Are your hands clean, or have you washed your hands are questions usually posed to children who often forget the principle of cleanliness? Unfortunately, some adults need signs in bathrooms to instruct them in the same fashion. In our current climate, our minds are focused on keeping our hands clean. Unsanitary hygiene practices are nobody’s friends during a viral outbreak. But the question of this discussion has more to do with “spiritual hygiene” than physical cleanliness. The Psalmist asked and answered a question about approaching the Most High. Who may ascend into the hill of the LORD? Or who may stand in His holy place? He who has clean hands and a pure heart, Who has not lifted up his soul to an idol, Nor sworn deceitfully, Psalms 24:3-4. The individual who can approach the Father or serve in His temple must possess among other things clean hands. Is this requirement meant literally? One can be forgiven for thinking that because many similar practices were common under the Mosaic dispensation (Cf. Exodus 29:4 & Numbers 19:19). However, the emphasis of this text is not cleanliness but righteousness. This is a lesson that many forgot and one that Jesus had to address during His earthly ministry.
When Jesus was in Gennesaret, the Pharisees and Scribes tracked him down from Jerusalem no doubt to spar with Him again (Mark 7:1). Upon their arrival, they saw the disciples of Jesus eating without washing their hands. This was a big religious faux pas according to these whited sepulchers. Their manmade traditions strictly forbad such unsanitary practices. Now when they saw some of His disciples eat bread with defiled, that is, with unwashed hands, they found fault. For the Pharisees and all the Jews do not eat unless they wash their hands in a special way, holding the tradition of the elders. When they come from the marketplace, they do not eat unless they wash. And there are many other things which they have received and hold, like the washing of cups, pitchers, copper vessels, and couches, Mark 7:2-4. Seeing it as a platform to attack the Savior via His disciples, they questioned the Christ about this “great indiscretion” (Mark 7:5). Jesus responded with a scathing rebuke of their pernicious ways. The first part of the Lord’s response dealt with the foundation of their transgressions, the abandonment of God’s Law.
He answered and 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. And in vain they worship Me, Teaching as doctrines the commandments of men.’ “For laying aside the commandment of God, you hold the tradition of men–the washing of pitchers and cups, and many other such things you do.” He said to them, “All too well you reject the commandment of God, that you may keep your tradition. Mark 7:6-9
The root of their error was disjointed hearts and damnable traditions. They called themselves servants of God and yet they refused to adhere to and respect the Words of God. Any person or religious group who hold their traditions above God’s commands are worshipping in vain and subject to the same rebuke. When you concoct your own religious laws or when you set up your own standard for righteous living you and the Word of God will inevitably clash (Cf. Acts 15:1-2 & Romans 10:1-4). After addressing the foundation of their transgressions, Jesus then set forth to debunk their foolish tradition. When He had called all the multitude to Himself, He said to them, “Hear Me, everyone, and understand: There is nothing that enters a man from outside which can defile him; but the things which come out of him, those are the things that defile a man, Mark 7:14-15.
Eating with dirty hands may be unsanitary but it’s certainly not unrighteous. Jesus told his disciples that food does not enter into the heart of man; it goes into the stomach and then through the digestive process (Mark 7:19). So, instead of being overly concerned about outward cleanliness they should have been more concerned about inward purity. And He said, “What comes out of a man, that defiles a man. For from within, out of the heart of men, proceed evil thoughts, adulteries, fornications, murders, thefts, covetousness, wickedness, deceit, lewdness, an evil eye, blasphemy, pride, foolishness. All these evil things come from within and defile a man,” Mark 7:20-23. This is the sentiment of Psalm 23:3-4. The clean hands in the text have reference to a heart that is pure, unadulterated or free from immorality. No doubt we will spend the next couple of months rigorously washing our hands, and we should. I hope that we will exert the same effort in making sure that we practice spiritual hygiene. Are your hands Clean?