Bible Study from Calvary Chapel Newberg

with Tom Fuller

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Rules or Reality?

Mark 7:1-37

When it comes to some things in life we like rules and laws - like the law of gravity:

"In the ongoing battle between objects made of aluminum going hundreds of miles per hour and the ground going zero miles per hour, the ground has yet to lose."

Then there is dieting. The Atkins diet is all the craze now - but I have an even better dieting rule book: The No Calorie Diet

1. If you eat something, but no one else sees you eat it, it has no calories.

2. When drinking a diet soda while eating a candy bar, the calories in the candy bar are canceled by the diet soda.

3. When you eat with someone else, calories don't count as long as you don't eat more than they do.

4. Foods used for medicinal purposes never count. Example: hot chocolate, brandy, toast, Sara Lee cheesecake

5. If you fatten up everyone else around you, then you look thinner.

6. Movie-related foods do not have calories because they are part of the entertainment package and not part of one's personal fuel. Example: milk duds, buttered popcorn, junior mints and Tootsie Rolls

7. Cookie pieces contain no calories. The process of breaking the cookie causes calorie leakage.

8. Late-night snacks have no calories. The refrigerator light is not strong enough for the calories to see their way into the calorie counter.

9. If you are in the process of preparing something, food licked off knives and spoons have no calories. Examples: peanut butter on a knife, ice cream on a spoon

10. Food of the same color have the same number of calories. Examples are: spinach and pistachio ice cream, mushrooms and white chocolate. Chocolate is a universal color and may be substituted for any other.

The problem with rules is that are a substitute for thought - and a way to bypass the character or lack thereof. That was the problem with the Pharisees and that is sometimes our problem too. We create rules that govern behavior, but then create ways to leak around the edges of those rules to enable the flesh. Today, Jesus turns the tables on external rules:

1 The Pharisees and some of the teachers of the law who had come from Jerusalem gathered around Jesus and 2 saw some of his disciples eating food with hands that were "unclean," that is, unwashed. 3(The Pharisees and all the Jews do not eat unless they give their hands a ceremonial washing, holding to the tradition of the elders. 4 When they come from the marketplace they do not eat unless they wash. And they observe many other traditions, such as the washing of cups, pitchers and kettles.)

Apparently the Pharisees in the marketplace would immerse their hands in water, then have pure water poured over them from a purified vessel. They were known for their elaborate rituals of hand-washing - anything to be ceremonially clean.

As we will see - their insistence on ceremonial cleanness overlooked the spiritual uncleanness within.

5 So the Pharisees and teachers of the law asked Jesus, "Why don't your disciples live according to the tradition of the elders instead of eating their food with 'unclean' hands?"

We think it laughable that the Pharisees would pick at Jesus for not following exactly the way they prescribed? But do we not do the same sometimes? What about those who are incensed if you read any other version of the Bible than the one they like? How about dunking vs. full immersion baptism - speaking in Tongues as the only evidence that you've been filled with the Spirit - or how about always ending prayers with "in Jesus name" or they won't be answered?

These sound silly too - and they are. They are also dangerous because anything that we hide behind in order not to make ourselves vulnerable to God will keep us from Him. We are fooled into thinking that by following the tradition we earn points with God - but God is interested in what goes on inside our hearts - not with our hands being cleansed in a certain way.

6 He replied, "Isaiah was right when he prophesied about you hypocrites; as it is written:

"'These people honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me. 7 They worship me in vain; their teachings are but rules taught by men.'

8 You have let go of the commands of God and are holding on to the traditions of men."

How do we know the difference? There are plenty of doctrines floating out there that are invented by men. The best and easiest way is to make sure that what is taught agrees with the Scriptures.

One good test is this: prophesied in the Old Testament, taught by Jesus, and written about in the epistles - that's the three legged stool. Add a fourth leg and it's even more stable: lived out in the book of Acts.

Believe me, there are plenty of things God commands us to do - not laws - but living out the character of Christ by the power of the Holy Spirit in our lives. Jesus said He had but one command for us: "love one another." That one alone should keep us busy for the rest of our lives.

