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Yeshua and Traditions of the Elders/of Men

Mk 7:1-23

As Yeshua continued to prove Himself to be the Messiah and the Son of God, we also see how the opposition to Yeshua strengthened and became more threatening to the established order.  Despite all of the signs and good works and healings that Jesus did, the flesh and the natural mind were warring against the Spirit and the wisdom of God. The will of men was resisting the will of God:  without repentance from unbelief to faith, the natural mind can not and will not understand the things of God. (1Cor 2:14)   

I saw a blog on the internet by someone who calls himself an atheist and a believer in natural law.  He wrote against the Sermon on the Mount!  Everything that Jesus strengthened concerning the Law of Moses was, to this man, against natural law; e.g., Jesus saying that hating someone is the same as murdering him;, or that a married man lusting after another woman is the same as adultery; we have to love our enemy.  The true God calls His people to holiness – within, and without. 

In the passage we have read in Mark, we see that those who have taken upon themselves to control others by their own interpretations, customs, and traditions – all in the name of keeping the Torah – find themselves fighting against the very One who does in truth keep the Law, and is the very one who came to save those who do not!  This is the essence of what is called “Replacement Theology”:  replacing God’s Word with someone else’s.  Some examples are Adam and Eve believing what the serpent said rather than what God Himself had told them; Judaism placing the “Oral Law” – their own interpretations and judgments, now written in the Talmud – as an equal or higher authority over the written Law and interpretations given through the prophets and even the Messiah Himself; Christianity saying that God has finished with Israel and the Jewish people, and that the Church and Christians have replaced them as God’s people, rather than becoming also God’s people along with the Jews and Israel; Islam claiming that God has finished with both Jews, Israel, and Christians, and that now Muslims are the true believers.  All of this “replacement theology” results from a lack of the fear of God and not believing in what the true God – YHVH – has actually said.  In essence, we place ourselves equal to or above the Father and the Son in determining truth and our choice to obey or not, or to approve or disapprove!

This accusation of Yeshua against His own brothers and people is true not of them only, but of all people.  Remember, Israel is given by God as an example to the church (1Cor 10:11) – made up of men and women from every nation and tribe.  In this “replacement theology”, Jews are not different than Gentiles, and Gentiles are no different than Jewish people.

In this passage, it is the third time that the religious authorities confronted Jesus and His disciples regarding their non-compliance to keep the traditions and regulations of the ‘Oral Law’.  In the first instance (Mk 2:18), they failed to fast as the Pharisees did; in the second (Mk 2:24), they did not keep the Sabbath as the elders taught.  To the religious Jews, the Oral Law was also received by Moses from God at Mt. Sinai, and passed on to Joshua and the elders of Israel.  By this assumption (which was not true), they gave equal – even more – weight to the traditions of the elders – which Jesus calls the traditions of men – than to the Law of Moses itself, claiming that the Oral Law is what helps a Jew keep the written Law.  In other words, the traditions of the elders/of men becomes the halacha, or the way to walk the pious life, and find approval from men.  The Pharisees called themselves disciples of Moses (Jn 9:28), and Jesus told them that Moses would judge them for not believing in Him and what He said. (Jn 5:44-46)

When the Pharisees challenged Yeshua as to why His disciples did not walk according to the traditions of the elders, Yeshua responded with the Word of God as written in the prophet Isaiah, and in Moses.  They were breaking God’s commandments because their hearts were far from the LORD.  Yeshua took the first commandment with a promise – intended for children of all ages, even as adults – that children are to honor their fathers and mothers (Ex 20:12; Dt 5:16) – and told them that they were inventing ways to not honor their parents, and giving it religious authority as if it were from God, and as if they honored and loved God more than anyone else, even their own fathers and mothers. But they were actually guilty of cursing their fathers and mothers. (Ex 21:17; Lev 20:9)  This can sound very pious, and even like what Jesus Himself teaches:  that we must love Him more than all, even more than our own parents. (Mt 10:34-39)  Only by really loving the Lord, and paying attention to all that He says – to listen and understand (v. 14) — can we begin to understand how to obey Him in the right Spirit and without contradiction or hypocrisy.  By our own traditions, we can become worthy of death under God’s law, all the while justifying ourselves as being righteous!  This is a very strong deception!!

With respect to eating food with unwashed hands, the issue that the Pharisees brought up was not really about having clean (i.e., not dirty) hands before eating.  They only did a religious ceremony of pouring water on their hands/fists, having little to do with making sure that their hands were clean before eating, but rather, by their custom, making their hands ritually clean and not defiled.  Jesus did not accept this at all, principally because their inner heart relationship with God, and with their own mothers and fathers (and towards other people), was not pure. 

Jesus said to the multitude of people that were listening that what goes into the mouth does not defile a person, but rather what comes out from the heart.  Even the disciples did not understand. (v 15-18)

Now, Jesus took the opportunity to make a huge change in the Law of Moses, with respect to what is acceptable as food.  Remember, the LORD told Jeremiah the prophet that the new covenant would not be like the former one given at Mt. Sinai.  Being new, there would be some changes and differences.  Remember, too, that God’s eternal plan is that Jew and Gentile would become socially equal before God.  The whole issue of food is huge socially:  ­­­­­can Jews and Gentiles – in particular co-believers in Jesus — eat the same food, and together at the same table?

