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  • Joe Steenholdt

Matthew 15:1–9 - The Heart of the Matter

"The heart of the matter is the matter of the heart."

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Read Matthew 15:1-9

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Heidelberg Catechism Q&A 91

Q. What do we do that is good?

A. Only that which

arises out of true faith,

conforms to God’s law,

and is done for his glory;

and not that which is based

on what we think is right

or on established human tradition.



Throughout this week, it should be becoming clear that God desires genuine repentance and transformed hearts and lives—not mere outward religious rituals. In Matthew 15, we get to listen to an exchange between Jesus and the Pharisees and scribes. It is a typical interaction between these two groups: the Pharisees and scribes try to trip Jesus up on a technicality of the law. Jesus flips it around, showing their hypocrisy and hardness of heart.

In this instance, they want to cast shame on Jesus’s disciples for not ritually washing their hands before they ate. The Mosaic law would have required cleansing before sacrifices, but the blanket rule to wash hands before every meal was an additional law tradition followed by the Pharisees. Jesus then points them back to following an actual commandment and the principle behind the fifth commandment of ‘honoring your father and your mother.’ They had altered the fifth commandment to their liking.

Jesus then calls out their hypocrisy of seeking to condemn his disciples for breaking one of their traditions while the Pharisees blatantly disregarded God’s commands. He invokes Isaiah 29:13 to show they are good at speaking eloquently and religiously, but their heart is not in the principle of the matter.

Dig Deeper

The second half of Q&A 91 deals with things that may seem like good works but are forms of tradition or legalism. Legalism exalts the law above everything else, plus promotes a mindset that believes it is possible to follow the law apart from grace. The Pharisees in Jesus’ day were excellent at writing new rules to help them keep other laws. Yet, Jesus' words here Matthew 15, like many of the confrontations, show they thought they could keep the letter of the law without holding to the spirit of the law, while at the same time burdening others with additional rules.

I had a professor in seminary who liked to emphasize that in counseling with the Word of God, “the heart of the matter is the matter of the heart.” The Pharisees missed this in our text today, leading to futile worship. True faith in Christ leads to what is behind God’s commands: loving Him above all and loving our neighbor. Typically our own manufactured extra-biblical rules burden our neighbor and hinder our own worship of God if we elevate them to the level of divine law. God has set out his moral law to us in His Word, and the catechism will soon expound upon those implications.

Knowing God leads to worshiping Him in Spirit and Truth (John 4:23–24). So just as one helps his spouse around the house out of love, not because it is on a list of ‘to-do’s,’ so too, you ought to serve the Lord out of love and gladness.

  • ACKNOWLEDGE WHO GOD IS: Our Heavenly Father, who gives us His laws and commands for our benefit;

  • ALIGN YOUR LIFE WITH GOD'S WILL: Pray that not only will you 'honor God with your lips,' but that your heart will be near to Him.



Read the New Testament in a year, a chapter a day - 1 Corinthians 14


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