Mark 10v01-12, “God’s Plan for Marriage”



1456053183_thumb.pngWhat does it mean to follow Jesus? What does it mean to be a disciple of Jesus Christ? What does it mean to be a Christian? And what does a Christian marriage look like?

We’ve been walking with Jesus through the Gospel According to Mark.

  • We’ve seen him heal every sickness and disease among the people.
  • We’ve seen him restore hearing to the deaf and open the eyes of the blind.
  • We’ve witnessed his authority over demonic spirits as he set people free.
  • We’ve seen him feed the multitudes and command the winds and the waves.
  • We entered the room with him and Peter and James and John to witness his power over death as he raised the daughter of Jairus from the dead.
  • We’ve heard him teach with authority as no man ever had.
  • We have also accompanied the disciples as Jesus taught them what it means to be a disciple — what it means to be a Christian — denying ourselves, taking up our cross, and following him.

Now as we come to Mark 10, we are confronted with the question of how being a disciple impacts our interpersonal relationships, specifically, relationships between husband and wife, and God’s will for marriage.

The Christian life is not simply about believing in God or believing that Jesus Christ is God in the flesh. Even the demons believe that (James 2:19). The Christian life is all of that, but it is also a life of obedience to the commands of Christ. That means that the Christian is a person who has been so changed by the power of Christ, that he delights to do the will of God. He not only says that Jesus is Lord; he demonstrates that Jesus is his Lord by the way that he lives. This is of utmost importance because over and over again, the Word of God tells us that we are to obey his commands and pursue holiness without which no one will see the Lord (Hebrews 12:14).

In Mark 10, Jesus declares the will of God concerning marriage. What he says is astounding in its impact. What he teaches in this passage cuts right across cultural norms and expectations. What Jesus taught about marriage and divorce is as astonishing to us today as it was to the Jews. So I invite your careful consideration of this most important passage.

1.      The Question: Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife? (10:1-2)

Mark 10:1-2 ESV And he left there and went to the region of Judea and beyond the Jordan, and crowds gathered to him again. And again, as was his custom, he taught them. 2 And Pharisees came up and in order to test him asked, “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife?”

1.1.     The Question (10:2)

That is a question that we might never ask. “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife?”[1]

In Jewish culture, as in much of the world today, it was assumed that a man had the right to divorce his wife. The only question was upon what basis a man could divorce his wife. What were the legitimate grounds for putting away one’s wife?

This was a debate in Jewish society. Some argued that adultery alone was sufficient grounds for divorce. If a wife committed adultery, the man had every right to send her away. Others argued that adultery was not necessary: a man could divorce his wife for any and every reason. This is how the question is put in Matthew:

Matthew 19:3 NIVO Some Pharisees came to him to test him. They asked, “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife for any and every reason?”

There is a famous passage in the Mishnah which explains many of the Jewish beliefs. It speaks of two schools of interpretation, the School of Shammai, and the School of Hillel:

The School of Shammai say: A man may not divorce his wife unless he has found unchastity in her, for it is written, “Because he hath found in her indecency in anything.” And the School of Hillel say: [He may divorce her] even if she spoiled a dish for him, for it is written, “Because he hath found in her indecency in anything.” R. Akiba says: Even if he found another fairer than she, for it is written, “And it shall be if she find no favour in his eyes” (m. Git. 9: 10)[2]

The Jews and Jewish law agreed that divorce was allowed. It was only a question of what allowed a man to divorce his wife. There were different opinions based on one phrase in the Hebrew Bible, the phrase “because he has found some indecency in her” (Deuteronomy 24:1). One school defined indecency as unchastity, some sexual impurity. Another school of interpretation said that it referred to anything that the husband might consider indecent. And then there was another rabbi who picked up on the phrase “if then she finds no favor in his eyes” to allow a man to divorce his wife because he found someone prettier! Three reasons for divorce: sexual impurity, a spoiled dinner, or a prettier woman in the neighborhood!

1.2.     The Context (10:1)

Both Mark and Matthew tell us that the Pharisees asked Jesus this question about divorce “in order to test him.” They did not ask Jesus if it was lawful for a man to divorce his wife because they seriously wanted to know the will of God concerning the matter. No, they already had their minds made up and were not interested in seriously considering the issue. They knew what they wanted to believe and simply wanted to trap Jesus with the question.

It is interesting that Mark tells us that this question took place in “the region of Judea and beyond the Jordan” (Mark 10:1). This is the region ruled by Herod Antipas. Herod had seduced his brother’s wife and convinced her to divorce her husband Philip. John the Baptist had denounced this marriage between Herod and Herodias, declaring that it was not lawful for Herod to have his brother’s wife (Mark 6:18). John had lost his head over this question. You could get your head chopped off for answering this question the wrong way!

