Matthew 15

Thursday Evening Bible Study

January 4, 2007

Matthew 15

:1-20 Traditions and Defilement

:1 Then the scribes and Pharisees who were from Jerusalem came to Jesus, saying,

Jesus is still in the northern part of Israel, the Galilee area.  Word has reached the religious leaders in the south, and they send a delegation of religious scholars to question Jesus about His teachings and His practices.

:2 "Why do Your disciples transgress the tradition of the elders? For they do not wash their hands when they eat bread."

This was not a commandment of God, but merely a tradition involving ceremonies that had been handed down from old times.  The issue was not about biological cleanliness, but ceremonial cleanliness.

Where did the “tradition” come from?

The rabbis taught that Moses gave teachings to the elders that were not written down.  These were passed on as oral tradition and were later written down and called “the Mishnah”.

What was this ritual hand washing all about?

“One was to take one and a half eggshells of water and pour it over his hands as they were pressed together uprightly, letting the water drip only to his wrists and no further. Then, he would flip his hands over, pointing them downward while yet another one-and-a-half eggshells of water was poured over them. Finally, he was to rub his right fist with his left palm, then his left fist with his right palm. This procedure was followed not only before every meal, but between each course of every meal.”[1]

Breaking this tradition was a pretty serious thing:

R. Jose says, “whoever eats bread without washing of hands, is as if he lay with a whore: and, says R. Eleazer, whoever despiseth washing of hands, shall be rooted out of the world.” (Gill)

:3 He answered and said to them, "Why do you also transgress the commandment of God because of your tradition?

Jesus answers their question with a question.

The Pharisees are concerned about the traditions of men.  Jesus is concerned about the clear commandments of God.

It’s not wrong to have traditions.  Traditions can be a good thing.  But when our traditions start to contradict what God clearly says in His Word, we’re heading for trouble.

:4 "For God commanded, saying, 'Honor your father and your mother'; and, 'He who curses father or mother, let him be put to death.'

Jesus is quoting from:

(Exo 20:12 KJV)  Honour thy father and thy mother: that thy days may be long upon the land which the LORD thy God giveth thee.

(Exo 21:17 KJV)  And he that curseth his father, or his mother, shall surely be put to death.

:5 "But you say, 'Whoever says to his father or mother, "Whatever profit you might have received from me is a gift to God";

:6 'then he need not honor his father or mother.' Thus you have made the commandment of God of no effect by your tradition.

When a person came into a sum of money, instead of helping out family members with it, a Pharisee might choose to use a “loophole” by dedicating the money to God instead and then not help their family.  They would pronounce the money as “corban” (Mark 7:11), and then they would be able to keep the money or the thing in their own house and not have to share with their family.

They would be able to pat themselves on the back feeling like they had been smart and followed the rules, but all the while ignoring the very heart of what God’s command about honoring parents was.

God has a heart for families.

In the early church, they had the practice of taking care of widows and orphans.  But before a person could be put on the support list, they had to meet a couple of qualifications, including one regarding their family.

(1 Tim 5:4-5 NKJV)  But if any widow has children or grandchildren, let them first learn to show piety at home and to repay their parents; for this is good and acceptable before God. {5} Now she who is really a widow, and left alone, trusts in God and continues in supplications and prayers night and day.
A gal would not be supported by the church if she had kids because the kids were expected to take care of their parents.
(1 Tim 5:8 NKJV)  But if anyone does not provide for his own, and especially for those of his household, he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever.
Family comes first.  Support your family.


The American investment banker was at the pier of a small coastal Mexican village when a small boat with just one fisherman docked. Inside the small boat were several large yellow fin tuna. The American complimented the Mexican on the quality of his fish and asked how long it took to catch them. The Mexican replied, only a little while. The American then asked why didn’t he stay out longer and catch more fish? The Mexican said he had enough to support his family’s immediate needs. The American then asked, “but what do you do with the rest of your time?” The Mexican fisherman said, “I sleep late, fish a little, play with my children, take siesta with my wife, Maria, stroll into the village each evening where I sip wine and play guitar with my amigos, I have a full and busy life.” The American scoffed, “I am a Harvard MBA and could help you. You should spend more time fishing and with the proceeds, buy a bigger boat with the proceeds from the bigger boat you could buy several boats, eventually you would have a fleet of fishing boats. Instead of selling your catch to a middleman you would sell directly to the processor, eventually opening your own cannery. You would control the product, processing and distribution. You would need to leave this small coastal fishing village and move to Mexico City, then LA and eventually NYC where you will run your expanding enterprise.” The Mexican fisherman asked, “But, how long will this all take?” To which the American replied, “15-20 years.” “But what then?” The American laughed and said that’s the best part. “When the time is right you would announce an IPO and sell your company stock to then public and become very rich, you would make millions.” “Millions.. Then what?” The American said, “Then you would retire. Move to a small coastal fishing village where you would sleep late, fish a little, play with your kids, take siesta with your wife, stroll to the village in the evenings where you could sip wine and play your guitar with your amigos.”

