House of Prayer
Nov 15 · 6 minutes read

Again Jesus called the crowd to him and said, “Listen to me, everyone, and understand this. Nothing outside a man can make him ‘unclean’ by going into him. Rather, it is what comes out of a man that makes him ‘unclean’”. (Mark 7:14-15)

When we read the background to this statement made by Jesus, we come across an incident where the religious leaders of that day found fault with the disciples of Jesus for failing to ‘wash their hands’ prior to eating food.

Originally for the Jew, the Law meant two things: the Ten Commandments and the first Five Books of the Old Testament. But in the 4th and 5th Centuries before Christ, a class of legal experts called “scribes” came into being. They made thousands and thousands of little rules and regulations governing every possible action and situation in life. These were not written down initially (they came to be written only in the 3rd Century after Christ) and were known as “The Tradition of the Elders”.

Now, according to these scribes and teachers of the Law, ‘washing of the hands’ had great importance. This washing was not a simple matter of hygiene or physical cleanliness but one that was ceremonial in nature and had spiritual significance. It was a vital practice in order to please God and get His approval. To not do so was to sin and be considered unclean, unfit and impure before God. One could even be attacked by demons and experience poverty and destruction through failure to keep this ritual.

The ‘washing of hands’ was done in a particular manner and followed an elaborate process. The hands had to be free of any sand or such substance. Water for the washing was to be kept in special, large stone jars which was used for no other purpose and into which nothing had fallen or been mixed.

First the hands were washed with ‘finger tips pointing upwards’. Water (a measure of 1½ egg-shells in today’s terms) was poured over the hands till it ran down to the wrist. Each hand was then cleaned with the fist of the other. The hands were then held with ‘finger tips pointing downwards’. Water was poured from the wrists and ran off at the finger tips. Now the hands were clean. It was such a long ceremony and had to be done on every occasion. And as if this process was not hard enough, they also had specific guidelines for washing the cups and vessels.

This tradition was only one of several observed with unflinching zeal and passion. Another was an ingenious scheme that had been invented to avoid giving monetary help to one’s parents. Under this plan, an individual could declare a particular property ‘Corban’- a gift devoted to God, and then use that as an excuse to avoid giving resources to his parents who came to him with dire need. He could easily say, “I am sorry that I cannot give you any help because nothing that I have is available for you as it is already dedicated to God.”

So, to the religious leaders of Jesus’ day, it was these external rituals and regulations which mattered to them and to which they devoted their entire attention. These kind of ceremonial practices were more important than the character of the person. No wonder then that the Lord Jesus Christ rebuked them sharply. He pointed out to them that for God, the heart of the matter is a matter of the heart!

Throughout the Bible, we see how God pays close attention to the condition of one’s inner life. He told His prophet Samuel, “The Lord does not look at the things man looks at. Man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.” (1 Samuel 16:7). God was angry with the Israelites for they “honoured Him with their lips but their hearts were far from Him” (Mark 7:6). When Jesus saw Nathanael, He described him as a “true Israelite in whom there was nothing false” (John 1:47). And in His message to the Church in Thyatira, the Lord Jesus spoke of how He wanted everyone to know that He is One who “searches hearts and minds” (Revelation 2:23).

It is primarily about ‘the heart’- our ‘motives’ (Proverbs 21:2; Matthew 6:1; 1 Corinthians 4:5), ‘thoughts’ (Matthew 5:22, 28; Mark 2:8; Revelation 2:23) and ‘desires’ (Mark 4:19; James 1:13-15; 4:1; 1 Peter 2:11).

‘Motives’ refers to “what is motivating us to take a particular step”. It is the “attitude behind the act”, “the purpose behind the practice”. Many followed Jesus out of wrong motives- they simply wanted to get their earthly needs met (John 6:26-27). And the same approach continued into Paul’s time and even today (Philippians 3:18-19). It is possible to do ‘good works’ (1 Corinthians 13:3), ‘preach the Gospel’ (Philippians 1:15, 17) and ‘desire the power of the Holy Spirit’ (Acts 8:9-12) for all the wrong reasons. When we minister, it must be with the pure motive of bringing glory to God and out of genuine love for people (Mark 1:41; 6:34; 1 Corinthians 12:7; 1 Peter 4:11).

Our ‘thoughts’ speak louder in Heaven than our words. The realm of the mind needs to be highly protected and carefully guarded. There are specific matters we must think on- whatever is true, noble, right, pure, lovely, admirable, excellent, praiseworthy (Philippians 4:8). We are to set our minds on ‘things above’, not on earthly things (Colossians 3:2). The earthly life is primarily concerned with ‘what we put in’ (eatables) and ‘what we put on’ (equipments). Jesus said that there is more to life than food and more to the body than clothes (Matthew 6:25). So we must have an eternal perspective on every earthly issue as well as not run after earthly possessions.

‘Desires’ is a very slippery area. Jesus spoke of how the ‘desires for other things’ can choke the Word and make it unfruitful in the heart of the recipient.  Our one desire in life must be the Lord and everything else must revolve round Him (Psalm 27:4; 73:28; Philippians 3:8).  Especially in the last days, people will run after money, pleasure, evil and their own interests; the believer needs to be on guard so he is not sucked into the worldly system (2 Timothy 3:1-5; James 4:4). Godliness with contentment is true gain (1 Timothy 6:6). By walking daily in step with the Spirit, we can overcome the desires of the sinful nature (Romans 13:14; Galatians 5:16).

The grace of the Lord Jesus be with you!


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House of Prayer, Trivandrum
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