Jesus' disciples were involved in ministry. Full-time, all the time. Like we saw last week, things were so busy, they rarely had time to eat.
Mark 6:31 ...For there were many coming and going, and they did not even have time to eat.
So they ate when they could, probably a quick bite of bread here and there. The scribes and the Pharisees noticed that the disciples didn't wash their hands before doing this, and confronted Jesus about it. But they weren't concerned with hygiene - with germs and dirt. They were upset that the ceremonial washing, a tradition of the elders, was not being done.
You see, the Jews believed that a demon sat upon unwashed hands. If you ate before ceremonially cleansing them, they thought, the demon would enter your body through your mouth. So, they believed that the ceremonial cleaning was very necessary.
The washing itself was very detailed and elaborate. As you pressed your hands together and held them upright, 1 1/2 eggshells of water would be poured over your hands. But, the water had to drip down, for if it ran down past your wrists, then your arm would be ceremonially unclean. Then, you had to flip your hands over pointing downward and have another 1 1/2 eggshells of water poured on them, making sure that the water dripped off and not down your arm. Then there was a washing sort of motion - rubbing your palms against your fists. They did this before every meal and between every course!
We read in Luke 11 that Jesus also did not do this. Neither He nor the disciples were breaking the Mosaic Law, but simply the Jews' tradition - the extra rules, regulations, and requirements that they heaped upon the people. The Scribes and Pharisees confront Him about this, and they're about to get an earful...
God's law was given to show God's perfection and man's imperfection. The law shows us how utterly sinful we are, and is designed to cause us to cry out to God for His mercy. As Galatians 3 says,
Gal. 3:24 Therefore the Law has become our tutor to lead us to Christ,
We also read in Romans 7,
Rom. 7:7 What shall we say then? Is the Law sin? May it never be! On the contrary, I would not have come to know sin except through the Law; for I would not have known about coveting if the Law had not said, "YOU SHALL NOT COVET."
The law was given to show what sin is, showing the Jew that perfection was impossible. The idea was that when they tried to obey the law, and stumbled at one point, they would say "Lord, I need your forgiveness!" But instead of allowing their hearts to be broken and crying out to God, saying, "We have fallen short of the glory of God. We are unrighteous! Lord, we appeal to your mercy!" they became prideful, and substituted the rules of God for relationship with God.
Then they began to add to God's Law. For the laws which seemed impossible, loopholes were created to enable religious people to keep them. God's Laws which were plain and simple, given for the people's benefit, were expounded upon and defined with lots of additions and subsections.
For example, the Lord had said,
Exod. 20:10 ...the seventh day is a sabbath of the LORD your God; in it you shall not do any work
Well, they needed to define work. So the rules became ridiculous, defining what was and was not work. You could walk, but only a certain number of paces. That's why we read the expression,
Acts 1:12 Then they returned to Jerusalem from the mount called Olivet, which is near Jerusalem, a Sabbath day's journey away.
Olivet was within the distance from Jerusalem that the Jewish traditional law allowed.
Another example was in regards to spitting. Is spitting work? Can you spit on the Sabbath day? That depends. If you spit on a rock, that's okay. But if you spit in the dirt, you've just created mud, which could be used for mortar. That's work, and that's not okay.
So Jesus is hot under the collar here, saying that the Jews were "teaching as doctrines the precepts of men." He gives them the example of what was called "Corban." A tradition of the Jews in which something was declared to be a gift to God at some point in the future. This invalidated the Word of God when the thing could have blessed the person's parents, in violation of a direct command of God. He adds that this was just one of many things they did such as that.
Notice the three-step progression that happens when we allow the traditions of men to come alongside God's Word. First, traditions are added to God's Word. Then traditions are held to, and God's word is neglected. Lastly, tradition completely invalidates the Word of God.
Traditions sneak their way in not only with rules and regulations, but also with opinions. How often I come across things in the Word of God which contradict conventional Christian "wisdom." There is certainly no room for opinion in the teaching ministry. Whether in a pulpit or a living room Bible study, the only thing that a representative of God should be representing is the heart of God.
The word "defile" means to pollute something. It is the same basic Greek word from verse 1 when it says that the disciples were eating with "impure" hands.
Jesus here teaches that nothing you eat physically will make you impure or defiled spiritually. What truly defiles someone is not in their stomach, but in their heart. It is not what goes into your mouth, but actually what comes out of it, for Jesus said,
Matt. 12:34 "...The mouth speaks out of that which fills the heart.
Remember the Scripture that says,
James 3:8 ...No one can tame the tongue...
That is true: you can never tame your tongue. But you can tame your heart. We will never get control of our mouths until we get control of our hearts. The same is true for our bodies of flesh. People, the battle is won or lost in your hearts. If your heart is full of wickedness, lust, and sin, then your life will be also.
So Jesus used this opportunity to illustrate that it is not unwashed hands or unholy food that makes a man sinful - it is an unwashed and unholy heart which does. Mark adds a parenthesis here, saying,
Mark 7:19 ... (Thus He declared all foods clean.)
Remember that there were strict Jewish laws about what food was clean and unclean, dating back even to the time of Noah. Leviticus chapter 11 describes in detail what animals were clean and unclean. But now Jesus, in fulfillment of the Law, declares all foods clean. The disciples just didn't get this at the time, so it had to be stated more specifically later on. You can read of that account in Acts chapter 10.
Jesus goes away to the region of Tyre, which is modern-day Beirut.
Notice that when He had entered the house, He could not escape notice. That is true when Jesus Christ is in your house as well. Things change: Your life changes, your speech changes, your priorities and values change. Your morality changes. It becomes glaringly obvious. You can't hide Christ - there's no such thing as a "closet Christian." The Bible tells us,
2Cor. 5:17 ...If any man is in Christ, he is a new creature; the old things passed away; behold, new things have come.
Jesus in your house becomes obvious to everyone. Christ cannot be concealed for long.
A Gentile woman, not a Jew, came and fell at the feet of Jesus, pleading with Him to cast the demon out of her daughter. But Jesus' answer sounds very harsh. He says,
Mark 7:27 And He was saying to her, "Let the children be satisfied first, for it is not good to take the children's bread and throw it to the dogs."
Understand that He was not calling her a dog. The Jews used the word dog in reference to Gentiles, and Jesus was playing His answer off of that. But His choice of words reveals His heart, for the word "dogs" Jesus uses here is not a harsh word - it means "doggies." An affectionate term, acknowledging that she was a Gentile, but one who was loved.
Why was Jesus reluctant to bring His ministry to the Gentiles? Remember that Israel was God's chosen people. He had obligated Himself to bring His ministry to them first. As the book of Romans says,
Rom. 1:16 ...salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek.
The Jews were the ones chosen to carry the Word of God, to have the covenant of God, and most importantly, to produce the Messiah of God. This was promised back at the beginning to Abraham, when God told him,
Gen. 26:4 "...by your descendants all the nations of the earth shall be blessed;
So Jesus was not reluctant to minister to her, but needed her to understand that the gospel was to go to the Jew first. She said that although she couldn't expect to sit at the main table, that she'd be fine with just a few crumbs. At that moment, Jesus healed her daughter.
This is an unusual healing to say the least. Brought to Jesus was a deaf man that had difficulty speaking. Jesus takes him aside, puts His fingers in his ears, and touches his tongue with His saliva.
The Lord never healed people the same way all the time. That's good, because it keeps us from trying to imitate some technique and putting the miracles in a box.
But let's look at this a little deeper. Put yourself in the man's place. Maybe you are hard of hearing when it comes to hearing the Lord. Maybe you have difficulty speaking of the Lord to others. How can you be healed of these things? The four things that happen here for the man's healing are the same four things for your healing as well.
#1. He took him aside from the multitude by himself. If we want to overcome our speech impediment for proclaiming the gospel, and be cured of our deafness towards the voice of the Lord, we need to get away from the crowd and get alone with Jesus.
#2. He put His fingers in his ears. Picture this visually: you can't hear anything, and you're less than an arms' distance from His faith. That's the idea: stop trying to listen, and just gaze directly into His face. You see, when we want to listen, when we're straining to hear, we can't. It's not the time that God is speaking to us. Tune everything else out and just focus in on the face of Jesus Christ.
#3. He spit, and touched His tongue with the saliva. We need to have on our tongue the water that comes from Jesus' mouth. The water of the Word of God. Hiding His Word in our hearts. Memorizing Scripture. Speaking the Scripture out loud.
#4. "Ef-fath-AH," that is, "Be opened!" After you've done these things, then He does the work - He opens your ears and loosens your tongue.