Matthew 15 - Jesus Rebukes the Pharisees and Ministers to Gentiles
a. Jesus denounces religious externalism.
1. (1-2) Leaders from Jerusalem question Jesus.
Then the scribes and Pharisees who were from Jerusalem came to Jesus, saying, "Why do Your disciples transgress the tradition of the elders? For they do not wash their hands when they eat bread."
a. Scribes and Pharisees who were from Jerusalem came to Jesus: Up to this point, most of Jesus’ ministry has been in the region of Galilee. Galilee was separate from Judea, where Jerusalem was. These scribes and Pharisees are an official delegation from Jerusalem, coming to investigate and assess the words and work of this man Jesus.
b. They do not wash their hands when they eat bread: The matter in question has nothing to do with good hygiene. The religious officials are offended that the disciples do not observe the rigid, extensive ritual for washing before meals.
c. These ceremonial washings were commanded by tradition, not by Scripture. The religious leaders say as much when they refer to the tradition of the elders.
2. (3) Jesus’ answer: man’s tradition against God’s will.
He answered and said to them, "Why do you also transgress the commandment of God because of your tradition?"
a. Why do you also transgress the commandment of God: When the disciples were accused of sin, Jesus answered right back with another accusation. Why was Jesus so stern in His reply? Because these leaders were far too concerned with these ceremonial trivialities. When they declared people "unclean" because of their tradition, they denied the people access to God.
b. Because of your tradition: It’s important to see that the religious leaders demanded these ceremonial washings based on tradition, not the Scriptures.
3. (4-6) An example of how their traditions dishonored God: the practice of not helping your parents with "devoted" goods.
"For God commanded, saying, ‘Honor your father and your mother’; and, ‘He who curses father or mother, let him be put to death.’ But you say, ‘Whoever says to his father or mother, "Whatever profit you might have received from me is a gift to God"; then he need not honor his father or mother.’ Thus you have made the commandment of God of no effect by your tradition."
a. Honor your father and mother: The clear command of God says that everyone should give honor to their father and mother. When we are adults, and no longer in our parent’s household or under their authority, we no longer have to obey our father and mother. But we do have to honor them.
b. Whatever profit you might have received from me is a gift to God: The Jewish people of Jesus’ day had a way to get around the command to honor your father and mother. If they declared that all their possessions or savings were a gift to God, specially dedicated to Him, they could then say that their resources were unavailable to help his parents.
c. Through this, someone could completely disobey the command to honor his father or mother, and do it while being ultra-religious.
4. (7-9) Jesus condemns their hollow tradition as hypocrisy.
"Hypocrites! Well did Isaiah prophesy about you, saying: ‘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.’"
a. Teaching as doctrines the commandments of men: The quotation from Isaiah accurately describes the real problem with these religious leaders. They elevated man’s tradition to an equal level with God’s revealed word.
b. Honor Me with their lips, but their heart is far from Me: We can appear to draw near to God, all the while having our heart far from Him. When we look at the lives of others, we are often seduced by mere appearance and image.
i. God is interested in the internal and the real. We are far more interested in the external and the image. Is your relationship with God just external and image?
5. (10-11) Jesus speaks to the multitude about religious externalism.
When He had called the multitude to Himself, He said to them, "Hear and understand: Not what goes into the mouth defiles a man; but what comes out of the mouth, this defiles a man."
a. Not what goes into the mouth defiles a man; but what comes out of the mouth, this defiles a man: Jesus states a fundamental principle. Washing with "unclean hands" or any other such thing that we "put into us" is not defiling. Rather, what comes out is what defiles, and it reveals that we have unclean (defiled) hearts.
b. This is not to say that there are not defiling things that we can take into ourselves (such as pornography). But in this specific context, Jesus spoke about ceremonial cleanliness in regard to food, and anticipated when all food was declared kosher (Acts 10:15).
6. (12-14) Jesus then warns His disciples that only what is of God and of truth will last and be secure.
Then His disciples came and said to Him, "Do You know that the Pharisees were offended when they heard this saying?" But He answered and said, "Every plant which My heavenly Father has not planted will be uprooted. Let them alone. They are blind leaders of the blind. And if the blind leads the blind, both will fall into a ditch."
a. Do You know that the Pharisees were offended when they heard this saying? It’s a humorous scene. The disciples came to Jesus, "Um, Jesus - did you know that you offended those guys?" Of course He knew that He offended them! He intended to offend them.
b. Every plant which My heavenly Father has not planted will be uprooted: This applies directly to the religious leaders. Their commandments of men will not last, because they are not rooted either in God or truth.
c. Let them alone: Jesus did not organize a focused "Anti-Scribe and Pharisee" committee. He knew that their efforts would fail under the weight of its own legalism.
7. (15-20) The condition of your heart is what really defiles you.