Sometimes we’re looking for all the ways to make more money and get ahead in life, but for what?  Nothing is more important than your family.  The most important thing you can do for your family is to put them on the top of your priority list.

:7 "Hypocrites! Well did Isaiah prophesy about you, saying:

:8 'These people draw near to Me with their mouth, And honor Me with their lips, But their heart is far from Me.

:9 And in vain they worship Me, Teaching as doctrines the commandments of men.'"

Jesus quotes from:

(Isa 29:13 KJV)  Wherefore the Lord said, Forasmuch as this people draw near me with their mouth, and with their lips do honour me, but have removed their heart far from me, and their fear toward me is taught by the precept of men:

God is concerned about your heart, not just the words that come out of your mouth.

The Pharisees talked about God, but they didn’t know Him.  You could tell by their priorities.


Traditions versus God’s heart

Churches have traditions, and they’re not all bad.
Some have traditions as to how often they have communion.  Some take communion every week, some every day, some on Christmas and Easter, we have communion once a month.
Some have traditions about their church service – we can get quite rigid about where we have a song, where we have a message, when we stand, when we sit, etc. – but that’s not all bad…
Some traditions aren’t that good …

You Might Be In The Wrong Church If............

The choir performs "A Mighty Fortress is Our God" - as a polka! 

The pastor wears his golf togs in the pulpit.

You have to tip the usher to get a good seat right up front...

The Bible they use is the Dr. Suess version

The only song the organist knows is 'Inna-gadda-da-vida'

The media refers to the church facilities as a "compound".

You discover the church refers to the 10 commandments as the 10 suggestions or offers to let you "pick any six."

You're the only person in the congregation who is carrying a Bible, including the preacher.

Worship services are BYOS: Bring Your Own Snake.

The Ministry staff consists of Pastor, Assistant Pastor, and Socio-pastor.

Why do we do what we do?  Do we recognize when it’s just “tradition” and when it’s something important to God?

:10 When He had called the multitude to Himself, He said to them, "Hear and understand:

:11 "Not what goes into the mouth defiles a man; but what comes out of the mouth, this defiles a man."

:12 Then His disciples came and said to Him, "Do You know that the Pharisees were offended when they heard this saying?"

Jesus apparently wasn’t upset at the thought of offending the Pharisees, the hypocritical religious leaders.

:13 But He answered and said, "Every plant which My heavenly Father has not planted will be uprooted.

The Pharisees were not God’s kids.  They would one day be uprooted.  Though we have plenty of the “spirit” of Phariseeism, there are no more Pharisees in the strictest sense.

:14 "Let them alone. They are blind leaders of the blind. And if the blind leads the blind, both will fall into a ditch."

There is nothing quite as sad as to see a person who thinks they ought to be a leader, but in reality they don’t have a clue where they are leading others.

Where should a spiritual leader be leading his people?

He should be leading them to God.

There is nothing more evil than a person masquerading as a spiritual leader, who does not have and does not maintain a closer relationship with the Lord.

We should be able to say, “Taste and see that the Lord is good”.  Or, “That which I’ve received from the Lord, I delivered to you…”

:15 Then Peter answered and said to Him, "Explain this parable to us."

parable – Peter is referring to the teaching of verse 11.

:16 So Jesus said, "Are you also still without understanding?

:17 "Do you not yet understand that whatever enters the mouth goes into the stomach and is eliminated?

Food just goes through a person’s digestive system, but it doesn’t affect a person’s spiritual condition.

Peter’s not going to quite get the full idea of this teaching until a bit later.

In Acts 10, Peter has a vision of a sheet being lowered from heaven containing all sorts of “unclean” animals.  The Lord then tells Peter to kill and eat.  But Peter objects,

(Acts 10:14 NKJV)  But Peter said, "Not so, Lord! For I have never eaten anything common or unclean."
And the Lord has to remind Peter that when He says something is “okay”, that it’s okay.
And the lesson wasn’t really just about food, it was about people.

Peter would be asked to go and talk to those “unclean” Gentiles about Jesus.  And he would find that he wasn’t polluted by talking to bad people.

:18 "But those things which proceed out of the mouth come from the heart, and they defile a man.

