Avoid Being Led Astray - Matthew 15:1-20
Have you ever been on vacation exploring a new place you’ve never been before, when suddenly someone taps you on the shoulder and asks you for directions?
That happened to me when I first moved to Florence. A gentleman approached me and asked me how he could get to the House of Hope.
So I pointed him toward North Irby St.
Afterwards I was talking to Lauren about it and she told me, “you just told him how to get to Hope Health...”
Two very different places. But in my defense, they both have the word ‘hope’ in them.
It’s easy to get turned around in an unfamiliar place. It’s even easier to get turned around spiritually. How do I know this? Well, have you ever asked someone to share their thoughts with you about religion in general or Christianity specifically?
Everyone has an opinion and they’re often willing to confidently share it with you. Just turn on the TV! There are TV hosts and presidential candidates telling you what it means to be a Christian. But how do you know they’re right? Or how do you know they’re wrong?
Rather than buying into people’s definitions of Christianity, or generating your own opinions of what it means to be a Christian, you and I need to turn to God’s Word.
We should let God tell us about Himself.
That’s what we have going on in our passage. We have two different groups competing for your attention but with the same desire: to lead you and me away from God.
Don’t be led astray by false teachers.
Our passage begins with the Pharisees getting after Jesus because the disciples didn’t wash their hands before a meal. In religious Jewish culture it was expected that everyone would wash their hands before eating. It wasn’t to clean their hands like we do today. It was a religious ritual that protected them from defiling themselves.
And in the minds of the Pharisees, Jesus - as a religious teacher - had failed to teach his disciples about how to avoid defiling themselves. It was a bit of “gotcha journalism” by the Pharisees. They thought they had busted them.
Notice what the Pharisees say. They say the disciples are neglecting tradition.
They weren’t violating God’s Word. They were violating a tradition created by men.
They had put the tradition of the elders on equal ground with God’s Word. The tradition grew so much that they actually believed and taught it was a grievous sin to simply fail to wash your hands.
But Jesus responded with an accusation of his own. “And why do you break the commandment of God for the sake of your tradition?”
Jesus quickly corrects the Pharisees and restores things to their proper order. You see, God’s Word always stands over the tradition of men.
Jesus accuses them of failing to honor their father and mother because of another tradition they strictly followed.
It’s the responsibility of children to care for their aging parents and in doing so, they honor them. They kept the fifth commandment. But Pharisees and Jewish teachers had created a self-serving system where you could protect your wealth and assets from your family by claiming you were setting them aside for God. This practice allowed you to spend your money however you wanted and then when you passed away whatever was left over would go to God.
In other words, “Mom and Dad I can’t pay for your groceries, housing, or whatever it might be because I’m setting it aside for God.”
If you say, “I’m giving this or that to God” - it sounds very spiritual doesn’t it? It sounds pious and holy. It’s also the biggest trump card you can play because no one can dispute it.
This system fed greediness and dishonored their parents in the name of God. But if you know God’s word, you’d know that He doesn’t want you to dishonor your parents.
But this tradition did more than simply dishonor your parents. It nullified the word of God. This particular tradition created a legal loophole for violating the fifth commandment.
Jesus’s quotation of Isaiah makes so much sense it light of what was going on.
“‘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.’”
They masked their selfish desires as the very words of God.
I ran into a guy who is missionary the other day and we struck up a conversation. I told him that I’m a pastor and he asked me, “How is one saved?”
I proceeded to tell him that an individual is saved by grace through faith in Jesus Christ.
He said, “Okay, I just wanted to see what you believed.”
And I knew exactly what he was getting at: Just because someone calls himself a “pastor” doesn’t mean you can trust them. They could be false teachers. Wolves in sheeps’ clothing, as the Scriptures says.
At their core, the Pharisees were false teachers. They were leading people astray with their traditions. That’s why Jesus refers to them in verse 14 as blind guides. False teachers want their words to have the same authority over you as God’s word.
Isn’t that what we saw in the first nine verses?
They thought the tradition of the elders was every bit as authoritative as God’s word. That’s why they were so excited to attack Jesus and his disciples. Because if you really believe that tradition is as authoritative as Scripture, you have real leg to stand on. But the truth is, tradition is subservient to the Scriptures. The Scriptures inform our traditions. Not the other way around.
If tradition has authority over you, men have authority over you.
No doubt, present day false teachers want the same authority over you as the Pharisees had over the Jews. They want you to blindly trust everything they say.
There’s really nothing new under the sun. But what’s the remedy for spotting false teaching? It’s knowing God’s Word.
You see, Jesus’s counter-attack was that the Pharisees didn’t know or follow God’s Word. That should tell you and I something: We need to know God’s Word.
If you know God’s word, you can easily spot false teaching. If you know God’s Word, then you’ll know the truth.
Don’t be led astray by your own heart.
Many of you have probably heard some variation of verse 11. “Hear and understand: it is not what goes into the mouth that defiles a person, but what comes out of the mouth; this defiles a person.”
But you probably didn’t realize that it’s connected to the previous passage. Jesus is using the Pharisees legalism to showcase that God cares more about your heart than what you do. Because your heart determines your actions.
Even good actions can come from a bad place! We all know this, but it’s not what the Pharisees taught.
They taught a rote legalism. Do these actions and you will please God. You will be righteous before God. If you really want to please God, make sure you wash your hands before eating!