What would Jesus say? Perhaps the Pharisees thought that the question concerning divorce would take care of the Jesus problem once and for all.

In any case, it is certain that the Pharisees suspected Jesus of holding a position on marriage that was different from their own. The Pharisees held to a man’s right to divorce his wife, whether for adultery or other reasons, and they believed that their position had basis in the Law of Moses. Their purpose was to trap Jesus, to put him into a position where he would compromise the authority of the Torah, the Law of Moses. They intended to “maintain a permissive divorce polity — and the more permissive the better.”[3]

Schürer summarizes the Jewish position on divorce thus: “divorce was relatively easy in those days and the Pharisees and rabbis intended to keep it so.”[4]

For the Pharisees, marriage was “a disposable contractual arrangement.” It was a temporary arrangement so long as it was convenient for the man.

The attitude of the Pharisees…

reminds us of a person who has just been granted a bank loan and then asks under what conditions he might be absolved from repaying it.[5]

Wives had little rights in Jewish society. Marriage was not for the mutual benefit of both the husband and the wife. Marriage was for the man, providing him the woman that he needed to have children and maintain the family line.

Jesus overturns the male-dominated view of marriage, showing the importance of the marital union, harmony, and love as part of the new creation in the kingdom of God.

1.3.     Answer a Question with a Question (10:3-5)

The Pharisees have laid a trap for Jesus, so they think, and Jesus does what he frequently does when confronted by his enemies. He turns the tables on them. They asked him a question, so he answered by asking them a question. They asked Jesus if it was lawful for a man to divorce his wife.

Mark 10:3 ESV He answered them, “What did Moses command you?”

They came to put Jesus on the spot. Now they are on the spot. Jesus asks them a simply Bible question. They are the Pharisees. Surely they should know the answer. But no. They do not answer the right question. Jesus asked them what Moses commanded them. They answer not what Moses had commanded, but what Moses allowed:

Mark 10:4 ESV They said, “Moses allowed a man to write a certificate of divorce and to send her away.”

Wrong answer! Jesus will give the right answer in the following verses, but first he responds to their incorrect answer.

Notice the hardness of their heart that is expressed in their very answer: “Moses allowed a man to write a certificate of divorce and to send her away.”

They are making reference to Deuteronomy 24:1-4. Deuteronomy 24 was all about damage control. It was about limiting the sin and making a man think twice before dismissing his wife.

  • A husband had to give a reason for divorcing his wife, and that was the debate among the Jews, whether any reason was sufficient or “unchastity” was the only valid reason for divorce.
  • The husband had to give his wife a certificate of divorce showing that she was free from her husband.
  • However, the woman was “defiled” if she remarried.
  • The first husband could never under any circumstances take back his first wife after having married another.

Deuteronomy 24:4 clearly states,

Deuteronomy 24:4 ESV then her former husband, who sent her away, may not take her again to be his wife, after she has been defiled, for that is an abomination before the LORD. And you shall not bring sin upon the land that the LORD your God is giving you for an inheritance.

The original intention of Deuteronomy 24:1-4 was not to encourage divorce, but to limit the damage done by hard unforgiving hearts. But the Jews had flipped the intention of the passage and were using it as a pretext for divorce: “If a man finds some indecency in her…”

Jesus confronts the Pharisees with their sin:

Mark 10:5 ESV And Jesus said to them, “Because of your hardness of heart he wrote you this commandment.

“The divine intention for marriage cannot be determined from a text about divorce.”[6]

“The divine intention for marriage cannot be determined from a text about divorce.” 
Divorce is the result of cardiosclerosis, the hardening of the heart. God is a God of forgiveness and he calls us to forgive one another. Not only does he call us to forgive; he requires it. At the conclusion of what we call the Lord’s Prayer in Matthew 6, we read,

Matthew 6:14-15 ESV For if you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you, 15 but if you do not forgive others their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.

We are not to be hardhearted and unforgiving:

Ephesians 4:32 ESV Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.

We are to love our neighbors as ourselves (Mark 12:33). We are to love our enemies (Luke 6:27). Surely husbands and wives can obey the command to love each other (Ephesians 5:25, 28).

Colossians 3:13 ESV bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive.

2.      God’s Plan for Marriage (10:6-9)

Jesus had asked the Pharisees what Moses had commanded them. The Pharisees gave the wrong answer. They told not what Moses had commanded, but what Moses has permitted them because of the hardness of their hearts.

Now Jesus gives the Pharisees the correct answer to his question by taking them back to the beginning of creation and revealing God’s plan for marriage.

