything from the market until they immerse their hands in water. This is but one of many traditions they have clung to—such as their ceremonial washing of cups, pitchers, and kettles.)
Equipped with a multitude of oral traditions and an eye for detail, these religious leaders quickly identify an area lacking in the practice of the disciples. The text tells us exactly what the issue is: ceremonial hand washing. Their concern is NOT hygiene!
Read Mark 7:5
5 So the Pharisees and teachers of religious law asked him, “Why don’t your disciples follow our age-old tradition? They eat without first performing the hand-washing ceremony.”
This criticism of the Pharisees is quite ironic given the contrast with the recent feeding in the wilderness where the bread was multiplied (without the water rites for purification) from direct contact with the pure hands of God’s Son!!
6 Jesus replied, “You hypocrites! Isaiah was right when he prophesied about you, for he wrote,
‘These people honor me with their lips,
but their hearts are far from me.
7 Their worship is a farce,
for they teach man-made ideas as commands from God.’
Whew! If you’re anything like me, your first response may have been something like, “Right on Jesus! You tell ‘em! You show them who is boss!!” Um, that is my sinful nature on full display…reading the text with a twist of accommodation to my own “self-centered universe”.
Jesus’ very presence on earth was testimony that his heart’s orientation was not to bring glory to himself but to please the Father and the mission of his incarnation was to save sinners (of every stripe and flavor) not to play power games with them or shame them.
Jesus knows who he is dealing with, experts in the law, learned men. Leaders who were responsible for upholding God’s revelation, who instead extended the law to accommodate an orientation around themselves that they could “police”. What Jesus does in his response is a skillful, classical, debate rebuttal.
Part of my recent adult education has been learning about policy debate in our kids’ speech and debate club and from judging and volunteering at tournaments for the past 6 years, and I can see each element of a rebuttal:
1) Jesus starts off his refutation by citing and quoting a credible source. None other than a highly esteemed Jewish Old Testament, major prophet, Isaiah! (v6-7)
2) Following this, Jesus introduces his argument, or the core issue of dispute (v8)
3) Next, he explains his argument (v9)
4) Going on, Jesus gives a specific example (v10-12)
5) Finally, Jesus impacts his argument showing the significance and why it is important (v13) “thus” = therefore…
You may be thinking, “Why is it significant to point out the structure of Jesus’ response?” I believe that understanding how Jesus answers is helpful for us to see the wisdom of his response. Proverbs 26:5 says, “Answer a fool according to his folly, lest he be wise in his own eyes.” Jesus opposes hard hearts of unbelief, and ultimately, the response of a just and holy God towards rebellion and defilement is judgement.
Jesus is just and right to call out the Pharisees’ sinful practices. (They were providing legal loopholes so that personal finances could be retained instead of being spent on the required care of the elderly.) Jesus expertly exposes the heart of the matter: the defiled hearts of his own people’s religious elite. Sadly, identifying idolatry among the Jewish people was not new – the prophets had been doing it for centuries. But here, Mark shows us that Jesus is different than just another prophet! Jesus responded with laser-sharp skills of chastisement, yet Jesus limited his response to one example, he refrained from pronouncing a sentence and left them with the truth about themselves with which to grapple. Jesus met them at their point of need: to be confronted with their sinfulness that they may acknowledge their desperate neediness, turn and believe. The Pharisees’ inner defilement showed in their prideful belligerence:
Jesus then gathers the people around him (who most likely distanced themselves when the conflict with the religious watchdogs broke out). This would be the general public, followers and disciples, and he meets them at their point of need, teaching them with authority about what defiles a person.
Read Jesus’ words in Mark 7:14a-16
14 Then Jesus called to the crowd to come and hear. “All of you listen,” he said, “and try to understand. 15 It’s not what goes into your body that defiles you; you are defiled by what comes from your heart.”
Jesus explains that defilement comes from an impure heart NOT a violation of external rules and that fellowship with God is not interrupted by unclean hands in the kingdom of God that he is inaugurating. This is new stuff! This teaching is beyond the law of Moses!
After the disciples are alone with Jesus, they ask him about this new “parable”, because they are not sure what this is about. And so he answers…
Read Jesus’ words in Mark 7:18-19
18 “Don’t you understand either?” he asked. “Can’t you see that the food you put into your body cannot defile you? 19 Food doesn’t go into your heart, but only passes through the stomach and then goes into the sewer.” (By saying this, he declared that every kind of food is acceptable in God’s eyes.)
This is not a parable! Jesus is revealing that he brings a fuller interpretation of the law. Jesus is displaying authority that reveals he is a prophet greater than Moses! Jesus’ authority as the Son of God enables him to pass down a Christological ruling: The Old Testament food regulations are done away with because of the arrival of God’s kingdom. With the arrival of Jesus, the period of the role of the Law of Moses being a tutor is over. (But the disciples are not understanding…)
And then Jesus added…
And then he added, “It is what comes from inside that defiles you. 21 For from within, out of a person’s heart, come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, 22 adultery, greed, wickedness, deceit, lustful desires, envy, slander, pride, and foolishness. 23 All these vile things come from within; they are what defile you.”
Jesus makes it evident that the standard of purity that God requires is far beyond behavior compliance!!
(This is where we sing the song from the musical The Music Man, “Oh, we’ve got Trouble! Right here in River city! That starts with “T” that rhymes with “P” that stands for “PERFECTION’!”)
Back in the Garden of Eden, Eve and Adam rejected God’s will and defiled themselves and the hearts all of humanity. As a result, every one of us comes with a strong gravitational pull to maintain life that orbits around us instead God.
