Current Challenge from Doug Knox.
Jesus' Discipleship Model, Part 11
MARGINALIZED MEN AND ARBITRARY COMMANDS
When Others Miss Our Mark
Following Jesus’ visit to the Gennesaret, Mark records a confrontation with a group of Pharisees and scribes. The encounter begins with an observation.Mark 7:1-2 (ESV)
1 Now when the Pharisees gathered to him, with some of the scribes who had come from Jerusalem,
2 they saw that some of his disciples ate with hands that were defiled, that is, unwashed.
Mark, who writes to a Roman audience, goes on to explain the Jewish custom of washing—with a little parody.
Mark 7:3-4 (ESV)
3 (For the Pharisees and all the Jews do not eat unless they wash their hands properly, holding to the tradition of the elders,
4 and when they come from the marketplace, they do not eat unless they wash. And there are many other traditions that they observe, such as the washing of cups and pots and copper vessels and dining couches.)
When he completes the explanation, Mark drops the bomb.
Mark 7:5 (ESV)
5 And the Pharisees and the scribes asked him, “Why do your disciples not walk according to the tradition of the elders, but eat with defiled hands?”
The Biblical Meaning of “Defiled”
Did you notice the profoundly opposing perspectives at war with each other in the question? The elite rest in their settled position under “the tradition of the elders.” Meanwhile, they marginalize the twelve because they eat with “defiled hands.” So, what exactly does the word defiled mean, and why is it such a big issue for the Pharisees and scribes? The term does not imply corruption or ruination, as contemporary English defines the word—at least primarily. Its primary application in the Bible is associated with ordinary use, as opposed to devoted use. In most cases, the word means common.
Dirty Hands, Marginalized Men, and Outside-in Defilement
In Mark’s account, the Pharisees and scribes’ picture is out of kilter. First, they view themselves too highly. They believe that their ceremonial hand washing makes them holy. Second, they apply this line of reasoning to Jesus. Since the twelve associate with him, and since Jesus claims to be a holy man, then his disciples should practice hand washing as well. If Jesus understood this, they reason, then he should call his men to practice purity in ceremonial washings. After all, dirty hands make marginalized men, Jesus should be aware of that. Obviously, it is not, or Jesus would have made his disciples wash.
The error in the religious leaders’ thinking lies in their belief that they can make themselves holy by going through the right motions.
The Difference between God’s Commandment and Human Traditions
Jesus pounces on the challenge. Mark writes,
Mark 7:6-8 (ESV)
6 And he said to them, “Well did Isaiah prophesy of you hypocrites, as it is written, ‘This people honors me with their lips,
but their heart is far from me; 7 in vain do they worship me, teaching as doctrines the commandments of men.’
8 You leave the commandment of God and hold to the tradition of men.”
Jesus quotes from Isaiah 29:13, and his choice of this passage is surgically precise. In verse 6 above, he uses the Isaiah passage to declare that the religious leaders give him lip service that lacks devotion. The fact that the leaders are so quick to challenge Jesus’ practice shows that this is true. Then in verses 7 and 8, he addresses the tradition of the elders. The Pharisees and scribes have abandoned God’s commandment in favor of adherence to human traditions.
He will go on to explain how they have made the trade to human traditions in the verses that follow. We will cover those details and what they mean for men in the next installment.
WAITING FOR UTOPIA
In the past months, the US Supreme Court—supposedly conservative after the Trump appointments—passed two motions that shocked the evangelical world. The first, Bostock v. Clayton County, occurred on June 15, when the court gave new latitude to gay rights. Their ruling reinterpreted the meaning of employment discrimination “because of …sex.” In the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the basis for the ruling, “sex” meant gender. But we are not in Kansas anymore. The court expanded the meaning to cover the contemporary mayhem over sexual orientation, sexual identity, and sex change. The ruling has the potential to eclipse the First Amendment right to freedom of religious practice in hiring situations. The second ruling was June Medical Services LLC v. Russo and came on June 29. The court struck down a Louisiana law requiring physicians who perform abortions to have admitting privileges at a local hospital because concern for patient safety restricted a woman’s right to make unrestricted choice. (Oyez LII Supreme Court Resources, Justia Supreme Court Center, 2019-2020 Term, https://www.oyez.org/cases/2019, accessed July 3, 2020.) From a legal standpoint, the cases stand as testaments to judicial activism. When the court reinterprets its own past decisions and then forces their interpretations on the people without relying on congressional legislation, they overstep their authority.