Mark 10:6-9 ESV But from the beginning of creation, ‘God made them male and female.’ 7 ‘Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, 8 and the two shall become one flesh.’ So they are no longer two but one flesh. 9 What therefore God has joined together, let not man separate.”

Jesus takes the Pharisees back to the first book of the Bible, the book of Genesis, chapter 2. Genesis was one of the five books that were written by Moses. We find in Genesis 2 what Moses commanded concerning marriage, and what he commanded reveals God’s intention for marriage.

2.1.     The Foundation

Mark 10:6 ESV But from the beginning of creation, ‘God made them male and female.’

2.1.1.  Marriage Has Its Foundation in Creation

We can learn so much from this one sentence: “from the beginning of creation, ‘God made them male and female.’” When did God make us male and female? In the beginning of creation. That tells us that man is not the result of millions of years of evolution. God created man in his own image on the sixth day of creation: “from the beginning of creation, God made them male and female.”

We were created in the image of God. We are created for fellowship, just as the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit have been in eternal fellowship, loving one another through all eternity. God created us with a sense of morality, a sense of right and wrong, a desire for justice. He created us with the ability to communicate through the spoken and written word, and he has communicated his will for us through the prophets in the holy Scriptures. And in Genesis 2, we find God’s will for marriage.

2.1.2.  Marriage Is a Male-Female Relationship

God made us male and female. Male and female is God’s idea.

Genesis 2:18 NET The LORD God said, “It is not good for the man to be alone. I will make a companion for him who corresponds to him.”

In defining the nature of marriage, Jesus takes us back to the original design: God made us male and female. There is a correspondence between male and female. In taking woman from the side of man, God made man “a helper fit for him” (ESV). Male and female fit each other.

In Matthew’s account in Matthew 19, Jesus says to the Pharisees,

Matthew 19:4 ESV … “Have you not read that he who created them from the beginning made them male and female,

“Have you not read?” Do you not know the Scriptures? Is it not clear to you? Is it not obvious that God has made us male and female? Is it not obvious that marriage is between a male and a female?

Marriage is the very first institution. The first man and the first woman were married. Before there was any church, before there were any employers, before there was any government, there was marriage. Marriage was not defined by the church, or by employers, or be the government. None of those institutions existence when the first marriage took place. God gave us marriage and God himself defined marriage.

Were Adam and Eve really married? Yes, they certainly were, for we read in

Genesis 2:25 ESV And the man and his wife were both naked and were not ashamed.

Seven times in the first four chapters of Genesis, Eve is called Adam’s wife (Genesis 2:24-25; 3:8, 17, 20-21; 4:1). And twice, Adam is called Eve’s “husband” (Genesis 3:6, 16).

Marriage is one of God’s gifts to mankind.

2.1.3.  Marriage Changes Our Orientation

Jesus said that since God made us male and female, there is something we must do:

Mark 10:6-7 ESV But from the beginning of creation, ‘God made them male and female.’ 7Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife,

First, Marriage Is the Time to Leave

There is a new orientation. There is a new direction. The man is no longer oriented toward his father and mother. He grows up. He leaves home. Yes, he leaves his mommy and daddy!

The Fifth Commandment was that we are to honor our father and our mother. This is second only to honoring God, but Jesus here declares that the husband’s “allegiance to his wife in the union of marriage surpasses his allegiance to father and mother, making marriage second only to obedience to God in sacredness.”[7]

The commandment from the beginning was that a man is to leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife. You are not married to your parents. Many marriages fail at this point. Instead of obeying the Word of God and leaving his parents, the man brings his wife into his parents’ home. Rather than trying to please his wife (1 Corinthians 7:33), he seeks to please his parents. The wife never gets the respect and consideration that she is supposed to have as the man’s wife because the man is torn between his parents and his wife. God commands the man to leave his parents and to establish a new home. It’s time to grow up. It’s time to be man. It’s time to leave home.

Second, Marriage Is the Time to Cleave — Hold Fast

In holding fast to his wife, the husband orients himself to his wife. Marriage is not about me. It is not about my fulfillment. Marriage orients me toward my spouse. Marriage teaches us how to love. The Apostle Paul quotes this very verse in Ephesians:

Ephesians 5:31 ESVTherefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.”

Three times in this passage of Ephesians, Paul tells us that as husbands, we are to love our wives.

  1. We are to love our wives as Christ love the church and gave himself up for her (Ephesians 5:25).
  2. We are to love our wives as our own bodies, nourishing and cherishing them (Ephesians 5:28).
  3. We are to love our wives as ourselves (Ephesians 5:33).

How does love behave? A man who loves his wife, how does he behave?

