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The Traditions of the Elder
In this chapter we see how the Lord acts against the religious leaders and passes His judgment on them. In their self-confidence and pride, they dare to sue His disciples, and with them Him. The work of grace arouses the opposition of the religious man because he is filled with his own importance. The disciples are taught how to see persons who are religious only in appearance. The Lord wants to show them the true character of these people.
When people gather around Him, there is always a reason and a consequence. They come to Him because they need Him in their need, or they come to Him to sue Him. The result is always that He reveals His glory, either in grace or in judgment.
The Pharisees and scribes who come here to Him possess the highest authority as far as the earth is concerned. They come from the holy city of Jerusalem, the city of the ancient religion. Both their position as religious leaders and the place where they come from, the religious center of Jerusalem, gives them prestige. They are, as it were, adorned with the law of God and with the authority that provides them with it.
These people perceive that some of the Lord’s disciples eat bread in a way that does not conform to their prescription. This has nothing to do with inner spiritual life or man’s relationship to God. They only judge others according to the outer form, a form that they themselves have laid down. There is no room for grace in what people fix in forms. On top of that - and perhaps even more so is the lesson - by adhering to tradition, the true impurity of the heart is concealed and remains hidden.
God has arranged all public and personal obligations in family, society, religion, and politics, but they have made many more commandments. As a result, God’s commandments are no longer carried out, for they place the people under the authority of the tradition of the elders, which are their own traditions.
Traditions contain in themselves to make man important. If traditions become habitual acts without being tested against Scripture, traditions can turn against Scripture. As soon as we do something, just because our fathers have always done so, there is a danger that Scripture will be replaced by tradition. We need to know what we are doing and why we are doing it, with Scripture as the basis, not tradition. The Lord Jesus strongly opposes the replacement of Scripture by tradition.
Public life takes place in the marketplace. The Pharisees and the Jews take part in it, but think they are defiled by it. They must first cleanse themselves of this impurity by thoroughly washing their hands. They believe that by such an outward cleansing they clean themselves of their sinful commercial transactions on the markets.
Perhaps on the couches (Darby translation) they bought on the market the sick people had been laid to rest (Mark 6:56)! So the couches have to be cleansed before they can lie on them themselves. They also cleanse cups and pitchers because they might have been touched by strangers. They care about the cleansing of them, but not about the cleansing of their hearts.
What the disciples do, they find contrary to their traditions and therefore wrong. Surely they will have derived their traditions from the Word of God. In it there is talk of washings, for example of the sacrifices and at the performance of the priestly service. Then it seems a reasonable conclusion to impose this commandment on the whole people and that for the life of every day. But it is an addition to what God has said! It is the very nature of man, if God has not said something explicitly, to make a law himself and to impose it on others. Tradition comes from man, not from God.
Setting Aside the Commandment of God
In His answer, the Lord is not going to discuss the origin of the tradition, nor to prove its uselessness. He directly demonstrates the influence of tradition on obedience to God. For this He quotes the Word of God through Isaiah. He calls them hypocrites because of the insincerity of their striving. The Pharisees and the scribes are concerned with people’s honor and the feeling of self-satisfaction. Outwardly, they strive for perfection, while their hearts are far from God and cold.
If people’s teachings become the basis for worshipping God, that worship will remain empty and fruitless. It is completely useless to Him, no matter how much man himself enjoys and is content with it. He who gives up what comes from God falls into the hands of men. Keeping people’s tradition instead of obeying God’s commandment brings about a dramatic reversal in the relationship between people. Tradition not only causes disobedience to what God has said, an ignoring of His Word, but also sets aside God’s Word. Traditions reveal itself as enemies of God’s commandment.
The Lord Jesus illustrates His words with the commandment that God gave to His people through Moses regarding the respect He demands for their father and mother. He presents this commandment to them in a positive sense (honoring) and in a negative sense (speaking evil). It is a clear commandment and not open to two interpretations.
The leaders had invented something that allowed them to circumvent God’s commandment to honor the parents. If the parents were poor, the children had a duty to take care of them. But because of this, money was lost in the eyes of these depraved people that they could take. In their wickedness, they had designed a program to secure possession for religious purposes, while at the same time appeasing people’s conscience toward God. The Israelite, who had to help his needy father or mother with his money, simply had to pronounce the word ‘corban’ over that money.
