Mark 7:1-23: According to Jesus, It’s Your Heart that Needs to be Clean

Jesus couldn’t care less about rituals, ceremonies and traditions! In today’s passage, Jesus is confronted by the Pharisees. As a result, He calls them out as hypocrites. What’s this all about? Let’s dig in…

Mark 7:1-23 – Jesus Teaches about Inner Purity

One day some Pharisees and teachers of religious law arrived from Jerusalem to see Jesus. They noticed that some of his disciples failed to follow the Jewish ritual of hand washing before eating. (The Jews, especially the Pharisees, do not eat until they have poured water over their cupped hands, as required by their ancient traditions. Similarly, they don’t eat anything from the market until they immerse their hands in water. This is but one of many traditions they have clung to—such as their ceremonial washing of cups, pitchers, and kettles.)

So the Pharisees and teachers of religious law asked him, “Why don’t your disciples follow our age-old tradition? They eat without first performing the hand-washing ceremony.”

Jesus replied, “You hypocrites! Isaiah was right when he prophesied about you, for he wrote,

‘These people honor me with their lips,
    but their hearts are far from me.
Their worship is a farce,
    for they teach man-made ideas as commands from God.’( Isaiah 29:13)

For you ignore God’s law and substitute your own tradition.”

Then he said, “You skillfully sidestep God’s law in order to hold on to your own tradition. 10 For instance, Moses gave you this law from God: ‘Honor your father and mother,’ and ‘Anyone who speaks disrespectfully of father or mother must be put to death.’ 11 But you say it is all right for people to say to their parents, ‘Sorry, I can’t help you. For I have vowed to give to God what I would have given to you.’ 12 In this way, you let them disregard their needy parents. 13 And so you cancel the word of God in order to hand down your own tradition. And this is only one example among many others.”

14 Then Jesus called to the crowd to come and hear. “All of you listen,” he said, “and try to understand. 15 It’s not what goes into your body that defiles you; you are defiled by what comes from your heart. 16 Anyone with ears to hear should listen and understand.

17 Then Jesus went into a house to get away from the crowd, and his disciples asked him what he meant by the parable he had just used. 18 “Don’t you understand either?” he asked. “Can’t you see that the food you put into your body cannot defile you? 19 Food doesn’t go into your heart, but only passes through the stomach and then goes into the sewer.” (By saying this, he declared that every kind of food is acceptable in God’s eyes.)

20 And then he added, “It is what comes from inside that defiles you. 21 For from within, out of a person’s heart, come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, 22 adultery, greed, wickedness, deceit, lustful desires, envy, slander, pride, and foolishness. 23 All these vile things come from within; they are what defile you.”

Mark 7:1-23 NLT

Lot’s to Unpack Here!

Years ago when I lived in Miami I had a co-worker who was a traditional Jew. She would only eat Kosher food. It was sad, as she got left out of team celebration lunches when we reached sales goals. She wouldn’t even enter a restaurant that wasn’t Kosher. My point in bringing this up is that no matter what Kosher food rules they observed, that didn’t bring them closer to God nor closer to salvation!


What started out as a ritual for priests before they sacrificed at the altar (Exodus 30:19-21), over time, was applied to all Jews. Pastor Sandy Adams explains…

Handwashing has become an obsession again.
Handwashing has become an obsession again.

Everyone performed ceremonial wash-ups. Even today, when you visit the Wailing Wall, just outside the entrance is a large sink and spigot. Jews are expected to wash their hands before they pray.

But if the Bible didn’t command this emphasis on handwashing; then where did it originate? Mark tells us it came from, “the tradition of the elders.” The Pharisees exalted their traditions above God’s Word.

The rabbis taught that in addition to the Law, God gave Moses further instructions – and rather than record them he passed them along by word of mouth. The rabbis believed these traditions were the key to correctly interpreting the Law. To some rabbis the oral law was more important than the written law. Near the end of the second century AD, the rabbis and scribes gathered these oral traditions – recorded and codified them – in a book called the Mishnah.

The Mishnah has a whopping 35 pages on washing – under all kinds of scenarios… Here’s an example, “Take one and a half eggshells of water, and pour it over your hands…, letting the water drip only to your wrists and no further. Then, flip your hands over, pointing them downward while yet another one and a half eggshells of water was poured over them. Finally… rub your right fist into your left palm, then your left fist into your right palm.” And on it goes… The Jews were expected to not only wash their hands before a meal, but between each course.

They were obsessed with ceremonial hand washing and took drastic measures to enforce their rules. One rabbi was excommunicated for eating bread before washing his hands… An imprisoned rabbi in Rome almost died from dehydration because he used his daily ration of water for washing instead of drinking… A Rabbi Eleazer wrote, “He who expounds the Scriptures in opposition to Jewish tradition has no share in the world to come.” In other words, keeping their traditions was essential to getting to heaven…This is why it bugged the Jews that Jesus couldn’t have cared less for their ceremonies and traditions.

