Dr. Charles Franklin DeVane, Jr., Pastor
Lake Hamilton Baptist Church
Hot Springs, Arkansas
August 26, 2012
 Now when the Pharisees gathered to him, with some of the scribes who had come from Jerusalem,  they saw that some of his disciples ate with hands that were defiled, that is, unwashed.  (For the Pharisees and all the Jews do not eat unless they wash their hands properly, holding to the tradition of the elders,  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.)  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?”  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;  in vain do they worship me, teaching as doctrines the commandments of men.’  You leave the commandment of God and hold to the tradition of men.”  And he said to them, “You have a fine way of rejecting the commandment of God in order to establish your tradition!  For Moses said, ‘Honor your father and your mother’; and, ‘Whoever reviles father or mother must surely die.’  But you say, ‘If a man tells his father or his mother, “Whatever you would have gained from me is Corban”’ (that is, given to God)— then you no longer permit him to do anything for his father or mother,  thus making void the word of God by your tradition that you have handed down. And many such things you do.”
-- Mark 7:1-13, ESV
In this life there are troublemakers and there are peacemakers. Sometimes it can be hard to tell the difference between the two. Other times, the same person or persons can play both roles at the same time. At the end of World War II, our American soldiers and President Harry Truman inflicted a lot of trouble on the German soldiers and Japanese citizens. Killing, even in a just war, and dropping bombs on cities are troublesome things. But such things were done in order to bring peace to the civilized world.
Christian ministry can be troubling and it can call for peace. Jesus confessed to being a troublemaker at times (ref. Luke 12:51), yet we rightly call Him the “Prince of Peace” (ref. Isaiah 9:6). Many times in the ministry of Jesus, healing and happiness and peace reigned. Other times, trouble and conflict fell like rain in a thunderstorm. This is a troubling text in the Gospels. But just who caused the trouble? The Pharisees? Jesus? Or maybe these things are written just to trouble you and me.
The Trouble with the Pharisees
This is the second time the Pharisees show up in the Gospel of Mark. The first time they initiate a plot to arrest and execute the Lord Jesus Christ (ref. 3:6). Now they’ve come to spy on Him and collect evidence for His upcoming trial. They watch Jesus as He preaches, teaches, comforts, heals, and otherwise demonstrates the love of God. But the Pharisees have no love, and no one seemed to be troubled with that.
The trouble with the Pharisees is that they were not perceived to be the trouble at all. They had street cred on the highways and byways of Israel, much more than the Lord Jesus Christ. They were from Jerusalem, Jesus was from Nazareth. They had formal training and ordination papers, Jesus just showed up out of nowhere and started preaching. They made up neat rules to live by, Jesus messed up their rules and earned Himself a reputation as a rebel. They were trying to maintain the status-quo in Jewish religious circles, Jesus was stirring things up and causing a commotion everywhere He went.
The trouble with the Pharisees is that they were no trouble at all. They made up their own religious rules for people to follow, like how to properly wash before a meal. In a way they helped maintain the Pax Romana. The Romans and Jews understood them, even admired them. But Jesus is the One they could not quite figure out. For most people, the trouble was not with the Pharisees and Scribes. The trouble was with Jesus.
The Trouble with Jesus
The trouble with Jesus was, well, where do we begin? We’ll start with the text. He and His disciples had the nerve to eat without ceremonially washed hands! You’d think that the Pharisees, after spying on Him for several days, could have come up with some charge bigger and better than this one. We must admit Jesus was guilty. However, He was not guilty of violating Scripture or disobeying God. He simply broke the well-established rules of the religious leaders of His day. Frankly, Jesus did not live by anyone’s rules, except for God’s. That’s the trouble with Jesus.
And here’s another thing. Jesus called the Pharisees names. Publicly calling someone a “hypocrite” isn’t nice, is it? Sweet Jesus often called a spade a spade, or a snake a snake (ref. Matthew 12:34), or a phony a hypocrite. Jesus named names, and not all of them were nice. That’s the trouble with Jesus.
Then, Jesus quoted Scripture to them. I’ve been called a troublemaker by church leaders more than once for bringing the Bible into an important issue. I’m in good company, for Jesus would often do the same thing. The Word of God used the word of God to fly in the face of those who were smug and satisfied with extra-biblical authority and regulations. That’s the trouble with Jesus.
Finally, Jesus exercised His expertise as a troublemaking table-turner. While the Pharisees had spied on Him to find fault, Jesus spied out a horrible, hypocritical practice of their own. The Pharisees got around the Fifth Commandment with the crass, created concept of “Corban.” By “dedicating to God” their wealth, they excused themselves from helping financially with aging parents or otherwise contributing to the poor and needy. It was a slick move that sickened Jesus, so the Lord publicly exposed and embarrassed the Pharisees. The Lord will one day expose all sin and severely embarrass unrepentant sinners. That’s the trouble with Jesus.
The Trouble with You and Me
Today, the Pharisees do not trouble anyone. After the fall of Jerusalem in AD 70, that tradition was dispersed and dismantled and virtually disappeared. There are some modern Israelites known as “Hasidic” Jews who practice a revived form of Pharisee-ism, but they are too few and far between to make a big scene.
Today, Jesus does not trouble anyone, at least not in the flesh. He was crucified, resurrected, and ascended two thousand years ago. One day He is returning, and that will cause considerable trouble for many, but today His followers remember Him by doing the things He taught us to do, repenting and believing and preaching and teaching and worshiping and serving. That causes some trouble, but not for true followers.
No, the trouble today is not with the Pharisees, not directly with Jesus, but with you and me. And the trouble is, we have to make a choice, a hard choice. Hard choices trouble our soul.
Will we live lives based on personal preference and peer pressure, or will we make a radical turn and choose to obey the gospel and the word of God? Most people chose to live by their own rules and standards, by what feels right to them, by what brings them the most personal happiness and satisfaction at the end of the day. Others worry about what other people think about them, about being accepted by the majority or the in-crowd, about doing what others have always done before.
But a chosen few tune in to the beat of a different drummer. God’s word is their guide. The Holy Spirit is their moral compass. Jesus is their Lord. They’ll obey the laws of the land and the rules at school, for God delights in proper respect for ordained authority. They’ll respect the traditions of the church they attend, so long as those human traditions do not contradict the divine word of God. But when pushed into a corner and given a choice to obey man or God, well, then the trouble begins.
To live by the Bible is hard. You have to go to the trouble of learning it, devoting yourself to biblical worship, Bible studies, and personal reading and reflection. To stand on the word of God is hard, for the world and the flesh and the devil will try to knock you off. To share the Bible is hard, for most people will wind up taking the Pharisees’ side, which is how Jesus got Himself crucified in the end.
Yes, it is a hard thing to be a fully devoted follower of the Lord Jesus Christ. It invites trouble into your life. No Pharisee ever asked anyone to take up a cross and follow him. But, the Lord Jesus Christ did. Now the choice, and the trouble that comes with it, is up to you.