1 Corinthians 13:4-7 NLT Love is patient and kind. Love is not jealous or boastful or proud 5 or rude. It does not demand its own way. It is not irritable, and it keeps no record of being wronged. 6 It does not rejoice about injustice but rejoices whenever the truth wins out. 7 Love never gives up, never loses faith, is always hopeful, and endures through every circumstance.

Husbands, love your wives as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her.

Romans 13:10 tells us that “Love does no wrong.” Love is not violent. Love does not mistreat. There is no room for wife abuse in the Christian home. The wife is not the husband’s child for him to discipline. The wife is not the husband’s property for him to mistreat or do as he pleases.

1 Peter 3:7 ESV Likewise, husbands, live with your wives in an understanding way, showing honor to the woman as the weaker vessel, since they are heirs with you of the grace of life, so that your prayers may not be hindered.

Beware, husband! If you mistreat your wife, God will take her side!

Third, Marriage Is a New Creation

Mark 10:8 ESV and the two shall become one flesh.’ So they are no longer two but one flesh.

The two become one. They are no longer two, but one. This is God’s idea, not man’s. God made us male and female, and it was God’s plan that in the context of holy matrimony the two become one. It is a new creation and is an image of Christ and the Church, the Bride of Christ.

What About Polygamy?

Notice again that God says that the two shall become one flesh. Some will argue for polygamy, that a man can have more than one wife. They will argue for polygamy on the basis of the Old Testament patriarchs like Jacob. They will even say that we need to restore the practice of the patriarchs because some of them had several wives. Since the patriarchs set the precedence of polygamy and had several wives, they say that men today should be able to have several wives.

If we looked to the lives of the patriarchs to establish a precedent for how we live today, we would also

  • take concubines like Abraham (Genesis 25:6) and Jacob (Genesis 35:22),
  • frequent prostitutes like Judah (Genesis 38:15-16),
  • deceive our parents like Jacob (Genesis 27:24), and
  • kill our enemies like Simeon and Levi (Genesis 49:5).

The Bible records what happened. But sinful men — even the patriarchs — did many things that were not the will of God.

As we read through the accounts of polygamous marriages in the Bible, it is clear that they were characterized by jealousy and conflict, every single one of them. Let the reader understand!

Jesus does not take us back to the patriarchs; he takes us back to the beginning. We do not look to the patriarchs to find God’s plan for marriage; we do not look to the example of fallen men to get our direction; we do as Jesus said, we go back to the beginning.

2.1.4.  God Is the Lord of Marriage

Here in Mark 10:9, we find the greatest difference between Jesus and the Pharisees. Jewish culture gave man the right to divorce his wife. Man was the lord of the marital relationship. He controlled it and could divorce his wife if he were not pleased.

But Jesus shows us that it is neither the man nor the woman who controls marriage. Rather, it is “God, who is the lord of marriage.”[8]

Mark 10:9 ESV What therefore God has joined together, let not man separate.”

Marriage is not some contractual agreement between a man and a woman. It is not even an arrangement that is determined by the society or the culture at large. It is God himself who has instituted marriage and who joins a man and woman together in marriage. The man has no right to separate it. The woman has no right to separate it. And no external force has the right to separate what God has joined together.

3.      Jesus Summarizes His Teaching

The Jews assumed that divorce and remarriage was permitted in certain cases. Some thought that it was permitted in the case of adultery. Others thought that divorce and remarriage was allowed if the husband was no longer pleased with his wife.

Who did Jesus agree with? Neither. Jesus tells us that marriage is for life. One man. One woman. For life.

Mark 10:10-12 ESV And in the house the disciples asked him again about this matter. 11 And he said to them, “Whoever divorces his wife and marries another commits adultery against her, 12 and if she divorces her husband and marries another, she commits adultery.”

Jesus tells us that divorce and remarriage is adultery, regardless of whether it is initiated by the man or the woman.

3.1.     Counsel to Those in Difficulty

  1. If you are separated, the Apostle Paul summarizes the Lord’s teaching with two options: (1) stay single, or (2) be reconciled to your spouse (1 Corinthians 7:10-11).
  2. If you have been through the pain of a divorce and are now remarried, you need to know that there is forgiveness with God. Jesus tells us in Mark 3:28 that all manner of sins will be forgiven.

1 John 1:9 ESV If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.

Make the best of your present marriage (1 Corinthians 7:17-24).

3.2.     Counsel to Singles

  1. Only marry someone who loves God with all their heart, soul, mind, and strength. Make sure that you have God’s approval and blessing.
  2. Don’t expect too much from your spouse. Remember that marriage is the union of two sinners, not two angels.
  3. Let holiness be the goal of your marriage.