Then Peter answered and said to Him, "Explain this parable to us." So Jesus said, "Are you also still without understanding? Do you not yet understand that whatever enters the mouth goes into the stomach and is eliminated? But those things which proceed out of the mouth come from the heart, and they defile a man. For out of the heart proceed evil thoughts, murders, adulteries, fornications, thefts, false witness, blasphemies. These are the things which defile a man, but to eat with unwashed hands does not defile a man."
a. Explain this parable to us: In Matthew 15:12-14 Jesus didn’t really speak in a parable. Yet because the disciples did not understand Him, they asked for an explanation, much like they did with the parables.
b. Those things which proceed out of the mouth come from the heart, and they defile a man: Jesus amplifies the point first made in Matthew 15:11. We are defiled from the inside out rather than from the outside in, and this is particularly true of ceremonial things like foods.
c. But to eat with unwashed hands does not defile a man: Unfortunately, the emphasis of the religious leader’s in Jesus’ day - and often our own - is purely on these external things, not the internal things that make for true righteousness.
i. Jesus’ words provide a well-needed balance in this day when so many Christians emphasize exercise and healthy eating. These things may be great in themselves, but are not a path to a closer standing with God.
b. Jesus answers a Gentile’s request.
1. (21-22) Jesus is met with a request from a Gentile woman.
Then Jesus went out from there and departed to the region of Tyre and Sidon. And behold, a woman of Canaan came from that region and cried out to Him, saying, "Have mercy on me, O Lord, Son of David! My daughter is severely demon-possessed."
a. To the region of Tyre and Sidon: Tyre and Sidon were Gentile cities, located some 50 miles away. Jesus went all this way to meet this one Gentile woman’s need. What love this shows, and to a woman of Canaan!
b. Have mercy on me . . . My daughter is severely demon-possessed: This woman comes to intercede for her daughter, and she provides a picture of an intercessor. She makes her daughter’s needs her own.
c. O Lord, Son of David! This Gentile woman also understands who Jesus is. Many of Jesus’ own countrymen didn’t know who Jesus was, but this woman of Canaan knew.
2. (23-28) Jesus heals the Gentile woman’s daughter.
But He answered her not a word. And His disciples came and urged Him, saying, "Send her away, for she cries out after us." But He answered and said, "I was not sent except to the lost sheep of the house of Israel." Then she came and worshiped Him, saying, "Lord, help me!" But He answered and said, "It is not good to take the children’s bread and throw it to the little dogs." And she said, "Yes, Lord, yet even the little dogs eat the crumbs which fall from their masters’ table." Then Jesus answered and said to her, "O woman, great is your faith! Let it be to you as you desire." And her daughter was healed from that very hour.
a. I was not sent except to the lost sheep of the house of Israel: Jesus defined the focus of His mission of to this Gentile woman, and makes it clear that He was not sent to Gentiles like her.
b. Then she came and worshiped Him, saying, "Lord, help me!" The woman provides another picture of a dedicated intercessor by her persistence.
c. It is not good to take the children’s bread and throw it to the little dogs: When Jesus called her one of the little dogs, He used little as a term of endearment. This softened the traditional Jewish slur towards Gentiles, which called them dogs in the most derogatory sense.
d. Yes, Lord, yet even the little dogs eat the crumbs which fall from their masters’ table: The woman responds with great faith. She admits her low estate, and did not debate the issue when Jesus called her one of the little dogs. She asked Jesus to deal with her on her own low level - and so she received from Jesus. No wonder Jesus said, O woman, great is your faith!
i. We need to see the power of coming to God as we are, and let Him make His promise true to the weak and unclean.
ii. We read of nothing else that Jesus did during this time in Tyre and Sidon. His only divine appointment was to meet the need of this woman of faith and her sick daughter.
c. The feeding of the 4,000.
1. (29-31) Jesus ministers healing to the multitude.
Jesus departed from there, skirted the Sea of Galilee, and went up on the mountain and sat down there. Then great multitudes came to Him, having with them the lame, blind, mute, maimed, and many others; and they laid them down at Jesus’ feet, and He healed them. So the multitude marveled when they saw the mute speaking, the maimed made whole, the lame walking, and the blind seeing; and they glorified the God of Israel.
a. They laid them down at Jesus’ feet, and He healed them: We read nothing about any faith on the part of those who were healed, except for the fact that they did come to Jesus for help. Perhaps this is one of many occasions when Jesus ministered out of divine initiative, not in response to a faith-filled request (in contrast to the encounter with the Gentile woman in Tyre and Sidon).
b. The end result is the same: they glorified the God of Israel.
2. (32-39) The feeding of the 4,000.
Now Jesus called His disciples to Himself and said, "I have compassion on the multitude, because they have now continued with Me three days and have nothing to eat. And I do not want to send them away hungry, lest they faint on the way." Then His disciples said to Him, "Where could we get enough bread in the wilderness to fill such a great multitude?" Jesus said to them, "How many loaves do you have?" And they said, "Seven, and a few little fish." So He commanded the multitude to sit down on the ground. And He took the seven loaves and the fish and gave thanks, broke them and gave them to His disciples; and the disciples gave to the multitude. So they all ate and were filled, and they took up seven large baskets full of the fragments that were left. Now those who ate were four thousand men, besides women and children. And He sent away the multitude, got into the boat, and came to the region of Magdala.
a. I do not want to send them away hungry, lest they faint on the way: This miracle follows the same basic pattern as the feeding the 5,000, except that it reveals that the disciples were generally as slow to believe as we are (where could we get enough bread in the wilderness to fill such a great multitude?).
b. The disciples gave to the multitude: Jesus did what He only could do (the creative miracle) but left to the disciples what they could do (the distribution of the meal).
c. So they all ate and were filled, and they took up seven large baskets full of the fragments that were left: At the end of the meal, they gather more, not less. The seven large baskets show that God provided out of His abundance.
©2000 David Guzik - No distribution beyond personal use without permission.