Chardon church of Christ

Sermons from the Chardon church of Christ

Ceremonial Hypocrisy

Posted by Chardon in Matthew 15

Ceremonial Hypocrisy

Matthew 15:1-20


Good evening.   Thought I would start with something I heard from the life of little Johnny.   Following a great sermon on lifestyle evangelism one family thought they had better do something to show others Jesus working in their lives. So, they invited their neighbors to dinner the following Friday night.   When it came time for the meal, the hostess was keen to show their neighbors that they upheld Christian standards in their home.   After they were seated she asked little 5-year-old Johnny to say grace.   Little Johnny was a bit shy. "I don't know what to say." There was an awkward pause, followed by a reassuring smile from his mother. "Well darling," she said, “just say what Daddy said at breakfast this morning."   Obediently, Johnny bowed his head and repeated, "Oh God, we've got those awful people coming to dinner tonight"


Continuing in our look at the parables, we are going to look at the parable of ‘Ceremonial hypocrisy’ this evening which is found in Matthew 15. The parable I want to talk about is found in verses 10-11 but there is more to this situation. Before we go ahead and study this parable, we need to do what every good Bible student should do, we need to read the whole text surrounding these parables to help us understand what Jesus meant. Please turn in your Bibles to Matthew 15.

Has anybody ever said something to you that greatly offended you? Perhaps like that advertisement when a husband and wife are in a store and she’s trying on some new clothes.   The wife turns and asks her husband, “Do you think these jeans make me look fat?” and he says, “No dear, it’s your fat that makes you look fat.”

Sometimes it can happen just due to native language differences. I remember of an instance when a foreign student said to a friend of mine in front of his wife, “I think your wife eats too much,” suggesting that she was overweight. Now that would have offended me but let me tell you it offended my friend and his wife even more. Any sensible person knows that you never just talk to someone about being overweight, because to most people that’s a sensitive issue.


  1. Let me ask you about this now, what about your religion? Has anyone ever said something to you that really offended your religious beliefs? That’s what happened here in Matthew 15; Jesus said something that truly offended the Jewish leaders. Matthew 15:12 - says, “Then His disciples came and said to Him, "Do You know that the Pharisees were offended when they heard this saying?” [NKJV]

    1. Why were they offended? What did Jesus say to upset the Pharisees?
    2. This argument between Jesus and the Pharisees and the experts in the Law, with which this chapter deals, is of tremendous importance.
    3. Because what it does, is show the Jewish religion at its core.   Jesus is exposing the very heart of the Jewish religion in this chapter.  Let’s look.
    4. Matthew 15:1-2 - “Then the scribes and Pharisees who were from Jerusalem came to Jesus, saying, "Why do Your disciples transgress the tradition of the elders? For they do not wash their hands when they eat bread."
  2. What was this tradition and what was the spirit behind it?   For the Jews at that time, the Law was made up of the Ten Commandments and the Pentateuch <pen-ta-tuke>.  It is true that the Pentateuch, the first five Books of the Old Testament, contains a certain number of detailed regulations and instructions.
    1. However, in the matter of moral questions, what is laid down is a series of great moral principles, which a man must interpret and apply for himself, and for a while the Jews were content with that. Around the 4th or 5th century before Christ came along, there was a group of people, who became known as legal experts. We know them as the Scribes.
    2. These guys weren’t content with great moral principles, Oh no.   They had what can only be described as a passion for definition and detail. In other words, they wanted these great moral principles amplified, expanded, and broken down. They did it to the extent that they issued thousands upon thousands of little rules and regulations, which attempted to oversee every possible action and every possible situation in life.
    3. Some Christians do that today, don’t they?  We have a song, a prayer, another song, a Bible reading, one more song, the Lord’s Supper, the offering, a sermon, the invitation and then a final song and prayer to finish.  If someone suggests, ‘Hey, lets just sing three songs today after the opening prayer’, some Christians would be offended.
    4. If you go to France and partake of the Lord’s Supper with your brothers and sisters over there, you will find that they use real wine as an emblem for the blood of Jesus.  I know many Christians in this country who would consider that offensive.
    5. What about Christians and alcohol? The Bible says we’re not to get drunk, so that means I can have a couple of beers and I’m not breaking God’s law… Does it? If you get upset with someone because they are a Christian and they are doing something not traditional, then what you’re doing is amplifying your own little rules.  The point I’m trying to make is that we try to find loopholes in God’s word to justify what we’re doing, and we do it all the time.  
  • There are two aspects of these scribal rules and regulations, which come out of the argument in Mathew 15 and one of them we have already read. Matthew 15:2 – “Why do Your disciples transgress the tradition of the elders? For they do not wash their hands when they eat bread.”  