Looking for Utopia
For we who believe in a biblical understanding of the meaning of life, gender, marriage, and family, the decisions mark a radical departure from of the most fundamental truths in Scripture. When we step back, we must realize that both the political right and the left harbor utopian visions, and each side is desperate to hammer its vision into the cultural reality. Many political conservatives, including myself, held great hope for Mr. Trump’s court appointees to right the injustices that have become incased in our legal system. These two decisions shattered our utopian hope.
Not the First Time
I want to look at the biblical perspective, however. We are not the first nation to wonder what the future might bring. If we look in Isaiah 8, The Assyrian Empire, which has grown into the first military superpower in biblical history, threatens to advance on Judah. They are a terrorist nation. Isaiah the prophet affirms the danger. Like a flooded river, Assyria “will sweep on into Judah, it will overflow and pass on, reaching even to the neck, and its outspread wings will fill the breadth of your land, O Immanuel” (Isaiah 8:8). God’s people are about to feel like they are drowning in terror.
A Personal Message for Isaiah
Amid the alarm, the LORD breaks through to Isaiah with a personal message. Isaiah summarizes his experience this way. “For the LORD spoke thus to me with his strong hand upon me, and warned me not to walk in the way of this people …” (Isaiah 8:11). This is not the typical Old Testament “Thus says the LORD” message that Isaiah is to take to the people. It is a message for Isaiah himself. Notice how he describes his experience. “The LORD spoke thus to me with his strong hand upon me, and warned me…”
Looking beyond the Immediate to See the Eternal
What exactly did God tell Isaiah? His message is a two-part call to see the situation differently than the rest of the people. He is to look beyond the immediate and see the eternal. The message unfolds in four sections that stand symmetrically against each other.
Isaiah 8:11-15 (ESV)
12 “Do not call conspiracy all that this people calls conspiracy, and do not fear what they fear, nor be in dread.
13 But the LORD of hosts, him you shall honor as holy. Let him be your fear, and let him be your dread.
14 And he will become a sanctuary and a stone of offense and a rock of stumbling to both houses of Israel, a trap and a snare to the inhabitants of Jerusalem.
15 And many shall stumble on it. They shall fall and be broken; they shall be snared and taken.”
A Call and a Warning
The use of words in this message is masterful. Verses 12-13 call Isaiah to think about the situation from a whole new perspective. Where the people cowered in fear and dread of conspiracy (verse 12) Isaiah must direct his fear and dread toward the LORD (verse 13). This deliberate reversal of thinking is the only way that he or anyone else will survive being consumed by conspiracy theories. Verses 14-15 record a second reversal, this one more ironic. Mixed results are certain to occur among Isaiah’s people. On the one hand, the LORD will become a sanctuary to those who fear him. Unfortunately, these will be few. For the majority, the LORD will become a stone of offense, a rock of stumbling, a trap, and a snare (verse 14). In verse 15, the destructive terminology piles up like a multiple car crash on an interstate. Many will stumble, fall, be broken, be snared, and be taken.
What This Mean for Us
The moral to this story is simple. We are engaged in cultural warfare. We need to think, to vote, and to educate as many as we can on our nation’s history and the direction it is heading. We need to pray that God will raise up Christians who have the wisdom to confront evil in high places. We also need to realize that human agency alone is unable to save us. If we look for that, we will be disappointed. From God’s eternal perspective, humanity falls into the conspiracy category. Salvation will not come by any president, legislative body, or judicial branch. Finally, we need to temper our expectations. Regardless of whether we fear God or the conspiracy, crises will continue to occur. Kingdoms will topple. Our favorite human saviors will disappoint.
Only the Lord, whose understanding is infinite, rules over human history. For that reason, we need to discipline our thinking. When we fear the Lord first, the latest human conspiratorial promises lose their power to mesmerize us. We do not have to grieve when utopia fails to appear.
For additional studies click on the links below:
May 2017 - Exodus 6:1-13 - Defeat, Not Failure
June 2017 - John 9:1-7 - True Discipleship
October 2017 - Ephesians 1:9-10 - God and the Work Ethic
October 2017 - Psalm 11 - Righteousness and Evil in the Las Vegas Shooting
November 2017 - Ephesians 6:5-9 - Practicing Value in Undervalued Labor
December 2017 - Psalm 77:19 and Psalm 131- Waiting on the Lord
February 2018 - Nehemiah 8:5-8 - Thinking Man's Warfare
March 2018 - Isaiah 1:18-20 - Authority and Reason
April 2018 - Deuteronomy 17:14-20 - The Life of David, Part 1
November 2018 - February 2019 - Genesis 37, 38 - Judah's Journey To Manhood
October 2019 - Intimacy with God
December 2019 - March 2020 - Men of the Book of Judges