Sunday, February 17, 2019

[Matt's Messages] “Worthless Worship”

“Worthless Worship”
Following Jesus - The Gospel of Matthew
February 17, 2019 :: Matthew 15:1-20

It’s been a couple of weeks since we were together in the Gospel of Matthew. You might remember, however, that chapter 14 had two major miracles in it. Jesus fed a gigantic crowd with just 5 loaves and 2 fish. And then He walked on water.

Both of those are amazing miracles!

And both of them pointed to His true identity.

Remember that the Gospel of Matthew is a theological biography. The central point of the gospel is to establish the identity of the central subject. Who is this Jesus?

We saw last time that when Jesus was walking on the water, He said, “It is I. Ego eimi. I am.”

And His disciples worshiped Him and said, “Truly you are the Son of God.”

They could tell by the miracles.

When they reached the shore, they landed at a place called Gennesaret. And they people there recognized Who Jesus was, too. And people came from all over to bring Him their sick and even to just touch the edge of His cloak and be healed.

So, you might think that when chapter 15 begins, the Jewish leaders, the Pharisees and the teachers of the law, having heard what Jesus was up to, might come to Him and ask if they could be His disciples.

You might think that they would, having heard the stories of Jesus’ teaching and miracles, bow down before Him and recognize Him as the Messiah, the promised anointed leader who was to come.

That’s what should have happened.

But that’s NOT what happened.

Those leaders did come. But they came to oppose Jesus, not receive Him.

Let me tell you what the title is for today’s message. We’re going to cover verses 1 through 20 this morning under this title, “Worthless Worship.”

Jesus doesn’t pull any punches in today’s story. He tells it like it is, and it ain’t pretty.

At one point (in verse 9), Jesus will say, quoting Isaiah, that some people “worship [God] in vain.”

They are worshiping people.
They are religious people.
They are people busy doing things that have some connection with God.

But it’s actually worthless.

It’s worship, but it’s worthless.

“They worship me in vain...”

Oh friends, I don’t want that to be said about you and me.

Because it’s not just Sunday morning worship here, that He’s talking about.

He’s talking about 24/7 worship.

He’s talking about a fake godliness.

A fake, pretend relationship with God.

In today’s terms, we’d say, “A Worthless Christianity.”

I would hate for that to be true of me or anyone here that I care about.

So this is important.

We need to read this and consider how to make sure the opposite is true of us.

That our Christianity is not worthless.

That our godliness is real.

That our worship is worth something.

Do you want that?

I know I do.

There is trouble brewing.

It’s in the air. If you have been paying attention, you can see it on both sides. Jesus has been critical of the Jewish Religious Authorities, especially the Pharisees and the teachers of the law.

And they have not liked it one bit. They have even begun to quietly plot the downfall of Jesus.

It’s only going to get worse. It’s only going to escalate.

Here, they send a delegation to Jesus to ostensibly ask a question.

But it’s really an accusation. Look at verse 1.

“Then some Pharisees and teachers of the law came to Jesus from Jerusalem and asked,  ‘Why do your disciples break the tradition of the elders? They don't wash their hands before they eat!’”

Now, to us that sounds like a hygiene question, but it’s not.

They aren’t asking why Jesus’ disciples don’t wash up before dinner.

It isn’t about germs or bacteria.

It’s about ritual cleanness and ritual uncleanness.

The Jews had developed some traditions about rituals that they thought you should go through before you ate something.

It wasn’t in the Law. This is not in the Old Testament. It’s not in the Torah.

The Law said that the priests needed to do a ritual cleaning before they served in the tabernacle or the temple.

And the Pharisees said, “That’s such a good idea. We should all do it every time we eat!”

And so they came up with some rules.

In time, there is an entire tractate in the Mishnah about how to do this the right way.

“Good Jews were expected to perform ritual hand washing before, during, and after each meal. A person would first pour water over his hands with the fingers pointing up and with the water reaching the wrist, then he would point the finger down and pour the water again, this time allowing the water to drip off the fingers. If one mixed up this order or poured the water both times with the hands pointed up or down, the hands were still ritually unclean. Each hand had to be rubbed with the other, but this could not be done until the other hand was clean” (CSB Study Bible, pg. 1526).

Now, again, where is that in the Law?

It’s not in the Law.

But all of the religious people were doing it.

But Jesus’ disciples were NOT doing it.

And that said to the Pharisees that there was something wrong with their rabbi!

“Why do your disciples break the tradition of the elders? They don't wash their hands before they eat!”

“What’s wrong with them?

What’s wrong with you?

Your worship is all wrong.

Don’t you want to worship the right way when you eat?!”

How is Jesus going to answer this?

How is Jesus going to defend His disciples?

He doesn’t defend. He attacks. Jesus goes right on the offensive. V.3

“Jesus replied, ‘And why do you break the command of God for the sake of your tradition?  For God said, 'Honor your father and mother' and 'Anyone who curses his father or mother must be put to death.' But 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,' he is not to 'honor his father’ with it. Thus you nullify the word of God for the sake of your tradition.”

Well, that escalated quickly.

Jesus answers their accusation with an accusation of His own.