    1. The Scribes and the Pharisees accused Jesus’ disciples of eating with unclean hands.  Certainly, I believe that everyone should wash their hands before having a meal for hygiene reasons, but that’s not what we’re dealing with here. They were accusing Jesus’ disciples of having ceremonially unclean hands.
    2. Hands that weren’t fit for the service and worship of God. That’s what they meant when they said, “they do not wash their hands”.    To you and me that doesn’t seem like a big deal, but to a Jew, this was a big deal.  This was the heart of their religious thinking; this was an offence and a breach of God’s Law in the Jewish mind.  
  1. Let me take you on a trip through one of the many Jewish regulations. You see before every meal, after the meal if it included salt and I am told between every course of the meal, the hands had to be washed.  We’re not talking about just rinsing your hands with water here; we’re talking about washing your hands in a certain way.    

    1. To begin with your hands had to be free from any sand or dirt, or gravel or any kind of substance.  The water for washing had to be kept in a covered stone jar so that the water itself was clean in the ceremonial sense, and to make sure that it wasn’t used for anything else and that nothing had fallen into it or had been mixed in it.
    2. To start with your hands were held with your fingertips pointing upwards and then the water was poured over them.    The water must run at least down to your wrist.    While your hands were still wet, each hand had to be cleaned with the other hand.
    3. This meant that at this stage your hands were wet with water, but that water was now itself unclean because it touched unclean hands.    This is serious to a Jew but that’s just the beginning.    Next, your hands had to be held with your fingertips pointing downwards and the water had to be poured over them in such a way that it began at the wrists and ran off the fingertips.    After that had been done, your hands were now classified as being clean.    Remember you had to do that before the meal, possibly after and between every course of every meal.   
    4. If you failed to do this, in Jewish eyes, you wouldn’t be guilty of bad manners. You wouldn’t be guilty of being dirty in the hygienic sense, but you were seen as unclean in the sight of God.  If you were to eat bread with unclean hands, and pardon the expression, that was no better than excrement.
  2. If the Romans put a Jewish rabbi in jail, he would use the water given to him for hand washing purposes rather than for drinking.   There have been reports of some of these Jews almost dying of thirst.  
    1. We only dealt a little with hand washing here.  You see before we can understand the parable we first need to understand why the Pharisees and the experts of the Law were so offended.  Can you imagine all the other rules they had?   Remember they had expanded the moral guidelines of God to include rules for every detail of human life.    
    2. On the Sabbath Day for example they had what they called the 39 Fathers. The 39 Melachot. 39 things they were prohibited from doing.  They then broke these rules down into thousands of other little rules and that became the Jewish religion.
    3. To the Pharisees and the Sadducees that was their religion.   It was ritualistic, ceremonial, rules and regulations which they considered to be the essence of their service to God.  You will see some of this in other religions today.   This man-created religion they were following is why Jesus said to them in Matthew 23:23 – “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you pay tithe of mint and anise and cumin, and have neglected the weightier matters of the law: justice and mercy and faith. These you ought to have done, without leaving the others undone.”  Jesus says that their religion consisted of a mass of taboos and rules and regulations.
  3. Folks, I know this seems more like a study than a sermon so far but if we really want to understand why Jesus spoke so many parables against the Jewish leaders, we first need to get inside the Jewish leaders’ minds. In Matthew 15:10-11 we find Jesus sharing this parable with the crowd. He says, “Then He called the multitude and said to them, "Hear and understand: "Not what goes into the mouth defiles a man; but what comes out of the mouth, this defiles a man.''”  
    1. You see a thing might in the ordinary sense be completely clean and yet in the legal sense be unclean.    This idea comes from Leviticus 11-15 and Numbers 19.    For example, certain animals were unclean.    A woman after giving birth to a child was unclean.    A dead body was unclean.    Anybody who had become unclean and touched something else, made whatever they touched unclean.
    2. A Gentile was unclean, food touched by a Gentile was unclean, and anything touched by a Gentile was unclean.  In fact, if a strict Jew came back from the market place, he would go home and wash in clean water to take away the contamination that he might have contacted when he was out.
    3. We know that the Scribes made, from this oral tradition, the Mishnah, as it was called and it was in addition to the law in scriptures.   The Mishnah is a compilation of Jewish oral law and tradition that expands on and interprets God’s written Law. Let me give you an example of one of those rules.  A hollow container made of pottery could contract uncleanness inside but not on the outside.  In other words it doesn’t matter who or what touched the outside, but it becomes a problem when the inside is involved.    If it became unclean, it must be broken and no unbroken piece must remain in your house, which was big enough to hold enough oil to anoint the little toe.
    4. I want to thank you for your patience so far this evening, but I really wanted to wade through this sample of the mad house of the Scribal Law with you, simply to show you what Jesus was dealing with.
  • To the Scribes and the Pharisees, these rules and regulations were the essence of their religion.  To observe them was to please God and to break them was to sin, this was their idea of goodness and service to God.  We asked at the start of this sermon, why were the Pharisees and the teachers of the Law so offended?

