• Introduction: Parents used to remind us to wash hands before eating.  Now with the Covid threat, people insist on washing for 20+ seconds, before eating something.  I’ve read suggestions of singing in your mind the Happy Birthday song.  You must stay washing vigorously with soap and water for the entire time it takes to sing through a verse.  There was no suggestion regarding to whom you should sing, so I think more work needs to be done with that suggestion. 
    • Our Gospel reading for today from Mark 7:1-13 started out with the Pharisees attacking Jesus for not teaching His disciples to wash their hands before eating (Mark 7:5).
      • To them cleanliness was godliness and therefore became a Law!
    • Jesus then gave an example of honoring parents which the temple leaders (Pharisees and scribes) had made into something far different than the 4th Commandment. 
      • In doing so, they invalidated the command Jesus (Himself) gave to Moses (Mark 7:13).  Yes, Jesus was there on Mount Sinai those 40 days with Moses, giving him the Ten Commandments and other instructions.  Who better than Jesus would know about one or more commandments being invalidated?
    • Don’t get me wrong, it is wise to keep as clean as one can.  Recall from last week, 10A beginning of wisdom [is] fear of the Lord, and counsel of saints [is] understanding[1].  Parents who knew the word of the Lord were and are saints, and so counsel to wash hands before putting them onto food that goes into our mouth is indeed understanding. However, we need to take care and neither add to nor subtract from God’s perfect word, lest we too are guilty of invalidating His commands for leading a life pleasing to Him under the Gospel. 
  • Let Us Pray:  Lord Jesus, You once gave an example of honoring one’s parents that religious leaders made into something far different than the 4th Commandment.  They were invalidating the very commandment You gave to Moses on Mount Sinai.  Send to us the Holy Spirit that we take proper care to neither add to nor subtract from Your perfect word, lest we too are guilty of invalidating Your commands.  We pray this, Lord Jesus, who with the Father and the Holy Spirit, are one gracious and loving God, world without end.  Amen.
  • Background: On the back of your bulletin, I have noted some key words from the original Greek text of Mark 7:1-13.  There are different words for washing used by John Mark, who wrote by inspiration of the Holy Spirit the Gospel according to Mark.  Let’s spend a moment or two going through the text.
    • As you have seen throughout the New Testament, a group of church leaders known as the Pharisees were always meeting up with Jesus and causing trouble.  In Mark ch#7, the Pharisees decided to pick at Jesus about the disciples eating without first washing their hands (v2 - not washed - ἄνιπτοις).  The original Greek doesn’t use the term “dirty hands”; it has a word which literally translated means “common”.  This reference harkens back to the Old Testament where God would distinguish between holy and common.  In other words, the Greek has more meaning than what you saw during the Gospel reading a moment ago.  Mark is communicating to us the Pharisees were accusing Jesus and His disciples of being common and not holy, because they didn’t wash their hands before eating something.
      • The Pharisees, who of course consider themselves holy before the Lord, didn’t eat unless they washed (νίπτω) vigorously with their fists (πυγμῇ) (v3).  In English, we read v3 as being in parentheses, which is an indication of background information on the Pharisees and all other Jews. Again, there are keywords in the Greek that got lost in the translation into English.  As we will see in a moment, there are a couple words in Greek for washing.  Mark used the typical word, νίπτω, to indicate the simple act of the Pharisees washing their hands.  However, Mark added a word in the Greek that was not used anywhere else in the New Testament.  That word is πυγμῇ, which translates into English as “fist”.  What Mark is indicating for background information is these Pharisees were so good at washing up before eating a meal, that they not just washed their hands, they didn’t just count up to 20 as they washed, they washed vigorously with their fists!  It’s a washing of hands like you would see a surgeon washing hands and arms up to the elbows as part of preparing for conducting a surgical procedure.  The background information provided by Mark was to illustrate just how religious these Pharisees were to the point of scrubbing down before they ate a morsal of food.
      • Continuing in the background information, now in v4, Mark then informs the reader, when the Pharisees came home from shopping in and amongst “common” people in the marketplaces, they wouldn’t eat until they had completely cleansed themselves with multiple dippings into wash water (βαπτίζω) much like they did with kitchen utensils.  The Greek word now used by Mark is not “νίπτω”; it is βαπτίζω. If that word sounds familiar to you, it should.  It is from where we get the English word “baptize”.
