Hand Washing Rituals – Luke 11:37-41
Opening Thoughts: I’m going to start tonight by saying that Danae and I appreciate all of you that have been reading our material and posting your wonderful comments. It is encouraging to hear someone say, “What you wrote really spoke to me and has caused me to study the Word more”. What we hope not to hear is, “This is great, now I can just read your blogs and forget about reading my Bible!” Isn’t this what has actually happened in much of our church culture these days? We read books, articles, blogs, Twitter updates, Facebook Status updates and more, yet so many people don’t actually read their own Bibles. In many ways we’ve become more like cult followers rather than Christian Disciples. We have people read our Bibles to us and shed their opinions, then we can either agree or disagree according to how we feel! This isn’t good! There is a huge danger in that we get so removed from what the Bible says that we start basing our Christianity on TRADITIONS that have been established many times through misinterpretations of the Scriptures. I’m so thankful that you read our posts and I want to encourage you to continue to read them, to subscribe to our blog and to share what has challenged you with your friends and family, but let it not replace reading the Word for yourself. I want it to be very clear that we do not desire in any way to replace that but rather we hope to motivate it and to help cultivate your hunger for God’s Word.
Scripture: Luke 11:37-41 ESV … While Jesus was speaking, a Pharisee asked him to dine with him, so he went in and reclined at table. The Pharisee was astonished to see that he did not first wash before dinner. And the Lord said to him, “Now you Pharisees cleanse the outside of the cup and of the dish, but inside you are full of greed and wickedness. You fools! Did not he who made the outside make the inside also? But give as alms those things that are within, and behold, everything is clean for you.
Scripture: Mark 7:5 ESV … 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?”
Overview of Luke 11: Luke 11 is loaded, over the past few verses we’ve seen how Jesus compared Himself to the story of Jonah and that He came to call an evil generation to repentance. We then spoke about people that think they have the light in them yet they have nothing to shine. Jesus says that’s impossible because someone who lights a lamp doesn’t just put it in the cellar or under a basket, they let it shine for all men to see. He warns us not to believe ourselves to have the light when it’s actually darkness that’s inside of us. We must take Jesus teachings to heart in order to understand the Gospel. Jesus isn’t telling us to make ourselves see or to turn our own lights on, he wants us to admit to our blindness and depravity and call out to Him as a blind beggar for mercy. Jesus is the healer of our blind souls and we are the blind beggars dependent upon His intervention.
Traditions of Men: In verse 37 we follow Jesus over to a Pharisee’s home for dinner. It’s interesting that Jesus does everything possible to ruffle the religious feathers of the day. How much effort would it have been for Him to go and wash His hands? Probably not much. The reason Jesus stays away from the wash basin was to reveal what these men of the cloth were actually zealous for, and what was in their heart. By the way they responded to Him you actually might have assumed that Jesus was breaking one of the laws of God by not washing. The Bible tells us that Jesus never sinned and if He had violated any of the laws or commands He would have been with sin. What Jesus was doing was not violation of a law, but a breaking of a man-made tradition. There had been many extra-biblical traditions added to the laws and commands that were counted as requirements. These traditions were so steeped into the Jewish culture that they literally believed them to be requirement. The washing of the hands was an aspect of the ceremonial laws found in Exodus 30 and 40 for the priests that were dealing with sacrifices in the temple. This was never a requirement for every person who sat down to a meal. So when Jesus and the disciples are accused of neglecting this they are not breaking the Mosaic law but rather later Jewish traditions that prescribed ritual washing of hands, utensils, and furniture …. See Mark
Mark 7:1-8 ESV … 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.”
The Pharisees were hypocrites for a couple reasons:
1. Their actions are merely external and do not come from their hearts, which are far from God.
2. Their teachings are not from God but reflect the tradition of men.
Going through the Motions: Jesus never weighed anyone down with useless traditions, these only create heavier burdens for a soul already burdened down with sin. His objection wasn’t to try and get people to clean up by adding additional rules, but rather He continually brought people to the realization of their sin by using the literal laws and commands of God (Mark 10:19), then told them of the hope that could be found only through Himself. You can cage a pig and keep him from mud, you can wash him up and put bows around his neck, you can train him to sleep in the house but the moment you let him loose he will run for the mud. Keeping someone tied up with regulations and rules will never result in the conversion of their soul.
Have you heard that song by Matthew West “I don’t want to go through the motions”? This talks about people that just systematically go through rituals because this is what has always been done. In one of my witnessing encounters I spoke with one young Jewish girl who when asked “Why do you go to ‘yom kippur'”, she said “because that’s what all Jews do”, when I asked her where it came from she couldn’t tell me, so I asked her why they don’t sacrifice animals for sin anymore which is what God actually required, she didn’t have an answer. She was following useless traditions and considered them to be her salvation.
Closing thoughts: Think about some of the traditions we have made up along the way. There was a time in my life when I thought that if you didn’t say the “sinners prayer” you weren’t actually saved. First of all you won’t find anywhere in the scriptures to support the idea of a sinners prayer. You will however find that people were commanded to repent, and repentance comes only by way of godly grief according to 2 Corinthians 7:10 and salvation is a result of that repentance accompanied by a new found trust in Christ. Godly grief involves a broken heart caused from your lost approval by God because of your sinfulness. If you have never been grieved over your sin you may still be banking on a traditional style canned prayer to save on the day of the Lord which would be tragic. There are so many other traditions that we perform, we pray before bed, but how about the rest of the day? We take our Bibles to church, but do we open them any other time? We raise our hands in church worship, but how is our worship of obedience? We go to church once a week, but the Bible says we are the church so how does the rest of your week look? Have we become like the Pharisees in making traditions into requirements? I wonder how many of our traditions Jesus would spoil if He walked into our church world today, what would we think of Him if He called us FOOLS as He did to the Pharisees? Of course washing your hands is a very good thing to do but let’s be careful we don’t make requirements of anything that Jesus didn’t make a requirement for Salvation. Grace & Peace.