The Big Secret about Super Religious People

Mark 7:1-13

The Pharisees turned God into a checklist of traditions people could accomplish, making their faith superficial and their hearts far from God.  The Pharisees were the elite religious leaders during the time of Jesus and they looked down their long noses at Jesus and his disciples.  Verse 1 says they had “come from Jerusalem,” indicating to us right away that they were coming from a place of authority and tradition.  The Pharisees, “saw that some of his disciples ate with hands that were defiled, that is, unwashed” (2).  The disciples didn’t do the proper ceremonial washing like they were supposed to do, they didn’t follow the rituals of the Pharisees, but just dug in!

We are also told the Pharisees never ate without washing; in fact, it says they washed not just their hands, but also their cups, pots, copper vessels, and dining couches (4).  That’s quite a list!  So they asked Jesus about his renegade group of followers, “Why do your disciples not walk according to the tradition of the elders, but eat with defiled hands?” (5).  They were trying to catch Jesus and his followers doing something wrong, so they could accuse and condemn them.  

I’ve got a big secret to share about overly religious people like the Pharisees, wanna hear it?  We look at all their hundreds of traditions and rituals and think, ‘Wow!  They must really be serious about their faith!  I could never keep all those commandments!’  We tend to think the more rules and regulations there are, the harder the religion is.  (Let me put on all caps for a moment.)  BUT THAT IS COMPLETELY FALSE!  That’s where they are tricking you.  They are not serious about their faith, but they are serious about looking good in front of others.  They want you to think more highly of them; they want you to think they are super-spiritual; they want you to believe their way is the hardest and most godly one, but it’s not!  Allow me to explain…

Have you ever had a huge project to do?  Have you ever had an enormous goal to reach?  As you sat there overwhelmed by it all, what did people encourage you to do?  Take it one step at a time, right?  All the experts agree on this: if you have a huge task, break it down into small, accomplishable chunks.  Take one baby step.  Then take another.  After 15,000 small steps, you’ll eventually arrive.  

The way to accomplish big goals is to break them down into small pieces.

This is exactly what the Pharisees were doing in Jesus’s day.  They knew God had told them to “Be holy” (Leviticus 19:2).  But how could anyone reach this enormous goal?  So the Pharisees got an idea: they would break it down into small, manageable steps.  Wash your hands.  That’s easy enough to do.  Wash your cups.  Again, any idiot can do that.  Clean your couch.  Done, I’ll even clean my pillows.  Scrub your copper vessel.  My what??  Nevermind.

Do you see how it worked?  In order to accomplish the huge goal of “be holy,” the religious leaders broke it down into small steps that anyone could do.  But let me ask you, if your life depended on it (and it does!), which commandment would you rather have to do today: ‘be holy’ or ‘wash your hands before dinner.’  Do you see the difference?  The first is impossible, but the second is doable.  Here’s the principle: the Pharisees made the commandments easier, not harder.  They made the law doable, at least, according to them.

And by refusing to wash their hands before dinner, the disciples were protesting against the artificial religious traditions of the Pharisees.

Jesus called them out on another commandment they were trying to make “more doable” with their religious traditions, which was the fifth commandment, “honor your father and mother” (10).  Since that true commandment from God seemed impossible to accomplish, once again, the Pharisees broke it down into manageable steps.  So they created a new tradition called “Corban” (11).  According to Corban, you simply had to give a few bucks to the religious leaders.  Easy enough, right?  You didn’t have to take care of your parents when they got old, honor them when you were a child, respect their wishes when you were a young adult, and so forth.  According to the Pharisees, you only had to hand over some dough to the religious leaders (not your parents, notice, but to the religious leaders!).  

Jesus denounces their tradition of Corban, letting the Pharisees know it actually did the opposite of honoring your parents (12).  Then he added, “Thus making void the word of God by your traditions that you have handed down” (13).  

