Matthew 15:1-20 Part 3

I want to begin this morning with some comments having to do with apologetics.  And just so everyone is clear about this word “apology”, let me explain once more that there are two distinct meanings to this word in English – one of which describes the process of sorrow and contrition at having injured or offended another.  One would say “I apologize”.

But the second meaning has to do with the defense of the faith.  It could be used on a defense of any position, but, in this case, a defense of the faith.  And this is the way we use it this morning.  To “apologize” means to present a case for the faith in whatever circumstances one might find himself!  So, as you can see, there are hardly any situations in which a believer (at least in the present state of the world order) isn’t required to be an apologist!  Because if we are in Christ, and if we are new creations and part of the new heavens and the new earth, then that’s the condition in which we meet the world order.  And our purpose in life is to glorify God and teach the Commandments of Christ and baptize the nations!

So the underlying issue here is that many, many people in this world are still descendants of Adam in the flesh.  But all those who are justified and sanctified through faith in Christ are reborn into a new descendancy!  We have taken on a new humanity after the flesh of Christ!  And, therefore, the lives we lead and the societal institutions we create are totally different from the others.  There’s no common ground.  (The fact that we are not wholly sanctified and, therefore, carries some baggage of the old Adamic nature is problematic and not an issue here in this discussion.)

Now, given that this is all true, which it is, then we ought to look at passages of Scripture, such as this one this morning, when they come text in the text, and glean what’s there in order to shape our approach to the world order.  The Scriptures are absolute and authoritative and profitable for our lives and practices, aren’t they?

But, while looking at this and other passages, we have to be aware that there are, at least, two things that we can’t do!  And the first one is that we cannot just use what looks good to us in the Bible, or just what makes us comfortable.  (And this passage of Scripture doesn’t make many people comfortable)  And the second one is that everything in a passage of Scripture isn’t necessarily applicable all the time!  As an example of that, we find Jesus using a forceful, biting and incisive language here toward these Pharisees.  And it isn’t an absolute in Scripture that we use that same approach in every case where we have to defend the faith!  It would be ludicrous for us to interpret Scripture in such a way as to make that binding on our behavior all the time!

But even though this encounter (verses seven through nine) with the leadership of Israel is set in the context of the revocation of the covenant of God and condemnation of Israel, Jesus’ example illustrates for us certain essentials in defending the faith – (which includes evangelizing and teaching).  Essentials which are applicable all the time!

And the very first thing that we notice when we read this passage is that Jesus did not promote His Own glory by defending Himself!  Even though He was the perfect Law-keeper, and there was no unrighteousness in Him, He didn’t take up His Own cause against His accusers!  As the apostle Paul said, Jesus “emptied” Himself and became a servant for the glory of God the Father.

And, therefore, seeing this as binding upon us to do the same, it is a serious error, when we approach the world order apologetically, to defend ourselves against the attacks of accusers – and promote our own adherence to Biblical Law and principles!  That would be self-indulgence and self-glory!  Our purpose in defending the faith and teaching the Commandments of Christ is to bring respect and honor and glory to God by faith in His Son and obedience to His holy Law!  Defending ourselves – and our lifestyles – and our beliefs, against our accusers doesn’t do that!  Defending our obedience to His Law doesn’t do that!  That’s why Jesus answered with an absence of personal defense.

On the other hand, men are interested in self-idolatry, aren’t they?  And believers are, in no way, immune to the temptation to self-defense.  As I said, we carry that baggage around that has to do with the old nature.  But that temptation has to be put away in sorrow and contrition, because, first, it is pro-man and anti-God; and, second, it doesn’t work!  God will not be glorified by self-defense, and men will not be turned to Him in poverty of spirit by demonstration of self-love!  God doesn’t use self-defense to bring sinners to Himself!  He uses His Own Word!

Now.  The second essential of apologetics which we find in this passage is that Jesus proceeded directly to the Word of God.  And in considering this we have to set aside (for the moment) that Jesus was divorcing the old covenant nation and separating it out for destruction.  That was His purpose, and it can never be our purpose.  Our purpose is to serve the honor of God by teaching and baptizing the nations.  Jesus was bringing the covenantal sanctions of Deuteronomy twenty-eight to their righteous conclusion – prosecuting the case against Israel in infinite detail!  But we are beyond that now, and we have nothing to do with it.  So the specific language and tone which He used against the Pharisees isn’t to be viewed by us as binding apologetic methodology as we seek Kingdom extensions!  I’m not saying that it should never be used… these may be scenarios in which it ought to be used.  But it should not be viewed as binding upon us.  Jesus executed the sanction against Israel – and it’s done.  It’s over.

But what is binding upon us as we seek the Kingdom is that we proceed directly to God’s Word as He did and bring them to bear on the fallen state of mankind!  Man exalts his own wisdom, but God’s Word is absolute – and powerful to the piercing down to the marrow of men’s bones.  It is the power of God into salvation!  Jesus went immediately to God’s Law-Word – the fifth Commandment, which we examined last Lord’s Day – and that Word was a crushing blow to the Pharisee’s self-glorifying wisdom.  The Word is that sword used in apologetic battle!  It is the weapon that defeats the nations and brings them into submission to God’s authority!

