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Author:Rev. Ted Gray
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Congregation:First United Reformed Church
 Oak Lawn, Illinois
Title:Clean Hands and a Cleansed Heart
Text:Matthew 15:1-20 (View)
Occasion:Regular Sunday
Topic:Life in Christ

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)

When Morning Gilds The Skies
Gracious God, My Heart Renew
Search Me, O God
Lord Jesus, I Long to Be Perfectly Whole

* As a matter of courtesy please advise Rev. Ted Gray, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.

“Clean Hands and a Cleansed Heart”
Matthew 15:1-20
The events described in Matthew 15 took place a little less than a year before Jesus was crucified. His popularity had risen, large crowds followed Him, and that concerned the Pharisees greatly. We see just how much the popularity of Jesus concerned the Pharisees already in verse 1. It says, Some Pharisees and teachers of the law came to Jesus from Jerusalem…”
Jesus was at Gennesaret (14:34) so it was a distance of more than 80 miles from Jerusalem. There was no Interstate; it was a long trek. But they came all that distance because the Pharisees and teachers of the law were on a mission. They were on a mission to stop Jesus. They wanted to publicly accuse Him and get the crowds away from Him so that His influence would be gone.
They bring an accusation in verse 2 that they thought would carry a lot of weight and prove to everyone that Jesus and His disciples were imposters, that they were far from being holy. They accusingly ask in verse 2, “Why do your disciples break the tradition of the elders? They don’t wash their hands before they eat!”
This washing of hands was a ceremonial washing. There appears to have been variations of it. Often it involved scrubbing the hands from the wrist down in a thorough washing, though sometimes those who washed their hands ceremonially would raise them up above their heads and then they would be sprayed with water, making them ceremonially clean. 
However, Jesus responded with a question of His own. His question to the Pharisees centered not on traditions, but on the law of God. In verses 3 to 6, Jesus replied, “And why do you break the command of God for the sake of your tradition?  For God said, ‘Honor your father and mother’ and ‘Anyone who curses their father or mother is to be put to death.’ But you say that if a man says to his father and mother, ‘Whatever help you might otherwise have received from me is a gift devoted to God,’ he is not to honor his father with it. Thus you nullify the word of God for the sake of your tradition.”
Jesus is describing the Pharisaic practice of Corban. The Pharisees were well known for separating a portion of money to be a gift devoted to God known as “Corban” (Mark 7:11). To devote money to the Lord’s work, such as we do with tithes and offerings is a direct command from the Lord, and is commendable and right when given cheerfully and with pure motives. But the Pharisees used Corban as an excuse not to help their own parents, even if their parents were in great need.
The way it worked is if you had a sum of money, large or small, let’s say it was ten thousand dollars in our currency, you could set that money aside as Corban, that is, money devoted to God. You didn’t need to give that money for the use of the temple or the Lord’s Kingdom; you could hang on to the money and give it when you were on your deathbed. But it was often used for other things, or passed on as an inheritance and never used as Corban, as money devoted to God.
But suppose a Pharisee had ten thousand dollars and his parents were ill, needing care, basic necessities, food, shelter, clothing as well as medical needs, he could – and they would – say to their parents, “We can’t help you. The money we have is devoted to the Lord.  It is Corban. You will have to make do without any help from us.”
That was a common practice of the Pharisees, so Jesus points out this tremendous discrepancy: The Pharisees accused His disciples of not washing their hands, which is based on tradition, but they refused to help needy parents, which is based on the commandment of God that we honor our father and mother, including helping them financially if we are able and if they are in need.
Jesus clearly shows the hypocrisy of the Pharisees as He quotes from Isaiah in verses 7 to 9: You hypocrites! Isaiah was right when he prophesied about you: ‘These people honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me. They worship me in vain; their teachings are but rules taught by men.’”
The Source of Uncleanness
The second group that Jesus speaks to in this passage is the crowd, to whom He explains that we are “unclean” by what is inside of us, not because of what we eat. In verses 10 and 11, Jesus said, “Listen and understand. What goes into a man’s mouth does not make him ‘unclean,’ but what comes out of his mouth, that is what makes him ‘unclean.’”