He accuse them of nullifying the word of God for the sake of their traditions.

What did He mean?

He sets aside the washing stuff for a minute, kind of. He’s really kind of still talking about it. But he redirects their attention.

He says, “And why do you break the command of God for the sake of your tradition? For God said, 'Honor your father and mother...'”

Is that in the Bible?
Is that in the Old Testament?
Is that in the Torah?

Yes, it is. Where is that found?

That’s one of the big 10, right?

Exodus chapter 20, verse 12.

“Honor your father and mother.”

That’s something God did tell them to do.

And Exodus 21 takes it further, “Anyone who cures his father or mother must be put to death” under the Old Covenant.

This is serious stuff straight from God.

Nobody’s arguing with it.

But some people do try to wiggle out of it.

Look at verse 5.

“But 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,' he is not to 'honor his father’ with it.”

This is the practiced called “Corban.”

It’s really tricky.

Let’s say that you are angry with your folks and you don’t want to use any of your money to take care of them in their old age.

What should you do?

Never mind that the Law said to honor your father and your mother.

We can get around that.

Let’s have you do the Corban thing.

Let’s have you devote a big amount of your money into a religious irrevocable trustfund called “Corban.”

“This money is no longer mine. It’s “devoted to God.” It’s devoted to the temple.

When I die, the temple gets it.

Now, I can still use it for limited things. Because I’m not dead yet.

But I can’t help other people with it. Not even Mom and Dad. No, it’s devoted “to God.”

Look how godly I am!  I have devoted my money “to God.”

Sorry, Mom and Dad. It’s tough for you, I know.

But it’s the price you pay for being godly!”

Do you see what they are doing there?

Jesus did. Jesus says (v.6), “Thus you nullify the word of God for the sake of your tradition.”

It’s not bad to have a tradition.

Traditions can be a really good thing.

But not if they get in the way of true obedience.

Traditions are bad if they take the place of God’s word.

Now that raises a few good questions, I think.

Like, can I tell the difference between what is just a tradition and what is commanded by God?

Can you do that?

I think many people don’t know their Bibles good enough to tell the difference.

In one of the commentaries read this week, the author said, “In a church I know well, a deacon I respect in most other matters rebuked a person for wearing work clothes to church (even though she had just gotten off work); another leader in the same church had gone unrebuked for sleeping with a woman who whom he was not married” (Craig Keener, pg. 262).

Which of those are commands from God?

Does the Bible say that we should dress up for church?

Other than telling us to dress modestly, the Bible doesn’t say anything about what kind of clothes to wear to church.

But God’s Word does tell us that sexual relations should all take place within the covenant of marriage. And the wedding bed should not be defiled.

Can we tell the difference between traditions and Word of God?

Another question this raises is are we making excuses to keep from obeying God?

Because that’s what this was, right?

It was obvious to Jesus.

They were trying to wiggle out of keeping God’s commands while promoting their own supposed godliness.

Do you and I do that?

Are we always on the lookout for loopholes?

For excuses?

We love our excuses in American culture, don’t we?

“It’s in my DNA.”
“My parents messed me up.”
“He makes me so mad.”
“If you had had the schooling I had, you’d act like this, too.”
“That was the alcohol speaking.”
“That was my depression speaking, not really me.”
“It’s her fault.”
“It’s his fault.”

Here the excuses are religious.

“It’s what everyone else does.”
“I have to do it. My religion says so.”

It’s using one part your religion to do something that the Bible actual says the opposite on.

Jesus calls us on our excuses.

He says, “No way. You don’t get to play that game.”

One other key question I think this raises.

Do we honor our father and mother?

That’s one of those commands that seem really important if you’re the father or the mother, but you don’t think about so much when you’re the child.

How are you doing at that one?

They don’t have to be living to be honored.

They don’t have to even be honorable to be honored.

There is a right way to do it even when they are dishonorable.

But if they are living and they are honorable, it’s all the more important.

And it’s obviously not good enough to just say that you do it, but then not actually do it.

There’s a word for that, and Jesus uses it (v.7), “You hypocrites! Isaiah was right when he prophesied about you: 'These people honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me. They worship me in vain; their teachings are but rules taught by men.’”

Worthless worship.

Hypocritical worship is worse than faulty worship. It’s worthless.

It’s empty. It’s void and vain.

“They worship me in vain; their teachings are but rules taught by men.”

That’s it. That’s all they are.

Jesus hates hypocrisy.

He doesn’t hate religious people. But He hates fake religious people.

If they talk the talk but don’t...what? Walk the walk, right?

They go through all the motions.
They go to church.
They give money.
They dress up.
They show up.
They sing the songs.

But it’s all outward.

And the outward is more important to them than the inward.

The outward always trumps the inward.

So it’s really all fake. V.8 again.

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

The truth is that they have “far away hearts.” Far away from God.

So here’s what we need instead:


We need hearts that are close to God.

That have a heart for His heart.

Hearts that care about what God cares about.

Hearts that want to please God no matter what.

Hearts that don’t care what it looks like on the outside. We are going to do God what wants.

