Once again in chapter 7 we see Jesus talking to the pharisees and religious leaders. They had supposedly come to evaluate Jesus and possibly “protect” the people from His teachings.
Unfortunately, they didn’t come to evaluate Jesus against the measuring stick of God’s word. They evaluated Him against the measuring stick of their religious traditions. They began to accuse Jesus by asking Him why the disciples didn’t walk according to the “traditions” of the elders by eating bread with unwashed hands. Now they weren’t talking about washing hands because of germs, but about ceremonial cleanliness of their hands. This was a very rigid tradition that involved washing to clean hands then washing again to make hands “spiritually” clean. This involved water running one way over hands and then another way.
In Jesus time the Jews were supposed to honor the written law as well as the oral law. The oral laws were the traditions that had been determined to be as important as the law. Jesus responded 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.
And in vain they worship Me,
Teaching as doctrines the commandments of men.”
You have a fine way of setting aside the commands of God to honor the traditions of men.
What was Jesus saying to them and then to us? Do we honor God by saying all the right religious words but our hearts are far from Him? Do we go to church faithfully, sing and pray but our hearts are far from him?
The next part says, “Teaching as doctrines the commandments of men.” Do we live the Word of God or do we live the teachings of men and act like it is God’s word? An example of this is if we only listen to preachers, teachers, those claiming to be prophets and don’t know God’s word and follow God’s word. The teachings of men are good and encouraging if they follow what God’s word says and are not just a tradition or doctrine that a man has come up with.
Jesus then gave an example of how their traditions became dishonoring to God. He then went on to say, ‘HEAR me , everyone, and understand: There is nothing that enters a man from outside which can defile him; BUT THE THINGS WHICH COME OUT OF HIM, those are the things that defile a man.”
He was emphasizing that the ceremonies would not make us clean inside. But the things that come out of us show who we are and whether we have clean hearts. He said foods we eat don’t defile us because they don’t enter our hearts but our stomachs. He was saying that we are defiled from the inside out rather than the outside in. For from within, out of the heart of a man, evil proceeds. He said God was more concerned with what comes out of us than what goes into us. Especially food, traditions, and man made rituals.
It is easy to fall prey to the traditions of men if we grew up with them in society, family or church because we are comfortable with them and we sometimes find safety in “well we have always done it this way” so it must be right. Jesus shook up the Pharisees and religious leaders and their man-made traditions. He reminded them that the commands of God are what bring our hearts close to Him.
That is our goal after all isn’t it? To have a heart that is close to Him.