In a parallel account, Mark points out that In saying this, Jesus declared all foods clean.” (Mark 7:19c) In Old Testament times there were clean animals that could be eaten and unclean which could not be eaten. In Leviticus 11 and Deuteronomy 14 we are given a long list of clean and unclean animals. Clean animals were those who chew the cud and have a cloven foot, such as a cow. But an animal like a horse, which doesn’t have a cloven hoof, was unclean and could not be eaten. 
The purpose of those ceremonial laws was to instill in the people a sense of the holiness of God and to show them how sin serves as a barrier, separating us from God. But when Christ sacrificed Himself on the cross, the reality of reconciliation was accomplished. Consequently, the ceremonial law was no longer needed. And Jesus, anticipating His death within a year’s time, uses this occasion to declare all foods clean.
The third group that He speaks to are His disciples. He speaks to them after they come to Him with what one commentator notes is one of their most foolish questions, there in verse 12,Then the disciples came to him and asked, ‘Do you know that the Pharisees were offended when they heard this?’”
The disciples still didn’t get it. They didn’t understand that Jesus’ intent was to show how offensive the teaching of the Pharisees really was. Jesus was teaching how offensive it was that they would pride themselves for a tradition – the washing of their hands – while totally missing the teaching of the law that one is to honor their father and mother, even in the area of finances if necessary.
Jesus uses two descriptions of the Pharisees to teach His disciples their true character.  First, in verse 13, He refers to the Pharisees as “plants not planted by his heavenly Father.” The second description of them, in verse 14, is that they are blind guides.” 
At this point, those two descriptions might seem quite remote to us. That was back in the first century, some 2000 years ago.  What relevancy could verses like verse 13 and 14 have for us today? Those verses have great relevancy for us today because in the visible church today we have so many leaders who are just like the Pharisees. The Pharisees were the religious leaders of their day, but in the words of Jesus, they are plants not planted by our heavenly Father.
I’m reading a book that I picked up at the Ligonier Conference by Dr. Peter Jones, a professor at Westminster Seminary in California. The title of the book is One or Two and the purpose of the book is to show that there are only two ways of spirituality. “One-ism” focuses on worshiping the creation and not the Creator; it seeks to remove all distinctions from life, even distinctions of sexuality. “Two-ism” teaches that God created the world, that there is a Creator-creature distinction, and that God is to be worshipped as salvation comes through saving faith in Christ alone. The distinctions between “One-ism” and “Two-ism” are based on Romans 1.
In the book, Dr. Jones describes the Interfaith movement where all religions merge together worshipping the same god – one-ism. He describes an Interfaith Conference, held in Chicago in 1993. It was called The Parliament of World’s Religions. He describes how they agreed that their religions are fundamentally the same, and then writes: “I watched 8,000 delegates from 125 religions lock arms and dance to the sound of an American Indian tom-tom drum.” He adds: “I did not join arms… As Paul said, (2 Cor. 6:15), ‘What portion does a believer share with an unbeliever?’” (pp. 107, 108)
Yet as Dr. Jones points out, the Interfaith movement is a huge “ecumenical” movement. The leaders of Interfaith teach that we can all have unity because we all worship the same god in different ways. We can have unity, but the catchword is that we have unity through “diversity”. Religious leaders who teach unity through diversity are not plants planted by the heavenly Father. Scripture is clear that not all roads lead to the Father, to the glory of living in the new heavens and new earth. Jesus alone is the way, the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through saving faith in Him. (John 14:6)
The same is true for leaders in mainline churches who teach that the resurrection was only spiritual. They are also plants not planted by our Father in heaven.  They teach that the spirit of Jesus arose and we see the spirit of goodness all around us, which is the spirit of Jesus, but of course, we know that human bodies aren’t raised; it was only a spiritual resurrection. 
And the virgin birth? Already in the 1920s that was denied, along with the substitutionary atonement, the physical resurrection of Jesus, the reality of the miracles He performed, and the inerrancy of Scripture. It was denied by over 1,200 ministers in the Presbyterian Church. 