        • This Greek verb was only used twice in the OT, and one of them was in 2Ki 5:14 when Elisha told Naaman, commander of army of the king of Aram (modern day Syria), to “baptize” 7x in the Jordan river, and he would be healed of leprosy.
        • There are several instances in the OT of the Greek verb, βάπτω, which is the root form of βαπτίζω.  It is principally used in a context of how the Levitical priests were to purify tabernacle furnishings.  This verb was used to indicate a cleansing of something common in order to make it holy, per the Lord’s instruction.  Maybe you can see a subplot developing in this message on the meanings of some Greek words and how they are used in a NT context of the cleansing of sins.
    • At v5, Mark has ended his background information about Pharisaical cleansing, and got back to the action at hand (no pun intended). The Pharisees confronted Jesus about the disciples eating with common hands. After all, the godly people eat with holy hands, having washed with their fists, dipping into water several times.
      • Jesus responded in vv6-7 with Isa 29:13 from the OT reading I repeat here - …‘This people honors Me with their lips, But their heart is far away from Me. 7And in vain do they worship Me, Teaching as doctrines the commandments of men.[2]
      • He then warned them they set aside the commands of God in favor of their traditions (v8).  By the way, their method of washing their hands is not mentioned in the Bible anywhere! The Greek words I’ve provided here are *never* used by the Lord in either the Old nor New Testament to prescribe how to wash hands in order to be holy instead of mere common.
      • In Mark 7:10-12, Jesus then confronted the religious leaders about invalidating God’s Law.  Jesus cited the 4th Commandment as an example. We aren’t certain what the back story was that would have Jesus focus on the 4th Commandment. As a reminder, the 4th Commandment is – Honor your father and your mother.  [Some may remember the 4th Commandment as – Thou shalt honor thy father and thy mother, that it may be well with thee, and thou mayest live long on the earth.]  However, the religious leaders such as the Pharisees were teaching people they had to give to the temple first.  If there was any money left over for missions of mercy, people could then give toward the care of their parents.  That is what invalidating a commandment sounds like.
  • Analysis: The 4th Commandment (Ex 20:12, Deu 5:16) was given to Moses by preincarnate Jesus!  We don’t always think about the fact that Jesus is the Word. And so whenever we read in the OT about an “angel of the Lord”, that messenger was none other than Jesus.  Imagine the gall of the religious leaders confronting Jesus about religiously washing hands before eating a meal!
    • Jesus was clear about the need to honor our parents in Mark 7:10-12. Martin Luther wrote about the meaning of the 4th Commandment in the Large Catechism: [God] does not simply command us to love our parents, but to honor them.  …He separates and distinguishes father and mother from all other persons upon earth and places them at His side.  Luther defined honor as [not only including love], but also modesty, humility, and submission to a majesty hidden in them[3].
      • With that in mind, parents should take note they need to not get in the way of the kids honoring them.  If God has father and mother alongside of Himself, that means the parents need to realize how the children are to act in the presence of the Lord.  James, half-brother to Jesus wrote - 10 Humble yourselves in the presence of the Lord, and He will exalt you[4].  There comes a time in everyone’s life when they must humble themselves and let the kids do what the Lord is expecting of them.
      • It is a good question to ask of the Pharisees: how would kids have any resources to care for parents if everything went to the church (v11)?
        • It is implied from Jesus’ comment in Mark 7:11 that church leaders were fine with their salary paid *before* any elderly were cared for. Forget about caring for your parents. Don’t you want the business of the temple to take place?  Let me be clear: the church should not be placing burdens upon people that the church itself is not willing to lift.  In this context, the church is here to serve one another and not be served.  We are to model what Jesus did for us.  He came to serve and not be served.
    • The broader message from the Gospel is we should not add to nor subtract from God’s word.  Listen to these sobering words written by the Apostle John in Rev 22:18-19 - 18 I testify to everyone who hears the words of the prophecy of this book: if anyone adds to them, God will add to him the plagues that are written in this book; 19 and if anyone takes away from the words of the book of this prophecy, God will take away his part from the tree of life and from the holy city, which are written in this book[5].  Is it worth losing out at one day sitting down at the Lamb’s High Feast, just so you can pull a power trip on someone by adding to God’s word like we saw the religious leaders do in Mark ch#7?