    1. They were offended because the very ground of their religion was being cut from underneath them.  Think about it.   If Jesus was right, which we know He is always right, then that meant that their whole theory of religion was wrong.  They identified religion and pleasing God with the observing of rules and regulations.  In our example of cleanliness, it had to do with what a man ate, with how he washed his hands before he ate it.
    2. That’s why Jesus said in Matthew 15:3-9 – “But He answered and said to them, "Why do you also transgress the commandment of God because of your tradition? "For God commanded, saying, `Honor your father and your mother'; and, `He who curses father or mother, let him be put to death.'  "But you say, `Whoever says to his father or mother, "Whatever profit you might have received from me has been dedicated to the temple'' `is released from honoring his father or mother.' "Thus you have made the commandment of God of no effect by your tradition. "Hypocrites! Well did Isaiah prophesy about you, saying: `These people draw near to Me with their mouth, and honor Me with their lips, but their heart is far from Me.  And in vain they worship Me, teaching as doctrines the commandments of men.' ''”
    3. Tradition says, “A man says to his father or mother, 'Whatever help you might otherwise have received from me is now a gift devoted to God,' he is not to 'honor his father or mother ' with it.” Jesus says, “'Honor your father and mother' ”
    4. Let’s put it this way; Tradition says, “Be a good person and you’ll get into heaven.” The Bible says, “Believe, confess, repent, be baptized and remain faithful and you’ll get into heaven.”
    5. How about; Tradition says, “You have to come to our bible class.” The Bible says, “God’s people will come together to study because they want to.” Do we see, folks?   Do we see the difference?
  • It’s with that in mind that He says in Matthew 15:13-14 – “Every plant which My heavenly Father has not planted will be uprooted.  "Let them alone. They are blind leaders of the blind. And if the blind leads the blind, both will fall into a ditch.
    1. Jesus says that the Pharisees were nothing but blind guides who had no idea of the ways of God, and that if people followed them, then all they could expect was to stray off the road and fall into a ditch.  
    2. Folks, make no mistake, this hurt the Jews and it still hurts people today. That’s because people are still thinking outwardly, instead of wholeheartedly. Jesus identified religion with the state of a person’s heart and said quite bluntly that these Pharisees and Scribal regulations had nothing to do with religion.
    3. Jesus says in Matthew 15:17-20 when He explains the parable to Peter and the others. – “Do you not yet understand that whatever enters the mouth goes into the stomach and is eliminated? "But those things which proceed out of the mouth come from the heart, and they defile a man.   "For out of the heart proceed evil thoughts, murders, adulteries, fornications, thefts, false witness, blasphemies.   "These are the things which defile a man, but to eat with unwashed hands does not defile a man.”
  1. God may be at the heart of all religion, the question is, is God in the hearts of those who profess to follow Him?  Let me give you a couple of things to think about before we close.  

