Great Faith (Out of the Heart)

by LA UBF   06/13/2009     0 reads




Matthew 15:1-28

Key Verse 15:19

For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false testimony, slander.

Read verse 1-6. What did some Pharisees and teachers of the Law accuse Jesus’ disciples of? How did Jesus respond (3,6)? What example did he give? What does Jesus mean by the “traditions of men”?

Read verses 7-9. How do Isaiah’s words shed light on the problem of the Pharisees? How do people in our times nullify the word of God for the sake of rules or customs?

Read verses 10-14. What did Jesus say that offended the Pharisees? Why were they offended? What short parables did Jesus give about the Pharisees who rejected him? Why did he call them blind guides? 

Read verses 15-20. For what did Jesus rebuke his disciples? Why is God more concerned about the inner life than about ritual or laws? Based on Jesus’ explanation how can we live a “clean” life?

Read verses 21-28. After the confrontation with the Pharisees, who came to Jesus with a terrible problem?  How many times did Jesus refuse her request? What does Jesus’ statement reveal about the mission of the Messiah? How did the woman finally attain Jesus’ help? What lesson can we learn from her “great faith”?





Matthew 15:1-28

Key Verses: 15:28

Then Jesus answered, "Woman, you have great faith! Your request is granted." And her daughter was healed from that very hour.

 In the last passage we learned that Jesus gave his disciples storm training by showing that it was possible to walk above the wind and waves. This training was good for them to learn how to rise above external problems or troubles. But what about the internal problems created by our fallen nature? In today’s passage we learn from Jesus how we can get spiritually clean and maintain a right relationship with God. 

In this passage we learn that we should not be hypocritical and habitual Christians; we must be Christians who are right with God.

PART 1 — Tradition of the Elders (1-9)

At that time Jesus was in the district of Galilee which is in the Northern part of Israel. There weren’t as many religious professionals in the North as in the Southern territory surrounding Jerusalem. So, the Pharisees and the teachers of the law traveled a long distance up to the Galilee region. But they weren’t like many of the brothers and sisters who travel long distances to Downey to hear the Word of God? No. Instead of coming to Jesus to listen they came to Jesus to find fault.

When they finally arrived where Jesus was they probably didn’t accuse Jesus right away but patiently waited for Jesus to make some type of mistake first. So they sat through Jesus’ sermon and Bible studies listening carefully for Jesus to slip-up in his doctrines. As they listened their minds were cross references passages and analyzing every connotation and denotation in an attempt to find something wrong with his teaching. Probably after a long morning of Bible study the time came to eat some lunch and the disciples being hungry as usual grabbed a handful of food and began to devour it immediately.

The Pharisees and teachers of the law didn’t find a point of accusation with his teaching but when they saw Jesus’ disciples eating with unclean hands their eyes lit up with excitement. So one of them took a breath and then fired the question at Jesus, “Why do your disciples break the tradition of the elders? They don't wash their hands before they eat!"

The second part of their question is pretty good. The disciples should wash up because it’s good hygiene. The Pharisees of course weren’t really concerned about the disciples health but about their infraction of a tradition. 

To many modern young people the word tradition is considered to be a foul word. But in view of Jewish history, tradition was an anchor the Jewish people used to maintain their identity. I can’t think of any better case for traditionalism as that made by Tevye. Let me share with you his reasoning for the importance of tradition. See this video on youtube.

Traditions made Jewish people survive and spread, even though they were dispossessed of their country and exiled to places like Babylon and other places. Because they kept their traditions about how to eat and how to sleep, covered their heads always and observed the Sabbath, they could maintain their Jewish identity and remember God's purpose for them as His chosen people. They could endure any kind of suffering.

However, tradition can easily become a sticky topic because there are so many kinds (national, cultural, family and religious traditions). Religious traditions are dangerous because they easily take on a life of their own. As they move from one generation to another. As time goes on the tradition becomes cemented into the minds of people and actually becomes a rule that must be abided by. that it  they become cemented in the culture and minds of people to the point of becoming mandatory. 

The word “tradition” has the meaning of “handing over, passing on”. So to be a tradition it has to be practiced by several generations of people. Because of this traditions are like a land slide that picks up momentum as it travels and if you don’t go with it you will be buried by it. For instance in the presidential election recently, Barack Obama was caught not holding his hand over his heart during the national anthem (a US tradition) and was scourged by many for not being American enough on account of it. It was a small infraction but such a big deal was made of it. Many traditions start off as a good idea but eventually morph into and inflexible rule that has to be kept.