The Law of Moses says that some animals are unclean to eat, and that it is an abomination for Jews to eat them, and that those who eat them become an abomination. (Lev 11:12, 20, 41, 43)  YHVH gave these laws and regulations so that Israel would learn to distinguish between the unclean and the clean, for He is holy. (Lev 11:45-47)   

But NOW, Yeshua is saying that putting any food in the mouth does not defile a person – does not make him unclean or abominable!  What goes into the mouth goes out of the body after nourishing it.  But what comes out of the heart of a person can defile him or her.  By this word of the Lord Yeshua the Messiah, He has made all foods clean (kosher), at least for the believer in what He said and meant. (v.19)  Clean animals were already clean; He did not need to make them clean.  Therefore it is the unclean foods which He has also declared as clean.  To the Jewish people first of all, to whom the Law was given!  Yeshua is our peace, and the middle wall of partition He has broken down between Jewish believers and Gentiles.  Yeshua is able to send us to serve Him and the gospel among other people groups, and our conscience can be clean regarding the food we may need to eat for the sake of love and of the gospel.

If God can make me clean (and Gentiles, too!), He — the LORD and Messiah — can make unclean food clean that only goes in and out of me, and His word was reinforced by the experience and doctrines of the Apostles. (Mk 7:14-16; Acts 10:9-16; 11:1-10Rom 14:2-3,14,20Gal 2:11-14; 1Tim 4:1-5; Heb 13:9)  What is OUR character?!  Is it like one of the unclean animals and creatures?  So we begin to learn in ourselves the difference between that which is acceptable to God and that which is not, sanctifying ourselves, purifying/cleansing our hearts, for our God and Lord and indwelling Spirit is holy and pure, and by faith we both establish the Law and fulfill its righteousness. (Rom 3:31; 8:4)  When we speak of what is Biblically kosher regarding foods (including, of course, the man-made traditional ban on eating meat and dairy together), we must remember that the New Testament is part of the Bible!  God is getting to the heart of the matter with us as His holy people and temple.

A Messianic Jew is not obligated to eat pork, for example — or, for that matter, a good kosher angus steak — but will he allow others to do so, or will he judge them for not being ‘good Jews’?  Our own cultural and moral biases and sensitivities can keep separate what God has made possible to join together.

So, what do we learn from our passage in Mark:  one lesson concerns external rituals. If people participate in congregational/synagogue/church services and follow all the rituals perfectly, they may have a heart after God’s, but may not. Unbelievers and nominal believers can have the appearance of being devout, but if there is not faith then their ritual will not help in worshiping God in spirit and truth.  It is more important for people to get their hearts right with God than to ‘go through the motions’.

A second lesson is that there is a real danger in replacing the the word of God (the letter and the spirit of it) with our traditions. Traditions can be helpful (like a picture is worth a thousand words), but they have a way of pushing aside or replacing the basic commandments.  We might also carry through what was appropriate for a ‘dispensation’ in life into a more mature stage where it becomes unsuitable for going on unto the fullness which is in the ‘seed’.  The attitude of the “keepers of the law” in the passage also appears in many churches, even in Israel still!  Many traditions have grown up over the centuries in different streams and denominations, and many of them have become “essential”. We can be more concerned that people might violate our man-made rules for leading and serving the congregation/church, the way we do baptism and communion, or the set of rules that our particular group follows in the name of holiness, than we are about mercy and humility. We can be more concerned about which way take up the offerings than about meeting the needs of people in the community. If we are not careful, these traditions of ours can become ‘law’, and we might even forget what the Word of God actually says about some of those things we do, or do not do.

Then, when someone comes along – like Jesus and His disciples — who discerns the difference, we can become defensive, judging them while justifying ourselves. But then we remember the teaching of Yeshua that God is more concerned with what/who we actually are than what our outward religiosity looks like. There is a place for rituals and traditions, but they must retain their proper place in our faith-life.
https://bible.org/seriespage/22-jesus-and-traditions-elders-matthew-151-20

A third lesson from our reading is that the New Covenant is just that – new.  There are some things that continue from the old, but there also some changes and differences which promote and advance the gospel of the Kingdom of God, and the truth of the one new man in Messiah Yeshua – affecting all believers, allowing for full social fellowship among and with all.  In love, we do not make our liberty a cause of stumbling for another brother or sister. (Rom 14:13-23; 1Cor 8) 

“Yeshua/Jesus Himself is our peace, who has made both one, and has broken down the middle wall of partition/separation, having abolished in His flesh the enmity – the law of commandments in ordinances, so as to create in Himself one new man from the two, making peace, and that He might reconcile them both to God in one body through the cross, thereby putting to death the enmity.” (Eph 2:14-16)  

To obey the Lord is better than sacrifice.  He wants a heart that is one with His.  This will ensure that we are with Him and not against Him as we work out our own salvation with fear and trembling, as the apostle Paul writes. (Phlp 2:12)   We do not want to be judged as hypocrites, but as righteous, in the righteous judgment of God, who sees the heart.

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