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Sacred Cows or Holy Lives?
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Scripture: Mark 7:1-23

Main Idea: We, like the Pharisees, have been content to focus on sacred cows rather than the harder path of holy lives. Jesus insists that holy lives is what really counts!

I. Luke 7:1-23
  A. In this passage, we see Jesus in conflict with one of his greatest nemeses....
    1. The Pharisees
    2. Sometimes the Pharisees get a bad rap and we think of them as legalists who thought they could work their way to “heaven”
    3. While there are some parallels, this issue of “working our way to heaven” is really more our issue than theirs.
    4. The focus of the Pharisees is purity and holiness – not bad, right?
  B. But what we encounter in this text is Jesus challenging his listeners to a radically new way of structuring their lives.
II. The Context for this Argument
  A. Feeding the multitudes (Mark 6:30-44; and again in Mark 8:1-10)
  B. Jesus’ remarkable power over nature (Mark 6:45-52)
  C. Sweeping summary of Jesus’ ministry (Mark 6:54-56)
  D. Our text today is then followed by…
    1. Story of Syrophoenician woman – a Gentile
    2. Healing of a deaf man in the Gentile region of Decapolis
  E. On the one hand, Jesus’ broader work in this region of the Sea of Galilee is so remarkable as to make the Pharisees’ questions seems petty.
    1. Jesus: “Are you serious about the handwashing thing? Haven’t you been paying attention?”
  F. On the other hand, Jesus seems to immediately put his new way into practice (“Thus he declared all food – people? – clean”) in the healing of these non-Jewish people.
    1. The story of the Syrophoenician woman makes so much more sense in this light.
III. What was this issue Jesus was attacking?
  A. To really understand this passage we need to understand what Jesus was attacking.
    1. Was it just “washing your hands before dinner?”
      a. I teach my girls to do this!
      b. This is just good hygiene, right?
      c. So what’s the big deal?
  B. These washing laws were part of the ritual purity – which was about Jewish identity in a pluralistic, polytheistic world
  C. The question posed by the Pharisees, then, is deeply sincere, which makes Jesus’ rebuke seem even sharper.
    1. Jesus is a religious teacher
    2. So…why don’t his disciples follow the teachings of the elders?
    3. It’s as if someone from the conference were to say to me, you’re a SDA pastor, why don’t your members maintain the “standards of the church?”
IV. Jesus' Answer
  A. Jesus answers by saying, in essence, you are using the teachings of the elders to avoid the clear commandments of God.
  B. The standards – the tradition – has grown so large in your view that it has completely obscured the larger issue.
  C. These teachings, which were originally meant as a hedge around the law, to protect the law, to honor the law and uphold it, are now actually barriers to the law, which have blocked the law from view.
  D. Notice again what Jesus says (v. 6-7) – He replied, "Isaiah was right when he prophesied about you hypocrites; as it is written: " 'These people honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me. They worship me in vain; their teachings are but rules taught by men.' You have let go of the commands of God and are holding on to the traditions of men."
  E. This is a quote from Isaiah 29:13
The example of Corban
  F. The example he uses is about honoring your father and mother, which is the clear and unambiguous commandment, right?
    1. Corban was a teaching about property dedicated to God which barred a person from gaining profit from it.
    2. Some were apparently using this teaching of the elders as a loophole to get around taking care of ones parents.
    3. Jesus says, You have a fine way of setting aside the commands of God in order to observe your own traditions! (9).
  G. We can see this at work in our own lives when we make void a major issue by focusing instead on something minor.
V. Jesus goes further
  A. You want to talk about unclean hands?
  B. Let me take this one step further and talk about unclean foods.
    1. In one precise statement Jesus undermines the whole notion of holiness and ritual purity based on food laws.
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.'
  C. What matters is “the heart”
    1. This is not to say that the religion of Jesus is all about internal piety and has nothing to do with external behavior or that a person’s private spirituality is more important that their physical life in the world.
      a. Not at all!
    2. What comes out of a person, that defiles him, is clearly some pretty external stuff.
    3. What Jesus IS saying is that seeking holiness happens from the inside out.
    4. A lack of holiness is seen, not by the failure to comply with the boundary markers of a group of people but rather evil acts that spring from a heart that is unconverted.
VI. What issue does this address in our community?
  A. So, what is really at stake here and what are the implications for our community?
  B. It seems that the question at issue here is holiness.
    1. What is holiness? How do we achieve holiness?
    2. By eating with defiled hands, Jesus’ disciples were disregarding the rules of holiness and threatening the whole system.
    3. Jesus goes deeper and says these rules you’re citing are actually obstacles to real holiness.
      a. Pharisees are saying, these rules are the way.
      b. Jesus is saying, these rules are the obstacles to the way.
    4. The deep irony here is in this paradox.
      a. The Pharisees were sincerely following these rules in order to please God and be holy – all good things.