Religious traditions are the most dangerous of all because breaking a religious tradition carries the stigma of sinning and disobedience. When a religious tradition is standardized it can seemingly becomes as important as the Word of God. For the Pharisees, washing their hands was the symbol of being clean in the sight of God. They didn’t wash just their hands though. They practiced a special washing for pitchers, cups and other utensils. It was a big part of their religious professionalism. So when the Jews came from Jerusalem to Galilee and saw Jesus’ disciples not adhering to the tradition of the elders they really thought they had caught Jesus. But Jesus didn’t agree with their methods. He considered hand washing merely as a ceremonial matter. To Jesus washing your hands didn’t make a person clean before God. So in response to the Jews emphatic push of these traditions Jesus blasted the orthodox Pharisees in verse 3.

Let's look at verse 3. "Jesus replied,  And why do you break the command of God for the sake of your tradition?'" Here Jesus makes the point that the Pharisees and teachers of the law had been honoring their traditions above the Word of God. Jesus then gave an example, look at verses 4-6. 4For God said, 'Honor your father and mother' and 'Anyone who curses his father or mother must be put to death.' 5But you say that if a man says to his father or mother, 'Whatever help you might otherwise have received from me is a gift devoted to God,' 6he is not to 'honor his father' with it. Thus you nullify the word of God for the sake of your tradition.

In Jesus’ times, there were no 401K or retirement plans so when parents grew old they relied more on their children for help. Helping parents was the way to fulfill the commandment to “honor your father and mother”. But the Pharisees had been promoting the tradition that if you dedicated resources to God then you would not be obligated to help your father or mother with it. It may seem like a technicality but it was a great sin to ignore the command to “honor your father and mother” and tell people it was okay to not help your parents if you are giving to God. This had become a tradition which “nullified” the Word of God.   

At first the traditions were supposed to have a good purpose but as these traditions piled up layer after layer the focus on God’s Word was lost. Eventually some of the traditions even began to nullify the Word of God. But instead of realizing this and changing the traditions they allowed God’s Word to be contradicted. In essence the Pharisees were not keeping God’s Word as the authority it should have been but allowed their traditions to grow and even become as important as God’s Word.

In the time of Martin Luther and the protestant reformation the Catholic Church was being scrutinized for similarly nullifying the Word of God by traditional practices like selling indulgences. Indulgences were pieces of paper that were being sold by the Catholic church which absolved one of sin. The selling of forgiveness was the last straw for many reformers and there was a loud call to go back to the Bible as the only authority on Church practice. Still to this day the Catholic Church puts high precedence on their “Sacred Traditions”. In the Second Vatican Council (~1965) the statement was made that “It is clear, therefore, that Sacred Tradition and Sacred Scripture are so linked and joined that one cannot stand without the other”. It is hard to expect a church to be void of any tradition but it’s obvious Jesus doesn’t want God’s Word to be in competition with anything. Those who do follow traditions instead of God’s Word will fall absolutely into the category of people Jesus outlined in verses 7-9.

7You hypocrites! Isaiah was right when he prophesied about you: 8"'These people honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me. 9They worship me in vain; their teachings are but rules taught by men.'"

No one wants to be a “hypocrite” and no one want to “worship God in vain” but those who put emphasis on traditional practices will categorically end up this way.

PART 2 — Clean & Unclean (10-20)

Look at verses 10-14. 

"Jesus called the crowd to him and said,  Listen and understand.  What goes into a man's mouth does not make him "unclean," but what comes out of his mouth, that is what makes him "unclean." 12Then the disciples came to him and asked, "Do you know that the Pharisees were offended when they heard this?" 13He replied, "Every plant that my heavenly Father has not planted will be pulled up by the roots. 14Leave them; they are blind guides. If a blind man leads a blind man, both will fall into a pit."

Here, Jesus rebuked the Pharisees by immediately calling the crowd to himself and teaching them, “What goes into a man’s mouth does not make him ‘unclean’, but what comes out of his mouth, that is what make him ‘unclean’” Jesus was teaching the crowds while simultaneously rebuking the traditional Jews' hypocrisy. But the disciples couldn’t focus on the teaching because they were scared how the Jewish leaders were offended by it, so they came to Jesus and asked, "Do you know that the Pharisees were offended when they heard this?" (12) They were so terrified by the Jewish leaders that they couldn’t even listen to Jesus words. How did Jesus help his disciples?

Look at verses 13,14. "He replied,  Every plant that my heavenly Father has not planted will be pulled up  by the roots. Leave them; they are blind guides. If a blind man leads  a blind man, both will fall into a pit.'" After hearing Jesus'  courageous comment on the traditional Jewish leaders, the disciples' morale came back. So Peter said, "Explain the parable to us" (15).