But the center of Jesus’s critique of the Pharisees is found in verses 6-7, “This people honors me with their lips, but their heart is far from me; in vain do they worship me, teaching as doctrines the commandments of men.”  Jesus called them hypocrites, for they pretended like they were religious, but they were actually doing more harm than good.  Do you know any religious people like this?  I do, and just to be honest, there are times when I act like the Pharisees, too.

What can we learn from this?  First, understand the difference between human religious traditions and God’s Ten Commandments (Exodus 20:2-17, Deuteronomy 5:6-17).  The Ten Commandments are from God and we are meant to keep them; the religious traditions are from humans and they are an attempt to make the Ten Commandments doable, easier.

Second, however, no matter how hard we try, nobody can keep the Ten Commandments.  Nobody, except for Jesus, can keep God’s law.  God’s law condemns us all, which is what it’s supposed to do.  We are not supposed to keep God’s law, but it is supposed to keep us in line.  God’s law shows us how sinful we are, so we do not rely on ourselves, but on Christ, to save us.  The Pharisees want us to think we can keep the law, so we rely on them and on ourselves.  

Third, we must put our faith in Jesus, not in ourselves and our efforts to keep the law (or any other religious tradition).  When others point their accusing fingers at us and say, ‘You’re not clean enough’ or ‘You’re not good enough,’ we don’t then have to try to get clean or get good; rather, we have to trust Jesus to save us.  He makes us clean.  The real question is not ‘Am I clean enough,’ but ‘Where is my heart?’  

We all give God quite a bit of lip service.  We also give the world quite a bit of lip service, too.  We pretend to be more than we really are.  But Jesus doesn’t care what you can accomplish, he only cares about your heart.  He doesn’t care if you’re clean, but if you’re truthful and sincere.  

The law will condemn you, but Jesus won’t.  He wants your heart, not your good works, so can you give your heart to him?  He traded his perfect life for your imperfect life by dying on the cross in your place.  

He loves you just as you are, dirty hands and all.  

The Breakdown

  1. What are some religious traditions we get caught up with today?  
  2. What is the purpose of the law?  It’s very important to know the answer. 
  3. In what areas of your life are you giving God lip service?  How can you give him your heart?

Love Contagion

Mark 6:53-56

Has anyone yet told you they loved you today?  We thought so.  Maybe you just got done looking at porn, maybe you just got done looking at divorce papers.  Maybe you just got off a double shift, maybe you just got off a bar stool.  Whether you’re beginning your day or wishing it all would end, before you close your eyes, we want you to know we love you.  

It’s crazy to think God would love any of us, if you don’t think it’s crazy, then you’re probably out of touch with yourself.  Most people don’t realize how much God loves them, just as they are.  They think God could love, would love, might possibly love, a certain version of themselves, but that’s where most get it wrong.  God doesn’t love the good you, he loves the awful you

Stick that in your Twitter feed and smoke it.

It’s easy to read a passage of the Bible like this and think Jesus just healed a bunch of people.  He didn’t just heal a bunch of people, he loved a bunch of people, who didn’t deserve it, who woke up that morning in the arms of another lover or hungover with a headache or wallowing in their own sickness and self-pity or still wrecked by the words a parent shouted at them two days before.  In their wildest dreams they never thought that day they’d meet a God who loved them.

Do you?

Words are more powerful than sight, just in case you think words are cheap.  They aren’t.  If my son came to me covered in mud and filth, because he wrecked his life, the sight of him wouldn’t decrease my love for him, because I love him from my heart, not from my pupils.  If anything, the more needy he becomes, the more I love him!  When God tells you he loves you, his words aren’t cheap.  He sees you in your desperate state and runs to you with a love song in his heart.

You could be going through hell, but when someone tells you they love you, it fortifies you, doesn’t it?  When they look at you, knowing full well what you are and what you’ve done and yet still say, “I love you,” it makes you stand up just a little taller, because you know you can get through it.