      b. These rules were originally created by the elders to give extra honor to the law, which is the specific declaration of God’s will.
      c. How can that be a bad thing?
  C. When it grows so large that it blocks out the sun.
  D. Jesus says, you’re missing the bigger issue!
    1. He’s been traveling all over Galilee feeding thousands of people with a few loaves and fish, healing people, calming storms, and restoring life to people.
    2. The signs and demonstrations of the long awaited reign of God are all around them.
    3. And they’re talking about washing hands, and pots and cups and saying, this is the pathway to holiness.
    4. It’s like, three steps removed.
      a. The law was pointing to Messiah and the teachings of the elders was pointing to the law – all good stuff, right.
      b. But when the fulfillment of the law is standing in your midst, it does seem a bit trivial to focus on the things that are pointing to the law which is pointing to Messiah!
    5. Jesus is practically screaming, “Ummm…guys, I’m right here!
    6. The Pharisees’ desire for purity and holiness is good and admirable, but they had lost their way in the minutia and missed the big picture standing right in front of them.
  E. It’s always a little surprising to me how little some things change.
    1. For the Pharisees, these ritual laws were social and cultural boundary markers.
      a. They identified who was in and who was out.
      b. This is why they are so concerned about Jesus’ disciples who don’t seem to be in the “in group”
    2. The problem with the Pharisees’ traditions is that they drew the circle so narrowly that it excluded 99% of the human race.
      a. Exclusiveness!!!
      b. In groups and out groups – used to bar “those people” from fellowship.
    3. Fighting over doctrines and discouraging people
  F. Christians today also have social boundary markers.
    1. Behaviors, rules, prohibitions, customs and traditions, which, while not wrong in themselves (indeed, they came about by good motives) hopelessly distract people from the real issue.
    2. We also use these boundary markers to identify ourselves in a pluralistic world
      a. And that’s not all bad – we do need to be a distinct people in the face of so much that tries to squeeze us into it’s mold.
    3. But the danger is that we become exclusive, like the Pharisees, and in the process miss the whole point.
  G. We love to talk about how right we are and wrong everyone else is.
    1. This kind of talk is supposed to make us feel better – safer – in a hostile world that is out to get us.
    2. But this is not the way of Jesus.
    3. Jesus models his new way of life by immediately healing the daughter of a non-Jewish woman.
  H. Holiness is not something that can be applied from the outside – it requires a total overhaul of the human person, from the inside out.
    1. Does not mean that all that matters is internal and has nothing to do with external things.
    2. Afterall, the list of vices are quite external, aren’t they?
  I. But it does mean that the work that the gospel must do on us is a thorough work - a deep and healing work.
    1. We cannot put the way of Jesus on over the top of our old self.
    2. Jesus wants to create entirely new people.
    3. Paul would later say, “In Christ you are a totally new creation: the old is gone, the new has come.”
    Quote by Alexandr Solzhenitsyn
If only there were evil people somewhere insidiously committing evil deeds, and it were necessary only to separate them from the rest of us and destroy them. But the line dividing good and evil cuts through the heart of every human being.
VII. Dealing in Sacred Cows
  A. The Pharisees were experts at dealing in sacred cows.
  B. They had long lists of external deeds of rightousness
    1. But Jesus says, anything that comes out of a corrupt heart is corrupt, no matter how good it looks on the outside.
  C. But lest we are too hard on the Pharisees, I wonder if we can think of some examples of how we have been content with sacred cows when God was calling us higher…to holy lives.
    1. We have preferred to emphasize nearly the same things the Pharisees did:
      a. Don’t eat unclean food
      b. Don’t drink alcoholic beverages
      c. Don’t dance
      d. Don’t go to the movies
      e. Don’t drink coffee and tea
      f. No short skirts
      g. No jewelry
      h. Keep the Sabbath a certain way
      i. And so many more…
    2. As I hear that list again I realize that there are good reasons why these things became issues.
    3. You may even find a way to explain why these issues are important today.
    4. But in the church today, these things are like “sacred cows”
    5. If you don’t follow all the rules someone is likely to come to your pastors and say, “Why don’t your disciples live according to the tradition of the elders?”
  D. But often those who say these things are unfortunately honoring God with their lips but their hearts are far from Him.
  E. Their teachings are simply rules taught by humans.
  F. What God wants for us is holy lives.
  G. When we settle for sacred cows, we miss out on holy lives.
  H. And here’s the kicker.
    1. What the world is watching for is holy lives.
    2. For Christians to place the emphasis on the right things.
    3. To focus less on sacred cows and more on real goodness.
VIII. Conclusion
  A. The Pharisees had opted for sacred cows rather than holy lives.
  B. My prayer is that in your life and in our community life here in Hollywood, we can grow up to maturity.
    1. That the emphasis, for us, will be on holy lives rather that on sacred cows.
    2. Focusing on real goodness, justice and mercy rather than measuring up to a checklist of cultural boundary markers.

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