3.3.     Final word to parents and families

Do not make it difficult for committed Christian young people to get married. Do not put terrible financial burdens on them. Do not put obstacles in their way. Do not sell your daughters like property. You give your Christian daughter to a Christian man who is worthy, who will lay his life down for her.

See also “Gospel of Mark”:


[1] In Mark we simply read, “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife?” but this is surely an abbreviation for “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife for any and every cause?” just as we speak of the Second Coming (of Jesus) or civil rights (for minorities) or equal rights (for women). Edwards Jr., James R. (2009-10-05). The Gospel according to Mark (Pillar New Testament Commentary) (Kindle Locations 5542-5543). Eerdmans Publishing Co – A. Kindle Edition.

[2] Edwards Jr., James R. (2009-10-05). The Gospel according to Mark (Kindle Locations 5529-5532).

[3] Edwards Jr., James R. (2009-10-05). The Gospel according to Mark (Kindle Locations 5549-5551).

[4] Edwards Jr., James R. (2009-10-05). The Gospel according to Mark (Kindle Locations 5549-5551).

[5] Edwards Jr., James R. (2009-10-05). The Gospel according to Mark (Kindle Locations 5553-5554).

[6] Edwards Jr., James R.. The Gospel according to Mark . Eerdmans Publishing Company: 2009.

[7] Edwards Jr., James R. (2009-10-05). The Gospel according to Mark (Kindle Locations 5593-5594).

[8] Edwards Jr., James R.. The Gospel according to Mark . Eerdmans Publishing Company: 2009.

Mark 07v01-23 “How Can I Be Clean?”


How is a man to be clean before God? What puts a man right before God? What are the marks of true and false religion?


How can a man be clean before God? This is a question of great concern, not only of religious people, but of everyone who will someday stand before God to give an account of how he has spent his life.

Job asked,

Job 15:14 ESV What is man, that he can be pure? Or he who is born of a woman, that he can be righteous?

Job 9:2-3 ESV “Truly I know that it is so: But how can a man be in the right before God? 3 If one wished to contend with him, one could not answer him once in a thousand times.

The psalmist, King David, prayed,

Psalm 143:2 ESV Enter not into judgment with your servant, for no one living is righteous before you.

Psalm 130:3 ESV If you, O LORD, should mark iniquities, O Lord, who could stand?

Religion is man’s attempt to make himself right with God. But what can we do to undo the wrong that we have done? What can we do to make the wrongs right? What can we do to wash ourselves of clean from the filth of our sin?

The world’s religions have attempted to answer that question in various ways.

1.        Religion’s Attempt to Clean Us Up

1.1.     Islam’s Concern with Clean

In Islam, for example, there is a great concern about being clean before praying to Allah so there are washings called “wudhu” that are observed before prayer.[1]

  1. The hands are washed three times, the right hand then the left.
  2. The mouth is rinsed three times using the right hand.
  3. The nostrils are washed by sniffing water up into them three times, followed by blowing it out.
  4. The face is washed three times.
  5. The arms are washed three times up to the elbows.
  6. The head is wiped once.
  7. The ears are cleaned inside and out once.
  8. Finally, the feet are washed up to the ankles three times.

So there is a concern that one be clean before approaching Allah.

1.2.     Clean and Unclean in Judaism

The Jews of Jesus’ day, especially the Pharisees, were very concerned about cleanliness. This is what we find in Mark’s Gospel chapter 7.

Mark 7:1-5 NIVO The Pharisees and some of the teachers of the law who had come from Jerusalem gathered around Jesus and 2 saw some of his disciples eating food with hands that were “unclean,” that is, unwashed. 3 (The Pharisees and all the Jews do not eat unless they give their hands a ceremonial washing, holding to the tradition of the elders. 4 When they come from the marketplace they do not eat unless they wash. And they observe many other traditions, such as the washing of cups, pitchers and kettles.) 5 So the Pharisees and teachers of the law asked Jesus, “Why don’t your disciples live according to the tradition of the elders instead of eating their food with ‘unclean’ hands?”

We have seen growing opposition to Jesus in the Gospel of Mark.

  • Mark 2:7 “Why does this man speak like that? He is blaspheming!”
  • Mark 2:16 “Why does he eat with tax collectors and sinners?”
  • Mark 2:24 “Why are [his disciples] doing what is not lawful on the Sabbath?”
  • Mark 7:5 “Why do your disciples not walk according to the tradition of the elders, but eat with defiled hands?”