We live in a time when there’s not a whole lot of lovin’ going on.  We’re a far cry from loving the people around us like they did on the shores of Gennesaret.  “And when they got out of the boat, the people immediately recognized him and ran about the whole region and began to bring the sick people on their beds to wherever they heard he was” (Mark 6:54-55).  They physically picked up the outcast and marginalized and diseased and carried them to Jesus.  What a beautiful picture of love!

Who can you carry to the love of Jesus today?  And I mean today.  You are surrounded by many people who didn’t get to hear, “I love you” from anyone yet today, or maybe in a long time.  If you recognize Jesus, can you bring someone to his love?  

Maybe it’s someone who is from a different political party.  Maybe it’s someone who’s been sick.  Maybe it’s someone of a different race.  Maybe it’s someone who’s been making your life hard.  Maybe it’s someone you’ve been taking for granted.  Who can you carry to Jesus today?

How?  Tell them you love them.  That’s all you need to do, because if the love of Christ lives in you, then you share it by opening your heart (and mouth) to someone in need.

In his new book Gentle and Lowly, Dane Ortland points to a wonderful truth about Jesus Christ.  It helps to understand the Old Testament background of clean and unclean.  All life was divided up into these two categories and if you came into contact with something unclean, then you would become unclean, too.  You would be morally impure, cut off from God and other people.  That’s why this story is so shocking, because people are running around recklessly, touching the unclean sick and bringing them to Jesus, so he can lay his hands on them.  

But instead of furthering the spread of uncleanness, there’s healing!  “And wherever he came, in villages, cities, or countryside, they laid the sick in the marketplaces and implored him that they might touch even the fringe of his garment.  And as many as touched it were made well.” (Mark 6:56).  You see, Jesus had his own contagion to spread, a love contagion.  Whoever touched him became holy.  Whoever touched him received love.  Whoever touched him received healing.  

“But I can’t heal anyone!” you say.  I disagree, for you can love them!  You can help spread the contagion of love, which will free the oppressed, bring hope to the despairing, and lift the burden of those heavy with life.  

“There is no fear in love.  But perfect love drives out fear” (1 John 4:18).  This does NOT mean that fear will kill love; rather, it means love will kill fear.  So you can’t wait for fear to leave before you love someone, you have to love them first.  The only way to eradicate fear is with love, and that puts all of us on the hook, for where else does love come from?  You have the contagion in your heart and it is yours to spread.  If you don’t love those around you, then no one else will.

Our world today is filled with uncertainty and fear.  Perhaps some politicians are using this to their advantage to get you to vote for them.  But politicians do not drive out fear, love does.  

Your love does.

Beloved, the world needs your love.  People on bar stools, people going through a divorce, people struggling with addiction, people wrecked by dysfunction.  

So we implore you, go spread the love contagion today. 

 The Breakdown

  1. What version of you do you think God loves most?  Do you know he loves the true you?
  2. Did you think of anyone you can “carry” to Jesus today?  
  3. How can you spread the love contagion this week?

Job Remix

The book of Job in the Bible is one of the most outstanding works in all literature.  But what if Job lived in the United States today?  And what if Satan’s greatest strategy for attacking our faith were to make us rich, rather than poor?  To give wealth, not take away.  Before you wish you had more money, consider this remix of Job.

Chapter 1

There was a man in the land of Uz whose name was Job, and that man was blameless and upright, one who feared God and turned away from evil.  There was born to him no children, but he adopted two sons and one daughter.  He had a flip phone and had never Tweeted.  He possessed a small apartment and a Geo Tracker and he used food stamps, so that this man was among the poorest of all his people of the West. 