Jesus purifies the hearts of his followers so that they are undefiled before God! By his perfect life, given as a sacrifice for all, on the cross. And his resurrection three days later, proving his offering was acceptable, Jesus satisfied the Father’s just wrath against sin.
For those who enter Jesus’ righteousness by faith, through repentance, are given purified hearts and a restored orientation with God as the center!
Questions for you to consider:
• Christian, where have you forgotten your true orientation to God and have been working hard to bring into compliance aspects of your life under your own authority?
• What traditions are so important to you that you sin to keep them?
• Where in your life can you praise God for his compassion of chastisement?
Jesus’ next two encounters with are with unclean members of society, that many, even in our modern world, would cringe at and avoid: an undeserving alien and marginalized misfit. But Jesus show us that they are pictures of his new order/kingdom orientation.
The Gentile Woman Mark 7:24-30
Traveling far north, beyond the traditional boarders of Jewish territory, Jesus sought a place of concealment from his growing popularity. But it wasn’t to be…
Read Mark 7:25-27
25 Right away a woman who had heard about him came and fell at his feet. Her little girl was possessed by an evil spirit, 26 and she begged him to cast out the demon from her daughter.
Since she was a Gentile, born in Syrian Phoenicia, 27 Jesus told her, “First I should feed the children—my own family, the Jews. It isn’t right to take food from the children and throw it to the dogs.”
This foreign woman was keenly aware that her child’s significant dysfunction and shameful condition, was beyond her ability to control. The renown of Jesus’ authoritative ministry had reached her and given her hope! Hope enough to compel her to risk approaching a Jewish rabbi, facing possible ridicule or rejection. When the opportunity came, her need was desperate, and her faith was genuine.
Jesus explained the priority of his ministry to the Jews with the analogy of a household. The term “dogs” that he used here is the form of the word for “pets”. (This is in contrast with how the Jewish religious elite would insult Gentiles using “dogs” as a term of offense.)
The woman is finding out that THIS Rabbi lives up to his reputation! And she replied…
Read Mark 7:28
28 She replied, “That’s true, Lord, but even the dogs under the table are allowed to eat the scraps from the children’s plates.”
This is the ONLY time Jesus is addressed directly as “Lord” in the entire Gospel of Mark! – by Syrian Phoenician Woman!
Read Mark 7:29-30
29 “Good answer!” he said. “Now go home, for the demon has left your daughter.” 30 And when she arrived home, she found her little girl lying quietly in bed, and the demon was gone.
Jesus validated this woman’s faith and heals her daughter without touch or being physically present, merely by the consent of his will! Her condition in life was regarded as defiled, yet this Gentile woman’s true humility before the Son of God foreshadows the future ministry of faith to the Gentiles. Mark doesn’t miss setting up this contrast between the Religious leaders’ heartless response to Jesus and the hopeful, genuine trust of this “underserving alien”.
What about you? Does your hope in Christ cause you to take risks to be with him? Does your hope rest in the one who will provide for your desperate need? Who can you bring with you to the “table” of Jesus’ provision?
The Deaf/Mute Man
Mark shows Jesus on the move where he made himself available to another de-valued member of society.
Read Mark 7:31-32
31 Jesus left Tyre and went up to Sidon before going back to the Sea of Galilee and the region of the Ten Towns. 32 A deaf man with a speech impediment was brought to him, and the people begged Jesus to lay his hands on the man to heal him.
Living in the first world, in the 21st century, with modern medicine, we may not be able to even imagine the burden that a physical defect or deficiency brought in the Ancient world. Considered “Unclean”, a deaf man is presented to Jesus. Such people were to be avoided but this deaf man had friends that begged Jesus to lay his hands on him! Jesus, the pure Son of God, treats the deaf man with dignity and responds with a unique personal touch!
Read Mark 7:33-37
33 Jesus led him away from the crowd so they could be alone. He put his fingers into the man’s ears. Then, spitting on his own fingers, he touched the man’s tongue. 34 Looking up to heaven, he sighed and said, “Ephphatha,” which means, “Be opened!” 35 Instantly the man could hear perfectly, and his tongue was freed so he could speak plainly!
36 Jesus told the crowd not to tell anyone, but the more he told them not to, the more they spread the news. 37 They were completely amazed and said again and again, “Everything he does is wonderful. He even makes the deaf to hear and gives speech to those who cannot speak.”
Jesus removes the man from the crowd and puts his fingers into the man’s ears! Then Jesus touches the man’s tongue! And speaking a word, unheard by the man, Jesus heals the man of his speech impediment and deafness!
This miracle, which closely follows the lack of understanding of Jesus’ disciples regarding true defilement, is unique to the gospel of Mark. It is a picture of what the disciples needed, what the Pharisees needed, of what we all need… It shows that the authority of Jesus’ touch, and his word, is what transforms those who are defiled both physically and spiritually.
Unless we are touched by Christ and he speaks healing, we remain unable to hear and to speak plainly. This miracle speaks hope! No wonder the people ignored Jesus’ charge to remain silent and zealously proclaimed, “He has done all things well!”
Do you rely on Jesus’ touch to open your ears to hear truth and your tongue to speak plainly of him? Who in your life has God placed, for you to be an encouragement in their journey to be touched by Jesus? How does the hope of full restoration, of which this is merely a picture, delight you and cause you to proclaim, “Jesus Does All Things Well!”?
A follower of Christ is, above all, being transformed as a person in fellowship and union with God which includes the community of His church. Jesus revels, here in Mark, that he came with authority to bring healing to those who come to him in faith, starting with our unclean hearts. How are you being transformed from your union with God? How will you extend his fellowship through you to others in your church body this week?