:19 "For out of the heart proceed evil thoughts, murders, adulteries, fornications, thefts, false witness, blasphemies.

:20 "These are the things which defile a man, but to eat with unwashed hands does not defile a man."

The disciples might have been accused of being “defiled” because they didn’t wash their hands before eating.

Jesus says that it’s what comes out of a man’s heart that brings the real defilement before God.


Checklist or heart exam

It’s easy for a Christian to fall into the trap of making a list of “do’s” and “don’ts” and then feeling good about checking things off their list.
“I don’t smoke, I don’t chew, I don’t go with girls that do”
It’s much harder to keep a watch over your own heart and making sure your heart stays soft and tender before the Lord.
The real issue is the state of your heart.
What’s important for a “heart exam” take place?
Worship – God’s presence

Isaiah saw a vision of God on his throne.  His response had to do with the condition of his heart:

(Isa 6:5 NKJV)  So I said: "Woe is me, for I am undone! Because I am a man of unclean lips, And I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips; For my eyes have seen the King, The LORD of hosts."


(Psa 139:23-24 NKJV)  Search me, O God, and know my heart; Try me, and know my anxieties; {24} And see if there is any wicked way in me, And lead me in the way everlasting.

Even this prayer came from a sense of God’s presence:

(Psa 139:7 NKJV)  Where can I go from Your Spirit? Or where can I flee from Your presence?

Reading the Word.

(Psa 119:11 NKJV)  Your word I have hidden in my heart, That I might not sin against You!

Meditate on the Word.

Doing the Word.

(James 1:22-26 NKJV)  But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves. {23} For if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man observing his natural face in a mirror; {24} for he observes himself, goes away, and immediately forgets what kind of man he was. {25} But he who looks into the perfect law of liberty and continues in it, and is not a forgetful hearer but a doer of the work, this one will be blessed in what he does. {26} If anyone among you thinks he is religious, and does not bridle his tongue but deceives his own heart, this one's religion is useless.

Don’t just read it.  Do it.  You deceive yourself if you only read the word but don’t do it.

Hey gang, these are the very ingredients of what a healthy devotional life is all about.  Spend time with Jesus EVERY DAY.
You may wonder how it is possible to live this Christian life when you have such a horrible heart.  It comes from Jesus.

:21-28 Woman from Canaan

:21 Then Jesus went out from there and departed to the region of Tyre and Sidon.

Jesus heads further north, into the land of the Gentiles, modern Lebanon.  Some have suggested that Jesus is trying to get away from stirring up more controversy among the Jews, so He goes and tries to get away from things for awhile, hiding out with the Gentiles.

:22 And behold, a woman of Canaan came from that region and cried out to Him, saying, "Have mercy on me, O Lord, Son of David! My daughter is severely demon-possessed."

This woman is not a Jew.  Jesus has been very clear in His ministry to only minister to the Jews.  He told His disciples to only minister to the Jews.

Note:  She refers to Jesus as the “Son of David”.  She has a clue about who Jesus really is, the Messiah of Israel.

:23 But He answered her not a word. And His disciples came and urged Him, saying, "Send her away, for she cries out after us."

It’s tough when you ask God for something and He seems to be silent.  It’s even worse when godly people tell you that you should just go away.

:24 But He answered and said, "I was not sent except to the lost sheep of the house of Israel."

:25 Then she came and worshiped Him, saying, "Lord, help me!"

worshippedproskuneo – to kiss the hand to (towards) one, in token of reverence; among the Orientals, esp. the Persians, to fall upon the knees and touch the ground with the forehead as an expression of profound reverence; in the NT by kneeling or prostration to do homage (to one) or make obeisance, whether in order to express respect or to make supplication

Isn’t it interesting that the Jewish leaders were those who “worshipped” in vain (Mat. 15:9), while this pagan, Gentile woman seems to worship in truth?

:26 But He answered and said, "It is not good to take the children's bread and throw it to the little dogs."

little dogskunarion – a little dog; a household pet, not a vicious street dog.

:27 And she said, "Yes, Lord, yet even the little dogs eat the crumbs which fall from their masters' table."

:28 Then Jesus answered and said to her, "O woman, great is your faith! Let it be to you as you desire." And her daughter was healed from that very hour.


Prevailing prayer.

What do you do when God doesn’t seem to pay attention to your prayers?
This gal encountered quite a lot of opposition in her quest to have her daughter delivered from demons.
Jesus was silent at first.  He didn’t even acknowledge her existence.
The disciples wanted her to go away.
Jesus even gave her a reason why He couldn’t help her (“except to the lost sheep…”)
He even compared her to a dog.
Each of these hindrances to her quest came from either the disciples or Jesus Himself.
Yet she would not stop until Jesus answered her prayer.
I think there are going to be times when Jesus will answer our prayers with a clear “no”.
There will even be times when God says “don’t pray for this any more”.