Now there was a day when the sons of God came to present themselves before the LORD, and Satan also came among them.  The LORD said to Satan, “From where have you come?”  Satan answered the LORD and said, “From going to and fro on the earth, and from walking up and down on it.”  And the LORD said to Satan, “Have you considered my servant Job, that there is none like him on the earth, a blameless and upright man, who fears God and turns away from evil?”  Then Satan answered the LORD and said, “Does Job fear God for no reason?  Have you not made his life hard for him and his whole house?  You have cursed the work of his hands, and he has barely been able to eke out an existence, so that he lives in desperation, depending on you for even his daily bread.  You shout to him through his pain. But stretch out your hand and touch all that he has, multiplying the work of his hands, getting him to forget that he is an undeserving sinner, and he will curse you to your face.”  And the LORD said to Satan, “Behold, all that he has is in your hand.  Only don’t stretch out your hand to increase his health or abilities.”  So Satan went out from the presence of the LORD.

Now there was a day when his sons and daughters were starving together, praying for help in their oldest brother’s house, and there came a messenger to Job and said, “The old John Deere tractor was plowing and people from Caterpillar suddenly showed up with new combines and plows and millions of dollars of other farm equipment.  They started giving gifts to anyone they laid eyes on, including all your children, and I alone have escaped without a gift to tell you.” While he was yet speaking, there came another and said, “Your sons and daughters were fasting and praying in their oldest brother’s house, and behold, the people from Extreme Makeover: Home Edition showed up and began to build them a mansion.  They were just finishing up the home theater, when I alone managed to escape the blessing to tell you.

Then Job arose and tore his t-shirt and shaved his beard and fell on the ground and worshipped.  And he said, “Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked I shall return.  The LORD took away, and the LORD has given; blessed be the name of the LORD.”

In all this Job did not sin or forget about God.

Chapter 2

Again there was a day when the sons of God came to present themselves before the LORD, and Satan also came among them to present himself before the LORD.  And the LORD said to Satan, “From where have you come?”  Satan answered the LORD and said, “From going to and fro on the earth, and from walking up and down on it.”  And the LORD said to Satan, “Have you considered my servant Job, that there is none like him on the earth, a blameless and upright man, who fears God and turns away from evil?  He still holds fast his integrity, although you incited me against him to bless him without reason.”  Then Satan answered the LORD and said, “Grace for grace!  All that makes a man miserable he will take for his faith!  But stretch out your hand and touch his bone and his flesh with kindness, and he will practically forget you altogether.  Give him education, entertainment, equality, and fast food, and he will forget your grace. Show him how good and naturally talented he is, and he will not depend on you anymore, but take the credit for himself.”  And the LORD said to Satan, “Behold, he is in your hand; only don’t make him a billionaire.”  

So Satan went out from the presence of the LORD and struck Job with health, wealth, and prosperity, from the sole of his foot to the crown on his head (and he did indeed give Job a dazzling crown).  And he took a bottle of oil and shampoo with which to groom himself while he sat in his jacuzzi.  

Then his wife said to him, “Do you still hold fast your integrity and belief in God?  Forget the Almighty!  It’s obvious you don’t need him anymore!  Lose God and live it up!”  But he said to her, “You speak as one of the foolish women would speak.  Shall we receive evil from God, and shall we not receive good?”  In all this Job did not sin with his lips.  

Chapters 3-37

Job’s three friends show up, take one look at him in all his blessedness, and say he must have done something right to deserve all this grace.  One says it was Job’s talent that provoked the grace; another says it was his godliness; and another says it was his poverty that untethered the Almighty’s mercy. All conclude that he has a ton of talent and that God wants to use him to change the world.

But Job argues with them; he can’t believe that God would actually bless him because he is such a sinner.

So Job challenges God’s graciousness, demanding God to justify himself for giving all this stuff to him.  After all, Job knows he is a poor, miserable sinner who does not deserve grace or any good thing from God. 

Chapters 38-41

Then God shows up and basically says, “You ain’t seen nothing yet!”  God first displays his unmerited graciousness to Job in all his creation, before taking Job to the cross of Jesus Christ, where the full fury and majesty of his love for poor, miserable sinners was poured out.  Job is left speechless.   

Chapter 42

Job finally answers the LORD, the LORD rebukes the friends, and the LORD restores Job’s former miseries.