You see, the only way out for man – the only way for him to avoid going “under” unto the abyss of abandonment and eternal destruction due to his Adamic sin nature – is for him to become poverty-stricken (as we’ve before seen), and mourn the enmity toward God which is inherent in his nature.  And then to seek a new nature in Christ Who is the substitutionary sacrifice in perfect flesh!

So when you and I swing God’s Sword into battle position – that is, God’s Law-Word – we pierce down into the very essence of man’s depraved being.  And God’s Spirit moves as He wills to twist the blade in the right places in order to kill the old Adam and bring desolation and despair and grief and misery and horror that heretofore he has been devoted to his own cursed condition!

You see, the self will never allow the understanding of its own condition.  God’s Word does that.  And can you ever imagine, even once, your self-defense against attack doing that?  Self-defense is impotent against the world-order!  It never does anything except maybe soothe your own ego.  But it has no power against the scourge of human nature!  It has no authority against cursed humanity!  It has no capacity to dislodge what is the intrinsic character of man.  Because man will continue to be what he is unless he is reborn with a new nature - the nature of Christ.  And it is only the Word of God that can do that! 

So, now having said some things about Jesus’ apologetic methodology in these first nine verses, let’s move on.  Jesus says that, for the cause of their tradition – for the cause of the teaching of the elders (the ancient rabbis of Israel), the leadership of Israel has taught and exampled for the nation the violation of the Law of God.  And, in the strongest negation in the Greek language, He says that they have revoked God’s Covenant.  So the charge in complete:  they’ve extended God’s Law; they’ve established their own law; they’ve subverted their own law by covetousness; and they’ve revoked the Covenant of obedience which God had made with them at Sinai!  And now they’re to suffer the consequential sanctions.

And so Jesus turns on them with the burning anger of covenantal separation.  The divorce from the adulterous wife is taking place, and the end will be capital punishment.  The disinheritance of the son who has reviled his father is taking place.  And the end will be capital punishment.  The priests have gone to astrologers and magicians and strange gods and the end will be capital punishment.  And the shepherds of the sheep have scattered the flock into pagan idolatry, and left them blind and deaf and poor and imprisoned.  And the end will be capital punishment.

Verse seven:  “Hypocrites, Isaiah rightly prophesied about you, saying, ‘This people honors Me with their lips, but their heart is held far from Me.  But in vain they venerate Me, teaching as teaching the commandments of men.’”

Now, as you can see, Jesus goes right back to the Word of God through the prophet Isaiah for the condemnation.  He subjects them to the very Word of God about them!  In other words, He accuses them of being the very ones to whom God was speaking in that prophecy!  Isaiah speaks in about 730 BC, and his words are found in chapter twenty-nine, verse thirteen – the context of which is the destruction of the nation and the laying siege to the city of Jerusalem!  And with multitudes of pagan Gentiles encamped around her in order to annihilate her, God says to Jerusalem, verse six of chapter twenty-nine:


“You shalt be visited of the Lord of hosts with thunder, and with earthquake, and great noise, with storm and tempest, and the flame of devouring fire!”


And then we hear these words, reading further from chapter twenty-nine:


“For the Lord has poured out upon you the spirit of deep sleep, and has closed your eyes:  the prophets and your rulers, the seers, has He covered.  And the vision of all is become unto you as the words of a book that is sealed, which men deliver to one that is learned, saying, ‘Read this, I pray thee’.  And he says, ‘I cannot, for it is sealed’.  And the book is delivered to him that is not learned, saying, ‘Read this, I pray thee’.  And he says, ‘I am not learned.’  Wherefore the Lord said ‘Forasmuch as this people draw near with their mouth, and with their lips do honor Me, but have removed their heart far from Me, and their fear toward Me is taught by the precepts of men, therefore, behold, I will proceed to do a marvelous work among this people, even a marvelous work and a wonder.  For the wisdom of their wise shall perish, and the understanding of their prudent shall be hid.  Woe unto them that seek deep to hide their intentions from the Lord, and their works are in the dark; and they say, ‘Who sees us? And who knows us?’  Surely your turning of things upside down shall be esteemed as the potter’s clay; for shall the work say of him that made it, ‘He did not make me’?  Or shall the thing framed say of him that framed it, ‘He had no understanding?’


As you can hear, the prophecy of Isaiah, in chapter twenty-nine, is concerning the hypocrisy of Israel, for they do outward homage to God while they have no heart for Him.  In other words the center of their being is not turned toward Him.  And therefore their outward worship is after the precepts of men, while they seek to hide their real intentions from the Lord!  And that’s the same as questioning the ability and intention of the one who made them; and that’s the same thing as potters clay asking about the intent of the molder!

You will notice that, as Paul the apostle speaks of these same things in Romans nine, ten and eleven, he uses this same analogy of the potter’s clay.  Israel has turned everything upside down, living by their own precepts and hiding the intent to do that – while giving God lip service and outward pretense of worship..  It’s as if the thing made says to its maker – “You don’t even understand what you’ve made!”  Or even – “You didn’t make me; I’m here in and of myself!”          