The denial was known as the Auburn Affirmation and led to the formation of both Westminster Seminary in Philadelphia, which split away from Princeton Seminary, and the Orthodox Presbyterian Church which separated itself from the large liberal Presbyterian Church known today as the Presbyterian Church in the USA (PCUSA).
The list could go on with the latest trend the full acceptance of practicing homosexuals in the church. For instance, the United Church of Christ sent a delegation to Washington D.C. last week to give encouragement to the Supreme Court to strike down the Defense of Marriage Act and to legislate gay marriage. Leaders from that denomination and other denominations went and lent their support for a lifestyle that the Bible says is an abomination to God. 
Those ministers who promote false doctrine and immoral behavior are plants not planted by the heavenly Father. They are planted by the Father’s enemy. You remember the parable of the weeds, from Matthew 13:24-28: Jesus told them another parable: ‘The kingdom of heaven is like a man who sowed good seed in his field. But while everyone was sleeping, his enemy came and sowed weeds among the wheat, and went away. When the wheat sprouted and formed heads, then the weeds also appeared.’  The owner’s servants came to him and said, ‘Sir, didn't you sow good seed in your field? Where then did the weeds come from?’ ‘An enemy did this,’ he replied.”
And we should not be surprised. 2 Corinthians 11:13-15 warns that …such men are false apostles, deceitful workmen, masquerading as apostles of Christ. And no wonder, for Satan himself masquerades as an angel of light. It is not surprising, then, if his servants masquerade as servants of righteousness. Their end will be what their actions deserve.”
The description of the Pharisees in the first century, unfortunately, applies to so many church leaders today. They are plants not planted by the Father. And the same is true for the description of blind guides. In many churches, the blind are truly leading the blind. As Jesus points out in verse 14, “Both will fall into a pit.”
A Cleansed Heart
After revealing the true character of the Pharisees to His disciples, Jesus explained the importance of a clean heart. He did so because Peter and the other disciples still did not understand what the Lord meant when He said to the crowd in verses 10 and 11, “What goes into a man’s mouth does not make him ‘unclean,’ but what comes out of his mouth, that is what makes him ‘unclean.’” So Peter asked the Lord to explain what he calls “the parable” to them.
In verses 16 to 20 Jesus explains what should have been obvious to the disciples, that what goes into our mouth isn’t what makes us unclean. It is what comes out of our mouth that makes us unclean. More specifically, what comes out of our heart – which is the center of our being, the essence of who we are – makes us unclean. Jesus declared: For out of the heart come evil thoughts—murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false testimony, slander.  These are what make a man ‘unclean.’; but eating with unwashed hands does not make him ‘unclean.’” (19, 20)
That statement leads to our first application which is that our hearts must be made new and thoroughly purified because our hearts by nature are described as deceitful above all things and desperately wicked.” That’s how Jeremiah describes the human heart in Jeremiah 17:9. Jeremiah explains in that chapter how sin has etched itself into the human heart. He writes: The sin of Judah is written with a pen of iron and with the point of a diamond; it is graven upon the table of their heart.” (Jer. 17:1)
It was the diamond needle of record players in years gone by that was etched into the surface of a record to produce the sounds of music. A diamond is so sharp that it can cut glass, leaving a permanent etching engraved into the surface. Like a deep scratch on a car, you can paint over it but the scratch itself is still etched into the metal of the car.
And so it is with sin, it is etched into our heart, deeply engraved and colored with indelible black ink. You can try to gloss over your sin, but you cannot remove the reality of sin’s etching which is deeply engraved inside us, in the essence of our being – our heart.
Only God can cleanse our heart and create a pure heart within us. God’s work in our heart is so thorough that it is described by God Himself as a new heart. Ezekiel 36:26, “I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh.”
That transformation of the heart is the work of the Holy Spirit as He regenerates us, so that we are born again - “born from above.”  It is a work of grace; it is God’s doing, not ours. But it is something we are to pray for, as did David, in Psalm 51:10, Create in me a pure heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me.” We can pray that prayer with confidence, for in the same Psalm, in verse 17 we read, The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise.”