Oddly - we fight and squabble and hurt each other over the merest nuances of practice - all in clear violation of Jesus one and only command.

9 And he said to them: "You have a fine way of setting aside the commands of God in order to observe your own traditions! 10 For Moses said, 'Honor your father and your mother,' and, 'Anyone who curses his father or mother must be put to death.' 11 But you say that if a man says to his father or mother: 'Whatever help you might otherwise have received from me is Corban' (that is, a gift devoted to God), 12 then you no longer let him do anything for his father or mother. 13 Thus you nullify the word of God by your tradition that you have handed down. And you do many things like that."

The Pharisees created elaborate interpretations of God's law - and loopholes that allowed them to escape its intent. For instance - this idea of "Corban" which means either "devoted to God" or "forbidden to so and so." The Pharisees said that if you devoted a gift to God then it was forbidden to be used to help your parents - which was commanded by the Law.

Some Christians are so meticulous that everyone must conform to their understanding and form of worship that we miss the fact that we are the body of Christ - not the bodies of Christ. Whole denominations have sprung up over silly arguments over style and form - not real substance.

The issue here is over defilement. Look how Jesus gets the last word:

14 Again Jesus called the crowd to him and said, "Listen to me, everyone, and understand this. 15 Nothing outside a man can make him 'unclean' by going into him. Rather, it is what comes out of a man that makes him 'unclean.'"

17 After he had left the crowd and entered the house, his disciples asked him about this parable. 18 "Are you so dull?" he asked. "Don't you see that nothing that enters a man from the outside can make him 'unclean'? 19 For it doesn't go into his heart but into his stomach, and then out of his body." (In saying this, Jesus declared all foods "clean.")

20 He went on: "What comes out of a man is what makes him 'unclean.' 21 For from within, out of men's hearts, come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, 22 greed, malice, deceit, lewdness, envy, slander, arrogance and folly. 23 All these evils come from inside and make a man 'unclean.'"
The Pharisees thought that if you looked good on the outside then you were good on the inside. Jesus is saying that its really the opposite. The effects of the sin nature being expressed in the thoughts and actions - that's what matters - and shows how sinful we really are.

We love appearances. We're so impressed with people that seem to have it all together - all the money and fame and influence and intelligence and good looks. We subtly pattern after that - as long as we appear to be a "good Christian" then we are. Not true Jesus says.

We had some oak trees growing on the hillsides of a house we rented many years ago. We needed some warmth for the winter so I went out to cut some of those trees down. They looked fine on the outside - but when I went to cut them down they were all rotten inside. Those logs actually put out my fires instead of made them bigger.

We are like oak trees - we are naturally rotten on the inside from the sin nature we are all born with. And even after we become believers, if we allow parasites from the world's values to permeate our being - rottenness settles in. We end up as soil holders - like those oak trees - good for nothing.

So what's the answer? Don't focus on outward appearance but inward submission to the presence of God in your inmost person.

Luke 13:6-9 Then he told this parable: "A man had a fig tree, planted in his vineyard, and he went to look for fruit on it, but did not find any. 7 So he said to the man who took care of the vineyard, 'For three years now I've been coming to look for fruit on this fig tree and haven't found any. Cut it down! Why should it use up the soil?'

8 "'Sir,' the man replied, 'leave it alone for one more year, and I'll dig around it and fertilize it. 9 If it bears fruit next year, fine! If not, then cut it down.'"

Let the Lord dig around the roots of your life and do some trimming and place some fertilizer - growth starter that comes from the death of other things - I won't go too far into it but God will bring about death - death to those old desires, discipline for past actions - so that then though His death on the cross He can bring about new life and growth.

24 Jesus left that place and went to the vicinity of Tyre. He entered a house and did not want anyone to know it; yet he could not keep his presence secret. 25 In fact, as soon as she heard about him, a woman whose little daughter was possessed by an evil spirit came and fell at his feet. 26 The woman was a Greek, born in Syrian Phoenicia. She begged Jesus to drive the demon out of her daughter.