So Jesus uses this word “hupocrites” – hypocrite – to describe the Pharisees, and to make reference to all that is happening in Israel – as prophesied in Isaiah.  As you can tell, it is a bitter, bitter word.  A word with the most serious consequences.  A word which aptly describes the true depth of the depravity of man.

The New Testament word means to carry self-deception to the point where one thinks that he truly is what he only pretends to be!  And the true marks of the hypocrite are these:  first, he gives lip-service to God.  He gives honor to God with his words and, maybe, other outward forms of worship. (However unbiblical they may be)  But they are pretense!  There is a pretending to honor God, and a vain self-deception that the pretending is true worship!

And, secondly, as Jesus makes clear in the text, there is teaching, reasoning, arguing and promoting of the doctrines and wisdom of men, and pretending that it comes from God!  And, again, there is a vain self-deception that the pretense is true!  That is does come from God!

I hope that you can see from this the chaotic and vile intent of men.  It is the nature of men to do this!  As God said through Isaiah, everything is upside down!  That which is true and comes from God is set aside; exchanged for a lie!  It is replaced by what comes from men; then that which has come from men is pretended to be the truth; and then men deceive themselves into believing that what they’re pretending to do is really true!

In fact, it’s such a crazy, topsy-turvy, upside-down thing that the foolishness of the whole process is likened to a piece of inanimate, molded clay which asks its potter if he has any idea at all what it means that the clay object exists!  And that the clay object even tells its potter that it exists irrespective of the potter making it!  Everything true and evident is exchanged for the most preposterous lies!

There seems to be no end or limit to the deceptive contrivances of men.  And if there’s a way to get it more upside down than it already is, they’ll find it!  This is the process of contrariety.  Whatever God says, man negates and teaches something else, something contrary – pretending that the something else is true, and then pretending that the pretending isn’t really pretending, but it, in fact, the truth!

But the reverent fear of God, as Isaiah says, is expressed in true worship.  And that worship is controlled and shaped by God’s Word.  The moment human concepts and precepts are introduced and substituted for that word (by the law of contrariety), the fear of God, the honor of God, and His worship become useless, or vain!  It is false!  It is contrary if there is no veneration of Him according to His Word!  And to see that contradiction as no contradiction at all – but to see the contradiction as the truth – is the very essence of hypocrisy!

And, further, it is bad enough to practice this law of contrariety by oneself.  But it becomes far worse when it is taught to the people as the way to fear and worship God!  It builds up a system of national hypocrisy, in that all the people are lead by blind hypocrite guides!  That’s why the sheep of the house of Israel were scattered and bruised and scratched and blind and deaf and weak and poor and imprisoned in darkness!  They had been taught and led by these who turned everything upside down!

And this “teaching” is what is emphasized here in the text.  It substitutes that of man for that of God, and it makes the teaching of men appear as the teaching of God!  The fear and honor and glory of God, and obedience to Him, are what is required from God’s Word.  But the Pharisees taught the precepts of men concerning religious regulation! – invented by men!  The false practices of the Pharisees sprang up from utterly false conceptions of the Word and Will of God and what was required of men!

And, very quickly, there are a couple of teachings of men which are prevalent in our “religious” culture which are pure hypocrisy – and which so remind me of the pretensions of the Pharisees.  And the first one is that doctrine – so widely taught in fundamentalism – that it doesn’t matter so much what your doctrine is, if you live right before God!  This is classic Phariseeism because, in this case, living right before God would necessarily depend then on the perception of men!  If men don’t know the doctrines of God, then they must live by the their own wisdom – the precepts of men!  And then they pretend they’re living right before God; and they deceive themselves into believing that their pretense is, indeed, living right before God!  Do you see the Pharisaical hypocrisy?

And the second one which is so widespread in Pentecostalism and other charismatic groups is the idea that it’s what you believe that counts!  It’s your faith that saves; and what your lifestyle is, really doesn’t mean all that much!  But Jesus quotes Isaiah as saying, “this people honors Me with their lips, but their heart is held far from men, but in vain they honor Me, teaching as teaching the commandments of men!”  They violate the Commandments of God, and revoke His Covenant, while all the time saying the words that they think sound good to God!  And they pretend that it doesn’t matter what their lifestyles are, and then they live by their own pretending!  Isaiah said it was “upside down”.  And it is.  It’s just like saying to God, “Do you really understand what you’ve made here?”

Finally, as I said before, we have the baggage that we carry around, don’t we?  Christians still have the vestiges of our old Adam nature.  And the desire for self-deception and hypocrisy are still trying to snatch away the victory in Christ.  So we must always be on the lookout for the old self.  The fear and honor and worship of God must be from the center of your being – your whole heart, mind and strength.  And your honor of Him must be according to His Words.  Otherwise this dark, bitter, malevolent word will be used by God to describe your personage – hypocrite.  Praise God there is forgiveness in the body of Christ – and release from the eternal judgment which is due those who are described by that word. 

Next Lord’s Day – the parable of what defiles the man.