(Jer 7:16 NKJV)  "Therefore do not pray for this people, nor lift up a cry or prayer for them, nor make intercession to Me; for I will not hear you.

And sometimes we simply need to learn to take “no” as the answer from God.
But sometimes I wonder if God isn’t testing us to see how much we want what we’re asking for.  Sometimes I think He is stretching our faith, drawing it out – like He does with this woman.
The woman’s request doesn’t seem selfish – she wanted her daughter delivered from demons.
She wouldn’t stop until Jesus helped her.
Samuel Rutherford said: “It is faith’s work to claim and challenge loving-kindness out of all the roughest strokes of God.
Jacob wrestling with the angel.
(Gen 32:26 NKJV)  And He said, "Let Me go, for the day breaks." But he said, "I will not let You go unless You bless me!"

Intercessors throughout the centuries have looked at this example of Jacob’s as a picture of “persevering” prayer, “prevailing” prayer.

We don’t to presume to know better than God.  We don’t want to take the arrogant stance that we’re going to twist God’s arm into granting our request.  But there are going to be times when we need to not let up until God gives us relief.
Jesus commended this woman in her faith.
She didn’t deserve His help – she was a Gentile.
But she wouldn’t stop asking.
Do you need to keep praying about something?

:29-31 Healing many

:29 Jesus departed from there, skirted the Sea of Galilee, and went up on the mountain and sat down there.

Jesus goes from the area of Lebanon to the south east end of the Sea of Galilee, the area known as “Decapolis”, also a predominantly Gentile area.

:30 Then great multitudes came to Him, having with them the lame, blind, mute, maimed, and many others; and they laid them down at Jesus' feet, and He healed them.

:31 So the multitude marveled when they saw the mute speaking, the maimed made whole, the lame walking, and the blind seeing; and they glorified the God of Israel.

:32-39 Feeding 4,000

:32 Now Jesus called His disciples to Himself and said, "I have compassion on the multitude, because they have now continued with Me three days and have nothing to eat. And I do not want to send them away hungry, lest they faint on the way."

This is not just another retelling of the feeding of the 5,000.  They are two separate incidents.  The 5,000 was composed of Jewish people, this group is made up of Gentiles.  The 5,000 were fed near Bethsaida, this group is on the other side of the Lake.  The first group was fed with five loaves, this group with seven loaves.  The last group had been with Jesus only one day, this group has been with Him for three days.

:33 Then His disciples said to Him, "Where could we get enough bread in the wilderness to fill such a great multitude?"

The last time they had this situation (Mat. 14), the disciples wanted Jesus to send the crowds away, but Jesus responded by telling the disciples, “You give them something to eat”.

This time they start off with “How are we going to get enough food?”

Is this some sort of progress on their part?  Have they grown a little?  Probably not.  Jesus will mention in the next chapter (16:8-11) that they had forgotten what He had done with the five thousand.

They are still baffled with what to do, when they should have thought to themselves, “Jesus is here, we’ll be just fine!”

:34 Jesus said to them, "How many loaves do you have?" And they said, "Seven, and a few little fish."

:35 So He commanded the multitude to sit down on the ground.

:36 And He took the seven loaves and the fish and gave thanks, broke them and gave them to His disciples; and the disciples gave to the multitude.

:37 So they all ate and were filled, and they took up seven large baskets full of the fragments that were left.

large basketsspuris – a reed basket, (a plaited basket, a lunch basket, hamper)

This is not the same word used to describe the baskets used in Mat. 14.  It seems that these are larger baskets, “hampers”, big enough to hold a person (like the one used to let Paul down the wall at Damascus – Acts 9:25.

:38 Now those who ate were four thousand men, besides women and children.

The last time there were five thousand, this time only four thousand.

Last time there were twelve baskets left, this time only seven.

:39 And He sent away the multitude, got into the boat, and came to the region of Magdala.

We think Magdala is probably on the western shore of Galilee, about two miles south of Capernaum.  This would be the home town of Mary Magdalene.

I find it encouraging that the disciples didn’t “get it” the first time Jesus fed a multitude.

I also find it encouraging that Jesus didn’t withhold the miracle because of the stupidness of the disciples.

Maybe there’s hope for us!!!

[1]Jon Courson, Jon Courson's Application Commentary (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson, 2003). 120.