The word ‘corban’ determined that they had given their money and goods to God. God is higher than father or mother. So their money and goods fell to the religious leaders and the parents remained without help from the children. With hypocritical piety the money was consecrated to God and withheld from the parents, while it disappeared into the pockets of the Pharisees and the scribes. What diabolical manipulation lies in their invention of pronouncing the word ‘corban’ over money or goods with which people should help their parents.
Here we see tradition opposed to Scripture. The Lord here treats the tradition of saying ‘corban’, not merely as something wrong toward the parents, but as a rebellious act against an explicit commandment of God, depriving it of its power. And this is just one example. The Lord could have added so many more. He does not do so, for if this example does not convince, none of the other demonstrable cases will do so, nor will all the cases taken together convince them. Their hearts are too hardened for this.
Education About Defilement
The Lord wants to warn the crowd of the depraved teaching of the Pharisees and scribes. He calls them again to Him. With power of attorney, He says: “Listen to Me, all of you.” When He speaks, man must listen. Wise is the one who listens attentively and wants to understand the meaning of what He says. This teaching is extremely important. It is about the difference between the Word of God and the teachings of men. This difference must be brought out clearly with all its might, as a clear warning against the pitfall of tradition.
Everything a man eats comes from God and cannot defile him. Man may enjoy it - with the exception of blood and what is strangled (Acts 15:20; Acts 15:29). Man without God uses it in the wrong way. He does not think of God and therefore does not thank Him for that food (cf. 1 Timothy 4:3). When he eats, he thinks only of his own needs. This selfishness and covetousness is what comes out of man and that defiles him.
The Lord concludes His speech with a call to each of His listeners personally to take His words to heart.
After He has taught the crowd, He comes into the house. The house represents the familiar atmosphere of His dealings with His disciples. There He teaches them further. The disciples ask Him what they have seen as a parable. Because He has spoken in clear words, without using pictures, He reproaches them because of their lack of understanding. Surely they should understand that man cannot be defiled if he eats what God has given. It comes to him from outside.
The food is for the belly and the belly is for the food (1 Corinthians 6:13). This is how God instituted it in the creation of man. He has also regulated the digestion in the body, whereby all excess can leave the body and go into the toilet. With this statement the Lord Jesus declares in a general sense that all food is clean. It is about making it clear to Him that evil is not in food, but in man.
This is a harsh word, both for man who thinks he is doing everything with good intentions and for the hypocrite who can think of nothing but outer cleanness. The cause is in the suspicious heart of man. He does not know his own heart, but the Lord knows it completely (Jeremiah 17:9-2 Samuel :). Here speaks the Knower of the heart.
He knows that all evil begins with “evil thoughts”. This makes man fully responsible for all subsequent acts, of which the Lord first mentions “fornication”. All these evil deeds cause enormous damage to others and also to man himself who does them. Above all, they are sins against God Who wants man to serve Him with all his heart. But it turns out that in man’s evil heart there is nothing for Him. The things the Lord mentions contain both mind and deeds, for those evil deeds have their origin in the heart.
He calls all the things He has called “evil things”. There is nothing good in these things, nothing that connects with God, nothing that comes from Him. Because of these evil things, man becomes unclean. This means that a man without God is unclean and that the believer who does one of these evil things becomes unclean because of it. Only confession of it makes man clean, for he may know that the blood of Christ cleanses from all sin (1 John 1:7).
The Syrophoenician Woman
In the previous section the Lord Jesus, with the Divine perfect understanding that is His own, shows the heart of man. God wants to show His own heart in return. He does this in Christ to those who feel a need for Him and come to Him in faith, acknowledging His perfect goodness and resting in it.
To show His own heart the Lord goes to regions outside the territory of Israel. As a true Servant He does not want to be known, but for those who seek the grace of God, He cannot remain hidden. He cannot deny His nature of love for those who need Him in their need. It is through them that He is found.
A woman arrives with Him who, like a real mother, seeks healing for her possessed child. She hears of Him and does not hesitate for a moment to go to Him. She falls at His feet. There is a complete surrender to Him of the need she carries with her. As an extra peculiarity, Markus mentions that the woman belongs to a Gentile race. She is not a member of God’s chosen people. She is free of tradition and hypocrisy and has no hardened heart, but a heart yearning for grace.
