The Parable Of Ceremonial Hypocrisy


We’re going to look at the parable of the ‘Ceremonial hypocrisy’ which is found in Matthew 15. The actual parable itself is found in Matthew 15:10-11 but there’s another little parable found in Matthew 15:15. But before we go ahead and read these parables we need to do what every good Bible student should do.

We need to read the whole text surrounding these parables so that we can understand what Jesus meant.

Has anybody ever said something to you that greatly offended you? What about your religion? Has anyone ever said something to you that really offended your religious beliefs?

That’s what happened here in Matthew 15, Jesus said something that truly offended the Jewish leaders, Matthew 15:12.

So why were they offended? What did Jesus say that really upset the Pharisees? Well, the argument between Jesus and the Pharisees and the experts in the Law, which this chapter deals with is of tremendous importance.

Because of what it does, it shows the Jewish religion at its core and Jesus is exposing the very heart of the Jewish religion in this chapter.

‘Then some Pharisees and teachers of the law came to Jesus from Jerusalem and asked, “Why do your disciples break the tradition of the elders? They don’t wash their hands before they eat!” Matthew 15:1-2

So what was this tradition and what was the spirit behind it? For the Jews, the Law was made up of the Ten Commandments and the Pentateuch. Now it’s true that the Pentateuch, the first five books of the Old Testament, contains a certain number of detailed regulations and instructions.

But in the matter of moral questions, what is laid down is a series of great moral principles, which a man must interpret and apply for himself, and for a while, the Jews were content with that.

But around the 4th or 5th centuries before Christ came along there was a group of people who got together who were classed as legal experts, now we know them as the Scribes.

These guys weren’t content with great moral principles. Oh no, these guys had what can only be described as a passion for definition and detail.

In other words, they wanted these great moral principles amplified, expanded, and broken down. But they did it to the extent that they issued thousands upon thousands of little rules and regulations, which oversaw every possible action and every possible situation in life.

Now there are two aspects of these scribal rules and regulations, which come out of the argument in Matthew 15 and one of them we have already read, Matthew 15:2. Jesus says that their religion consisted of a mass of taboos, rules and regulations, Matthew 23:23.

If we really want to understand why Jesus spoke so many parables against the Jewish leaders, we first need to get inside the Jewish leader’s minds.

‘Jesus called the crowd to him and said, “Listen and understand. What goes into someone’s mouth does not defile them, but what comes out of their mouth, that is what defiles them.” Matthew 15:10-11

In Matthew 15:10-11 we find Jesus sharing the parable with the crowd. He says, “Listen and understand. What goes into a man’s mouth does not make him ‘unclean,’ but what comes out of his mouth, that is what makes him ‘unclean.’”

A thing might in the ordinary sense be completely clean and yet in the legal sense be unclean. And this idea comes from Leviticus 11-15 and Numbers 19.

For example, certain animals were classed as unclean. A woman after giving birth to a child was classed as unclean. A dead body was classed as unclean. And so anybody who had become unclean and touched something else, made whatever they touched unclean.

A Gentile was unclean, the food touched by a Gentile was unclean, and any container touched by a Gentile was unclean. In fact, if a strict Jew came back from the marketplace, he would go home and immerse his whole body in clean water to take away the contamination that he might have caught when he was out.

We know that the Scribes made the Oral Law, the Mishnah as it was called. So let me give you an example of one of those rules. A hollow container made of pottery could contract uncleanness inside but not on the outside.

In other words, it doesn’t matter who or what touched the outside, but it does become a problem when the inside is involved. If it became unclean, it must be broken and no unbroken piece must remain in your house, which was big enough to hold enough oil to anoint the little toe.

I really wanted to wade through all of this madhouse of the Scribal Law with you, simply to show you what Jesus was dealing with. To the Scribes and the Pharisees, these rules and regulations were the essences of their religion. To observe them was to please God and to break them was to sin, this was their idea of goodness and service to God.

So as we asked at the start of this sermon, why were the Pharisees and the teachers of the Law so offended? They were offended because the very ground of their religion was being cut from underneath them.

Think about it, if Jesus was right which we know He’s always right, then that meant that their whole theory of religion was wrong. They identified religion and pleasing God with the observing of rules and regulations, which had to do with cleanness. With what a man ate, with how he washed his hands before he ate it.

“And why do you break the command of God for the sake of your tradition? For God said, ‘Honour your father and mother’ and ‘Anyone who curses his father or mother must be put to death.’ But you say that if a man says to his father or mother, ‘Whatever help you might otherwise have received from me is a gift devoted to God,’ he is not to ‘honour his father ‘ with it. Thus you nullify the word of God for the sake of your tradition. You hypocrites! Isaiah was right when he prophesied about you: “‘These people honour me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me. They worship me in vain; their teachings are but rules taught by men.'” Matthew 15:3-9

Tradition says, “A man says to his father or mother, ‘Whatever help you might otherwise have received from me is a gift devoted to God,’ he is not to ‘honour his father ‘ with it.” Jesus says, “’Honour your father and mother’ and ‘Anyone who curses his father or mother must be put to death.’”

