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The Heart of the Matter

Pastor Gary Buchman
Emmitsburg Community Bible Church

(10/6) Introduction – (a clip) Fiddler on the Roof – Traditions – "How do we keep our balance? That I can tell you in one word- Tradition. We have traditions for everything we do, what we eat, what we wear, everything. ……without our traditions our lives would be as shaky as, as a fiddler on the roof" I can see Tevye, leading his horse and cart down the road and dancing (My favorite musical).

Let’s just talk for a few moments. Share a family or personal tradition.

How about in our faith- How much of what we do is based on tradition and not on instruction from God? Can you think of things? There is an awful lot that God did not instruct us about in contrast to precise instruction for Hebrew O.T. worship from Exodus thru Deut. For Example:

• Our Meeting times – Sunday Morning. Though there is no specific instruction for Christians to gather, Christians began to gather on Sunday’s to celebrate the Risen Lord and the New Life we share with Him.

Weds. Nights started about 150 years ago to pray for revival. I think this is one of the greatest tragedies in Christianity, that is, believers don’t gather to pray together for our families, our purposes, our nation, our faithfulness in a sinful society. The author of Hebrews tells us not to forsake the assembling of ourselves together, but it never says when to gather. 1 Cor. 16:1-2 assumes that Christians are or will gather on Sundays but never says it must be.

• Our Meeting Places – though Christians used to gather in synagogues, they mostly gathered in homes, barns, fields, and during the Roman persecutions they meet in the catacombs, or underground cemeteries. Nowhere does it say to build a multi-purpose building or a sanctuary to worship. We do so in the tradition of the synagogue or the O.T. temple or tabernacle.

• Our Order of Service – is based on Hebrew synagogue and temple traditions. These always included an offering, prayers, singing and music, and a reading and exposition of the word or traditions. But God never says, "Here is how you are to do church." What we are to do, yes, like worship, instruction, fellowship, and evangelism, but how to do it, no!

• Our Ordinances – We baptize by immersion because that is the basic meaning of the Greek word –Baptizo, which means to dip, immerse, or to place into, and that seems apparent by the baptisms conducted in scripture in rivers. But few of us go to a river to baptize. The Lord’s Supper is done in so many different ways. Like we just did, or people would go and kneel at an altar, or as our Catholic friends, the priest will dip a wafer in wine and place in the mouth of the recipient. Some will drink from a common cup that is passed. We are instructed in Scripture to keep both ordinances but there is no clear instruction. If we followed the first examples we would have communion at a celebration covered dish dinner and we would go to the sea or a river to baptize.

• Our Celebrations of Holy Days – and other Holidays have been reduced to traditions and not as they probably were intended. I mean, do you really think God is honored by the madness of Christmas shopping and Santa Claus and eggs, chocolate, and rabbits at Easter? Thanksgiving is probably the purest holiday we celebrate as Christians. Recent traditions have deviated a lot of people from the reason for the seasons.

• And within all these things there are traditions that we have developed. The cloths we wear to church, the instruments we use to worship, the songs we sing, the version of the Bible we use, our prayer language, the way we conduct business, the things we do for fellowship. In some older churches, to mess with tradition is a death sentence for some pastors. Like replacing pews with chairs, choirs with praise teams, hymn books with power point, eliminating un-necessary committees, hymns with contemporary songs. The older we get the more comfortable we are with our traditions. And seldom do we say, "Let’s see what the Bible says about this tradition." Rather, we say, "this is what our Father’s did and if it was good enough for them it is good enough for us." To break that tradition is on par with dis-honoring those before us (cp. not doing Sunday evening)

Let me give you a Biblical example. Remember the bronze serpent story in Numbers 21? Well, over the years that piece of metal became an object of worship. People burned incense to it, probably prayed to it. The Canaanites revered snakes as fertility gods. When Hezekiah became king, he said, this is ridiculous and wrong and he smashed it to pieces (2 Kings 18:4).

But, 2 Thess 2:15 says, "Therefore, brethren, stand fast and hold the traditions which you were taught, whether by word or our epistle." And I Cor. 11:2 says," Now I praise you, brethren, that you remember me in all things and keep the traditions just as I delivered them to you. Both of these are referring to the teachings that Paul gave that are scripture, revealing the will of the Holy Spirit. These would include giving to the poor, sharing the Gospel, walking in the Spirit, loving your spouse like Jesus loves the church, submitting to your husband’s leadership, living by faith, and more.

But Tevye, is right, the Jews of Jesus’ day had come to revere the traditions devised and passed down by the rabbis as the way to live life. For many the traditions had become more important than the Word of God. These traditions were in a book called the Mishnah. These were teachings of the Rabbi’s, and considered on par with the Bible just as the teachings of the Pope are for most Catholics.

I. The Tradition of Hand Washing (Matt. 15:1-6) Our text for today is about Jesus, our Lord and His disciples eating without washing their hands. This is not about having grease or dirt on their hands, this was a ceremonial washing to make one spiritually clean and the food spiritually clean. To eat without this ceremony was considered as if one had leprosy. The Pharisees were appalled that this Rabbi and His followers would dare do such a thing. But Jesus calls them out on it. It seems that some rabbi had come up with a tradition that said that if you take money, put it aside and declare it to be Corban or dedicated to God, you were not obligated to use it for anything else, unless you chose to make withdrawals for yourself. These religious leaders used that tradition as a loophole to not take care your parents. You see there was no welfare or Social Security system so the 5th commandment was expressed will of God. It wasn’t just for children to obey, respect, and learn from their parents, it was God’s instruction to take care of your elderly parents when they could no longer care for themselves. But these would use their tradition to negate God’s will. So, sorry mom and dad, I know you need food, clothing, medicine and shelter, but I have dedicated my money to God so, I can’t help you, but good luck to you, we’ll pray for you. The tradition of hand-washing may have begun as a very good reminder of the need to stay clean but had become more important than being clean.

II. The Tract of Hypocrisy- (vv. 7-9; 13-14) Isaiah 29:13 speaks directly about this and these guys know it but because of their heart condition they didn’t care. For them their faith had become more about the show. Tradition had replaced Truth. Religion had replaced Righteousness, and Ritual had replaced a Relationship with the Living God. Let me pause and tell you that every once in a while a church needs to stop and honestly evaluate why we do what we do, and how much we do is based on tradition and instead of the clear teaching of God’s word. How and when did Robert’s rules of parliamentary procedure become the rule of church business instead of the Bible? We should ask what Bible passage, principle, pattern, or precept is the basis for what we do? Let me stop preaching for a moment and meddle. Are there any Biblical passages, principles, patterns, or precepts that speak toward Halloween; about associating with the works of darkness? Halloween is a dark day and we justify playing with it. Just asking! Halloween is a great time to teach your children that we are to be different. Jesus is about light and life, Halloween is about darkness, death and demons. To practice ungodly traditions is hypocrisy and hypocrisy will cause not only yourselves but others like your children to stumble, and for the un-saved it will lead to the Pit of hell (vv. 13-14). Those who haven’t believed in Jesus have been blinded by religion and Satan (2 Cor. 4:3-5). Only Jesus and His Holy Spirit can open the eyes of a blinded heart.

This passage from Isaiah 29:13 ‘These people draw near to Me with their mouth, And honor Me with their lips, But their heart is far from Me.

And in vain they worship Me, Teaching as doctrines the commandments of men.’ "also reminds us that even people that come to church on Sundays are often hypocritical, because, they are practicing religion and not seeking righteousness, tradition but not truth, ritual but not relationship. They sing but not from their hearts, they give but not generously, gratefully, or cheerfully. They listen with no intent of applying the teachings. It’s a formality and a tradition maybe to appease a person like a spouse or parent, or even God, but it is hypocrisy. God wants us to love Him with our hearts and desire Him like a lover. And serve Him as a gracious benefactor. Do you understand this?

III. The Teaching to Hear (vv. 10-11) When He had called the multitude to Himself, He said to them, "Hear and understand: 11 Not what goes into the mouth defiles a man; but what comes out of the mouth, this defiles a man." This is a lesson that Peter would have emphasized to him in Acts 10. A man is not defiled by what he eats. Paul wrote to Timothy that in the last days, there would be false teachings about what a person can eat, but he says, " For every creature of God is good, and nothing is to be refused if it is received with thanksgiving; 5 for it is sanctified by the word of God and prayer." (1 Tim. 4:4-5). Verse 17 assures us that what you put in your mouth will sooner or later end up in the septic system or the woods, including coins, string, and other such objects. Obviously, this is a general rule, for people can obtain food poisoning, and so, spoiled foods should be avoided. Though there are foods under Judaism that they were forbidden to eat, they were for an object lesson to show that they needed to trust God and to distinguish between that which is good and that which is evil. Certain things like touching a dead body or a leper made one ceremonially unclean but it was never called sin. Then verse 12 is interesting, "I think you made them mad, or hurt their feelings. You offended them." These are the big guys. But here is the truth, it isn’t the religious people that you should worry about offending, is it? When it comes to living your life, the only one we should be concerned with is an audience of one. That’s what Mike Huckabee said a few years ago. He said that he knew that no matter what he did or said he wasn’t going to please everyone so he would focus on pleasing just one, His God and Father. I said, "Amen." Ricky Nelson sang the song Garden Party a few years ago, and that song says, "You can’t please everyone, so you got to please yourself." The truth is you can’t please everyone, so you need to focus on an audience of one, and it’s not yourself. It’s your God and Father

IV. The Truth of the Heart (vv. 15-20) Notice that Peter doesn’t get it. Explain this to us. Perhaps all his life he had heard and perhaps practiced these traditions, and now Jesus says, they should be examined, please explain this. "So Jesus said, "Are you also still without understanding? 17 Do you not yet understand that whatever enters the mouth goes into the stomach and is eliminated? 18 But those things which proceed out of the mouth come from the heart, and they defile a man. 19 For out of the heart proceed evil thoughts, murders, adulteries, fornications, thefts, false witness, and blasphemies. 20 These are the things which defile a man, but to eat with unwashed hands does not defile a man." A relationship with God is not about tradition, ritual, or religion. Jesus hates religion as much as anyone. God is interested in the heart. The Bible tells us that the heart is the seat of all actions of life. Joe Stowell in Fan the Flame says that "The Heart is used in Scripture as the most comprehensive term for the authentic person. It is the part of our being where we desire, deliberate, and decide. It has been described as "the place of conscious and decisive spiritual activity," "the comprehensive term for a person as a whole; his feelings, desires, passions, thought, understanding and will," and "the center of a person. The place to which God turns." (J. Stowell, Fan The Flame, Moody, 1986, p. 13.) Listen carefully, what defiles a man and finds God’s disapproval is the heart that is uncircumcised and unwashed; the heart that is hardened, calloused, rebellious and defiant. That heart will be revealed, not by what a person eats, but by what a person says and does. These will reveal what your heart is really like. Did you know that Scientists have discovered that every snowflake has a tiny piece of dust at its core? Every snow flake begins as a particle of dust that water vapor attaches to and then crystalizes and becomes a snowflake. Every snowflake has a "dirty heart"

Jeremiah 17:9 reminds us that; "The heart is deceitful above all things, And desperately wicked; who can know it?" The heart is the core of our lost-ness. Every one of us had a heart like that before we knew Jesus. It is the heart that God wants to make new (Ez. 37:26). It is the heart that God says we are to circumcise in Deut. 10:16: Male circumcision is a picture of what God wants us to do to our hearts, to make them sensitive to him.

It is the heart that God searches (Jer. 17:10; 1 Chr. 28:9) The Bible says:

Keep your heart – Pr. 4:23 "Keep your heart with all diligence; For out of it spring the issues of life."(NKJV) The NIV says, Above all else, guard your heart, for everything you do flows from it. Protect, keep, and guard your heart. Watch over what goes in or comes out. It’s is the central part of your whole being. That’s why the Bible says to: (Look in a concordance. These are just a few of a great many)

  • Love God with your heart – Matt. 22:37
  • Sing to Him with your heart – Col. 3:16
  • Serve Him with your heart – Deut. 10:12
  • Believe Him from your heart – Rom. 10:9-10
  • Obey Him from the heart – Rom. 6:17
  • Write mercy and truth on – Pr. 3:3
  • Trust Him with your heart - Pr. 3:5-6
  • Give from the heart – 2 Cor. 9:7
  • Forgive others from your heart - Matt. 18:35
  • Daniel purposed in His heart Dan. 1:8
  • As a Man thinks in His heart so is he – Pr. 23:7

Jesus said, "Blessed are the Pure in Heart for they shall see God." (Matt. 5:8)

Peter said to, "sanctify, or set apart as special, the Lord in your Hearts"-1 Pet. 3:15

God said, in Jeremiah 29:13, "And you will seek Me and find Me, when you search for Me with all your heart."

Biblical Christianity is far more than head knowledge of Jesus and traditions. True Christianity is an unsaved human being saved from the source and penalty of sin forever. Many people who think they are saved are not. Why? Because they have never receive Jesus into their hearts by faith. They believe in their heads, but not in their hearts. They are missing heaven by 18 inches (the distance from one’s heart to one’s brain). My friends, listen carefully, the true condition of your heart will be revealed sooner or later in the words that come out of your mouth, or the things you will watch on TV or your computer, even in the jokes you tell, or the things you will do.

Here is the bottom line of this whole section of scripture. Eating with un-washed hands doesn’t defile a man, doing anything with an un-washed heart does.

A clean heart, a pure heart, a heart that God approves of is the heart that He is allowed to keep clean daily. It is a heart that Fears disappointing God, and wants Him to be honored in everything we do. It is the heart that asks God daily to search it and cleanse it, by confession repentance and the shed blood of Jesus. The way most parents want their children to honor them. David prayed, "Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me"– Psalm 51:10. It’s a matter of the heart, not your tradition, or ritual, or religion. (Commercial, "What’s in your wallet?") What’s in your heart? Unconfessed sin, sexual fantasies, lies, thefts, blasphemies, anger, un-forgiveness, hatred, whatever it is, you can be clean today.

  • Confess it to Jesus right now.
  • Agree that is/was wrong
  • Turn from it
  • Believe that Jesus died to forgive you
  • Receive His forgiveness
  • Make it right with the person (Carefully)
  • Let Jesus examine your heart everyday (Matt. 5:12; Ps. 139:23-24)
  • Honor Him and others with your words and your life.

If God spoke to you through this or any of the messages in Words in Red, write to me and let me know. My email address is Thanks and may God bless you as you serve Him with a Clean Heart.

Read other thoughtful writings by Pastor Gary Buchman