Sandy Adams

Breaking Down Jesus’ 2 Main Points

  1. Their cleansing was outward rather than inward. Clearly, physical rather than spiritual.
    • Jesus said that we are defiled by what comes out of the heart.
    • You might look clean, pure, fancy, religious, and pious on the outside, but inside you’re rotten to the core.
    • Later, when Jesus was explaining it to the disciples, He could have just said “sins”. However, he named society’s main and typical indiscretions. “…evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, greed, wickedness, deceit, lustful desires, envy, slander, pride, and foolishness.”
    • These are still prevalent today.
      • Abortion – the murder of innocent children
      • Fornication – sex outside of the marriage between 1 man and 1 woman.
      • Lustful desires – sensuality, unbridled lust, addiction to porn and sex.
      • Wickedness, lawlessness, not respecting other people and their possessions.
      • Envy and pride
      • Foolishness, folly – and just plain stupidity.
  2. They passed off man-made rules and rituals as if they were from God.
    • That’s a rebellion against God. It’s saying, that I don’t need God if I follow the rules of the church.
    • They wanted to use this to start a fight with Jesus. They couldn’t find anything wrong with Him, so they picked on the disciples.
    • Jesus as a reformer was bringing them back to the Word of God and the Heart of God.
    • They used tradition to rebuke Jesus and He used scripture to rebuke them! It’s worth repeating…

“You hypocrites! Isaiah was right when he prophesied about you, for he wrote,

‘These people honor me with their lips,
    but their hearts are far from me.
Their worship is a farce,
    for they teach man-made ideas as commands from God.’

For you ignore God’s law and substitute your own tradition.”

Mark 7:6-8 NLT

Pastor Sandy Adams comments…

Even today church traditions get mistaken for divine commands! Dress codes, frequency of communion, styles of music, infant baptism, even the display of Christian symbols (icons) – these are traditions not orders from God. Once, we had a well-meaning usher ask a young man to take off his hat in the service. I understood his thinking… removing your hat is a traditional show of respect. But what is our tradition isn’t necessarily God’s instruction. I believe God was just happy the guy was in church. Our taboos might not be a problem for God. Jesus was against passing off man’s traditions as God’s commandments. Let’s not misrepresent God.

Sandy Adams
Mom & me in our Easter finest, c. 1960, Bronx, NY.
Mom & me in our Easter finest, c. 1960, Bronx, NY.

I remember when we wouldn’t be caught dead going to church without a head covering AND gloves! Check out my personal story/testimony below.

Spiritual Quality Control

Pastor Danny Saavedra comments…

Essentially, the things we put into our body don’t cause us to become spiritually unclean. Instead, it’s what is within us that shows our spiritual uncleanness. You see, we’re not sinners because we sin, we sin because we’re sinners. Within our sinful nature exists “sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, greed, malice, deceit, lewdness, envy, slander, arrogance and folly.” Sometimes, these external things reveal the sinfulness within us. Other times, they become the object of our sinful desires, but they are never the cause of our sin. 

What am I saying here? Well, it’s the sinful nature in us that produces the desire to consume that which is bad for us (Romans 7:8, 11). It’s the sinful nature in us that causes us to fall into such things as drugs, alcohol, or a porn addiction. 

Danny Saavedra, The Gospel of Mark (Part Three):

Only Jesus Can Cleanse Us From Our Sins!

NOTHING, no ceremony, rituals, list or rules, sacraments, confessing to a priest, baby baptism, going to Mass, rites, indulgences, NOTHING can make us clean from our sins except JESUS. AND Jesus ONLY! Our salvation is not dependent on our works, but on Christ’s grace freely given to us on the cross.

God wants us to change our hearts. By ourselves, we cannot do it. We can try, but we won’t succeed. That’s where the Holy Spirit comes in. The Spirit helps to sanctify us once we repent and change our ways.

Your obsessing over rituals isn’t making you pure in your walk with Christ.

Is YOUR heart near or far from God?

It’s between YOU and Jesus! Isn’t it time you got right with God?

Jesus didn’t suffer torture and die so we could have religion! He died so He could have a personal Relationship with YOU!

What are you waiting for?

Believe. Repent. Be Baptized. Receive the Holy Spirit.

  • Believe — have Faith — that Jesus is the Christ and He died taking your sins away forever and that He rose from the dead 3 days later.
  • Repent of your sins — stop sinning! Do a complete 180 degree turn in your life and surrender your life to Him.
  • Be Baptized by water baptism — show the world and yourself that you have died to your old life and are born again in Christ.
  • Receive the Holy Spirit in your heart.

Invite Jesus into Your Heart and Receive the Gift of Grace and the Confident Hope of Eternal Life…

My Testimony…

Soli Deo Gloria! To God Alone Be the Glory!

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