She makes her request to the Lord from her humble attitude. Then He gives her an answer that every righteous Jew must have sounded like music to their ears. There is no one who needs to ask for an explanation of the parable used by the Lord. The picture is too clear. The children are God’s people and the dogs are the Gentiles.
This would have been a crushing answer for the woman if the feeling of her need and of the goodness of God hadn’t gone beyond that and driven out every other thought. When the Lord speaks these words, He has something completely different in mind than flattering the superior feelings of the proud Jew. His words are a challenge to the faith of women. He does not say that the children do not want the bread. He has distributed it but the children reject Him as the true bread.
The faith of the woman is expressed in a sublime way. With the words “yes, Lord” she acknowledges the sovereignty of God. She is indeed only a dog of the nations. At the same time, she sees that the goodness of God is so great that there is even bread left for the dogs, even if only crumbs. She makes no claim to any rights. The poor woman relies only on grace.
Her faith, with a God-given insight, lays its hand on the grace that goes beyond the promises made to Israel. She does not belong to God’s people, but that does not diminish God’s goodness and grace. She penetrates the heart of the God of love as He is revealed in Christ, and she enjoys the fruit of it.
The word the woman has spoken comes from a heart that believes. The outward word reflects the mind of her heart. Here, any hypocrisy is absent. The Lord rewards her confession with the healing of her daughter. The woman does not ask Him to go with her. She does not doubt His word and goes home. When she comes home, she sees that her faith has been answered. She has been given according to her faith.
A Deaf and Difficult Speaking Man Healed
The Lord goes further north from Tyre and passes through Sidon, and then goes south again to the Sea of Galilee. Before that, He passes through the area of Decapolis, the area where the demon possessed who was delivered by Him testified of Him (Mark 5:20).
When He comes there, a deaf man is brought to Him. Bringing people in need to the Lord is a work any believer can do. The man has no ears to hear, he cannot receive the fruit of the Word of God. As a result, he cannot communicate his need to Him and praise Him even less. This is the situation of God’s people, who are deaf to the voice of the good Shepherd and incapable of praising God.
The Lord performs a total of seven acts to heal the man. In proportion He performs many more acts than He speaks words. This is characteristic of the Servant.
1. He separates him from the crowd. Every need a man has can only be taken away by Him when He is alone with someone.
2. He puts His fingers in the ears of the deaf man. He points to the ailment as it were, but it is with fingers of healing power and not with a raised finger. The finger of God is a finger that makes God’s power visible and can be recognized both by believers and unbelievers (Exodus 8:19; Exodus 31:18; Psalms 8:3; Daniel 5:5-Hosea :; Luke 11:20-Song of Solomon :).
3. He spits. Saliva is a symbol of His inner strength that comes out through His mouth. He will have spit on His hand and wet His finger with it.
4. With the finger with saliva on it He touches the tongue of the man, as to put His inner strength from His mouth into the mouth of the man.
5. He brings the need He is working on into connection with heaven. It emphasizes His actions in dependence on His Father (Mark 6:41).
6. He sighs, which speaks of the burden He experiences in His mind as He heals the man.
7. He speaks the redeeming word. It is a truly redemptive word, for it is an opening and loosening word.
After all these acts the deafness of the man and what has prevented him from speaking properly are removed. Now he is able to speak properly. To speak well means to speak well of someone. The first good words he speaks will be about Christ. Good words can only be spoken if the ear is opened. Christ makes the deaf hear and the dumb speak. Thus He will do as the Messiah does with the remnant of Israel in the future (Isaiah 35:5-Joshua :).
As the perfect Servant, He has no choice but to say that this miracle must not be passed on. The true Servant seeks no honor from men, no honor for Himself. But the miracle has made such an impression that no one can remain silent about it. It is an understandable reaction, yet disobedience to the Lord.
People come to recognize that He has done all things well. There is only perfection in His actions. He is truly the perfect Servant whose work is perfect.
Kingcomments on the Whole Bible © 2021 Author: G. de Koning. All rights reserved. Used with the permission of the author
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de Koning, Ger. Commentaar op Mark 7". "Kingcomments on the Whole Bible". https://www.studylight.org/
the Second Week after Epiphany