    1. If religion consists of external regulations and observances, it has two things.  First; it is far too easy.
    2. It is much easier to do without certain foods and to wash our hands in a certain way than it is to love and forgive the unlovely and unlovable.  It’s much easier to do that, than it is to help the needy at the cost of one’s own time and money and comfort and pleasure.
    3. Let me tell you about a man from the city who bought a farm and his new neighbor who owned the farm next to his came to visit him.   The man said to this neighbor, "Can you tell me where the property line runs between our farms?" The farmer looked him over and asked, "Are you talking owning or mowing?"
    4. We judge people by the external things they do or don’t do.   By the protocols, religious practices, or rites.   We judge that way because we still must learn the lesson that Jesus was trying to teach the Jewish leaders.  We judge people by their church attendance, how much they give in the offering, how often they come to our Bible study. We judge by appearance.
    5. Jesus teaches us that all those things are the externals in Christianity. Don’t get me wrong. These things are important, and they are the means towards religion and being a Christian, but they are not religion and Christianity.  
    6. James 1:26 – “If any man among you seem to be religious, and bridleth not his tongue, but deceiveth his own heart, this man's religion is vain.”  Folks, we all need occasional reminders that our religion consists of personal relationships and in our attitude towards God and our fellowman.
    7. Secondly; A religion that consists of external regulations and observances is very much misleading.    Many people may live what they think is a faultless life based on externals, but they can have bitterness and the most evil thoughts within their hearts.   That applies to those who would be shepherds as well.   It applied to the teachers of the law in Jesus time.
    8. Matthew 7:22-23 – “Many will say to Me in that day, `Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in Your name, cast out demons in Your name, and done many wonders in Your name?' "And then I will declare to them, `I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness!”
    9. Jesus clearly teaches us that all the outward observances in the world can not atone for a heart where pride, bitterness and lust dominate.  You see the only thing that matters is the human heart.  This is the religion of Jesus; this is our religion at its core.  Matthew 5:8 - “Blessed are the pure in heart: for they shall see God.”
    10. We really need to learn this lesson because too many people are putting themselves on guilt trips because they can’t do this or can’t do that. Too many Christian beat themselves up because they can’t get to every service. Too many Christians are dragging themselves down because they can’t physically help in certain areas.
  2. Folks, what matters to God is not so much HOW we act, but WHY we act. Its not so much what we actually DO, but what is in our heart of hearts in the doing. We read in the minor prophets time and again of the people following the letter of the law but doing it for their own benefit and not for the love of their creator. God knows, He is not fooled, yet we are reminded in John 3:16 - "For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life." We are saved because of Christ, not because of the external things we do.
    1. The story goes that in a certain tribe chicken stealing became a problem. The chief said that if someone was caught stealing chickens “The offender would receive 10 lashes.” When the stealing continued, he raised it to 20 lashes. But still the chickens randomly disappeared. In anger the Chief raised the sentence to 100 lashes. The thief was finally caught, but the Chief faced a terrible dilemma. The thief was his own young daughter!  When the day of penalty came, the whole tribe gathered.
    2. Would the Chief's love override his justice?  The crowd gasped when he ordered his daughter to be tied to the whipping post.  The Chief removed his shirt, revealing his powerful stature, and took the whip in hand.  But he did not raise it to strike the first blow, he handed it to a strong, young warrior standing at his side.  Slowly the Chief walked over to his daughter and wrapped his massive arms around her in an engulfing embrace.  Then he ordered the brave to give him the 100 lashes.   That's what Jesus did for you and me. In love He became our substitute and died in our place to pay the penalty for all our sins. He overcame our inability to save ourselves by paying the price for our sins. His death bridged the gulf between God and man and made it possible for us to be reconciled to God and to be restored to fellowship with Him through faith in Christ and in His atoning death for us.
    3. Luke 6:43-47 – " For no good tree bears bad fruit, nor again does a bad tree bear good fruit, for each tree is known by its own fruit. For figs are not gathered from thornbushes, nor are grapes picked from a bramble bush. The good person out of the good treasure of his heart produces good, and the evil person out of his evil treasure produces evil, for out of the abundance of the heart his mouth speaks. -- “Why do you call me ‘Lord, Lord,’ and not do what I tell you? Everyone who comes to me and hears my words and does them, I will show you what he is like: he is like a man building a house, who dug deep and laid the foundation on the rock. And when a flood arose, the stream broke against that house and could not shake it, because it had been well built. But the one who hears and does not do them is like a man who built a house on the ground without a foundation.  When the stream broke against it, immediately it fell, and the ruin of that house was great.” [ESV]
    4. Jesus says that no man can call himself a good man because he observes external rules and regulations. That’s because such teaching condemns every one of us, we are only good when our hearts are pure. When you think about it, that very fact alone should bring pride to an end.



No Christian should ever stand in judgment of their fellow brother or sister and say, “I go to all the meetings and you don’t, look how religious I am.” “I’ve never missed a Sunday morning in over ten years, look how religious I am.”

When love reigns in our hearts, pride disappears.  This is because our religion, at its core, is not about external rules and regulations.   It is not about rules and rites, and every one of us can only say what that publican said in Luke 18:13 - “God be merciful to me a sinner.”

If you’re not a Christian today, let me give you a bit of advice. Quit trying to be good enough for Jesus before you come to Him, quit trying to get to perfection before you become a Christian, and quit trying to give up that sin in your life first before you become a Christian.

You are sitting among a group of sinners today who have already recognized that they will never be good enough. You have listened to a man speak who has learned that external perfections do not exist in Christianity;… it’s all to do with the heart. You’re sitting with people who are struggling with sin and will continue to struggle with sin the rest of their lives.

If you want to become a Christian, then just submit to His will and let Him clothe you with His righteousness.  Then when God looks at you, He will see what He sees in the people around you, He will see a people who are spotless and blameless in His eyes.





We learn from the New Testament how to be saved. We need to hear the word; believe in Jesus; repent of our sins; we must confess our belief that Jesus is the Son of God; and be baptized for the remission of our sins… If we follow these steps, the Lord adds us to His church.


Perhaps there is someone in the assembly today with the need to be buried with Christ in baptism. If you have never done these things, we urge you to do so today. If anyone has this need or desires the prayers of faithful Christians on their behalf, we encourage them to come forward while we stand and sing.


# 593


Reference Sermon

Mike Glover


Podbean App

Play this podcast on Podbean App