Skip to content

e) Defilement Within and Without
(Matthew 15:1-9)
1Then 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,”3He answered and said to them, “Why do you also transgress the commandment of God because of your tradition?4For God commanded, saying, ‘Honor your father and your mother’; and, ‘He who curses father or mother, let him be put to death.’5But you say, ‘Whoever says to his father or mother, “Whatever profit you might have received from me is a gift to God”6then he need not honor his father or mother,’ Thus you have made the commandment of God of no effect by your tradition.7Hypocrites! 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.9And in vain they worship Me, teaching as doctrines the commandments of men.’ ” (Exodus20:12;21:17, Proverbs28:24, Isaiah29:13, Mark7:1-13, Luke11:38,1Timothy5:8)

The Jewish leaders became angry and afraid of Christ’s spiritual power, so they searched for the weak points in His disciples in order to condemn Him. The teachers of the law from Jerusalem prepared the trap to catch Christ with the net of their judgments.
His disciples violated some of the elders’ rules that the latter had derived from the Scriptures. The disciples not wash their hands before they ate bread. Therefore those teachers complained not about cleanliness, but about transgression of the traditions that considered everyone that does not wash regularly as impure, and his prayer and testimony as void. Thus they made their interpretation of the Scriptures more important than the Scriptures themselves that did not include such duties.
The scribes and Pharisees were the spiritual leaders of the Jewish religion, men whose gain was supposed godliness. But they were great enemies to the gospel of Christ. They colored their opposition with the pretence of zeal for the Law of Moses, when really they were only intending to strengthen their own tyranny over the consciences of men. They were men of pride and men of business.
The tradition of the elders was that people should often wash their hands, and always before touching meat. Thus they placed a great deal of religion in their interpretation, supposing that meat they touched with unwashed hands would defile them. The Pharisees practiced this themselves and, with a great deal of strictness, imposed it upon others. It was not a civil penalty, but a matter of conscience and a sin against God if they did not do it. Rabbi Joses determined, “that to eat with unwashed hands is as great a sin as adultery.” Rabbi Akiba was a prisoner and had water sent to him both to wash his hands with and to drink with his meat. One day he accidentally spilled much of the water. He washed his hands with the remainder and left himself nothing to drink, saying he would rather die than transgress the tradition of the elders. No, they would not eat meat with anyone that did not wash before meat. This mighty zeal in so small a matter would appear very strange, if we did not still see such misguided zeal still today. People not only want to practice their own traditions, but force others to observe them also.
Christ did not answer the jurists’ questions and charges of transgression, but gave a judgment against them that they themselves had transgressed God’s commandment by their interpretations. By this means, He wanted to open their eyes that they might come back to Him. He made clear to them how they neglected their love for their parents by not providing for them. They devoted themselves to collecting money, but claimed that the provision was required for their own religious services. Thus they forgot that the password to God’s commandments is love.
Christ called the jurists and scribes “hypocrites.” This word incited their rage and spite, but Christ reproved them for their hypocrisy. His reproof, from Isaiah 29:13, stated that their prayers were but words repeated with their lips, empty of love for God. They spoke without thinking carefully of what they spoke. They pretended to be godly, while they were actually proud and haughty, making their worshiping useless, and void of saving power. They cheated themselves and their followers, teaching lifeless traditions without love. They required dead religious duties that went beyond what the Scriptures teach. Christ described two characteristics of hypocrites:
In their own performances of religious worship, a hypocrite goes through the motions of drawing near to God and appears to honor Him, but their hearts are far from Him. “The Pharisee went up to the temple, to pray.” He does not seem to stand at a distance which those who “live without God in the world” do. He leads people through traditional religious practices and they blindly follow thinking God is honored. However, they only have “a form of godliness, although they have denied its power” (2 Timothy 3:5)
Hypocrites “teach as doctrines the commandments of men.” The Jews then, as well as the Roman Catholics at times, paid the same respect to oral tradition as they did to the Word of God. They teach the commandments of men with the same pious affection and reverence as God’s Word.
They did not know the truth of salvation based upon God’s mercy and grace, nor did they have a renewed heart. Yet they tried to justify themselves by acts void of love. In spite of their many prayers and considerable contributions, God rejected their worship, for it was void of love.
If our religion be a vain ceremony of recitations, motions, and worthless offerings, how great is that vanity! How sad is it to live in a hypocritical culture where prayers and sermons, and sacraments “beat the air” in vain. This is the case if the people’s hearts are not submitted to God. Lip service is lost service (Isaiah 1:11). Hypocrites “sow the wind and reap the whirlwind” (Hosea 8:7). They trust in vanity, and vanity will be their reward.
You should, therefore, examine your prayers. Did you get a new heart, purified by Christ’s blood, and filled with love? Are you delivered from the slavery of human traditions and customs into God’s true service? Are you of those that profess godliness? Do you actually love God with all your heart and all your might?

Heavenly Father, You have known our prayers and thoughts. Forgive us our pretence and blindness, in spite of our impurity and wickedness in comparison with Your holiness and love. Purify us in our inner feeling, and create in us a new heart filled with Your love that we may pray with spiritually controlled thought, and not speak without the voice of the heart.
What was the sin of the Jewish hypocrites?