This lesson is from Mark 7:1-22. Jesus is being questioned about why his disciples eat without washing their hands. Jesus’ response says a lot about first century Jews’ attitudes toward the Old Testament Law, and how they lived out their convictions in real life.
Jesus’ immediate reply to their criticism is to quote from Isaiah “this people honors me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me.” Jesus tells them that they ignore God’s commandment to keep the commandment of men. He then goes on to give the example of honoring father and mother. He says telling your parents you love and honor them, and then not doing anything for them is not keeping God’s law. It’s lip service, just like when you tell the hungry to be clothed and fed without giving them food and clothing. What they have done is made void the law of God.
Beginning in verse 14, Jesus teaches that it’s not what goes into a person’s body that defiles it so much as what comes out. What one puts in goes into the stomach and is eventually expelled. What comes out of a person shows what is in the heart. He further explains to his disciples that all manner of wickedness and sin is born in the heart, before it manifests itself as sinful action.
One of the things the commandments are meant to do is teach us about God. (Thank you Michael Spencer.) When God commands us not to kill each other, we should be thinking “What does it say about God that he wants us not to kill?” Jesus accuses the Pharisees of keeping the letter of the Law but not understanding the heart of the Law. In all of their study of Old Testament Law and history, they missed God. The Law was how God was revealing himself at that time. When Jesus says the greatest command is to love your neighbor as yourself, he didn’t just make that up on the spot; he is quoting Leviticus. Even under the old covenant it was about loving God and fellow man. When people mistakenly think that God was angry and vengeful in the Old Testament, but loving and gracious in the New, they miss the same things the Jews missed about God.