That was a big part of the whole point of the Sermon on the Mount, right?

The inside-out kingdom.

It is so easy to get the outside cleaned up and to look good to other people.

To look godly to other people.

And for it just to be a big show.

This is one of the dangers for all Christians but especially for those in vocational ministry like myself.

Pastors are tempted to build up a reputation for godliness and not actually be godly on the inside.

Looking good.
Sounding good.

And missing what’s really important.

Close hearts.

Hearts that draw near to God.

How do you know if your heart is drawn near to God?

You can tell by your actions.

You can tell by your obedience.

You can tell by putting to death your excuses and doing what you know is the right thing to do.

You can tell by putting your money where your mouth is.

You might be able to fool all of the people some of the time.
You might be able to fool some of the people all of the time.
You might even be able to fool yourself some of the time.

But you can’t fool God.

And why would you want to?

Let’s put to death our fake religiosity and live out the real deal.

I don’t know about you, but I want to be the real deal.

Now, Jesus has not actually changed the subject.

He’s actually giving his answer to the question raised by the Pharisees in verse 2. “Why do your disciples break the tradition of the elders? They don’t wash their hands before they eat!” v.10

“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.'’”

In other words, these guys over here have got it wrong.

It’s not what you take in, it’s what comes out that matters.

It’s not what you eat with unclean hands that defiles you.

It’s what you say that defiles you.

It’s what comes out of you that is clean or unclean.

And they understood that He was attacking them. V.12

“Then the disciples came to him and asked, ‘Do you know that the Pharisees were offended when they heard this?’ [Oh really! Good. I’m glad they got it. V.13] 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.’”

Whew! Those are strong words.

Jesus is saying that the Pharisees are weeds.

Remember the parable of the wheat and the weeds?

These guys are weeds.

I don’t care if they are the leaders.
I don’t care if they are the ones in charge.
I don’t care if they have a reputation for being godly.

They aren’t!

So don’t follow them.

It would be like the blind leading the blind.

And do I have to tell you how that will end up?

Be careful who your leaders are.

Be careful who you follow.

Be careful who you call as your pastor.

Be careful who you listen to on the radio or podcasts or the television.

Be careful you read.

Not all pastors are good.

Some are weeds, and one day the Lord is going to pull them up by the roots.

Leave them before you blindly fall into a pit.

Dump the fake pastors before someone gets hurt.

So Peter still doesn’t get it. But he knows to ask Jesus. V.15

“Peter said, ‘Explain the parable to us.’ ‘Are you still so dull?’ Jesus asked them.”

Poor Peter!

The truth is that he was.

He didn’t get it yet.

Jesus doesn’t think it’s a parable. He means it quite literally. V.17

“‘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.' 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.'’”

Got it now?

It’s not unclean food that makes you unclean.

It’s not what goes into you that makes you unclean.

Food by itself is not spiritual.

It doesn’t do anything to your spiritual state.

What is spiritual?

Your heart is.

And what really matters is not what goes into you but what comes out.

Now, that kind of scary.

You might be happy to hear that what really matters is not the outside but the inside.

Until you find out how dirty your insides really are.

In verse 19, Jesus basically lists the last 5 or 6 commandments, and says that breaking them comes from our dirty hearts.

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

"Where did that come from?
I didn’t mean that!
I don’t know how I ended up here."

Do you ever feel that way about your sin?

I was confessing my sin to a friend this week, and I said that I had backed into it.

I didn’t even realize how I had gotten there.

Well, Jesus knew. He knew it came from my heart.

On our own, we have dirty hearts and that leads the worthless worship.

So what we need is the opposite.


We need to stop making excuses and simply repent.

“Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is near.”

The good news is that Jesus is in the business of cleansing hearts.

That’s why His disciples didn’t wash their hands.

To get people to think about what really mattered.

Not ritually clean hands, but righteously cleaned hearts.

What’s in your heart?

What’s coming out of your heart?

What do you need Jesus to do?


Previous Messages in This Series:01. The Genealogy of Jesus
02. The Birth of Jesus Christ
03. The Search for Jesus Christ
04. The Baptism of Jesus
05. The Temptation of Jesus
06. Following Jesus
07. Jesus' Sermon on the Mount
08. The Good Life (Part One)
09. The Good Life (Part Two)
10. You Are The...
11. Jesus and the First 2/3 of the Bible
12. But I Tell You
13. But I Tell You (2)
14. But I Tell You (3)
15. In Secret
16. Choose Wisely
17. Seek First His Kingdom
18. Generous
19. These Words of Mine
20. When He Saw the Crowds
21. When He Came Down from the Mountainside
22. Follow Me
23. Our Greatest Problem
24. Who Does He Think He Is?
25. Special Agents
26. Sheep Among Wolves
27. What To Expect On Your Mission
28. Are You the One?
29. Come to Me
30. The King of Rest
31. So Thankful!
32. Overflow
33. This Wicked Generation
34. Get It?
35. What Is Really Going On Here?
36. Baptizing the Disciples
37. The Treasure of the Kingdom
38. Living the Last Beatitude
39. Five Loaves, Two Fish, and Jesus
40. It Is I.