Jesus rebuked them in verses 16-18: "Are you still so dull? Don't you see that whatever enters the mouth goes into the stomach and then out of the body? But the things that come out of the mouth come from the heart, and these make a man  unclean.'"

Jesus explained that whatever one eats with unwashed hands doesn't make him unclean; instead, if one's heart is not right, what he speaks from his heart makes him unclean.

Look at verses 19-20. "For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false testimony, slander. These are what make a man  unclean'; but eating with unwashed hands does not make him  unclean.'" Jesus says that food doesn't make people unclean, because it goes into the mouth and comes out of the body; but when one has an evil heart, his heart makes him unclean with many evil thoughts and wickedness.

When we look at all the world religions and all their traditions we might wonder what is driving all this religious activity? Why do Hindu people in India not eat cows? Why do Muslims pray 5 times a day? Why do monks shave their heads? There are piles of rules that people are submitting themselves to so why do they do it? Jesus’ words reveal that people are trying to be “clean”. 

Whether it is ceremonial washing or one of the thousands of other traditional and religious practices, what these are all striving for is “cleanness”. They all want to have a clean life and have a clean conscience. They’re trying to live a life that will get them into heaven. The view of how to live a clean life is subjective from one religion to another. But all these rules and practices have the same goal—to be righteous in the sight of God.

The problem is that there is no set of outward practices that can makes someone clean. There is nothing that you can do to make yourself presentable to God because uncleanness is not a matter of do’s and don’ts. As Jesus explained, “the things that come out of the mouth come from the heart, and these make a man 'unclean.’ ”

If performance based religion can’t help me become clean in the sight of God what can? If my heart is the source of uncleanness how do I clean that? The answer to these two questions is revealed by an unlikely Canaanite woman in the next part. Let's look at one woman of faith who successfully dislodged a dirty unclean spirit. From her we can learn how to deal with any type of spiritual uncleanness.

Part 3 — Great Faith (21-28)

Look at verses 21-22.

Jesus withdrew to the region of Tyre and Sidon (21). Jesus intended to go to Gentile territory and have a retreat with his disciples. But there was no time for Jesus to have a break because a Canaanite woman from that vicinity came to him, crying out, "Lord, Son of David, have mercy on me! My daughter is suffering terribly from demon-possession" (22). In the Bible demons are called “unclean spirits” because demons are the filth of the spiritual world. If you could see the spiritual form of a demon you will get sick from how repulsive they are. So this woman had a big problem because cleaning out a demon is impossible for a human. Only Jesus could help. 

Jesus did not answer a word though. So his disciples came to him and urged him, "Send her away, for she keeps crying out after us" (23). When Jesus was silent at her loud cry, his disciples thought he didn't like her, so they urged him to send her away.

Jesus' response was surprising. Look at verse 24. "He answered,  I was sent only to the lost sheep of Israel.'" It sounds like Jesus despised the Gentile woman; but he did not. To say that he was sent to save only the chosen people was a test of her faith. The woman didn't retreat, she advanced. "The woman came and knelt before him.  Lord, help me!' she said" (25). Jesus replied, "It is not right to take the children's bread and toss it to their dogs" (26). It sounds like Jesus regarded her as a Gentile dog. Usually women are delicate and sensitive. So if they are humiliated, they become upset, lose their reason and become emotional and revengeful. What was her response? She was not emotional at all. She was not revengeful at all toward Jesus. Look at verse 27. " Yes, Lord,' she said,  but even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters' table.'" What a humble response? How could Jesus say “no” to a pitiful confession like this. She believed that Jesus would say “yes” to her cries. She was indeed a woman of faith. Her faith and wisdom enabled her to pass Jesus' test. How did Jesus finally deal with her? Look at verse 28. "Then Jesus answered,  Woman, you have great faith! Your request is granted.' And her daughter was healed from that very hour." The woman successfully cleaned out a demon by the power of Jesus Christ. She was successful in creating cleanness by coming to Jesus.

Today we thought about a great contrast. The traditional Jewish leaders were traditional and self-righteous because they relied on their own performance to make themselves clean. On the other hand, we saw a Gentile woman who was not self-confident but who put her confidence in Jesus grace and power and was thereby able to clean out an evil . She was a woman of faith, and she was full of compassion for her daughter who was suffering from demon-possession.

Today we learned that we should not be hypocritical Christians who rely on performance based religion to be cleansed of sin but that we should be men and women of faith who urgently run to Jesus to make us clean. May God bless us with the peace of Jesus as we rely on him.