The exchange between Jesus and Pharisees recorded in Matthew 15 is one of the most fascinating texts in the New Testament. Jesus' disciples were indicted for their failure to wash their hands before eating bread. The law of Moses did not demand that this be done, but Jewish tradition did demand it. Jesus responded with an indictment of His own. He asked the Pharisees why they were so zealous for manmade laws, and yet were indifferent, some might even say calloused, toward the commandments of God. That was hypocrisy!
Jesus' indictment of their hypocrisy was bolstered by a quotation from Isaiah: "These people draw near to Me with their mouth, and honor Me with their lips, but their heart is far from Me. And in vain they worship Me, teaching as doctrines the commandments of men" (Isaiah 29:13). Of course, the Pharisees took great offense at His response (Matthew 15:12). The point Jesus made is summarized in the statement: "Not what goes into the mouth defiles a man; but what comes out of the mouth, this defiles a man."
The Pharisees had a heart problem. It was the kind of problem a coronary bypass could not correct. They needed a heart transplant. Jesus had to explain to His own disciples what He meant. He asked: "Are you also still without understanding? Do you not yet understand that whatever enters the mouth goes into the stomach and is eliminated? But those things which proceed out of the mouth come from the heart, and they defile a man. For out of the heart proceed evil thoughts, murders, adulteries, fornications, thefts, false witnesses, blasphemies. These are the things which defile a man, but to eat with unwashed hands does not defile a man" (Matthew 15:16-20).
Jesus sought to impact hearts. He knew that changed hearts led to changed lives. Words are overruled by deeds. The true reflection of the heart is manifested, not by what we say, but how we live. The Pharisees talked a powerful religion, but made a miserable failure of it by their action or, sometimes, inaction.
The gospel is directed at the hearts of men. If hearts are transformed, then lives will be changed. Sin, at its core, is a heart problem. I should also emphasize that such things as faithfulness in worship, generosity, and involvement in the Lord's work are also heart issues. It is possible to attend worship assemblies consistently, give generously, and be involved in the work of the church and still have a bad heart. That is what hypocrisy is all about. On the other hand, it is impossible not to want to do things if the heart is good! Unfaithfulness in worship, an unwillingness to give, and a lack of involvement in the Lord's work are heart issues. They must be addressed through a changed heart. 534 Sixth St, Marietta, OH 45750.
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