Today’s Bible reading: Leviticus 15-16:28; Mark 7:1-23; Psalm 40:11-17; Proverbs 10:13-14
The instructions today in Leviticus 15 have a two-fold purpose. As with most of the previous laws regarding cleanliness these were meant to promote health among the Jewish camp. But they were also meant to separate God’s people from the people of the land they would be occupying.
In people who were already in the land of Canaan worshipped many fertility gods and goddesses and sex was part of their worship rituals. But God wants His people to know that this type of worship is forbidden. There is no connection between sex and worship of God. This, of course, is in direct conflict with some religions today including Mormonism and Islam.
Its interesting to note that the conditions mentioned in this chapter did not make the people involved sinful. There was no sin offering to be made afterwards. They did, however, make the people involved ceremonially unclean and they did have to make an offering after their unclean condition ceased. Sex is not a sin. It was created by God for a purpose.
Leviticus 16 covers the one and only day of the year when the high priest could enter the most holy place of the Tabernacle (later the Temple). This day is still celebrated today and is known as Yom Kippur. On this day the priest would enter into the Most Holy Place in the Tabernacle and sprinkle blood onto the Ark of the Covenant. This symbolized that the sins of the people were “covered” but they were not really removed. The scapegoat has a similar meaning. It carried the sins of the people into the wilderness. But, just like the goat, the sins still existed. They were never really dealt with. That is until Jesus came on the scene and died once and for all to take away the penalty of sin. This is something no animal could ever do. The animals uses in these ceremonies were symbolic only. The only way for the sin of man to be paid for was for God Himself to pay it.
In Mark 7 the Pharisees make a return appearance to judge Jesus. Its interesting to note the parallels between the way the Pharisees formed their opinion of Jesus and the way many people still do today. The Pharisees had already made up their mind about Jesus. They measured Jesus against their own expectations. They did not consider that their previously-existing conclusions were wrong. They did not come with an open mind.. Too many people think they know who Jesus was. I once had a history teacher who referenced Jesus as an “itinerant preacher” during a lecture. She dismissed all the miracles that the Bible mentioned. It appeared to me that she had a conclusion and was picking and choosing the “evidence” to support her view. Certainly we are all guilty of this when we are non-believers. But to truly get to the truth about anything you have to evaluate all the evidence before making a conclusion.
In today’s passage the Pharisees question why Jesus’s disciples don’t follow their (the Pharisees) tradition of hand-washing before eating. The hand-washing in question was not for hygienic purposes — notice Mark 7:5 calls it a “ceremony”. This was not part of the law in their Hebrew Scriptures (what we call the Old Testament). This was one of many man-made traditions that the religious leaders came up with at some point in the past. They believed that one had to follow not only God’s law (from the Scriptures) but these man-made traditions in order to get into heaven. There were over 600 of these traditions that they claimed needed to be kept.
We have the same thing today. The Catholic church is full of “tradition” that they claim must be followed. It is such a part of their culture that they fully acknowledge it and spell it with a capital “T”. These include making the sign of the cross, genuflection, the veneration and worship of Mary, rosary beads, and many, many others. All these things do nothing except lead a person away from God because they put an emphasis on a person’s behavior rather than emphasizing the only thing that gets a person to heaven: the grace of God. The only result of following these “rules” is that someone becomes proud of themselves for doing so. It is precisely this pride that leads someone away from God.
Jesus harshly rebukes the Pharisees for these false teachings in Mark 7:6-13. I believe He would do the same thing today to churches that “teach man-made ideas as if they were commands from God” (Mark 7:7). Such worship “is a farce”, Jesus says in verse 6. That is pretty strong language. The problem is that these rules are imposed by religious leaders simply for their own ego. They do it to control other people. They aren’t true teachers of God’s word. They just want to be held in awe by the people they control.
Notice what Jesus says in Mark 7:6. It is not outward appearances that matter to God. God isn’t interested in rituals and adherence to rules. These don’t earn any points with God and don’t help a person get to heaven. But what does? The verse tells us. God wants your heart. He wants you to be devoted to Him. To be in love with Him. To put Him first above all else in your life. That is how we have a true relationship with God.
Jesus expands on this further in Mark 7:15 when He says that nothing on the outside of us can defile us. We could literally eat dirt and that would not defile us. What defiles us is what comes out of our hearts. What is naturally inside us, our human nature, is what makes us “unclean” (to use an Old Testament word). That is how we are born. Mark 7:21 is a very humbling verse that tells us many of the natural tendencies that are in the human heart. Evil thoughts. Sexual immorality. Murder. Deceit. Lust. Pride. That is what we are. Wow.
What God wants is for us to be born-again (a phrase Jesus will use in John 3). We need to admit our condition and need for God to change us. Then He can, and will, give us a new heart.
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