Here in chapter 7 of Mark, we have a head-on collision between Jesus and the Pharisees over what makes one clean. Perhaps it would be more accurate to say that this passage is more about what defiles a person. In Judaism, there was a long list of things that defiled a person:

  • Human excretion of any kind, such as spittle or urine
  • Corpses
  • Decaying flesh of dead animals
  • Creeping things
  • Idols The list would also include certain classes of people:
  • Lepers, like the one that Jesus touched and healed (1:40)
  • Tax collectors like Levi (2:13)
  • Gentiles, like the Gentile territory of the Gerasenes (5:1)
  • Menstruating women, like the woman who had the issue of blood for 12 years and who touched the hem of Jesus’ garment (5:25)
  • The dead daughter of Jairus, that Jesus raised from the dead (5:35)

But this passage is not simply about personal hygiene. It is not about germs, though there were Old Testament regulations that certainly helped to prevent disease and the spread of germs. No, this passage is all about being defiled and what one must do to be clean.

Mark describes in detail the traditions of the Pharisees.

Mark 7:3-4 NIVO (The Pharisees and all the Jews do not eat unless they give their hands a ceremonial washing, holding to the tradition of the elders. 4 When they come from the marketplace they do not eat unless they wash. And they observe many other traditions, such as the washing of cups, pitchers and kettles.)

So the Pharisees could watch people to know if they were holding to the traditions of the elders. They saw that the disciples of Jesus ate without washing their hands.

Mark 7:5 NIVO So the Pharisees and teachers of the law asked Jesus, “Why don’t your disciples live according to the tradition of the elders instead of eating their food with ‘unclean’ hands?”

One of the marks of false religion is the emphasis that it puts on the external. It stresses appearance. False religion says that what really counts is what one sees. “Here are the rules. Follow them and you’ll be all right. You’ll be in the group. Follow the rules and God will have a place for you in His kingdom. So…”

  • Do you go to church?
  • Okay, what day do you go to church on? Do you go to church on the Sabbath or on Sunday?
  • Do you fast?
  • Do you pray five times a day?
  • Have you gone on a mission?
  • Are you wearing the right clothes?

These traditions make it very convenient. With these traditions, we can think ourselves very righteous before God. We can see ourselves as better than others. We can look down on people who do not live according to our traditions. It gives us such a wonderful feeling of superiority!

This enables us to determine whether others are right with God. We can watch them to see if they are following the rules.

And to that, the God said to Samuel,

1 Samuel 16:7 ESV …the LORD sees not as man sees: man looks on the outward appearance, but the LORD looks on the heart.”

MUSIC: Kathryn Scott – Search Me, Know Me

2.        Worthless Religion

The Pharisees want to know why the disciples of Jesus do not live according to the traditions of the elders. This is an indirect attack on Jesus himself. The reason that his disciples did not live according to the traditions of the elders is that Jesus himself did not live according to those traditions as we will see. The disciples were simply following the example of Jesus himself.

But Jesus has very strong words for these religious leaders who see themselves as righteous because everything looks so good on the outside.

2.1.     First, Jesus calls them hypocrites.

Mark 7:6 ESV And he said to them, “Well did Isaiah prophesy of you hypocrites…

The word hypocrite first simply meant an actor. Jesus called the Pharisees hypocrites because their whole lives were “a piece of acting without any sincerity behind it at all.”[2] So what is religion for you?

  • A list of rules and regulations?
  • Certain rituals or practices that you have to observe?
  • Certain tabus that you must avoid?

Then you, my friend, are a hypocrite. You are acting a part. You believe that you are good if you do certain things and avoid other things — and here’s the key — no matter what your heart and thoughts are like.[3]

Legalism puts the accent on outward appearance, outward conformity to a code or list of rules. It does not take into account what is in the heart.

William Barclay tells the story of a Muslim — it could have been a Christian or a Hindu or a Jew or anyone — but it’s the story of a Muslim…

Who was pursuing a man with upraised knife to murder him. Just then the call to prayer rang out. Immediately he stopped, spread out his prayer mat, knelt, said his prayer as fast as he could; then rose and continued his murderous pursuit. The prayer was simply a form and a ritual, an outward observance, merely the correct interlude in the career of murder.[4]

Going to church, reading your Bible, singing in the choir, giving in the offering — these things will not make you right with God. The question is, What is in your heart toward God and toward your neighbor?

Jesus said that the Pharisees were hypocrites. They were simply acting a part. Next, he said that…

2.2.     Their worship is worthless.

Mark 7:6 ESV …as it is written, “’This people honors me with their lips, but their heart is far from me;

These religious people honor God with their lips. They say the right things. They’ve got the vocabulary. They can talk about spiritual things. They can quote Bible verses. They sound very spiritual.


These people honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me.

They do not love God. They do not delight in God. Going to church is a chore. They pray because it is their duty. If they read their Bibles, it is because they are supposed to. But they know nothing of rejoicing in the Lord. They know nothing of hunger for God:

Psalm 73:25-26 NIVO Whom have I in heaven but you? And earth has nothing I desire besides you. 26 My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.

