“Emphasize the Internal, Not the External”

Matthew 14:34 – 15:20

At this point in our reading through the Gospel of Matthew, Jesus has calmed the Sea of Galilee, saved the disciples from destruction and death and walked on water with Peter. They were safely back in the boat and the sea was calm. The boat then miraculously arrives on the other side of the sea in the land of Gennesaret. This was a region on the western shore, south of the city of Capernaum. Interestingly, they had arrived in Herod’s territory. No sooner had they arrived and Jesus was recognized. Word was spread throughout the countryside and the crowds began to arrive. People brought all of the sick people they knew to Jesus. This group of people believed it would be enough to simply touch the hem of Jesus’ garment and they would be healed. This is not the only time a physical object has helped those in need of  healing to believe in God.

In Acts 5:15, people strategically placed their sick friends on the side of the street so that Peter’s shadow might fall on them so they would be healed.

In Acts 19:11-12, the handkerchiefs and aprons that had touched Paul were used to cure illnesses and get rid of evil spirits.

In direct contrast, the Pharisees considered it an abomination to rub shoulders in a crowd. As one never knew what ceremonial uncleanness one might contract. 

Amongst the crowd, Jesus encounters some of these Pharisees. They were leaders from Jerusalem who had been sent out to investigate what He was doing. 

I find it curious that while people were being healed, left and right, by merely touching the hem of Jesus’ cloak, the best the religious leaders can come up with to ask of a question is,

“Why don’t Your disciples follow the tradition of the elders and wash their hands before they eat?” 

They were bewildered by the inability of the disciples to follow traditional commands and not bewildered by people being healed by touching the hem of a garment that Jesus was wearing? 

Did they have blinders on? 

Were they only willing to see what they wanted to see? 

Before you agree wholeheartedly with the Pharisees and argue the necessity of good hygiene, I want to remind you we are reading about an encounter that occurred in the 1st Century. They have not learned yet of microbes and diseases that can’t be seen, that exist on our hands and food and could potentially harm you. 

The Pharisees were scouting out to see where Jesus and His disciples were “messing up.” They caught them “red handed” with a big “no,no” in their book. They were offended that the disciples did not observe their particular tradition of rigid, extensive rituals for washing before meals. The Pharisees were criticizing Jesus’ disciples, Eugene Peterson puts it this way in “The Message,” 

“Why do your disciples play fast and loose with the rules?”

The Pharisees were accusing the disciples of sinning.  Therefore, they wanted to know what their Jewish leader had to say about the whole thing? 

Jesus was strong in His reply. He responded with His own question, which was more like an accusation. 

“Why do you use your rules to play fast and loose with God’s commands? 

The more conflicts Jesus encounters with the Pharisees, the more intense they become. Eventually they will become the outward reason why Jesus was delivered to the Romans for death. 

The traditions, which the Pharisees were defending so intently, were not based on Scripture. Jesus had His own example of how dishonoring the traditions of the Pharisees were to God. 

Jesus points out their tradition to weasel out of honoring or respecting their parents by stating that what they owed their parents they were “giving to God.” They created a “holy thing” to do so they still had access to the assets but their parents would receive nothing. 

Jesus could see right through their trickery. By following this law one could completely disobey the command to “honor one’s father and mother” and do it while demonstrating an ultra-religious action. 


Or in Jesus’ words, 

“You hypocrites!”

Jesus then reminds them of a passage from Isaiah that we can be sure each Pharisee had memorized, chapter 29:13

“These people come near to me with their mouth

    and honor me with their lips,

    but their hearts are far from me.

Their worship of me

    is based on merely human rules they have been taught.”

Jesus knew the hearts of the Pharisees and their hearts were far from God. They were nitpicking to find fault rather than truly being concerned with the spiritual lives of the disciples. 

Were we honest, we may also find this true for us. 

We can appear to be close to God, by doing all the “right” things, but in reality our hearts are somewhere else. 

I think it’s because it is much easier to 

do the do’s and 

not do the don’ts. 

Those things are tangible. 

We can see them with our eyes. 

The concept of “being near to God in our heart, takes work, concentration, and personal involvement with a God who isn’t always “tangible” and often seems aloof. This is where humans get confused. 

God is interested in the internal and the real. 

Which isn’t always easy to ascertain. 

Humans are far more interested in the external and image, which are easier to evaluate. 

Jesus’ focus on living the way of the Kingdom, reminds us we live in the gray. Things aren’t always black and white. God focuses on the internal and real. This is difficult for humans to evaluate, but spot on for God. 

The quotation from Isaiah pinpointed the real problem with the religious leaders. They placed their human tradition on an equal level with God’s revealed Word. For Jesus, traditions were neither good nor bad, however, compared to the Word of God, they were not equal. 

Jesus then turned to the multitude and explained what authentic godliness looks like. Basically, Jesus told them that what you eat is just that, what you eat, it does not defile you. However, what comes out of your mouth is another thing. It can reveal an unclean heart. 

At this point, the disciples were a bit shocked. Jesus wasn’t acting like He had been acting. Did He mean to offend the Pharisees? Is this allowable in God’s Kingdom? They come up and question Jesus wondering if He realized that what He had said had actually offended the Pharisees. Jesus seemed to shrug the event off. He knew exactly how the Pharisees would receive His words. They were way off and didn’t even know it. In fact, they weren’t even worth the time to argue. Jesus replied telling the disciples that the religious leaders and anyone like them, who were not rooted either in God or the truth. Should they continue to not listen and hold on to their man made commandments they wouldn’t last. 

“Forget them.” Jesus said,  “They are blind men leading blind men. When a blind man leads a blind man, they both end up in the ditch.”

You can almost hear Jesus saying this with sadness, perhaps more for those who were being led, but sadness all the same. 

Peter steps in with a question. He’s confused. He asks Jesus to explain what just happened. Jesus’ response was so human, like an exasperated teacher, again from “The Message,” 

“You, too? Are you being willfully stupid? 

Jesus indulges the question and amplifies the point He made in verse 11. Again, the Kingdom of God turns what humans have been thinking “upside-down.” In the Kingdom of God, we are defiled from the inside – out, not from the outside – in. 

Evil things come from our innermost nature. They aren’t accidents or mere “mistakes.” They are a representation of how corrupt we have become. Jesus was more concerned with the heart, not the stomach. What comes out of a person demonstrates what is in their heart. 

The real question for us is, 

When does compromise begin? 

Adultries are first nurtured in the heart, long before the night in bed. Murders don’t begin with a gun, but with the hatred of one’s soul. 

The nasty comment we made yesterday, the unkind thought we had for the person at the grocery store. They didn’t just appear. Jesus said, what we say comes from what has been growing inside. 

We need to THINK about what we say: Is it

T – True

H – Helpful

I – Inspiring

N – Necessary

K – Kind

And when it is not one of those things, we should step back, right then and there, and check in with God. We should ask ourselves, “What is going on with me Lord?
Why did I say such a thing? That is not what I want to be like. Please, create in me a clean heart.” 

We can become masters of what the world sees on the outside, fooling all of those around us, sometimes even fooling ourselves. But we can’t fool God. The religious leaders in Jesus’ day, and often in our own, found it easy to focus on the external things rather than the internal things. 

The question is: Which one makes for true righteousness?

Let’s pray.