27 "First let the children eat all they want," he told her, "for it is not right to take the children's bread and toss it to their dogs."

Jesus is not putting this woman down - He is challenging her. While the Jews often referred to gentiles as "dogs" - that word is wild dogs - but here Jesus uses the word for a little puppy - a household pet. He uses a parable here - that the kids eat first, then the pets.

It is true that Jesus came to the Jews - to "His own" as it says in John. The Jews were supposed to spread the good news of the Messiah - but they rejected Him. "I must bring the message to Israel first - then it will come to the gentiles." The Jews got first crack at Jesus.

But look at her response:

28 "Yes, Lord," she replied, "but even the dogs under the table eat the children's crumbs."

29 Then he told her, "For such a reply, you may go; the demon has left your daughter."

30 She went home and found her child lying on the bed, and the demon gone.

This is so great. Not only does she understand the parable, but she keeps it going - saying that often kids will give little morsels to the animals under the table. "Couldn't you give me a morsel of Your power?" she says.

Jesus responds to two things here: humility and persistence. The woman knew what she needed and knew Jesus was the source of it. She humbled herself before Him and kept at it - He broadened her understanding and deepened her faith - and she got what she came for.

If we would only do the same. But we think that because we are in Jesus that He owes us stuff. Its like we signed up for a club and so we deserve the decoder ring and secret handshake and the special prize pack! But we need to, like this woman, realize that all we get are like God having pity or compassion on us, mere little dogs at His table. Let me tell you - a scrap at God's table is better than a 7 course dinner anywhere else.

The Jews would have taken offense at Jesus healing a gentile. Gentiles were "unclean" but Jesus here shows that it is faith that matters, not ethnicity or ceremonially following certain rules and regulations.

31 Then Jesus left the vicinity of Tyre and went through Sidon, down to the Sea of Galilee and into the region of the Decapolis. 32 There some people brought to him a man who was deaf and could hardly talk, and they begged him to place his hand on the man.

33 After he took him aside, away from the crowd, Jesus put his fingers into the man's ears. Then he spit and touched the man's tongue. 34 He looked up to heaven and with a deep sigh said to him, "Ephphatha!" (which means, "Be opened!"). 35 At this, the man's ears were opened, his tongue was loosened and he began to speak plainly.

Jesus is showing here that there is no "formula" for healing. And notice how He does it - by using motions and touch - rather than words. He could have just said "Ephphatha!" and the guy's ears would have opened - but it seems as if Jesus wanted this guy to know what was happening - to communicate to Him on his level. I like that - Jesus does approach us on our level.

The littlest child can understand God's love shown through their parents love. And the smartest, most intelligent person you know can be awed by the wisdom of God and the unfathomable depths of His character and knowledge.

Sometimes we say we want meat - but what we really need is milk. Sometimes a simple word or Scripture can do far more than whole conversations.

36 Jesus commanded them not to tell anyone. But the more he did so, the more they kept talking about it. 37 People were overwhelmed with amazement. "He has done everything well," they said. "He even makes the deaf hear and the mute speak."

The people were impressed. The words "overwhelmed with amazement" convey the idea of striking something in astonishment - to infinity! The word "well" is kay-los which means "beautiful" or "good" in a moral sense. They were impressed with that He did - but would they go on to be impressed with who He is - the Messiah?

Conclusions

Some people think the more rules you have the more spiritual you are

What is easier - to say "I have a rule that I can't watch those types of things on TV" or to evaluate the content based on how God thinks and make decisions based on His character, not your rules?

Rules are easy - character transformation is hard. Paul tells us in Romans 12:

Romans 12:1-2 Therefore, I urge you, brothers, in view of God's mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God-this is your spiritual act of worship. 2 Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God's will is-his good, pleasing and perfect will.

We need to ask the Holy Spirit to transform our minds - our way of thinking so that we can "approve" it means to know or appreciate the will or the character of God. You can't do that by obeying external rules - you only do that by internal change.

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