Their worship, Jesus says, is all external. It does not come from the heart, so it is worthless.

Mark 7:7 ESV in vain do they worship me…

It is a waste of time.

Then Jesus said that…


2.3.     Their teaching has no divine authority.

Mark 7:7 ESV in vain do they worship me, teaching as doctrines the commandments of men.’

That is part of the quotation from the prophet Isaiah. The New Living Translation puts it,

Mark 7:7 NLT Their worship is a farce, for they teach man-made ideas as commands from God.’

This controversy between Jesus and the Pharisees was all about the traditions of the elders. Six times this passage refers to the tradition of the elders which prescribed how they were to prepare to eat, what they were to do when going to market, even how to wash their dishes! These were teachings that were added to the Word of God.

Today churches are replacing the Word of God with the words of men. Oh, they may still have the Bible. They give it lip-service. But when they explain it, they explain it away. They wrestle against the plain reading of the Word. They have their own ideas and have elevated them above the Word of God.

We have our churches, our denominations, our committees, our councils and conferences, and it is so easy to just vote and do what we want to do. We make our decisions and ask God to agree with us and bless us.

Jesus gives a strong rebuke to these Jewish authorities:

Mark 7:8-13 NIVO You have let go of the commands of God and are holding on to the traditions of men.” 9 And he said to them: “You have a fine way of setting aside the commands of God in order to observe your own traditions! 10 For Moses said, ‘Honor your father and your mother,’ and, ‘Anyone who curses his father or mother must be put to death.’ 11 But you say that if a man says to his father or mother: ‘Whatever help you might otherwise have received from me is Corban’ (that is, a gift devoted to God), 12 then you no longer let him do anything for his father or mother. 13 Thus you nullify the word of God by your tradition that you have handed down. And you do many things like that.”

Jesus gives an example of how they overturn the Word of God. One of the ten commandments was to honor our parents. But one could avoid helping a parent financially in need by saying that he had vowed to give the money to God. Jesus sarcastically accuses them of having a fine way of setting aside, making void, nullifying or invalidating the Word of God in order to observe their own traditions.

3.        Jesus Turns Religion Inside Out

This was not a matter to be left to the religious authorities. Jesus called the crowd together.

Mark 7:14-15 NIVO Again Jesus called the crowd to him and said, “Listen to me, everyone, and understand this.

Wow! Jesus wants us to understand this!

15 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.’ “

The Pharisees had criticized the disciples for not washing before eating. Jesus calls into question the whole religious order. Outward appearance is not what is important. What is in the heart?

3.1.     Jesus and His Disciples

This is revolutionary! Even the disciples have not grasped it.

Mark 7:17-19 ESV And when he had entered the house and left the people, his disciples asked him about the parable. 18 And he said to them, “Then are you also without understanding? Do you not see that whatever goes into a person from outside cannot defile him, 19 since it enters not his heart but his stomach, and is expelled?” (Thus he declared all foods clean.)

A right standing with God is not based on what we eat. You are not defiled or made unclean by what you eat. What you eat goes into your digestive tract and is expelled; it never enters the heart. What you eat has no effect on your heart or on your relationship with God. Notice carefully what Mark tells us in verse 19:

Thus he declared all foods clean.

Jesus is Lord. In Mark 2, he is Lord of the Sabbath and can declare his intention for the Sabbath: “So the Son of Man is lord even of the Sabbath” (2:28).

As Lord, he here declares that from that point on, all foods are clean. This truth is repeated later in the experience of Peter when in a vision, he sees a sheet coming down from heaven, containing all kinds of beasts. The Lord tells him to “Kill and eat.”

Acts 10:14-15 NIVO “Surely not, Lord!” Peter replied. “I have never eaten anything impure or unclean.” 15 The voice spoke to him a second time, “Do not call anything impure that God has made clean.”

The Apostle Paul writes to the Romans,

Romans 14:14 NIVO As one who is in the Lord Jesus, I am fully convinced that no food is unclean in itself…

Romans 14:20 NIVO … All food is clean…

False religions put the emphasis on the external, but they have nothing to do with true spiritual life.

Colossians 2:16 NIVO Therefore do not let anyone judge you by what you eat or drink, or with regard to a religious festival, a New Moon celebration or a Sabbath day.

Colossians 2:20-22 NIVO Since you died with Christ to the basic principles of this world, why, as though you still belonged to it, do you submit to its rules: 21 “Do not handle! Do not taste! Do not touch!”? 22 These are all destined to perish with use, because they are based on human commands and teachings.

