Spiritual Heart Disease

Posted: July 23, 2012 in Matthew

Matthew 15:1-20, “Spiritual Heart Disease”

Heart disease is a major problem.  The federal government calls it the leading cause of death in the United States for men and women.  Fat and other junk builds up plaque on our arteries, slowing down the flow of blood to the heart, causing bad issues.  What people need is a way to clean up their arteries, and help restore the flow of blood.

Spiritually speaking, people suffer almost the same problem.  Our hearts are diseased (defiled), and without some way of cleansing our heart, every single person will suffer the eternal death that comes with spiritual heart disease.  How do we deal with this disease?  How do we recognize this defilement?  This is what Jesus dealt with regarding the Pharisees.

The Pharisees thought like so many people tend to think: we can deal with spiritual defilement through external means – that if we can do the right stuff the right way then we can make ourselves pure.  That wasn’t what the Bible taught, but that’s what they convinced themselves to believe.  Jesus calls them on the carpet for their legalism & hypocrisy, and also gives the true diagnosis & remedy.  Diseased actions begin with a diseased heart.  Deal with the heart, and the rest will follow.

Matthew 15:1–20 (NKJV)
1 Then the scribes and Pharisees who were from Jerusalem came to Jesus, saying, 2 “Why do Your disciples transgress the tradition of the elders? For they do not wash their hands when they eat bread.”

  1. These were “Jerusalem” scribes and Pharisees…the truly “authoritative” ones. Obviously the news about Jesus was spreading, and the Pharisees felt the needs to call up the big guns to take care of things.
  2. Quite an accusation against Jesus: basically saying that His disciples were lawbreakers, and Jesus didn’t care.  Surely the Messiah (God’s chosen king of Israel) would keep and enforce the Law.  Why didn’t Jesus enforce this law? They were planting doubt and attempting to discredit Jesus in the eyes of the people.
    1. BTW, this still happens today.  One of the favorite tactics of the so-called “new atheists” is to try to implant doubt in the minds of Christians and discredit God in our eyes.  They attempt to paint God as some sort of immoral monster responsible for all the death and suffering throughout the world, and use Bible verses pulled wildly from their context as justification.  It’s a tactic of distraction; don’t get distracted from the plain truth of how the Bible presents our Lord.
    2. For the Pharisees (and for the new atheists today), it just goes to show who threatened they were by Jesus.  Jesus was capturing the attention of multitudes, and they needed to do something quick, in order to gain control of the situation again.
  3. To the point, was there actually a commandment that the disciples were breaking?  No.  What the Pharisees referenced was a part of the Jew’s oral & written tradition, but not a part of Scripture.  There were indeed laws given by God that specified the washing of hands after coming in contact with unclean things, but nothing was absolutely commanded as a ritual prior to eating.
  4. Why did the Pharisees seize on this idea of hand-washing prior to meals?  Mark’s account tells us that the Pharisees had seen the disciples eating with unwashed hands (Mk 7:2).  It seems possible that this is also in response to the grand miracle of feeding the 5000.  That event had made quite an impact upon the people, and they were ready to take Jesus by force to make Him their king.  This got the attention of Jerusalem, and the ruling class seemed to want to discredit the miracle (by discrediting the Man) as soon as possible, so they jumped on the first issue they came across.

3 He answered and said to them, “Why do you also transgress the commandment of God because of your tradition?

  1. Jesus points out their hypocrisy.  They accused Him of breaking their tradition (which had no authority); Jesus accuses them of breaking the actual law of God.
  2. Which is more important?  Which has priority: the word of God or the word of man?  The obvious answer ought to be the word of God.  Certainly there can be value in traditions, and things we’ve learned from the generations before us.  Yet there can be absolutely no substitute for the Scripture itself.  Scripture is our highest authority, because it was given to us by God.  Thus any tradition we may cling to is subject to the judgment of Scripture.  If the tradition is good (basic theology about the Trinity, for example), we keep it.  If it’s without Scriptural basis (veneration of the saints), we toss it.  This idea is the basic thought behind the Protestant doctrine of “Sola Scriptura,” Scripture alone.  There are whole branches of Christianity that reject this idea & hold Scripture & church tradition to be of equal weight, even claiming that the only proper interpretation of Scripture is when it’s held in line with the accepted tradition of the church.  There’s a huge problem in that this subjects God to the authority of man, rather than the other way around.  This is what the Pharisees did, and this is what many people try to do today.

4 For God commanded, saying, ‘Honor your father and your mother’; and, ‘He who curses father or mother, let him be put to death.’

  1. Here’s the example from the Law: the 5th commandment & corollary statutes (Exo 20:12, 21:17).  Jesus quotes the law accurately in order to demonstrate how the Pharisees had transgressed it.  It’s not as if the Scripture is ambiguous here – the word of God could hardly be any clearer!  Honor your parents, and when you don’t and instead curse them, the Jew was subject to the death penalty.  God didn’t leave a lot of wiggle room here, yet the Pharisees found a way.
  2. Honoring our parents is important to God because it reflects the order God has designed in Creation.  When we honor our parents, we are also honoring God, because we are acting in obedience and submission to Him.  This might be especially true if you believe your parents might not deserve honor, but you do it anyway.
  3. Question: “Why might someone be put to death?  This sounds rather harsh & cruel!”  We need to remember we’re not talking about the United States of America in the 21st century, but God gave certain laws to the nation of Israel to govern them during their own particular timeframe and culture.  For a child to curse his/her parents (i.e. not merely disobey them, but to vehemently and publicly call down curses upon them) was unheard of in the culture.  It was a total disruption of the order and ultimately an instigation of rebellion against God.  It was to be dealt with quickly and severely, and carried a punishment of death…just as all sin eventually carries a punishment of death.  The wages of sin is death (Rom 6:23).  Many times the Old Testament law demonstrates this vividly in order that the true holiness of God might be made known.  Certainly we do not find ourselves under the OT law today because the letter of the law is fulfilled in Jesus Christ.  His perfect life sacrificed upon the cross pays the penalty for every instance in which we cannot fulfill the law (i.e., never!).  The law may have been strict (perfect) because it needed to show us our own imperfection, which drives us to the feet of our Savior.  It’s our tutor to bring us Christ (Gal 3:24).  We see what sin is – we see what the consequences are – and then we understand how desperate we are for the forgiveness that only God can offer, which takes us to Jesus.
    1. That said, we don’t abuse the grace of God & use our forgiveness in Christ to have liberty to curse our parents.  The principle of honoring our parents is still valid for every believer today.

5 But you say, ‘Whoever says to his father or mother, “Whatever profit you might have received from me is a gift to God”— 6 then he need not honor his father or mother.’ Thus you have made the commandment of God of no effect by your tradition.

  1. Here’s the problem.  Their tradition had gotten in the way of the law.  The word of man interfered with the word of God.  They had devised for themselves a loophole by which a child could forego helping his parents financially if he claimed that his income had been previously dedicated to the Lord.  Basically, the tradition allowed for a person to declare an item in his possession to be dedicated unto the Lord, and then he was forbidden for using it for another purpose.  “Sorry I can’t sell that table to help you in your old age, Ma…it’s dedicated to the Lord, and all.”  In effect, the Pharisees had nullified the word of God through their legalism.  Keep in mind that the item never actually had to be used for the Lord; just dedicated.  It could have stayed in the person’s house for as long as he wanted, as long as he didn’t give it away to anyone else.
  2. What was the error of the Pharisees can also be our own, if we’re not careful.  We can nullify the word of God through our traditions.  Beware legalistic loopholes that you can create for yourself…
    1. Love your neighbor… (Matt 22:39)  “True, but THAT guy doesn’t really qualify as my neighbor.  After all, he doesn’t act neighborly towards me.”
    2. Remember the poor… (Gal 2:10)  “Maybe I will eventually, but only if the poor acts in a way this is according to my standards.  Otherwise, they must not really need help.”
    3. Forgive others… (Matt 6:14-15) “OK, but only if they really humble themselves first, until I’m convinced they’re really sorry.”
    4. And the list could go on.  We find all sorts of ways of justifying ourselves as we go around the clear teaching of God.  Instead of simple obedience, we give ourselves a loophole and go to an extra church service that week, or read some more Bible, or find some other way to soothe our conscience.  Whatever our legalism allows us to do, that’s what we do, instead of looking for the heart of God in conjunction with the word of God.  Beware!
  3. Contextually, the worship of God does not negate the need to honor one’s parents.  It’s not an either/or scenario.  If it comes between something you truly set aside for the Lord and helping your parents stay alive by feeding them one month, the better way to honor God is to honor your parents.  Certainly we cannot use our worship of God as our excuse when we choose NOT to honor our parents.  That’s not only dishonoring to our mother and father, but also dishonoring to God.

7 Hypocrites! Well did Isaiah prophesy about you, saying: 8 ‘These people draw near to Me with their mouth, And honor Me with their lips, But their heart is far from Me. 9 And in vain they worship Me, Teaching as doctrines the commandments of men.’ ”

  1. Jesus calls them out for what they are: “hypocrites.” (two-faced…)  They weren’t concerned with the truth of God’s word; they just wanted to imply Jesus was disobedient & thus disqualified from being the Messiah.  In engaging in this kind of duplicity, they exposed their own lack of faith in God & His word.
  2. Jesus quotes the prophet Isaiah, seemingly relying on the LXX translation.  In the original text: Isaiah 29:13, "Therefore the Lord said: “Inasmuch as these people draw near with their mouths And honor Me with their lips, But have removed their hearts far from Me, And their fear toward Me is taught by the commandment of men," []  There are some minor differences between the original & what Jesus quoted.  In the original context, God proclaimed coming judgment on the Jews (specifically Jerusalem) because of their disobedience.  This judgment would be a wondrous work that would bring back the people to a true worship and reverence of God, instead of worship via ritual only.  Jesus takes this Scripture to a more personal level with the Pharisees.  As He references the LXX, the commandments of men replaced the doctrine of God, and Jesus points out that the Pharisees claimed to have faith while in reality they valued themselves (their own doctrine) more than God.
    1. Not everyone who claims to be a Christian actually has saving faith in Christ.  The true worship of God is found in the heart in addition to the lips.  It wasn’t just the Pharisees; there will be many people who claimed to be Christian who will one day cry out “Lord, Lord,” and still not enter the kingdom of heaven because Jesus never knew them as His own. (Matt 7:21-23)  God forbid that our worship would be in vain!  God forbid that our honor of Christ would only be upon our lips, and not originate in our hearts!
    2. Where do you personally fall within that spectrum?  And how do you know?  Test yourself.  2 Corinthians 13:5, "Examine yourselves as to whether you are in the faith. Test yourselves. Do you not know yourselves, that Jesus Christ is in you?—unless indeed you are disqualified." []  Is Jesus Christ in you?  Have you believed upon Him by faith as your God & King, having that moment where you asked Him to be your Savior?  He will come in you – you will have the internal seal of the Holy Spirit.  If you don’t, then you won’t pass the test.  But you CAN today, by faith.

10 When He had called the multitude to Himself, He said to them, “Hear and understand: 11 Not what goes into the mouth defiles a man; but what comes out of the mouth, this defiles a man.”

  1. Jesus responded to the accusations.  Not so much from the perspective of justifying unwashed, dirty hands, or trying to flaunt the tradition of the Pharisees, but to get to the heart of what the Biblical purification laws were really all about.  It’s not so much what goes in as what comes out, which demonstrates if someone is defiled.  Jesus will explain more later…

12 Then His disciples came and said to Him, “Do You know that the Pharisees were offended when they heard this saying?”

  1. As if Jesus wouldn’t have known. J  He just walked on water, knowing exactly where to find the disciples in the middle of a vast lake.  Yes…Jesus knew they were offended.  Jesus knew that they were going to be offended before He even opened His mouth…and He said it anyway.  God is truly loving and kind, but He is not afraid to offend if that’s the only option.  After all, it’s not like God has any reason to fear the reprisal of man!
    1. Sometimes the truth hurts, and yet it’s still the truth.  Obviously from our perspective we’re not trying to hurt anyone, nor are we like Jesus and able to see into a person’s heart, but we ought not back down from the truth just because someone might be offended.  They might indeed be offended, and that offense may be exactly the thing that convicts their conscience causing them to seek the Lord.
  2. Why were the Pharisees offended?  Because Jesus was right, and they knew His parable was spoken about them.  They were hypocrites, super-imposing their man-made tradition upon the word of God.  They had themselves broken the law through their legalism, and they couldn’t deny it when Jesus pointed it out.
    1. Legalists never like to be called out, but it’s necessary to do so.  Otherwise, how will the people of God remain free in the gospel?  There will always be someone trying to bring someone else under bondage.  Whether that bondage is outright sin (through licentiousness), or their own legalistic standards they attempt to impose…neither is good, and both take someone away from the simple gospel of Jesus Christ.

13 But He answered and said, “Every plant which My heavenly Father has not planted will be uprooted. 14 Let them alone. They are blind leaders of the blind. And if the blind leads the blind, both will fall into a ditch.”

  1. This may seem rather harsh at first.  Is Jesus saying that He wants the Pharisees to die?  Since they’re eventually going to be uprooted, the scribes and Pharisees aren’t worth the effort to worry about?  No.  Jesus is simply stating the facts.  The Pharisees took great pride in that they were physically descended from Abraham, but their actions and accusations against Jesus made it plain that they themselves were not children of God.  As with the parable of the wheat & tares, they demonstrated that they had not been planted in the field of the world by God, but by the enemy.  They had no claim to God and no submission to His word (despite all of their legalism), and they would later be seen for what they were & uprooted along with the other tares.  It’s not that they were not worth saving (some of the Pharisees came to saving faith in Christ); it’s that the disciples didn’t need to worry about offending their sensibilities in theological matters.  They may have been the theological scholars of the day claiming to be guides to the blind (Rom 2:19), but they were really spiritually blind themselves.  Without true faith in God, they had no possibility of understanding the things of God.
    1. So many non-Christians today get offended by certain things in the Bible, and so many Christians respond with worry & hand-wringing, frantically trying to find ways of appeasing those offended.  Why worry about someone’s offense at the truth of Scripture, when they can’t understand it in the first place?  That’s not a reason to fret about a theological debate; it’s a reason to show someone Jesus & share the gospel with him/her.
  2. What would be the end of the Pharisees?  Disaster.  Like the blind leading the blind, they wouldn’t have a clue where to go & they would end up in a ditch (or uprooted).  No matter what analogy Jesus uses, neither end result is good…He’s talking about destruction.
    1. This is the same result that awaits everyone who is without faith in Christ.  Until the moment we believe upon Jesus as our God and King, we are all spiritually blind.  Jesus is the one who gives us spiritual sight and life.
    2. Be sure to make this personal: are YOU included among those who are spiritually blind?  There are many people who think themselves to be “spiritual,” but they just aren’t Christians.  The problem is that no matter what they might believe about themselves, the fact is they are spiritually blind and headed for a ditch.  But there is good news: Jesus came to seek & to save the lost.  You can be saved today!  You can receive spiritual sight & life.  Believe upon Jesus today.

15 Then Peter answered and said to Him, “Explain this parable to us.”

  1. Peter alone asked the question that was likely on the mind of the other disciples.  The parable seems so obvious and self-explanatory to us, but we have to remember that our point-of-view is completely different to that of Peter.  We’ve grown up in a culture familiar with Christian teaching and concepts.  To be sure, we’ve entered into a post-Christian phase in American culture, but we still retain some basic ideas about our inner spirit, having our heart/mind clean before God, etc.  Peter (and the other disciples) did not grow up the same way.  From their birth, they were taught that the whole way to please God was what they did on the outside.  If they performed the correct rituals, if they followed the rules, if they said the right words (all according to the ancient Jewish traditions), all those things were how they would please God.  Thus, when the Pharisees objected that the disciples had not been following the rules, Peter & the others likely thought that the Pharisees were correct, and they didn’t understand Jesus’ teaching to the contrary.
  2. Please note what Peter did with his confusion: he asked Jesus about it.  This might seem REALLY basic (it is!), but too many Christians forget about this.  We get confused about something we’ve heard in church, or something we’ve read in the Bible, or what someone else did in the name of Christ, and we just decide to stay confused.  It bothers us, but we think it’s wrong to actually bring it up and ask about it.  ASK!  Go to the Lord in prayer – consult the Scriptures – ask another mature Christian…there are so many resources available to us, if we but ask.  Too many people in the Church have gotten picked off by various cults, or have had their faith shaken by evangelistic atheists simply because they remained in their confusion.  Christian, you serve the Living God.  If you have a question, you can go to Him with it!
  3. This also underscores the importance of sticking to the word of God in our doctrine, rather than man-made traditions or ideas.  When we get away from the Bible, it leaves us open (like Peter and the disciples) to a variety of false teachers who would displace the truth of Scripture with their own teaching.  Some of what they say may seem logical – it may sound right – but it might easily be antithetical to the Bible itself, which we’d never know if we never read the book!

16 So Jesus said, “Are you also still without understanding? 17 Do you not yet understand that whatever enters the mouth goes into the stomach and is eliminated?

  1. Notice Jesus doesn’t debate or contradict the law. (Of course, the Pharisees weren’t really addressing the law, but their own tradition which added on to what the law had actually taught.)  Instead, Jesus brought clarity to the law itself.  As in the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus showed what the heart of God was, when God originally gave the commandment.  The issue for hand-washing wasn’t to keep the Jews physically clean (though it certainly helped in this regard); it was a picture of spiritual cleanliness.  God designed our bodies in such a way that our digestive system takes care of various impurities in our food.  Obviously we can still get food poisoning & other issues, but the general point is this: food goes into the stomach & out our colon (not to put too fine a point on it!).  Like the old pre-meal saying, “Over the lips, past the gums, look out stomach, here it comes!” J  Physical food goes through our physical digestive system.  It doesn’t affect our spirit.  Jesus explains…

18 But those things which proceed out of the mouth come from the heart, and they defile a man.

  1. It’s not what goes in the mouth, but what comes out of the mouth that is the problem.  Food goes in the mouth & is dealt with by the body.  But how does someone deal with corruption of the heart?  We can cook impurities out of food, and wash germs off of our hands, but how can we clean up our heart & mind?  These are the things that come spilling over our lips into our words.  Those are the things that truly show our defilement and debasement.
  2. The real issue is that of the heart.  Defilement is heart disease…not the physical kind, but spiritual.  In the mindset of the day, the heart was the seat of emotions, intellect, spirit, and more.  This was their inner-person, who the individual truly was.  If their heart was defiled or diseased, no amount of hand-washing could ever cleanse effectively.  After all, how exactly does someone wash their heart?  How does someone clean their spirit?  What can we do?  WE can do nothing, but God can do much!  This is exactly the reason Jesus came.  Isaiah 1:18, "“Come now, and let us reason together,” Says the LORD, “Though your sins are like scarlet, They shall be as white as snow; Though they are red like crimson, They shall be as wool." []  Jesus demonstrated this at the Last Supper when He washed the disciples’ feet.  When we partake in Jesus’ service towards us, He makes us fully clean (Jn 13:10).  This is one of the things symbolized by baptism, as Ananias told Paul after his conversion to be baptized, and “wash away your sins.” (Acts 22:16)  What a marvelous gift of Jesus to be clean!  Praise God that His forgiveness brings cleansing & purity!  What once was defiled is now pure as snow! 

19 For out of the heart proceed evil thoughts, murders, adulteries, fornications, thefts, false witness, blasphemies. 20 These are the things which defile a man, but to eat with unwashed hands does not defile a man.”

  1. Jesus lists out some of the various ways a person can show him/herself defiled. Mostly self-explanatory…  Please note that Jesus lists them all together.  “Murder” is in exactly the same list as “false witness” and “blasphemies.”  We may have our list of sins prioritized, thinking that some are acceptable (i.e. the ones in which we personally engage), while others are abominations, but Jesus sees things a bit differently.  He sees us ALL in grand need of spiritual cleansing.  No matter what we’ve done, any sin is the sign of a diseased heart that needs the help of Christ.  (His help is available for the asking!)

Jesus thus concludes: it’s not unwashed hands that are the problem, but an unwashed heart.  Get the heart clean & the rest would follow.  The Pharisees were stuck on externals & superficial things; God cares about the heart.  Cleanse the heart of evil thoughts, and evil actions are stopped before they begin.  Too many religious rituals address the symptoms, but only the work of Jesus can address the disease.

What Jesus tells them is basic, but they would have missed it if they had listened to tradition rather than the word of God.  Be careful not to neglect the Scripture as our final authority!  It doesn’t matter who says it – it doesn’t matter how many years a tradition has been held – if a teaching is in conflict with the Bible, the Bible always wins out.  When it doesn’t, our creative legalism takes over, and we’ll invent ways to subordinate the word of God to the authority of man.

Some of us here today need a heart-cleansing.  Perhaps you just came to the realization how diseased and defiled your own heart has been.  You were able to make yourself feel better in the past because of external things, but now you realize that you can’t cleanse your spirit.  You need a new heart – a clean heart, and Jesus can provide that for you today.

Others of us may truly follow Christ, but we have allowed defilement to creep back into our lives.  Our thoughts and intents have started to look like that person we used to be prior to meeting Jesus, rather than the new creation Jesus made us to be.  You too can receive cleansing.  That’s the glorious promise of 1 John 1:9, “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.”  You don’t have to carry the weight of defilement & disease; be cleansed & renewed in Christ today!


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