      • We need to follow what the Psalmist wrote about regarding keeping our ways pure.  Psalm 119 is an acrostic writing, meaning that each section of this Psalm starts with a letter of the Hebrew alphabet.  The section starting with the Hebrew equivalent of the English letter “B” provides a clear understanding on how we should regard the Lord’s word and not add to or take away anything from it - How can a young man keep his way pure? By keeping it according to [the Lord’s] word. 10 With all my heart I have sought You; Do not let me wander from Your commandments. 11 I have treasured Your word in my heart, So that I may not sin against You. 12 Blessed are You, Lord; Teach me Your statutes. 13 With my lips I have told of All the ordinances of Your mouth. 14 I have rejoiced in the way of Your testimonies, As much as in all riches. 15 I will meditate on Your precepts And regard Your ways. 16 I shall delight in Your statutes; I will not forget Your word[6].  
      • How can that be done if we make up things about God’s word that He neither spoke nor contemplated?  False prophets are mentioned throughout the OT, and especially in the major prophets. Isaiah, Jeremiah, and Ezekiel are all major prophets, in that they wrote down a lot of material the Lord inspired them to write.  Their ministry each covered a span of decades.  False prophets were especially around just prior to the destruction of Jerusalem in 586BC.  Listen to what the Lord thought of those false prophets misleading people by claiming they had the word of the Lord - 14 Then the Lord said to [Jeremiah], “The prophets are prophesying falsehood in My name. I have neither sent them nor commanded them, nor spoken to them; they are prophesying to you a false vision, divination, futility, and the deception of their own minds. 15 Therefore this is what the Lord says concerning the prophets who are prophesying in My name, although it was not I who sent them—yet they keep saying: ‘There will be no sword or famine in this land’—by sword and famine those prophets shall meet their end[7]!
      • Instead of paying a heavy price for spreading falsehood (Jer 14:15-16), we need to take shelter in God’s word.  King Solomon wrote in Pro 30:5 - Every word of God is pure; He is a shield to those who take refuge in Him[8]. If God’s word is already pure, what could common folk like you or I add to it?
  • Conclusion: We need to be careful about making God’s word say or do things He did not intend.
    • The Pharisees were lying to people in the name of the Lord.  By doing this, they invalidated God’s word. Jesus gave the example of the 4th Commandment in our text for today, but you can bet if the religious leaders invalidated the 4th Commandment, the other nine Commandments did fare much better.  Let’s not be found guilty of doing the same.  Solomon continued in Pro 30:6 - Do not add to His words Or He will rebuke you, and you will be proved a liar[9].
    • Instead, let the Gospel reign in your heart always.  I close with the Apostle Paul’s exhortation written in Col 3:16-17 - 16 Let the word of Christ richly dwell within you, with all wisdom teaching and admonishing one another with psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs, singing with thankfulness in your hearts to God. 17 Whatever you do in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks through Him to God the Father.  We don’t have to be fake about this.  We don’t have to add to or subtract from the Lord’s word.  We should spend our life learning His word and putting it into practice, neither turning to the left nor to the right from it.  Amen.

[1] Pro 9:10 from an original translation of the Greek Septuagint as presented at https://www.blueletterbible.org/nasb20/pro/9/1/t_conc_637010

[2] Mark 7:6b-7 from NASB20 at https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Mark+7&version=NASB

[3] Luther quoted from Concordia: The Lutheran Confessions; A Reader’s Edition of the Book of Concord, Concordia Publishing House, Saint Louis, MO 2006 p.371

[4] Jas 4:10 from NASB20 at https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=jas+4&version=NASB

[5] Rev 22:18-19 from NASB20 at https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=rev+22&version=NASB

[6] Ps 119:9-16 from NASB20 at https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=ps+119&version=NASB

[7] Jer 14:14-15 from NASB20 at https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=jer+14&version=NASB

[8] Pro 30:5 from NASB20 at https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=pro+30&version=NASB

[9] Prov 30:6 from NASB20, ibid