1 Timothy 4:1-5 NIVO The Spirit clearly says that in later times some will abandon the faith and follow deceiving spirits and things taught by demons. 2 Such teachings come through hypocritical liars, whose consciences have been seared as with a hot iron. 3 They forbid people to marry and order them to abstain from certain foods, which God created to be received with thanksgiving by those who believe and who know the truth. 4 For everything God created is good, and nothing is to be rejected if it is received with thanksgiving, 5 because it is consecrated by the word of God and prayer.

Romans 14:17 NIVO For the kingdom of God is not a matter of eating and drinking, but of righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Spirit,

3.2.     Dirty on the Inside

The problem is not dirt on the outside. The problem is dirt on the inside. False religions are trying to clean up the outside but they have no way of cleaning the inside. We read in Luke 11 of another time…

Luke 11:37-39 ESV While Jesus was speaking, a Pharisee asked him to dine with him, so he went in and reclined at table. 38 The Pharisee was astonished to see that he did not first wash before dinner. 39 And the Lord said to him, “Now you Pharisees cleanse the outside of the cup and of the dish, but inside you are full of greed and wickedness.

The problem is not dirt on the outside but filth on the inside. Dirt under your fingernails will not make you unclean. Mud on your feet does not defile you.

Mark 7:20-23 NIVO He went on: “What comes out of a man is what makes him ‘unclean.’ 21 For from within, out of men’s hearts, come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, 22 greed, malice, deceit, lewdness, envy, slander, arrogance and folly. 23 All these evils come from inside and make a man ‘unclean.’”

This is what makes what defiles us: impure hearts.

  1. Evil thoughts and plans
  2. Sexual immorality: a broad term including all sexual activity outside of marriage.
  3. Theft: Stealing, taking from another what is not yours (the eighth commandment, Exodus 20:15).
  4. Murder: Taking an innocent life (Exodus 20:13).
  5. Adultery: More specific: violating the marriage covenant — your own or someone else’s, either physically or mentally (Matthew 5:28; the seventh commandment, Exodus 20:14).
  6. Greed: coveting, desiring more at the expense of others (the tenth commandment, Exodus 20:17).
  7. Evil actions: wicked behavior, behavior with harmful intent.
  8. Deceit: deception, dishonesty
  9. Lewdness: Promiscuity — lack of moral discernment or restraint
  10. Envy: jealousy. Belief that God is withholding His best.
  11. Slander: speaking evil of man or God.
  12. Arrogance: Pride.
  13. Folly: senselessness, spiritual insensitivity.[5]

Mark 7:23 NIVO All these evils come from inside and make a man ‘unclean.’”

Did we leave anyone out?

Romans 3:10 NIVO As it is written: “There is no one righteous, not even one;

Isaiah 53:6 ESV All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned—every one—to his own way…

“Internal impurity… cannot be washed away by external rituals.” These impurities cannot be washed away with soap and water.[6]

What are we to do?

4.        Jesus Touches the Unclean to Make Us Clean.

In the Old Testament, people would become unclean by simply touching someone or something that was unclean. Lepers warned people not to get near because they were unclean. Jesus was never afraid to touch the unclean. Instead of being defiled by our uncleanness, his holiness overcomes our filth.

  • The unclean leper came to Jesus. Jesus touched him and the leper was made clean.
  • The woman with the issue of blood touched the hem of Jesus’ garment and was instantly made whole and clean.
  • The dead daughter of Jairus did not render Jesus unclean when he touched her. Instead, his touch raised her from the dead.

All of us have thought and done things that have defiled us and made us unclean. There are no religious rites or actions that can make us clean. The religions of this world say, “Do this. Do that. Do it again and again and again.”

Jesus says, “Done.” “It is finished.” On the cross he did for us what we could not do for ourselves. He wiped the slate clean.

Colossians 2:13-14 NIVO When you were dead in your sins and in the uncircumcision of your sinful nature, God made you alive with Christ. He forgave us all our sins, 14 having canceled the written code, with its regulations, that was against us and that stood opposed to us; he took it away, nailing it to the cross.

If you will come to him, he will make you clean. And he will begin his work in you to make you a new creation in Christ so that the old way of living is gone and the new has come.

***And you can say, “I am clean!”

MUSIC: Brooklyn Tabernacle Choir: “I’m Clean”


[2] William Barclay, Mark, p. 168.

[3] William Barclay, Mark, p. 168.

[4] William Barclay, Mark, p. 168.

[5] Akin, Daniel L. (2014-06-01). Exalting Jesus in Mark (Christ-Centered Exposition Commentary) (p. 156). B&H Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.

[6] David E. Garland, A Theology of Mark’s Gospel, p. 133.

See also “Gospel of Mark”: