Do you enjoy a good movie? When it comes to movies, if you’re anything like me, the plot and the quality of the actors are important ingredients for a good film. An actor’s stage persona helps carry even a mediocre plot. But, an actor’s role on film is not a true reflection of who they really are.
An actor’s outward conduct in a film or on stage does not correspond with the true condition of their heart. In fact, they are “hypocrites!” You might be thinking, what a scandalous statement! But before you get offended on behalf of your favorite actor, consider the definition of the word.
According to Merriam-Webster Dictionary, “the word hypocrite ultimately came into English from the Greek word hypokrites, which means “an actor” or “a stage player.” … It took a surprisingly long time for hypocrite to gain its more general meaning that we use today: “a person who acts in contradiction to his or her stated beliefs or feelings.” So, technically, any actor or stage player is a “hypocrite!”
But in terms of our more modern understanding of the word, a hypocrite is a “person who acts in contradiction to his or her stated beliefs or feelings.” No one wants to be accused of being a hypocrite, especially in a religious setting—it means the person is not acting according to what they believe—even if true, it’s a harsh accusation.
Imagine having Jesus call you a hypocrite in front of a multitude of people! It would be an embarrassing allegation, to say the least. Yet this is what Jesus did to the religious elite, the Pharisees and Scribes, of His day. No doubt they were infuriated, but Mark records that these learned leaders didn’t even respond to Jesus after being called hypocrites. In the culture of the day, not responding was an admission to the charges and in the eyes of the crowd, they lost the debate.
In today’s blog and my sermon last Sunday, I look at the Mark 7:1-23 passage where Jesus calls the Pharisees and the Scribes hypocrites, why this occurred, and how it relates to the condition of our hearts today. You see, a pure heart yields pure motives—hypocrisy is not an issue for those who have a pure heart. A pure heart yields pure behavior. We “walk the talk” in other words as followers of Christ.
Jesus, do you uphold the traditions of the elders?
For nearly two chapters, Mark describes the miracles of Jesus. He now shifts to the opposition of the Pharisees and Scribes from Jerusalem that first began in Mark 2 & 3.
Mark 7:1-23 is divided into 3 sections, linked by who Jesus is speaking to and their relationship to Him:
1) vs. 1-13 the Pharisees and the Scribes, they relate to Jesus as “authorities” in the Written Law and Oral Traditions
2) vs. 14-15 the crowd, they relate by “listening” to Jesus
3) vs. 17-23 the disciples, who are close to Jesus and receive further instruction. Three sections in this chapter are best understood as one passage.
The Pharisees and the Scribes argue with Jesus from a place of “authority.” Their confrontation with Jesus provides an occasion for Him to reveal a transformation in God’s covenant relationship with His people. Understand that the Law was given through Moses, but Jesus came full of grace and truth (John 1:14). Jesus was inaugurating the Kingdom of God, eventually ratifying the New Covenant through His blood and sacrifice on the cross. This story in Mark 7 gives a “glimpse” into the New Covenant that Jesus would bring.
The controversy of eating without ceremonial washing of hands is the question of the Pharisees and Scribes. In other words, they are wondering, “Where does Jesus stand regarding the oral (elder) traditions?” (Mark 7:3)
What are the oral traditions?
The Law of Moses required interpretation—how, when, for whom, and for what circumstances are these commands to be applied? Over the centuries, interpretation of the Torah was developed by Jewish religious leaders, which became the oral tradition, or “traditions of the elders.” By the sixth century, the oral traditions were written down as the Mishnah with a corresponding commentary called the Talmud.
Why were the Pharisees so zealous about the oral traditions and keeping the law?
They were part of a renewal movement that was zealous for a national revival In Israel. We think of them as “religious bad guys,” but they embraced both the written law and oral traditions—they saw them as gifts from God. Unfortunately, their zeal was legalistic and restrictive for the people. God desires worship that is in Spirit and truth—free from religious formalism that is Law based and not Grace based (see John 4:23).
These Pharisees and Scribes came from Jerusalem and were scandalized to discover that some of Jesus’ disciples were eating with ceremonially unclean hands. Perhaps it was the miraculous provision and feeding of thousands in Galilee, most likely with unwashed hands, that generated their disapproval. By the time of Jesus, anyone who failed to keep the oral traditions was despised, and viewed as “ignorant,” in fact “accursed” according to John 7:49.
The Pharisees’ and Scribes’ zealous desire to keep God’s law blinded them to the essence of the Law—God’s love and grace. Jesus was bringing His own national revival—the inauguration of the Kingdom of God. Jesus came full of Grace and Truth!
Jesus responds, “You hypocrites!” in Mark 7:6-8
Jesus doesn’t respond to their accusation, He counters by challenging their Pharisaic legalism. As I mentioned earlier, His accusers are hypocrites, people whose outward conduct does not correspond with the true state of their heart.
He answered and 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. And in vain they worship Me, teaching as doctrines the commandments of men.’” (Mark 7:6-7)
To explain what He means, Jesus uses a prophecy from Isaiah 29:13. Isaiah was speaking to people who had lost their intimate contact with God. They served Him through empty formalism devoid of authentic love. Their worship became lip service, consisting of inherited rituals that were not rooted in conversion of the heart. Their religious traditions contradicted the law they were zealous to uphold.
For example, they took to extreme ceremonial washing (originally required of just the priests, then gradually extended to all Jews before meals) and a practice called Corban. The practice of Corban set aside funds for temple worship, upheld by vows, while ignoring the care of their parents, i.e. “honoring your father and mother.” Their traditions violated the commandments, emptying the Law of its spirit and true meaning.
Religion is man’s self-righteous attempt for justification with a Holy God. However, there is only One Who is holy, and the pathway to holiness and justification is through Jesus Christ. “But of Him you are in Christ Jesus, who became for us wisdom from God—and righteousness and sanctification and redemption—” (1 Cor. 1:30)
Remember, Jesus came preaching the gospel of the Kingdom, but it began with “Repent, for the Kingdom of God is at hand.” Repentance is the pathway to God’s Kingdom and genuine faith. (see 2 Cor. 7:9-10)
“…for from within, out of the heart proceed evil thoughts … actions” Mark 7:14-23
He calls the multitude together and says, “Hear Me, everyone, and understand…” For truth to have relevance, one must hear, believe, and act upon it—or remain dull!
Jesus is recasting the meaning of what is clean and unclean: external things can’t defile a person; rather uncleanness comes from within, from a person’s thoughts, words, and actions. Even the OT prophets spoke out against religious formalism (Is. 1:11-17; Hos. 6:6; Amos 5:21-27) and taught that true defilement was evil conduct (Ezek. 36:17).
He enters a house, and the disciples question Him about the parable. “Are you also without understanding?” Are you still hardened in your heart? (see Mark 6:52)
The key word is heart (kardia), used 3 times in Mark 7:1-23 (vs. 6, 19, 21). Biblically, the heart represents the inner depth of a person, the seat of decision where a person responds to God or resists Him. The heart is the source of thought, will, conscience, and emotions (see Jer. 17:5-10; 1 Cor. 4:5; 1 John 3:19-21).
Jesus is stating clearly that the ceremonial purity laws don’t affect purity of heart. Jesus isn’t saying that external and physical things are irrelevant or bad; and internal things are good. Rather, He is insisting that both good and bad, motives and behavior, originate from internal and spiritual sources—within the heart.
Defilement is not ceremonial but moral; likewise, purity is a matter of the heart. It is the polluted wells of the human heart that causes wrong motives and behaviors, this is the real problem to which the purity laws are pointing to.
What is the Answer? The cross of Jesus, the Kingdom of God
Jesus is stating, that from now on, the uncleanness that people should focus on is that of sin: the evil inclinations and actions that originate within the heart. (Mark 7:21)
For from within, out of the heart of men, proceed evil thoughts, adulteries, fornications, murders, thefts, covetousness, wickedness, deceit, lewdness, an evil eye, blasphemy, pride, foolishness. All these evil things come from within and defile a man.”
“For from within, out of the heart…” the sinful intentions that separate a person from God proceed. Again, the heart represents the inner depth of a person, the seat of decision where a person responds to God or resists Him. The heart is the source of thought, will, conscience, and emotions.
Jesus elaborates with 12 sinful thoughts and deeds; the first 6 are plural, indicating sinful acts. The second 6 are singular, indicating interior dispositions. Some are the result of sin by others, some by your choices. For example, “evil eye” or envy, is to look with bitterness at the possessions or talents of another person. Blasphemy can also be translated “slander” and includes all forms of abusive speech—such as gossip, criticism, and insult.
In the context of this passage, Jesus is countering the religious hypocrisy of the Pharisees. They had a “pretense” of holiness. Why? The real issues of their hearts were not healed. Religion, apart from intimacy with Jesus, only hardens one’s heart. Jesus is holiness—your holiness is found in Christ as you remain in Him! (see 1 Cor. 1:30)
In the heart (mind, will, emotions) are the offenses, the betrayals, the abuse, the traumas, the wounds of life—these lodge in our hearts. Time is not a healer!
Mark, what is the solution?! He records Jesus as saying nothing at this point in his gospel of the cure for impurity of heart—the reader is left to infer it. However, Marks wants us to conclude that Jesus is the solution!
Through Jesus, His atoning death and resurrection, all who believe in and follow Jesus will receive His empowering grace that overthrows sin in the heart. The Holy Spirit begins renewing and healing the heart (mind, will emotions).
A new covenant is in order, “I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit within you; I will take the heart of stone out of your flesh and give you a heart of flesh.” (Ezek. 36:26)
But is a new heart automatic at new birth? In one sense yes, you are a new creation—your heart motives are toward heaven now. But, issues in the heart can remain and need healing. The power of the cross must be applied, and the Holy Spirit followed. Consider the following passages:
2 Cor. 7:1 CEB “My dear friends, since we have these promises, let’s cleanse ourselves from anything that contaminates our body or spirit so that we make our holiness complete in the fear of God.” Paul implies action is required
Jam. 5:16 CEB “For this reason, confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed…”
Jesus came to heal the brokenhearted (Luke 4:18). Through faith in Christ, God gives you a new heart and indwelling of the Holy Spirit. As you walk with Jesus, the Holy Spirit continues to mold and shape you into the very image of Christ (Rom. 8:29), you are being perfected in His holiness. Your heart receives healing of past hurts, wounds, and traumas.
Learning to forgive others and release the pain and bitterness of the past are keys to living from a pure heart. It all begins with surrender to Christ, allowing His work to be completed in your heart. Your inner dispositions change followed by your outward behavior. New life is experienced as normal! Hypocrisy and empty religion become a thing of the past. Live surrendered to Jesus and follow the leading of the Holy Spirit—the pure in heart shall see God (Matt. 5:8)!
For a more in-depth look at this topic, be sure to watch the Passion Church sermon, “The Book of Mark: A Pure Heart Yields Pure Motives”: