Matthew: Jesus’ Parable About What Defiles A Man

Memory Verse: Matthew 15:11

15:1-9 Jesus Challenges Hypocrisy

  • 15:1-2 After Jesus miraculously feeds over 5,000 people (14:1-21), walks on water, and heals all the sick that were brought to Him (14:22-36) the scribes—(Jews who could read, write and acted as a secretary making copies and interpreting the Old Testament. Thus becoming teachers and authorities concerning the law) and Pharisees—(a religious sect who hypocritically try to follow the law by making their own standards and tradition) from Jerusalem came to Him in Galilee (in the land of Gennesaret). They asked Jesus the following question: “Why do thy disciples transgress the tradition of the elders? For they wash not their hands when they eat bread (food).” Two things: (1) This wasn’t a problem of personal hygiene (as it is a good thing to wash your hands before you eat) but it was a misunderstanding of the law (probably Exodus 30:17-21) that prescribed the priest to wash their hands. Through tradition this was extended to the common people as a sign of righteousness and outward obedience to God. This was false. (2) They didn’t accuse Jesus directly but His disciples, but this was equally a charge against Him since it would have been understood that it was Jesus who deliberately taught them to not do this.
  • 15:3-6 Jesus answers their question with a question: “Why do ye also transgress the commandment of God by your tradition?” Jesus’ question pointed directly to the problem that the scribed and pharisees had: they elevated their own tradition over God’s commands. Jesus continues to give an example of this problem:
  • God’s command: “Honour thy father and mother: and, He that curseth father or mother, let him die the death.” God wants children to highly esteem their parents including the way they speak about them.
    Exodus 20:12; 21:17; Deuteronomy 5:16; Leviticus 20:9
  • Their Tradition: “Whosoever shall say to his father or his mother, It is a gift (offering), by whatsoever thou mightest be profited by me; And honour not his father or his mother, he shall be free.” Their tradition means that a child takes everything he/she would have used to financially support his/her parents and gives it to God, when the child’s parents are in their old age or in a time of need, the child would not have the responsibility to give them a helping hand and not need to honor his/her parents in this instance.
  • Result: They made the commandment of God of no effect by their tradition. They made a vow against the command of God, meaning that their tradition forces them to break the commandment of God. This is the definition of hypocrisy—the practice of claiming to live by God’s commands but your own behavior does not conform.
  • 15:7-9 Jesus calls them “hypocrites” because they allowed an “offering to God” to cause them to “disobey God”. Then Jesus quotes a prophesy and applies it to them. From this we learn: (1) Outwardly they draw close to God and honor him but inwardly they are far from God and don’t honor Him. They might say all the right things, but they believe all the wrong things. (2) They teach the commandments of men as doctrines of God, thus their worship of God is to no avail (real worship is based in truth). The Bible is sufficient for us to know God’s will and it is the only way for us to be certain about God’s will. There are no traditions, teachers, other books or anything else that has higher authority than the Bible itself. This is why we need to read, study and understand the Bibles teachings.
    Isaiah 29:13

15:10-20 Jesus’ Focus Is The Heart

  • 15:10-11 Next, Jesus calls the multitude to Him so they could hear and understand the truth: a man is defiled by what comes out of him and not that which goes into him. This went directly against what the Pharisees believed. The reason they washed their hands was because they were afraid that they could have touched something that was “unclean” and if they touch their food it would become unclean and then if they ate it, they would become unclean or defiled. Jesus says this was a misunderstanding of the truth.
  • 15:12-14 Of course the Pharisees were offended by what Jesus said. His disciple came to Jesus and told Him they were offended. But Jesus responded to them by saying: (1) Every plant that His heavenly Father did not plant will be rooted up—this metaphor probably means  that God’s truth is planted by God and it is the only thing that will last, all other teachings will not last. (2) They should leave the Pharisees alone—meaning they aren’t to regard them as teachers of truth nor should they be worried about them being offended. They are blind leaders of the blind—meaning they have no spiritual enlightenment about the truth and they just like their followers are blind, which if the blind leading the blind, they both will fall into a ditch—meaning that disaster is their future.
  • 15:15-20 Finally, Peter asked Jesus to declare this parable (15:10-11) to them. First, Jesus address His disciples lack of understanding because they should have understood this truth. Second, Jesus starts to explain the parable: (1) Whatever enters the mouth goes into the belly, and then it is cast out into the latrine. Nothing about what a person eats or how they eat (even with unwashed hands) effects the heart of a person. Therefore, this can’t defile a person. (2) Anything that proceeds out of the mouth comes from the heart. Some of the things (these are examples not a complete list) that proceed out of the heart are: evil thoughts—evil thinking which lead to evil deeds or sin; murders—killing that starts with hatred in the heart; adulteries and fornications—all sexual sins that start with wrong desires in the heart; thefts—often pre-planning in the heart to take what isn’t yours; false witness—thinking and creating a false testimony in the heart about something, to lie; blasphemies—to think in the heart and then speak evil or slander against God or others. Therefore, because it starts and comes from the heart these things defile a person.
  • The heart represents the “inner person” or the real orientation, belief, motivation and attitude of a person. It is from the heart that we think, feel and make decisions. It is the source from which everything we do in life is issued from. The problem is that our hearts are born sinful—meaning it is not neutral but deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked or incurable on its own and if left untouched will lead to destruction. Each person is born a sinner in rebellion against God. Therefore, the biblical purpose of God’s commandments are to guide our hearts to be oriented towards God and the gospel so that we can be restored to God.
    Proverbs 4:23; 13:20; 22:6; Jeremiah 17:9; Psalm 58:3; 51:5

Review Questions

  • What question did the scribes and pharisees ask Jesus?
  • What was Jesus’ response to their question?
  • Why did Jesus call them hypocrites?
  • What was the parable Jesus told them? What did it mean?
  • Why is the “heart” so important?

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