It was in this way the Pharisees were leading people astray. The very people who claimed to know the way to God were leading people away from Him. In that way, they were, as Jesus said, blind guides.
They were leading people but they didn’t know where they were going. And that will lead you astray.
It’s easy for us to see what Jesus meant by those words, but the people the disciples were confused. Or at least Peter was!
Peter is the friend that isn’t afraid to say exactly what’s on his mind… good or bad! One minute he’s trying to walk on water the next minute he’s inserting his foot into his mouth.
And so Jesus explains his parable explicitly and here’s the point: Food doesn’t defile you, your heart defiles you.
But keep in mind, these were Jewish men and there were food laws at that time for the Jewish people. But failing to perfectly keep them didn’t make you unclean.
Your sin makes you unclean before a righteous and holy God. You condemn yourself. Because it’s from your heart evil comes forth: murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false witness, slander.
These are the things that defile you. These are the things that make you unclean before God. And these are the things that spring forth from your heart and my heart.
Too often the things that we desire are the things that displease God.
But it’s interesting because we live in a time where conventional wisdom and self-help encourage it.
How many times have you been encouraged to, “follow your heart” or “trust your gut” or “do what feels right” or “do what makes you happy?”
Those sorts of slogans are everywhere. We see them all the time and they appeal to our flesh. They appeal to our sinful desires.
How many people have made terrible decisions because he or she wanted to, “do what made them happy?”
God’s Word opposes this sort of thinking. There are a ton of Scripture references that literally say the opposite of those slogans. Here are two:
Jeremiah 17: The heart is deceitful above all things,
and desperately sick;
who can understand it?
Genesis 6: The Lord saw how great the wickedness of the human race had become on the earth, and that every inclination of the thoughts of the human heart was only evil all the time.
You see our hearts are marred by sin. Why should we listen to our deceitful, sin-sick hearts?
Our flesh lies to us.
We need something that will never lead us astray. We need something that will always direct us in the right direction.
The remedy for when others try to lead you astray is the same remedy for when your own heart attempts to lead you astray: God’s Word.
The Pharisees taught your actions defiled you. But Jesus corrects them: it’s not your actions that defile you - it’s your heart.
Only God’s Word will guide you to Him.
The Scriptures are the guiding light that leads us to Him. God’s Word helps us avoid being led astray by others and it helps us reject the lies of our own hearts.
We cannot lead ourselves to God. Only He can lead us to Himself.
The Problem with God’s Word
What I’m saying sounds very spiritual. It’s easy to affirm, right?
But here’s the problem with what I’m saying: Those who are united to Christ by faith, true believers of Jesus Christ, don’t worship the Bible.
We don’t worship God’s Word.
Rather, you and I worship the God of the Bible.
The Christian reads the Bible because he or she loves God. You see, you pay attention to the voices of those you love.
The Pharisees worshipped rules and regulations. They had large portions of Scripture memorized. You see, the Pharisees worshipped the Bible because they could bind consciences. They could control people, because they were the experts.
This sort of thing still happens today. There are people who enjoy studying God’s word, but don’t love God. I used to think that person was like the lochness monster, the chupacabra, or the yeti. I thought this person was like a mythological creature that people talk about but no one has ever seen. But then I did.
I met someone with an extremely legalistic, pharisaical heart. He knew the Bible but his heart was cold toward God.
You can know the Bible and miss the God of the Bible.
So why should you study God’s word?
Because you love Jesus Christ and you want to be cleansed of your sins. You shouldn’t study God’s Word for the sake of studying it. You should study it because you want to know your Savior better.
True believers, those who are born again, want to know Jesus Christ better simply because they love him. That’s it.
You see, that’s what Jesus was getting at in this passage. What captivates your heart is what you love, and your mouth will reveal it. The way you talk reveals what you love.
We’re only at church for like 3 hours, one day a week. It’s easy to say the right things here. What are you thinking and talking about the rest of the week?
Because people will try to lead you astray.
Your own heart will try to lead you astray.
Ultimately, pursuing sin is the greatest act of defilement. Your uncleanness isn’t the result of something you did or didn’t do. Your uncleanness is a result of you being a sinner. It’s not because you forgot to wash your hands.
But Jesus Christ can cleanse you of your sins. And only Jesus Christ found in God’s Word, the Word made flesh is capable of doing it.
There are so many ways that people try to cleanse themselves of their sins. They may not use those exact words, but we live in an interesting time where we’re hyper sensitive to the morality of individuals. They’ll tell you that you need to subscribe to a certain political agenda.
They’ll tell you that you need to get more active in social justice. They’ll even tell you that’s what Jesus Christ wants you to do!
This is today’s false gospel equivalent to neglecting to wash your hands.
Even your own heart will whisper lies to you. Your heart will tell you that you need to be more friendly and less angry. You were mean yesterday so you need to be nice today and if you can do it - you’ll atone for the sins you committed yesterday.
But being better today doesn’t erase the sins of yesterday. None of that is good enough to cleanse you of your sins.
Only Jesus Christ has the power to cleanse you from your sins. Do you need to be cleansed of your sins?
The Pharisees wanted authority over people’s lives in order to prop themselves up as mini gods.
You and I want to be our own god.
My prayer for all of us is that we’d reject the gods of this world and the gods of our own heart because we want the real, historical, Jesus Christ of the Scriptures to be our God.