Tradition says, “Be a good person and you’ll get to heaven.” The Bible says, “Believe, confess, repent, be baptised and remain faithful and you’ll get to heaven.”

Tradition says, “You have to come to our mid-week studies.” The Bible says, “God’s people will come together to study because they want to.”

And it’s with that in mind that He continues.

“Every plant that my heavenly Father has not planted will be pulled up by the roots. Leave them; they are blind guides. If a blind man leads a blind man, both will fall into a pit.” Matthew 15:13-14

Jesus says that the Pharisees were nothing but blind guides who had no idea of the ways of God. And that if people followed them, then all they could expect was to stray off the road and fall into a ditch.

Make no mistake, this hurt the Jews and it still hurts people today. That’s because people are still thinking outwardly, instead of wholeheartedly.

Jesus identified religion with the state of a person’s heart and said quite bluntly that these Pharisees and Scribal regulations had nothing to do with religion. That’s why He said when He explains the parable to Peter and the others.

“Don’t you see that whatever enters the mouth goes into the stomach and then out of the body? But the things that come out of the mouth come from the heart, and these make a man ‘unclean.’ For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false testimony, slander. These are what make a man ‘unclean’; but eating with unwashed hands does not make him ‘unclean.'” Matthew 15:17-20

God is at the heart of all religion, the question is, is God in the hearts of those who profess to follow Him? So let me give you a couple of things to think about. If religion consists of external regulations and observances, it has two things.

1. It’s far too easy.

It’s much easier to do without certain foods and to wash our hands in a certain way than it is to love and forgive the unlovely and unlovable. It’s much easier to do that than it is to help the needy at the cost of one’s own time and money and comfort and pleasure.

We judge people sometimes by the external things we do or don’t do. And that’s because we have still to learn the lesson that Jesus was trying to teach the Jewish leaders.

We judge people by their church attendance, how much they give in the offering, and how often they come to our mid-week Bible study. But Jesus teaches us that all those things are the externals in Christianity.

Now these things are important and they are the means toward religion and being a Christian, but they’re not religion and Christianity.

We need little reminders from time to time that our religion consists of personal relationships and our attitude toward God and our fellowman, James 1:26-27.

2. A religion that consists of external regulations and observances is very much misleading.

Many people may live what they think is a faultless life in externals, but they can have bitterness and the most evil thoughts within their hearts.

Jesus clearly teaches us here that not all the outwardly observances in the world can atone for a heart where pride and bitterness and lust dominate. The only thing that matters is the human heart. This is the religion of Jesus, this is our religion at its core, Matthew 5:8.

We really need to learn this lesson because too many people are putting themselves on guilt trips because they can’t do this or can’t do that.

Too many Christians are beating themselves up because they can’t get to the Bible study. Too many Christians are dragging themselves down because they can’t physically help in certain areas.

What matters to God is not so much HOW we act, but WHY we act. It’s not so much what we actually DO, but what we wish in our heart of hearts to do. We are saved because of Christ not because of the external things we do, John 3:16.

In love He became our substitute and died in our place, to pay the penalty for all our sins. He overcame our inability to save ourselves by paying the price for our sins.

His death bridged the gulf between God and man and made it possible for us to be reconciled to God and to be restored to fellowship with Him through faith in Christ and in His atoning death for us.

Jesus says that no man can call himself a good man because he observes external rules and regulations, Luke 6:43-47. And that’s because such teaching condemns every one of us, we’re only good when our hearts are pure.

And when you think about it, that very fact alone should bring pride to an end. No Christian should ever stand in judgement of their fellow brother and sister and say, “I go to all the meetings and you don’t, look how religious I am.” “I’ve never missed a Sunday morning in over ten years, look how religious I am.”

When love reigns in our hearts, pride disappears. And it’s because our religion at its core isn’t about external rules and regulations, that every one of us can only say what that Tax collector said in Luke 18:13 “Lord have mercy on me a sinner.”

If you’re not a Christian today, let me give you a bit of advice. Quit trying to be good enough for Jesus before you come to Him. Quit trying to get to perfection before you become a Christian and quit trying to give up that sin first in your life before you become a Christian.

If you want to become a Christian, then just submit to His will and let Him clothe you with His righteousness. And when God looks at you, He will see what He sees in the Christians around you, He will see a people who are spotless and blameless in His eyes.