While God alone can give our us a pure heart – a heart of flesh upon which He writes His law – His Word – instead of a heart of stone, we must guard our heart. Proverbs 4:23 is one of those key verses in the Bible. It speaks of something so important that it begins by saying, “Above all...” – “Above all, guard your heart, for it is the wellspring of life.”
Most of us know the way to guard our heart. It includes faithfulness in worship and in personal devotions, faithfulness in prayer, and faithfulness to the sacraments which God has given us.  And it means guarding our actions since our heart and our actions go hand in hand. Our actions are part of the wellspring of life” that Proverbs 4:23 speaks about.  How’s that song go that you children sing? –
Oh, be careful, little eyes, what you see,
Oh, be careful, little eyes, what you see.
There’s a Father up above looking down in tender love,
Oh, be careful, little eyes, what you see.
That song points out – as does Scripture – that the same care for our eyes extends to what we listen to with our ears, what we do with our hands, where our feet go, and what our mouth says.
Those are some of the ways that we guard our heart, remembering that there is indeed a Father up above and He is looking down in love. But the Lord looks, as 1 Samuel 16:7 points out, not “on the outward appearance, but the LORD looks on the heart.” Both the song and the Scriptures teach that the actions of our eyes, hands, feet, and mouth – of our whole self – are determined by the condition of our heart.
A third application: If our heart is renewed by God, we will honor God’s Word over our traditions. The Pharisees showed that their hearts were not purified, they were not transformed by the Holy Spirit; they honored their own traditions above the Word of God.
Some traditions are good, but often our traditions have a ring of legalism to them, just as the traditions of the Pharisees were legalistic in nature. Our traditions and rules may seem good, but we need to evaluate them in the light of God’s Word. Consider Colossians 2:20-23:
Since you died with Christ to the basic principles of this world, why, as though you still belonged to it, do you submit to its rules: “Do not handle! Do not taste! Do not touch!”? These are all destined to perish with use, because they are based on human commands and teachings. Such regulations indeed have an appearance of wisdom, with their self-imposed worship, their false humility and their harsh treatment of the body, but they lack any value in restraining sensual indulgence.   
Some of us grew up with traditions that had strict man-made legalistic rules. Those rules were well-meaning perhaps, but were based on human reasoning and not on God’s Word. We must always examine what we do in the light of God’s Word, lest like the Pharisees of old we nullify the Word of God for the sake of our traditions.
The Pharisees and teachers of the law came a long way – more than 80 miles to confront Jesus. May we learn from their negative example and guard ourselves from false teachers, from those who are blind guides and plants not planted by our heavenly Father.
And by God's grace and Spirit's power, may we guard our heart, realizing that it is the wellspring of life, in need of that cleansing and renewal that only Christ can give, through the Holy Spirit’s regenerating power. Amen.
sermon outline:
Then some Pharisees and teachers of the law came to Jesus from
Jerusalem and asked, “Why do your disciples break the tradition
 of the elders? They don’t wash their hands before they eat!” 
                                                                               Matthew 15:1-2
                      “Clean Hands and a Cleansed Heart”
                                       Matthew 15:1-20
I.  In this passage Jesus addresses three groups of people:
    1) The Pharisees, whom He condemns for their religion based on
         tradition (1-9)
    2) The crowd, to whom He explains that we are “unclean” by what
         is inside of us, not because of what we eat (10-11). In saying this,
         Jesus declared all foods clean.”  (Mark 7:19c)
    3) His disciples, to whom He revealed the true character of the
         Pharisees as blind guides not planted by His Father (12-14), and
         He explained the importance of a cleansed, new heart (15-20)
II. Applications:
     1) Our heart must be cleansed and renewed (Psalm 51:10; Ezekiel
         36:26) by the Holy Spirit’s power (John 3:3), because by nature
         our heart is deceitful above all things and desperately wicked (Jer.
     2) While God alone can give us a pure heart, we must guard our heart
          (Proverbs 4:23)
     3) If our heart is renewed by God, we will honor God’s Word over
          our traditions (3; Colossians 2:20-23)


* As a matter of courtesy please advise Rev. Ted Gray, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.
(c) Copyright 2013, Rev. Ted Gray

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